Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Seventh Safeguard [IV]

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Chapter IV ~ The Story of Severus Snape

When I awoke the room was filled with daylight. I took in the dreary, magnificent, dusty room, slowly comprehending that the strange events of the night before had not been a bizarre dream after all. Then I saw that the chair beside the empty fireplace was empty. A glance around the room revealed Ron and Miss Granger still sleeping amongst the blankets and cushions on the floor. But both Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter were gone.

I left the parlour in search of them, out into the dusty corridors. The house looked different in the daylight, still lonely, ugly, and forsaken, but there was less menace in it. It had become just an ill-kept, ugly old London house.

I was not searching long. I had only left the parlour behind me moments before when I heard Sherlock’s voice, and turned to see him striding towards me. There was a brisk cheeriness in his manner and I deduced that he had been spending his time profitably.

“Good Morning, John.” he said.

“Do you know where Harry is?” I asked.

“He’s upstairs in his godfather’s room, poring over an old letter his mother wrote.”

“Been exploring the house this morning?”

“Oh, yes.” he said, looking oh so pleased with himself. Then, as if he had a secret just too delightful not to share with somebody he turned to me and said:

“Severus Snape never defected to Riddle.”

“Severus Snape? The professor who murdered the headmaster?”

“The same.” replied Sherlock.

“How do you figure that? Was it not he who murdered Dumbledore after all?”

“Oh, no. He killed him. That much seems to be indisputable.”

“Then, how do you get to the conclusion that the man who murdered an important counter-Riddle figure …”

“Ah, not an important counter-Riddle figure, say rather, chief in the resistance against him.”

“All right. So how do you get to the conclusion that the man who murdered the chief of the resistance against Riddle, and has now openly aligned himself with Riddle, isn’t actually working for Riddle?”

“My suspicions were first aroused when we entered the house. I was rather appalled, as you may have noticed, by the young people’s suggestion that those preposterous booby-traps downstairs would keep anyone out of the house, especially a seasoned murderer well-used to the tricks and illusions of the British Wizarding world. Yet we encountered no traps, and the house was quite clearly abandoned. Miss Granger tells me that this house is under an illusion, which only people who have been shown by the illusion’s ‘secret keeper’ can see through. Snape is obviously not the secret keeper. So it is true he cannot tell the other Death Eaters how to get in. But I can see nothing to stop he himself, should he desire entry. Nor would anything prevent him from leading them in as if they were inanimate objects … as the three in fact did with us last night.”

“That’s why you wanted my pistol.”

“I thought it as well that the one conscious person should have the weapon. Still, this was a mere precaution. Since no attempt had been made to set a trap for Harry, and no one was stationed here to wait for him, and no one had tried to enter for all those hours to check in on the place, it did not seem to me likely that an attempt was going to be made. This has indeed proved to be the case – fortunately, since one gun would not likely be a match for an entire war party.

“As soon as the sun was up, I set out to discover who has been here recently. To bring you up to speed, in case you had wondered why they would bother to try and set up defences against Snape in a house which generally stands empty – until recently, it hasn’t been empty. You may recall a reference or two last night to ‘The Order’. This appears to be an organization devoted to defence against Riddle. They used this place as a base for a number of years. Harry has avoided speaking directly of this Order, so I have been left picking up hints to flesh out their occasional references. But it seems clear that Snape was a member and they abandoned this place two months ago when he appeared to turn traitor.

“Unfortunately, I did not take the time to look for recent visitors before we all came in last night. The entrance hall was fairly hopeless. But since we had all come straight up to the parlour, it was simple enough to see where any other traces broke off from our path. One person besides us seems to have been here recently, probably within the week. A tall man, with large feet, and large hands too, I should think. He came in and went straight upstairs. His advancing and returning tracks were side by side and sometimes superimposed, so I tracked him back down at the same time as I tracked him up. They led me to the old bedroom of Harry’s late godfather. Once in the room, things became rather more confused, but it is clear that the tall unknown searched the room, chiefly Sirius’s papers. … That letter from his mother that Harry’s reading, from Lily Evans Potter – it’s only one page, the first. The rest is missing.”

“Surely the other page was just lost, she’s been dead for sixteen years.”

“So I should think too, if it wasn’t for the photograph.”

“What photograph?”

“The photograph that accompanied the letter; a picture of the one-year old Harry playing with the toy that Lily was thanking Sirius for. Half of it is missing as well. It has been torn in two – recently. Deliberately. And very carefully. It was neither an accident nor malice, it was a purposeful separation of something that the intruder wanted to keep, from something that he didn’t. The half I found, thrown heedlessly on the floor, had Harry and his father James in it. Whoever came up there took the other half, which clearly contained something he thought important. Now, from the contents of the letter I know that the Potters were at the time in hiding from Riddle – who was actively hunting them. And hence, they had few visitors. Lily mentions the names of their recent visitors; Bathilda Bagshot, an elderly neighbour, and one ‘Wormy’, who I learned from Harry was a school friend who shortly thereafter betrayed their hiding place to Riddle. So the number of people who could have been in that photograph is very limited. I think it safe to say that the intruder was not likely to have taken a picture of their cat or an inanimate object. That leaves the neighbour, the traitor, and Lily. ‘Wormy’, better known as Pettigrew, and Ms. Bagshot are still alive. Ms. Bagshot is a well-known Wizarding historian, and her photographs and writings would not be difficult to come by. Pettigrew is one of the Death Eaters. Why would the intruder come up here to search for memoranda of him? If they were a Death Eater, they would probably be working with him already. And if they were not, why would they want anything to do with him? So that leaves us just Lily Potter. And it would in any case match the tone of the remainder of the photograph. It was picture of a child playing with his parents. The intruder tore Harry and James out of Lily’s picture. This is significant. If he had merely wanted the picture of Lily, there would be no great reason for him to tear her husband and child out of the picture. But he did. So he not only wanted the picture of Lily, he vehemently didn’t want the picture of her family.

“So. A man broke into a house to get a picture of a woman. There is an attachment there. The woman has been dead for sixteen years. A strong attachment. He tore away the image of the man she chose and the child that came of their union. Rivalry, bitter rivalry. The second page of a letter she wrote is also missing. She has, by the by, quite remarkable handwriting. I should judge Lily Evans Potter likely to have been a woman of an exceptional nature. Under the circumstances, the fact that half of the letter is also gone seems unlikely to be a coincidence. The first page was doubtless left for the same reason that the photograph was torn in two; it was filled with her husband and child – they seem to have been a happy family. What is on the last page of a letter? A signature. And considering the tone of the letter, a very warm farewell; ‘Love, Lily’. He took it, just as he did her photograph. The man who broke in here once had a romantic passion for Lily Potter, and, all these years after her death, he still does.

“So who was he? This tall man with large hands and feet, who can get into this house, knows this house well enough to know exactly where he was going, and broke in to search for memorabilia of Lily Potter? Most likely, due both to his entrance and his knowledge of the house, he is an Order member. Now, Harry Potter, who was so very reluctant to let us in on the secret of Riddle’s safeguards last night, practically leaped at the opportunity to tell someone of the multifarious villainies of his most hated professor, and gladly answered my questions about it. He was up rather early, and so I have spent the last several hours hearing a very heated and fortunately detailed account of all the known doings of Professor Severus Snape.

“Physically, Snape matches our unknown intruder, and since he was an Order member he can get in. He has been here many times with the other Order members without taking the photograph before, so presumably he didn’t want anyone to see him go up to Sirius’ room or ask him what he was doing there. He had and has a passion for Lily, but he doesn’t want anyone to find out about it. It is a secret passion. Since Harry was avoiding telling me very much about this Order or its members, it is impossible to completely rule out it being some other Order member who sneaked into headquarters recently. But there is enough evidence in favour of it being Snape (who, by the way, is the exact same age as James and Lily would have been, and knew them both as children) that we’ll take it as a working hypothesis. Now, that Severus Snape, in all probability, harbours a secret passion for Lily Potter in itself proves nothing. But it does at least suggest that the man who murdered her, Riddle, might not be well advised to trust him completely.”

“If it was Snape who broke in here.” I said. “Is this whole theory based on the man’s shoe size?”

“And his height, and the cut of the robes he normally wears, and the shape of his hands, and I’m not finished yet. That is just the circumstantial evidence I found in this house. Harry told me a great deal more than what he looks like.”

“He told you more about the murder?”


“And you agree that he did kill Dumbledore?”

“Yes, that much is cut and dried fact. Harry was there, and he saw the whole matter.”

“Harry was there? It seems that Harry is always there. And if he was there, then why wasn’t he murdered too?”

“There you have hit upon the precise point that Harry does not see! … Although, during the murder itself Harry was both wearing his invisibility cloak and paralysed. But listen. Maybe you can see an excuse for Snape’s behaviour other than the one which seems obvious to me.

“Severus Snape has been acting as a spy not just since Riddle’s regeneration three years ago, but also before his first downfall. The question has never in fact been whether or not Snape is a spy – but which party he was actually spying for. If Riddle had ever thought Snape was not completely loyal to him, he would have killed him. But Dumbledore also trusted Snape’s loyalty. He defended him to Harry again and again. Offered explanations on Snape’s behalf. It was Dumbledore who kept Snape out of prison after Riddle’s first downfall.”

“They thought that he had been a double agent?”

“Not precisely. He really had been a Death Eater for a while, on his own admission. The question was whether his supposed repentance and subsequent undercover work against Riddle were legitimate or not. It was on Dumbledore’s word that he was acquitted.”

“Dumbledore let a Death Eater teach children?”

“That shows you how complete his confidence in Snape’s reformation was. When Riddle came back, he sent Snape to him; thereby re-starting the old double spying situation, which lasted until this June. If he’d had any doubt of Snape’s inclinations, he would not have exposed him to that temptation. And if he’d had any doubt of his total reliability, he would not have willingly opened that avenue for him. Now, throughout the whole of last year Harry had been concerned that one of the students – Draco Malfoy, the son of Lucius who was given the diary – had been given some kind of assignment by Riddle within the school. He was further convinced that Snape knew about this mission, and was trying to help Draco with it. He had spoken to Dumbledore of his concerns, but Dumbledore – not particularly helpfully – just told him that everything was under control and he shouldn’t worry about it.

“The night that Dumbledore was murdered, he and Harry had been out of the school, this was the night they found Regulus’ locket in that cave. They returned, with Dumbledore badly hurt, to find the Death Eater’s calling card in the air over the school. They were on one of the tower-tops, and Dumbledore had just sent Harry to go and fetch Snape, when Draco came onto the top. Draco is a seventeen year old boy. Rather than casually disarming him, and telling him to behave himself, Dumbledore took the time to paralyse Harry instead. This allowed Draco the time to disarm Dumbledore. So, Draco was left on the roof, with a frozen and invisible Harry, and an injured and unarmed Dumbledore, and he revealed that he was under orders from Riddle to kill Dumbledore. But he did not in fact kill anyone. He hemmed and hawed and didn’t act, until a group of adult Death Eaters joined them. The Death Eaters then proceeded to argue about whether they could kill Dumbledore, or whether Draco had to. None of them noticed Harry. Last of all, Snape came up. The Death Eaters received him as one of them, with casual questions as to how to proceed with Draco being so nervous. Without saying a word, Snape shot Dumbledore. Then he shooed everybody off the tower, saying it was time to retreat. Thus far, it looks as if Dumbledore had just been wrong all those years. But – Harry followed the retreating Death Eaters.”


“Yes. When Dumbledore died, he unfroze. He ran out into the grounds after a group of full grown enemy fighters by himself. It appears he was in a rage which over-rode his desire for self-preservation. He ran out, and he caught up with them.”

“And he wasn’t captured?”


“And none of the teachers or even any of the other children followed him out and helped him?”

“No they didn’t.”

“So, you’re saying that this group of gangsters had this kid who Riddle’s been after for seventeen years right in their hands and didn’t even try to kill or capture him?”

“See! You see. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Harry though! He caught up with them, and attacked Snape. … And Snape blocked him.”

Blocked him?”

“Blocked him; while criticizing the lack of skill in the blows. Eventually he wound up knocking Harry down. When one of the other Death Eaters tried to torture Harry … Snape stopped them. He told them that Harry ‘belonged to the dark lord’, and that they should leave him.”

“Wait a minute – Riddle’s been trying to kill Harry since he was an infant – right?”

“Yes. He has. That it should have been Riddle’s idea for a whole group of his fighters to have had the boy in their hands and let him go, not only not kill him – but not capture him either … and even object to him being injured … is not credible. But if those were not Riddle’s orders, then Dumbledore’s killer turned right around and protected Harry Potter – the great symbolic enemy of Riddle. So, why should Riddle’s servant, who has, remember, just killed the man who has supported and trusted him for years, take a risk like that for Harry? It wasn’t personal affection for this particular student. He can’t stand Harry. Even Dumbledore admitted that Snape has an unreasoned and unreasonable hatred of him (as did our recent visitor). But he protected him anyway. Doesn’t that strike of duty?”

I had to admit that it rather did.

“And if we look back at certain previous incidents, we see a similar theme. Snape saved Harry’s life in his first year of school.”

“Did he?”

“Yes. Harry, whatever may be lacking in his ability to put two and two together, seems to have always been a vigilant and concerned boy. In his first year at Hogwarts, he became convinced that one of the teachers was trying to steal a valuable device Dumbledore was keeping hidden in Hogwarts and use it to help Riddle regenerate, and was trying to murder him, Harry, while they were at it. He was later proved to have been correct. But he was wrong in thinking it to be Snape. It was another teacher. Snape turned out to have been working to prevent this other teacher from stealing anything or killing anyone. It seems, since Harry would certainly have denied it if he possibly could have, that this was proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

“But Riddle hadn’t regenerated yet, so Snape was acting alone, and so from this incident by itself one could just say that he was just working within a different paradigm at that point, one in which it only made sense uphold the law. Though why he should go to greater effort than the other teachers to uphold the law, which he did, without actually caring about the matter itself, would still be in question. But in any case, the incident is not on its own. Last night, Harry didn’t go into much detail on what exactly happened the night that his godfather Sirius died. This morning he did. He partially blames Snape for Sirius’ death. Shortly before the incident Snape had been taunting Sirius, with whom he seems to have had an old feud, about how useless he was. Harry feels that the taunts may have encouraged Sirius to take undue risks. But far more important – You remember that Sirius was killed by Bellatrix Lestrange when he came with a team to rescue Harry and some friends from the Death Eaters?”

“Of course.”

“But last night Harry didn’t explain how ‘the Order’ knew where he was, or even how they knew he was in trouble. I only got it out of him this morning by listening to a whole lot of ranting mixed in with it. But, despite the vituperations with which it was surrounded, the fact remains. Snape alerted them. … Snape realized that Harry and his closest friends were missing at dinner. He remembered a commotion that Harry had made earlier in the day which suggested to him where they might have gone. And he sent a message to London that he suspected that Harry Potter had been lured to an important Wizarding research facility and was probably under attack there. The Order went in, took the Death Eaters by surprise, beat them soundly, rescued Harry, and took several Death Eaters captive, including Lucius Malfoy. … If Snape was in fact spying for Riddle at that point, he was doing a very bad job.”

“Well, obviously, if he sent out the Order against Death Eaters when the Death Eaters were outnumbered and not expecting it … he can hardly have been really working for Riddle at the time.”

“Obviously. It simply won’t work. It was Snape who thwarted whatever Riddle’s plans were that day. So far as I have been able to discern, he was the only person even in a position to do so. It would have been very easy for him to just ignore the issue and feign ignorance – no one would have ever been the wiser. In which case, his supposed master would have gotten whatever it was he was looking for at the facility (Harry wasn’t very clear on what this was) and Harry himself – the symbol of the resistance – would have been taken or killed. From the point of view that Snape was really working for Riddle, his actual actions makes no sense at all. Even individually, each of these incidents make a very strong case. Unified, they seem indisputable.”

“Then why did he murder Dumbledore?”

“I don’t know.” mused Sherlock. “He certainly isn’t a very nice person. Perhaps, finding himself stuck with all those Death Eaters on the tower, he decided that his own position as spy was more important to the anti-Riddle effort than Dumbledore’s life, and so, being quite unscrupulous, sacrificed him to strengthen his position.”

“Then why is Harry so much more important than Dumbledore? Strictly speaking, from a strategic standpoint, the experienced, far more knowledgeable leader of the Order looks more necessary to the war effort – yet he died and Harry didn’t.”

“Yes, well, I haven’t told you the supposed reason why Snape left Riddle in the first place.”


“Snape – while still genuinely a Death Eater – told Riddle about a prediction he had overheard some self-proclaimed ‘seer’ make. It predicted the coming of one ‘with the power to vanquish the dark lord’ or some such nonsense. Riddle, being the superstitious moron that he is, took this quite seriously and started hunting the boy who he believed it referred to – Harry.”

It took me a moment to digest this.

“Harry’s been hunted since infancy because of a fortune-teller?!”


It seemed preposterous to me that, in this day and age, anyone could take such a thing seriously. That someone could be in real danger because of such a prediction struck me as so improbable as to be almost comedic … except for the fact that Sherlock was quite seriously attributing the death of a young couple and the kidnapping, torture, and repeated attempted murder of their son to it.

“Are they really that superstitious? Or is Riddle just mad?”

“Well, Riddle could very well be mad. … But unfortunately, yes, Wizarding society does seems to be very superstitious. … Anyhow, it was when Riddle decided to hunt down and wipe out the Potters that Snape went to Dumbledore. … Harry has told me, in bitter, grieving, enraged words, of how Dumbledore told him that Snape was filled with great and terrible remorse, that setting Riddle on the Potter’s trail was the greatest regret of his life, that it was the thing which caused him to turn away from Riddle. … Harry of course doesn’t believe a word of it.”

“But you do?”

Sherlock smiled. “Yes. I do.”

“You think that this Death Eater was secretly in love with Harry’s mother, and when he wound up getting her killed, he was so upset that he tried to turn his life around.”

“You could put it those terms. One thing though: he didn’t go to Dumbledore after she died – and that is an important point. He went when Riddle started hunting them. And we know that the Potters spent some time in hiding before Riddle found them. … Which makes it look rather as if Snape in fact alerted the Potters to the need to go into hiding. … Riddle found them only because Pettigrew betrayed their hiding place. Then of course there is the point I started from. He can get in here. The booby-traps downstairs are meant to dissuade him. But he can get in. He must know this to be a likely place for Harry to go. Too likely. It’s Harry’s house. He could have easily led a party of Death Eaters in here in the middle of the night. But did he? … Riddle is an idiot! … In defence of both Harry’s and Riddle’s belief in Snape’s allegiance however, he did appear with a group of Death Eaters in open battle a short while ago.”

“Did he kill anybody then?”

“No. But he sliced off Ron’s elder brother’s ear.”

“Well, I must say, Sherlock, whatever his true allegiance, Severus Snape does not exactly stand out as a model of kindness and decency.”

“No indeed. I dare say that none of us in this house – save Harry – would be quite safe around him; and Harry only if we are referring solely to matters of bodily safety. He’s famed for having a nasty temper and certainly has shown a great ability to use means that few ‘decent’ men could agree with.”

“And yet – besides his continual looking out for Harry Potter – can you find any results of his supposed spy work?”

“His continual looking out for Harry is significant. But my information is incomplete. I have never heard the secret councils of ‘the Order’. I know what he has done as regards Harry Potter. Can you reconcile that with the theory of him as a dedicated Death Eater?”

“No, I can’t explain that.”

“That much is certain then.” said Sherlock. “But you’d probably better not mention this to our young allies just yet. Their hatred (or at least Harry’s hatred) of him seems deeply entrenched enough that any attempt to defend him would not go over well. They’d either think we were out of our minds, or stop trusting us altogether.”

“Well, of course they hate him. That he was a mean professor would be reason in itself. But he’s also murdered a popular teacher and cut off a boy’s ear.”

“It is worth noting that it wasn’t his head. … Very worth noting. Doesn’t it occur to you John, that cutting off people’s ears is a very awkward and ineffective method of fighting?”

“Well, obviously, he wasn’t aiming for the ear.”

“Obviously. But imagine you’re one of the gangsters, pursuing Order members through the sky on a broomstick…”

“On a what?”

“…and you have in your hand a weapon capable of delivering lethal blasts. Why would you instead switch to a relatively awkward tool like a long distance energy beam slicing weapon? … And to slice a man’s ear off … that would be a vertical stroke …” He was now standing across the corridor from me, making slicing motions in the air with his hands – clearly chopping me to pieces with an imaginary energy sword. “Why a vertical stroke? Wouldn’t a horizontal stroke be more effective? I suppose one could cleave through the skull with such a blow. But the combined width of a man’s head, neck, and torso offer a much better target than the top of a head. You’d use a vertical blow to hit a horizontal target. I suppose we could theorize that Mr. Weasley was flying side-ways, or doing a barrel roll…” He stopped and lifted his arm, and looked at it critically for a minute. Then he smiled.

“So,” I said, “is your final thesis that Snape’s out to destroy Riddle? Or that he’s out to protect Lily’s son?”

Sherlock dropped his arm. “I don’t know. Imagining him as a sort of free-agent, betraying both sides wherever convenient, would cover the facts better than Harry’s own idea. … It is perhaps a possible theory (though the vertical blow is perhaps a strike against it) that he is willing to do whatever seems most politically advantageous to him at the moment (including fight for Riddle) besides killing Lily’s son. Such a position could be imagined. But it is not self-consistent. It could not be long maintained. And if he was so passionate about that woman that he will thwart his very dangerous supposed-boss’s will to protect her son even though he personally detests the boy, it hardly seems likely that he would be wiling to accept her murderer as his boss at all. No. Far more likely Dumbledore was in fact correct. …”

“But not that he could trust Snape.”

“Hmm. It does look that way. He clearly did think he could, sending Harry to fetch him…” Sherlock broke off suddenly. “He sent Harry to fetch Snape.”

This clearly opened up an intriguing train of thought, for Sherlock said nothing more for a while; he just stared into the distance with a concentrated, faraway look in his eyes, as if he too was on the fatal tower-top.

“What if …” he said after a while, “ what if he could? What if…? You know Dumbledore was badly injured? His hand was withered by the horcrux, and Harry tells me that it didn’t heal at all last year – and he was a very old man. And his last words. He didn’t upbraid, or exhort. Didn’t try to talk his way out of it …”

“What did he say?”

“‘Severus … please.’ … According to Harry, they were spoken in a quiet, contained, but unmistakeably beseeching manner. … Harry thought that Dumbledore was pleading for his life, and it wrung his heart to hear it. But if Dumbledore had been certain that very day, that very hour, of Snape’s loyalty, and Snape had not yet made a move against him, why would he have thought that he needed to plead? Shouldn’t he have tried to put on a staged argument for the Death Eaters’ benefit? If cleverly acted by both he and Snape – and I gather that they are, or were, clever men – it might have both cemented Snape’s position as spy, and delayed the situation long enough for them to find an out or be rescued. But he didn’t. Just as he didn’t even bother trying to defend himself from a student. He gave Snape a direct either-or scenario. He obviously knew what that meant for a man in Snape’s position. It’s almost as if he wanted… What if … it’s Dumbledore who owes Snape the apology?”

Before he could elaborate further, there was a panicked sound of slamming doors and rushing feet and Ron and Miss Granger barrelled into the room.

“Where’s Harry?!”

“In Sirius’ room.” said Sherlock. “He found an old letter from his mother.”

The children rushed past us.

“They’re a little hyper about it.” I said.

“They should be.” remarked Sherlock casually. “Their friend is one of the most hunted people in the country at the moment. Dumbledore is dead, the Minister of Magic is dead, the Ministry of Magic answers to Riddle. What could please Riddle more, what could be a greater symbolic victory, than to finally kill ‘The Boy Who Lived’?”

“The what?” I asked.

“Surely you remember the rather sensational story that Harry passed over so briefly last night – How Riddle came to kill him and left half killed himself.”

“Yes, but that was his mother’s doing wasn’t it?”

“Her work yes; however she managed it. It doesn’t seem to have lasted, since Riddle apparently thinks he can kill Harry without injuring himself now. But it captures the imagination, doesn’t it, John? … The old murderer, bloody with a hundred callous butcheries, approaching the cradle – and the child lives while the butcher flees, broken. … It captured the Wizarding world’s imagination anyhow. Hence the name.”

“Did he tell you about it this morning?”

“The name? No. We mostly discussed Professor Snape. I heard it ages ago.”

“And you know it to be he because of his story.”

“Yes. It was quite evident from the first.”

“Sherlock,” I asked, “why, after being so hesitant to bring us here at all last night, were they suddenly so trusting as to set up camp for the night right next to us – in the same room?”

Sherlock seemed to think that this was very amusing.

“Did you actually try walking over there, John?”

“… No.”

“Well, I think you would have found it far more difficult to get over to that corner than appearance would suggest. The words they use may sound merely laughable to us, but their ‘magic’ can be very effective.”

Chapter 5 ~ Following the Threads ~>

This non-commercial, derivative work is an independent production by Charlotte Ann Kent and is not associated with The Doyle Estate, the BBC, Warner Bros, or J.K. Rowling. 

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Severus Snape and James Potter – A Hero and a Jerk?

Warning! Humongous Spoilers! Don’t proceed if you don’t know the story!

It is, I have noticed, not terribly uncommon among the readers of Harry Potter to characterize Severus Snape solely as a hero – on account of his arduous, painful, and extremely important work in defeating Voldemort, and James Potter as merely a lousy, no-good, jerk – on account of his teenage tendency to bully people (especially Snape). I consider this an overly simplistic take on two complex and fascinating characters.

Firstly, if by ‘hero’, you mean someone who was fighting valiantly on the good guys side – who was seeking to bring Voldemort down, taking orders from Dumbledore, working with the Order of the Phoenix, trying to protect Harry Potter, and such things, then James Potter qualifies just as well as Severus Snape. In fact, he qualifies better, since he always was on that side, and Snape switched to the ‘good side’.

Now there is no denying that James Potter truly was a terrible jerk. His teenage behaviour to Severus Snape was inexcusable, there is no question about that. Lily, the woman who was later to become his wife, hated him at the time because of it. His son became sick at the thought of it. His dearest friend, who shared his guilt, could not, as a responsible adult, deny he did wrong. James was cruel, and he was – as Snape so often liked to point out to James’ far more innocent and sensible son – extremely arrogant.

But what was Severus Snape? He was wronged yes, abused yes. But he was no innocent victim. He too behaved badly as a school child. And I am not merely referring to the fact that he was clearly every bit as willing to hex James as James was to hex him. (Severus Snape invented the infamous levicorpus. I can’t help but wonder who its first victim was.) I am referring to the fact that he behaved so badly, or at least sought out the company of people who behaved so badly, that Lily, his best friend, seemed to fear that he was getting mixed up in things worse than even the hated James. “Evil, Sev.” she called it. Neither boy, not James, nor Severus, was innocent.

And then let’s fast forward a few years. Where are James and Severus, themen? Severus Snape, once Lily Evan’s close friend, is now a death eater, fighting and spying for Voldemort. It looks like Lily’s concern was justified. And James? The hated James? That stinker, that incomprehensible jerk? James is married to the Lily who once hated him.


How did this shocking development come about? I think we can rule out right off the bat the terrible solution which occurred to his son in the first pangs of disillusionment. There is no evidence that Lily married him unwillingly. Indeed, from the manner in which the couple was of spoken of by those who knew them, from the little snippets we see of their short time together, I’m going to venture a guess that they were a very happy couple. But the gentle Lily of their school-hood could never have been happy married to the mean James of that time. Therefore, either Lily ceased to care about being nice … or James became a lot nicer. I turn in disdain from the first suggestion. The answer is obvious. There is no evidence for so repulsive a hypothesis, and very much against. So I believe that we are left with the conclusion that James matured into someone Lily could love. Sirius Black did indeed state right out that James’ furious feud with Snape personally did continue in some manner or another right up into the beginning of his relationship with Lily … but Lily wasn’t stupid. I think that the conclusion that James the man was a much better person than James the boy is a sound one.

The available evidence seems to back up this hypothesis. James’ co-partner in boy-hood crime, the wild and reckless Sirius Black, was not a bad man. He was a good man in a flawed and human way. James’ death was clearly deeply grieved by genuinely decent and good hearted people, (Hagrid and McGonagal for instance). And Harry never suspected the dark blot on his father’s boy-hood until he saw it with his own eyes, for it does not seem that his name generally carried that mark. Severus Snape apparently never saw James as anything except the bully of chapter twenty-eight/book 5 and perhaps it would be asking a lot to expect him to. But that did not seem to be the general impression that the adult James left upon everyone else.

Nor even altogether the boy James. I do not here refer to Sirius’ insistence that “lot’s of people are idiots at fifteen … he was a good person …” which seemed too much like an ashamed but affectionate party uncomfortably attempting to defend a beloved but guilty party. No, I refer to something more specific. Snape liked to scoff at it, sneer at it, pretend it was nothing. But Lily and Dumbledore did not scoff. I mean of course the unfortunate instance in which young Sirius so idiotically told Snape how to get into the Whomping Willow passage. Snape insisted to others that James was only saving hisown neck. This was not true. If Snape had been killed by Sirius’ idiocy, Sirius and Remus would probably have been in trouble. But not James, because (for once) he was guiltless. And yet, he risked death at the hands of a friend, to save an enemy. He hated that boy, he was willing to abuse and humiliate him every chance he got … but he was also willing to risk his own life to protect him.

7814ac5ff65a473c96ac5ddf6a08bb0fWait a minute! … Sound familiar? It should, because it could just as easily have applied … to Snape himself. Whatever else he may have been, for good or ill, Severus Snape was a downright stinker. He did not physically abuse his students (it was Hogwarts under Dumbledore), but he never hesitated to insult, humiliate, and inconvenience those he disliked when he had the chance. Now, admittedly, he had excuses. He was a terribly, morbidly unhappy man; living all those years with a broken heart and a bleeding conscience. And he was naturally predisposed to hate Harry Potter, little James look-alike whose birth lead to Lily’s death! But these excuses do not excuse his behaviour. He hated far too much, he hated so much that he never even knew Harry at all, he was forever hating a phantom James which seemed to completely obscure the real boy. And his behaviour to the utterly innocent Neville was without good excuse. However unjust it may be to hate someone for their father and for having been born, it is even more unreasonable to hate them for their date of birth. Yet hate him he did, so much that the thing which thirteen year old Neville found most frightening was his Potions teacher. James, it appears, grew up. All those years later, Severus Snape was still bullying school-boys.

 I should like to take a moment and address a related issue which I have come across from time to time. It has been alleged that Lily Evans did wrong to Snape by noEllie Darcey-Aldent accepting his apology after calling her mudblood. The allegation has some reason behind it. We all should forgive everyone who wrongs us, no matter how badly. But I can’t help but feel that those making the allegation are missing what was actually going on. Snape had been becoming something very bad. He had been consciously and knowingly associating with the death-eater sympathizers, allowing their ideas, words, and goals to become his. Lily tried to stop him, to persuade him to not go down that path. But he went anyway. She stayed by her friend for a long while – probably hoping that he’d eventually grow out of it. Well he didn’t. He let himself slip farther away from her into the death-eater mindset. When he finally called her mudblood, it was not a particular specific injury which could be just put behind them – it was the audible, public expression of what he was allowing himself to become. Yes, he was sorry! Yes, he would have called the words back if he could have. But the problem was that that act was only a symptom. He went and apologized – deeply, sincerely – for the act. But (as I understand it) it wasn’t the individual act that Lily was really so upset about. He was apologizing for the symptom, when what was grieving her was the disease. So she broke ties. And who can blame her? She could not be the close associate of the person he was becoming. Now, we all know that he eventually did turn over that new leaf, make that about-turn that Lily had been so long campaigning for … but it took her death (as a direct result of his actions) to do it.

I think that part of the reason that we are left feeling Snape to be solely a hero, and James merely a jerk, is the backlash factor.

James is Harry Potter’s father … the man who everyone always compares to Harry, who died fighting Voldemort, the dead hero, the unknown but beloved father – who is abruptly revealed to have been a very flawed teen, capable of nastiness which utterly shocks his more kind-hearted son. The whole old image is dashed to pieces. We, and Harry, are horrified not just because of what he was, but because we had expected something so different. In the shock of disillusionment, it is easy to forget that the things we knew before were true too, and instead of recognizing him as a complex, flawed human being, capable of evil as well as of good, we find it easy to just reclassify him into the jerk box.

And Snape? For all of Harry’s schooling, Snape is the jerk. He hates Harry, and quickly teaches Harry to hate him. He is rude. He causes inconvenience whenever possible. He is to be avoided, because he always causes trouble. In fact, Harry’s never even sure whether he’s really trustworthy … whether he’s really a traitor and a spy or not. He hates Harry’s godfather. He hates Harry’s favourite professor. He hates Harry’s dead father. He hates Harry. He hates and hates and hates. Then he murders Dumbledore. That is it. Our mind is set. Snape, the traitor, Snape, the death-eater – how did everyone not see it all along! Then … our mental image is stood on its head. The villain we thought we knew is gone. The man we thought was only hate … is revealed to have been acting, for years, for the sake not of power but love. It is a narrow love, but love; a love for which he gave up his ambitions, worked with those he hated, and laboured long in great danger. We discover that nothing was quite as it seemed. That on that fateful night on top of the tower, it was Snape who was the wronged one; Dumbledore caused his own death, and Snape was the unhappy instrument. That so many of the things we blamed him for were done on Dumbledore’s orders. That his very brutality towards George was an accident perpetrated in an attempt to save a man that we hated him for hating. That he, Severus Snape, was the unknown helper in the forest. That protecting Harry for his mother’s sake, has been his highest priority for sixteen years.


And we are shocked. We see for the first time, his heroism, his staunch bravery, his unwavering dedication to many of the same goals as Harry. And we applaud him. We forget that his faults were real too; that he has honestly and truly been cruel to everyone for years, that his love, while deep and unshakable, is narrow, hemmed in by oceans of hatred, that even in his attempt to do good … he still did much wrong. And in our amazement, we move him out of the traitor category, into the hero category.

‘But Snape was a hero!’ you say. Well, so he was, poor man, and it would be a hard heart that could spare him no sympathy … but he was also a jerk. ‘James was a jerk!’ you continue. Regrettably and undeniably he was … but he was also a hero. My intention is not to vilify Severus Snape and praise James Potter, but to point out that the two of them are not so easily classified as is sometimes done, but are complex and multifaceted characters, with strange similarities an well as differences; both worthy of both praise and blame. Both of them were brave … and both of them were bullies. They both hated unreasonably … and they both loved deeply.

Harry Potter Criticism by Charlotte Ann Kent