Essay: My Thoughts on Severus Snape
Kelly M. Grosskreutz
These began as simply my responses to some theories I'd read about Snape on the internet (check out this page for my inspiration). As I answered the questions, my answers turned into essays in their own right. I draw from the first four Harry Potter books and some of my speculations might be addressed in the latter three books, so consider this your warning. Do not repost anywhere without the permission of the author!
1. Why did Snape join the Death Eaters?
To answer this question, one has to take a look at Snapeís past and time at Hogwarts. I have seen theories on how it was out of anger because James got Lily and he didnít, on how it was directly related to the Prank, even mentions of Snape being related to Voldemort himself. I donít think itís any of these. We donít really know what Snapeís home life was like. We have never heard anything about parents or siblings. We donít know his monetary situation. The earliest thing we know about Severus is that when he entered Hogwarts, he knew as many curses as half of the seventh years, and he was with a gang of Slytherins who nearly all were part of Voldemortís group.
I think about this and other things we have been told about Snape, and I see two different scenarios as being possible. The first is that he came from a family that was into the Dark Arts. Severus, being young, impressionable, and extremely intelligent, also got into the Dark Arts. He learned quickly because he was smart, and he was also inspired to because thatís what his parents were into and, like most kids, he wanted the love and respect of his parents. However, if this scenario was correct, I donít think his parents really noticed much, just took it for granted that their son was following in their footsteps.
The other scenario is somewhat similar to the first. He wasnít noticed much at home. Somehow, whether someone told him this or he read it in a book, he came to realize that if he ever wanted to get anywhere, he was going to have to work hard to get there, and he was going to have to be very good at it in order to impress people and get noticed. This would also tie into his desire to win the respect of others.
In this scenario, and perhaps again influenced by the interests of his caregivers, he chooses to become knowledgeable in the Dark Arts. In this, he is very like Hermione. He didnít want to be considered behind, and believed that if he arrived at school already skilled in one area, not only would school be easier because heíd be ahead in at least one subject area, but he would earn the respect of his students. Being a young child, he probably also believed this would make him popular and much sought after.
Regardless of which scenario, if either, is correct, he enters Hogwarts and is immediately sorted into Slytherin. Wanting to show everyone what he can do and set himself on the road to winning the well wishes and respect of his teachers and fellow classmates (and maybe even his parents), he quickly exhibits his Dark Arts knowledge. But this backfires on him. The majority of the students, instead of liking him or at least respecting him, simply fears him and hates him. They donít want to talk to him or be around him because they are afraid of what he might do.
There are two exceptions to this. The first are certain members of his own house. These people, although they may also be afraid of him, see what this knowledge could gain them. They are ambitious and seek power. Having a skilled Dark wizard as an ally canít hurt. These people toady up to him and treat him as a friend. Severus may have actually believed these people liked him for him, but he realizes soon enough that they only like him because of what he can do. Since he is ambitious and his goals at this point in time most likely parallel theirs, he remains allied with this group and calls them friends.
Then there is another group of students, a small group, who donít fear him at all. To the best of my knowledge, these students are all in Gryffindor, and they seem to be led by a boy Snapeís own age called James Potter. James and his friends are not only unafraid of Snape, but they also end up getting the popularity and respect that he himself so craves. James and Sirius Black are both described as being exceptionally bright but also troublemakers.
Here is Severus, a boy who has worked hard his entire life to learn everything he knows. I can imagine him having study habits like Hermioneís, as well as being fond of quoting rules. Then he sees James and Sirius, not studying, not ever appearing to really do much work, get top grades. Since James eventually becomes Head Boy, we can assume that James even got better grades than Severus, something that Severus simply canít abide since he believed he worked harder for them. Not only that, but James can outfly him, has tons of friends, and even a steady girlfriend.
To cut the rest of the Hogwarts years short, Severus is jealous of James. James was able to get away with everything, but if Severus broke the same rules, he would be punished. On top of that, James saves Severusís life, making him feel he owes James a debt of the same magnitude in return.
They graduate Hogwarts. Somehow Snape hears of or is introduced to Voldemortís group. Perhaps one of his Slytherin friends becomes a Death Eater and is instrumental in having Snape recruited; perhaps one of the theories I have seen is partially right and Lucius Malfoy was a mentor for Snape for a while. However it happened, I believe that Snapeís desire for respect and a place to belong all came into play. Voldemort probably made Snape feel like he was important to him, that he was serving something worthwhile, and that when Voldemort ruled the world, Snape would be given his due, therefore ultimately being respected by the wizarding world. The Death Eaters also welcomed Snape. Perhaps Snape even regarded these Death Eaters as friends for a while, or maybe even family, since Voldemort was big on talking about how the Death Eaters were his true family.
2. Why did Snape leave the Death Eaters?
Again, I have read quite a few theories on this, and again I feel that some theories touch on parts of this answer. I must stress, however, that I feel that the reason why he left the Death Eaters had absolutely nothing to do with Lily Potter. I cringe when thinking about some unrequited love thing that was the sole driving factor in anything having to do with Snape. I think that to chalk everything in this manís life up to feelings for Lily Potter is to do Snape a grave disservice.
I think the reasons Snape left Voldemortís service are as complex as Snape is himself. Because of this, I am not sure how concise and linear this answer will be, as many elements will come into play. These elements include Snapeís life debt to James Potter, Trelawneyís first true prediction, the events leading up to and surrounding the Pottersí death, and Snape himself.
I stated earlier that I donít think Snape did any of this for Lily. If anything, a lot of what he did after defecting was for James and, in my mind, Harry. But that does not quite answer why he defected in the first place.
One thing I think happened was that Snape realized at one point that things under Voldemortís rule werenít quite like what Voldemort had said they would be. Voldemort was good at making promises. Voldemort promised his followers power. He claimed that they were like family to him, and therefore they would be treated like family and given the respect and rewards due them.
Snape realized this was false. The only person Voldemort truly cared about was Voldemort. The only person who was going to hold power when Voldemort was done was Voldemort. His followers were all only means to an end. They were all pawns being used to help Voldemort attain power and immortality. When Voldemort had what he wanted, he wouldnít need the Death Eaters anymore. The ones he kept alive (presumably his most faithful followers) would only be Voldemortís slaves. Perhaps highly placed slaves that appeared to hold power, but still slaves.
I have seen another point that intrigued me enough that I include it here because it perhaps has some play in this. To the best of my memory, we have never seen Snape be physically violent. He seems to thrive more on psychological abuse. There is nothing intelligent about beating someone up or killing them. However, if he can reduce someone to a quivering blob of flesh through mere words alone, I feel that suits his personality more. If nothing else, he may believe this shows he is intellectually superior to others. Voldemortís philosophy of torturing and murdering those who oppose him just donít fit with Snapeís predilection for playing mind games and using more subtle methods to attain what he wants. Remember, this is the guy who studied his butt off and seemed to have somewhat of a work ethic (work hard to attain award).
I donít believe these are the full reasons for his ultimate defection, though. I have a couple of things rattling in my brain that, when I think closely about them, I donít think I can fully back up, but yet they feel right to me.
One thing I see is Voldemort asking him to do something so untenable that he could not bring himself to do it, and defected rather than do the heinous deed or be killed for refusal. Many people speculate that perhaps he wasnít asked to do anything terrible, but that he heard Voldemort talking about killing the Potters and couldnít be a party to it because of his debt to James. What people are forgetting with this, though, is that, if Iím recalling things correctly, either Snape or the spy that alerted Dumbledore to the plot against the Potters was said to be spying on Voldemort for about a year, which is far longer than I see for Voldemort to wait to kill the Potters.
I once wrote a story in which, among other things that wonít be happening, the untenable thing Snape was asked to do was to kill his own mother to prove his loyalty to Voldemort. I personally donít think this is what will actually happen/actually did happen, but it is just an example of the sort of thing that could not only make Snape defect, but to also truly realize the error of his ways. We also must keep in mind that whatever caused him to defect was something that allowed Dumbledore to trust Snape.
Or do we? I have always assumed that the cause of defection was also the same impetus that earned such deep trust from Dumbledore. But maybe thatís not necessarily the case. This ties in to a couple of other things I have alluded to briefly but not really discussed until now. I mentioned earlier something about Trelawneyís first prediction. I believe that her prediction concerned at least one of these things: Voldemortís defeat in general terms, why Harry Potter is so important, how Harry will one day defeat Voldemort, or all three. Depending on when this prediction was given, this also might have been a factor behind Snapeís initial defection.
Ok, but so far I have not said anything that would merit Dumbledore giving Snape the amount of trust he does. At this point, Snape has said enough to let Dumbledore at least think that Snape might not want to serve Voldemort anymore. Dumbledore is good at giving people second chances, so he gives Snape that chance by setting him up as a spy. Snape agrees.
It is while he is doing this that Snape learns that one of Jamesís close friends is a spy for Voldemort. He also learns that Voldemort plans to hit the Potters next. He goes to Dumbledore as soon as he can and tells him all of this. Perhaps this is what earns Snape Dumbledoreís trust, since Harry is potentially the one spoken of in prophecy. As we all know, James and Lily die anyway, but there is no way Snape could have found out about the Secret Keeper switch and how Voldemort found out where the Potters were.
Iím not sure if this last bit is true, but here is another thought Iíve had in the past. It is inspired from the scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Harry and Draco duel during the Dueling Club. At one point, Snape gives Draco a spell to use on Harry. It happens to be the one summoning the snake. Snape then tells Harry he will deal with it, but he takes his sweet-natured time doing it, giving Harry an opportunity to reveal himself as a Parselmouth. Instead of looking surprised or shocked like the others present, he looks at Harry with a calculating look. I left that scene with the impression that he suspected that Harry might have this ability.
This makes me wonder if part of what he might have said to Dumbledore in that first meeting had to do with Harry. Perhaps the prediction Trelawney gave was not known to many people at this point, and stuff Snape said about Jamesís newborn son fit. This might have given Dumbledore a reason to take a closer look at Snape, instead of dismissing him as simply one of Voldemortís followers and calling for him to be taken to Azkaban. If this scenario were true, I can even see Dumbledore allowing the prophecy to become known, maybe even telling Snape to get word of it back to Voldemort somehow to freak Voldemort out and draw him into doing something stupid that could doom him.
Now hereís where I start to go a little off topic. I have discussed why Snape may have defected in the first place, and even why Dumbledore may have decided Snape was worthy of trust. But what of Snape himself after his defection? He was betraying his old friends, keeping his true allegiance private except to a select few (perhaps only Dumbledore), going against everything toward which heíd worked so hard for the past few years. What kept him going? From what I understand of the aftermath of the war, many of the Death Eaters they captured were put on trial. From comments made during Karkaroffís trial, it seems that Snapeís role during the war had already come out, although seemingly not in a trial such as Karkaroffís. From these same comments I speculate that some sort of an inquiry was held, possibly to decide whether a trial should be held, where Dumbledore gave convincing enough testimony to have all charges against Severus Snape be dropped.
Either way, anyone who knew of Snapeís role was not going to like him. They sure werenít going to trust him, fearing that he was either a double agent or at some point would turn back to the Dark Side. I stated earlier that one of Snapeís greatest desires is to be liked and respected. By betraying Voldemort, he was not going to be either one of these.
But hereís where I think things were a little different for Snape. For one thing, he had already realized he wasnít going to earn either of these things from Voldemort. When he did seek out Dumbledore, for some reason, I see Snape as a very desperate person; unable to deal with being a Death Eater anymore and willing to accept whatever punishment he was given as long as Voldemort was defeated. He was probably thinking that after he said whatever he said to Dumbledore, he would probably be sent directly to Azkaban. Instead, Dumbledore gave him another chance, and not only that, but a chance to help defeat his old master.
When it came time for Snape and the other Death Eaters to account for their crimes, Snape probably figured that now he would be sent to Azkaban. Again, it was Dumbledore who kept him from that fate, speaking up in his defense. More than once, Dumbledore claimed that Snape was no longer a Death Eater and should have no charges brought against him due to the role he served during the war. Not long after this, Dumbledore brought Snape to Hogwarts and gave him a teaching position.
There is no way Snape could ever have believed things would turn out this way. He most likely believed things would turn out the same way they always had for him: he would work hard towards a goal (in this case, bringing down Voldemort), and be reviled for it. Instead, he received all the things from Dumbledore that he once believed he would receive from Voldemort.
Dumbledore not only spoke up in his defense, but also seemingly arranged it so Snapeís actions, both as a Death Eater and as a spy, would not be known except to a small group of people. In other words, no public trial, no charges, a clean record. But he didnít stop there. He gave Snape a home at Hogwarts, a place for him to make a new start and good people for Snape to perhaps consider friends or family. He also showed his trust just by the job he gave to Snape: teaching future generations of witches and wizards.
I believe it is this trust that Dumbledore showed for Snape that will keep Snape on the correct path. No one has ever trusted Snape like Dumbledore has, and Snape knows it. Unlike the debt he feels he owes James, though, Snape does not resent it, perhaps because he remembers how desperate his situation was and truly believes he was not worthy of Dumbledoreís trust. He wants to keep that trust, though, so he will do what he can to make himself worthy of it, in his own way.
Copyright April 21, 2003 by Kelly M. Grosskreutz. Please, email me if you have any comments.
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