‘You Disgust Me’

In Defense of Albus Dumbledore, Part 1

Note: drinkingcocoa links have broken in the past 10 years. I keep them for historical purposes.

At times, drinkingcocoa’s LiveJournal mirrors my own thoughts on Severus Snape. Many of the insights contained in her post “Why Dumbledore delegated the final message to Snape” are exactly the same as mine. But then there’s her insistence that Dumbledore never cared for Snape. And there we differ. Big time.

This is a recurring theme for drinkingcocoa (and I daresay many Snape partisans), so I’m starting a series that examines the Dumbledore/Snape interactions.

First, let’s take a look at one of the complaints:

In a post called “Why I’m not so mad at Dumbledore,” drinkingcocoa writes:

At the Terminus roundtable “I’m Not Dead Yet,” for those of us still in Snape-death denial, moderator Lori A. Franklin asked us if anything in the chapter “The Prince’s Tale” surprised us. My answer was that I was shocked to see that Dumbledore didn’t love Snape. His “You disgust me” may be the harshest thing he says to anyone in the series. Dumbledore talks like that?

Let’s put “Snape-death denial” on hold for this post and look at the other part of the comment. drinkingcocoa is clearly shocked that once upon a time Dumbledore told Snape, on a remote hilltop, just after Snape had indicated his willingness to let James and Harry die if someone would just save Lily: “You disgust me.”

Let’s look at the entire context of the “you disgust me” remark:

“If she means so much to you,” said Dumbledore, “surely Lord Voldemort will spare her? Could you not ask for mercy for the mother, in exchange for the son?”

“I have – I have asked him -”

“You disgust me,” said Dumbledore, and Harry had never heard so much contempt in his voice. Snape seemed to shrink a little. “You do not care, then, about the deaths of her husband and child? They can die, as long as you have what you want?”

Snape said nothing, but merely looked up at Dumbledore.

“Hide them all, then,” he croaked. “Keep her – them – safe. Please.”

“And what will you give me in return, Severus?”

“In – in return?” Snape gaped at Dumbledore, and Harry expected him to protest, but after a long moment he said, “Anything.”

There’s a name for what Dumbledore does here. It’s called “tough love.” Dumbledore speaks harshly to Snape precisely because he respects him enough to tell him the truth. Dumbledore’s disgust is based on Snape’s behavior, not his person. He does not eternally condemn Snape to the category “disgusting.” Rather, he merely refuses to coddle Snape.

Snape’s proposed exchange of the life of the mother for the lives of the father and son is disgusting. By showing his rightful disgust, Dumbledore brings Snape to what an addict might call “the first in a series of bottoms.” By shining a light into Snape’s darkened soul, Dumbledore helps the young Death Eater catch a glimpse of the depths to which he has sunk, making him willing to plead for the lives of Lily’s entire family, and even add a “Please.”

It’s a start, but Dumbledore wants more: “And what will you give me in return, Severus?”

Why ask for more when everything we know about Dumbledore indicates that he would hardly shirk the responsibility of protecting the Potters, regardless of Snape’s response? Because pushing Snape to make a commitment affords the Death Eater an opportunity to truly turn his life around, to change, to repent, to make restitution, to be redeemed – just as Dumbledore turned his own life around at about the same age.

And the prodding works. It is the barest of beginnings, but when Snape says he’ll do “Anything,” it truly marks the difference between almost-certain damnation and the possibility of redemption. Rather than showing coldness or lack of care, Dumbledore’s rough prodding actually shows the depth of his concern for Snape’s soul.

drinkingcocoa seems to understand this in part. She goes on to write:

I had assumed that Dumbledore loved Snape…, the man whom he utterly trusted, and mentored away from a damned life, and guided through the trickiest of double agencies.

But then she adds:

How fascinating to learn that this was wrong, and that Dumbledore saw Snape only as an unusually valuable indentured servant.

“An unusually valuable indentured servant”? An indentured servant is under contract to perform a service for a period of time. There is no such relationship between Dumbledore and Snape. Snape did not have to go on staff at Hogwarts. He did not have to work so hard to protect Lily’s son. He did not have to spy for Dumbledore. He did not have to work to redeem himself. He always had a choice. He could have slithered away into the darkness and Dumbledore would never have forced him to return to the light.

That much is evident from their conversation during the Yule Ball, when Snape tells Dumbledore that the Dark Mark is growing stronger and Karkaroff plans to flee. Dumbledore asks Snape if he too is tempted to flee, indicating clearly that he has no intention of forcing Snape to remain if Snape wishes to save himself. But Snape is “not such a coward.” And he is no indentured servant either. He voluntarily works toward redeeming himself under the guidance of a very tough spiritual mentor who gives him the opportunity to make free moral choices.

And Dumbledore is uniquely qualified for this role. He knows more about the lure of the Dark Arts than Severus Snape can possibly imagine. (continued in Part 2)

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