This essay reached the end of its effective development cycle before DHs was even released. In fact I think it must have been before HBP came out that I found myself in the rather odd position in that, if I were to remove all the parts of this essay that had turned out to be wrong, because they were clearly wrong, as well as all the parts that were right, because they were proven right, and were now so solidly established as canon as to render my earlier speculations unnecessary, I wouldn’t have had a whole lot left. So by this time the whole thing definitely just functions as an historical exercise in watching the curtains twitch. I am tempted to just go ahead and delete it.
But, frankly, I very much enjoyed putting together the reasoning that went into it, so I won’t.
Plus, it’s been a part of the collection, in one iteration or other, since the beginning, which was the Spring of 2003, so I might as well just let it sit here. Even if it is only of historical interest by now. Do not expect 100% accuracy from it. I was wrong on a number of points.
There are also a few repeats of things stated in other essays lurking about as well.
So. As of the general update of April 2007, and by the internal timeline of the series; June, 1997, Severus Snape was no longer a professor of the Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft. I don’t really think any of us expected to see him back there. Certainly not as Headmaster. I will have to admit that that was one of the very few instances in DHs in which Rowling managed to surprise me.
At that point, to a surprising number of fans it was “evident” that he had been working for Voldemort all along, and had now returned to the mother ship and was no longer a double-agent.
I was not one of them. HBP was the book that gave me all the hints that I needed to finally get off the fence and commit to the view that Snape was one of the White Hats and probably always had been.
Or at least that he had become so by the time the bloody Prophecy joined the fun. I conceded there might still have been a period between about July 1978 and some as yet undetermined point of time in the first ten months of 1979 that he was truly a Death Eater. But I was not even altogether convinced of that much.
And if he was no longer a double-agent at the end of HBP, it was because he was now solidly Dumbledore’s agent, in deep cover.
From the look of things at the end of HBP, Snape’s flight from Hogwarts at the end of Year 6 was not in the interests of benefiting Voldemort. Not having anticipated that by the next academic year the Ministry would have fallen, I thought that Voldemort would have probably been much happier to still have Snape posted at the school in a position to spy on Dumbledore’s associates (and was right about that). But, from the moment that the information filtered back to him that Snape had finally been appointed to the DADA position, he must have been resigned to the fact that Snape would not last out the full year. None of the DADA professors had done so since he jinxed the position himself more than 30 years earlier. The only uncertainty he must have had would have been whether Snape would return to him in any condition to still be useful.
People keep overlooking the fact that Voldemort does not take proper care of his toys. Now that we know that the DADA position really was jinxed, there is no blinking the fact that he deliberately sent his “most faithful servant” into Hogwarts into what he knew was a job with a curse on it, and he did not do anything to lift or blunt that curse. The only unknown factor would have been the degree of damage young Crouch would take.
He even rode Quirrell into that position himself, and took no action to blunt or divert the jinx. Nor, evidently, did he direct Quirrell to take any measures which might lessen the effects. Either there was nothing that could be done about that jinx, once it was established, or there is some pay-off to it that Voldemort was unwilling to relinquish.
Which suggests that he also must have considered Amycus Carrow to be completely expendable.
(Rowling tells us that after Tom managed to kill himself the school was no longer troubled by the DADA jinx. Whether this was Tom’s doing through having finally blown himself up permanently, or if he really had finally canceled the jinx before sending Carrow in, Rowling isn't saying.)
And it also seemed that it was those agents which he had placed there, and who were sincerely following his directives (either willingly or under coercion) who are the ones who took the greatest damage. Which is odd. I have no explanation for that, unless the castle has some way of defending itself.
Indeed, if we took Harry at his word that he would not be returning to Hogwarts even if the school did reopen (which I had suspected was a tip-off to us that it wouldn’t), then the pattern of the fates of the DADA instructors separates neatly into two groups of three.
Year 1 & Year 4: agents working with/for Voldemort = death and worse.
Year 2 & Year 5: unaffiliated outsiders = hoist on their own petard by their inherent defects of character and their own actions. Varying degrees of physical, mental or emotional damage of varying duration.
Year 3 & Year 6: Dumbledore’s allies = driven away by an “unmasking” of their secret histories. Public exposure, disgrace, loss of reputation, little or no lasting physical damage.
So, what (and whose) purpose did Snape serve now?
I had always wondered just why Dumbledore was so eager to keep Snape at his own side where he was least in a position to collect information from inside the DE organization if his primary value to Albus was as a spy. But it now seemed clear that Snape’s primary value was not so much as a spy but as a potential accomplice. For example; who else could Albus have trusted to kill him.
I have also contended for some years that Snape was sent into Hogwarts, not merely to spy on Dumbledore’s actions, but as an assassin.
I believe that Snape certainly knew about Draco’s mission to assassinate Dumbledore, because that part of the job had originally been his mission. He knew about it because Voldemort had to have called him off when he reassigned it to Draco. Snape had to have been made aware of at least that much. Even if only in order to know to keep out of the boy’s way so suspicion didn’t fall upon him and ruin his own value as an agent.
Where do I get that idea? Think: when Snape first applied for a post at Hogwarts — which we can be sure was on Voldemort’s orders — according to the Ministry records, he applied for the DADA position.
The DADA position was cursed.
Voldemort knew this. He’d cursed it himself.
Dumbledore also knew that it was cursed. He’d been watching the effects ever since he became Headmaster.
Snape can hardly have gone through seven years in the school as a student without having heard the rumors that the position was cursed, too. Everyone in the school hears those rumors. And he certainly noticed that none of the DADA instructors in his day lasted more than a year. If it worked the same way it did in Harry’s day, none of his instructors would have lasted a full year. He must have eventually asked Albus about that, and, under the circumstances, Albus had nothing to gain by lying about it.
Ergo: Voldemort certainly wanted to place an agent in the school that year (1981). But he never intended for Snape to make a career of it. Whatever he was really sending Snape into the school for could be accomplished within one academic year. Because that was all the time he was going to get.
And that Snape — who was the only one of Tom’s followers who knew anything about the Prophecy — was expendable.
I think that at least part of the plan was that Snape was supposed to assassinate Dumbledore.
But we will not follow that line of inquiry any further here. It’s gone into elsewhere.
The rest of this article relates to the (historic) period when Snape was still serving two (living) masters from inside Hogwarts itself. This section of the essay built up over a period of about six years, even though it had only been posted for five, and went through a number of shifts and changes in that time.
One purely fanon theory which somehow managed to attain the status of “established fact” over the 3-year summer between Harry’s years 4 & 5 was the conviction that Severus Snape’s status as a spy had been thoroughly “outed” and that it would be impossible for him to continue spying once Voldemort returned.
Rowling neatly blew this reading of the situation to smithereens with her depiction of circumstances as they stood at the opening of Book 5, with Snape making flying visits to Grimmauld Place, clearly back in the game. And for those who were slow on the uptake, she further nailed the lid closed on that particular theory’s coffin with Snape’s direct admission to Harry, in the next-to-last Occlumency lesson, that he was spying. It was his job to find out what the Dark Lord was up to. But even as late as the spring of 2004 an astounding number of fans seemed to be determined to cling to this fanon myth in the face of all evidence to the contrary.
What these readers did not seem to have grasped is that this is not a “series”, in the sense of a detective series, or of a “series” on the order of the adventures of this or that group of High School friends, where new information in one book may change the situation in that particular book and in the books that come after it, but have no effect upon any of the books that came before it. The Harry Potter “series” is all one story, and the story wasn’t finished yet. Any new information in the latest book may change the reading of anything that took place in any of the others, all the way back to the beginning. And that if the reader was going to be able to follow the development of the action they must remain alert to such changes.
This particular, and now obsolete, fanon interpretation appeared to rest upon a tripod of assumptions drawn from the most surface reading of three specific incidents in the first four books. These incidents, in order of occurrence are; the foiling of Quirrell’s attempt to hex Potter off his broom in PS/SS; the infamous “where your loyalties lie” confrontation between Snape and Quirrell somewhat later the same year, and, finally, the belief that Snape was publicly outed by Dumbledore’s testimony at Karkaroff’s plea-bargain hearing in the Pensieve summary in GoF. Voldemort’s speech regarding the Coward, the Oathbreaker, and the Faithful Servant later in that book was generally believed to support this conclusion.
The assumptions regarding Snape that were inspired by the Voldemort speech seemed to be the ones that offer the highest level of “disconnect” with the situation as we saw it regarding Snape’s actual position within the DE’s confidences by the time Harry arrived at Grimmauld Place about 6 weeks later. (The gap between these two events inside the story is that between June 24 and August 6. Not three full years, as it was for the reader) The “received message” of Voldemort’s speech, to most of the fans, was that Snape was now outed and would be summarily killed. This clearly had not happened.
My own interpretation of the matter, that Snape had in fact turned up at the graveyard muster turned out to have been completely wrong. One of the few points, on this issue in which I was completely wrong. Voldemort’s speech had referred to Snape. But Snape had managed to dodge the bullet despite his tardy arrival. We were not conclusively informed of this until the beginning of book 6.
Ergo; it turns out that I was most unwarrantably complacent about having hit my own personal “wait a minute...” moment regarding this issue about two weeks before Phoenix’s release. But I was not at all surprised by the situation we were shown at the opening of Phoenix and which prevailed throughout the book. What we were shown only appeared to confirm what I had come to suspect. That, if there were only those three no-shows at the meeting in the graveyard, then it was highly unlikely that Snape was one of them.
Ironically, it was from that jumping-off point — which turns out to have been completely wrong — that a re-examination of the earlier incidents in Book 1, cited above, revealed those to also readily be subject to very different interpretations from what they had appeared to suggest from an initial surface reading.
Which opened up a whole new line of reasoning in which I was not wrong.
On this issue, my own personal “ground zero” was the admission to myself that the situation as it is clearly set up at the opening of Phoenix — Snape apparently spying for Dumbledore, still in solid with Lucius Malfoy, and nobody apart from Sirius Black giving him any sort of a hard time at all — makes no sense whatsoever according to the prevailing expectations of the fandom.
Therefore, either Rowling had arbitrarily decided to ignore all of the laws of plausibility in her story’s development, or we, the fans, had been reasoning from a faulty premise. Whereas, in the light of DHs, the idea that Rowling may have chosen to arbitrarily dismiss all consideration of the laws of plausibility no longer seems to be inconceivable, until I was handed DHs and forced to work my way through it, I felt it much more likely that it was the fanon premise that was faulty.
I don’t know about anyone else, but it is a lot easier for me to suspect that I’ve missed something than to perform the sort of mental backbends necessary to bring two such mutually incompatible scenarios into compliance. (The major problem with DHs is that rather than supposing that we had missed things, we were suddenly far too often being bullied into recanting ever having noticed things were really there.)
One of the worst things an analyst can do is to fall so totally in love with their own interpretation of incomplete data that they are blind and deaf to any further information. I may very well be guilty of this error elsewhere in this collection, but I was not guilty of it regarding this matter. Or at least not then.
I could not believe that Rowling had suddenly changed her mind as to just what the former Professor’s part in the adventure of Harry Potter and the Dark Lord entailed. She had known what he was up to from the beginning of the story arc. Consequently, most of the information that was necessary for us to unravel the line of his actions and motivations which we had been shown to that point must have already been present in the text, despite Rowling’s thick overlay of moonshine and misdirection.
In this particular case, the biggest point to keep in mind was that the whole Snape-under-suspicion premise was a fanon creation. Rowling may have chosen to deploy it herself later, but she had obviously not chosen to deploy it then.
The fact that the fandom spent three years building fanfic castles in the air and using that premise as the foundation did not make it a valid argument for interpreting what Rowling had actually given us to work with in canon. Up to the opening of HBP Rowling had never invoked that premise. She clearly did not support it. And I was not going to make a blood sacrifice of common sense in order to clutch it to my bosom or let it stand in the way of my trying to unravel the ramifications of what she did write in attempting to figure out what was going on.
Fact: the only person who seemed inclined to suspect Snape by the end of Book 5 was Harry.
Well, we soon learned otherwise in HBP. Some of his fellow Death Eaters had also suspected Snape, and had done so for some time. But, then, the Death Eaters probably made a cottage industry of suspecting one another. That’s the way Voldemort liked it.
Nobody in charge suspected Snape at all. They never did. Neither one of them.
Well, that’s a slight exaggeration. Voldemort, despite any statements to the contrary, really trusted nobody. To the extent that by the opening of HBP he appeared to have at least temporarily set a spy on his chief spy, parking Pettigrew in the man’s own house. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he actually suspected Snape of anything in particular. (My examination of Voldemort’s probable reasons for sending Pettigrew home with Snape are gone into in the essay entitled ‘Exeunt Albus: Setting the Stage’.)
The most central piece of misdirection we have always had to work our way around throughout the entire series is the “Harry filter”. Which is to say that the books are tightly told from Harry’s point of view. It is a masterful piece of misdirection. It takes a considerable effort of will to keep reminding ourselves that Harry and his friends are a good deal more in the dark as to what is taking place in each book than Dumbledore, or most of the rest of the adult characters are. And if Harry believed that Snape was acting suspiciously it did not follow that anybody else did.
Furthermore, it belatedly dawned on me that Rowling, as much as possible, applied the Harry filter to her interview answers as well. She was determined that the reader should continue to approach the series strictly from Harry’s point of view whether on or off the page. Which didn’t make accurate interpretations any easier.
We are also forced to remember that if Dumbledore did indeed trust and depend upon Professor Snape, then unless we are living in a world without logic or common sense he must have made a point of seeing to it that Snape had enough information to be able to take the steps necessary to cover his arse. He knew that what Snape was doing was dangerous. Did he really have so many spies so well-placed inside the Dark Lord’s organization that he could afford to just blow this one off?
The level of confidence that the Dark Lord and his followers had in Snape at the opening of Phoenix simply does not come from punishing someone that you have had under suspicion and expecting him to have learned his lesson. And I defy anyone to find any clear indication in the entire 870 pages of OotP that Voldemort and Malfoy had anything less than full confidence in Snape — regardless of what Umbridge eventually came to think of him.
Conversely, once someone has given you really good reason to hold him under suspicion, you never completely trust him again. Certainly not if you are a self-anointed Dark Lord who judges everyone in the world’s motivations by your own. That we get no hint of a lack of confidence in Snape throughout OotP from anyone who we know to be a DE (we do not know that of Umbridge, even if her family is “connected”) anywhere in the entire book is not what I would call a lack of evidence.
Therefore; the widely-held fanon assumption that if Snape returned to Voldemort he did so under a heavy cloud of suspicion, seemed simply wrong.
Furthermore, it seemed to me, that if the fundamental assumption was wrong, it changed everything that we thought we knew about what we [thought we] saw in Book 1. As well as the implications of what we were told at Karkaroff’s hearing.
As it turns out the only actual reason that Voldemort did have to suspect Snape is that he didn’t show up immediately when called to the graveyard in Little Hangleton. By that time, even Voldemort must have recognized that their cross-purposes during the Quirrell debacle was not conclusive proof that Snape had turned his coat.
IF Snape was not under suspicion before Voldemort’s return, it will be because he had never given Voldemort, or — perhaps more accurately — Lucius Malfoy, any cause to suspect him of anything beyond the petty, venial lapses that come from selfishness and indolence. These are the sort of shortcomings that everyone has, and which do not reflect upon one’s loyalties in the least.
Lucius Malfoy had almost certainly been monitoring Snape’s actions and hearing his reports for most of the previous 14 years, if not longer. It was in Malfoy’s own best interests to have some idea of what Dumbledore might be up to that the Board of Governors did not know about. It was in Dumbledore’s best interests to have kept up to date on what Voldemort’s ex-followers were up to during the interregnum. Even without committing to the issue of Snape’s loyalties to one side or the other, it was in Snape’s own best interests to keep the conduit of information between both of his principals’ factions open and to make himself indispensable to both sides.
He was much better at this sort of thing than Peter Pettigrew. He managed to jockey himself into a position that put him in control of who got access to whatever information concerned the school. There is no question regarding Snape’s “return” to spying in that he had never stopped spying.
Given that his established affinity to, and his skill in the art of discovering other people’s secrets was well-developed before he even finished Hogwarts, I wouldn’t be surprised if the greater part of his duties as a Death Eater hadn’t always been related to some form of espionage. Kimball O’Hara, move over. Severus Snape may have always been a spy.
And if Snape was not under direct suspicion from Voldemort at the opening of OotP, it will be because he had given neither Lucius Malfoy nor Voldemort (nor Dumbledore) any reason to suddenly start suspecting him.
At the end of GoF Voldemort had issued a general call to all Death Eaters. Snape was expected to be there, in the circle with his “brothers”. Since there had been no apparent change in his status viv-a-vis Malfoy and the rest of the known attendees since that evening, the provisional conclusion which I had drawn was that he was in the circle. The fact that Voldemort spoke of only three absentees seemed in itself a confirmation that Snape must have been present. If Snape had been one of those absentees, he ought not have lived through the summer break.
Snape was not the “loyal servant” that Voldemort referred to. That was Barty Crouch Jr. Snape did not run. He did not hide. Voldemort, Malfoy and all the others knew where to find him. And there he was, six weeks later, smug and smirking and taunting Sirius Black, showing no heightened concern for his own personal safety whatsoever. He’s convinced he’s covered. It’s obvious.
After digesting that much; in retrospect, the very fact that we were deliberately shown three specific DE trials/hearings in the course of GoF, offset by Voldemort’s drafting out the ultimate fates of only three missing DEs also seemed a good indication that fanon’s assumption that one of these fates was reserved for Severus Snape was indicative only of Snape’s having — once again — served as Rowling’s favorite red herring. I concluded that the real herring that time was Ludo Bagman instead. I’ll have to admit that I am still not altogether convinced of Bagman’s apparent innocence, even if he was not the “coward” of Voldemort’s speech.
We knew that the “faithful servant” was Barty Crouch Jr. We knew that both the Crouch trial and the Karkaroff hearing were fundamental to the events of GoF. I could not upon reflection believe that the Bagman trial was irrelevant. I thought it was probably a warning. And one that Albus Dumbledore, at least, had not overlooked, even though he is perfectly happy to admit that Bagman has never given anyone further cause for suspicion. (Mainly because Bagman wanted nothing more to do with the DEs or anything regarding them. He’d learned that lesson at any event.)
The non-negotiable sticking point was that the Potion Master’s circumstances at the opening of Phoenix were so widely divergent from everything that fanon expectation held dear that it seemed that a re-examination of what fanon expectations were based upon was overdue. Which meant that it was necessary to go back and re-evaluate what we thought we were shown as far back as Book 1, during Severus Snape’s first tour of duty as Rowling’s favorite red herring.
The first suspicious incident regarding Professor Snape in PS/SS was the broom hexing at the Gryffindor/Slytherin match. This was the first match of the year. By the end of the book, there is no confusion on QuirrellMort’s part as to who had countered the attempt to hex Potter off his broom. Nor, interestingly enough, is there any particular annoyance expressed over Snape’s having done so. But, then, handled carefully, Snape’s culpability in that incident would have been a piece of cake to explain away. All Snape would have needed to do would be to convince QuirrellMort that he did not know whose hex he was countering.
If you have read the companion article posted in this collection under the title of ‘The Quirrell Debacle’, you will already know that, in my reading of what was going on in that adventure, there was never any uncertainly on Dumbledore’s part as to who was serving as Voldemort’s agent, or of what was under Quirrell’s turban. It is also reasonable to suspect that Dumbledore had at least taken the Heads of Houses into his confidence regarding the matter. He would certainly have at least taken Snape into his confidence, since (DHs’ innuendoes, notwithstanding) Snape would have still been much too valuable to Dumbledore as an agent to allow him to risk himself by blundering about, without a clue in the presence of his former Master.
That, upon arrival, Voldemort found his former agent in the school to be still at his post and faithfully performing as much as he could manage to execute of his original mission (Snape was almost certainly told to await Voldemort’s signal to complete the mission, and to all appearances was still awaiting that signal), speaks a good deal more highly in Snape’s favor than the inaction taken by Voldemort’s other followers among the idle rich. And it isn’t like Snape had seemed particularly happy to be at Hogwarts over Year 1, did it? Snape’s lack of apparent joy in his profession would also go some way to suggest that his sullen determination to hang on to it is due to a sense of duty.
Such attempts upon Snape’s part also included a dogged determination to execute his original orders by repeatedly applying for the DADA position. It is clear from this last that Voldemort had not let Snape in on the fact that the position really was cursed. Tom may even have found the irony amusing. If Dumbledore had ever relented on the issue, Snape would have no longer been there.
That Voldemort did not reveal himself to this particular former agent was not particularly significant. It may have been enough of a stretch on his limited resources to keep Quirrell under control that he did not welcome the possible complications of trying to direct or restrain a second agent at the same time.
He may also have reasonably suspected that Dumbledore might have the whole Castle under some form of surveillance and did not want to risk either of their missions by approaching this former agent openly. He may even have been right. The walls of Hogwarts do have both ears and eyes. In every painting, in fact. And the castle’s ghosts are not always visible, but they may still be present. To say nothing of the House Elves.
He may even have regarded this particular follower as too strong a wizard to be taken deeply into his personal confidence while he himself was in a state of such vulnerability. PS/SS!Snape was no Peter Pettigrew to happily display submissive behavior even to UglyBaby!Mort. And Voldemort would have known this. Added to which he has probably never really been able to “read” Snape, and under the turban he can’t even observe him properly.
In any case, although, after the fact, it seems that Snape must have known with whom he was dealing, QuirrellMort was successfully kept from realizing that Snape was aware of his true identity. And Snape was at considerable pains to make sure that QuirrellMort did not figure it out.
That Snape might suspect Quirrell of trying to steal the Philosophers’ Stone, or of possibly being Voldemort’s agent is one thing. That he should suspect that Quirrell was actually QuirrellMort would have been something else altogether. The broom hexing incident might even have been a gambit. If it worked, wonderful. But, if the incident was even initiated by Voldemort at all (and that attempt could easily have been Quirrell acting semi-independently in an attempt to please his Master) it was more useful for sounding out his original agent’s current position within the school hierarchy than a serious attempt upon Potter’s life. Potter is a wizard, for heaven’s sake. A fall from a broomstick would result in pain and a great deal of inconvenience, but it is a very uncertain method to use in an attempt to murder him. Voldemort knows this.
We do not know for certain whether there was any past history between Snape and Quirrell. Or what form such a history is likely to have taken. That Quirrell was described as a young man — within the perceptions of the “Harry filter” (Snape, barely into his 30s at that point, is not so described) would tend to suggest that Quirrell was somewhere in his mid-20s, and, consequently, was probably too young to have ever actually been a Death Eater. A distinction of which both Voldemort and Snape would have been aware.
Permit me to take a moment to state that I still do not believe that Voldemort has ever commonly inducted schoolboys still living in dormitories into his inner circle, even if he may have occasionally made an exception in an individual case. Particularly not during VoldWar I when he seems to have had no difficulty recruiting more broadly useful followers. There is far too great a risk of someone seeing a schoolboy’s Dark Mark and either calling attention to it, or drawing unwanted conclusions. Remember; Voldemort grew up in an orphanage. He also went to Hogwarts himself. He knows this from experience. Even if his activities at the orphanage did eventually goad the staff into turning a storage area into a private room for him. Ergo; no one who was still in school when Voldemort, fell in the autumn of 1981, is all that likely have ever officially been a Death Eater.
Quirrell’s statements in the last chapter of the book suggest pretty strongly that his term at Hogwarts overlapped both the end of the Snape vs Potter conflict and possibly the beginning of the tenure of the Black Bat of the Potions Lab. And, moreover, Quirrell now has the job that Snape is “known” to want. This last fact by this time is also sure to be known by Voldemort. It was Voldemort who had sent Snape into the school with orders to fill that position in the first place. I suspect that their relations across the Staff table were not particularly cordial.
I also suspect that it was whatever remained of young Quirrell himself who was left to deal with the situation — with no particular assistance from his “Master”. I am sure that there were times throughout the school year that Voldemort found the Snape complication to be highly inconvenient. But I also suspect that there were others in which he found it to be just as highly entertaining. And Snape, having been primed with the crucial information that he needed in order to safely navigate this particular strait, knew better than to let his Death-Eater-off-his-Master’s-leash mask slip at any point during the year.
But, about that broom hexing: the way you defuse an incident like that is that you don’t allow your opponent any opportunity to draw his own conclusions. You hand him the conclusion you want him to draw wrapped up in a purple bow, and you don’t allow breathing space for any alternate readings.
You start by launching a particularly vicious, snarling tirade about having been required to save Potter — yes, Potter! — in the course of your duties — because there was no way that as a staff member you could have gotten away with not having acted to save the brat, not in such a public place in full sight of the whole School. And be sure to allow your “excess of feelings” to lead you to be somewhat incautious about where you stage this performance — like, in a place where your “rival” can overhear it. Follow this up with the emphatically stated pronouncement that it was obviously one of your own 6th or 7th years who was responsible — and if you ever find out which one, they will rue the day. After all, thwarting Death Eater spawn who are flirting with a stint in Azkaban — over a Quidditch game, yet! — is part of your job description, damnit! (From both sides of the fence.) And finish up in a spitting fury that someone — someone — one of the misbegotten little brats — had the temerity to set you on fire while you did it!
And don’t leave him any room to doubt your sincerity. It shouldn’t be hard. Just about every word of it is absolutely true. And, by this time we know from experience that Snape has an exceedingly well-developed gift for being able to draft the literal truth to serve his own purposes.
Because Snape, as a teacher in the School, really didn’t have much choice but to publicly be seen to be making an attempt to control the situation. And even if a trio of First Years misread that public attempt, the rest of the Staff didn’t. Voldemort must have known that. He really wasn’t stupid, you know (well, not at that point in the series anyway). He was totally incapable of empathizing with any sort of human feelings, and he was supremely overconfident; but he wasn’t fundamentally stupid. And, rather more to the point, he has since repeatedly demonstrated that he maintained a track record of at least 90% accuracy for second-guessing just about everybody’s probable future actions, and continued to do so throughout the series, all the way to the end!
Which causes me to suddenly wonder — and far too belatedly — whether that may not have been why he forced Quirrell to do it (unless it was all that poor fool Quirrell’s own contribution to the situation, and one of the things for which his Master was forced to “punish” him). After all, he could hardly have expected to succeed in killing Potter by a fall from his broom, even if he does think he could manage to make him part company with it.
But Voldemort did certainly like to taunt and tease his followers, didn’t he. All of them.
But, really, his mission at the school that year was to get the Stone, not to kill Potter. He still didn’t know why his curse at Godric’s Hollow had backfired, and that made him wary. Even the final attack in the heart of the Labyrinth was an attempt to get the Stone away from Potter more than it was to kill him — although if Quirrell could have managed it, all the better.
No. I really am 85% certain that the broom hexing was Quirrell’s own contribution to the situation, and Voldemort wasn’t that upset to see it stopped. It was just too much of a security risk.
And, besides, at the end of HBP we now were supposed to understand that what he had intended to accomplish by killing Harry originally had been to create a Horcrux. Knocking a kid off a broom isn’t going to create a Horcrux.
Which brings us to the “where your loyalties lie” confrontation.
One thing that should be kept in mind is that it looks very much as if this confrontation was most likely to be Part 2 of some master plan that Snape and Dumbledore had already set up connected to the Gryffindor/Hufflepuff match. The one that Dumbledore attended and Snape refereed.
You know: the match that Harry brought to a close by catching the Snitch about five minutes into the game, neatly derailing any covert plans for the afternoon which may have been set up, well before there was any chance to put them into play.
The match after which Snape treated us all to his lack of couth with a display of public spitting. Something had really, really put him out.
I suspect that Harry’s having brought that match to a premature close was not in Snape’s, or Dumbledore’s, best interests. And it meant that Snape was stuck having to meet QuirrellMort, as had been already arranged, without having laid some of the groundwork which had been intended.
By the time we had reached that point in the story arc, post-OotP; it would have been lunacy to pin our entire interpretation of what was going down offstage over that whole first school year on the recollection of one overheard conversation mid-way through it. We had been handed far too much conflicting information since that point to still be taking that conversation at face value. And the fact that Rowling summarily dismisses the initial conclusion that the fans had drawn from that conversation by the end of the very same book is a pretty clear indication that somewhere along the way the fans had misinterpreted something.
And just how often do we all remember that Harry didn’t even catch the whole conversation? Quirrell was mumbling throughout it, and an all-too-convenient owl suddenly hooted in Harry’s ear loudly enough to distract him from even catching all of Snape’s end of it. With all due respect, I’d say that if a reader couldn’t look back at that scene and smell “red herring” by the time they’ve finished Book 5, they need their sinuses cleared out.
We never were let in on all that was said in that meeting and we have no idea just how much we may have missed. And, by this time, it no longer matters. Harry heard just enough of that conversation to serve the purposes of the plot of Book 1, after he had already decided that Snape was the villain of the piece, but that was much too frail a hook for us to hang major assumptions on, post-OotP.
It is pretty clear on even a cursory rereading* that the kids never even tried to figure out just what was really going on throughout their first year. They were simply too young to take that broad a view of the matter. They were totally absorbed in the mystery of the Philosophers’ Stone.
The indications, after the fact, are that there was never any mystery of who was under that turban from Dumbledore’s end of the equation. Also that Dumbledore had clearly enlisted at least some of his senior staff in his plans. The whole Labyrinth was an obvious trap, and the Philosopher’s Stone was bait to distract Voldemort from any more dangerous pursuit, like calling up his followers and re-establishing his empire, or directing too much of his attention to destroying Harry Potter.
[* i.e., reading it and asking yourself; “What would adults do?”]
With this in mind; would Snape — knowing that Voldemort was present at the meeting — have said what we did hear him say unless there had been careful ambiguities built into it, along with much preparation, back-up interpretations and follow-up plans? (And context that Harry missed?) Snape knew that he was talking to his former Master — to whom he had been feeding disinformation at breakfast, lunch and dinner for several weeks running by that point in the story. This whole exercise was almost certainly a part of the staff plot to get Voldemort into the Labyrinth where he could be trapped.
In short, Snape was engaged in “belling the cat”. This particular confrontation was the point at which Quirrell was to be given the added spur to his actions of being led to believe that someone else had figured out his intentions and had decided to go after the Stone, as well. Turning the “mission” into a race.
And his rival thief is a former DE at that. Voldemort has no illusions about his followers. He’s a Legilimens, for heaven’s sake, even if he was unable to deploy this skill from under Quirrell’s turban. He knows that if offered such a temptation, sooner or later most of his followers would make a snatch at it. For Snape to be after the Stone himself is a no-brainer. It would probably be more suspicious if he weren’t.
For Snape to have figured out that Quirrell was after it and be trying to make him back off is unfortunate, but an equally predictable part of behaving in true DE character. Quirrell is too young to have been one of Voldemort’s DEs and, consequently, is fair game for intimidation tactics. And, if Snape is threatening Quirrell, then Snape “obviously” doesn’t realize that Quirrell is actually QuirrellMort. Ergo; this masquerade is working! No one suspects the true state of affairs!
From Voldemort’s point of view, this is all just another rather tiresome complication of his imposture as Quirrell, but it certainly isn’t enough to convince him that Snape has definitely transferred his loyalties to Dumbledore. If Snape had done that, he would hardly be threatening Quirrell into backing off so that he can get at the Philosopher’s Stone himself, now would he? And no doubt intending to blame its disappearance on Quirrell, too.
And, in fact, the probability is that this confrontation was set up specifically for the purpose of giving Voldemort exactly this impression and thereby deflecting suspicions on the subject of Snape’s loyalties, rather than to create new ones.
Think about it. This confrontation was set up for a reason, and Snape was probably not acting independently. Why on earth would Snape and Dumbledore have wanted to create suspicion? They were not working blindly. They knew who they were dealing with. In fact, convincing QuirrellMort that he, Snape, was after the Philosophers’ Stone, himself, was the about only explanation which Voldemort would have been able to comprehend which would have taken account for Snape’s actions back on Halloween (and since) that would have fully allayed suspicion of complicity with Dumbledore. And it would also give Snape a cover story for lurking about and keeping Quirrell under future observation. Thereby protecting Potter.
Look at the pieces we’ve got and ask yourself whether they still fit together in the pattern that fanon would like to have them. Start by asking; “What would Dumbledore do?” Do you believe that Dumbledore would have kept his trusted agent Snape in the dark about what was going on with the Stone that year, while Snape’s former Master had the school under covert attack, and any unwitting blunder on Snape’s part could put him at risk of his life? I’ll ask it again: did Dumbledore have so many other agents placed so well that he could afford to simply write this one off?
Second; Do you believe that Snape was really after the Philosophers’ Stone for himself? Well? Do you? If not, then what would he have been trying to accomplish by going to such pains to make Quirrell think he was? Why on earth would Snape have gone to the trouble to have set up, or have agreed to this meeting with Quirrell at all, if he expected that the result was going to be to make Voldemort believe that he had transferred his loyalties to Dumbledore? Do either of these readings make the slightest bit of sense?
No. They don’t.
We are still looking at that confrontation through the Harry filter. That meeting wasn’t set up to misdirect Harry. But it certainly succeeded.
If nothing else; this particular gambit established, from the very first book, Severus Snape’s uncommon courage, and his mastery of the art of the “double-bluff”.
The second most difficult act that year must have been for Dumbledore and the rest of the staff to carry out their roles of looking and acting clueless, and convincing QuirrellMort that they were all watching for an attempt on the Stone from an outside agent. Dumbledore must have found the comparatively new-at-his-job Minister Fudge’s frequent owls for advice an invaluable cover for making periodic absences from the school to tempt QuirrellMort to make his move.
Moving right along: we now leap ahead three years to the Pensieve overview of Karkaroff’s hearing and the graveyard gathering in Little Hangleton complete with Voldemort’s famous speech regarding the three no-shows.
The first thing to keep in mind regarding Karkaroff’s hearing is that this was not actually a public trial. Karkaroff had already been tried, sentenced, and had been in Azkaban for about a year by the time Voldemort fell. And if Snape has always been known by the DEs to be a double agent the situation, on Voldemort’s end, was already covered.
From the Tom’s vantage point; “The DE who came in from the cold” was Snape’s cover story to Dumbledore, who backed it up at the hearing. Karkaroff either wasn’t on the “need to know’ list or he just threw Snape’s name in as a last-ditch effort to enhance his own value, but Voldemort, who helped set the situation up, would have already been fully aware of it. Dumbledore’s testimony only revealed that Dumbledore believed the interpretation of events that Voldemort had intended him to believe.
In fact, it is clear from this scene that Snape had already had his hearing, of which Dumbledore was reminding everyone, and that there is probably an official record of it on file. Given that Karkaroff was probably clamoring to make a plea bargain from the moment that his Dark mark disappeared, if Snape’s panel had already taken place, there is some reason to suspect that it may have been both very private, and held when he first started working at Hogwarts, before the end of the war itself, and that he was officially known by Voldemort to now be passing as a Ministry informant.
I had finally come to the conclusion that, until the time of the Prophecy, Snape’s primary function within the DEs may not actually have been Potions brewing, despite his unquestionable gift for it. He was one of Malfoy’s henchmen, and unless he was already fully engaged in some professional training program — such as Healer training at St Mungo’s Hospital — although he obliged with Potions when needed, his primary duty was more likely to be the gathering and verification of information. His marked affinity for this sort of work had been apparent even before he finished school, and it is just as likely to have proved essential to Malfoy prior to Snape’s supposed change of allegiance as it has been to Dumbledore since that point. In short: he has always been engaged in espionage at some level.
Given Rita Skeeter’s obvious Malfoy connections, it is likely that Malfoy and his entire “cell” may have been Voldemort’s “intelligence” unit rather than one of the units actually engaged in active violence. We already know from observation that Lucius Malfoy can’t really be trusted to keep his head if he is posted on the front lines, or in any position where he is likely to encounter a direct challenge. He always flies off the handle and does or says something stupid, and his specialty seems more on the order of blackmail and extortion than in matters requiring brute force, or quasi-military discipline.
But behind the scenes he could be very effective indeed.
I also suspect that Snape only really came to Voldemort’s direct notice when he reported the overheard fragment of the Trelawney Prophecy to the Dark Lord himself. From that point he had Voldemort’s attention.
Until the release of HBP we did were not officially aware that Snape was the informant who reported the Prophecy (although several fans had guessed correctly). We definitely did not know that there were two conflicting versions of the circumstances under which the Prophecy was made, or, more to the point, of how Snape had come to overhear it.
To me, the ambiguity about this information established a strong probability that Snape’s dealings with Albus Dumbledore might go back at least to the night of the Trelawney Prophecy, well before Voldemort ordered him to infiltrate Dumbledore’s school. The ramifications of this (now canon-shafted) possibility are discussed elsewhere in the parts of the collection accessed from this page’s sidebar.
Snape was almost certainly selected by Voldemort to be the agent to infiltrate the school because he was the one to have heard the partial Prophecy. Since he had been seen (and ejected) by the barman that night, and Dumbledore was known to be on good terms with the local barmen, Snape was probably advised to feed Dumbledore a tale of remorse and plea for forgiveness in order to gain his confidence. Both Snape and Dumbledore, if asked, will support this story. But it is unlikely to be the real story of the beginnings of their association. At the very least, I believed the time that their first interview took place had been falsified by several months.
It should also be noted that at the time he supposedly contacted Dumbledore, there was probably no provable crime for which Snape could have personally been charged. Such crimes may well have existed, but it is almost certain that Snape’s involvement was nothing that could have been proved. Any other related activities such as disagreeing with Ministry policy, even publicly, were not crimes. Even the active study of the Dark Arts is not illegal.
A crucial piece of information that was given us in OotP, confirmed that Voldemort did indeed send Snape to Hogwarts, presumably to infiltrate Dumbledore’s school and to pass the DEs information on Dumbledore’s movements before his first defeat at Godric’s Hollow.
For the slow of comprehension this fact was restated openly in the Spinners’ End chapter of HBP. It was this factor which enabled Snape to allay suspicions and retain contact with the likes of Lucius Malfoy throughout the entire period of Voldemort’s absence. But, from the wording of Dumbledore’s testimony at Karkaroff’s hearing, I was more inclined to suspect that Snape had been keeping in touch with Hogwarts on either Voldemort’s or Dumbledore’s behalf for some time before he took up his position on staff as the Hogwarts Potions master, a post which he had only finally achieved a few weeks before Voldemort’s first defeat.
In this supposition I proved to be correct, even if my final interpretation of the true state of affairs was not. To me the conflicting versions related to Snape’s overhearing of the Trelawney Prophecy strongly implied that Snape’s first recorded act on behalf of Albus Dumbledore was, in fact, to report the first half, and only the first half of the Prophecy to Voldemort. Due to the fact that I find what we were told in DHs all but completely implausible, I am still more than half convinced that this was the case.
One would have thought that Voldemort must have wanted to place as many agents as possible within Dumbledore’s organization at his earliest convenience, yet Snape, according to all indications appears to have been one of his first choices of agent, and he was not placed in Hogwarts until nearly the end of VoldWar I. I suspect that Snape’s assignment may have had something to do with the Prophecy, since none of the other DEs were aware of that. But Snape’s skill as an Occlumens was may have been a deciding factor for directing him to actually take up a position in the School, since at some point it must have occurred to Tom Riddle that Dumbledore was another Legilimens, even if he rarely uses this advantage over others.
It is at this point unknown who actually trained Snape in Occlumency. That he had a natural affinity for this skill is very likely. What we saw of his childhood might have tended to develop such an affinity. It is probable that he was originally self-trained. It is also possible that either of his two principles might have coached him in this skill before sending him to spy on the other. Of the two, Voldemort is very slightly the more likely candidate. First, since he has no compunction about using Legilimency upon his associates, he would have noted Snape’s natural resistance and decided to make use of it. Also, if it was Voldemort who originally trained Snape, he would be less inclined to regard Snape’s ability in this skill with suspicion.
The wandless nature of really expert Legilimency and Occlumency would classify the process as falling within one definition of the Dark Arts, and it is probably an excellent defense against some of them. It is possible that this was the very form of the Dark Arts in which Voldemort personally trained Bellatrix Black, and of which she boasted. We do know that she was reasonably competent in this skill, and this competence may be one of the only reasons why she managed to survive 12 years in Azkaban with as much of her sanity intact as she had. If Tom taught Bellatrix, he might well have also taught Snape. Particularly when he had a job for Snape to do which would require it.
From Dumbledore’s end of the equation, it is unlikely that Snape would have earned the sort of testimony that Albus made at Karkaroff’s hearing in just the matter of the eight weeks that he had officially been a part of the Hogwarts staff. I suspected that the real period of “great personal risk” Dumbledore referred to had taken place before Snape’s addition to the Hogwarts staff. Since Snape, like the Potters could have been no more than 21 at the time of Voldemort’s defeat at Godric’s Hollow, this would require that there be some reason for him to remain in contact, or to have re-established contact with Hogwarts after finishing school, but before he was sufficiently qualified to be hired as a teacher. We do not know what this hypothetical reason may have been.
As to the meeting in the graveyard; from the information that was at our disposal by the end of OotP, it appeared to me to be fairly evident that Snape must have managed to defy fanon’s expectations and show up after all. The fact that he did not run, did not hide, and yet managed to survive comfortably to the next school year suggested that it had not been Snape’s death that Voldemort was promising, and, if Snape was not “the Coward” and had already “paid” for his non-appearance offstage by the opening of OotP, then Voldemort had never referred to Snape in the graveyard speech at all. The re-establishment of Voldemort’s organization was at too vulnerable a point for the Dark Lord to have tolerated anyone’s involvement whose loyalties he doubted, And I’ve already commented upon the unlikelihood of a restoration of full trust to anyone who Voldemort has ever truly doubted, even if that person managed, against all odds, to allay those doubts.
I was wrong in this reasoning, of course.
One could weasel-word it and say that Voldemort cannot have truly doubted Severus Snape. He only sort-of-doubted him. And Snape was able to offer excellent justifications for his actions. Or at any event Voldemort hadn’t doubted him for very long. Just a couple of hours. But no. I was simply wrong.
Although, at the time, when subjected to a closer examination, the odds of Snape’s having managed to answer Voldemort’s summons after all turned out not to be half bad.
One thing that seemed to be overlooked by the fans was that for all that Lord Voldemort may have publicly and repeatedly called Dumbledore an old fool, he was still extremely wary of the old man. And he seemed more determined to make sure that there was nothing that Dumbledore could prove than that there should be nothing that he could guess. Voldemort knew perfectly well that it would be impossible to keep Dumbledore from figuring out that someone was running a plot under cover of the Tri-Wizard Tournament from the moment that Harry Potter’s name came out of the Goblet of Fire. And the very fact that said plot was wrapped around the use of Harry Potter would pretty well guarantee that Dumbledore would conclude that Voldemort was behind it.
And I thought that Voldemort probably took great satisfaction in being able to tweak the old man’s crooked nose with that knowledge. In PS/SS Voldemort had discovered that the double-agent he had placed in Dumbledore’s school 10 years earlier was still at his post and (apparently) was still rather less than entirely in step with Dumbledore’s goals. His agent had nevertheless managed to gain and to retain Dumbledore’s trust throughout that time.
Therefore, I thought that Voldemort could pretty well gamble on the probability that Dumbledore, secure in his belief that Snape was his own spy, could be counted upon to facilitate Snape’s absence in the expectation of his being eventually summoned. (So convenient to be able to count on your enemy to make your arrangements for you! And Voldemort has a very good class of enemy.)
It was also clear to everyone involved that if such a summons was to be made, that it would be made on the night of the final task. Even if for no other reason than that no such summons had gone out earlier in the year. All of the involved parties were fully aware of this. To the initiated, it had attained the level of a certainty.
Consequently, Snape was not posted out in general view patrolling the boundaries of the maze on the night of the third task. Nor was he in any other post with an active function. My own reading was that if he was not there at Dumbledore’s left hand, he was probably playing least in sight as much as he and Dumbledore between them could manage. When Harry, Cedric and the Cup disappeared from the maze he retrieved his DE rig and made tracks into the forest to a point beyond the boundaries where he could Disapparate on Tom’s signal.
It must have taken Wormtail at least 20-40 minutes to carry Voldemort to the rendezvous point, kill Cedric, subdue and bind Harry, heave that stone cauldron into position — which was filled, adding to its total weight. Pettigrew is a small man, and traditional graveyards with standing monuments are hardly a smooth and unimpeded terrain over which to maneuver something of that weight and mass.
And, having accomplished that, he needed to perform the ritual, one-handedly assist his newly risen Lord to dress himself and to facilitate sending out the general summons. Pettigrew had a very busy night. Snape had ample time after Harry’s disappearance and before the general summons to get beyond the boundaries of Hogwarts.
When the summons did come, I was convinced that Snape silently took his allotted place in the circle with his fellows, probably cursing the certainty that he was now going to have to blow his cover with a rescue attempt to get Potter out of there. And frustrated as all get-out that he wasn’t offered any clear opportunity to do it.
And which turned out not to be required of him after all.
If this had been the case, and Snape was there, he had witnessed Potter’s escape from death at the Dark Lord’s hand.
He had seen Potter throw off Tom’s Imperius, overcome Voldemort’s force of will in the battle between the wands, and he had watched Potter make his escape, taking Cedric’s body with him. That odd look he was giving Harry over breakfast at the end of term was probably due to his having finally seen Harry in action and discovering that he was having to re-evaluate some of his beliefs regarding the boy. This cautious re-evaluation on Snape’s part seems to have carried over well into the first portion of OotP. Although he still felt quite secure about taunting the boy over what now seemed to be a quite genuine lack of aptitude in the art and science of Potions brewing.
As to those fans who remained unconvinced and demanded that if Snape was at the meeting in the graveyard, why didn’t Harry see him there: My response was: first off; can we at least agree that Harry was under a lot of stress during this particular adventure? He was not coolly observing events and making mental notes of what was going on in what order.
Some 30-40 Death Eaters actually showed up for the meeting. All were cloaked and masked, and unless somebody spoke there was not much to distinguish them one from another but general size. Comparatively few of them had the nerve to speak up, either.
It states quite clearly that Voldemort passed round the circle, speaking to some but not others. Some he merely passed by with a nod. I believed that there was nothing at all to say that Snape, if present, was not one of those. In fact, if Snape was a double-agent — which seemed to be the case — it would be in Voldemort’s best interests not to be shouting his identity out to the whole gathering. If this was what happened, then Harry had seen Snape there. He just did not know which of the DEs that he saw was Snape.
In support of this reading, I pointed out that there were only a handful of DEs whose identities were revealed by name at that meeting. At least two of these (Malfoy and Avery) were publicly known anyway, since they had been identified 13 years earlier, and had been acquitted through the use of the Imperius defense. Other than these I think only Crabbe, Goyle, Nott and McNair were actually named at the meeting. Voldemort did not even publicly give out the names of the Coward and the Oathbreaker who were respectively to be disciplined and killed. That he did give out the names of Crabbe, Goyle, Nott and McNair suggests that he either was particularly displeased with their performance in his absence or he was flaunting their names for some other purpose, never determined.
I had also believed that at that point in time, although Snape must have known that Dumbledore would expect him to make some attempt to rescue Potter, that having been unaffiliated with the Order of the Phoenix during VoldWar I, he was not aware of the content of the Trelawney Prophesy. At that time it had not yet been revealed that Snape was the eavesdropper who had reported it in the first place.
I rightfully doubted that Voldemort shared his knowledge of the Prophecy with his followers, and erroneously believed that Snape would not have known that to bring about the defeat of the Dark Lord, it was essential to rescue Potter. Consequently, he would have been looking for an opportunity to do so which would not totally jeopardize his own value as a double agent. And he never got one. I imagined that he may have been brought up to speed in that regard at some point after the end of term, before he was formally brought into the Order, which was the case by the time Harry showed up at Grimmauld Place six weeks later.
Snape’s return from the graveyard required tighter timing than his answer to an anticipated summons, but the time available remained adequate for the purpose. Just.
We watched while Crouch/Moody escorted Harry, who was injured and did not have full mobility, all the way from the Quidditch pitch, across the lawn, past the lake, into the Castle, up to his office — on the third floor — which to Americans would be the fourth floor and — so far as we have been told — it is the staircases that move, not the stairs; sat him down and took time out for a fine, classic, “evil minion” gloat about how clever he’d been and what the evil plot was all about and how he now was going to finish up the year by killing Harry, before he was finally interrupted.
When looked at objectively, this must also have taken at least 15-20 minutes. Ample time for Snape to get the nod from Voldemort to follow at once and perform damage control. Almost as soon as Harry disappeared, Snape had Apparated or portkeyed back to someplace that he could ditch the DE rig, and make all haste to find Dumbledore and join him and McGonagall in time for the show-down with Crouch.
Well obviously I was well and truly off-target in that reading!
What that reading had failed to take into account is that by delaying his return until after a sufficient interval, Snape would be able to make his excuses, reiterate his continuing loyalty, feed Voldemort an official story and wave his retroactive information on the actions of Albus Dumbledore (and Harry Potter) including the just breaking news of Dumbledore’s split with the Ministry under Tom’s non-nose, without so many witnesses.
The delay would also have underscored his possession of Dumbledore’s complete and absolute trust, thereby enhancing his value as an agent. He was taking an awful risk by delaying that return, but he was certainly enhancing the value of what he had to offer by doing it. And, at that point, Voldemort needed Snape far more than Snape needed him, and he must have realized that.
Nevertheless I still flatly disbelieve that Tom then took the opportunity to question Snape about his love life. Even if practically the last thing he ever did in life was to taunt Harry by claiming that he had.
Still, up to DHs, I had to wonder. Given that Harry Potter’s survival was supposedly so crucially important, would Albus Dumbledore have just let him disappear like that when he had an agent who was manifestly able to follow where he had been taken?
The timing was adequate for the purpose of sending Snape after him. The reasoning above as to Albus probably being aware that Voldemort had somehow subverted the Tournament from the outset still holds. And Snape’s statements at Spinners’ End were a complete web of truth, half-truth, innuendo and outright lies. But I can’t quite bring myself to the point of proposing that Snape had responded to the call and, rather than being in the circle where he belonged, was lurking about, invisible, looking for an opportunity to get Potter out of there. I just can’t.
Now, of course, it is obvious that if Voldemort had killed Harry Potter that night there would have simply been one less of the pesky Horcruxes to have to disarm. A very great pity all round to lose the boy too, but unavoidable. It was only after that night that such a loss became maybe avoidable. But I have a hard time believing that Albus was banking on that being the result.
The motives behind Snape’s semi-public revealing of his Mark are still not entirely clear. But the most likely reading is that his intent was a bold, preemptive strike to do for the witnesses in the hospital wing exactly what the effect seems to have been upon the reader. To “reveal” himself as a former Death Eater who was completely within Dumbledore’s confidence, and as a current spy for the White Hats. Leading everyone present to make allowances for his current and future actions. To any doubters, his status as a Ministry spy would have been readily confirmed, after all. Many readers never seriously questioned Snape’s loyalties to Dumbledore after that scene, until the climax of HBP, did they?
Sometimes you just have to work things from the angle that what DID happen was what was INTENDED to happen.
The evening’s last task, the one that Dumbledore was ultimately sorry to have to ask of Snape, was, as I now agree, to return to Voldemort to report on the success of his damage control, and, incidentally, to bring Voldemort up to speed regarding Dumbledore’s break with the Ministry. It would not have been plausible for Snape to have withheld that information, since Voldemort would have been sure to hear of it from someone in contact with Fudge, and Snape would be well known to have actually been present at the falling out. I can well believe that Dumbledore very sincerely regretted having had to pass along that information.
Information, by the way, which linked all too tidily into Malfoy’s already well-established plot to discredit both Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore by manipulating the press. I suspect that by the end of that evening Malfoy had managed to amply make up for whatever level of “disappointment” Voldemort may have had in him at its beginning. Or at least until Voldemort found out what Lucius had done with his Diary. And by then Malfoy was too greatly needed for his influence on Fudge to be dispensed with.
I’m also inclined to suspect that Voldemort had probably already intended to dispense with Barty Crouch Jr’s services at his earliest convenience, should Crouch have survived to return. He would probably have retained him for some while longer if it had been possible. But even though he likes to keep his followers always jockeying for position among themselves, to keep an obviously deranged follower who is harboring a major grudge against just about all of his fellows is running an internal risk that Voldemort was unlikely to have been unaware of. It would only have been a matter of time before it would have been necessary to “sacrifice” him. For that matter, now that we know that the DADA position really was jinxed, he cannot have been either astonished or dismayed to learn that Crouch was in no condition to return.
As to the fans’ questions as to HOW Snape is spying by the opening of Book 5 — which is to say the mechanics of how it was accomplished; I would guess that — on the Voldemort end — once Voldemort managed to get himself settled into some “permanent base” someplace, over the course of Year 5, Snape had been spying in pretty much the same manner that Voldemort had sent him into Hogwarts to spy from the beginning. Which is to say, that he managed to send information through an intermediary. And — on the Dumbledore end — Snape has been picking up and passing on whatever information is being circulated through the DE network. Over the course of Year 6 there may have been other, more direct arrangements, once Lucius Malfoy was off the playing board. Or, considering that Snape was being kept firmly out of the loop by Draco and Bellatrix, the whole mechanism may have broken down. Explaining some of his frustration. Particularly if Tom still wanted progress reports on the invasion plans and the Dumbledore assassination.
We have known since OotP that Voldemort had a hand in Snape’s posting at the school, because in OotP we were finally given the data necessary to add up the dates and realize that Snape started as a teacher at Hogwarts before Voldemort fell. True, it was only a matter of a few weeks before, but Snape certainly went off to teach at Hogwarts with Voldemort’s knowledge and approval. In summary:
During the period that Umbridge was making a nuisance of herself with her clipboard Snape admitted to having been teaching for 14 years. Harry is just 15 at that point, so Snape would have started teaching the year that Harry turned 1 year old. That was the year that Voldemort fell. But school started on Sept 1, and Voldemort didn’t fall until Oct 31. That makes for an overlap of two months wherein Snape was unquestionably serving two masters.
In HBP we got information which would push the possible beginning of his involvement with Dumbledore back to the date of the Trelawney Prophecy, which may have been made as early as Halloween, 1979. And in DHs (if we can believe anything we are told there) it was indicated that he had probably contacted Dumbledore before Christmas of 1980.
So it appears that there was already at least one double-bluff going on. We do not know how much was known at either end of the pipeline, or the details of how the current situation was set up. Rowling did not think that was important.
And it was certainly Tom that sent him there, for there is no obvious reason how keeping Snape inside the school best served Dumbledore’s interests either before Voldemort’s fall or after his return, since, isolated inside the school, Snape is positioned where he was least likely to pick up sensitive information on Voldemort’s plans. Unless his mission was to deduce information from his students, by acting as an intermediary either to or from their parents.
Post-HBP I finally decided that Snape’s presence in the school was so that he would be available to take part in a more sensitive operation than mere spying.
Part of the current purpose, on Albus’s end, must have been to send carefully selected information out. On the face of it, it would appear that for Snape to be positioned inside Dumbledore’s school would serve Voldemort’s purposes far better than it did Dumbledore’s. And Snape’s own purposes better than either. Obviously, once Voldemort came up with his brilliant plan to send Snape off to spy on Dumbledore, neither Snape nor Dumbledore had full control of the situation.
From an objective standpoint, at the end of HBP some of the possibilities surrounding Snape’s posting to Hogwarts looked like (although was not limited to):
1. Voldemort sent Snape to spy on Dumbledore under a cover act of being a poor penitent DE who wants out. Snape has been spying on Dumbledore from the beginning, feeding him info that Voldemort gave him for the purpose. Voldemort ordered Snape into Dumbledore’s school so he could do it most effectively. Since he applied for the DADA position, spying on Dumbledore was only a temporary assignment. He was expected to have fulfilled his real objective by the end of the year. Something went awry with this half of the plan.
2. As above; Voldemort originally sent Snape to spy on Dumbledore before he started working in the school. But Dumbledore won Snape over to his side. Now Snape is spying on Voldemort and feeding him info that Albus gives him for the purpose.
3. Same setup as either #1 or #2, but since Voldemort fell the first time Snape has had second thoughts. He has been passing info back and forth between both of his principals’ organizations and keeping his own council. When the time comes that he must make a choice he would back the side that offered him the best deal, or seems to be most in a position to actually win. He’s covered either way. Or he was until the events of HBP. Things went out of control then, and now he’s stuck.
4. Snape really was a poor penitent DE who went to Dumbledore and ended up agreeing to spy. Having Voldemort later insert him into Dumbledore’s school to spy from the other end was a plan cooked up between Snape and Albus for purposes as yet undetermined and Voldemort bought it.
5. As above in #4, only when Voldemort proposed inserting a spy in the school, Snape volunteered for the job in order to keep Voldemort from actually managing to send in a real one. (Also somewhat lessening his own chances of ever coming up against Aurors and their shoot-to-kill policy. No one ever said Snape was doing any of this purely out of altruism.) Given that I still believe there was an additional agenda related to that mission, this seems rather likely.
6. Dumbledore basically approached Snape while he was still a student in the school. (In the aftermath of the werewolf caper?) Offered him the option of going into hiding if the DEs ever approached and tried to recruit him. Snape was later approached by the DEs, but he offered to spy rather than hide. Dumbledore could hardly refuse him. He may have made a point of teaching the boy Occlumency in preparation. The poor penitent DE story is a double-bluff cover from the Voldemort end.
Unlikely as it may seem, at the end of HBP we still hadn’t anything to absolutely contradict this last possibility. In fact, pushing back Snape’s known involvement with Dumbledore to the night of the Prophecy, based upon his actions from that point, tended to support it. As did Phineas Nigellus’s snide little endorsement in response to Albus’s profession of faith in Snape.
As to Death Eater meetings and the mechanics of this operation; I suspect that Snape has always had a special dispensation from Voldemort which exempted him from showing up at any general meetings during school terms (much the way he showed no concern over Barty Crouch’s absence at the graveyard). Snape’s assignment to infiltrate Dumbledore’s school and gain the old man’s trust would have made unexplained absences inadvisable, particularly if he came into the post as a Head of House (which had originally seemed unlikely, but Rowling doesn’t appear to have that much of a problem with unlikely). The major exception to this rule having been the general summons at the end of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, at which point Voldemort didn’t give a damn about any of his followers’ convenience. Or their “cover” either.
My own reading was that at the beginning (for all of the two months that he served as a double agent before Voldemort’s first defeat) Snape’s contact was one of the Board of Governors. This may have been Lucius Malfoy even as far back as that time. But the contact at that point could have been one of Voldemort’s other followers from the older generation. The likelihood of there being a DE, or Voldemort sympathizer on the Hogwarts Board of Governors during VoldWar I is hardly a major stretch of the imagination. He had adopted the standard pureblood supremacist rhetoric, which had been around a lot longer than he had, and a great many people believed that he was sincere about it.
In the interim after Voldemort’s defeat, it was in Dumbledore’s best interests to keep the communication lines to Voldemort’s old organization open, in order to track developments in case any of its members got empire-building notions of their own. He may, in fact, have been requested to do so by the Ministry, but it is more likely that he took the job on voluntarily.
In the two months of the summer break following Voldemort’s return, Snape was on his own time, and his peripatetic comings and goings at Grimmauld Place suggest that he was on courier duty for somebody. Since Voldemort was at that point in time attempting to re-establish an empire that had lain dormant for 13 years; the inference is that it was he who was directing Snape’s comings and goings. I seriously doubt that there were any general DE meetings during this period. Voldemort almost certainly was contacting and speaking with his surviving followers in small groups of 2 or 3 at most, and quite possibly taking individual “interviews” to find out where his followers were currently placed in order to be able to give them new assignments, and to decide which of his goals were the most readily achievable from what he had to work with.
It also will be noted that there was no murder plot du jour against Harry Potter during year 5. Or year 6, for that matter, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Umbridge’s attempt to get the boy expelled from school, and by extension expelled from the wizarding world itself (which she claims was her own brilliant plan) had been a very unwelcome development, and possibly one reason why she was sent off to Hogwarts instead of left to get up to further independent mischief at the Ministry.
After the fact, the conclusion which seems to have been drawn by Dumbledore was that Voldemort had wanted to discover whether the full text of the Prophecy might have had any input on what went wrong at Godric’s Hollow, before taking his vendetta against Potter any further. If this is true, the general instructions to his followers would have been to make the boy miserable if you must, but leave him alone until he has served his purpose. Those instructions seem to have remained in effect.
Book 5 was the “phony war” to VoldWar II. It is a pity that they couldn’t have kept it going for longer, but that couldn’t have been relied upon. So it was better to have it outed on Dumbledore’s time rather than Voldemort’s. As long as the Ministry could be convinced to deny that he was out there, Voldemort had been willing to keep his head down while making other plans. His surviving followers were left in place, and his one major public mission of the year was to retrieve the survivors from Azkaban. And, given their level of mental stability, much good they did him. At the end of the book, half of them had been recaptured and Malfoy, Avery, Crabbe, Nott and McNair seem to have all been additional followers who had now been unmasked. The defection of the Dementors from Azkaban ensured that those arrested at the end of OotP might eventually be back in the game for at least part of the rest of the story arc. Nott’s injuries might or might not keep him out of further action.
As to Snape and spying, no, he not only was back in the game by the opening of OotP, he was stuck there. He could not retire from spying at that point. Neither Dumbledore nor Voldemort was ready to let him do that, and I really didn’t think that Dumbledore’s “death” had released him, either. There was every chance that he was now in deep cover serving Dumbledore’s ends at Voldemort’s side.
So, to recap:
The situation at the opening of OotP made it fairly clear that both sides knew that Snape was a spy, and that both sides believed that he was spying for them. At that point, nobody in charge suspected him of disloyalty at all.
Given all of Snape’s flying visits at Grimmauld Place, the highest probability was that Voldemort had him running around on courier duty during the summer break helping to re-establish his network. Once school was in session, however, things were probably back to business as usual on Snape’s end; reporting Dumbledore’s apparent actions to Lucius Malfoy through his usual channels or through some other intermediary. Given the situation with the overseen Floo network and the Owl post that year, this intermediary is quite likely to have been Dolores Umbridge. Who regularly reported back to Fudge and, by extension, Lucius Malfoy. It is uncertain whether Umbridge was aware of just what additional information these reports may have contained. It is also quite possible that for specifically DE matters, Snape and Malfoy were also in contact directly by some other method, possibly a pair of mirrors, but not necessarily. Since their long association has been well established, public contact between them in itself would not be suspect. Snape was certainly not being yanked out of the school to DE meetings during year 5, assuming that there were any, which I doubt.
I’d guess that Snape’s primary contact probably had always been Malfoy. Until just a few years earlier, Malfoy had been on the Hogwarts Board of Governors, and, once we knew that Snape (at the tender age of 21) took up his post as Potions Master before Voldemort’s first fall, we can pretty well assume that from the matter of public record side of the issue, the Malfoys may have had some say in his getting the position in the first place. Given the additional probability of an acquaintance which dated from their Hogwarts days, contact between Snape and Lucius would have looked quite natural to anyone who observed it.
I’ll admit that I was somewhat disturbed by the echoes in the Ron accuse/Hermione defend interchanges regarding Snape which were noted at the opening of OotP. At some time the year before Ron and Hermione had been singing the exact same duet, only back then it was about Percy. I was pretty sure that we were all being set up. I was even more sure of it by the end of the book.
Even leaving my own convictions as to what was really going on aside: I personally thought that it would be a rather poor message for Rowling to be sending if she eventually did rank Snape conclusively among the Black Hats (i.e., that it’s only the nice people who are really on your side), but Rowling’s artistic judgment was not likely to be played out at my direction.
The one thing that I had confidently expected from Book 5 was that after the apparently unequivocal designation of Snape among the “White Hats” in Goblet, we were certain to get something in Phoenix to immediately call this assumption into question. And we didn’t.
Consequently, if Rowling meant to upset the applecart as to just where Snape’s loyalties lay — and there were just too many clues that pointed in both directions lying around for her not to be intending exactly that — she was saving it up for later. And the later she set off that particular bombshell the bigger the explosion would be, and the more likely it is that the accusation would stick, rather than be overturned by yet further information at another point farther on.
But that Rowling had at least one more bombshell up her sleeve with Snape’s name on it we could be sure.
And boy was I right.
She left it to the very end of Book 6, and it was a BIG one.
And you know what?
I didn’t think it was the last one, either.
She was laying another trail of gunpowder with which to blow us all up again in Book 7.
Well, she managed to surprise a few people, I guess.