Red Hen Publications

Red Hen Publications — Commentary Collection: Sittin’ in a Tree…
The Potterverse Essays

Trying to make the Potterverse make sense since 2003!

Snape-loved-Lily is one of those theories that leaps out of the margins (not, let me point out to you, the text) of PoA, grabs you by the throat, and hangs on like static cling, even in the face of no textual support whatsoever.

And by the end of HBP I couldn’t do it. I just could not buy Snape-loved-Lily. Not in any of its usual fanon permutations. I’d tried.

By OotP I had finally managed to peel it off and relegate it to the waste bin, and frankly, that came as a relief. But then I had to reconsider the idea all over again after Slughorn spent a whole book trying to throw the pair of them into proximity.

And I still could not buy it. I thought there may have been a brief interaction between them in 6th year, since at that point we hadn’t yet been told about Lily kicking him to the curb when he tried to apologize, but even if there was I didn’t think it was going to amount to what the fans wanted it to amount to. As I have already pointed out above, I thought that Snape already had ample motivation to do his part in bringing down the Dark Lord without adding the dubious motivation of the “love for a good woman”.

And when examined; S-»L didn’t even fit Rowling’s basic message.

Or not the one she admitted to.

• • • •

The saving grace of the Potterverse may very well be Love, but it was emphatically not romantic love. In fact, HBP could readily serve as a crash course for an introduction to Rowling’s apparent opinion of the relevance of romantic love to anything of substance. Only Bill and Fleur seem to have got it right. The ballots were still out on Remus/Tonks. And none of the kids came within hailing distance of even being able to scrape a “pass”

Think about it. The only form of Love that had actually done anything in the whole series so far had been a mother’s sacrifice for her child. A love so “fundamental” as to be often confused with a biological imperative. This may be regarded as overwhelmingly sentimental, but it sure ain’t romantic.

Sentiment is not romance. And are far too many fans who do not make that distinction. I suspected that they may be disappointed at the end of the day. If Harry Potter brings Voldemort down by the Power of Love™, it will not be by the power of Harry’s love for Ginny Weasley. And whatever Severus Snape is motivated by, I seriously doubted that it had all that much to do with Lily Evans. Indeed, the ONLY character we had met by that point in the whole series whose actions were unequivocally motivated by romantic love was Merope Gaunt, and we all know how well that worked out. (ETA: and in DHs Rowling went and gave Snape a badly-fitting personality transplant and rendered him down into nothing more than Merope Gaunt “lite”. *sigh*)

Upon the whole, I get the feeling that, in the Potterverse, to permit oneself to be spurred into action upon the consideration of romantic love is likely to be as disastrous as to permit oneself to be goaded into action in consideration of a Prophecy. It is apt to be just as deceptive and/or illusionary. And it certainly doesn’t win you any respect from your author.

And, in the end, even though I have to agree that, in my opinion, a desperate attempt to save the life of the only friend you ever had in an emotionally-starved childhood — even when the shallow little bint eventually hung you out to dry and wouldn’t give you the time of day — vastly trumps any kind of “romance”, even if it sure doesn’t seem to serve you any better in that quarter.

• • • •

And around that time I thought I might have finally decoded the “significance” of Harry’s having Lily’s green eyes, too.

And I decided that it wasn’t significant. I expected it to have no functional interaction with the storyline. It wouldn’t enter into the solution of the problem with the Dark Lord, it didn’t relate to Harry’s relationship with Snape in any significant manner, and it would have no effect upon the action.

I finally decided that it is there strictly for symmetry. A detail intended to flag and to maintain the parallels and contrasts to the other key characters in the Dark Lord continuum. In this case, specifically to enhance Harry’s parallel to Tom Riddle.

It blew right past us in HBP that Tom — like Harry — is the image of his father.

With one striking feature that he owes to his mother. In Tom’s case it was the ability to speak and understand Parseltongue (as well as the fact he is a wizard at all). In Harry’s, it is Lily’s green eyes (and possibly the fact that he also seemed to have inherited more of her character than that of James).

And when you stop and remember, Hagrid, who clearly takes after his mother has his father’s beetle black eyes.

And I really did think that was all there was to it. It was set-dressing. It didn’t “mean” anything.

Or maybe not. I wasn’t able to completely dismiss the possibility that it might have a point.

Harry’s physical resemblance to James had served an actual plot function in PoA. I supposed that if the Book 7 = Book 3 interpretation paned out, Harry having Lily’s green eyes might yet turn out to matter in DHs. For something.

As if.

• • • •

And by the time DHs was pending, I finally admitted that I might turn out to have to eat at least a few of my words. As little as I could seriously entertain the usual fanon rendition of Snape-Loved-Lily, a couple of the puzzle pieces had shifted into what looked like a pattern which finally had me beginning to admit to there possibly being be some merit in one of the corollary clauses to it. The one which states that Snape’s deep remorse over his reporting of the partial Prophecy to Voldemort was because that act had endangered Lily.

Mind you, I still didn’t think that event took place anywhere close to the time he first went to work at the school, nor that it had anything to do with the reason he turned away from the DEs and went to Albus. I thought he had already turned to Albus before he made that report, and that he regretted it as soon as anyone realized that one of the families threatened by it was the Potters.

That might have been apparent as early as March or April of 1980, when it became clear that the Potters were expecting a child around the subject time. That was more than a year before Snape started teaching at the school. (ETA: I seem to have been wrong about the “grand contradiction” and its implications for my more extreme theories. Even though the grand contradiction still is there. But from the bare trees on the windy night that Snape went to Albus, acto people online who live in Scotland, the most likely date of their meeting seems to have been later than Halloween of 1980, but probably well before Christmas. Harry was already born, but it was still almost a year before Snape started teaching.)

No, my reason for suddenly feeling a need to backpedal my earlier pooh-poohing of the whole rather mawkish concept of Snape-Loved-Lily was because I suddenly realized I was overlooking another parallel of the sort that keeps cropping up in the aforementioned Dumbledore’s Men continuum.

I suddenly thought we may be getting another inter-generational echo here.

This possibility got kicked off when I received an e-mail from someone who had been following the site. My correspondent tried to float the theory that Snape and Lily had at some point sworn an “Unforgivable Vow” (yes, that’s what she said) which had led to every bit as bad an end as one might have anticipated.

Well, leaving aside the fact that by that time, the Unbreakable Vow was striking me as every bit as tacky a plot device as a Prophecy — and ghod knows there were already too many of those running about, and I strongly suspected we’d get another one in Book 7 — the whole thing just didn’t wash from where I was standing.

However; it did jog something else, and I suddenly thought I might have another extreme theory on my hands.

We may not have ever been told so directly, but we can hardly be expected to believe that Snape and Lily did not take NEWT-Level Potions together. Regardless of whether the Gryffs and Slyths had been paired at OWL level or not.

At the same time, I could not really imagine any compelling reason for any of the Marauders to have also done so. Lupin admits he isn’t good enough at Potions to have qualified, Peter is too lazy to volunteer for extra class work (although he appears to be quite competent at Potions), and James and Sirius were Transfiguration and Charms whizzes, but were not bucking to get into any professional field that required a Potions NEWT, and had no reason to. They probably didn’t much admire Slughorn, either. Most of Sluggy’s pets were exactly the people that Sirius most despised, and James would have stuck with Sirius in a show of solidarity, even if it did mean he had one less opportunity to mend fences with Lily.

And on Slughorn’s end of the equation, we never once heard him even mention James Potter’s name. It certainly doesn’t sound like he knew him well. Or considered him memorable.

Consequently, if any sort of interaction between Snape and Lily took place, it would have been off the Marauder’s radar in NEWT-Level Potions class.

Which, before DHs was released, was a perfectly viable speculation. We didn’t know about them having been childhood friends, then. (In retrospect, that appears to be the only piece of canon that was introduced in DHs that no one appears to have had any difficulty accepting.)

I still didn’t think that they were “spoony” on each other. But they may have each regarded the other as the only potential equal in the class on offer. And Sluggy is just as capable of encouraging cooperation, as much if not more than competition, even if the two had started the class being very “standoffish” with each other; both of them still smarting from the scene we witnessed in the Pensieve junket at the end of Year 5.

Thanks to Slughorn, it was glaringly obvious by the end of HBP that we were all supposed to think that there had been some kind of relationship. And from the information we had at that point, to me it seemed most likely to have developed over the course of Year 6. I also suspected that we were being led to misread the context of whatever that relationship was.

In this, at least, I turn out to have been on the right track. But I will go on record and state that I think this particular segment of the story arc would have been better served by Rowling by dropping at least a hint or two more than she did of there being an early association, (probably via Petunia, which is the case with the only hint that we ever actually got) than to artificially maintain the complete absence of information she chose to give us.

Of course since Rowling has been determined in all her post-release interviews to cheapen the whole relationship by insisting that it was romantic (which it absolutely was not, and neither did she depict it as such) she has ended up failing to altogether convince me that even an authentic friendship ever truly existed, and that Snape had not merely encountered the first in the series  of his sad little life’s “users”.

Over the course of HBP, we’d also had rather a lot of parallels drawn between Lily and the “new” Ginny. Many of them given to us directly by Rowling herself. This much was absolutely deliberate. Lily is clearly supposed to have been more in “New Ginny’s” style than the sort of bloodless madonna figure that much of fandom had envisioned prior to OotP. I’ll admit that I’d like to have hoped this was misdirection. It was certainly a miscalculation. Most of the fans that I’ve encountered *despised* “New” Ginny. Over the course of HBP “New” Ginny ended up coming across more like a “New” Bellatrix in every chapter. And we hardly needed two of those.

But given that in DHs Lily comes across as a shallow little user who turned out to be utterly useless in a crisis, refused to take the least bit of responsibility for her own actions (yup, Harry’s definitely her kid all right), and was willing to throw anyone but Harry to the wolves rather than come across as looking bad herself, I would certainly not count on it.

But for all that there are multiple similarities, Snape just does not serve as any kind of a stand-in for Harry. Harry/Ginny just doesn’t feel like the right pattern to look for when we try to sort out the probabilities of any relationship between Snape and Lily.

Or is it?

Let’s take a closer look at the situation between Harry and Ginny, shall we?

By the end of Book 6, Harry has accepted his mission and has set Ginny aside for her own protection. Which even the shallowest reader can see would ultimately be no real protection. The whole school already knows of their association. “Everybody” has presumably been talking about it for months.

It is hardly breaking news that Post-HBP I was giving a great deal of public reconsideration to the old Snape apologist theory that Severus Snape signed on with Dumbledore even before the end of his Hogwarts days. That an offer of protection — if the DEs ever approached him and tried to force him to cooperate with them, was made to him in the aftermath of the werewolf caper, and that when Malfoy did approach him, Snape chose to fight from inside, rather than to go into hiding. It is gone into in some detail in the ‘View from the Martian Canals’ essay, too.

(I still think this would have made for a highly satisfying “reveal” in DHs.)

So, just what was Ginny to Harry in Year 6? She was “officially” his girlfriend for part of it, yes, but their actual relationship hardly sounds particularly romantic. And she was effectively a new discovery. She became his greatest source of comfort, not excitement. They were friends. It was the kind of friendship that might readily deepen into something far more extensive given time and encouragement, but at that moment they were still mostly friends.

At the end of Year 6 Harry has known about the Prophecy and his place in it for the past year. Circumstances have raised their ugly heads with a call to arms and he has finally accepted his role, and is setting his life in order, so he can concentrate on his duty. How might this parallel to Snape?

At the end of his Year 6 I believed Snape had known for the past year that Dumbledore will hide him if the Death Eaters should approach him with coercement in mind. He had already realized that he himself is and has nothing that they really want, apart from cooperation, but that if they decide that he ought to make himself useful to them, he will not be given the option of refusing. Dumbledore has offered him a chance of escape.

And now, at the end of Year 6 I thought that perhaps he had been approached by Malfoy regarding his future plans.

He would be of age by that time. His birthday is in January. He has his Apparation license. Voldemort may or may not induct boys who are still at school into his ranks, but Malfoy is putting in an early bid, on the grounds of previous association, in order to enlist Snape’s support even before he is out of Hogwarts, intending to introduce him to his Leader under his own patronage. In short, Malfoy isn’t merely threatening to force Snape’s cooperation, he is offering Snape the opportunity to actually join up and infiltrate the organization, under his sponsorship. All Snape has to do in return is to make Malfoy look good to their Leader.

Snape has reported this to Dumbledore. He has declined the offer of being hidden, (which to be fair, would also mean missing out on his NEWTs) and made his own counter-offer to serve Dumbledore as his agent. Neither Snape nor Albus had ever anticipated that an opportunity of that nature would be on offer. Snape just plain doesn’t fit the typical demographic for recruitment. And Albus didn’t already have anyone inside that organization.

It was just too tempting to let pass.

I speculated that after assuring himself of Snape’s sincerity (and no doubt trying very hard to dissuade him), Dumbledore (well, Dumbledore as we thought we knew him before DHs) had accepted the offer and pledged his support. Snape had accepted his role, and in the summer before Year 7 he was setting his life in order, so he can concentrate on his duty.

What, I wondered, was whether Snape and Lily had become friends — not so much as Harry and Ginny are friends — and confidently expected to become more than friends, but more as Harry and Hermione are friends (or possibly to be even more accurate, as Ginny and Hermione are friends), and that Snape may have confided his mission to her? At least to the degree of explaining why their friendship had to remain secret, kept in the background, and why he could no longer risk an open association with a Muggle-born witch.

As well as the corollary that for her to be associated with him was not safe for her, either, and something of why.

Since at that point in time we were all still inclined to read Lily as an essentially decent person, rather than a shameless little user, I was beginning to think that they may have struck an agreement. He promised her that he would try his best to keep the DEs away from her, and that if something went horribly wrong; something happened to Dumbledore, and Snape was arrested and threatened with the Dementors, she would try to speak in his favor. That might have been the conversation (with “that awful boy”) that Petunia overheard.

In this alternate universe, they may have continued to be friends for as long as Lily lived, although I suspected that unless they were co-workers, they may not ever have met face-to-face after they finished school.

But they may have corresponded. We have been given a fairly strong hint that the tiny, crabbed “hand” of Snape’s school days, which is scribbled all over the Advanced Potions-Making textbook is not the same script as the one that has been showing up on the chalkboard in his classroom for the last 15 years. Nor does it sound much like the large spiky ‘Ds’ that showed up on Harry’s essays. It is easy to postulate how Snape might have been prompted to iron out a regional working-class accent, or adopt his formal, buttoned-up manner in the interests of his own advancement, in order to make himself “presentable” when moving among his higher-status housemates, but why would he choose to reinvent his handwriting as well, unless he had some reason to want to correspond with someone in a script that no one would recognize and identify should a letter fall into the wrong hands? Such an aim would not have been necessary for correspondence with the Death Eaters. Nor for corresponding with Albus, either. So who then?

Well. That was the theory. I’m a little sorry that it did not play out. Not that I had expected it to do so, you understand. It was always distinctly “out there”.

And it’s certainly not that I have any actual objection to the childhood friendship that Rowling ultimately gave us. A childhood friendship is much closer to the general caliber of relationship that I had envisioned than fanon’s ghod-awful icky, sticky, unrequited teen crush. And since Rowling failed to give us any real clue at all as to the Evans sisters’ socioeconomic or regional background, I cannot feel particularly at fault for failing to have anticipated it. A number of other fans managed to do so. But I still think that was more in the nature of a lucky guess than anything that a reader might be able to have reasonably deduced from the text.

I just wish that Rowling had depicted that “friendship” as something a bit less abusive on Lily’s part. But, then, we really do have to consider that perhaps she intended that we should finally conclude that Harry’s mother was no more of a bargain than his father, and that, indeed they deserved one another.

• • • •

Still, Severus Snape is not the kind of person who needs the threat of death via Unbreakable Vow in order to keep his promises. And at the point that he reported the partial Prophecy to Voldemort (which I sincerely believed was on Dumbledore’s orders, and still believe was at his contrivance), NO ONE knew that the family threatened by it would turn out to be the Potters.

Once it was clear that the family (or one of the families) at risk was the Potters, I could very well believe that Snape profoundly regretted following that particular order. And this is a matter that would have become clear as soon as the Potters announced their impending parenthood.

There may be a reason why it took over a year for Voldemort to catch up to just who the Child of Prophecy might be. He may have taken the “seventh month” literally, and waited until the end of September to start hunting. (This may very well still hold true, not that we will ever be told as much. I place no dependence upon Rowling’s alleged Encyclopedia giving us any answer that makes sense. The whole project appears instead to be being floated as an attempt to rewrite the series after the fact without going to the — admittedly considerable— trouble of actually *doing* it.)

And at that point one wondered whether when Harry returned to Godric’s Hollow he would find anything of his mother’s correspondence. It turns out I ought to have been thinking of #12 Grimmauld Place instead.

The odds seemed against it.

But even if he did, I was sure the appearance of any such correspondence would be misleading. I was confident that Harry was not going to know Snape’s real motivations until after their final confrontation at the end of the book.

But, yes, I did have to finally admit to the possibility that Snape and Lily might provide another echo along the continuum pertaining to Dumbledore’s Men.