PotterTime 1: Harry Potter and the Time that Severus Snape Didn’t Deserve Redemption
October 13, 2020
J. K. Rowling created the amazing Harry Potter series in the 90s, and it still has fans wholeheartedly obsessed with the books and films today. By fans, I mean me. I will be diving into the complex universe of Harry Potter’s books and movies to dissect the characters, plots, fan theories, and more in PotterTime. Beware: there will be spoilers! There are several controversial topics in the Harry Potter universe, but the one I’m analyzing today is Professor Severus Snape’s redemption arc.
To truly understand the character of Severus Snape and why he didn’t deserve redemption, you have to go back to his past and understand the reasons why some claim he did. Snape’s father, Tobias Snape, was a muggle (as Hagrid puts it in the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) movie, a muggle is “non-magic folk”) and his mother, Eileen Prince, was a witch. They didn’t get along very well and fought often with each other. When Harry views Snape’s memories in the 5th book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, page 592 describes, “…a hook-nosed man was shouting at a cowering woman, while a small dark-haired boy cried in the corner…” Snape later mentions through a memory of him talking to Lily in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that his father didn’t like much of anything, and we can assume that extends to not liking Snape as well. Not only did Snape grow up in a toxic household, he also grew up in a time where bloodstatus mattered greatly. It especially mattered in Slytherin, the house that Snape (a half-blood) would be sorted into when he went to Hogwarts. Snape met a muggle-born witch named Lily Evans when he was a child at the playground. He saw her practicing magic and revealed to her that she was a witch. Lily became Snape’s childhood best, and only, friend. He eventually believed himself to be in love with her (but I’ll get into that later).
When Snape and Lily went to Hogwarts together, they were sorted into different houses. While Snape was sorted into Slytherin, the house of the cunning and ambitious, Lily was sorted into its rival house Gryffindor, the house of the brave and daring. Despite the house rivalry, Lily and Snape remained best friends. In Gryffindor, Lily Evans met another boy by the name of James Potter. James grew to be in love with Lily and was determined to get her attention. Of course, Lily couldn’t stand James. Snape grew very jealous of James and his friends, Remus Lupin, Peter Petigrew, and Sirius Black. James and Snape fought constantly, always firing hexes at one another between classes. Snape was always trying to find out where they disappeared to every full moon. At one point, Sirius Black thought it would be funny to send Snap to the Whomping Willow tunnel on a full moon, which had Remus Lupin in his werewolf state lurking inside. In the werewolf state, Lupin was not himself and couldn’t control his actions, but James figured out what Sirius had done and realized what was happening. James saved Snape’s life. Dumbledore made Snape promise not to tell anyone what Lupin was, but Snape never forgave them for what happened. James and his friends were arrogant and bullied other students on multiple occasions. Eventually, James outgrew this behavior and stopped teasing the other students- except Snape. On page 671 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Lupin recalled, “Snape was a special case. I mean, he never lost an opportunity to curse James, so you couldn’t really expect James to take that lying down, could you?”
Snape began to make friends with people who favored the dark side of magic and were prejudiced against muggles and mugglesborns (like Lily herself). Harry witnessed a memory of Snape’s schooldays where his father was bullying Snape. When Lily demands that James stops, Snape calls Lily a “mudblood” (a very prejudiced slur for those with “impure blood”). That was the moment Lily and Snape’s friendship truly began to end. Lily yelled at James for his immature actions and bullying. After Lily confronted James about his behavior, he changed his ways and became a better person. When Snape was called out by Lily for being prejudiced and doing dark magic, he joined the Death Eaters, which was basically a terrorist group against those who were not pure of blood and not from wizarding families.
Lily and James fell in love, got married, and had Harry Potter on July 31, 1980. They joined the Order of the Phoenix to fight against the Death Eaters in the Wizarding War waged by Voldemort, the greatest dark wizard of all time. A prophecy was issued that claimed a boy born at the end of July would be the one to vanquish Voldemort. Snape overheard this prophecy and immediately fled to Voldemort to tell him what he had learned. What Snape had not realized was that the boy in the prophecy was Lily’s son. Once he realized he put the woman he cared so much for on the top of Voldemorts murder list, he was overwhelmed with guilt and grief. He went to Dumbledore and became a double agent in exchange for the promise that Dumbledore would keep Lily safe. Unfortunately, Lily and James were sold out by an unforeseen friend turned deatheater, Peter Pettigrew, and the Potter’s were murdered on Halloween of 1981. On this night, Harry defeated He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named for the first time. Snape arrived at the Potter’s house as soon as he could, only to find Lily and her husband dead and Harry alone in his crib with a lightning bolt scar etched across his forehead.
Many people believe that it was Snape’s love for Lily that gave him redemption. After all, he spent the rest of his life working for Dumbledore, doing whatever the wizard wanted as a double agent and protecting Harry Potter. Snape’s patronus charm even matched Harry’s mother’s, a doe, years after her death. He killed Dumbledore while fulfilling a promise of protecting Draco Malfoy on Dumbledore’s orders. In the end, he was just a man with a broken heart, right? I’m about to tell you why that is dead wrong.
According to J. K. Rowling’s website Pottermore, the feature What is a Patronus? explained a patronus charm as “a form of advanced magic which even the most qualified wizards can struggle with.” While patronuses are unique to the witch/wizard who conjured them, that doesn’t mean they won’t repeat or change. Lily’s patronus was a doe and James’ patronus was a stag. They complimented each other and showed how much the two truly loved one another. Snape’s patronus, on the other, was also a doe. Why? Well it wasn’t because he loved Lily. I believe that Snape never truly loved Lily. James’ patronus partnered with Lily’s while Snape’s patronus mimicked it. This was because rather than being in love with Lily, he was obsessed with her. Snape had grown up with Lily and felt as if she could only be with him. On multiple occasions throughout the series, Snape makes it clear that he does not care for the people that Lily loves. If Snape truly loved Lily, he would want her to be happy along with those that she loved. Everything he ever did for Harry wasn’t because he wanted to protect Lily’s son, it was because he was still obsessed with his dead childhood friend. His obsession with Lily also explains how he never wanted her to be happy, he only wanted her to be with him. If he really did love her, Snape would care for Harry as an extension of Lily, not hating him because of his father. This really explains how he can walk past Lily’s murdered husband James Potter without a second glance and ignore Lily’s infant son, sobbing alone in his crib, just to hug Lily Potter’s dead body. There is a line between love and obsession, and Snape didn’t know how to draw it.
Let’s take a trip back to when Snape and Lily became friends on the playground. Snape watched Lily on multiple occasions before he jumped out at her and told her that she was a witch. Maybe Snape was just shy, or maybe he was simply being a creepy stalker. Perhaps we’ll never know Snape’s intention of watching Lily from behind the trees and bushes, but even after he befriended Lily, page 667 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows states, “He watched her greedily as he had watched her in the playground.” I find it interesting how he didn’t watch her in admiration, or lovingly or in any gentle way that one might watch a friend, but “greedily,” as if she belonged to him and him alone. When Lily’s muggle sister, Petunia, sneaked up on them and took the attention off of Snape and insulted them, he used magic to make a tree branch about Petunia’s head fall. The branch falls onto her shoulder, hurting Petunia and greatly upsetting Lily. Snape then lied to Lily and claimed that he didn’t do it, even though Lily already knew the truth. This shows how Snape was willing to lie and hurt the people Lily loved as long as Snape had her undivided attention.
Even when Lily and Snape were separated by house at Hogwarts, they were best friends. I believe Snape’s obsession with Lily began here. Snape, having grown up in a toxic household, found a sort of refuge in Lily, who was probably the first and only positive influence in his life. She defended him from bullies and remained friends with him when no one else did. Well, until Snape met his new friends. Snape became friends with the wrong crowd. That is, the crowd that strived to perform dark magic, become Death Eaters, and hate people with mixed blood. Snape partook in these actions and defended his friends who were clearly doing wrong. When Lily confronted him about it, he acted as if using dark magic on fellow students was a joke. When his nemesis James Potter played pranks on him or other students, he acted as if it were a terrible crime. He completely disregards Lily’s feelings about his friends and instead glorifies the fact that she doesn’t like James, as James fancied her. Once he called her a “mudblood,” their friendship was over. Snape had ruined their friendship by joining Voldemort’s side and forever blamed James Potter for being the one she fell for in the end.
Once Snape had told Voldemort of the prophecy, effectively putting Lily, James, and Harry’s life in terrible danger, he was overcome with guilt and his obsession. When Voldemort would not spare her, Snape went to Dumbledore for help. Snape did not care if Harry and James were going to be murdered, only cared that Lily’s life was spared. On page 677 of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore asked, “You do not care, then, about the deaths of her husband and child? They can die, as long as you get what you want?” Did Snape respond by apologizing and denying the accusation? No, instead, “Snape said nothing, but merely looked up at Dumbledore.” Snape never truly loved Lily, or he would’ve cared that the people she loved were going to be hurt, which would hurt her. As long as Snape could have Lily, he didn’t care about her feelings. Snape agreed to be a double agent in return for Lily’s safety, but as we know some things just aren’t meant to be. In the end, as page 545 of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince says, “It was Snape who had carried the news of the prophecy to Voldemort. Snape and Peter Pettigrew together had sent Voldemort hunting after Lily and James and their son…” After Lily’s death, Snape wanted nothing to do with her child. Still, Dumbledore convinced Snape to protect Harry when he would arrive at Hogwarts. He makes Dumbledore promise not to tell anyone that he was helping Harry. He refused to acknowledge the fact that Harry had the nature of his mother, simply because Harry looked just like his father. Snape never got over his hate of James Potter years after his death. He would always resent Harry for being James’ son instead of his. Snape even said that he didn’t want anyone to find out that he was protecting Lily’s child, “especially Potter’s son” (pg. 679 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) because of his hatred for James. Instead of providing Harry a safe haven from his abusive home with the Dursleys, he tormented Harry over an old grudge.
Skipping over the years that Snape taught at Hogwarts before Harry’s arrival, we come to Harry Potter’s first potions class. In this lesson alone, Snape greatly favors the Slytherin house, mocks Harry in front of the whole class, targets Harry by asking him questions that no typical first year could know the answer to, and when he can’t answer the questions, he refers Snape to his classmate Hermione Granger who could. Snape doesn’t let Hermione answer the questions and then proceeds to take points away from Gryffindor. He also begins to bully Neville Longbottom relentlessly in this chapter, and that bullying continues until Neville’s seventh year when he finally learns to stand up for himself. Why would he bully Neville, who had done nothing but be bad at potions? The answer, odd is it sounds, is because Neville was not Harry.
When Snape told Voldemort of the prophecy concerning the boy born of late July, Snape did not realize that there were in fact two boys born that particular late July. One, of course, was Harry Potter, but the other was Neville Longbottom. When Voldemort decided Harry was the one the prophecy was speaking about, it marked Harry and Voldemort as equals, making Harry the Chosen One. This spared Neville from death, as his mother and father, who had been tortured by Death Eaters to insanity, wouldn’t have been in a place to sacrifice themselves for him like Harry’s mother had to save him. Snape, having heard the prophecy, knew this. He knew that if Voldemort had chosen Neville instead of Harry, Lily would still be alive. Snape mercilessly bullied the 11 year old up until his seventh year at Hogwarts, where he finally learns to stand up for himself.
All throughout Harry’s first year, Snape favored the Slytherin house and bullied the Gryffindor students. He relentlessly embarrassed and belittled Harry, who had just escaped from an abusive household. Can you imagine the trauma Snape helped Harry to relive? Not to mention, Snape knew that Professor Quirrell, the main antagonist of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was up to something. Snape, however, did not tell Dumbledore. Instead, on page 226 of the first book, he confronts Quirrell in the forbidden forest, ending the confrontation by threatening, “We’ll have another little chat soon, when you’ve had time to think things over and decide where your loyalties lie.” Whether or not Snape and Quirrell really did have another “little chat” is unknown to me, but Snape did not stop Quirrell or tell Dumbledore of his suspicions. As if a year of bullying a child because of a schoolyard grudge wasn’t enough, Snape immediately ripped into Harry Potter and Ron Weasley as soon as they arrived at Hogwarts for their second year.
When Harry and Ron miss the train to Hogwarts, the only solution they can think of is taking their father’s enchanted car and flying it to Hogwarts. Of course, given that they were 12 years old with no knowledge on how to drive, this was a doomed idea from the start. They end up crashing the car into the Whomping Willow and barely escaping without getting seriously injured. Obviously the boys did not mean to miss the train and then crash the car into the tree; they simply wished to make it to Hogwarts on time. But when Snape finds them, he doesn’t even let them get a word in to explain themselves. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, page 78, he accuses them of “wanting to arrive with a bang” and basically calls them attention seekers. To be fair, Harry and Ron did break the wizarding law and were seen flying the car by muggles. Still, Snape didn’t have to taunt 12 year old children for not thinking something through when they thought they had no other choice. When the only punishment Harry and Ron received were letters written to their parents and detentions instead of expulsion, “Snape looked as if Christmas had been canceled.” (page 81.). Later in this book, Harry attends a dueling club. Snape pairs Harry with Draco Malfoy, Snape’s favorite student and Harry’s least favorite person, as revenge for when Harry set off a firework in the potions classroom (even though Harry did do this, Snape had no evidence that it was Harry). Before the duel, page 193 stated, “Snape moved closer to Malfoy, bent over, and whispered something in his ear. Malfoy smirked, too.” It can be assumed that Snape instructed Malfoy to use “serpensortia”, a spell that conjures a live snake from the wand. If Harry didn’t know the snake language of parseltongue, there would have been students who could have gotten hurt from Snape’s careless actions. You may think that there couldn’t possibly be more reasons that Snape does to not deserve his redemption arc. But then of course, you’d be wrong, because Snape is positively vile in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
On page 124 of the third book, we get a reminder that “…Snape was the head of Slytherin House, and generally favored his own students above all others.” When Malfoy, Snape’s star pupil, claims his arm is hurt, Snape makes Ron do all of Draco’s work instead of having Draco make up the work later. Furthermore, Snape continues to physiologically abuse Neville by giving a potion to Neville’s beloved toad, Trevor. Neville was famously bad at potions, but with Hermione’s help managed to brew it. On page 128, Snape states, “If (Neville) has managed to produce a Shrinking Solution, (Trevor) will shrink to a tadpole. If, as I don’t doubt, he has done it wrong, his toad is likely to be poisoned.” Snape fully expected Neville to fail the potion and kill his toad. When Nevilles potion worked, Snape “looking sour” took points away from Gryffindor because Hermione helped Neville with his potion so his toad wouldn’t die. As if poisoning a 13 year old’s pet wasn’t enough, we come to find out what Neville’s boggart is.
A boggart is a shape-shifter that takes the form of whatever frightens the person before it the most. Neville’s boggart assumed the shape of Professor Snape. Neville, whose parents were tortured to insanity by Death Eaters, had his teacher, someone who is someone that is supposed to make him learn and grow, as his biggest fear. Neville only overcame his boggart when he dressed the boggart, which was in the form of Snape, in his grandmother’s clothes. How horrible do you have to be to the greatest fear of a child who has gone through something like that? Furthermore, page 142 says, “Snape didn’t seem to find it funny. His eyes flashed menacingly at the very mention of Professor Lupin’s name, and he was bullying Neville worse than ever.” Even though Snape knew that he was a child’s biggest fear, he continued to harass and torment Neville worse than before. But wait, there’s more!
When Professor Lupin is unable to come to class because of his lycanthropy, Snape does everything he can to try and get students to realize that Professor Lupin is a werewolf. For context, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander (written by Arthur A. Levine Books), explains on page 83 that “when there is no full moon, the werewolf is as harmless as any other human”. It also explains that there are potions that can be taken to help the werewolf become more docile in its state so it does not actively seek out humans like normal werewolves do. Despite these observations, the wizarding community looks down on werewolves; few wizards accept them with open arms. Many wizards who are turned to werewolves go into hiding in the muggle world or hide their true identities from the wizarding community. It makes sense why Lupin would want to keep his furry little secret to himself; if the students or parents knew, they might force him to leave his position at Hogwarts. Snape knows this and ignores the lesson plan, instead teaching about werewolves and how to recognize one, and assigns an essay over them, all because he can’t let go of the past. Speaking of letting go of the past, Snape begins to mock and degrade Harry’s father in front of Harry whenever Harry upsets him, and then proceeds to tell Harry how much like his father he is. Yes, you heard me. Snape, a fully grown adult, is shaming a 13 year old’s dead father right in front of him before comparing all of their bad qualities. Something is very wrong here. As if that’s not bad enough, when Harry finds out Sirius Black, thought to be a mass murderer, is innocent, Snape refuses to listen. On page 360, Snape said, “All I have to do is call the dementors once we get out of the willow. They’ll be very pleased to see you Black… pleased enough to give you a little kiss, I daresay…” Dementors are creatures that suck the happiness out of you. They can perform what is called the dementor’s kiss and suck the soul out of a person, which is said to be worse than death. As if wanting one person’s soul sucked out isn’t bad enough, Snape said, “I’ll drag the werewolf. Perhaps the dementors will have a kiss for him too.” Snape is so selfish and immature that he would let two innocent people’s souls be taken away for schoolyard revenge. Later, after Snape is knocked unconscious, Harry wakes up in the hospital wing to Snape bragging to the Minister of Magic about how Harry, Ron, and Hermione were all confused and didn’t know what they were talking about and how he had saved them all. He doesn’t let the trio speak and refuses to believe anything they are saying. When Sirius Black escapes, Snape yells at Harry for helping save him (although Snape had no proof Harry played any part in that). Conveniently the next day, Snape “accidentally” told all the Slytherins that Lupin was a werewolf and Lupin resigned his position so as to not disturb the peace of the school.
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Snape continues to terrorize children. Harry and Malfoy get into a duel because Draco called Hermione a mudblood, Harry’s spell hits Goyle (who breaks out into boils) and Malfoy’s spell hits Hermione (who’s already large front teeth began to speedily grow). Snape shows up and immediately sends Goyle to the hospital wing and takes points away from Gryffindor. When they show him what’s been done to Hermione, page 300 states, “Snape looked coldly at Hermione, then said, ‘I see no difference.’” To pick on the looks of a young girl just because you’re sad, old, and lonely is just pathetic. Not to mention, later during that class, the book shares, “‘I want you to brew (the antidote recipes) carefully, and then, we will be selecting someone on whom, to test one…’ Snape’s eyes met Harry’s and Harry knew what was coming. Snape was going to poison him.” Luckily, Harry was saved by another student calling him out of class, but still, poisoning one of his students? Unacceptable. The damage that could cause could be irreversible. Later on, Snape also purposefully embarrasses Harry in front of the entire class by reading a newspaper article aloud to everyone. He accuses Harry of theft, and then threatens to slip Veritum Serum, a ministry regulated truth potion, into Harry’s drink at dinner (which is illegal, by the way). As Harry grows older and more like his mother and father, the more that Snape hates him.
Snape’s double agent job can be hard to keep up with, especially now that at this point in the series Voldemort had risen to power once more. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Snape is once again both a Death Eater and an Order member. During this time, he relentlessly antagonizes Sirius Black in Black’s own house for things he can’t control, like being stuck inside or Black’s history. When Harry has to learn Occlumency (blocking your mind so that the person trying to see it, using Legilimency, cannot do so), Snape unapologetically dives into Harry’s worst memories of abuse. Snape knew everything Harry had gone through and still continued to belittle and degrade him. Harry, then, finds one of Snape’s and watches as Snape is bullied by Harry’s father. Snape is furious and refuses to teach Harry any more. Without those lessons, Voldemort could easily penetrate Harry’s mind (which Voldemort did, and so Harry went to the ministry, where Sirius Black died because of it). Refusing a boy lifesaving help because he didn’t like his father is incredibly selfish. We also find out that Snape had been supplying Professor Umbridge with Veritum Serum so she could interrogate students at Hogwarts without the Ministry knowing. Snape seems to know no ends.
The thing most remember about Snape in the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, is that 1. Snape killed Dumbledore, and 2. Snape was the Halfblood Prince. Starting off strong, we have the time that Draco breaks Harry’s nose and doesn’t get in trouble for it. Harry shows up to Hogwarts late because of it, Snape mocks him and takes points off of Gryffindor. In this moment, page 161 reflects Harry’s thoughts, saying, “He had loathed Snape from their first encounter, but Snape had placed himself forever and irrevocably beyond the possibility of Harry’s forgiveness by his attitude towards Sirius.” Snape then proceeds to mock Tonk’s patronus for changing into the form of a werewolf when she falls in love with Remus Lupin (her form complimenting Lupin’s wolf patronus), even though his patronus was still the same as Lily’s years after her death. Snape is very prejudiced towards werewolves throughout the series and refuses to let by-gones be by-gones. When Snape was in school, he made up the curse “Sectumsempra” and wrote in his potions book (which Harry used throughout his sixth year) that the spell was “for enemies”. This spell causes the victim to bleed severely from multiple points of their bodies. It was horrendous that one would ever come up with such an awful spell, much less while they were in school. Snape punishes Harry over and over throughout the sixth book, taunting him about his dead family and godfather and giving him multiple detentions. At the end of the book, Snape kills Dumbledore under Dumbledore’s orders and reveals himself to be the Half-Blood Prince.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows made many fans fall in love with his character. After all, he does reveal himself to be a “good guy” in the end and leads Harry to the sword of Gryffindor, which Harry needs to destroy the Horcruxes. These acts should be expected of someone and do not excuse him for the horrible things he’s done in the past. When Snape was headmaster at Hogwarts, he allowed students to be brutally tortured. “‘No!’ squeeled Flitwick, raising his wand, ‘You will do no more murder at Hogwarts!’” page 599 stated. This reveals Snape not only condoned the torture of children, but the slaughter of them too. Some may argue that he had to do this to convince the Death Eaters that he was truly on their side. I believe that it wasn’t necessary; Dumbledore was already dead and they obviously trusted Snape enough to have him in charge of Hogwarts. Snape was in a position where could have denied the torture of children to the Death Eater’s easily, but he did not. Snape never cared that Harry was Lily’s son, only that Harry’s mother was dead. Snape even had Harry look him in the eyes as he died, just so he could see the green of Lily’s eyes one last time. Imagine the physiological damage of watching the light leave someone’s eyes like Harry did. Before he died, he gave Harry the memories he had of Lily as a way to explain himself all those years. He made Harry watch Snape obsess over Lily and how he did not care if Harry lived or died. It was always his obsession with Lily that made him protect Harry, never the fact that the entire wizarding world relied on Harry’s survival. Years later, Harry names his son Albus Serverus Potter, claiming Snape was, “the bravest man I ever knew.” I could go on a long tangent of all the people Harry would have named his child after that were far braver than Severus Snape, but I’ll save that for another PotterTime. By showing Harry only the memories Snape wanted him to see, he manipulated Harry into believing that Snape didn’t deserve what happened to him. In the series, he has a grand redemption arc, courtesy of J. K. Rowling. He does not deserve redemption in my book. Yes, Snape grew up in a broken household and was bullied throughout school, but that does not excuse his actions of joining a terrorist group and tormenting children until he died because he didn’t end up with the woman he was obsessed with. Professor Severus Snape was a cowardly, selfish, narcissistic, grudge holding, horrible, obsessed, immature, slimy, pathetic psychological abuser who did not deserve his redemption.
- Wizardingworld.com. 2020. Wizarding World – The Official Home Of Harry Potter. [online] Available at: <https://www.wizardingworld.com/> [Accessed 18 September 2020].
- Rowling, J. (2015). Harry Potter: The complete collection (1-7). Pottermore Publishing.
- Rowling, J. (2017). The Hogwarts library collection. Pottermore Publishing.