Essay: Snape is a Plant
Diana DeRiggs

Many thanks to Madame Pince for useful discussions and to Hermi2 for being the "walking, talking Harry Potter encyclopaedia"!

Those who have read the Harry Potter books have to wonder: What is up with Professor Severus Snape? As a young man, he was apparently something of a loser who, as a student, got whomped by the Whomping Willow and had to be saved by James "Prongs" Potter. Instead of gratitude and eternal brotherhood, Snape harbors a deep resentment, which he transfers to the orphaned Harry Potter, the son of James. He appears to want to kill Harry, or at least do him harm and expel him from Hogwarts School, yet he surreptitiously and grudgingly maneuvers to help the boy at every opportunity.

Snape is a big boy now, childish moodiness and bitterness should be behind him. Why the confusing acts of charity mingled with resentment?

Percy Weasley tells Harry that though Snape is Professor of Potions, "Everyone knows it's the Dark Arts he fancies." The running gag of the books is the school's inability to retain a Professor of Dark Arts. In four books, there have been Professors Quirrell, Remus Lupin, Gilderoy Lockhart and Alastor "Mad Eye" Moody. Snape has worked there for years and has survived well enough. Why not appoint him? Is it not simpler to find a Professor of Potions?

Snape is apparently not what he seems. What do we know about him?
  • He's a "reformed" Deatheater -- one of the closest circle of the evil Voldemort's minions -- and he still bears the tattoo that marks him as one of Lord Voldemort's own.
  • He graduated Hogwarts with James Potter, Lily Potter, Remus "Moony" Lupin, Richard "Wormtail" Pettigrew and Sirus "Padfoot" Black.
  • When Harry asks why Snape would rescue him, Dumbledore explained that Snape had a life debt to James Potter.
  • He heads Slytherin House, home of Deatheaters, named for the Wizard who left the Hogwart's 4-member partnership over his bigotted view of Mudbloods.
  • And Dumbledore trusts him. When asked by Harry why he trusted Snape, the headmaster replied, "That is between me and Professor Snape."
What is that last one about?

My theory is that Snape was especially created by Albus Dumbledore, for the specific and expressed purpose of infiltrating Voldemort's Deatheaters. Dumbledore chose a boy who had reason to be embittered, who had a personal reason to hate Harry Potter for whatever childish reason. He was given a job at Hogwarts, from where he joined Voldemort's ranks. At Hogwarts he could both influence and be protected. And from that base, he was seeded and planted; his training likely took place almost from the day he arrived at the school.

Perhaps Snape was a loser, socially speaking, someone always way outside of the in-crowd. He obviously was not close to the golden boy James Potter and his merrye band. He probably hung out with Malfoy et al. because they were all from Slytherine, but perhaps he felt uncomfortable with them, their mission not close to his heart. Perhaps he felt the Sorting Cap had made a mistake, and he longed to be in one of the other houses. He would have revelled in the attention Dumbledore might have paid him.

Dumbledore has absolute faith in Snape, like he does in Rubeus Hagrid. Everyone else assumes Hagrid is a simpleton and even evil, for his fondness for all creatures beautiful or crawly. The giant is childlike in his faith that all animals are wonderful. Hagrid had been accused of opening the Chamber of Secrets and letting out a monstrous spider. Dumbledore, then Professor of Transfigurations, seemed to know the truth, not trusting the accuser -- who, in time, became Lord Voldemort -- and later giving Hagrid a job at Hogwarts. We know now that Hagrid never opened the Chamber, and he'd been framed.

Dumbledore has the same unwavering faith in Snape, and it feels like his faith is absolute. He knows with 100% clarity and certainty that Snape is on his side. It's rare to have such confidence in a person who behaves like a total jerk and mean-spirited evil bastard. So the headmaster must know and understand the basis for the behavior. Snape has crafted his whole life as a front for Dumbledore. The headmaster never divulges more, likely not wishing to blow Snape's cover.

When signaled by Voldemort, Snape cannot disapparate from Hogwarts. For whatever reason, its not possible to diapparate or apparate on Hogwarts grounds, so he has a built-in excuse for not going immediately when summoned. He has to go at least to Hogsmeade to perform that task.

Snape had testified against other Deatheaters, thus receiving a clean bill of magic from the Ministry of Magic. Lucious Malfoy and Karkaroff did likewise. They did it to survive, and though Voldemort would have been displeased, he might have understood it and perhaps forgiven them. After all, he rewarded the traitor Pettigrew, who had run to Voldemort only when he feared execution by his former schoolmates, rather than because he felt any compunction to help his master. Voldemort knew this, but also respected the fear Pettigrew and others felt, and took advantage of it. So Snape might have been "forgiven" in a similar manner.

At the end of Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore asks Snape to perform a task, and implies it is difficult and odious. Snape understands, and leaves immediately. I think he needs to present himself to Voldemort as a fallen disciple. It's a dangerous thing; he could be killed or tortured. Yet Snape never questioned him or demurred. He's a good soldier.

Other evidence and thoughts:
  • When Barty Crouch, disguised as "Mad Eye" Moody, took Harry away from the crowd, the foe glass above him showed three figures: Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Snape. The foe glass doesn't lie!
  • Why fawn over Draco Malfoy, a particularly annoying person and untalented student? Snape was a contemporary of Draco's father, the head of the Board of Director's of Hogwarts School, and likely didn't need to impress him. It's just another detail in a well-crafted smoke screen.
  • Snape volunteered to referee Harry's second Quidditch game. This may see trivial to most people, but it startled me. If you have ever taught in a boarding school, you know that teachers who were not otherwise athletic did not volunteer for any sporting events, not even for timing or scoring. If he didn't have to, it is very, very highly unlikely Snape would have volunteered for such duties.
  • Though Snape is said to crave the Dark Arts professorship, he's repeatedly passed over for newcomers -- many of whom are inexperiences or outright odd. Why is that? My thought is that it's too obvious a position for him, and would expose him too closely to Voldemort and other evil magics. He must not divulge his personal techniques for keeping his wits about him.
  • Wherever and whenever Harry is breaking rules, there is Snape: at the "haunted" house in Hogsmeade, whenever Harry uses the invisibility cloak, in the girl's bathroom after the mountain troll had been vanquished, when Harry is complaining to Ron and Hermione about Snape's pursuit of the Sorcerer's Stone, etc. The man has an unnatural obsession for Harry ... whether for evil or with genuine and protective concern.
I'm sure if you keep looking, you'll find more pieces of evidence. Of course, J.K. Rowling might surprise us with an additional level of twist, but she seems to have a reason for writing as she does. I can't believe she'd just write Severus Snape the way she has just for tension. I'm looking forward to seeing how she goes about it!

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