Professor Quirrell, in his absurd turban, was talking to a teacher with greasy black hair, a hooked nose, and sallow skin.
It happened very suddenly. The hook-nosed teacher looked past Quirrell’s turban straight into Harry’s eyes – and a sharp, hot pain shot across the scar on Harry’s forehead.
“Ouch!” Harry clapped a hand to his head.
“What is it?” asked Percy.
The pain had gone as quickly as it had come. Harder to shake off was the feeling Harry had gotten from the teacher’s look – a feeling that he didn’t like Harry at all.
Straight into Harry’s Eyes
This post is one of the scariest of all posts to write, but being a Gryffindor, I will try to ignore the fact that the comments thread could explode into vituperative rants and the entire blogosphere could fly apart into billions of tiny pieces. I will be brave. I must.
The reason this post is so potentially explosive is that the sallow-skinned Professor’s look right here, in this scene, launched a battle that has been raging ever since. Even the fact that this man looks straight into Harry’s eyes could be the spark that ignites the flames that destroy us all! And if you think I’m kidding… just take a look at some of this morning’s discussion (yes, that is me posting as ccollinsmith)!
(A word to first-time-Potter-readers: You can still move away from this page right now, before it becomes highly spoilerific!).
The opinion that Harry forms right here, in this scene, is the one that stays with some fans forever – long after Harry has moved on, gotten over it, and even… gasp!… named his child after this man.
The hook-nosed Professor is, of course, Severus Snape, who will be the seeming villain all throughout PS/SS. In actuality, he is “Mr. Red Herring,” and in this scene he first lays eyes on “Mr. Love-Me-Or-I’ll-Think-You’re-Evil” Harry Potter.
Now, I love Harry. Don’t get me wrong. But in the course of this book, Harry will take Snape’s coldness and spin out of it a wild fantasy of horrific misdeeds – of working to steal the Philosopher’s Stone in order to return Lord Voldemort fully to life.
Now mind you, Harry knows nothing of Snape’s past – nothing of Snape having been one of the Dark Lord’s Death Eaters, nothing of Snape’s role in the deaths of his parents, nothing of Snape’s subsequent deep and abiding loyalty to Albus Dumbledore, nothing of his hard work behind the scenes to protect Harry Potter. All he knows is that Snape appears to hate him, and therefore he must be eeevol!!! Murderously so.
Oh, and of course, Harry also knows that Snape is the head of Slytherin House.
When Snape looks into Harry’s eyes and Harry feels the sharp pain in his scar, Harry concludes that the pain must come from Severus Snape. The logic running through Harry’s mind goes something like this: If Professor Snape looks at me and if I then feel pain, the pain must come from Professor Snape’s look.
That’s called a “post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc fallacy” (for anyone keeping score) – or a “post hoc fallacy” for short. What it means is that the person committing the fallacy confuses sequence with cause. That is, if x occurred before y, then x must have caused y. As Hermione will say later in this book, “Most wizards don’t have an ounce of logic.” Harry’s conclusions about Snape in PS/SS illustrate that point quite beautifully.
And how about that look? Severus Snape has never seen Harry before. But he did hear on the day that Harry’s mother died that the boy who lived had her eyes. Also on that day, he swore to protect the boy, in order to honor the mother’s sacrifice. (uh-oh… the “obsession chorus” is about to start!)
Here, Snape finally sees the boy he has vowed to protect, and see if there is something of the mother in him. And of course what he sees is that ZOMG!!! THE BOY HAS HIS FATHER’S FACE!!! It’s a miracle that he didn’t throw his resignation at Albus Dumbledore right there on the spot and fly shrieking from Hogwarts Castle as fast as Gilderoy Lockhart would run if confronted by a monster!
But I’m getting ahead of the story… and Snape is after all no snivelling coward – despite the humiliating nickname Harry’s dad gave him as a boy.
At any rate, Snape begins his relationship with Harry by looking straight into the boy’s eyes, and he will end his life looking straight into this boy’s eyes – thus bookending what Harry Potter will ultimately acknowledge to have been one of the most important relationships in the course of his life.
Because of the huge mistakes both characters make in understanding each other, the tension that rises between them over the course of seven years, and the conclusions Harry ultimately draws about his most hated Professor, we will be keeping a very close watch on the development of the Snape-Harry relationship.
Let the flames begin!