The View from the Martian Canals:
This one is probably the most *extreme* of all the theories in this particular sub-collection. It’s been largely overturned by the revelations of DHs, but since I do not automatically believe or accept any of the revelations of DHs, I can’t see all that much reason to rework it to comply. Besides, just as it is it stands as an example of the kind of exploration that was still possible from the vantage point of the end of HBP. (And shame on Rowling for not only spitting in our soup, but for not even bothering to do a convincing job of it.) Besides, any number of the relevant points — and there are some relevant points — still remain relevant.
By that time in the series it had sunk in for most of us that we had two fairly obvious continuums running through this series, and they intersected. First, we had the “Dark Lord” continuum, which is squarely placed at the forefront of the story arc and consists of Tom>Severus>Harry.
It was obvious to every reader that we were supposed to be seeing parallels and drawing conclusions about the similarities and contrasts between these three characters. In fact, it seemed implied that we are supposed to be actively looking for such similarities and contrasts.
At the same time, there appeared to be a second continuum, which I will call the “Dumbledore’s Men” continuum, chugging along through the background which consisted of Hagrid>Snape>Potter and which was defined by an apparently personal alliance/relationship between each of these characters with Albus Dumbledore. And all three of these alliances/relationships were established when the junior partner was assumed to be quite young.
And it seemed to me that if we were supposed to be looking for patterns and similarities between the characters of either continuum, let alone both of them, maybe we were supposed to be trying to fill in some blanks.
Because, even at the end of book 6 out of 7 we still had plenty of blanks. And just about all of them stemmed from JKR’s caginess about turning loose any solid information concerning the personal background of Severus Snape.
Perhaps Derrida was right, maybe a vast absence does connote a vast presence. And, maybe, just possibly, I thought we could construct a working hypothesis for Snape’s background by drawing upon what we knew of the background of the other three characters who occupy the terminus points in these two progressions. What we were looking for here was not specific facts, it was patterns.
And it did not escape me that of the four characters from those two intersecting continuums (Tom, Hagrid, Snape, and Harry) Snape, who occupies the pivotal position of both, is the only one of the four who had not (yet) been explicitly stated to have been at least effectively an orphan by the time he reached his teens. At the time I suspected that this, at least, might be a blank that Rowling intended to fill in at some point in Book 7. (Um. No. She did nothing of the sort. We have no idea of if or when Severus Snape lost his parents — or even whether he has merely misplaced them, and they are alive somewhere other than Spinner’s End.)
So shall we take a look at just what circumstances did appear at that time to occupy the other three terminus stations at the ends of these contrasting progressions.
Off on the periphery of the “Dumbledore’s Men” pattern, but not by any means a part of it; Tom Riddle was effectively orphaned at birth and raised by well-intentioned but harassed strangers who never managed to love him. When the boy had reached the age of 11, Dumbledore took one look, and distanced himself. We don’t know whether this made matters any worse. But it certainly didn’t help. Tom lost his mother at birth, his father effectively even before that. He only literally lost his father at age 15. By his own hand.
Hagrid at the age of 3 was left with only his father, and at 12 with no (human) relatives to turn to at all.
Hagrid’s father died when he was in his 2nd year at Hogwarts. From the internal time lines, Hagrid was born Dec. 6, 1928. His 2nd year would have been the period between September, 1941 and July, 1942. In our world, this was well into WWII. We have been given to assume that a war was raging in the Potterverse during the middle of the 20th century as well, even though we do not know its exact dates, for we are told, early in GoF that Frank Bryce came home from it with a stiff leg some time before the summer of 1942. We have no information as to whether that war ever touched Britain. The alleged wizarding war of the mid-20th century didn’t.
This particular piece of backstory (the Riddle massacre) would have taken place during the summer between the newly orphaned Hagrid’s 2nd and 3rd years. Riddle was in school, himself, in his 4th year, when Hagrid’s father died. He had no input on that matter. But it seemed evident that England either was or had recently been at war (In fact, this was a misconception. Grindelwald never took his war to Britain, and we’ve no information concerning any Muggle war either.). However, there was enough suggestion in this general set-up to speculate that Hagrid’s father’s death may have been related to the fact that there was a war in progress.
Riddle’s remaining paternal family was murdered the following summer. A Muggle war had nothing to do with those deaths. A wizarding war even less so.
Acto Rowling a “global” wizarding war was, or had also recently been in progress, but in DHs it is stated directly that most British wizards had not yet taken a great deal of stock in the threat presented by Gellert Grindelwald, so whatever global wizarding war she refers to, it does not appear to have been a factor in Britain (i.e., not as “global” as advertised, eh?).
We still don’t know for certain exactly what was going on with Grindelwald, and I still don’t buy the DarkLord!Grindelwald theories out there. Rowling did not set that particular plot thread up in a manner wherein it makes any kind of plausible sense. But, given that we are directly told that it was Albus Dumbledore who eventually defeated Grindelwald, the chances are that whatever Grindelwald was up to, it may have still been in progress at the date that Hagrid lost his father. There was, however, no reason given, either then or later to suggest that Grindelwald directly had anything to do with that death.
It does seem to be fairly strongly suggested that Dumbledore stepped into the breech to take charge of the orphaned youngster, however.
It is not established that Albus was Hagrid’s Head of House. Indeed I am inclined to suspect that anyone who turns out to have been so reluctant to take responsibility for the welfare of others as Albus was never the Head of any House. But if “taking charge” can be defined as offering suggestions for what other people are supposed to do about an awkward situation and expecting them to be accepted, then one can certainly imagine Albus shoving his oar in. He may have “taken charge” of the boy in his authority as Deputy Headmaster, or even as a member of the Wizengamot.
But in any case, somebody needed to. There are no wizarding orphanages, and the Ministry was hardly going to send *Hagrid* to a Muggle one. Some special arrangement seems to have been called for. Albus appears to be the person who stepped into the breech (Hagrid certainly believes as much). But it could have been a decision made by Dippett, the Wizengamot, or the Board of Governors.
The following year, when Hagrid was expelled, at the age of 14, Albus is widely understood to have been the one to have made arrangements for the boy’s future, and to have eventually given him his mission. Hagrid has been doing odd-jobs (sometimes very odd jobs) for Albus and (probably) running messages between the Dumbledore brothers since either Aberforth took up his position at the Hog’s Head or Hagrid was old enough be allowed into the pub.
(One belatedly has to raise the question of whether the rapid destruction of Hagrid’s prospects within the wizarding world after Dumbledore took him under his wing — if it was Albus who did so — may have been at least partially motivated by jealousy on Riddle’s part. One also suddenly has to question the sources by which Hagrid got that acromantula egg, and to wonder whether he got it in a similar manner in which he was much later given a dragon’s egg. And whether the sources in both cases may have been the same.)
Moving on: Harry was orphaned at the age of 15 months, by violence, which was directly connected to a wizarding war which was in progress. The conflict between Voldemort and the Ministry had escalated to the point that it was an openly acknowledged war something over 15 years earlier. Harry was turned over to the care of his only remaining (Muggle) relatives, who did not want him; were hostile towards him, and raised him grudgingly. At the age of 11, he comes face to face with Albus Dumbledore and by the end of the year has, according to Albus, won the old man’s heart.
The summer Harry turns 16 Albus Dumbledore comes forward to remove him from his guardians’ care and take charge of him. He makes at least some arrangements for the boy’s future, even if it was only for the first month of the following summer. Over the course of the following year Albus gave him some briefing, and assigns him his mission.
If this is a genuine pattern within this continuum, then the possibility that Snape still had two living parents right up to the point he finished school really doesn’t fit, does it? Or even one living parent. At least not one that was accessible.
In fact, the possibility that he still had parents by the time he started Hogwarts doesn’t particularly fit the emerging pattern, either — if there actually is a pattern and I’m not just off admiring the Martian canals. (ETA: we now know that Rowling did not follow Harry’s pattern here and that Snape still had at least one living parent to see him off on the Hogwarts Express. But then, so did Hagrid.)
But, to set what were still at that time future revelations aside for the duration and to follow the process of stringing together an “extreme” theory; at the end of HBP, would it have made any difference to our established interpretations of Snape’s background if we postulated that Snape also became an orphan by the time he started Hogwarts?
I rather thought it might. Particularly if he lost his parents, or at least his mother, (i.e., his wizarding parent) by violence as a result of a war. Which had a strong appearance of being an intrinsic part of the pattern for the Dumbledore’s Men continuum.
It is not a part of the pattern for the Dark Lord continuum, however. Tom murdered his father, yes. But he was not originally orphaned by violence. He was effectively an orphan from birth.
What might fit the pattern that seemed to be emerging over in the Dark Lord continuum, would be some incremental circumstances positioned between Riddle, whose mother died, whose father abandoned him, and was raised by well-meaning but harassed strangers; Muggles who grew to fear him, largely due to his own behavior, and Harry, who was raised first by loving family members and then abruptly handed over to hostile ones; Muggles who were not going to love him regardless of his behavior.
And, actual parents just do not seem to be an appropriate part of this pattern, do they? Although other relatives do. Until the release of HBP, JKR showed a distinct reluctance to depict parents who did not love their own children, however poorly they might do the job of raising them. And one of the strongest apparent similarities within the Dark Lord continuum seemed to be that all three of these characters appear to have spent a good deal of their youth as unloved children. With varying reactions to the experience.
In the context of the Dumbledore’s Men continuum, if this was a genuine continuum, then Snape’s experience should fall somewhere between, or be a combination of Hagrid’s, who was abandoned by his mother and raised by a loving father, and Harry’s who had two loving parents, and lost them very young.
At least to the degree of speculating that Snape may have also been orphaned, or effectively orphaned before reaching his teens, and that he had entered into some relationship with Dumbledore before reaching his majority.
And that a war may have had a relevant part in it.
Cornelius Fudge states that the Ministry had been trying to catch this “terrorist leader” for nearly 30 years. This statement was made early in July, 1996, according to the internal time line of the series. I do not think that Fudge is prone to the sort of hair-splitting accuracy which characterizes Minerva McGonagall. I also do not think that he was carefully subtracting the nearly 14 years that Voldemort was out of commission. “Nearly 30 years” ago, from the vantage point of the summer of ’96 would project the point at which the Ministry woke up and realized that Voldemort and his followers were a real problem as being around the middle or late 1960s. At that point, Severus Snape was still a child too young for Hogwarts.
The wizarding war was officially in progress by the time Severus Snape got his Hogwarts letter. (ETA: Acto DHs this would have been in 1971, in complete defiance of any attempt to comply with the dates depicted on the Black family tapestry sketch. All such future references will be updated in accordance.)
This would have been early enough for one of the younger of the original Death Eaters (which by this time probably included younger siblings of Riddle’s own classmates, whose own time at Hogwarts did not overlap Riddle’s) to remember reading a notice in the Prophet announcing the marriage of a former Captain of the Hogwarts gobstones team and a Muggle. This would have been no later than 1959. We have no exact date for Riddle’s return from his 10-year exile from Britain, but it would have been somewhere between 1957–’63. Whereupon he began reeling his former associates back into his train, and enlisting their younger siblings and cousins.
By this time, most people who stumble across this collection have probably picked up the message that by the end of HBP I was convinced that Snape was a White Hat.
Until the release of DHs, I also believed that he had become a White Hat by the time the Trelawney Prophecy was made. A detailed analysis of the ramifications of what I believed had gone down the night of the Prophecy can be found in the essays entitled ‘The Child Foretold’ and ‘“Loyaultie Me Lie”’.
I will have to concede that the revelations of DHs concerning the character and personality of Albus Dumbledore are a reasonably convincing argument against that.
But then so many of the “revelations” of DHs are so totally unconvincing, not the least of these being the revelations of the chapter of ‘The Prince’s Tale,’ that it is much easier than it ought to be to merely accept that Albus had managed to scam most of the wizarding world, and certainly the younger generations who had known him only as Headmaster (i.e., ones who never had to sit through a class with him, and listen to him contradict himself) that most of them merely accepted him at face value on the strength of his reputation.
In any case, this particular part of the essay collection summarily dismisses DHs as any sort of a convincing alternate reading of the likely direction for plot development from where we were standing at the end of HBP.
Or, in other words, please continue to ignore the snake behind the curtain.
From every action that Voldemort had taken over the course of the series to the end of HBP it was clear that Snape did report only the first half of the Prophecy, and yet if things went down as Trelawney describes them — and unless they did there is no way that she would be describing them — if Snape had time to hear only one half of the Prophecy, then it would more probably be the 2nd half. You have to do all kinds of back-bends to try to resolve that, and it just isn’t convincing, and it still points up the fact that Albus was a liar when he told Harry that the eavesdropper was caught half-way through and ejected from the building before he could hear the rest. So, if Albus is caught dead-to-rights lying, I thought that there had to be a very good reason. (ETA: well, um, no, actually. He’s just a liar.)
But back then I thought that protecting one of his own agents would certainly be one such potential reason to lie about it.
For Snape to have reported only the 1st half of the Prophecy, which we had no solid evidence that he ever actually heard at all, served Dumbledore’s end purpose, and resulted in Voldemort’s first defeat. For that matter, it had created the conditions which we could all be confident would bring about his final defeat.
I did not think that this was done by accident. Albus set the whole thing in motion. It was on his watch, and by his say-so. If Severus only reported the first half of the prophecy, he was serving Albus, not Riddle. And that report took place, at the very least, more than a year before the “official” version of a repentant DE turning his coat and going to work at the school, and may have taken place anything up to 2 years before Voldemort’s first defeat.
And we hadn’t a clue of what, or when, Snape’s real turning point was.
Or at least not an overt clue. Just a lot of interestingly-shaped gaps.
This is something that I was convinced we would be handed at some point in Book 7. There was no question that by the end of the final book we would know exactly why Dumbledore trusted Snape. (ETA: no such luck. Apparently Albus had merely lied about trusting Snape. Either that, or he trusted Snape to be so firmly under his own thumb that he would even allow himself to be dictated to by a portrait.)
This was probably something that we could not anticipate from any of the overt information available to us at that point. But from where we were standing then, the only time prior to the night of the Prophecy at which we know Severus and Albus had ever had a face-to-face discussion was in the aftermath of the werewolf caper.
So I extrapolated an “extreme” theory that the alliance between Snape and Dumbledore was first proposed at that time.
Once the possibility was examined, there seemed to be a lot to support it. I chose to adopt this interpretation and I gradually retooled most of my other assumptions to include the possibility that Severus had made a commitment to Albus before he was recruited into the DEs by Malfoy and before he even finished school.
I had, by that time, rejected the general fanon reading of Snape-loved-Lily.
In the absence of that particular, popular fanon theory, one abiding mystery throughout the fandom was why Severus chose to ally himself with Albus at all. Somehow the fans seemed to find it difficult to accept that Severus may have done so merely due to a combination of his having been brought up with a moral compass, and/or that he had eventually come to a considered decision that it was the “right thing” to do. Boring, but hardly impossible.
For that matter, an even bigger, and still largely unexamined, mystery is why on earth the DEs, with their fairly well-known attitudes and the conviction of their own superiority, ever considered Snape worth recruiting in the first place. Looked at rationally, he neither had nor was anything that they ever wanted. You would have expected them to simply bully him into obedience, not to invite him into their own private club and teach him the secret handshake.
So just what shape of puzzle pieces might fit into this particular gap?
In the first place, at the time of the werewolf caper, Snape, like Sirius Black was no more than 16 years of age. Still a minor by wizarding terms. Most 16-year-olds would probably rather be heroes than lovers, so I was no longer holding out any expectation of his driving motive having been supplied by Lily Evans. I was also beginning to suspect that we were missing a particular, critical piece of Snape’s earlier backstory which would fit both the Dark Lord continuum of Tom>Severus>Harry AND the Dumbledore’s Men continuum of Hagrid>Snape>Potter. One which filled this blank space far better than any postulations depending on the essential irrelevance of teenaged romance.
My theory for what Snape’s underlying motivation to oppose Voldemort was, is that he had the same basic underlying motivation that Harry did.
Voldemort’s followers killed his mother.
They may have killed his father as well, but I really did suspect that Tobias Snape had walked out on Eileen under his own power after he discovered that she had deliberately concealed from him the fact that she was a witch, and that he was long gone by the time she died. This would tie into the overall pattern of a Hagrid parallel — or even a Riddle parallel, scaled down slightly in that Severus would at least be able to remember his father. Or at least the final blowup between his parents — after which his father was simply gone.
At the other end of the equation, unengaged, harsh-tempered, disapproving grandparents would make a scaled-down, but close enough variant of the unwelcoming Dursleys to provide a Potter parallel. With a potential reversal built-in, in that while most of the Dursley’s objection to Harry is that he is a wizard, the wizarding Princes would have objected to Severus for the sake of his Muggle father.
And, no, there was nothing in the books to directly confirm it. For about the Nth time; this particular piece was an exercise in extreme theories. There wasn’t one word in the books at that point to confirm Snape-Loved-Lily either, and a lot of people seemed to have no trouble accepting that.
I thought that if we were supposed to be noticing parallels and similarities between the trio of characters who all appear to have a faux-filial relationship to Albus Dumbledore, (Hagrid>Snape>Harry) and were expected to try to fill in the blanks ourselves, this scenario would fit fairly comfortably into an apparent gap in the sequence.
(Tom,) Hagrid, and Harry are all orphans by the time they reach their teens. I was suggesting that Snape was as well. (Even in the wake of DHs we have no certainty that he was not.) Hagrid and Harry appear to have both been orphaned either during, or directly as the result of a war. I suggested that, again, Snape was as well. And again, even in the wake of DHs we don’t know that he wasn’t.
Furthermore, both Hagrid and Harry had their futures personally disrupted and nearly destroyed as a result of Riddle’s deliberate attentions. I thought Snape’s experience might echo this, at least to the point of his suffering from the actions of Voldemort’s followers. I postulated that all three of these boys were given a personal reason to oppose Riddle well before they came of age.
I suggested that Snape’s father walked out when he was no more than 4 or 5, that he was orphaned at 8 or 9, and ended up with his Prince grandparents who had not approved of their daughter’s marriage, and raised him out of “duty”.
And, that, at some point before he came of age he encountered a crisis situation which ended in an interview with Albus Dumbledore wherein confidences were exchanged. As a result; he gave Albus his allegiance, and Dumbledore offered him his protection and support.
The werewolf caper still offered the best opportunity for that combination of elements. Ultimately Albus assigned him his mission — although that assignment may not have actually taken place until a year or two afterward.
Many fans (and for that matter, Rowling) haven’t really given a lot of consideration to the fact that, thanks to Sirius Black, Albus was in a cleft stick in the aftermath of the werewolf caper. He had to get Snape’s cooperation in hushing up the matter. And he had to offer the boy something of value in return. Something that the boy valued, and that he would keep secret. At that time (post-HBP), we may have twigged that our Albus wasn’t as truthful as he liked to pretend, and we could see that he had made some major mistakes, but we did not believe that he was a bully. I did not believe that he would have simply forced compliance from a youngster who had a legitimate grievance. Nor, despite his cavalier relationship with the truth, did I think that Dumbledore was an outright cheat. I did not believe that he would attempt to “trick” Severus into complying.
But he had to get an agreement from him. Whatever he offered Severus, it had to be something real. And it had to be something the boy either wanted, or that he needed.
And, to be accurate, I’d say that at this point there was no future mission involved.
What I thought he offered Severus was the possibility of an escape.
I did not think that Albus would have set up and encouraged an underaged Snape to deliberately infiltrate the DEs — who in Snape’s own generation had never heard of Eileen Prince. It was their fathers who had killed her for marrying a Muggle, forgotten her, probably didn’t even remember her married name, and certainly weren’t boasting about it to their families. Severus had flown into Hogwarts under the DEs’ radar. The only thing that the current batch of the DE junior League were aware of was that however clever he might be, there are no Snapes listed in ‘Nature’s Nobility’.
What I believed Albus had assured Snape of was that if the DEs ever approached him, Albus would give him the option of hiding where they would never find him. Effectively, that he offered Severus the same deal we saw him offer Draco on top of the Astronomy Tower.
Instead, when the time came, Severus chose to stay in the game, and fight back, with Albus’s support.
And no, there was nothing actually stated in the books to support this conclusion either. Yet. (Rowling’s apocryphal “encyclopedia”, or more probably Pottermore, cannot be completely dismissed). But still it makes a better motivation than the love of Lily-bleeding-Evans. And, no, I don’t think that Snape was precisely a “soldier for the Light” before he even came to Hogwarts, either.
At that point, neither of them, not Albus nor Severus ever expected that Severus would actually be offered a chance of infiltrating the DEs. They expected the DEs to show up and try to force him to obey them. They both knew that he did not fit their profile of a desirable recruit. It’s Albus who recruits followers from all backgrounds. Not Riddle.
For that matter, while Snape had more than worthy cause for a grudge against the DEs by the time he came to Hogwarts, at that point he didn’t necessarily know what they called themselves and he certainly didn’t know how to recognize them. (Who discusses that kind of thing with a 9-year-old?)
And the DEs do not, and have not ever had a unique message. Despite the fact that their aims are almost diametrically opposed, they have merely adopted the standard party line of the pureblood isolationists without modification. There is nothing in their quasi-public rhetoric to set them apart. That is how they have survived so long without broad detection. They are protected by the broad awareness that not all pureblood bigots are Death Eaters. Not even most of them.
If the Princes shared the underlying assumption that purebloods are somehow inherently better than halfbloods or Muggle-borns — either from the standpoint of resentful halfbloods themselves, or as plebeian “nouveau” purebloods who had no other advantages by which to claim superiority — such lines would have been even further blurred for Severus.
And then, unlike Hagrid or Harry, he landed in what was shaping up to be the DEs traditional House, where we get every indication that a clique of high-status upperclassmen took him up, flattered him, picked his brains, and then — I suspect — summarily dropped him. And he resented it.
Boy, did he resent it! Our Sev is good at resenting things.
What is more, that bit of brief favoritism had also brought him to the attention and targeted him for persecution by another clot of kids in his own year (relatives of the same bunch of upperclassmen who had taken advantage of him — and a plague on all their houses!), and that lot weren’t gone and out of his life by the end of his first year. (ETA: DHs also did him the favor of having him pointed out to Potter and his pals as a long-haired sissy whose best friend was a girl as early as the Hogwarts Express, and who, moreover, let that girl boss him around. How could the Marauders have resisted an invitation like that?)
When he returned to Spinner’s End at the end of his first year and asked his grandparents if they have ever heard of the Dark Lord, or the Death Eaters, he got far more information than he expected. It may not be until this point that he finally learned what really happened to his mother. And why.
After the kind of dismissive treatment he may have gotten from Bellatrix, who we can be sure would have been openly going about pronouncing that the Dark Lord has the right ideas, Snape forms his own opinions about the kind of people who become Death Eaters, which he does not share with his housemates. (ETA: in DHs Rowling apparently has forgotten that she ever said that Snape was at school at the same time as Bellatrix, and never depicts it. For that matter, The dates she gives us for the Marauder cohort makes it completely impossible. Unless, of course, we dismiss the dates on the tapestry sketch.)
And over the following three years as he hears progressively more about the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters, and their activities, he also gradually comes to realize just how badly he had botched things for himself back when he was a naive First year and hadn’t known any better. Those snotty upperclassmen who took advantage of him were almost certainly connected to the DEs who had killed his mother!
And he had made himself useful to them! And now they know he can be useful. And they are out there, waiting, and they knew his name.
And even though Malfoy had taken him up afterwards, and was helpful to him, and didn’t dismiss him the way Black and Lestrange and their lot did, and Snape is obliged to Malfoy, Malfoy is exactly the same kind of snooty pureblood snob that they were, underneath, and Severus can’t altogether trust him not to believe that exactly the same things are his entitlement, too. And the same goes for Avery and “Mulciber” (who I still think was supposed to have been Evan Rosier, except that Rowling couldn’t be arsed to check her notes).
So of course Snape threw himself into DADA. And not just in order to learn how to create new hexes, either. He was on his own, a literal halfblood, a Slytherin, a potential target of both sides, and he was beginning to run scared. I really don’t think that First-year Snape had resembled a “twitchy spider” when he had first come up to Hogwarts. And, as we can now see in DHs, Lily was being no help whatsoever. She totally refused to admit any truth to the point that the Slytherin bullies who permitted Severus to tag along after them (and who at least could offer him some protection from Potter and his crowd by their mere presence — for I do not think Snape was lying when he claimed that James never set on him at less than 4 to 1 odds) were people who knew where he slept.
And then, sometime in the back half of 5th year, the continuing hostilities between him and those four Gryffindors (now seriously complicated — and escalated — by James’s crush on Lily Evans) cumulated in the werewolf caper. And in the aftermath of that, when he is alone and face to face with Dumbledore, something is said that hits just the right nerve and it all comes tumbling out.
And Dumbledore offered him a choice.
As a grace note: In retrospect, many of Snape’s problems seem to have stemmed from his having been Sorted into Slytherin.
I rather think that even if he knew nothing more than that it is supposedly the House which helps its members to get ahead in life, Severus would probably have landed there, even leaving aside the possibility that the Hat has been tampered with. A child who determinedly irons out a regional working-class accent, painstakingly learns and adopts a kind of buttoned-up formality which will pass without comment alongside the manners of those of far higher social rank, is certainly not deficient in ambition.
But there is no question that he is certainly brave enough for Gryffindor. And more than clever enough for Ravenclaw. Indeed, that sitting room lined with books — most of which are described as “old” — in a house of the general socioeconomic level such as the house in Spinner’s End is described, pretty strongly suggests a family that has traditionally Sorted into Ravenclaw, to me. And Young!Snape seemed to be sufficiently unclear on the concept regarding Slytherin’s priorities to think that Muggle-born Lily Evans might land there with him.
However, Black, Lupin, Pettigrew, and Potter would have all been Sorted well before “Snape, Severus” was called. And if he had already locked horns with James, or fended off Black either on the train or in the boats, as we now know he did, it’s likely he would have put the Hat on muttering: “Not Gryffindor, NOT Gryffindor...”
And finally, long after the Fair, it gradually dawned on me that I had left out the real terminus point of both of these continuums.
Which is to say, Albus Dumbledore, himself.
Now, there is our real Man of Mystery. Just what did we know — actually know — about Albus Dumbledore by the time he died?
His full name was Albus Wulfric Percival Brian Dumbledore.
Or at least it was in OotP. Rowling evidently couldn’t be troubled to keep the name order consistent in DHs.
He enjoyed chamber music and tenpin bowling.
Acto Rowling, he had reached the age of about 150 by the time of his supposed death. This is pretty uncommon even for wizards. (ETA: and not, in fact, anything like the truth. From both textual evidence and on the official site Rowling has scaled his birth date back to 1881 from around 1840. Of course she also is trying to claim that he died in ’96, which is just plain completely wrong, so whether we chose to believe it is up to us.)
He had a surviving brother named Aberforth, who has some unspecified but long-standing association with goats and no fondness for reading (and seems to have been employed since at least some time in the 1960s as barman of the Hog’s Head tavern in Hogsmeade).
He had a scar on his knee that formed a map of the London Underground. Allegedly. We only had his word for that. Since he also claimed to have once gotten a vomit-flavored Bertie Botts every-favored bean “in his youth”, and Bertie Botts himself was only born in the 1930s, this is fairly safely categorized as a “likely story”. The scar may be another one.
Well, okay, we also knew that he amused himself by telling “tall tales” to his unsuspecting listeners.
He was reportedly a man of high intelligence and a wizard of prodigious power, and it is faintly hinted that his powers developed precociously. He attended Hogwarts himself back in his day and impressed the hell out of Griselda Marchbanks when he performed his practicals for the NEWTs.
“They say” he was a Gryffindor. But we have no certainly of that. The statement we’ve got also isn’t anywhere up to our informant’s usual standards.
He worked in partnership, or possibly by correspondence, with the noted alchemist Nicholas Flamel. With whom he had initiated a correspondence while he was still at school. At some point he discovered and published 12 uses for dragon’s blood.
His public offices had been Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederacy of Wizards, and Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. At the end of his life he held all three of these offices concurrently.
He was also remembered in connection with the defeat of what until DHs came out appeared to be one rather obscure Dark wizard back in the mid-1940s.
He was widely regarded as being brilliant, but a bit insane.
And his general politics virtually defined what is viewed as the Inclusionist agenda. We had no idea post-HBP whether he himself was a “blood-traitor”, since we had no idea whether or not he was a pureblood. In fact it appears that he was more probably a technical half-blood, like Harry.
Not a lot of personal background in all that, is there.
In fact, it constitutes too large a gap to really be filled.
So, what else did we know? What had we observed?
(Apart from the fact that although he was reputedly a Gryffindor, he operated like a Ravenclaw.)
He showed us every indication of having a long memory, and a very sound grasp on the kind of motivations which lead people to make mistakes.
He made a good appearance of being able to learn from mistakes. I am no longer altogether convinced by this act, but it was a fairly professional-grade performance.
He allegedly believed in second chances.
We heard him caution young Tom Riddle that he was not the first, nor would he be the last, young wizard to have allowed his magic to run away with him in a manner which is not tolerated in the wizarding world.
It only belatedly occurred to me that he may have been speaking from experience.
150 years (or even 115) is long enough to live down an awful lot of mistakes. Particularly mistakes made as a child young enough not to have known any better; mistakes that may have been made by “letting your magic run away with you” and doing things for no better reason than because you can.
We heard him tell Harry that human beings seem to have a knack for choosing exactly the things that are worst for them, too. That turns out to have had the ring of experience as well.
Quite unlike Riddle, however, Albus Dumbledore does not sneer at the power of human attachments (although he is almost as wary as Riddle of forming any of his own). And we get no indication that Albus Dumbledore had ever viewed the world at large as his enemy.
I think the world was fortunate.
And there has to have been a reason that — before Riddle ever showed up above the horizon — Dumbledore had learned enough about Horcruxes to make a fierce push to have the subject completely banned at Hogwarts. More than a dozen years before he had any expectation of becoming Headmaster.
But it does finally occur to me that all three of the young wizards that Albus has either been seen to offer protection to, or is suspected of possibly having offered protection to (Severus Snape, Regulus Black, and Draco Malfoy) have without exception been young Dark wizards.
He knows that they — and, these days, Harry — are the ones most at risk.
The fact that he did not expel Sirius Black after the werewolf caper was a good deal less likely to have been in consideration of any ingrained favoritism towards Gryffindors, so much as in concern that his “cunning plan” to educate a juvenile victim of lycanthropy had nearly blown up in his face. We have heard of no subsequent attempts to accommodate juvenile victims of lycanthropy at Hogwarts since the Marauder’s day. And yet there must have been at least a few of them, given the stated philosophies of Fenrir Greyback — who was not in Azkaban during the period that Tom was out of action. Chalk up another piece of long-reaching bad karma to Sirius Black’s account. After the werewolf caper I don’t think Albus was prepared to take that risk again.
I’ll have to admit that before DHs rendered all logic, common sense, and six books worth of observation into nonsense, I had no difficulty believing that even on a strictly personal level, Albus Dumbledore may have vastly preferred Severus Snape to Sirius Black. And maybe we need to keep in mind that James Potter (who we were repeatedly told abhorred the Dark Arts) wouldn’t accept Dumbledore as his Secret Keeper — despite his renowned reputation or position as the Head of the Order.
And maybe we ought to remember that while Albus tacitly admitted at the end of OotP to having deliberately favored Gryffindor on Harry’s account ever since Harry got to the school, if we look past that admission, we can recall that it had been Slytherin which had held both the Quidditch Cup and the House Cup for a streak of several years standing prior to that.
Perhaps that was not entirely due to Snape cheating over the House points.
In fact, it was beginning to look as though Albus Dumbledore may have had a soft spot for young Dark wizards.
All Dark wizards are not Death Eaters either, you know.
No more than are all Purebloods.
Or even all wizarding supremacists.
In fact, given that it was now looking as though Riddle’s human followers never numbered more than 5 or 6 dozen at the very height of his power and influence, I would say that comparatively few of them are.
And Albus Dumbledore may very well have qualified as one of the ones who wasn’t. Possibly contributing to the reason of just why Tom Riddle remained so afraid of him. Albus was a master of his own favored branch of magic.
Albus certainly doesn’t encourage the study of the Dark Arts. It’s far too dangerous a study for anyone to be offering encouragement in it. But such an independent study seems to be both possible and traditional within Hogwarts. And I was prepared to think that Albus knew that there is a significant minority of youngsters who for any number of personal reasons, are going to gravitate toward such study anyway. And that these youngsters are not inherently evil, and should upon no account be led to conclude that they are.
And that they desperately need to be carefully guided and protected.
Altogether convincing? No, not altogether. The gap stubbornly remains too large to be filled.
But if one asks whether this possibility falls within the parameters of what we did know at that point; i.e., the end of HBP, yes. It does. Quite comfortably, in fact.
Comfortably enough at least to raise the question of whether, when Dumbledore described the young Tom Riddle as having “traveled far and wide... sank so deeply into the Dark Arts, consorted with the very worst of our kind,” he was really speaking of wizards in general.