I finally did it. Post-HBP I finally got off the fence, stuck my neck out, and took a stand on the question of the loyalties of former Professor Severus Snape.
I was convinced that Severus Snape was — beyond any reasonable doubt — one of the White Hats.
I was not going to answer to any of the fans who were determined to harbor unreasonable doubts. But I knew they were out there.
In fact, even now downstream of DHs, they are still out there.
This is also not to say that I think Severus Snape was [secretly] a nice man — he wasn’t. Nor that underneath it all he was even necessarily a good man, that hadn’t been proven then either, although it was at least suggested. At any rate, it was sufficiently demonstrated that he generally ended up doing the right thing, for the right reasons, whatever spiteful comments he might make along the way. And it certainly does not mean that he wasn’t really a Dark wizard.
Of course he was a Dark wizard!
It has been obvious from the beginning of the series that Severus Snape was a Dark wizard. Which is to say, he was a student and practitioner of the Dark Arts. That’s the point. It is one of the biggest reasons why he was there in the cast of characters in the first place. Furthermore, he was already obviously, unequivocally, and intentionally “Dark” by the time he finished school.
Even before that, actually. “Famous” for it, we’re told by Sirius Black (assuming we can trust anything we were ever told by him). The Ministry of Magic may discourage involvement in the Dark Arts, but it doesn’t actually do anything to try to stop such people — so long as they support the legitimate government and manage to control themselves. The Dark Arts, on their own account, are not illegal.
They are not even necessarily evil. What they seem to be is chaotic.
And you just cannot legislate chaos out of your life. Particularly not if you are living with magic. It just isn’t possible.
But the Dark Arts are incredibly risky, and they offer an appalling range of ways in which a wizard might lose himself and end up following a disastrously wrong path, to his own peril, and that of everyone around him. Which is why there are Aurors employed to apprehend Dark wizards once they become a danger to society. (Think of the issue rather like a magical DUI.)
Which, now that I think of it; since Aurors in the wizarding world, also seem to make a career of capturing common lawbreakers as well as Dark wizards, that is probably part of what has served to so confuse the wizarding public consciousness about just what Dark magic is. However, this is beside the point.
All I mean by it is that I was convinced that Snape was on the “right side”.
In fact, committed to it.
• • • •
It hadn’t sunk in as quickly as it really ought to have that the biggest part of the fallout from HBP was the discovery that this series was really NOT an epic tale of some great conflict between Light and Dark magic, à la Tolkein, after all. It wasn’t even about some quasi-symbolic face-off between the principles of “Light” and “Dark”. It was shaping up to be the close up and personal — in fact rather petty tale of the conflict of Tom Riddle against the world. And that meant everybody. Regardless of their personal alignment toward either Dark or Light.
And then in DHs it all devolved even further into Rowling’s private grief therapy and an orgy of wallowing in absolutes.
When you really stop to consider it, the only followers Riddle ever had were the ones that he had lured into his “cult of personality” when they were either kids themselves, or independent youngsters at no more than post-adolescent levels of maturity. Or else they were disenfranchised elements who were such “outsiders” they really had nothing much to lose the way the wizarding world was set up. Everyone else had been either bullied or bewitched into playing along.
That his human followers were primarily the descendants of Dark Arts-practicing families only indicates that these were the children most vulnerable to the lure of the sort of path that Riddle claimed to be offering. And you will notice that over the course of the 2 generations that he cast his shadow, he has reeled in almost every single one of those followers before they were out of their teens. The creature preys on children. And he is not their friend. And he does not mean them well. And he never did.
And I think that, insofar as it regarded the loyalties of Severus Snape, any indications to the contrary that JKR inferred to us in her pre-DHs interviews were no more than an indication that until the final book was out, she was determined that the reader should continue to approach anything in the series strictly from a Harry-centric viewpoint. On or off the page.
We already got a hint of this kind of deliberate manipulation in... I think it may have been the Albert Hall interview of some years back, when, in answer to the question of why Dumbledore would not give Snape the DADA position, she effectively hinted exactly the same excuse that Snape later handed the Black sisters in the Spinner’s End chapter of HBP. That Dumbledore was afraid the DADA position might prove to be “too great a temptation” for Snape.
Is there anyone who still believes that this was really the reason Snape didn’t get the position earlier? Now that we know that the position really was cursed? Particularly now that we have been directly shown that Snape is the very first person Dumbledore calls for whenever anyone is injured by what appears to be Dark magic? Expressly because of his familiarity with the Dark Arts. Albus Dumbledore all too clearly found Snape’s expertise in the Dark Arts extremely useful. And he did give Snape the DADA post the very minute that it suited his purposes.
And, besides, “too great a temptation” to what, precisely?
So, while I still do wonder why Rowling considered the fact that the position was literally cursed to need to be a matter of such deep secrecy that she couldn’t bear to turn the information loose before Book 6, once you know that, her answer does not come across as a viable representation of Dumbledore’s real opinion on the issue in the least.
But it is the kind of reason that would probably occur to, or be believed by Harry.
After all, right up to the end of the series, whenever the subject was Snape, Harry never seems to have got it right.
• • • •
It’s also a heavy hint that until the final book was released, just about any statement Rowling had ever made in public concerning Severus Snape would probably be according to the same pattern; she was not being altogether straight with us. Indeed it is now clear that even after the final book is out, she still can’t meet a straight question regarding the Professor with a straight answer, and has made a career of contradicting herself.
As to Snape and his loyalties; in HBP Rowling handed us the usual packet of assorted clues that pointed in both directions. And most of them balanced each other out every bit as well as they had in all of the first five books.
But this time there was one left over.
And that one seemed to point in only one direction.
And to me it looked like a big one. Any information has to be mighty significant if, in order to get it across, Rowling had to let us catch Albus Dumbledore in a flat-out lie.
Over the first six books of the series Albus Dumbledore really did not come across as a member of the frequent liars’ club.
Mind you, he was never as pristinely truthful as a lot of his fans would have liked to believe. But he was experienced enough, and clever enough, to realize that a selective and incomplete truth was far more likely to serve his purposes than a direct falsehood. It’s much more defensible for one thing, and if what you actually tell people is true, it’s much easier to keep your stories straight. Rowling would do well to take it as an example.
Dumbledore tacitly admitted as much. He states quite clearly, all the way back in PS/SS, his contention that the truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and, consequently, is to be treated with extreme caution. And it has been made abundantly clear over the course of the entire series that he shades his statements in accordance with whom he is dealing at any given time.
The only point in the whole series at which he had ever come out and promised NOT to lie was when, at the end of the business with the Philosopher’s Stone, he offered to answer Harry’s questions.
And then he went ahead and lied anyway. Snape’s hatred of Harry Potter had nothing to do with his being unable to forgive James for saving his life. With 20/20 hindsight we can see that Dumbledore’s explanation of Professor Snape’s motivations was a masterpiece of truth-shaving. Snape’s so-called “debt” to James had nothing to do with his behavior. It was only his debt to Lily that counted.
But Albus wasn’t able to tell Harry that. Snape had insisted that he not speak of it. And Albus gave his word not to.
However, the answer that he did give Harry went a long way towards poisoning the well regarding any further reactions between them. And whether that was done deliberately is a decision that depends largely upon how much you are itching to look for support for some degree of Evil!Albus interpretation.
In that discussion, as you will also remember, Albus ended up declining to give Harry an answer to the very first question Harry asked, and you will also notice that he never repeated that particular invitation to Harry to ask him questions. Or, at any rate, not with that particular “value-added” promise not to lie accompanying it.
But, still, he seldom made statements which we as readers knew to be absolutely untrue.
Although, it turns out that in OotP, he did.
Twice, in fact.
• • • •
OOr at any rate, upon two occasions his level of truth-telling appears to have been far more selective and incomplete than usual.
In both cases, there were some fairly major contributing circumstances. But, he lied. In fact in the first instance he flat-out lied. And we watched him do it. A correspondent pointed this one out to me, I had overlooked it on both my readings of OotP, but it is definitely there, and it is definitely a lie. Let me direct your attention to the following passage; the confrontation between Albus and Cornelius Fudge:
“You organized this?”
“I did,” said Dumbledore.
“You recruited these students for — for your army?”
“Tonight was supposed to be the first meeting,” said Dumbledore, nodding. “Merely to see whether they would be interested in joining me. I see now that it was a mistake to invite Miss Edgecombe, of course.” [OotP, ch. 27, pg. 618 U.S. pb edition]
Is there anyone, anyone at all, who is going to deny that this is lying?
So it is established that, yes, Dumbledore will lie if he feels it to be really necessary. In this particular case he was lying to protect Harry — and all the rest of the members of the DA. At that point in the series rather a lot of us believed that if there was one reason for which Dumbledore would unhesitatingly tell a direct lie, it would be to protect someone. Particularly one of his own agents. I also believed that he did it again in the chapter regarding the Lost Prophecy.
This is Albus Dumbledore we’re talking about here. And up through Book 6, I, in common with most of the fandom, believed that If someone was willing to put his life on the line for Albus, Albus would certainly not rat him out by excessive and ill-timed truthfulness in the presence of his enemies.
And at the end of OotP we can have no doubt that Albus Dumbledore was absolutely convinced that Severus Snape was one of his own agents. And indeed, if you squint around the edges of the Harry filter it ought to have been obvious that to protect Snape appeared to have been one of Albus’s main endeavors right up to the end of HBP. He appeared to have expended every bit as much effort into protecting Snape as he had in protecting Harry.
And all of Rowling’s backpedaling through the chapter of ‘The Prince’s Tale’ fails to convince me otherwise. It was too little solid information, much too crudely drawn, and introduced far too late to be believable. Indeed, it was plopped in at the last moment without foreshadowing or background. And I am simply not convinced that what it adds up to was even the conclusion that she had been leading up to over the full course of the series. It reads like a sudden last-minute retcon purely for melodramatic effect. Probably because she just wanted to have the whole thing over with, and doing it properly would have taken more effort than she was willing to expend. And I, for one, flatly don’t believe it. By that point she’d been caught out lying to us altogether too often.
If my interpretation of what was going on between Voldemort and Harry over the course of OotP is right, Albus had every reason to believe (correctly or otherwise) that their final conversation might be being overheard by Lord Voldemort (which really does appear to be supported by all of Voldemort’s statements and actions over the course of DHs, and there really isn’t anyone else who could have filled him in on that particular information). After all, the possibility that Voldemort might be eavesdropping through Harry, is the reason why Harry was being kept in the dark all year long. And at that point Harry’s mind was still wide open to Voldemort’s tampering. If Albus suspected covert surveillance to be even a possibility, then to tell the unmodified truth at that point in time could have cost Severus Snape his life. And Albus still needed Snape. He wasn’t about to gratuitously put him at risk.
For another thing, I don’t think Albus was quite prepared to entrust the truth on this particular issue to Harry just yet, even if Voldemort wasn’t listening in. Albus may have absolute faith in Harry’s intentions, but, after a year of CAPSLOCKs, he must have had reasonable doubts as to Harry’s discretion. While Albus was willing to entrust Harry’s safety to Snape, His confidence didn’t necessarily run in the opposite direction.
Albus — if that was indeed Albus — was given another opportunity to reveal some truth or other to Harry in HBP, just before he and Harry departed for the sea cave, and he clearly paused and considered doing it (on stage, in full sight of the audience), but he ultimately decided against it. This may turn out to have been an unfortunate choice. But his reluctance was no doubt essential for dramatic purposes. It certainly lit the fuse to what seemed clearly intended to be a major bombshell intended for Book 7. A bombshell which Rowling unaccountably seems to have forgotten to include.
• • • •
And, yes, I’m afraid we’re back to that bloody Trelawney Prophecy again. We may all be reasonably confident that we now know the full text, and the correct wording of that Prophecy (even though the wording seems to have been backward and entirely counter to the way it eventually played out), but we sure don’t have the complete story of what actually went down at the Hog’s Head the night that it was delivered. We have two conflicting versions of what happened that evening, and I have grown to suspect that one of those was deliberately incorrect, and the other was unavoidably incomplete.
I have already gone into this event in considerable detail and at considerable length in the essay entitled ‘The Child Foretold’. I was tempted to just copy it here, verbatim. But the issue is critical enough that it probably deserves to be restated rather than simply repeated.
The relevant points and questions to be kept in mind while analyzing the two competing versions of the conundrum of that night at the Hog’s Head are:
Point: it can’t have taken more than a minute to actually make that Prophecy. Unless Albus also edited just how much of the original pronouncement we actually heard, it’s just not that long. Which renders Albus’s statement about interruptions half-way through it somewhat implausible right from the top.
Point: we’ve all known since Book 3 that Sybill Trelawney has no awareness of what is going on around her while she is actually channeling the Prophecy demons, only of what was going on before, and after. We watched her burp up a Prophecy ourselves.
Point: we also watched Trelawney delivering the Prophecy from Albus’s memory in the Pensieve. She gave us the whole thing in one pronouncement. She did not stop in the middle. He did not obviously tamper with the memory, either. He extracted it, put it directly into the Pensieve, and played it for us.
Point: we only saw Trelawney delivering the Prophecy. We did not go into the Pensieve to see what else was going on in the room or hear what was going on outside it. Dumbledore carefully controlled exactly what information we were given in that debriefing.
Point: Sybill reports that there was a “commotion” at the door of the room, which then flew open to reveal Snape (and Aberforth Dumbledore, the barman).
Question: unless Sybill — who is unaware of her surroundings while in the grip of a Prophecy — actually saw or heard an eavesdropper, how could she even know that there was one, let alone his identity?
Question: if Snape was discovered halfway through the Prophecy and thrown from the building as Albus claims, how would Sybill have known that Snape was the person listening at the door?
Question: if Snape-the-Snoop was still at the door after the Prophecy was finished, how can Albus say so confidently that he only heard the first part of it?
Point: given all of the cloak-and-dagger nonsense about that Prophecy record over the course of OotP, it is obvious that Voldemort really was only told the first part of the Prophecy.
Point: neither Apparition nor Disapparition has typically been represented as silent (although the DEs in the Little Hangleton graveyard seem to have mastered that).
Point: we were told on Rowling’s first official website, and have seen for ourselves in the books that members of the Order of the Phoenix can send messages to one another by means of their Patronuses (Patroni?). Dumbledore himself taught them this technique. It seems to be a very speedy form of communication.
So. Okay. What have we got here?
A nice little tangle, it looks like.
Under any normal circumstances, Sybill is a far less credible witness than Albus, even given what we’ve learned of Albus’s general truth-shaving since OotP, but since the whole point of giving us her report on the events of that evening was to hand Harry and the reader the information that Severus Snape was the previously unnamed eavesdropper who overheard the Prophecy and reported a portion of it to Lord Voldemort, it stands to reason that Sybill must have actually seen him there.
Since she is unaware of what is going on while she is in the grip of a Prophecy, she has to have seen him either before she made the Prophecy, or afterwards. From the report she gives us, she caught sight of him right after she finished delivering the Prophecy.
Consequently; Albus is just plain not being altogether honest with us when he claims that the eavesdropper who reported the first part of the Prophecy to Voldemort was discovered partway through, ejected from the building — and, therefore, had no opportunity to hear the second half of it. That is the story that Voldemort has been told. I suspect that Albus is keeping his stories straight just in case Voldemort is listening in again. All of which makes Rowling’s insistence that everything played out exactly as it appears on the surface, without any coordination between the various players, rather difficult for me to accept. Yes, particularly now.
Plus, of course Albus also intended to ever-so-slightly redirect Harry’s attention. There was no purpose to be served by allowing that particular debriefing session — in OotP — to wander off in pursuit of an unidentified eavesdropper, after all.
Albus could perhaps have given us a sort-of (but even then not completely) plausible story, claiming that the eavesdropper had only heard the tag end of the Prophecy — which repeated the first part. But he didn’t claim that. That wouldn’t have matched Snape’s version which had already been told to Voldemort.
I was sure that the whole contradiction was there for a reason. Rowling was giving us a clue.
After the fact, we seem to be expected to understand that it was no more than yet another hint that Albus Dumbledore tells lies whenever he feels justified in it. Which is most disappointing.
• • • •
Of course in some other reality it could have been a clue to much, much more. Over the period between HBP and DHs I was sure that it was. And I still think that the overall story would have been both stronger and marginally less tawdry if it had been. But Rowling clearly preferred the shallower, more tawdry version. After all, that would certainly have been more in keeping with the overall theme of DHs.
Wandering off now into my own little country of foreclosed theories: I was sure that “the affair of the interrupted eavesdropper” was Snape and Albus’s mutual cover story. Albus, Snape, and no doubt Aberforth would have all agreed to it if asked. But that it wasn’t quite how the incident had actually happened.
We’re stuck with the fact that either it really did happen as Trelawney tells it, or there is no way that she could have identified the listener. And that by the way she tells it, if Snape was definitely in a position to hear only one part of the Prophecy, it was probably some undetermined portion of the last part.
But, judging from all of his subsequent actions, Voldemort clearly only knew about the information that was presented in the FIRST part.
Ergo: I believed that Albus deliberately let the first part of that Prophecy escape.
No. That’s an understatement. I believed that Albus deliberately turned the first part of the Prophecy loose. He wanted Voldemort to learn about the first part of that Prophecy. In fact I’m still absolutely convinced that he did exactly that.
Why not the whole thing?
Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? The next part of that Prophecy includes a couple of rather serious cautions doesn’t it? Like, just for starters, marking “the one” as his equal? You think Tom Riddle would take the risk of doing something like that if he knew about it going into the situation? I’m not so sure. I think Albus wasn’t so sure, either. So he didn’t take the risk of letting Voldemort know about that part of the pronouncement. He made sure that that “middle passage” of that Prophecy was carefully edited out of whatever Voldemort was told.
Which brings us back to Snape: who was at the door of the room at the end of the Prophecy, and is the Death Eater who told Voldemort only the first part of it. I am still more than half of the opinion that Snape has to have done that on Dumbledore’s behalf. Otherwise why did Albus — and Aberforth — who had him in custody, let him get away without just Obliviating a few seconds of the evening’s events from his memory, in keeping with established Ministry policy as regards Prophecies? We know that Albus will permit memory modifications to be performed if it suits him. He allowed as much for Marietta Edgecombe on far less provocation.
• • • •
So, first let’s take a look at the “Severus Snape: reformed DE” reading shall we? The official version, that is.
Which so far as Rowling has ever established presupposes that Albus, up in his ivory tower, was unaware of the developing Snape-»Lily«-James triangle at the time the werewolf caper took place, and did not follow through on the incident to the point of being filled in on it until years afterwards. Slughorn, who was on the front lines in the classroom, and watched it play out under his own nose, unable to do a thing about it, seems to have found it painful enough that he never spoke of it to anyone.
So my original (and very early) reading went; from Albus’s vantage:
Point: Severus Snape, to all appearances, was a thoroughly nasty young piece of work.
Point: He is, in the main, an intelligent and fundamentally realistic nasty young piece of work. And, ultimately, even thoroughly nasty pieces of work have to answer to their own consciences.
Consideration: this particular nasty young piece of work is one with a history. That mess concerning the Shrieking Shack does not appear to have been resolved to anyone’s real satisfaction, and the boy is now in debt to a rival, which cannot sit well. He may very well feel that Albus owes him something over that business, too. Dumbledore has unfinished business pertaining to one Severus Snape.
Point: when given a choice, a Slytherin will usually choose to save his own skin.
Offering amnesty to one mean-spirited young wizard — so long as he is willing to give up any current illegal activities — is a very small price to pay for the possible removal of the former Tom Riddle.
Severus Snape wants a job?
Give him one.
• • • •
Well, that character reading in itself might have played. At least it might have played back then. But the character reading in itself it doesn’t really get us any forwarder, does it?
And it leaves a far too many trailing ends dangling for anyone’s satisfaction. Like I say, it was an early iteration, and Rowling clearly never went there.
The biggest question was whether Albus gave him that particular job by mutual agreement or cynically just let him go to make his report to Tom as an unwitting tool. The Albus who was revealed over the course of DHs would have been perfectly capable of such a stunt.
But leaving DHs aside, I am going to continue to explore some possibilities that Rowling has foreclosed upon. I still think they play perfectly well with the series as we had it at the end of HBP, and frankly, it has fewer inconsistencies than Rowling’s subsequent version. You are welcome to stop reading now if you wish to.
Things to consider; with the rider that we are primarily talking about our state of information as it stood at the end of HBP:
Perhaps Snape was already on his road to Damascus when he followed Albus into the Hog’s Head that evening. If he did. (Wait for it...)
Conversely, maybe Snape didn’t “go to Dumbledore” at all. Maybe it was Dumbledore who recruited Snape. And at that point we had no information as to when that might have taken place.
Maybe that whole tale of Snape’s apparent remorse and Dumbledore’s grand forgiveness at the point that Snape went to work at Hogwarts (which is the tale that they were still both telling) is just the blue-plate, gammon-and-spinach special this week, one that was originally cooked up between the two of them as a cover to be fed back to the DEs. Or to anyone else who asked impertinent questions.
So. Taking the “official” version as a jumping off place: at the presumed date of the Trelawney Prophecy (now adjusted to the week following Halloween, 1979), Severus Snape, then 19 years of age, would have probably been inside the DE organization for something just over a year. Long enough to have begun to be a little disenchanted. Long enough for rivalries to have become a bit bitter.
Long enough for him to have been handed a few stinging disappointments. Long enough for him to begin noticing things, and to begin to ask himself a few questions. He is not a trusting soul. He does not have the Blacks’ and the Malfoys’ built-in assurance that “of course” nobody could possibly renege on a promise to him. And he’s bright enough to usually recognize the truth when it’s pointed out to him (by anyone but Harry, or Sirius Black at least).
If Snape had joined up in good faith, he might have been all in favor of overthrowing the Ministry or subverting some of its policies. But it was the Ministry that was responsible for maintaining wizarding Secrecy, which every wizarding-raised child — and Snape was wizarding-raised, even if his family home was in a Muggle town, his mother’s family were still wizards — had been brought up to regard as his only hope of continuing personal safety, and Voldemort had no particular interest in doing anything about that! In fact, given the direction of the activities that Voldemort was now proposing, it was only a matter of time before wizarding Seclusion would be impossible to maintain!
Canon Snape may not be the quite same degree of all-round genius that fanon Snape is so frequently portrayed, but he is more than bright enough to realize that without the protection that their secluded world gives them, wizards haven’t much chance of surviving as a culture, or indeed, as anything but fugitives, and you don’t get a lot of chance to set up a potions lab and study arcane branches of magic when you are cowering in hiding, and may have to run for your life at any minute. (The irony that the whole wizarding world was already effectively cowering in hiding and had been for nearly three centuries by then, had undoubtedly escaped him.)
Even assuming that Snape was on absolutely nobody’s side but his own, he might have weighed his options and contacted Dumbledore, whose track record of taking in waifs, strays and general outsiders, who were in a position to make themselves useful, as well as his status as the uncrowned king of wizarding Britain, offered the best chance for Snape to enlist him as middleman for cutting a deal with the Ministry. All at the very reasonable price of admitting that Albus was right about the Dark Lord.
Indeed, somewhere in a fanfic somewhere we might even have a thoroughly opportunistic Snape who was already disenchanted with the DE’s empty rhetoric and the direction the whole movement (and it’s leader!) were veering off into, sitting in the taproom, considering what options might be available to him, and, seeing Albus go upstairs, followed. After overhearing the Prophecy, and being summarily thrown out without a hearing, he decided to deploy the first part himself, in hopes that Tom would manage to undo himself just as hopefully as I believe Albus did. When he discovered where Tom intended to strike, the rest proceeds as in canon.
• • • •
Now, admittedly, by the end of HBP I no longer really supported this theory of Opportunistic!Snape, myself, but if you were determined to maintain your belief in that version this much still plays.
But, like I say, I no longer believed in Opportunistic!Snape. In the way that a minor rockfall can set off an avalanche, once the balance of evidence started shifting, I could no longer maintain my long-held attempt to maintain neutrality on the subject. I had come to my own decision on the issue.
Snape was one of the White Hats.
This much is what had percolated through by the time I needed to do my first-pass update of the collection in the summer of 2005, dragging it into a basic post-HBP canon-compliance. I don’t think I did that bad a job of it. But the new data was all still in the process of settling. And by the time DHs was pending release I’d pushed this train of conclusions quite a bit farther down the track.
Most of the following was jarred loose by a correspondent who had read the first-pass update of the article, and had expressed reservations pertaining to certain points. Reservations that I actually shared, but had backed off from exploring due to what at the time had appeared to be a lack of enough hard data to really justify drawing any kind of a solid conclusion.
His first point was the question of what was Snape doing at the Hog’s Head that night in the first place?
It’s a damn good question, too. Rowling is very bad at providing actual motivations for why her game pieces were in any given position for her next move throughout the entire backstory for the series. We’re usually stuck having to roll our own.
Voldemort would have hardly assigned a random 19-year-old DE to follow Dumbledore around whenever he left the Castle, just on spec. Nor is the information that there was a Divination instructor candidate staying at the Hog’s Head — which was by that time a low-level Death Eater hangout — likely to have interested him overmuch, either. Even if he does believe in Prophecies. Particularly not if he had any kind of information on who the candidate was. It’s obvious to just about anyone that Trelawney is 90% charlatan, even if she does have a spark of the gift. So why was Snape there at all? Had he just stepped in for a drink? Had he already arranged to meet someone else? Why was he there?
It’s a valid question, and one that Rowling has determinedly ignored.
The second issue was; how likely is it that Dumbledore would have tried to, let alone been able to successfully recruit Snape, on the spot, after his eavesdropping, that very night? We realize that he must have recruited Snape at some point. And it was done by that evening, if Snape did as Dumbledore requested of him then, but could Dumbledore really, plausibly have recruited him that very night? On consideration, I didn’t think so.
I quite agreed with my “critic”. Recruiting Snape, on the spot, on the strength of his eavesdropping on the Prophecy, seems highly unlikely. Snape is not a trusting soul and he does not change his views easily. It would have only worked if Snape had come to speak to Albus about changing sides in the first place. And while that’s certainly possible, we didn’t know that this was the case. Snape clearly did report only the first half of the Prophecy, yes, when he was manifestly in the position to have heard it all, but there is nothing else in the text of the books to hang that possibility on.
And Rowling really did seem to be visibly straining with the greatest of efforts for the smallest of results (to the point of rather shabbily expecting us to accept the whole thing as a coincidence). So let’s follow this whole line of reasoning back a bit and see where we come out.
We know that Snape did only report the first half of the Prophecy, despite his having apparently been in position to have heard the 2nd half, if not the whole thing.
Which, to me, made the following conclusion unavoidable:
Snape was already “Dumbledore’s man” by the time the Prophecy was made.
Or at the very least, he was no longer Voldemort’s man.
The report to Lord Voldemort was almost unquestionably made at Dumbledore’s direction. Albus was still lying about the circumstances under which the thing was supposedly overheard until the night he died.
• • • •
So why would Dumbledore be lying to keep Voldemort (or Harry) from figuring out that Snape could have heard the second part of the Prophecy as well as the first part, unless it really, really, mattered?
Well, did Snape hear the second part?
I don’t know. In fact, by this time I wasn’t convinced he actually heard any part of it.
I’d come around to the conclusion that Snape quite possibly wasn’t anywhere near the Hog’s Head that night — or not until Dumbledore summoned him.
As I mentioned above; Rowling informs us that a member of the Order of the Phoenix can communicate with his fellows by means of his individual, and unique, Patronus. It was Dumbledore who devised this form of communication and taught it to them. By the end of HBP we had twice seen Order members send such messengers. I expected that at some point in Book 7 we might finally be present when somebody received such a message and we would discover whether a Patronus is actually able to speak. But even just the sight of such a messenger would be enough to convey the fact that so-and-so wants you — now!
TThat’s how it worked when Dumbledore summoned Hagrid in GoF. That was how it was supposed to work when Tonks summoned Hagrid in HBP. On this second occasion, Snape showed up instead, claiming to have been deputized to substitute (Hagrid was probably still occupied escorting the new batch of Firsties across the lake). Admittedly, neither of them Apparated in response to the summons, but they were at Hogwarts. You can’t do that there (and Hagrid cannot do that anyway).
But we get no indication that Albus devised this method of communication specifically for the Order. He could have been using it with his earlier agents for years beforehand. Decades even.
So, even though it couldn’t have taken more than a minute for Trelawney to deliver the Prophecy, that was just about enough time for Dumbledore to have fired off a Patronus — which I suspect he would have done as soon as he realized that this was the genuine article, and that it concerned Lord Voldemort. Which is right there in the very first phrase of the thing.
Wherever Snape may have been that night (apparently not in the company of other DEs, at least), having Dumbledore’s Phoenix Patronus flash in his face would have had him Apparating to wherever Dumbledore was on the double. It isn’t just Lord Voldemort who can call his followers to him on the instant. The whole thing might have taken no more than the minute it took Trelawney to deliver the thing.
Dumbledore would have wanted to call his trusted operative inside the DE organization as soon as humanly possible. IF they were going to make any kind of use of this development, there was no time to waste. Voldemort would hardly be convinced by a follower’s report that he had overheard a Prophecy (much less only part of a Prophecy) some undetermined time ago. The report, if they were going to make such a report, had to be made by the following morning. Or even sooner.
If it was to be believed, they had to act now.
Especially if Riddle — who is also not a trusting fellow — decides to double-check the report.
Sybill Trelawney is a barfly. Albus recognizes the signs. There will be witnesses as to when she arrived at the Hog’s Head, and since Albus cannot in good conscience let her wander around loose now that she’s channeling messages from the Prophecy demons, she is soon going to be celebrating her new job in the taproom downstairs.
The Hog’s Head has been something on the order of a Death Eater dive (well, at least among the lower rankers. I suspect the inner circle wouldn’t be caught dead in the place) since before there officially were Death Eaters. Albus has no control over who might be loitering about to tell tales. So he’ll give them all a show to fix the incident in their minds.
And I think that Albus summoned both Severus and Aberforth in response to this new development. Trelawney came out of her trance just after Snape Apparated outside the room, too late to hear what the noise actually was, and to identify it, but quickly enough to register that there had been a noise at the door.
Snape after either Apparating into the hallway — or, just possibly, in the street below and pounding up the stairs to answer the summons — and not knowing that Trelawney was there, threw open the door. Aberforth who had also been summoned was right behind him.
Or possibly not. Albus could have wanted to kill two birds with one trip into Hogsmeade, and had already arranged to take a report from Snape at the Hog’s Head later that evening. Maybe that’s why the job interview was taking place at the Hog’s Head, rather than up in his own office at Hogwarts. He was hardly going to bring Snape onto campus to give his report. Somehow their wires got crossed. Snape showed up, and when he discovered that Albus had already arrived went looking for him.
In any case, once Snape and Aberforth threw the door open and saw Trelawney they backpedaled; Snape with his “likely tale” of coming up the wrong staircase, and Aberforth, improvising, taking Snape by the scruff of the neck and hauling him away. Anyone who chose to investigate Snape’s report would have learned that Snape had indeed been publicly ejected from the building the evening Dumbledore had come to interview the new Divination instructor up at the school.
After tossing Snape out the front door ’Forth went around and let him in the back, and once Albus extracted himself from Trelawney and joined them in the kitchen, or ’Forth’s private quarters, they burned the midnight oil discussing what they were going to do about this opportunity.
Or, if Albus had already made his decision of what to do about it, he gave Snape his instructions, and after Snape left to make his report to Lord Voldemort, discussed what he was going to do to limit the potential damage with Aberforth.
At this point, of course, none of them had any clue as to whose family was going to be put at risk. They were all still dealing with hypothetical people at that point. Indeed, if the issues explored in the essay entitled ‘The Child Foretold’ are on track Albus may have already been convinced he knew who the Prophecy referred to and that it was not a child.
Until it finally sunk in to him that Tom would believe it concerned a child. And it was Tom’s interpretation of the thing that was going to matter.
• • • •
For a number of reasons, not the least of them being a timely reminder from another correspondent that Dumbledore actually tells us in HBP that Lucius Malfoy was only entrusted with the Diary shortly before Voldemort’s first defeat — in 1981, I have come to the conclusion that the Prophecy may have been made within a few days after Halloween, 1979, right around the time of the foretold child’s conception. At that point even Frank Longbottom and James Potter were unaware of the existence of those children. And even Alice and Lily were probably not yet sure.
Turning loose that Prophecy was one of the “hugest” mistakes that Dumbledore ever made in his life. It locked him into a course of action which (acto all our previous readings of him) was out of character, and which put him at cross-purposes with himself.
He may, believing that most Prophecies are bollocks anyway (or at least that’s what he’s claiming during HBP, 16 years later, we don’t know what he believed about them when the Prophecy demons actually tossed one into his lap), have been attempting to goad Riddle (who he knows believes in them) into unwise action and have the matter settled before any child it foretold was actually born.
He should have known better. You do not ever want to give the Prophecy demons an opening. They do not play fair, and they do not mean well.
But then, Dumbledore also tells us that he never studied Divination. He does claim (now) that Prophecies are virtually always a snare and a delusion. But he seems to have overlooked the fact that if you mess with them, they tend to play out according to some variation which could be interpreted as stated, even if inverted. It is clear that on this matter he was not dealing in one of his many areas of expertise.
The gamble seems to have ultimately paid off, but the price was way too high. And by messing with it, Albus trapped himself every bit as surely as he trapped Tom Riddle. But then, HE was the one that the Prophecy demons taunted with the thing. I rather doubt that Riddle was ever their real target.
Still, at that point in time, that Prophecy must have looked like the most promising breakthrough in the whole ongoing, ever-escalating generation-long conflict against Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Particularly since by ’79 Dumbledore may have had a pretty good idea of the kind of thing he was up against. There are likely to be as few magical processes which could account for the alteration in Tom Riddle’s physical appearance as there are monsters which are stone-turners. And if Albus knew enough about Horcruxes to be able to see the whole subject banned from the school more than a dozen years before he became Headmaster — as Slughorn tells us — then he probably knows as much about them as Tom Riddle does.
And he’d also had plenty of time to figure it out by then. But he no doubt thought there were other dividends to be paid by setting loose that Prophecy, and he took the risk.
In the first place, this development offered some hope that there really might be an end in sight. Second; it could be used as bait to tempt Voldemort into the kind of reckless or ill-considered action that would bring him down. And, third, it could be used to get Albus’s agent higher up the DE hierarchy and into Voldemort’s favor. It’s not that surprising that he did ultimately choose to deploy it, despite the fact that he must have known that tangling with a Prophecy almost invariably brings such a meddler to ruin.
Albus, (or at any rate, the Albus we thought we knew) now being thoroughly at cross-purposes, also immediately started working against the Prophecy, by trying to limit the damage to innocent bystanders and to keep Voldemort away from any foretold child for as long as possible (which never works). He first tried attempting to discover the potentially targeted family’s identity and to offer them at least some degree of protection. It was to this end that I originally believed he founded the Order of the Phoenix, probably over the following month or two. But in its original iteration, the Order did not concern Severus Snape, and he had no contact with it during the course of VoldWar I.
• • • •
In this belief, I am at loggerheads with Rowling who insists that the Order of the Phoenix was up and running by the time James Potter and his cohort started their final year at Hogwarts, despite the fact that she can point to no function that it served which was not already covered by the Ministry. Indeed the Order appears to have existed only for the sake of symmetry with the DEs, and to provide Albus Dumbledore with information, personnel, services and resources that the Ministry might have balked at turning over to him. I’m amazed that he did not name it “Mini-Me”.
Although if you want an even less benign interpretation, that is certainly possible. In that version, Albus founded the Order, specifically in order to be able to invite James Potter and his associates into it once they were out of Hogwarts. Primarily for the purpose of being able to continue “cultivating” young Potter after he finished school.
All that is required for this to be a viable interpretation is to assume that by the time James Potter finished at Hogwarts, Albus had discovered that James was a Peverill descendant.
If James was as careless with that Cloak in his early years at Hogwarts as Harry was, it wouldn’t have been difficult.
Both Gellert and Albus went collectively Hallows-mad in their teens. And I don’t get the impression that either of them ever really got over it.
But I was convinced that Snape was already Albus Dumbledore’s man before the Order of the Phoenix was founded. And I believed that his first known action on Dumbledore’s behalf was to report the first part, and ONLY the first part, of the Trelawney Prophecy to Lord Voldemort.
At some point around Halloween, 1979. When he was 19 years old.
I really do think it would have made for a stronger story arc.
As well as a rather better “reveal”.
And we got what appeared might be some additional support for this reading in the Spinner’s End chapter of HBP. Despite the web of truths, half-truths, innuendos and outright lies that Snape weaves for the edification of the Black sisters, unless Rowling was being “impressionistic” with her math again (she isn’t always, you know), she forced Snape to be just a tad indiscreet in his rush to score off Bellatrix when he points out that in contrast to her useless gesture of putting herself into Azkaban for over a dozen years, he had kept to his assigned post, as ordered, and that by delaying a mere two hours in responding to the graveyard summons was able to give Voldemort sixteen years worth of information on Albus Dumbledore’s actions.
In GoF, Voldemort had just returned from an absence of almost fourteen years.
Even in the summer of ‘96 when this statement was actually made, at Spinner’s End, Voldemort’s first defeat had only been fifteen years earlier.
So what event took place sixteen years — or thereabouts — before Voldemort’s return at the end of GoF?
I say that Trelawney had made her first Prophecy. That’s what event took place. And that apparently Snape either had some Voldemort-approved reason for observing Albus Dumbledore for two years before he started teaching, (in which case why hadn’t he reported these findings at the time?) or — which is more likely — Snape claimed to have discovered retroactive information concerning Albus’s activities that had taken place before Snape took up his post at Hogwarts, which wasn’t until September of 1981.
In either case we now had what could be interpreted as Snape in association with Dumbledore for nearly two years before he replaced Horace Slughorn as Potions master of Hogwarts.
And I have never believed that Snape won Dumbledore’s iron-clad trust on the strength of no more than the 8 weeks that he is known to have taught after he first took up that post, in the last days before Voldemort’s first defeat.
• • • •
Speaking of which: as pointed out, Dumbledore is no stranger to weaving a web of truths, half-truths and little white lies, himself. Throughout HBP, both he and Snape are holding to the same cover story; that upon taking up his post at Hogwarts, Snape confessed reporting the partial Prophecy to the Dark Lord, expressing his deepest remorse at putting the Potters at such risk, thereby earning Albus’s magnanimous forgiveness and undying trust.
In two words: fish fuzz.
Now, Snape certainly appeared to have Albus’s undying trust, and I didn’t discount the likelihood that he did indeed feel remorse, perhaps very deep remorse, over discovering that he had endangered people that he knew personally, and in one case at least, it turns out he deeply cared about.
Remorse that was probably only matched, and indeed possibly surpassed, by Albus’s own. Putting faces on hypothetical people is apt to be a painful business, regardless of how sterling your intentions are, or however great the “greater good” you have endangered them over may turn out to be. I’m sure that once Snape found out the identity of the targeted young couples, he did regret it.
After all, just because he loathed James Potter, doesn’t necessarily mean that he wanted him dead.
And at that point we still hadn’t been given any real hint as to what he thought of Lily.
But I sure wasn’t convinced that this was the reason Snape “returned to our side”. So don’t waste your breath. I was convinced that he was already on “our side” before the Potters were endangered, before he discovered that it was even about the Potters, thank you very much. Or the Longbottoms either (who, by that point may have mattered to Albus a good deal more than the Potters did).
And is it really all that much of a stretch to believe that Albus just didn’t quite think that Harry had the maturity to be trusted with the whole story yet?
The kid had enough on his plate already, for heaven’s sake! Had events not overtaken them all, Harry would have gotten filled in eventually. As it read, the fact that it wasn’t just Snape, but Albus also who endangered his parents was likely to come as a nasty shock. And, of the two, it’s Albus who bears the greater responsibility.
And still does. If Snape’s presence at the door to that room had been merely fortuitous, One of the Dumbledores could have Obliviated those few moments from Snape’s memory before Aberforth threw him out.
Or are we now supposed to think he merely Obliviated the 2nd half of the Prophecy and let him go? An Albus who would do that is definitely not as white as he’s painted.
• • • •
But the main thing about this issue that we don’t yet know is just when Severus Snape became “Dumbledore’s man”.
I was sure we would eventually, of course. That particular piece of information was bound to be one of the reveals of Book 7, wherein Rowling would prove to have laid down at least one more trail of gunpowder to blow us all up with (probably more than one).
Within my interpretations, an alliance between Snape and Dumbledore certainly had been forged by Halloween, 1979. That much seemed plain. Snape had finished school in June of 1978. It isn’t particularly difficult to come up with any variety of plausible theories about an incident to hang a reason for him to turn his coat from during that interval.
For a couple of months, I thought that Rowling may have handed us one when she donated her sketch of the Black family tapestry to a charity auction in February, 2006.
Rather to our surprise, if the most recent dates on the tapestry sketch can be taken at face value (ETA: they can’t), we discovered that instead of 1980 — as was stated outright in OotP — Sirius Black’s younger brother Regulus turns out to have died in 1979.
Quite possibly even before the Prophecy was made.
Although it could not have been much before. Or much after, either.
In fact; since Regulus Black was listed on the tapestry as having been born in 1961, he would have only just finished Hogwarts at the end of June, 1979 and it seemed unlikely that he had already made his fatal mistake of signing up with the Death Eaters before finishing school. Consequently it seemed that his death had to have taken place between the beginning of July and the end of December of that year.
Now, of course, we know from statements made in the course of the books themselves that the dates on the tapestry sketch are simply unworkable, and unlikely to have had anything to do with insights developed by Severus Snape. We must dismiss them and recast the dates from what we were given in the course of story. Which we will now do and get them out of the way.
In the story, we have been shown that Regulus’s death took place in 1980 and according to Kreachur’s tale, he was 17 at the time, which would move his birth date to 1963.
And if he was 17 at the time of his death, he was probably still at Hogwarts.
Which means that both the episode wherein Riddle must have “borrowed” the family House Elf, and the date of Regulus’s death took place during term breaks.
We do not know which breaks, but if Riddle only began hiding his Horcruxes after he knew about the Prophecy, then it is likely that the borrowing of Kreachur was over the winter break, when Reggie had access to the family library. He did manage to figure out that the locket that Riddle had put into the basin in that cave had been a Horcrux, and he wouldn’t have found that out at school.
The return to the cave with Kreachur, and his own death would have probably been either over Easter, or the following summer break. Of the two, Easter seems most likely.
Originally it did not seem out of reason to suppose that something about that affair may have contributed the final straw to prompt Severus Snape into reconsidering his options.
Particularly if he was involved in it.
Even more particularly if Regulus wasn’t really dead.
But whether Reggie was dead of not, I no longer believed that his adventure had anything to do with Severus Snape. Any influence went in the other direction.
After all, if Riddle wasn’t hiding the Locket until late ’79 or 1980, then he didn’t hide it until after he heard there was a Prophecy about his downfall running around loose. Indeed, he was probably hiding it because there was a Prophecy about his downfall running around loose.
And that much still holds.
• • • •
We also watched Albus offer Draco Malfoy the opportunity to go into hiding (via faking his own death?) on top of the Astronomy Tower. We have no reason to suppose that this was the first time Albus had ever made such an offer.
Snape, on the other hand, had demonstrably chosen to stay and fight.
But as of yet there was no point during the stretch of time between the date at which Snape finished Hogwarts, and the evening that Trelawney spouted her first Prophecy at which Snape and Dumbledore are known to have even met.
But we already did know — for a rock-solid certainty — of at least one conversation/confrontation which took place between the two of them before that blank stretch.
We still hadn’t heard the last word on the werewolf caper, had we?
And we’d been promised it for a long time.
All Sirius Black was able to say about the aftermath of that incident was that Snape had been forbidden to speak of what he had seen. That doesn’t sound really sound to me as though Sirius was present as a fly on the wall at that interview. In Dumbledore’s place I know that I’d have made sure to speak to each of the involved parties separately.
And an offer of Amnesty and/or escape to a surly 16-year-old who appears to be on a collision path with disaster, would have been absolutely in character for what we thought we knew of Albus Dumbledore. We even saw him make the same offer on the top of the Astronomy Tower. (A hollow offer if there ever was one. By that point, how, and more to the point who, would he have deputized to arrange the matter had the boy accepted?)
Dumbledore is certainly not excessively squeamish about entrusting the young to dangerous paths in dangerous times. Particularly the young whose paths have already been chosen for them, such as Harry and Draco. Or those who seem likely to be put in a position where to refuse an offered path could be even more dangerous than to accept it. As was probably the case with Severus Snape. The boy was very much at risk of being put to use by the enemy. Willing or not.
Albus wasn’t completely isolated in his ivory tower office. He knew something of the history there. He could hardly have missed the fact that there had been an ongoing war between this one Slytherin boy and that little gaggle of Gryffindors in the same year ever since they all arrived at the school together. And yet the Slytherin, however awkward, and unpopular, and clearly a fledgling Dark wizard to boot, was not a gratuitous troublemaker, nor was he the leader of his own gang. Not like Riddle, certainly. Very different from Riddle, in fact.
Indeed most of the boy’s problems seem to have stemmed from having allowed himself to be taken up by a dangerous crowd in his First year. Even though most of that particular crowd appeared to have dropped him before the end of it. Dumbledore was probably well aware of this because he had his own reasons to keep an eye on that particular crowd. This boy does not appear to have made any attempt to keep up the association with the leaders of that circle since that time. Although he did form an association with another, not significantly better clique by the following Autumn. Most of this second group has also now passed out of the school. Although this boy is still tagging along after the last of them.
But he is clever, and he was once willing to be useful to his Housemates, and in another couple of years he will be out of Hogwarts, and his former Housemates may not have forgotten him. And Albus has grave suspicions of where their loyalties lie.
While Draco’s opportunity to make his own choices got derailed by the unwanted intrusion of a set of enemies and a werewolf (Hm. Symmetry there, much?), I doubt that the opportunity for Snape’s decision was similarly aborted.
Young Snape was almost certainly on a crash course to soon receive an offer that he may not be able to refuse, even if — after having been taken up and then summarily dropped by those particular ex-Housemates — such an offer isn’t what he now wants.
Is that what he wants? What does he want?
I rather think that Albus intended to find out.
• • • •
And the possibility that the werewolf caper was Severus Snape’s “turning point” ratchets up considerably when you factor in Phineas Nigellus’s snide little endorsement of Albus’s trust in Snape, which he injected into one of the private lessons with Harry, over the course of HBP. This matter is further explored in the piece of “extreme theorizing” entitled, ‘The View from the Martian Canals’.
But in any case, I felt that there was vanishingly little reason for me to continue to hang back from committing to a definite side in this particular debate. By the end of HBP I thought we had enough clues to figure out just what Severus Snape’s ultimate choice was. Snape was one of Dumbledore’s very own White Hats.
And was so years before James-bloody-Potter ever became one.
Or so I thought.
(Inserting an additional bit of venom to Snape’s taunts to Sirius Black in OotP, that he was out actively risking his neck for Dumbledore’s cause, while Black — and by extension, James Potter — was only involved at all because he needed to be protected.)
And, we could also now finally conclude that the biggest reason that Severus Snape so hated Harry — and he did sincerely hate Harry — had very little to do with James. Much as Snape honestly loathed James.
Harry, after all, had taken his place.
James never really mattered to anyone, not the way Harry does, certainly not to anyone in charge.
But, by his very existence, Harry Potter, “the Boy Who Lived”, had effortlessly supplanted Severus Snape as Albus Dumbledore’s most valued young protégé.
Sibling rivalry appears to have been the factor which warped Sirius Black’s life out of shape. Something remarkably like it seems to have also had a lot to answer for in whatever was riding Severus Snape.
And that is what I thought was the real wound that runs too deep for the healing. I’m not perfectly convinced that Dumbledore ever realized it. Snape is a superb Occlumens, after all. He would have gladly let Dumbledore continue to believe that it was all about James. Or as a last resort, that it was about Lily.
It’s not. It really was all about Harry.
Especially by the end.
• • • •
[Note: the declaration, “Loyaulte me lie” (Loyalty binds me) was the personal motto of Richard Plantagenet, King Richard III of England. A man much maligned by his enemies. Enemies whose own probable crimes have for centuries been attributed to him.]