Harry Potter spoiler alert
Snape, the biggest mystery of the book. The Half-Blood Prince himself! Doubt is cast upon Snape’s true loyalties as soon as he appears in Spinner’s End. Bellatrix is very much like Harry in her questioning of Snape. Narcissa trusts him because Voldemort does, just as every member of the Order trusts him because Dumbledore does, but Bellatrix and Harry both think that the person in whom they have the most confidence may be mistaken. The fact that Snape is able to answer all of Bellatrix’s questions seems to confirm that he’s evil but also is cause for suspicion that he might not be. His story is almost too well-rehearsed and he does feel that he must prove himself to Bellatrix. He asks if Bellatrix thinks it is possible that he has fooled “the most accomplished Legilimens the world has ever seen” (26). We know that he is an Occlumency expert, so yes, it’s possible. When he makes the Unbreakable Vow, his hand twitches at the mention of him doing the deed should Draco fail.
Snape’s cover is always that he’s a spy. He explains to Bellatrix that he remains undercover at Hogwarts because he is able to gain valuable inside information, and everyone but Harry assumes that he is trying to get Draco to confide in him so that he can report back to Dumbledore, not so he can actually help Draco. His act fools Draco, who is convinced that Snape wants all the glory for himself. Dumbledore even tells Draco that Snape’s actions were on his orders, but Draco, just like Voldemort, still believes that Snape is a double agent who is truly serving the Dark Lord. Even Hagrid, who has made it rather clear that he doesn’t like Snape, so trusts Dumbledore’s judgment that he even ventures to guess, “What musta happened was, Dumbledore musta told Snape ter go with them Death Eaters…I supposed he’s gotta keep his cover” (607). Hagrid never doubts Dumbledore. McGonagall, Remus, and Tonks all also insist that Dumbledore had “an ironclad reason for trusting Snape” and that “Snape’s repentance was absolutely genuine” (616).
Even if we are to believe that Snape is good, he does have a fascination with the Dark Arts, which has always made me distrustful of him. Harry is disturbed by the way Snape refers to them as “many, varied, ever-changing, and eternal” (177), but Hermione thinks he sounds like Harry describing facing Voldemort and “that it really comes down to being brave and quick-thinking” (181). We should always listen to Hermione. Snape is interested in the Dark Arts, but he also has experience facing them.
Snape turns out to be the Half-Blood Prince, which doesn’t make him look like he’s a good guy since he created some Dark spells, such as Sectumsempra. Yet again, Hermione is right that “Prince” could be a name, and she’s even right about the connection to Eileen Prince, Snape’s mother. It’s a bit funny that she thinks “the handwriting looks more like a girl’s than a boy’s” (195). Her inkling that the Prince is “a bit dodgy” (240) is also correct. Harry and Ron think he’s just a prankster, but Hermione thinks he has a mean sense of humor and remembers that the effects of Levicorpus seem like what the Death Eaters did to Muggles at the Quidditch World Cup. Still, Hermione says that the Prince “seemed to have a nasty sense of humor, but I would never have guessed he was a potential killer…” (638). True, Levicorpus is one thing, but Sectumsempra still disturbs me. I love how Harry thinks, “The Prince had proved a much more effective teacher than Snape so far” (239). He might be better when he’s not sneering at Harry and Harry’s not suppressing an urge to curse him. The idea that Snape had helped him is “almost an unendurable thought now” (638). And to think, how much he’s been helping him this whole time.
I do think that Snape might have come to respect and even care for Dumbledore. He even says to Bellatrix that Dumbledore has been a great wizard. One reason that I’ve always found it hard to believe that Snape is truly “good” is that he lets people get hurt and killed without flinching as long as he is helping win the battle in the long run, to bring down Voldemort for killing Lily. Loving Lily doesn’t mean that he believes in the Order’s message and goals, but with Dumbledore, he is no longer unfazed by the deaths that are necessary to achieve the ultimate goal. Hagrid hears “Snape sayin’ Dumbledore took too much for granted an’ maybe he–Snape–didn’ wan’ ter do it anymore” (405). Harry thinks that this makes Snape suspicious, but we find out later that Snape is uncomfortable with his promise to kill Dumbledore. When he kills Dumbledore, there is “revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face” (595). Harry surely sees this expression directed at Dumbledore himself, but it is actually Snape’s reaction to what he must do. I always wanted to believe that “Severus…please…” was Dumbledore begging Snape to spare him, but the ambiguity made me wonder.
No matter how good Snape may be, he is downright mean and there’s no denying it. I find it so hard to forgive him because he was really cruel to Harry. If a teacher taunted a student about his dead father, that teacher would be in serious trouble. James and Sirius were nasty to Snape, but he’s so immature that he hasn’t gotten over it and takes his anger out on Harry. For detention, Snape makes Harry go through the records of punishments at Hogwarts and purposely assigns him the years that James and Sirius were at Hogwarts and causing trouble. He nastily adds, “It must be such a comfort to think that, though they are gone, a record of their great achievements remains…” (532). He thinks that the familiar names “should add interest to the task” (532). That is HORRIBLE. Harry finds out from Trelawney that Snape told Voldemort about the prophecy, and although Dumbledore assures Harry that it is “the greatest regret of his [Snape's] life,” Harry is right about Snape’s hate for his father. Dumbledore trusts Snape because he knows the power of love that he has for Lily, but I doubt that Snape was ever very upset about James’s death, especially since he spoke ill of him even fifteen years after the fact. While the debate about Snape was going on, I really wanted him to be evil so I could hate him for all the nasty things he’s done, but I had a feeling that there was more to him.
As Snape flees Hogwarts, Harry chases him, attacking with the darkest spells he can think of, but Snape doesn’t strike back and tells the other Death Eaters, “Potter belongs to the Dark Lord–we are to leave him!” (603). That might be part of it, but perhaps Snape doesn’t want to hurt Harry, even though he constantly causes him emotional and mental harm. Snape is super sensitive about being called a coward. When Harry calls him a coward for the second time: “‘DON’T–’ screamed Snape, and his face was suddenly demented, inhuman, as though he was in as much pain as the yelping howling dog stuck in the burning house behind them–’CALL ME COWARD!’” (604). This fear of being a coward actually made me respect Snape a little more and made me think he might be good. Although I often feel that Snape didn’t truly want to be on the Order’s side, since he had always liked the Dark Arts, did care about blood, and became a Death Eater, and only changed sides because he felt that he had to compensate for what he did to Lily, his reaction to being called a coward makes me think that he might have actually wanted to be more open about his true loyalties. Other members of the Order are known to be enemies of the Dark Lord and openly oppose and fight against him, visibly putting themselves at great risk and clearly making themselves targets for the Death Eaters. Snape, on the other hand, is trusted by both sides and therefore safe from harm, not in immediate danger, unless of course the other side discovers his deceit. He sneaks around secretly rather than bravely and boldly defying the side he is against. Is it possible that he is ashamed of this and wishes he could just be an admirable good guy?
I’ve always hardened my heart against Snape, especially once he killed Dumbledore. Even if Dumbledore had wanted him to, I could not forgive Snape for doing that. I really wanted to hate him, but Jo never makes it that easy.
My last post about Half-Blood Prince will be remembering Dumbledore.