It took a while for us all to get a handle on Severus Snape’s character. Ambiguous to the max, here are five times his actions were misunderstood by those around him…
Harry had a close call during his first Quidditch match when his Nimbus Two Thousand started a strange impromptu dance trying to knock him off. Meanwhile, Hermione noticed Professor Snape muttering with his eyes fixed on Gryffindor’s Seeker and, being Hermione, put two and two together. Being well-read on the subject of curses (and every other subject, for that matter), she thought Snape was jinxing the broom and ran to Harry’s rescue with her fiery spell.
What Hermione actually did was distract the real culprit as she sneaked up on Snape. The truth came out when Professor Quirrell admitted to Harry that he’d jinxed the broom and claimed he’d have gotten away with it too if it hadn’t been for those meddling counter-curses. In other words, Snape tried to save Harry’s life, and the only thanks he got was being set on fire. Harsh.
‘Yer not still on abou’ that, are yeh? Look, Snape helped protect the Stone, he’s not about ter steal it.’
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Despite Hagrid’s assurance, Harry, Ron and Hermione couldn’t ignore such suspicious behaviour. Where did Snape sneak off to while that troll was on the rampage? How did he get his leg mauled by Fluffy? Why was he threatening another teacher? It could only mean one thing – Snape was plotting to steal the Philosopher’s Stone and use it to resurrect the Dark Lord!
Once again, the trio had the wrong end of the broomstick. Snape was trying to prevent the Stone from falling into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, he was a distraction from the real threat: nobody suspected Quirrell while his colleague was ‘swooping around like an overgrown bat’. Nonetheless, Voldemort’s plan failed and that particular misunderstanding was cleared up. But if we thought this would put Harry and Snape on better terms, well... we were just plain wrong.
‘He’s got Padfoot at the place where it’s hidden!’
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry’s cryptic warning about the safety of Sirius seemed to fall on selectively deaf ears. But Snape, an Order of the Phoenix member, must have understood the code, right? Say what you will about the Potions master, we can all agree that he was no fool. So why didn’t he heed Harry’s warning?
Did Snape despise Sirius so much that he’d let him be tortured and killed? Of course not, but under no circumstances could they have brought that up in front of Dolores Umbridge. Unbeknown to Harry, Snape made contact once the students left with Umbridge and they ought to have returned to the news that good old Snuffles was safe and sound. Tragically, things didn’t go as planned and Sirius left Grimmauld Place to fight alongside the Order, losing his life in the fray.
Whether it was for ignoring his message or for goading Sirius earlier on, Harry partially blamed Snape for his godfather’s death. Perhaps it was easier than facing the pain of his loss.
In probably the most shocking twist of the series, Snape cast the unforgivable Avada Kedavra curse on Hogwarts’ beloved headmaster. For those who’d questioned Snape’s loyalty, this was the moment that seemed to finally reveal his true colours. You know, killing one of the most beloved wizards of all time and all that.
What nobody understood was that Snape had no choice – nobody, that is, except Dumbledore himself. Aware of his impending death from Marvolo Gaunt’s cursed ring, together with the knowledge that Voldemort had recruited Draco Malfoy as an assassin, Dumbledore prepared Snape for the awful task.
Draco’s future would have been cut abruptly short if he’d failed to commit the murder, or taken a very dark turn had he succeeded. In fulfilling his duty, Snape managed to save a boy’s soul.
So Snape was cruel, biased towards his house, and downright rude to his students: this we can’t deny. Calling poor Hermione an ‘insufferable know-it-all’, for example, was pretty terrible. But once we understood Snape’s true motives, we learnt that there was far more to him – not to mention giving context to his constant contempt for Harry Potter.
As we know now all too well, Harry was all that was left of Lily Potter, Snape’s first and only love. And Lily died so that Harry could live.
To make matters worse, Harry looked and acted just like James Potter – the one who tormented Snape for no good reason, the one who stole Lily’s heart and the one who failed to protect her from Voldemort.
Seeing his spitting image ‘strutting’ around Hogwarts and answering back with that same smart mouth must have been nothing short of infuriating. And yet… No matter how much it tore him apart, Harry was a living reminder of Lily Potter. After all, Harry had ‘her eyes’.
Understanding Snape’s perpetual bind helps us to appreciate his fortitude and courage through many a thankless task. His was a tragic tale of misunderstanding and the truth might have easily died with him. However, Snape’s legacy lived on in Harry’s son, Albus:
‘Albus Severus… you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew.’
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows