Although Albus gives us a number of different reasons why Riddle’s hangers-on at Hogwarts might have been attracted to his circle, when it actually came time for Tom to set up the Death Eaters, and get down to the serious business of fomenting anarchy, with the exception of a few of his own contemporaries from foreign parts, who he managed to reel in during the years of his exile — or very soon after, Riddle’s earliest followers turn out to have been handpicked individuals from among the most “promising” of his own ex-schoolmates.
i.e., He chose them. And they hadn’t the sense (or just possibly had too much of a sense of self-preservation) to tell him no.
But seriously, I doubt that all of his former tag-alongs made the cut. And his later followers were, for the most part, merely his first selection’s descendants. No one really gave them a choice at all. Sirius Black’s spoutings on the subject notwithstanding, Tom’s was a very private club.
This original core group was augmented with a number of later recruits who were the first lot’s younger siblings and cousins or from from other families of similar background and sentiments who, by a mere chance of timing, had been without representatives at Hogwarts in Tom's own school days. In addition there seem to be a few additional, like-minded individuals who were positioned well enough or were considered useful enough to have been approached by his recruiters.
Virtually all of whom were roped into the gestalt either while actually at Hogwarts, or very soon upon their finishing there.
And I solidly believe that there were never more than 50–60 of them at the most.
After the official Riddle backstory we were handed in HBP, this makes perfect sense once you consider it.
After all, when you can turn most people into puppets with a spell, why take the trouble to give them a big sales pitch?
And the fact is that no one can reliably control mobs. But a well-organized gang of 50-60 can do an amazing amount of damage under such conditions.
Particularly when the population you are setting out to terrorize only numbers about 3,000–5,000 (acto Rowling).
But there do appear to be at least a few followers who were recruited from outside his typical demographic. These followers undoubtedly had their own reasons for signing on with the former Tom Riddle’s band of merry men.
Assuming they were given any authentic choice in the matter.
We have all been given enough hints inside of canon to suspect that some of Severus Snape’s biggest reasons for signing on might be traced back to something like Lucius Malfoy’s influence. Or, at least I am sure his fellow Death Eaters may believe this to be the case.
They could be right.
• • • •
Which brought me into the path of another toppling domino. This one finally hit me on the head during the first year of rethinking, after the release of HBP.
At that point it seemed to me that we had all turned out to be suffering under some assumptions that had been hanging on since the beginning of the series, back at a point that we really didn’t have a lot of solid information to go by.
We’ve all seen how that works. You start with a premise which really is the best you can come up with from very little data. And then as you get additional bits of data you roll them into the premise wherever they seem to fit, or make them fit. And by the end of the exercise you find that you’ve created a chimera, cobbled together from odds and ends that makes no zoological sense whatsoever.
There are a lot of such chimeras roaming about in Harry Potter fandom.
And it had finally sunk in for me that the whole fact that Snape was a DE at all is probably another one. It makes very little sense once examined. WHY should Severus Snape have ever wanted to be a DE?
He was ugly, and he was a Slytherin and he doesn’t like Harry Potter. So? Are those the requirements? The younger fans seemed to all be content with that. But it doesn’t really read, does it? It’s a good thing that Rowling finally gave us the werewolf caper and the Pensieve junket right when she did or we would have no excuse to go on believing it at all.
And at that, all that those incidents really establish is that he had very good reason to hate Harry’s father. Actually supporting Voldemort isn’t a logical conclusion to be drawn from that. He’d have done rather better to have become an Auror himself and seen Potter and Black locked up the next time they tried to hex him.
I mean stop to think for a moment; just what do we know about the young Severus Snape?
He was a literal halfblood.
He was working-class.
His mother’s family might be magical but they seem to have been complete non-entities. So far as we can tell they had no money, no status, no illustrious bloodlines, no “connections”. I’m not even convinced they actually were purebloods.
He was ugly. Or homely at the very least.
He wasn’t popular. People did not follow his lead.
He was clever.
Are ANY of these qualities that the DEs seem to be looking for?
Even his cleverness makes an unconvincing reason for most of them to have wanted to keep him around. They care about status, not cleverness. And he didn’t have any status to share. For that matter, does Tom Riddle sound like the sort of leader who likes to surround himself with clever people? Has he in fact done so? Frankly it looks to me like the more you can pass yourself off as a cringing, credulous moron, with good bloodlines, the better Tom seems to like it.
The DEs are Tom’s collection. He set out to enlist and bring under his own subjection the very cream of wizarding society. What possible value would he have seen in Severus Snape? From that society’s viewpoint Snape is nobody. Indeed, Snape’s background is far too much like Tom’s, and if Tom had any inkling of just how sharp the kid was he would probably have killed him off him as a matter of principle. Snape would have looked too much like a potential rival.
Assuming that Tom Riddle recognized the possibility of his having any rivals, that is. Fortunately he doesn’t seem to.
• • • •
And from the other end of the equation, take away the fact that the Marauders were probably loudly against them, and what possible attraction would the DEs have for Snape? (Well, post-DHs we now know that some of the future DEs were the only people who would give him the time of day. But let’s follow my original line of argument, shall we?) Being a DE certainly doesn’t guarantee you preferential treatment in society or professional advancement.
The thing is that back when Lucius Malfoy was still standing in as the DE poster child, the reader could just about believe it might.
After all, who wouldn’t want to be in Malfoy’s position? If that is what the DEs were, then they sounded like just any other rather nasty-minded fraternal organization with a secret handshake and its own entrenched “old boy’s” network that could push its own scions up the ladder to where they could advance their public agenda in the government. From inside the system. The idea of joining the DEs for sponsorship and personal advancement still made sense then.
Post HBP it didn’t make any kind of sense at all. The DEs are Tom Riddle’s private gang. Worse, they are his slaves. And he sends them out to take all the risks while he sits in the background and benefits. The DEs are, and have always been outlaws. Being a DE gives you nothing. Sure, it makes normal people afraid of the idea of you, but you can’t even use that “advantage” openly by publicly admitting you are one. What use is it? Why on earth would anyone over the age of 25 want it? It’s small wonder the gang uses Hogwarts as its recruiting headquarters. The whole concept makes no sense whatsoever except to pissed-off adolescents. And they are deluded.
And the slow-to-catch-up-with-us fact is that Malfoy was not even that big of a frog in the DE pond. Even the fan perception of his being Riddle’s second in command turns out to be somewhat off-target by the end of HBP.
Riddle had no second in command. He never did. That perception was entirely due to the Ministry projecting a rational hierarchy onto an organization that is not rational. Instead, Riddle had 4-5 “pets” that he played off against one another and Malfoy was simply one of them. He was probably the youngest and most newly acquired “collectable” toy in the playbox. Or at least the latest one openly acknowledged. He was the “new kid”. It’s small wonder Bellatrix despises Lucius so. He replaced her as the baby of the “family”.
And I suspect that Snape only would initially have only been accepted by Riddle and his followers under Malfoy’s patronage. Essentially, Malfoy smuggled Snape into the organization under his cloak. A few of the younger ones (Avery, Mulciber) were probably willing enough to let him tag along. The older ones might have happily just bullied Snape into doing their bidding if they thought he could be useful (and they would have enjoyed doing it), or Imperiused him to do their dirty work and laughed when he was caught. But they would never have invited a grubby little commoner like Snape into their secret club. Not even after he cleaned himself up.
No, the “join or die” option was reserved for scions of families that mattered, like the Prewett brothers, or Dean Thomas’s biological father. Not for Snape, or anyone like him.
• • • •
Malfoy’s own motivations are easy enough to understand. Lucius Malfoy is essentially a political animal. And he has some degree of leadership potential. He had also trained under Slughorn, and unlike Tom, had learned the lesson that was actually being taught. He viewed the situation through a political lens, and decided that by putting together his own crack team of operatives he could make himself look good and enhance his value to the Leader, in hope for advancement. He undoubtedly did have intentions of becoming second-in-command, and ultimately of inheriting the top position. In a normal organization, with a normal leader, he may have had a fighting chance to have done it, too.
It is uncertain as to whether Malfoy had ever quite realized, before Tom’s first defeat, that he had advanced as far as he was ever going to as long as Voldemort was around by the day he joined up. Despite all Voldemort’s speeches about becoming immortal, I doubt his followers believed he had managed it yet.
But you will notice that it was Malfoy, and no other who launched a (nearly successful) attempt to re-establish and take over the organization in Voldemort’s absence. From Malfoy’s perspective, Snape was a desirable acquisition, regardless of his bloodlines.
Because I doubt very much that anyone (other than, perhaps, Harry) would have been a bit surprised to learn that Snape was no pureblood. Stop and think about it. The wizarding world is a very small community, and no more than a quarter of its members are purebloods. It stands to reason that there are no more than 100-150 of what count as pureblood families in all Great Britain and Ireland. And anyone who really cares about such things already knows who they are. They will all have their own entries in ‘Nature’s Nobility’, which appears to be the wizarding equivalent of Debrett’s. And “Snape” is certainly not going to be a name that is found there.
For that matter, from Draco’s parroting of; “My father says” upon our first introduction to him in Madam Malkin’s, it isn’t actually wizarding blood that Malfoy was making into an issue, so much as it was wizarding upbringing. And Snape certainly had some degree of that.
Snape’s peers wouldn’t have necessarily known that he was a literal halfblood with an actual Muggle father. With half of the population counting descent from Muggle-born forbearers the fact that Snape was not a traditional wizarding name would hardly be remarked upon.
And besides, Snape was obviously wizarding-raised. He knew far too much about magic when he first arrived at Hogwarts not to be. The highest sticklers, like the Blacks, may claim that it makes no difference, but I suspect that even among the DEs it really does.
• • • •
We were finally told outright in Order of the Phoenix that Lucius Malfoy is some 5–6 years older than Severus Snape (and the Marauders) and that their years at Hogwarts would have overlapped by a matter of 2 years at the most. Barely long enough for Lucius to have noted young Severus as “that scrawny little kid who knows all those curses” and for Severus to have learned that the Malfoys were “important people that you really want to know.”
We have also been told more than once that young Snape was openly fascinated by the Dark Arts, and there is no question that the opportunity to study and practice them would have served as a powerful lure, regardless of whatever other agenda was being trumpeted along with it.
But the fact is that apparently you can study and practice the Dark Arts quite legally within the ww without needing to associate with DEs in order to do it. So that argument is no longer an altogether convincing reason for his involvement, either.
Snape, I do think was a late bloomer — or even a non-bloomer — in any social or emotional context. Even at the end of the series he appears to be arrested in late adolescence with no desire or intention of moving on to any higher stage of maturity. I think we are supposed to conclude that in his youthful fascination with the Dark Arts he never thought to question the soundness of the values held by the typical sorts of people who practice them.
But we could also be being given a clear example here where the preoccupations of the dominant faction within Slytherin House did one of the House’s members a considerable disservice.
As I have stated in the essay regarding the Hogwarts Houses, and elsewhere; Rowling is in her most spectacularly self-contradictory mode where she lays out the values of Slytherin House. First: it is presumably the house of the pureblood. Well, okay. That is easy enough to wrap one’s head around. But: it is also the Dark Arts house. Well, that’s okay too. No obvious contradiction there. If the Dark Arts are a part of what is now a mostly obsolete wizarding tradition, it is probably only the most traditional of wizarding families which might still gravitate to them.
But then she goes on to tell us that the criterion the Hat uses for sorting kids into Slytherin is ambition. Ambition? WTF?! What has ambition to do with being a pureblood? What possible effect can any amount of ambition have on becoming a pureblood?
No can do, Charlie. In a society in which being pureblooded assures you of preference, as a matter of course, any effect that being a pureblood might have upon ambition would most probably be to dampen it. If you’ve already “arrived,” what further effort is necessary? What is there left to strive for? A sense of entitlement is not ambition. At least not on this side of the pond. Arrogance is not ambition. Ambition requires drive more than just greed. (“Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.”)
“Ambition” would also seem to be diametrically opposed to the kind of semi-languid, drawling “Slytherin manner” repeatedly demonstrated by Draco Malfoy.
And yet the Hat recognized where to send Draco immediately. Can someone explain this to me? I just don’t get it. Is this a clue? To what? Will there be a test?
However, given that Slytherin seems to be the only House that has a tradition of openly supporting the Dark Arts, and that within that House, in the absence of great charisma, it’s usually the purest of the purebloods who are the social leaders, such considerations would tend to muddy the waters in the perception of a very poorly-socialized 11-year old on the order of what one now knows to be the case of the young Severus Snape. If all the Dark wizards he has ever met think like such-and-such, then it might be quite a while before he realizes that adopting this particular mental outlook wholesale is, first; not necessary, and second; not necessarily “him”.
• • • •
There is another factor involved here in that by the time Snape arrived at Hogwarts, Slytherin House was well into it’s second generation of feeling the “Riddle Effect” wherein the sons and daughters of Tom Riddle’s hand-picked original Death Eaters were now working their way through the school, and there were enough of them to make them a dominant faction. They also were serving as Tom’s recruitment team, actively attaching and recruiting others like themselves to Riddle’s cause while they were there.
Now that we’ve finally met Horace Slughorn, it is fairly clear what must have happened. Tom Riddle showed up and coolly stole Slughorn’s House right out from under his nose. Vain, weak, and opportunistic as Slughorn may be, he is clearly a man of good will, and someone that Albus Dumbledore was willing to introduce as a friend.
And while Sluggy’s disavowal of bigotry should probably be taken with a very hefty dash of salt, bigotry is certainly not the guiding principle of his existence and he clearly believes that he has risen above what were obviously the attitudes of his upbringing. And for those good intentions he must be given some credit. The preoccupations attributed to Slytherin House today were certainly not introduced to it by Horace Slughorn.
I think that Snape did definitely want to belong somewhere by the time he got to Hogwarts (although not to such a degree as to get himself sorted into Hufflepuff). The capsule glimpses we got of his childhood during Harry’s penultimate Occlumency lesson looked pretty alienating to me, and few youngsters manage to flourish in that sort of atmosphere. But he seems to have been not at all selective about what he wanted to belong to.
Serious self-esteem issues there? Perhaps. Who knows? Were the Death Eaters the only people who welcomed him? Well, it could be. Unlikely as it may seem when examined, I’ve certainly been wrong before. Malfoy seems to have encouraged him anyway. And found him potentially very useful. I doubt that Bellatrix and her lot would have.
But again, who knows? Clearly; however bright he may be, he appears to have demonstrated seriously bad judgment as a youth by the very fact that they managed to enlist him at all.
But now that the question has been raised, we are stuck with its corollary, another “never asked question”, of; why on earth anyone with Snape’s background would have wanted to have anything to do with the DEs?
You just don’t get power and prestige from membership in an illegal organization that you cannot even admit to membership in. And it is turning out that the DEs really aren’t on any inside track to an old-boy’s network that could have given him a boost up the professional ladder. He’d have been far better off to have swallowed his pride and buttered up Slughorn if he wanted that. Slughorn would have happily obliged.
Yes, Snape despised James Potter and Sirius Black, and they had certainly been striking poses of being against the Dark Arts (although not enough against them to be able to refrain from using Snape’s own hexes against him). So? Is Snape so lacking in confidence that he needs the backing of the DEs in order to get back at that precious pair? Hardly. Even at odds of four against one he wasn’t doing that badly. And once out in the real world a sharp customer gets far greater latitude to play off against a rival than one gets while you are actually in High School. Particularly against a rival with no ambition.
And Snape was a very sharp customer. And James Potter had no ambition. And we’ve got no indication whatsoever in canon that while he was still in school the DEs would have known James Potter from a hole in the ground.
So what’s the connection? Assuming there is one.
I am no longer convinced there was one.
• • • •
So why did Snape join the DEs? Did he join up because he suspected that to refuse was seriously bad for his health? That could well be. It doesn’t explain why they would have extended the offer in the first place, however. He just plain didn’t fit their demographic.
Did he sign up just to oblige Malfoy? That’s at least marginally possible. Malfoy’s patronage would definitely be useful, quite apart from his little illegal pressure group. And we do get a distinct impression even as far back as CoS that Snape and Malfoy really are friends. Of a sort.
And just because Malfoy treats House Elves badly doesn’t mean that particular behavior necessarily carries over to his own lieutenants as well.
But you have to wonder whether Snape would have joined up only to oblige Malfoy. And when clearly examined there really isn’t much that the DEs could offer Snape that he wouldn’t have had a rather better chance of going out and getting on his own. (Admittedly, without them he is unlikely to have been Headmaster of Hogwarts at the age of 37.)
Unless he had a covert motive that we haven’t been told about yet.
Because I absolutely do not believe Rowling’s brain-dead suggestion (from an interview, as usual, most of her most absurd statements seem to come from those) that he joined up in hopes of impressing Lily with how cool he was after she’d already dumped him. I think Rowling was deliberately tweaking our noses there. Or confusing Snape and Lily with two other people.
All of the usual suggestions, up to the aftermath of HBP, and the “official fanon interpretation” are that he may have come rather late to finally start thinking for himself. And that it may have taken a considerable jolt to get him started. Being taken up by Malfoy’s circle wouldn’t have helped matters. Nor would being gratuitously targeted for persecution by the “other side” have been likely to encourage him to question the soundness of his own “side”.
Which raises the question of whether those earliest “bad companions” were, properly speaking, Malfoy’s circle at all.
Bellatrix Black was by all accounts a staggeringly beautiful young woman. With all the confidence that one might expect from a girl who had clearly adopted her family’s attitude that being “one of the Blacks” made you practically royal. Her family wasn’t exactly suffering from penury, either.
Within Slytherin House, and possibly even outside it, she may have been decidedly popular. Indeed, regarded as a considerable “catch”.
That “gang” of Slytherins that Sirius cites as having been the people Snape ran about with (dismissing the dates on the dodgy tapestry sketch since it flatly contradicts what’s printed in canon); “the Lestranges”, Rosier, Wilkes, Avery, et als., I am suddenly noticing that we don’t seem to get the names of any other girls in that list, do we? Not even Narcissia’s, although we now know that she was at Hogwarts too. She’d be maybe a 4th year in the Marauder cohort’s 1st year.
Nor do we get Lucius Malfoy’s name in that account, although Malfoy was also at Hogwarts at that time. He was at the very least a 6th year to Bellatrix’s 7th year. Indeed, we later saw him there in ‘The Prince’s Tale’.
Which leads one to wonder how many of the names Sirius gave us back in GoF when he was recollecting Snape’s “gang” were the names of 7th years. Or, indeed, how many were actually still at Hogwarts at all. Sirius Black has a tract record of making grand pronouncements which later turn out to be complete fabrications. During the course of GoF he could still be conflating the names of future DEs who were at school with him, with those of the DEs who were sentenced to Azkaban after he was there.
Indeed, it might well be safest to just dismiss anything that Sirius Black ever had to ay on the subject. But by this time we have rather a lot invested in trying to make it make sense.
From DHs we now know that Avery was still in the school at least as late as the Marauder cohort’s 5th year. Although I doubt that he was in the same year as they were. We didn’t see him sitting the OWLs. Or discussing them with Snape afterwards.
There was evidently also a Mulciber at Hogwarts. Who Sirius did not mention. Probably because Rowling did not recall from what context she had suddenly included Mulciber. The only Mulciber we had ever heard of prior to DHs was originally one of Riddle’s contemporaries. So now we have two Mulcibers. Frankly I suspect she wrote Mulciber but meant Evan Rosier — and was too burnt out to double-check her notes.
However, for the moment treating the information as if it were legitimate, let’s follow this thread and see if it leads us to anything worth having.
For that matter; I think that if an 11-year-old Snape showed up knowing, if not more hexes than half the 7th years, he certainly knew different ones — for he very good reason that he had made some of them up himself — and if he was still naïve enough to boast about it, some of that clique of 7th years may have swooped in to flatter the common little tyke, and pick his brains to their own advantage, even while holding him in contempt for his poverty, his gullibility, and his undistinguished background all the while.
I’m inclined tor think that the hexes he showed up with were actually rather mild ones, but they were clever and they were unexpected. And they probably allowed for a degree of variation. He was soon being encouraged to come up with more aggressive ones, and he was pleased to comply.
Bellatrix is not very good at gratitude, however, neither is she a master at concealing her true opinions of people. Nor — however surprisingly for a Slytherin — does she seem to have the least bit of political acumen. For that matter, I think it most likely that Bellatrix would have disdained the little halfblood from the outset, and let him know it. It would have been someone else in her circle who had taken him up. Probably over her objections.
And Snape — even a socially-backward, 11-year-old Snape — was still probably pretty sharp, at least in some areas. I think that it would not have taken until the end of the year before he realized that he was being used. And if he got surly about it to their faces, they would have not hesitated to slap him down and have thrown some of his own hexes at him for good measure. In any case, I doubt that Snape was sorry to see the backs of Bellatrix and her friends at the end of the year.
Malfoy, by then at least 6th year (if not already a 7th year himself), might have been a very different proposition. For one thing, arrogant as he is, he probably had a better idea of just how useful a clever, inventive kid like Snape could be over the long term. He was also in a position to give back some tangible return for Snape’s cooperation.
And if Malfoy was a prefect (and he was one of Slughorn’s pets, so that was almost a given, which was confirmed in DHs), he might even have been in a position to come to the rescue when Snape was being “punished” for impertinence in the above scenario.
For whatever reasons of his own. I don’t really get the feeling Lucius ever had any more time for Bellatrix than she did for him. Or if he did, he got over it pretty quickly. He might have interceded on Snape’s behalf just to annoy her.
Where Bellatrix would only exploit, Malfoy was willing to cultivate. And Malfoy may well have already had his nose out of joint as regards Bellatrix as well. I very much doubt that Bellatrix Black was anywhere near as deferential in her recognition of the glories of Lucius Malfoy as Lucius Malfoy considered that she ought to be. And we get no sense of there being any love lost between them to the day she died. He might very well have taken up the little commoner, just to spite her.
• • • •
Still, we’ve also seen the way Malfoy reacts as soon as anyone thwarts or challenges him. I’m not convinced that a Malfoy-Snape alliance was necessarily a smooth-running machine. But it did run — the traditional Slytherin network of favors and obligations (which Slughorn does enthusiastically teach and endorse) would have assured that much, whatever the two principals of the alliance happened to really think of each other.
But Malfoy was gone from Hogwarts by the end of Snape’s Year 2 at the very latest. And Narcissia probably at the end of Snape’s Year 4, the year her younger cousin Regulus had first shown up. We do not know who among those circles were left by the beginning of Snape’s 5th year other than Avery and “Mulciber” (Rosier). The probability is that Regulus Black started his first year in Snape’s 4th, and, we assume, Barty Crouch Jr in his 6th (although it was a real missed opportunity not to have him starting — probably over in Ravenclaw — in Snape’s 2nd). But we have no information to support the idea that Snape was in the habit of hanging around with any of these three; Narcissia, Regulus, or Crouch.
And well before the end of his 1st year he had discovered that he had managed to pick up some enemies. Four of them. In his own year. Probably before his first year was even properly underway.
I am inclined to suspect that if just being pegged as a long-haired sissy whose best friend was a girl, as early as their first trip on the Hogwarts Express wasn’t enough, and being taken up (and taken advantage of) by the crowd around “cousin Bella” wasn’t sufficient reason all by itself to draw the Marauders’ attention, most of the damage would have been done when Snape first started getting a name for himself as a Dark Arts dweeb.
That Snape was getting a fuss made over him by Sirius’s gawd-awful cousin Bellatrix’s crowd would have been enough in itself to put him on Sirius Black’s black list. And, consequently, Sirius would have made a point of doing Snape a bad turn by setting up a system of “Snape Sniping” the minute the opportunity arose. Not at all coincidentally, this would have also deflected any of James’s residual knee-jerk aversion to any Dark Arts associations in Sirius’s own collection of baggage.
And if James had already decided to target Snape on his own bat — which is perfectly possible — Sirius would have happily egged him on.
James Potter, by all accounts, had been brought up to honestly abhor the Dark Arts. Although, given that it appears that the energies that fuel the Dark Arts are the ones that underpin all magic, this sounds like a remarkably silly claim. But Sirius Black, who, however bright, appears to have consistently acted more upon instinct than considered thought; would have instinctively known that to provide James Potter with a convenient outside target would deflect any of James’s potential Dark Arts-related hostilities and contempt away from Sirius himself. It was a classic case of “let’s you and him fight.” It may not have been entirely conscious, indeed I very much doubt it originally was conscious at all; but it was certainly deliberate.
• • • •
In canon, we have been given any number of contradictory bits of information regarding Snape’s school days. These chiefly relate to the widely adopted fanon concept of a young Friendless!Snape.
This interpretation certainly appears to be supported by what we saw in our trip into the Pensieve in OotP, where Snape’s general unpopularity and solitary behavior would seem to confirm it without question. But, in contrast to this, just one year earlier in GoF, Sirius Black had directly informed us that Snape was not friendless at Hogwarts. He had quite clearly stated that Snape was a part of a whole little gang of Slytherins, nearly all of whom went on to become Death Eaters. And in DHs we were handed a close association with Avery and Mulciber (Rosier).
So, in our trip into the Pensieve, where were they?
We do not see Snape and his friends evaluating their performance in the DADA OWL over the lunch break together. Or distracting themselves with talk of Quidditch. All we saw was Snape sitting alone in the shade rereading his test questions.
Even allowing for the fact that that particular memory was almost certainly hand picked to show up James Potter and Sirius Black in the very worst possible light (see the article entitled ‘The Pensieve Gambit’ for details), it still seems just as certain to have depicted an actual incident, as it actually happened.
And from that, we were originally forced to wonder whether Snape had taken up with that Slytherin “gang” only after the incident that we witnessed. Or, to ask if, in contrast to what appears to be typical Gryffindor behavior, these friends of Snape’s were all in different year groups and were already either out of School by Snape’s 5th year, or off stewing their way through the NEWTs, or even, possibly, not yet of an age to be concerned with the OWLs.
The longer one thinks about this possibility, the more likely it seemed. We have since been given additional confirmation that both Bellatrix and Malfoy were out of school for quite some time before Snape was sitting his OWLs. And yet he is implied to have had early associations with both of them.
The only premise which we must accept for an “improved” interpretation along these lines, is that Lucius Malfoy is sharper, more effective, and far more of a “natural leader” (or at least has a good deal more political acumen) than Draco was being portrayed as having at any time up to HBP (when the “new Draco” was as much of a surprise as the “new Ginny” had been the year before).
And this premise is not at all difficult to accept. For one thing, Lucius Malfoy would have had the advantage of Horace Slughorn as his Head of House, showing him “how it was done”.
Mind you, we never really got that clear of a view of Draco Malfoy through the “Harry filter”, but the impression that we had up to the end of OotP was of a preening little poseur with more style than substance, content to take whatever is offered to him but without any real sense of knowing how to effectively go about getting whatever wasn’t simply handed to him on a silver tray.
However, in our own defense, having identified Malfoy as “the enemy”, (at least inside the school) Harry paid attention to Malfoy. He kept an eye on what Malfoy was up to, and who he was in contact with. And what Harry was noticing and seeing hadn’t suggested anything more. (Except that the kid could actually write a verse that scanned.)
Nor, from what our Harry’s-eye-view had shown us up to the end of year 5, did Draco Malfoy even seem to know what to do with the advantages he did have. For this hypothesis to work, we need only be willing to consider that Lucius, by the time he reached his son’s age, had managed to get a clue about the proper way to build yourself a following.
For one thing, you don’t limit that potential following to people in your own year group. And you don’t shut out your followers’ (or your rival’s) younger siblings. Instead, you build a network of patronage with them as your clients.
If this premise may be allowed, then we can postulate a young Lucius Malfoy routinely casting an eye over the incoming first years, and the developing 2nd, through 7th years with a mind to making overtures to those who might be the most potentially useful, either by individual skills or through family connections. And then extending to those who made the cut a show of approval, condescension, patronage and acceptance into his “circle”. And enough favors to create some mutual obligations.
Even if the young Lucius Malfoy’s family was not “connected” to Voldemort at this point in his career, Lucius had evidently always been geared toward establishing himself as one of the Leaders and “patrons” of the wizarding world. He, unlike his son, was clearly not lacking in ambition. And, after six years trailing in the wake of what we now know to have been DE kids like Lestrange, Rosier, and possibly even Bellatrix, and coming from the very same demographic as Riddle’s most desirable acquisitions, he wouldn’t have known how not to listen to the party line.
And he also eventually married Narcissa Black. Whose mother had been a Rosier. I really don’t think Malfoy ever had much of a hope of dodging that particular bullet. He was just too collectable.
Snape might have also appeared to be a natural candidate for collection from Malfoy’s point of view, even if he wasn’t from Riddle’s. Except for the halfblood thing, of course. But that could be glossed over, if the kid was prepared to make an effort. And he obviously was. He was already ironing out that working-class accent and making himself at least marginally presentable by the time Malfoy finished his 7th year.
• • • •
For Lucius Malfoy to have been 41 years old in the autumn of 1995, as was stated in the Daily Prophet article related to the appointment of the Hogwarts Inquisitor, he would have needed to be born in 1954 (or late ’53). He would probably have started Hogwarts in 1965 and finished with the class of ’72. There is, however, the scant possibility that he may have an autumn birthday, in which case his Hogwarts years would have been 1966–1973, instead. The Marauder cohort we now know were for the most part born in late 1959–1960.
With birth dates in this period, the cohort would have started Hogwarts in the Autumn term of 1971, and finished in the summer of 1978. Overlapping Lucius’s assumed period at Hogwarts by, at the very most, 2 years.
Under this reading, Severus Snape, who showed up at Hogwarts at the beginning of what was probably Lucius’s 6th year with a remarkable knowledge of hexes and curses, and sorted into Slytherin House might have been a natural shoo-in for Lucius Malfoy’s circle of Slytherin House’s “cool kids”. And indeed Rowling did toss us a brief glimpse of Malfoy welcoming Snape to Slytherin at his Sorting. Unfortunately, if we are to believe Sirius Black, Bellatrix’s crowd got their bid in first.
We do not know whether or how many of these kids were also invited into the Slug Club. Slughorn’s aversion to known Death Eaters is probably not new, but in the first war he probably didn’t know, or admit to himself, that these children were future Death Eaters, and his current aversion to their families is a recent development. I suspect that in the Marauders’ day most of the “well-connected” were members of the Club in good standing. It is less certain, however, whether Snape also made the cut.
Still, I suspect that Snape, like Hermione, probably was much better at projecting a favorable image to people older than himself than he was at relating to his own immediate peers. Once he was accepted by Lucius Malfoy’s circle (after the hypothetical abortive association with Bella’s), he didn’t bother with building alliances within his own year group, and rapidly got the reputation of being “stuck up” which would not have gone over well. Particularly since his own antecedents were not exactly out of the top drawer.
Ergo; right off the bat, even without Sirius’s help, Snape would have been immediately identified as a future Dark wizard to James Potter, whose loathing of the Dark Arts reportedly was quite sincere. Although it seems likely that James wasn’t altogether sound on identifying what the Dark Arts actually are. By Book 6 in the series, it was growing apparent that the wizarding public, in general, isn’t. As it is, if Snape was even briefly taken up by Bellatrix and her lot, that would have tied it all up in a shiny green bow.
Neither James nor Sirius were likely to have kept their mouths shut about this fact either, and Snape, secure in the knowledge that he had the backing of upper-classmen might have been more than willing to take up his end of the hostilities. In fact, with that kind of backing, Snape may have had the upper hand in the hostilities for at least their first year at Hogwarts. And a willingness to call upon that backing, could also be what earned him the delightful soubriquet of “Snivelus”. (Crying to your friends again Snape? Snivelling?)
But even an autumn birthday’d Malfoy was gone by the end of Severus’s 3rd year and the tables may have started turning. And most of Malfoy’s successors may not have shared his eye for the art of long-range team-building. Or at least not to the point of extending the benefit of it to Snape. Although a couple appear to have continued to tolerate him.
For that matter, if by his 5th year the rest of the clique were now mostly kids a year or two younger than Snape, it is possible that they had looked to him to lead them, and when he didn’t take the hint but burrowed into his own more solitary interests instead, they regrouped without him. Or perhaps, being cast predominately in the “young scion” mode, they decided among themselves that Snape may be clever, but he just wasn’t really one of “us”.
• • • •
By his 5th year, with its grueling pressure over the OWLs, Avery and the dubiously identified Mulciber notwithstanding, Snape could have been on his own a lot. Lily was doing her best to brush him off and James and company didn’t regard their superior numbers as any reason to ease off on their “get Snape” directive. Nor did it occur to any of them (including Lily, apparently) that four against one was not particularly fair. There was too long a history between them all by then.
The only thing to give one pause before completely accepting this reading, of Malfoy having taken Snape up at Hogwarts, is that Sirius Black did not at any point in GoF mention Malfoy in his list of Snape’s Hogwarts associates. (Although he is quick enough to throw their association in Snape’s face in OotP, so he was certainly aware of it.)
He didn’t mention Mulciber either. I really am convinced that the Mulciber in DHs was originally supposed to be Evan Rosier.
Of course, Sirius also didn’t mention that Malfoy’s wife and one of “the Lestranges” were his own first cousins either. And since his cousins all were gone from Hogwarts by his 5th year, after 12 years in Azkaban Sirius may have simply forgotten that Snape had been taken up by two different gangs of future Death Eaters.
For that matter, Black may have been slow to discover that Malfoy had even been a Death Eater. I doubt that people were still discussing Malfoy’s Imperius defense 12 years later. Although Sirius did manage to find out about it. And I doubt that it had ever been that much of a point of conversation inside of Azkaban.
And, for that matter, It might also be reasonable to reflect that in GoF we did not yet know about Regulus’s existence, either. Sirius could have regarded Malfoy as a “stupid idiot”, in much the same style as his own younger brother. But not, perhaps, an inherently vicious idiot like Bella. He clearly doesn’t much like Malfoy (and nobody ever filled Sirius in about the Diary caper, so far as we know) but he may have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Sirius also claims that he didn’t even know that Snape was teaching at Hogwarts. Despite the fact that we’ve later been told in OotP and HBP that Snape started teaching a couple of months before either Voldemort’s defeat, or Sirius’s arrest. Clearly either Sirius had taken no interest in the doings of Hogwarts once he left it, or his memory is just plain faulty. (12 years of getting up close and personal with Dementors will probably do that to you.) Another fan theory concerning Sirius Black offers an alternate reading of these memory lapses. That is gone into in more detail in the essay entitled ‘Man’s Best Friend’.
So let’s take a pause, and think about what else all this peripheral information about Snape implies.
Here is man who is stated as having been a member of a little self-contained group when he was at school.
But the two most dominant figures of rival circles, Bellatrix and Malfoy (who Sirius didn’t even mention) were both probably gone from the school by the time Snape was 13, and we know of no point at which he caught up with them again until after he was 18, when he was out of school himself, 5 years later. That doesn’t really sound like the closest of friendships to me. There is also room for a hell of a lot to have taken place behind the scenes in that interval. And, just for example, the single incident during the Marauders’ era that readers are most interested in also took place during that interval. We still hadn’t heard the end of the werewolf caper. Or its aftermath.
Sirius was in Azkaban from the day after Voldemort’s fall, and in no position to know what went on in the outer world for more than a decade afterwards. But if Sirius never heard any accusations against Severus Snape — and he claims he didn’t — that implies that none of his fellow prisoners mentioned Snape. Or Malfoy, either, probably, for all that they had spoken bitterly and often enough of “Wormtail” for Sirius to have come to the conclusion that Peter had been spying inside the Order for close to a year before he finally betrayed the Potters.
As to Snape’s continuing exile at Hogwarts; we knew from Draco’s comments as early as CoS that Snape seems to have been in good favor with Lucius at least up to that point in the series. And he appears to have continued to be so favored, from comments made over the course of OotP, right up to the point that Lucius Malfoy was taken off the game board.
It is easy to conclude that Snape had been feeding information regarding Dumbledore and the school to Lucius, who was on the Board, ever since he went to work there. Lucius, or his father Abraxus Malfoy, may even have had something to say about getting him that job in the first place, at least according to all of the “official” records. We now know that Snape was ordered into Hogwarts, and since Voldemort had managed to recruit Lucius by then (we do not know about his father), he would have instructed him to smooth the way.
• • • •
I’ll have to admit that I DID think that the bombshell Rowling was most likely to throw at us in the final book was the discovery that Snape had always been Albus’s agent, from the very beginning. It’s a theory that has been floating around ever since the start of the 3-year summer, and the apparent contradiction in the reports of the night of the Prophecy offered some hefty circumstantial evidence in support of it. It also did not require 11th-hour personality transplants on the part of both Snape and Albus in order to support it, unlike the pasted-on explanation that Rowling finally dumped on us.
But even I had to admit that it wasn’t a done-deal. We have 3 years between the Marauder cohort’s leaving school and Tom’s defeat at Godric’s Hollow. And about 16 months between their all leaving school and the earliest likely date for the Prophecy. That is adequate time for Snape to have made a legitimate turn-around of allegiance once the essential sham of Voldemort’s message became evident to him.
The problem with postulating a legitimate turn-around is that we had still not been given the slightest hint of any plausible event that could have prompted one. The mutual “likely story” of remorse over Snape’s reporting of the Prophecy at the time he started teaching simply does not work on its own. The timing is wrong, it requires additional data before it becomes plausible, and Rowling was holding out on that data. From all sorts of hints and suggestions in the text, Snape was almost certainly working for Albus before he ever started teaching, and indications even suggested that he was already on Albus’s team by the time the Prophecy was made.
And if Snape really was permitted to run off and report what he overheard after both Aberforth and Albus had him in custody, when we’ve already seen it demonstrated in canon that Albus does sanction the use of memory spells at need, and that to suppress any record of Prophecies is established Ministry policy, you have to wonder what kind of fools the Dumbledore brothers are.
But just because we hadn’t been given a clue, doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have happened. 16 months is long enough for Snape to have got in, had second thoughts and to have hedged his bets by cutting a deal with the other side. Particularly given that there was nothing in the standard DE rhetoric that would necessarily have offered an advantage to him.
Of course Rowling doesn’t agree. But then Rowling has never attempted to do Snape justice other than grudgingly, and some of the excuses she gives for his actions are right out of Cloud-Cuckoo Land. Just about any of my theories on this subject play as well as her thoroughly lame excuses, and I think are somewhat less mawkish, besides.
I have also been toying with a back-up theory that might also account for a legitimate turn-around. I don’t really find it as satisfying as the “Dumbledore’s man from the beginning” interpretation, but it combines with the “Dumbledore’s Man — later on” scenario without any real difficulty. It also works reasonably well from the material that we actually have to draw upon.
Which is to say, the Malfoys.
• • • •
Rowling has solidly established an association between Snape and the Malfoys. She’s established that association six ways from Sunday, and I really do begin to think that this might be taken a bit further than it has been.
For example, is the association only between Snape and Lucius? Or was there a history between Snape and Narcissa Black as well?
There are rumors on the internet which claim as much. I’m not sure I buy them, but there is nothing in canon actually against them.
We now know that Lucius was probably at least a 6th year when Snape showed up at Hogwarts. Narcissa, born in 1957 (Adjusted date [unauthorized]; see the ‘House of Black’ essay for details), would have probably been a 4th year.
We have been told — in canon — that Snape had some sort of dealings with Bellatrix and her crowd while at school. In order for that to work we have to dismiss the dates on the dodgy tapestry sketch altogether, but, frankly, by this time that seems no more arduous a task than to dismiss the early version of PS/SS in which James and Lily had stolen the Philosopher’s Stone. (A snippet from this particular iteration of the story used to be posted as an Easter egg on Rowling’s original official site.)
Since Bellatrix, born in 1953 (unauthorized adjustment, see the ‘House of Black’ essay), had to have been at least a 7th year in Snape’s first year, any association between them has to have been both brief, and very early in his school career. The lack of any kind of charity between the two of them these days suggests that it didn’t turn out well for either of them.
On the other hand, Snape’s association with Lucius and his family seems to still be going strong 25 years later. As I pointed out above, just because Lucius treats his servants badly, it does not mean he treats his friends or family the same. And Narcissa turned to Snape without a moment’s hesitation when she learned of a threat to her son. I tend to suspect that Snape may not have been only Lucius’s friend.
So what might a theorist make of that?
• • • •
Well, the Spinner’s End chapter set off a number of the sort of fans who are determined to cast Snape as a romantic lead (oh, really?) into speculating that there was something between Snape and “Cissy” once upon a time, and that it was only his being a halfblood that convinced her to marry Lucius instead. I have to admit that I cannot really see it myself.
Mind you, I can see Snape, along about 4th year developing a crush on Cissy Black — possibly in common with half of his year in or out of Slytherin House. She was a very good-looking girl (and one of the Blacks!). Cissy also probably treated Snape rather better than her sister Bella had, too, even if all that boiled down to would have looked a lot like simply ignoring him to anyone else. But Cissy would have been a 7th year by then, and I cannot see her regarding a stringy, scruffy 4th year Snape as anything but a very clever “little boy” if he showed up on her radar at all. We are talking about the same age difference as the one between Ron and Fleur.
(Hm. Wait just a darned minute here; is that another inter-generational echo?)
Even throwing his worship of Lily Evans into the equation doesn’t dismiss the possibility of his developing a crush (particularly a first crush) on someone else. Lily was his “best friend”, the girl he had known ever since he was nine or ten. And yes, he worshiped her. But it may have not yet occurred to him that he might someday dream of marrying her. In fact, their long proximity practically disqualifies Lily as a candidate for a first crush all by itself. First crushes are not typically the people you are closest to. They are far more likely to be that good-looking specimen glimpsed from across a room that you barely know.
And just where was Lily Evans in this dynamic? Just how would one expect a popular, self-loving, rather shallow 13/14-year-old with a huge sense of personal entitlement be most likely to respond when her faithful acolyte started sighing and mooning over someone else. Particularly a someone else that I can practically guarantee you little Miss Evans regarded as a stuck-up cow.
It’s not that she wanted him herself. She didn’t. She was fully in agreement with all her girlfriends that he was a total geek. But he was her geek, and his stupidity over that cow was disloyal, and it reflected badly on her. Why, it might serve him right if she were to start paying attention to someone else just to show him!
However; you get a fairly consistent impression that the rest of Snape’s closest associates at school seem to have all been older than he was. He probably came across much better to his elders than he did to his contemporaries. And skill, power, and intelligence are valued in the wizarding world, even if you aren’t one of the Blacks. And Snape clearly had all three in good measure.
We also get the distinct impression that Severus Snape has pretty thoroughly reinvented himself in something sort-of like the image of his social “betters”. He has ironed out what was probably a working-class regional accent, learned to dress decently, to move well. He hasn’t the ease of the “born” aristocrat. But the buttoned-up formality that he has adopted enables him to move among such without comment. As social climbers go, he is quite a successful one. (Probably another one of the real reasons Sirius and James so despised him. They probably had no objection whatsoever to oiks who were content to remain oiks, like, say, Mundungus Fletcher.)
It stands to reason that Snape must have had a reason to engage in such a complete makeover, doesn’t it? And Lily already accepted him — for certain values of “acceptance” — as he was.
It’s not necessarily to have just been in hopes of professional advancement, is it? I rather suspect that Lucius would have had little objection to oiks who are content to remain oiks, either. Although he’d probably never have invited them to sit down to dinner at the Malfoy table. And I rather think that Snape probably has done that. A few times at least.
So, from the standpoint of pure theorizing, maybe the fans who kept hoping for a star-crossed romance were looking in the wrong direction. Maybe they should have been looking at Narcissa Malfoy. I admit I tend to doubt it, myself, but quite a few fans are convinced that there is something there.
A rumor has sprung up since the release of HBP (the novel, not the film) which attempts to claim that there had been some form of crush between Severus and Narcissa while they were at Hogwarts. This particular iteration seems somehow to have attached itself to the movie crowd. Some hopeful fans have claimed that Rowling was the source of it. This is almost certainly incorrect.
Frankly, the idea of a romance between 4th year Snape and 7th year Cissy is hopeless. It just didn’t happen. But an apparently unattainable Narcissa Black might have offered a 14/15-year-old Snape a world of motivation.
And, around the edges, Andromeda could have just set something like a precedent by defying the whole Black family and marrying Muggle-born Ted Tonks right about the time that Snape started Hogwarts, even if he wasn’t yet viewing Cissy as his Ultima Thule. We might want to keep that complication in mind as well. It may not be completely irrelevant.
And for that matter, an 18-year old Snape (who had now lost any chance with Lily Evans) may have looked like a much better prospect to a 21-year old Narcissa than anyone watching through the Harry filter would be likely to credit.
Well, I agree, probably not. But it can’t necessarily be completely dismissed.
The prospect really does seem to be worth considering. Even if it did all boil down to being no more than a neutral pleasantness on her part and unsupported hopes and dreams on his. Because he was still a halfblood. And Lucius was still in the running.
But I can very easily see something on the order of a crush developing on Snape’s end. I can even see a certain degree of approval on hers — particularly if he had ever done her a favor. But I can’t see actual reciprocation.
Of course we don’t know just when she married Lucius, either. Draco wasn’t born until June of 1980, and the wedding could have taken place any time up to mid-’79. At the very earliest, the Prophecy isn’t likely to have been made until around Halloween of that year.
And it would hardly be the first time that two associates harbored hopes concerning the same girl. And neither would it be the first time that the lady made her choice without destroying the association. It really does happen far more often than not. At least in the real world.
• • • •
But when you take a reality check, if it was anything at all, it is most likely to have been no more than a one-sided crush on Snape’s part. Probably his “first” crush, too. And those just do not last. Although they may leave a bit of a soft spot in their wake.
Which suddenly makes me wonder if I really am hearing an echo, and the whole Spinner’s End performance wasn’t a bizarre sort of replay of a Harry/Cho moment.
Of course I do still prefer my theory that Albus may have offered Snape the option of going into hiding if the DEs ever approached him in the aftermath of the werewolf caper. The boy was certainly at risk. And that when the time actually came, Snape offered to infiltrate the DEs and spy instead.
But I also think that it is not absolutely impossible that he — and Lucius also, perhaps — may have signed up with Voldemort hoping to impress Narcissa when they both had hopes (or at least dreams) of Narcissa, and that after she married Lucius, Snape may have reconsidered Albus’s offer and contacted him.
He may have even done it in hopes of being able to help the friends who had trapped themselves inside the DE organization with him. Even if he couldn’t tell them about his change of alignment.
It’s not nearly as dramatic as most fan theories, but I don’t think any of it is beyond what we can draw from the behavior of the three characters involved over the course of the actual books up through HBP. And it makes a reasonably plausible back-up hypothesis. One which, as I say above, does not require complete personality transplants in order to make it work. Just a bit of minor tweaking.
• • • •
But really from what little we have — and we do have a lot of very tiny scraps, just nothing that actually connects; we are imposing connections that may not really be there — Snape being Malfoy’s mascot makes a far better argument for why (and how) he would have gotten into the DE organization than any of his antagonism with James and Sirius — who had nothing to do with the organization — at what is presumed to be a time that they probably hadn’t even drawn the DEs attention to themselves by meddling in DE activities yet. There certainly wasn’t any public advantage to be gained from Snape’s signing up.
The only thing we haven’t got to support it is any canon indication that Snape is the sort of devoted über-Hufflepuff-cum-Gryffindor friend who follows his leader into the cannon’s mouth to his own disadvantage purely for loyalty’s sake. (Er, well we did get something very like that in DHs. I’m not sure that I believe it, since it’s one of the aforementioned personality transplants and looks pasted on to me.) But I suppose that the same observation needs to be applied to the “Dumbledore’s Man” interpretation as well. It’s just easier for me to believe that Albus might have once inspired that kind of a reaction from Snape than Lucius. But that also is without factoring in the additional complication of Narcissa. Or Draco.
Who, now that one thinks about it, Snape really does tend to have treated in a manner that one might reasonably expect from a man who may have once been in love with the boy’s mother. Even if that particular fire has long gone out, or settled into just a friendly glow. Certainly more so than Snape has ever treated Harry.
Still, it really is easier for me to extrapolate Snape’s having had an axe of his own to grind in the matter, and nothing that we know about him would suggest that any cause of Snape’s would necessarily match up with any cause of Tom Riddle’s. Regardless of how much rather superficial background circumstance they may have in common, they really don’t seem to want the same kind of things at all. And certainly not on the same scale.
I mean, we’re talking about someone who really liked the idea of being publicly awarded an Order of Merlin for catching a bad guy for heaven’s sake! And who threw a monumental hissy fit when the opportunity was snatched away from him.
A basically clueless kid with a profound sense of entitlement like Malfoy might very well join up with the DEs expecting one day to take the whole thing over. But that is not likely to have been Snape’s problem.
Once you stop and evaluate what the DEs actually seem to be and how totally ineffective they are as a force of social direction, it really does seem more plausible that a genuinely bright and aggressive kid like Snape would be easier to enlist to help to destroy them than to support them. Particularly if my “extreme theories” down in the ‘Out on a Limb’ collection are anywhere on target.
But from what we have been allowed to see of Snape’s relationships with his “old school friends” up through HBP, every appearance suggested that he does indeed still tend to ally himself with Lucius Malfoy, his family and their interests. He also clearly regards Bellatrix Lestrange with some degree of contempt.
His current feelings for Narcissa are a good deal more unclear. He did appear to take a fairly sincere interest in Draco, however.
And, he was willing to put his life on the line to protect them from the Dark Lord.