Waiting for Pottermore DH2: The Taunting

A fifth batch of emails has been sent out, and there’s still not one for me.

So with that in mind, Expecto Patronum! continues the “Waiting for Pottermore” series…

Note: While we continue the never-ending wait for the Pottermore email, we carry on bravely with our discussion of the DH2 movie…

“Severus Snape wasn’t yours,” said Harry. “Snape was Dumbledore’s. Dumbledore’s from the moment you started hunting down my mother.”

I, and a lot of people, waited for that line in the movie…
and it never came.

After thinking about it, though, I have a theory about why the filmmakers cut it.

It was redundant.

In the book, Harry needs to say it out loud (or think it internally) so that the reading audience gets the point of what he sees in the Pensieve. Yet even with several pages of Harry circling around Voldemort, proclaiming that Dumbledore planned his death with Snape, there remains a tiny contingent of readers who still insist that Snape was truly working for Voldemort and that Harry was merely taunting Voldemort with Snape’s loyalties. He didn’t really mean it. *shrug*

In the movie, though, it’s kind of impossible to miss, or explain away, Snape’s true loyalties. Film is a visual medium, and here is what the viewers (and Harry) get to see…

"You have your mother's eyes"

"... and you're special"

"He doesn't need protecting..."

"So... the boy must die?"

Sure, Severus cradling Lily’s body at Godric’s Hollow is extra-canonical. And sure, Severus never actually says “You have your mother’s eyes.” But movie-only viewers don’t have the advantage of reading the text… over and over and over again… and thinking about its implications. They need to have things spelled out visually. And this approach to the backstory does have JKR’s highest blessing:

“They do it perfectly in the film, that was a place I was very glad they were faithful to the book. Snape’s journey is important, it’s such a lynchpin of the books, the plot can’t function without Snape.” ~ J. K. Rowling

After witnessing the series of images from Snape’s demise through the Pensieve memories, the viewing audience has no question that Severus loved Lily from the time he was a child or that he had been working for Dumbledore – and against Voldemort – ever since the Dark Lord started hunting her down. Viewers don’t need Harry to tell them that. And so, in the movie, he doesn’t.

I’m disappointed, of course, to find one of my favorite moments missing. But I’m appeased by the recognition that it was not necessary to show it. How about you?

Let us know in the comments.

‘I Won’t Blow Up the House!’

On Dudley Dursley’s birthday, the unthinkable happens. Arabella Figg – the crazy old cat lady Harry gets dumped on every time Dudley has a birthday – breaks her leg, and the Dursleys have to figure out what to do with Harry. When the boy suggests just letting him stay home, Uncle Vernon protests that he does not want to come back to find the house in “ruins.”

“I won’t blow up the house,” replies Harry.

The Ruined House

Sounds like the typical parent/guardian exchange with t(w)eens, doesn’t it? But this is actually that rare, almost non-existent, occasion when there appears to be some factual basis for Dursley fears. Dumbledore apparently told the Dursleys in his letter dated 10 years earlier about the condition of the Potters’ home after Voldemort came calling.

As Hagrid told Dumbledore at that time, the “house was almost destroyed,” and (as he later tells Harry) he took the boy from the “ruined house” himself. Aunt Petunia certainly knows that her sister “went and got herself blown up.” So it is with some bit of authentic, fact-based fear, perhaps, that Uncle Vernon mentions “ruins” when he thinks of Harry being left alone in the house while the family celebrates Dudley’s birthday at the zoo.

All Harry remembers of the You-Know-Who incident, though, is contained in a recurring dream about a flying motorcycle and the memory of a flash of green light from the “car crash”:

Sometimes, when he strained his memory during long hours in his cupboard, he came up with a strange vision: a blinding flash of green light and a burning pain on his forehead. This, he supposed, was the car crash, though he couldn’t imagine where all the green light came from.

(Well, Harry, that would actually be an Avada Kedavra curse, Voldemort’s signature spell. But you aren’t going to learn anything about the Unforgivables for four more years!)

Wandless Magic

Though the Dursleys may well have images of real ruins in mind when they talk about not wanting to leave Harry alone in the house, they seem more afraid of the random “strange things” that happen around the boy. Wizarding children have magical abilities, with or without a wand. The wand helps them learn to control and channel their magic, but being gifted with magic is not dependent on the wand.

Under various forms of stress, Harry has already caused his hair to grow back overnight from a bad haircut, caused a hated sweater to shrink while Aunt Petunia tried to force it on him, and even found himself on the roof of the school kitchens while attempting to escape from Dudley’s gang.

(Wandless magic plays a role throughout the series, but nowhere more strongly than in DH, where we learn of the wandless magic performed by young Lily Evans (Harry’s mother), her childhood friend Severus Snape, and Dumbledore’s own sister, Ariana. Ariana Dumbledore provides the tragic example of a Wizarding child who pays the price for being unable to control her magic.)

The Parselmouth

Then, there’s the event in the reptile house, from which this chapter takes its title. The Dursleys do end up taking Harry to the zoo (better than having him blow up the house, I suppose!), and after Dudley unsuccessfully tries to force his Muggle father to get a sleeping Boa Constrictor to “do something,” the snake initiates an interaction with Harry. First it winks, then it nods, then it gestures with its tail. In the course of this interaction, Harry starts talking to the snake. And the snake understands him.

On first reading, this seems like just another example of Harry’s wandless magic. And this possibility is underscored by the fact that when Dudley punches Harry, something more typically magical happens – the glass to the cage disappears, and the snake escapes. But as the snake leaves, it speaks to Harry in a “low, hissing voice” – and just as the snake understood Harry, Harry understands the snake.

Harry is a Parselmouth – a natural speaker of Parseltongue, the language of snakes. This is no ordinary magical power, and it is not typical of children’s wandless magic. In HBP, when Dumbledore teaches Voldemort’s history to Harry, he shows one memory in which an 11-year-old Tom Riddle (later Voldemort) reveals to the adult Dumbledore:

I can speak to snakes…. they find me, they whisper to me.

Dumbledore does not let on, but he is clearly taken aback by this revelation. Parseltongue is a language associated with Salazar Slytherin, founder of Slytherin House at Hogwarts, the House that values pure Wizard blood. Additionally, when Harry reveals his Parseltongue capabilities during the Duelling Club segment of CoS, his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger tell Harry that this is a bad thing – that Parseltongue is generally associated with Dark Magic, and that You-Know-Who himself is a Parselmouth.

And speaking of You-Know-Who… notice that just as the Boa in the reptile house initiates contact with Harry, so young Riddle tells Dumbledore that the snakes “find” him. Apparently, snakes can innately tell if a Wizard is a Parselmouth… and seek such Wizards out.

The Parselmouth motif becomes increasingly important throughout the series, as Dumbledore pieces together the connections between Harry and the wicked Wizard who tried to kill him. But at this point in the story, the snake incident looks like just a throw-away magic event, another neat magical thing Harry can do. Which makes “The Vanishing Glass” a wonderful early instance of Rowling’s talent for misdirection.

Reactions and Comments?
Let’s get this party started!

  • How justified do you think the Dursleys’ fears of Harry are?
  • What was your reaction the first time you read of Harry’s unconscious, wandless magical abilities? What is your reaction now?
  • On first reading, how did you feel about Harry’s ability to talk to snakes? Has your feeling changes since then?
  • Is there anything else you feel like commenting on?

Next time, from Chapter 3:

‘The Flight of the Dursleys’ … in which we discuss the strange letter(s) addressed to Harry… and the Dursleys’ even stranger behavior surrounding them.

‘The Abandoned Boys’

One of the most poignant moments in the entire Harry Potter series occurs as Harry walks into the Forbidden Forest at the end of Deathly Hallows to meet his fate at the hands of Lord Voldemort. Hiding under his cloak of invisibility, he overhears a wounded girl whispering for her mother and telling Ginny that she wants to “go home.”

Harry has seen the memories. He now knows Snape’s loyalties. He knows Dumbledore’s plan. He intends to die. And all he can think is that…

He wanted to shout out to the night, he wanted Ginny to know he was there, he wanted her to know where he was going. He wanted to be stopped, he wanted to be dragged back, to be sent back home…

But he was home. Hogwarts was the first and best home he had ever known. He and Voldemort and Snape, the abandoned boys, had all found home here…

I don’t know that there’s any more remarkable statement in the entire series than that final sentence. Something happens in the Pensieve that gives Harry compassion, that helps him identify… not only with Severus Snape, but even with Voldemort himself.

When Harry first discovered that Tom Riddle’s mother died about an hour after giving birth, he was so stunned that Dumbledore asked if he could “possbly be feeling sorry for Lord Voldemort.” Harry denied any empathy.

When Harry dipped his face into the Pensieve to view the memories the hated Potions Master had left him, he did so with a “reckless abandonment,” thinking that “nothing even that Snape had left him could be worse than his own thoughts.”

Yet what is the first thing he sees when he arrives in Snape’s memories? Two girls swinging on a sunny day, and a skinny boy of 9 or 10 spying on them:

…a skinny boy was watching them from behind a clump of bushes. His black hair was overlong and his clothes were so mismatched that it looked deliberate: too short jeans, a shabby, overlarge coat that might have belonged to a grown man, an odd smock-like shirt.

Have we seen any other skinny black-haired boys so deliberately misdressed? Here’s the first view we get of 11-year-old Harry:

Perhaps it had something to do with living in a dark cupboard, but Harry had always been small and skinny for his age. He looked even smaller and skinnier than he really was because all he had to wear were old clothes of Dudley’s, and Dudley was about four times bigger than he was.

Harry identifies. Even though young Severus grew up with two parents, Harry learns from the memories that they were always shouting at each other – just the way that Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia (one of the girls on the swingset) were always shouting at him. Could it even be possible that Petunia so associates magic with “that Snape boy” that she intentionally dresses Harry to look as shabbily as Lily’s young Wizard friend?

There’s another moment, too, that may help tie matters together for Harry. As we’ve already seen, when Dumbledore tells Severus that Lily’s son lives, Severus gives…

… a tiny jerk of the head [that] seemed to flick off an irksome fly.

Harry has seen that motion before in the Pensieve, in Dumbledore’s own memory of his first meeting with Tom Riddle. When Dumbledore tells Riddle about the Leaky Cauldron (and thus the entry to Diagon Alley), he instructs Tom:

You will be able to see it, although Muggles around you, the non-magical people, that is – will not. Ask for Tom the barman – easy enough to remember, as he shares your name – ”

Riddle gave an irritable twitch, as though trying to displace an irksome fly.

Two twitches. Two drastically different choices.

Snape, as Harry learns from the memories, takes on his irksome fly: Lily’s living son. He protects the boy, shields him, challenges him, berates him, trains him, even dies horribly to get him the memories needed for his task. It’s not what he wants to do. It’s what he chooses to do because it’s necessary. It is his penance, and arguably his redemption.

But Riddle seeks to escape the irksome fly: his common humanity. He changes his name, destroys his identity, splits his soul, becomes something other than human, and finds destruction.

Is it possible that these two slight images in the Pensieve help Harry see – really see – the choices, mistakes, sacrifices, even horrors wrought by these men he has hated… and accept the links they forge with him? Harry, Severus, Tom – the abandoned boys – all adopted Hogwarts as home. Two groped toward the light. The other, in trying to escape it, found nothing greater than death.

Snape Static? (with Poll!)

Before moving on to the question of whether or not Severus Snape is a static character, I just thought I’d mention that Jess (the self-styled “last muggle to read Harry Potter”) just wrote a hilarious post on the Horcruxes chapter in Half-Blood Prince. Don’t miss it! Here’s a teaser (framed as a note to Harry from Dumbledore):

Oh gosh, Harry. Not to pat myself on the back or anything, but I’m arguably the world’s most powerful wizard who completely sees the big picture in this situation and it took me years to find that one Horcrux. But hey, you’re a pretty good Quidditch player. I’m sure you can figure this out on your own. I’m going to go back to being old now, okay? Awesome! TTYL! KIT” –Dumbledore

And while we’re on the subject of other Harry Potter websites, I’ve been playing around a lot lately on the amazing Chamber of Secrets forums. Lots of people with lots of excellent insights – especially in the Legilimency Studies standing “Snape” thread, version 13. (Snape does seem to attract the most consistent attention).

So a few days ago, I was on the thread, elaborating on what a previous poster had said on the question of whether or not Snape ever actually cared about Harry, and I thought I’d share a few of those thoughts here.

Note: If you are popping in here from Jess’s blog, please stop now if you haven’t read Deathly Hallows! Spoilers ahead!

Here’s the original (much longer) post. The excerpt below is from the final section of the post:

We see a definite progression in how Snape regards Harry. At first, he’s just a thing to be exchanged for the life of the mother. Then he’s the boy who survived when Lily Evans died… but who Snape vows to protect regardless. Throughout the memories, Snape keeps on and on about James Potter’s son. But in the last conversation before Dumbledore’s death, he refers to Harry as Lily Potter‘s son.

Note the distinction here. Not only has he shifted from thinking of Harry as James’ son, he has also shifted from thinking of Lily by her maiden name. He now calls her “Potter.” He has fully acknowledged that she was James’ wife and that Harry was her son.

Note also that when he first hears of Lily’s death, he cannot bear to think of her eyes in Harry’s face. But in his last few seconds of life, he requests to look at Lily’s eyes in Harry’s face. It would have no power if we didn’t know that Snape had refused so strongly to see Lily in Harry. In that case, we could read it (as the Snape naysayers do) as just an obsessive desire to look into Lily’s eyes.

But knowing that Snape initially could not bear to think of Lily’s eyes in Harry’s face, we can see rather that Snape here is seeing Harry as he is… not as what he expects to see. (to paraphrase Dumbledore). And he is acknowledging – to Harry – that he recognizes Harry’s full identity. And this, of course, is underscored by the fact that he gives Harry memories of his mother.

So what do you think? The poll is open… and so is the comments thread!

Oh, by the way, I’m about to embark on a Harry Potter re-read, and I’ll share it right here on the blog. But don’t worry, there will still be occasional outbursts of Snapey goodness. Just so long as I don’t have to squee!


Despises to his last breath: 2 votes
Grows to respect : 7 votes
Cares very deeply: 4 votes
Cares only for Lily: 2 votes
SQUEE!: 1 vote

‘Never – Never Tell’

In Defense of Albus Dumbledore, Part 5

(continued from Part 4)

By forcing Dumbledore to give him his word that he will “never – never tell,” Snape ensures that he will be mistrusted, even hated, by the same people who will gain most from his protection of Harry Potter. Let’s look at a few passages that illustrate the consequences of this secret.

At the end of Philosopher’s Stone/Sorcerer’s Stone:

“Quirrell said he [Snape] hates me because he hated my father. Is that true?”

“Well, they did rather detest each other. Not unlike yourself and Mr. Malfoy. And then your father did something Snape could never forgive.”


“He saved his life.”


“Yes…” said Dumbledore dreamily. “Funny, the way people’s minds work, isn’t it? Professor Snape couldn’t bear being in your father’s debt… I do believe he worked so hard to protect you this year because he felt that would make him and your father even. Then he could go back to hating your father’s memory in peace…”

Dumbledore has to know this is a lie, that Severus Snape feels no debt whatsoever to James Potter because he believes that James was only trying to avoid being expelled for his role in Sirius’ prank. But because he’s given his word, Dumbledore can’t tell Harry the real reason Snape has been trying to protect him. And the lie actually does damage to Harry’s future interactions with the Potions Master. When Harry reveals to Severus that he knows Snape is in his father’s debt, it just intensifies the row already brewing between them.

In the “Pensieve” chapter in Goblet of Fire, Harry sees in Dumbledore’s memories the fact that Snape had once been a Death Eater. After Dumbledore assures Harry that Snape has never again been accused of “any Dark activity,” the Headmaster finds himself once again bound by the conditions of his agreement with Snape:

“What made you think he’d really stopped supporting Voldemort, professor?”

Dumbledore held Harry’s gaze for a few seconds, and then said:

“That, Harry, is a matter between Professor Snape and myself.”

In fact, the matter is so much between Professors Snape and Dumbledore that when Harry tells Remus Lupin that he had overheard Snape question Malfoy, Lupin’s only defense for Snape is to pass the question of trust off on Dumbledore:

“It’s Dumbledore’s business. Dumbledore trusts Severus, and that ought to be enough for all of us.”

Lupin has no idea why Dumbledore trusts Snape. He just knows that he does.

In Half-Blood Prince, when Harry finds out that Snape was the eavesdropper who heard part of Trelawney’s prophesy, the best explanation that Dumbledore can come up with is:

“You have no idea of the remorse Professor Snape felt when he realized how Lord Voldemort had interpreted the prophecy, Harry. I believe it to be the greatest regret of his life and the reason that he returned – ”

“But he’s a very good Occlumens, isn’t he, sir?” said Harry, whose voice was shaking with the effort of keeping it steady. “And isn’t Voldemort convinced that Snape’s on his side, even now? Professor… how can you be sure Snape’s on our side?”

Dumbledore did not speak for a moment; he looked as though he was trying to make up his mind about something. At last he said, “I am sure. I trust Severus Snape completely.”

A few hours after this conversation, Dumbledore will die from Severus Snape’s killing curse. Is he trying to decide whether or not to let Harry in on the secret Snape made him swear to keep? Or perhaps to let Harry know that he has arranged for Snape to kill him? We will never know. What we do know is that Snape’s secret has reverbations far beyond even Dumbledore. After Dumbledore’s death, the other members of the Order absorb the information that one of their own killed the Headmaster:

“Snape,” repeated McGonnagall faintly, falling into the chair. “We all wondered… but he trusted… always… Snape… I can’t believe it.”

“Snape was a highly accomplished Occlumens,” said Lupin, his voice uncharacteristically harsh. “We always knew that.”

“But Dumbledore swore he was on our side!” whispered Tonks. “I always thought Dumbledore must know something about Snape that we didn’t…”

“He always hinted that he had an ironclad reason for trusting Snape,” muttered Professor McGonnagall, now dabbing the corners of her leaking eyes with a tartan-edged handkerchief. “I mean… with Snape’s history… of course people were bound to wonder… but Dumbledore told me explicitly that Snape’s repentance was absolutely genuine… Wouldn’t hear a word against him!”

Well, Dumbledore did have an ironclad reason to trust Snape. And Snape’s repentance for his Death Eater past was absolutely genuine. But because Snape’s role is as a spy, the secret of how and why he turned away from Voldemort is probably best kept… well, secret. A few trusted people like McGonnagall could possibly have been let in, had Snape allowed it. But Snape himself chose the path of absolute secrecy.

And that fact alone should be enough to quiet down those Snape partisans who bemoan the fact that the Potions Master got so little recognition and reward from his colleagues.

But, of course, it won’t.

‘Help Me Protect Lily’s Son’

In Defense of Albus Dumbledore, Part 4

(continued from Part 3)

Let’s pick up with the scene:

“I wish… I wish I were dead…”

“And what use would that be to anyone?” said Dumbledore coldly. “If you loved Lily Evans, if you truly loved her, then your way forward is clear.”

Snape seemed to peer through a haze of pain, and Dumbledore’s words appeared to take a long time to reach him.

“What – what do you mean?”

“You know how and why she died. Make sure it was not in vain. Help me protect Lily’s son.”

Dumbledore throws cold ice on Snape’s despair, then nudges him toward a course of action that can lead toward redemption. The despair of wishing for death is the wrong kind of remorse. Repentance (feeling the wrong done, turning away from it, and pursuing good) is the right kind. In becoming a protector of Lily’s son, Snape would be actively turning away from evil toward good.

But Snape objects:

“He does not need protection. The Dark Lord has gone -“

There are a couple of possible, seemingly contradictory, readings for this line:

  1. Snape is looking for an excuse to take no action. He would rather wallow in despair, realize his wish for death, maybe even return to the Dark Arts. He’s rebuffing Dumbledore.
  2. When Dumbledore mentioned a “way forward,” Snape desperately hoped it were true. But the Dark Mark has disappeared. The Dark Lord has gone. There is no way forward. All hope is lost.

Regardless of Snape’s intentions, Dumbledore does not let him off the hook:

“The Dark Lord will return, and Harry Potter will be in terrible danger when he does.

This is the crucial moment, the moment of decision.

“There was a long pause, and slowly Snape regained control of himself, mastered his own breathing. At last, he said, “Very well. Very well. But never – never tell, Dumbledore! This must be between us! Swear it! I cannot bear… especially Potter’s son… I want your word!”

“My word, Severus, that I shall never reveal the best of you?” Dumbledore sighed, looking down into Snape’s ferocious, anguished face. “If you insist…”

Snape makes no more objections. He agrees. But in the moments it takes for him to master himself, we can see that this truly is an agonizing choice. Snape is seemingly weighing his options, considering what this course of action will cost versus what it might gain him.

On the one hand, he does want to find a way forward, more than he wishes to die. On the other hand, he is deeply ashamed of what he must do (help James Potter’s son). This is why he places such an unusual condition on on Dumbledore. The condition (“never – never tell”) indicates that Snape’s earlier objection may actually have been a combination of the two seemingly contradictory impulses mentioned above – i.e. an excuse to take no action combined with a desperate wish that there is yet hope for him.

“Dumbledore told me explicitly that Snape’s repentance was absolutely genuine.”

-Minerva McGonnagall

In Deathly Hallows, Rowling shows that remorse is the precondition necessary for repairing a soul that has been ripped. In the economy of redemption, repentance is the precondition necessary for conversion and salvation. In the Potterverse, it’s hard to determine exactly where remorse ends and repentance begins. It’s possible that Rowling interchanges the terms.

But in traditional terms, remorse means to feel and regret the wrong done while repentance means to turn from evil to good. Though Rowling does not present this process in explicitly Christian terms, Snape’s path is clearly a path of repentance, leading potentially toward redemption. For Snape, this repentance is embodied in the very tough penance he lives out in order to right the wrong he has done. (Whether he succeeds is left up to the reader).

The condition Snape places on Dumbledore, though, is equally significant. There is a lot of “woe is Severus” discussion on the Web, blaming Dumbledore and others for never recognizing Snape and never giving him the emotional gratification that he supposedly craved. In actuality, Snape himself forced Dumbledore to promise never to reveal the “best” of Severus. Snape made the choice to labor in secret, without public recognition or emotional reward. (continued in Part 5)

‘And What Use Would That Be to Anyone?’

In Defense of Albus Dumbledore, Part 3

(continued from Part 2)

Now that we’ve discussed Dumbledore’s handling of Snape’s first steps away from Voldemort, let’s take a look at the first part of the dialogue that seals the deal:

“Her son lives. He has her eyes, precisely her eyes. You remember the shape and color of Lily Evans’s eyes, I am sure?”

“DON’T!” bellowed Snape. “Gone… dead…”

“Is this remorse, Severus?”

“I wish… I wish I were dead…”

“And what use would that be to anyone?” said Dumbledore coldly.

There is, naturally, endless commentary on this scene. But let’s talk about the scene itself first. Dumbledore, as we saw in Part 2, prods Snape with Lily’s eyes to put a human face on this child that Snape regards only as the thing that lived when Lily died. Despite Dumbledore’s efforts, Snape cannot see through to the child who carries Lily’s eyes forward in life. He can reach only the materialist’s narrow, literal perspective that Lily’s own eyes are now “Gone… dead…”

Snape’s deeply emotional response, though, opens the door to Dumbledore’s next question: “Is this remorse, Severus?” – again raising the stakes. Remorse, as we surely know if we have read Deathly Hallows, opens up the possibility of redemption. Harry charitably gives Voldemort the opportunity to “try for some remorse” before his fatal final duel because remorse – or, a sense of guilt for the wrongs one has done – is the one thing that can keep Voldemort from damnation. (Apparently, seeing the unwanted piece of Voldemort’s damned soul in King’s Cross makes Harry actually care about Voldemort’s redemption.)

When Dumbledore asks Snape if he feels remorse, he essentially asks if he understands and feels the wrong he has done. It’s an important question because Snape did not approach Dumbledore out of remorse. He approached him out of fear, and only because his actions had created a grave threat for the woman he loves. Now that Snape’s fears have been realized and Dumbledore’s protection proved fallible, Snape’s initial “Anything” is no longer binding. He can continue the spiritual suicide he began when he became a Death Eater, or he can try for some remorse. It’s ultimately a question about the state of Snape’s soul.

Snape’s wish for death is clearly a sign of remorse, but the wrong kind of remorse. It is self-pitying, inwardly focused, suicidal remorse. It is the absence of all hope, the remorse of Judas – who threw back the 30 pieces of silver, then went and hung himself. It is the kind of remorse that kills. Its name is despair, and according to Thomas Aquinas (one of the foundational thinkers of the Western religious tradition), despair is the most grievous of all sins:

If, however, despair be compared to the other two sins [unbelief and hatred of God] from our point of view, then despair is more dangerous, since hope withdraws us from evils and induces us to seek for good things, so that when hope is given up, men rush headlong into sin, and are drawn away from good works. Wherefore a gloss on Prov. 24:10, “If thou lose hope being weary in the day of distress, thy strength shall be diminished,” says: “Nothing is more hateful than despair, for the man that has it loses his constancy both in the every day toils of this life, and, what is worse, in the battle of faith.” And Isidore says (De Sum. Bono ii, 14): “To commit a crime is to kill the soul, but to despair is to fall into hell.” Summa Theologica

Much has been made of the coldness of Dumbledore’s reply, but the coldness is actually a measured response to what Snape has just revealed. Snape has moved from intense grief to despair, and Dumbledore tries to bring him back from despair to a sense of purpose. He refuses to let Snape wallow in suicidal self-pity, and begins to deliver the message that Snape’s life can still have value and worth. All is not hopeless.

Much has also been made, naturally, of Dumbledore’s “What use would [your death] be to anyone?” Is Dumbledore, as some propose, thinking only of how he can use Snape, and how Snape can be useful to him? Or is he perhaps saying that death would not be of any use to Snape himself? If Snape dies now, he would have lived a short, pathetic life with no chance to offset the wrong he has done. And if he dies from suicidal despair, he will have no chance for redemption in this life. Dying now would truly be of no use to anyone, least of all to Severus Snape. (continued in Part 4)

‘He Has Her Eyes, Precisely Her Eyes’

In Defense of Albus Dumbledore, Part 2

(continued from Part 1)

In Part 1, we looked at Dumbledore’s dealings with Severus Snape when Snape wished to exchange the life of the mother for the lives of the father and the son. Let’s continue with another scene from “The Prince’s Tale”:

The hilltop faded and Harry stood in Dumbledore’s office, and something was making a terrible sound, like a wounded animal. Snape was slumped forward in a chair and Dumbledore was standing over him, looking grim. After a moment or two, Snape raised his face, and he looked like a man who had lived a hundred years of misery since leaving the wild hilltop.

“I thought… you were going… to keep her… safe…”

“She and James put their faith in the wrong person,” said Dumbledore. “Rather like you, Severus. Weren’t you hoping that Lord Voldemort would spare her?”

This scene probably takes place about a day after the opening of the first book. Dumbledore has already delivered Harry to the Dursleys, and has presumably joined in the celebrations following Voldemort’s fall. But for Severus Snape, there can be no celebration.

This is a delicate moment in Snape’s story. The consequences he tried to escape by turning to Dumbledore in the first place have now hit him full in the face. He is already at Hogwarts, already a spy, already starting to turn his life around. But now disaster strikes. Lily is dead. He sounds like a wounded animal, and Dumbledore looks grim. If Dumbledore mishandles the scene now unfolding in his office, Snape can be lost forever.

But Dumbledore knows his man. When Snape tries to blame Dumbledore for not protecting Lily sufficiently, Dumbledore – correctly – throws it right back at him, making Lily’s death a question of choices, not his personal omnipotence or lack thereof.

As always, our choices define us. James and Lily made a bad choice. Severus made a bad choice. At the point where those two sets of bad choices intersect, Lily Evans died.

The scene continues:

Snape’s breathing was shallow.

“Her boy survives,” said Dumbledore.

With a tiny jerk of the head, Snape seemed to flick off an irksome fly.

“Her son lives. He has her eyes, precisely her eyes. You remember the shape and color of Lily Evans’s eyes, I am sure?”

“DON’T!” bellowed Snape. “Gone… dead…”

Oh boy, this is where some Snape partisans really lose it. In the alternate Potterverse they’ve constructed, Dumbledore is callously taunting Snape so that he can find a way to make him “useful” to Dumbledore. In the comments to the Snapedom essay “You Have Used Me: Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore, Betrayal and Trust,” bohemianspirit writes that “one of the worst examples” of Dumbledore’s “callous disregard for human feeling” is the “horrible, horrible way he taunted Severus with, “Remember Lily’s eyes, Severus?”

In that corner of the Potterverse, Dumbledore is a master manipulator who has zero concern for any other person, just so long as he gets what he wants. He manipulates Severus into doing his will, manipulates Potter into doing his will, and it matters little to him what damage he causes in the process.

It’s a view that listens only to Aberforth’s bitterness (and Snape’s complaint that Dumbledore used him) – and listens not at all to Dumbledore in King’s Cross. In short, Dumbledore is a bit of a sociopath. Any tears he may have shed or self-doubts he may have expressed over his failings are irrelevant, as are any conclusions Harry ultimately draws. Dumbledore, in these fans’ view, is only about lies and manipulation.

But “callous disregard” is not the only way to read the exchange. As Katie Sullivan writes:

[Dumbledore and Snape] both had felt the temptation of the Dark Arts; Snape followed that path much farther than Dumbledore did before realizing the terrible price such magic exacts, but they both were, in a sense, recovering addicts. I think that, as much as Snape’s deep love for Lily, was the reason for Dumbledore’s unwavering trust in him.


Listen to the language Snape uses to answer Bellatrix in the “Spinner’s End” chapter of Half-Blood Prince:

Bellatrix: While I endured the dementors, you remained at Hogwarts, comfortably playing Dumbledore’s pet!

Snape: Not quite. He wouldn’t give me the Defense Against the Dark Arts job, you know. Seemed to think it might, ah, bring about a relapse… tempt me into my old ways.

Snape uses precisely the language of addiction and recovery. If we tease out the analogy for the scene in Dumbledore’s office, Snape is newly recovering from his fall into the Dark Arts, while Dumbledore has had a much, much longer period of recovery. And like a newly recovering addict’s counselor, Dumbledore does not gloss over attitudes that could cause Snape a relapse… or worse, drive him to suicide. Instead, he has the unmitigated gall to call Snape on them! He again uses tough love.

When Dumbledore tells Snape the single piece of good news in this tragedy – that the boy lives – Snape treats the news as if it’s an “irksome fly.” He appears to regard the boy as an usurper, alive while Lily is dead. It is precisely at this point that Dumbledore draws Snape’s attention to the fact that the boy is not an insect to be brushed off. He is a child, Lily’s child. He has precisely her eyes.

Dumbledore is not callously taunting Snape. He’s acting as a conscience, putting a human face on Harry for Snape, a human face that Snape needs to see. Significantly, at the end of his long and perilous journey, Snape finally will acknowledge, in his last breath, that the boy does indeed have Lily’s eyes. (continued in Part 3)

‘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)

Picture of Lily

Hiding out at Number 12 Grimmauld Place, Harry finds in Sirius’ room part of a letter his mother wrote shortly after his first birthday. The final sentences of the first sheet read:

[p. 180-181] Bathilda drops in most days, she’s a fascinating old thing with the most amazing stories about Dumbledore, I’m not sure he’d be pleased if he knew! I don’t know how much to believe, actually, because it seems incredible that Dumbledore…

The second sheet is missing, but Harry finds it in Severus Snape’s memories. After killing Dumbledore, Snape hastened to Grimmauld Place to find what he could of Lily’s before the Order of the Phoenix hexed him out of bounds. Tears dripping from his nose, he reads the rest of the sentence:

[p. 689] …could ever have been friends with Gellert Grindelwald. I think her mind’s going, personally!
Lots of love,

Snape pockets the second page of the letter with Lily’s signature, then takes the photo of Harry’s family enclosed in the letter, rips it in two, and keeps only the picture of Lily.

The scene is simultaneously touching and maddening – reaffirming Snape’s love for Lily and his disdain for her loved ones at the same time. On the one hand, the man who prides himself on being strong enough to shut down emotions can weep his losses. On the other, ripping the photo and tossing the half showing Harry zooming around on his toy broomstick is a callous act… as is pocketing Lily’s part of the photo and her signature on the letter. Snape is depriving Lily’s son of what rightfully belongs to him. It is Snape at his most distraught, and his most selfish, since the terrible events of 1981.

But what’s going on here emotionally? Dumbledore is dead. Snape saw to that. Lily’s son, the boy Snape has protected all these years at great personal peril, has just called him a coward. Aside from some future help from the Headmaster’s portrait, Snape is now on his own. And as we see, he is grieved – so grieved that the memory appears out of order in the Pensieve. The two people who cared about him most are gone, and he’s left to infiltrate the darkness to carry on the battle alone.

And what is in the letter he is reading? Remarks about Dumbledore, the man Snape never wanted to kill – remarks connecting Dumbledore to the Dark Arts and the subservience of Muggles to Wizards, via the Headmaster’s connection to the great Dark Wizard Gellert Grindelwald. And no, Bathilda Bagshot’s mind is not going… at least not yet.

Ironically, the consequences of Snape’s own youthful attraction to the Dark Arts and Muggle subservience have brought him to this place. Alone. Unloved. Hated. But did Snape ever know Dumbledore’s past any better than Harry did? Did he know that Dumbledore was not inherently more virtuous than he himself? Did he know of Dumbledore’s youthful desire for the Deathly Hallows and for power? Did he know that Dumbledore had been inflamed by the ideas of the most dangerous Dark Wizard of all time, before Voldemort? All of that is doubtful, given that Dumbledore never even told Snape in what way he was tempted by the cursed ring.

So why is Snape weeping? For Lily only? Maybe a little for Dumbledore… and for what he never knew about the Headmaster? For the path he himself must take over the next year (or however long it takes to bring Voldemort down)? Whatever the case, it is refreshing to know that there were times when even Severus Snape wept.

In a more fairy tale rendering, the two halves of the letter and the two halves of the photo might have acted like half lockets to draw their possessors together. But even had he wanted to, Snape could never have openly embraced the boy. That would have compromised the mission he accepted after Lily’s death.

As Ministry of Magic so aptly puts it: “Sometimes consequences define your life with hardship.” Snape all these years later is still reaping consequences manifold.


Picture of Lily – Photo by Eva Andreeva on Unsplash