Red Hen Publications

Red Hen Publications — Commentary Collection: His Fatal Weakness
The Potterverse Essays

Trying to make the Potterverse make sense since 2003!

Aaaaannd now for something completely off the wall...

This flight of fancy came out of thin air many years ago, and I’ve no idea why. Because it has nothing to do with anything. It’s certainly not a part of any collection of serious attempts to interpret the books.

n point of fact, it is pure comic relief. And is totally ignorable for anyone whose fanfics require a different interpretation, and have no provision for rather low comedy.

But anyone who wants to use it is welcome.

And in all accuracy, it is really no more off the wall now than it was before DHs came out.

There used to be a tradition in early Snape fandom, particularly in its younger branches, to believe that the only reason why Snape didn’t make the cut — along with James and Sirius — as one of “the cleverest students at Hogwarts” — which evaluation, it should be pointed out, was young Remus Lupin’s, not that of anyone who was actually on staff at the time — was due to some notable weakness in one or other of the school’s key subjects.

Post-HBP, it is clear that had anyone but Remus Lupin been asked their opinion of the matter, Snape would certainly have made the cut. No question. The “halfblood Prince” was a very clever chap. And all of Rowling’s backpedaling in an attempt to depict him as terminally clueless throughout ‘The Prince’s Tale’ fails to convince any Snape fan otherwise.

(With 20/20 hindsight, it is now evident that in HBP she had simply given us a “new Snape”, in fact the Uber-Snape, much as she gave us a “new Draco”, or yet another iteration and amplification of the “new Ginny”. Most of us would have liked to have kept the Uber-Snape for longer than the duration of just one book.)

• • • •

Frankly, I think it most probable that in the unlikely event that Snape still did not make the cut, his performance (like Harry’s, when you stop and think about it) in anything that he was interested in, or that he considered important to his interests would have been at the top of the charts and anything he saw as boring or irrelevant he blew off, and barely scraped an A (for “Acceptable”.)

For a while, early in the series, it seemed not impossible, although not entirely convincing, to reflect that Snape may have been one of the brighter students who simply did not appear to have particularly strong magic until his powers started catching up to the rest of him in his 5th-7th years. By which time the other students would have grown used to thinking of him as being unpleasant, but not particularly powerful, and not much of a threat to be taken seriously. But there is no canon support for this.

In fact it tends to contradict the (probably skewed, but we have no idea in which direction) summation of First year Snape’s abilities with curses and hexes, as was given us by Sirius Black in GoF. And in the wake of HBP it all seems vanishingly unlikely.

In those days, most of the teeny-boppers over on tended to take his House rivalry with McGonagall as their springboard and work from the position that if Snape and McGonagall don’t get on (which is not all that strongly indicated in books 1–6, btw) then Snape’s alleged weakness was in Transfiguration. Which I think is improbable, since Transfiguration and Potions (and Alchemy) are all fairly closely related fields. And the similarity in structure between charms and curses makes Charms an unlikely candidate to have been Snape’s Achilles’ heel as well.

For that matter, of all the instructors at Hogwarts, Snape and Minerva seem to be the two who are most alike in style. Both stern, both harsh. Indeed, he may well have deliberately set out to model his classroom manner upon hers (he certainly didn’t model it on Slughorn’s). That in itself would guarantee that they would probably lock horns on a regular basis over their smaller differences, but ultimately would be more expected to tend to have similar outlooks than otherwise.

• • • •

Well, I think I may have figured it out.

Or, rather, this interpretation blindsided me when I was innocently going about my own business. And I think it has possibilities — in humorous potential if in nothing else.

If Snape had any single notable weakness while a student at Hogwarts I am now convinced that it was in... (drumroll, please) Herbology.

Yes. That’s right. Herbology.

It’s not that young Snape lacked any grasp on a basic understanding of the subject. Oh no. He was, after all, probably in the top 5th-10th percentile of his year. Regardless of how he stacked up against James Potter and Sirius Black. And, given that plants provide a third to a half of all common Potions ingredients, Snape would have been quite interested in Herbology. He could probably have reeled Herbology theory at you off the top of his head á la Hermione Granger until you ran for cover.

No, that was not the problem. The problem, or rather, (cue portentous voice here) *The Problem* is that — he kills the plants.

He has a black thumb.

At his very best he may kill them more slowly than otherwise. But; any plant he tries to tend ALWAYS dies. And this is all the more galling because plants ARE the source of at least a third to half of all his Potions ingredients. (He was no great shakes at Care of Magical Creatures either, but since it was an elective he simply didn’t take that. He couldn’t get out of Herbology.)

Eventually the Herbology teacher of his day (possibly Sprout, but just as likely to have been her predecessor) had to forbid him to go anywhere near his or her rarer specimens, all of which brought his average down in that class enough to thoroughly compromise his final grades, regardless of his depth of understanding of Herbology theory. Fortunately the results of one’s Herbology practicals for the OWLs or NEWTs are not graded upon the state of the plants a week later. He did perfectly well on those.

A perennially unsatisfactory grade on the standard Hogwarts tests in such a key subject would have pulled his overall average down however. Particularly since there would have already been a couple of subjects that he had been blowing off out of boredom or sheer bloody-mindedness. And, given the rather elementary flub he made over the most likely place to find a kappa, on the day he took over Lupin’s class. I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that any part of DADA that dealt with Dark Creatures rather than the Dark Arts was one of those that he blew off.

And even if it wasn’t, (and from our trip into the Pensieve it now seems likely that it wasn’t) he may have been put so totally off his stride by the hazing incident that we witnessed for him to have messed up his DADA practical, which would have taken place later that afternoon. Which would have truly pissed him off royally.

And more than just that, if it meant that he wasn’t able to take the class at NEWT-level. Although since he originally applied for the DADA position, that’s not likely. But it could have made the difference between an E and an O.

As a Potions Master, it still irritates Snape that he is dependent upon other people to grow the plants that he needs. But this has become a comparatively minor irritation over the years. Once they have been harvested, he is able to prepare any of the plant materials that he needs by himself without further problems. Dead plants cause him no inconvenience at all. Once they are supposed to be dead, that is.

• • • •

Or at least it was a minor irritation until Longbottom came along.

That this complete dolt with magic that he could not — or, rather, would not — control, who was unable to make a competent potion if his life depended upon it, and was not significantly better off in any of his other courses was still able to do what he, Severus, cannot, was just one too many.

Severus just did not handle that well.