Dumbledore’s Man to the End
(Note—page numbers are from the
Severus Snape: the most controversial character in the entire series. Death Eater, Order member, spy, traitor, potions master, Dark Arts expert, highly skilled Occlumens…there doesn’t seem to be anything he can’t do, except for getting over his schoolboy grudges. Somehow, he earned Dumbledore’s trust and then the Ministry’s pardon; he then turned around and killed Dumbledore.
What kind of man is Snape—or more importantly, whose man is he?
Albus Dumbledore’s trust in Snape is beyond doubt. But can we trust Dumbledore’s trust? Harry refers to it as an “insane determination” to believe the best of everyone (HBP 569), Crouch-as-Moody agrees that Dumbledore is “a trusting man….Believes in second chances” (GF 472), and even Snape calls it “Dumbledore’s greatest weakness” (HBP 31). The implication in all of these cases is that Dumbledore is weak and naïve to trust Snape; that he trusts implicitly anyone who repents without thought for their motives. But is this really fair? Is Dumbledore really weak or naïve? Has he ever actually misplaced his trust?
There are four other instances we have seen where Dumbledore trusts where others do not: Hagrid, Lupin, Sirius, and Harry himself. We see the first in the very first chapter of the series, where Dumbledore reassures McGonagall that he would trust Hagrid “with my life” (SS 14), although it is clear that McGonagall herself isn’t quite convinced. We later learn that Dumbledore’s “full confidence” (CS 261) in Hagrid comes in spite of the fact that Hagrid was convicted of letting the basilisk out and killing a student! In spite of the evidence, which all points directly to Hagrid, Dumbledore is unconvinced. And he does seem to have placed his trust correctly: Hagrid defends Dumbledore from
Second case: Professor Remus Lupin the werewolf. Lupin himself reveals that “Dumbledore’s trust has meant everything to me. He let me into Hogwarts as a boy, and he gave me a job when I have been shunned all my adult life, unable to find paid work because of what I am” (PA 356); he adds that some of the staff thought Dumbledore crazy to hire him, and Ron’s reaction reinforces that: “Dumbledore hired you when he knew you were a werewolf? Is he mad?” (PA 346). It’s made quite clear through the whole series that werewolves are not generally accepted in wizarding society, and yet Dumbledore accepts one as a student and then hires him anyway. And how does Lupin repay him? He becomes a member of the Order and a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. So much for the immensely Dark and evil werewolf stereotype.
In the end of Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry and Hermione try hurriedly to explain Sirius’s innocence, it’s not an explanation anyone would easily buy. Yet Dumbledore believes them immediately, then helps them to rescue Sirius. We never see any evidence that Dumbledore actually believed Sirius to be guilty – in fact, when McGonagall is telling the crowd of teachers in the Three Broomsticks that Dumbledore suspected someone of passing information, she falls short of actually saying he suspected Sirius. This says to me more that Dumbledore didn’t suspect him, that in fact he trusted him. And Sirius is, of course, a trusted member of the Order in book five.
The last person Dumbledore trusts in spite of contrary beliefs is Harry Potter himself: though Fudge thinks Harry’s a little off in the head, though the wizarding world wonders if he’s gone crazy, while Hogwarts students worry that Harry is really an Evil Dark Lord in training, Dumbledore trusts on. And I think it’s fairly clear that his trust is warranted here.
Admittedly the fact that Dumbledore trusts trustworthy people doesn’t mean he can’t trust the untrustworthy ones too. But what about those untrustworthy ones? Dumbledore must have suspected someone in the Potters’ circle of friends had switched sides, because he offered to be their Secret-Keeper himself (PA 205). And we find out early on that Tom Riddle, who has “always been able to charm the people [he] needed” (CS 310) was unable to charm Dumbledore, who “saw through [him]” (CS 314) and “never seemed to like [him] as much as the other teachers did….kept an annoyingly close watch” (CS 312). Dumbledore tells Harry that while he did “[choose] to give [Tom Riddle] the chance” to turn over a new leaf at Hogwarts, he “did not take it for granted that he was trustworthy” (HBP 361).
So much for naively placing his trust in anyone who asks for another chance – Dumbledore only gives his trust to those who deserve it; he gives the people who ask for second chances just that: another chance to earn his trust. We haven’t seen this system fail yet, and while it is possible, as Ron suggests, that “a really clever Dark wizard [could] fool [Dumbledore]” (GF 530), it doesn’t seem at all likely. Dumbledore’s an excellent judge of character and also able to use “a great deal of skilled Legilimency” (HBP 367). And are we honestly ready to believe that Dumbledore can be fooled by Severus Snape, a man who was a Death Eater (just look at his arm), but that the wonderfully handsome, perfectly charming Tom Riddle was unable to do it?
The second point here is that the evidence Dumbledore has given was enough to satisfy the Ministry of Magic: “Snape has been cleared by this council.…He has been vouched for by Albus Dumbledore,” Barty Crouch declares (GF 591). Although we aren’t given this information, it must have been enormous to convince Mr. Crouch: after all, this is a man who sent his own child to Azkaban on the unreliable testimony of the Longbottoms (GF 603); however great Dumbledore’s clout is, that alone would never convince Barty Crouch that Snape had repented. I find it difficult to believe that the “ironclad” (HBP 615) evidence convincing enough for Dumbledore and the Ministry isn’t something we should believe as well.
Dark Arts and a Slytherin…so?
Severus Snape may be a Slytherin, and he may be an expert in the Dark Arts, but that doesn’t necessarily make him evil. We’re set up to associate Slytherin House with evil way back before Harry is ever Sorted: “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin,” Hagrid declares (SS 80) – but this is blatantly untrue, as Peter Pettigrew was a Gryffindor who definitely “went bad”. Phineas Nigellus gives us some more Slytherin propaganda: : “We Slytherins are brave, yes, but not stupid….[W]e will always choose to save our own necks.” (OP 495) – but apparently no one told that to the Lestranges, who refused to defy Voldemort and went to Azkaban for it, or to Regulus Black, who tried to leave the Death Eaters and was killed for it. The truth is that one’s House doesn’t mean anything when it comes to determining whether someone is good or evil. A Gryffindor can betray his friends, and a Slytherin can die for a principle. Snape’s House doesn’t tell us anything except that he’s probably pretty good at dissembling.
His expertise in Dark Arts doesn’t tell us a lot either. As Binns points out, “Just because a wizard doesn’t use Dark Magic doesn’t mean he can’t” – or, wizards may know about the Dark Arts without necessarily being evil murderers (CS 152); Snape seems to use his powers to heal.
Only…he was a Death Eater…
Voldemort fell when Harry was just over a year old and Snape was in his early twenties; we don’t know exactly how long he was a Death Eater before that time, but there isn’t a huge gap between his graduation from Hogwarts and the end of Voldemort’s reign. I would guess that he joined either towards the end of his time at school or shortly after his graduation.
We don’t know very much about Snape’s early childhood. Harry sees a “hooked-nose man” shouting at a “cowering woman” as a “small, dark haired boy” cries (OP 592); the boy is almost definitely Snape, and the man and woman are probably family members. As a teenager, Snape appears to have been unpopular at school: he gets picked on enough to be “expecting an attack” as he sits outside (OP 646) and is targeted by the Marauders mostly because “he exists” (OP 647); although Sirius tells Harry Snape hung out with a group of Slytherins (he mentions Avery, Wilkes, Rosier, and the Lestranges), it seems likely (given the Black Family Tree) that he would have been younger than the others. At any rate, Muggle-born Lily Evans is the only student in his year who actually seems to be friendly with Severus Snape…and isn’t that interesting?
Though he joins the Death Eaters, Snape doesn’t seem to have anything against Muggle-borns or half-bloods. When he calls Lily Evans a mudblood, she “blinks” and seems confused, revealing that this is an uncommon occurrence. Whether or not he and Lily were anything more than semi-friendly acquaintances, it’s clear he’d never held her blood against her (until that moment). In his sixth year, he describes himself as the Half-Blood Prince, taking pride in his blood instead of hiding it in shame. And as an adult, Snape lives in what Bellatrix Lestrange terms a “Muggle dunghill” – that is, he lives surrounded by Muggles instead of wizards (HPB 22). These are not the actions of a pure-blood supremacist, so why did he join the Death Eaters to begin with?
Voldemort started “lookin’ fer followers” about nine years before Harry’s birth, around 1970; Snape would have been starting his first year at Hogwarts (meeting up immediately, one imagines, with Bellatrix Black and cohorts) (SS 55). At that point, Voldemort hadn’t shown the world, or his followers, what exactly he was planning on doing; it seems that many of them didn’t know they would be asked to torture and kill (OP 112). For a social outcast like Snape, whose friends “nearly all turned out to be Death Eaters” (OP 531), the logical choice probably was to turn to Voldemort. Snape himself tells Harry that “fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions, who wallow in sad memories, and allow themselves to be provoked this easily – they stand no chance against [Voldemort’s] powers!” (OP 536). I think it’s plausible that Snape is talking about himself here – that, as a young man, he was so bitter from his treatment at school and from his family that he was easily convinced to join the Death Eaters.
Many fans want a reason, a moment, when Snape realized that the Death Eaters were a bad choice; many of them hope this has something to do with Lily Evans. But there’s no reason for anything so dramatic: if Snape joined the Death Eaters at the same time as his older friends – or even followed them several years later, before he had graduated – Snape may not have known the extent of Voldemort’s plans, or he may not have realized just how far he would have to go. Once Snape realized he was expected to torture and kill half-bloods like himself, Muggle-borns like his father and former friend Lily, and blood traitors like his mother, it may have simply been too much for Snape: he wanted out. (Or, yes, he could have fallen madly in love with Lily Evans.) But we know that service to Voldemort is “a lifetime of service or death” (OP 112) and that a traitor Death Eater is never safe: “I haven’t got any options!...He’ll kill me! He’ll kill my whole family!” Draco cries when Dumbledore suggests switching sides (HBP 591); Karkaroff and Regulus Black are both murdered for their betrayals. (It’s worthwhile to note as well that Draco and Snape were probably about the same age when they received the Mark; Snape, like Draco, likely didn’t know what he was getting into.) And we also know that Severus Snape is nothing if not logical (his task for the stone, after all, is pure logic); he would be the type of man most able to weigh the consequences and realize that simply resigning was out of the question. So it is quite plausible that he would go to Dumbledore to ask for asylum, and that he would leave that meeting as a double agent – a dangerous job, but much safer than allowing Voldemort to realize his true allegiance.
It is most telling, perhaps, that the two people who knew Snape from his school days, around when he must have turned to Lord Voldemort, do not see him as a killer. Slughorn is shocked to find out that Snape has betrayed the cause: “Snape! I taught him! I thought I knew him!” (HBP 627) and both Harry and Hermione confess that they didn’t think of the Half-Blood Prince as evil or as a “potential killer” (HBP 638). Their statements support a theory of Snape as a screwed-up kid who fell in with a bad crowd, was “hoodwinked” by Voldemort (CS 330), and then did his best to make amends by helping Dumbledore’s side as much as he could.
Right! After he realized he’d hurt Lily, he switched over!
Dumbledore’s explanation of Snape’s actions with regards to the prophesy is deceptively simple: Severus Snape, then a faithful Death Eater, overheard part of Trelawney’s prophecy – conveniently, only the first part, “the part foretelling the birth of a boy”, before the bartender found him and removed him from the premises (OP 843). Then, Snape rushed to inform Voldemort of the birth of his only possible enemy, and Voldemort rushed to kill the Potters and their child; Snape realized that Lily was in danger and immediately switched sides (HBP 549).
There it is: the story is simple, tragic, and romantic. Or at least, until Trelawney shows up and blows a large hole in Dumbledore’s explanation. She remembers that, during her job interview, she and Albus “were rudely interrupted by Severus Snape” – and the afterwards, “Dumbledore seemed much more disposed to give [her] a job” (HBP 545). Dumbledore himself admitted that he wasn’t impressed with Trelawney until after her prophesy (OP 840), and as seers don’t have any knowledge of what’s going on during their prophesies, that can only mean that Snape was discovered after the prophesy was finished: if he interrupted when Trelawney was fully aware of her surroundings, then Snape would have heard the entire prophesy – and he would have known that telling Voldemort only the first part would lead to Voldemort’s death. A faithful Death Eater would have rushed to tell Voldemort the entire prediction or (if he’d read Macbeth) might have stayed completely silent.
Voldemort’s delayed reaction is another hole in Dumbledore’s story. If Dumbledore is telling the truth, then Snape would have rushed to tell Voldemort about the prophesy sometime in winter or early spring of 1980 – but Harry isn’t killed until Halloween of 1981, a full year and a half after Snape heard the prophesy. Why would Voldemort wait to until Harry was a toddler before killing him? He could just as easily have killed a pregnant Lily or an infant – the Fidelius Charm wasn’t even cast until a week before the attack (PA 205) and Pettigrew had been passing information to Voldemort for an entire year before they died (PA 374). Voldemort would have had ample chance to kill his only possible enemy…if he’d been told in time.
If Snape didn’t tell Voldemort about the prophecy immediately, why would he tell him later? He would risk torture and possibly death if he explained he’d been sitting on such information, and he’d also have to account for where and how he could have heard the prophecy. I suspect that – sometime after Snape turned – Dumbledore cooked up the idea of turning him into a double agent. Phase one of that plan probably included planting the idea in Voldemort’s mind that someone – preferably someone Dumbledore would feel obligated to help – should keep an eye on the headmaster at Hogwarts. And who better than Severus Snape? Then, after Voldemort had commanded him to apply for the conveniently open Defense post (note that the potions teacher was also conveniently missing), Severus could return with an amazing story – that, while “[spinning Dumbledore] a tale of deepest remorse” (HBP 31), he’d either heard or been told of a prophecy detailing Voldemort’s defeat. Make no mistake about it: Dumbledore’s excuse that Snape didn’t know to whom the prophecy referred is not true. Snape would have known that there were two young boys, born in July, whose parents had defied Voldemort three times; he probably would have guessed that Voldemort would choose the half-blood son of the Potters (with a powerful pureblood father and an extremely powerful Muggle-born mother, Harry would have seemed the greater threat to Voldemort). In fact, I suspect that Snape waited so long – and maybe even argued with Dumbledore – because he didn’t want Lily to be killed. When he finally told Voldemort, I’m sure Snape added some sort of plea for Lily’s safety as a reward. Why else would Voldemort – an evil pureblood supremacist bent on world domination and the total eradication of Mudbloods – hesitate when killing Lily and offer her mercy if she would only “step aside” (PA 179)? He’s not exactly someone who shies away from killing unnecessarily…but he does reward loyal servants (Peter’s silver hand, and his promises of rewarding the Lestranges (GF 651)). Lily could be spared because she was meant for a reward for Snape.
I suspect that Trelawney’s story is the correct one. She has no reason to lie – Trelawney doesn’t know what’s going on, and she’s not exactly the master of subterfuge Dumbledore is. After all, this is the man who admits to “[caring] more for [Harry’s] happiness than [his] knowing the truth” (OP 838). I find it quite plausible that Dumbledore might decide that the chance of defeating Voldemort was so important that Voldemort had to be told the contents of the prophesy; I also find it quite plausible that Dumbledore would seek to protect Harry from that knowledge by allowing him to think his parents were betrayed unwittingly by an anonymous eavesdropper instead of knowingly by ex-Death Eater Severus Snape.
For that matter, when did Snape turn from the Dark side? A truly loyal Death Eater would have told Voldemort about the prophecy immediately, which suggests that Snape’s loyalties didn’t lie entirely with Voldemort in the spring of 1980 – and at any rate, Snape didn’t actually tell Voldemort the entire prophesy; he left out the crucial detail about marking Harry as his equal. Either Snape was already working for Dumbledore (which might explain what he was doing at a job interview on the same night as Trelawney, who had been working at Hogwarts for “nearly sixteen years” in the middle of Harry’s fifth year (OP 314) – when Snape had only been working there for fourteen (OP 363). That’s almost a two-year gap between the time Trelawney was hired and the time Snape was hired; perhaps Snape wasn’t there for a job interview at all, but for a de-briefing on Voldemort’s activities – making him a valued part of the Order long before Voldemort’s defeat). Another possibility is that he changed sides shortly after hearing the prophecy, perhaps seizing the chance to take down Lord Voldemort. At any rate, by the time Snape told Voldemort about the Potters, he’d already switched sides. And – given Lupin’s admission that during the first Voldemort war the Order was “outnumbered twenty to one by the Death Eaters and they were picking [Order members] off one by one” (OP 177) – it’s clear that Snape switched from the winning side to the losing side—and helped to deliver the fatal blow. Either he was slightly unhinged, or Snape changed sides as a matter of conscience.
And stayed with Dumbledore – or, Snape the terrible Death Eater
If Severus Snape is truly a loyal Death Eater, biding his time and collecting information for Voldemort as he would have Bellatrix believe, then…well, then he isn’t a very good one.
Not only did Snape withhold the most important part of Trelawney’s prophecy from Voldemort (that the baby had to be marked as an equal to be a threat), thereby causing Voldemort’s downfall, but he seems curiously concerned about keeping Harry alive and trained. In Harry’s first year, as Quirrell is busy attempting to curse Harry’s broom and kill him, Snape steps in and saves Harry’s life (SS 288) – a curious action for a Death Eater to take. And he doesn’t stop saving Harry when it becomes apparent that the Dark Lord is back, either: he attempts to teach Harry Occlumency (although the lessons are a total disaster), and gives him a last-minute bit of advice as he leaves: “Blocked again and again and again until you learn to keep your mouth shut and your mind closed” (HBP 603) – Occlumency in a nutshell. Snape stops the other Death Eaters from even touching Harry by reminding them that they are to leave Harry to Voldemort (HBP 603), even though I can’t imagine that Voldemort would particularly mind a Cruciatus or two. And Snape works very hard to ensure that Bellatrix (and therefore the rest of the Death Eaters) underestimate Harry: he calls him “mediocre” and adds that Harry only succeeds through “sheer luck and more talented friends” (HPB 31) – none of which is true, as Snape has ample reason to know. And in the same conversation, Snape casually adds that he’s attempting to get Harry expelled…which is interesting, given the fact that Snape has had two excellent opportunities to get Harry expelled and hasn’t taken either. First, after the trio aids and abets Sirius Black (a convicted criminal), Snape makes sure to excuse their actions to Fudge: he explains that “Black had bewitched them” and they “weren’t responsible for their actions” (386). The three students have just been caught consorting with a werewolf and murdering Death Eater – what better reason could Snape use to insist on their expulsion? But instead, he gives them a way out. And then two years later, when Umbridge requests Veritaserum in order to interrogate Harry, Snape refuses to give it to her (OP 744)! Umbridge is desperate for a reason to expel Harry, and Snape can easily give her the potion she needs to find one – and yet he refuses. For all his threats, Snape doesn’t actually want Harry thrown out; he wants Harry trained.
Dumbledore, as well, owes his life to Snape. After he successfully found and destroyed Voldemort’s ring-horcrux, Dumbledore was near to death and only managed to live because of “[his] own prodigious skill, and for Professor Snape’s timely actions when [he] returned” (HBP 503). A good Death Eater would have killed Dumbledore in his weakened state or simply lingered a little too long with the healing potion or counter-curse; instead, Snape expends energy and effort to heal Dumbledore.
Snape also rushes the Death Eaters out of Hogwarts immediately after Dumbledore’s death. His sole contribution to the battle at the end of book six (other than killing Dumbledore) is to maybe stupefy Flitwick; it seems he simply ran through a raging battle without bothering to even stun a professor (HBP 617). It’s telling that in the fall, when Bellatrix demanded proof of his loyalty, Snape was able to offer up only two kills: Emmaline Vance and Sirius Black (HBP 30) – we know that Snape actually attempted to save Sirius and Harry by checking on Sirius and alerting the Order (OP 830); can we trust his confession about Vance either? It appears that Snape doesn’t really have enough evidence to give to Bellatrix – he has to make some up.
For that matter, Snape tells Dumbledore his Mark is getting clearer, thereby alerting him to Voldemort’s return (GF 598); he thrusts his arm under Fudge’s nose to prove to the Ministry that Voldemort is coming back (GF 709-10). And – instead of turning a traitor Death Eater in to Voldemort or encouraging him to return to the fold, Snape actually tells Karkaroff to “Flee – [Snape] will make [Karkaroff’s] excuses” (GF 426). A man who saves the only man Voldemort fears, manages not to hurt the only wizard who can finally defeat him, and does his best to protect Hogwarts and the Order? If Snape is actually on the Dark side, I hope he stays there.
But he protects his students, and respects his colleagues.
Not only does Snape save Harry and Dumbledore, alert the Order to Harry’s rescue mission in the Department of Mysteries (thereby ensuring that Voldemort would fail to kill Harry or to ever hear Trelawney’s full prophecy), and attempt to convince Fudge of Voldemort’s return, he also seems to be a teacher who is dedicated to the physical safety of his students. He hurries the Death Eaters (including Greyback) away from Hogwarts, and he does his best to ensure that Lupin – a werewolf he cannot force out of Hogwarts – remains a benign presence on campus by brewing him Wolfsbane (PA 156) and going out of his way to bring it to Lupin when he forgets to take it (PA 160). And although one can argue about the ethics of outing Lupin to the school, it’s telling that Snape waits to do so until after Lupin was found outside, transformed, with three students; Lupin himself adds that “[he] could have bitten any of [the trio]….That must never happen again” (PA 423).
The Snape-McGonagall dynamic is also interesting to note, as they are equals, working together both at Hogwarts and in the Order. Snape and McGonagall are the two teachers consistently shown with Dumbledore – they’re there when the Fat Lady’s portrait is slashed (PA 160), when Harry’s name pops out of the Goblet – where it’s interesting to note that Sprout, Cedric’s head of House, isn’t invited – (GF 275), and when Crouch-as-Moody tries to kill Harry (GF 679). They’re both furious with Fudge for allowed Crouch to be kissed by a dementor (GF 702-4), and Snape actually stops taking points from Harry when McGonagall gets back from St. Mungo’s, and then doesn’t protest when she gives him some (OP 852)! Their relationship is one based on respect and even a sort of friendship, and McGonagall is so shocked when she hears that Snape has killed Dumbledore that she almost faints, protesting, “but he trusted…always… Snape…I can’t believe it” (HBP 615).
Before I talk about the tower, I want to talk a little bit about why Dumbledore would allow Snape to take the Defense Against the Dark Arts job that fall. Since he refused to give the post to Voldemort in 1957 (according to the Lexicon), no one has been able to keep the job for more than a year (HBP 446), and look what happened to the ones we know about – death, destruction of memory, public humiliation, Dementor’s kiss, severe injuries from centaurs. The minute Snape took that job, his future immediately started to look a lot worse—and Dumbledore knew that. I think Dumbledore must have known it would be Snape’s last year at Hogwarts; the Defense job was a bonus of sorts.
In Chapter Two of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Snape and Narcissa do their best to convince us that Snape is indeed the “Dark Lord’s favorite, his most trusted advisor” (HBP 34). They are lying.
It seems obvious to me that Snape is bluffing his way through the conversation with Narcissa and Bellatrix. He is not, in fact, in on “the plan”, and his reminder to Narcissa that she would be “guilty of great treachery to the Dark Lord” if she were to speak of the plan to anyone not in the know is a subtle warning; she cannot now question his word without admitting her guilt (HBP 32). (In fact, Bellatrix is “outraged” (HBP 33) to learn that Snape has been told anything – she is shocked because Snape’s not as trusted as he once was.) Bellatrix believes Snape has somehow “fooled the Dark Lord” (HBP 26), and she isn’t speaking alone – Bellatrix Lestrange is a Death Eater with clout, and Snape needs to convince her of his loyalty before she convinces Voldemort of his lack thereof. So he promises to help Draco. Still, Bellatrix is wary, and her taunts and doubts force Snape into the Unbreakable Vow. (Whether or not the Unbreakable Vow is actually unbreakable is immaterial at this point, but there are some great discussions of why is isn’t – including this one, Dumbledore Viviens Snapeque Bonamicus, by Denis Howarth.) But even that isn’t enough – Bellatrix (and the other Death Eaters, and Voldemort) are still suspicious. Draco refuses to tell Snape what’s going on, and when learns Occlumency, he learns it from Aunt Bellatrix, not Professor Snape (HBP 322). Something drastic has to be done to prove that Snape isn’t working for Dumbledore, and something has to be done to make sure Draco doesn’t commit murder. Here, I think, the plot to kill Dumbledore, if it should come to that, was hatched – and here is where Hagrid overheard Snape and Dumbledore arguing: Snape says “Dumbledore took too much fer granted an’ maybe…Snape didn’ wan’ ter do it anymore,” but Dumbledore merely replies that Snape “agreed ter do it an’ that was all there was to it” (HBP 405-6).
All of which brings us to the night on the tower. The Mark hovering over the castle, Dumbledore and Harry rush inside, Dumbledore “clutching at his chest” and speaking “faintly” (HBP 583). Draco enters, and Dumbledore, by immobilizing Harry, has no time to defend himself and is disarmed (HBP 584). Wandless and weak, “the strength in his legs apparently fading” (HBP 587) as his feet slip and “he [struggles] to remain upright” (HBP 598), Dumbledore tries to talk Draco out of murder. But before he can convince Draco not to do the deed, four Death Eaters – including Fenrir Greyback – enter the room. The door downstairs has been blocked to non-Death Eaters, and one of the Death Eaters remarks casually that Dumbledore’s “not too long for this world anyway” when they see him “slumped against the wall” (HBP 594-5).
At this point, Severus Snape bursts in. Immediately – even before Snape shows any inclination of being the one to kill him – Dumbledore “pleads” with him: “Severus…” and again, “Severus…please…” (HBP 595). Harry assumes that Dumbledore is pleading for his life, but that doesn’t actually make any sense: first, because Dumbledore has never seemed to be the type of man to fear death or beg for his life, and second (and more importantly), because Snape can’t save him.
Dumbledore is weakened and unarmed; Harry is immobilized; for all intents and purposes, they are both useless. Snape would be fighting four armed Death Eaters and one wildcard (Draco—no one could know whether he would fight with Snape or with the Death Eaters). Those odds aren’t good, especially when the lives of three of the most important Light players – the spy, the leader, and the Boy Who Lived – hang in the balance.
Remember when, only a few chapters earlier, Dumbledore said this to Harry: “You [must] obey any command I might give you at once, without questioning….I mean that you must follow even such orders as ‘run,’ ‘hide,’ or ‘go back.’...If I tell you to leave me and save yourself, you will do as I tell you” (HBP 560)? Dumbledore has clear rules about following him – you can say what you like about him, you can argue and ask questions, but when he gives you an order (even if it’s something you don’t want to do), you follow. Harry agrees to this, as we must imagine Snape also agreed, and is later called upon to honor his word, when Dumbledore instructs Harry to force-feed him a potion which causes Dumbledore (and Harry) terrible anguish: “Hating himself, repulsed by what he was doing, Harry [forced Dumbledore to drink the potion]” (HBP 571).
Like Harry, Snape is given a command (probably wordlessly, during the pause while he meets Dumbledore’s eyes): he must kill Dumbledore. He hesitates – as anyone would – until Dumbledore begs him to do it. Why would Dumbledore beg for death, when he won’t beg for life? Simple. A man can command someone to help him, but he asks him to risk his life (as Dumbledore does when he asks Snape to return to spy: “Severus, you know what I must ask you to do. If you are ready…if you are prepared…then good luck” (GF 713)). And killing a friend and leader in cold blood is not something one can be commanded to do – it needs to be asked, and even begged. Snape obeys, with “revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face” (HBP 595). Notice the parallel: when Harry and Snape are commanded to hurt Dumbledore, they are repulsed by what they must do; they hate the act, and themselves for doing it.
Rowling draws another parallel to between Snape and Harry – that of a wounded dog. After Dumbledore’s death, Harry’s “eyes [burn] with tears as behind him Fang [begins] to howl” (HBP 610), while Snape’s face looks “demented, inhuman, as though he was in as much pain as the yelping, howling dog stuck in the burning house behind them” (HBP 604). Both, in pain, are compared to Hagrid’s dog Fang (and, in fact, Hargrid is the first person we see compared to a dog because of grief: when he has to give up Harry, he gives a “howl like a wounded dog” because he “can’t stand it” (SS 15)) – an interesting choice, given that dogs are most known for their loyalty and devotion.
Those Defense Teachers
JKR has done some interesting things with parallels in Harry Potter (shown in Harry Potter Is Not Going To Die by gowdie), particularly with her Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers (as pointed out marvelously in Louis Badalament’s essay Those Unpredictable Defense Against the Dark Arts Professors). Book one gives us a benign-seeming professor who nonetheless tries to kill Harry and turns out to be hiding Lord Voldemort under his turban; book four has a friendly and helpful ex-auror (whom Harry grows to trust and admire) turn out to be a deranged Death Eater who tries to kill Harry…after sending him to visit Lord Voldemort in a graveyard and bringing about the death of Cedric Diggory. In book two, Harry is taught by a hilariously incompetent teacher, who attempts to run Hogwarts and tries to modify Harry’s memory before being Obliviated; in book five, Harry is again taught no actual defensive magic – only this time, it’s because his teacher is an evil Ministry agent working to wrest Hogwarts from Dumbledore’s control, who tries to brainwash, torture, and discredit Harry before being attacked by a herd of centaurs. Book three gives us an excellent teacher whom Dumbledore trusts when others do not (especially concerning a convicted murderer), and – although it is evident that the trust is warranted – extenuating circumstances and an almost-murder force Lupin to leave Hogwarts. Following the pattern JKR has laid out in the earlier books, we should expect book six to give us a teacher trusted by no one except Dumbledore, even (and maybe especially) Harry – which it did. We should also expect extenuating circumstances (such as a werewolf loose on Hogwarts grounds?) to lead to murder or close call and Snape’s disappearance – which they did. So I think it fair to expect that Snape, like Lupin, will turn out to have been trustworthy all along.
Rowling’s world gives us good people who do bad things and bad people who do good things; mean and nasty people oppose Voldemort, and kind, jocular people support him. Snape is not a wonderful teacher or a nice person. He holds grudges from his days as a student and exacts revenge on James Potter and cohorts by tormenting Harry. But luckily for Snape, being a mean person doesn’t necessarily mean someone is evil: “The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters” (OP 302). Severus Snape is perhaps the greyest character in the series – a vengeful teacher, a devious spy, a murderer…and nonetheless, Dumbledore’s man through and through.
Dumbledore’s death was a lost battle for the Order, but it may yet win them the war: Snape now has indisputable proof that he is a true Death Eater. If he can rejoin the inner circle and resume his place at Voldemort’s right hand, he may be able to turn the war and force an Order victory. That’s why Dumbledore begged for his death; that’s why Snape vanished afterwards. He isn't running to join the Death Eaters -- he's running to help Dumbledore's side.
And (on a totally unrelated sidenote) does anyone know how much say JKR gets in the scripts for the movies? Specifically movie five?