Snape's Change of Allegiance
Snape had no misgivings about working for Voldemort at the
time he overheard the prophecy, yet a short time afterwards he changed
sides and turned spy for the Order of the Phoenix. Betrayal of
Voldemort is not a step that could be taken lightly. What caused this
complete change of heart?
It was only once Snape realised how Voldemort interpreted the
prophecy — deciding to pursue James and Lily Potter — that things
changed completely. We can be confident that it was not James's death
that Snape feared since there is overwhelming evidence in the books of
Snape's hatred of James, stemming from their mutual loathing at school.
But if it wasn’t danger to James that motivated Snape’s change of
allegiance, there is only one other person for whom Snape could have
been concerned . . . Snape loved Lily!
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,
after Professor Trelawney has unwittingly revealed that it was Snape
who overheard the prediction about Harry and Voldemort, Dumbledore
explains to Harry how Snape was affected by Voldemort’s interpretation
of the prophecy:
“Professor Snape made a terrible
mistake. He was still in Lord Voldemort's employ on the night he heard
the first half of Professor Trelawney's prophecy. Naturally, he
hastened to tell his master what he had heard, for it concerned his
master most deeply. But he did not know — he had no possible way of
knowing — which boy Voldemort would hunt from then onwards, or that the
parents he would destroy in his murderous quest were people that
Professor Snape knew, that they were your mother and father —
. . .
“You have no idea of the remorse
Professor Snape felt when he realised how Lord Voldemort had
interpreted the prophecy, Harry. I believe it to be the greatest regret
of his life and the reason that he returned . . . .”
This passage makes clear that the only possible explanation
for Snape’s remorse was learning of the identity of the people
concerned in the prophecy. As we know how Snape felt about James, and
that Snape would not likely be sorry to see James die, we must look for
information that might indicate Snape’s feelings for Lily. The canon
(deliberately I am sure) gives us little knowledge of how Snape felt
about Lily, but there are clues here and there.
We know from Professor Slughorn (HBP4) that Lily was a very
bright, vivacious and charming girl. J. K. Rowling is also quoted as
saying of Lily “She was like Ginny, she was a popular girl. She was a
bit of a catch” (TLC, pt. III). So it is not unreasonable to postulate
that Snape might be one of Lily's many admirers. And, as Slughorn says
in HBP9, the power of obsessive love is not to be underestimated.
In the only mention of Snape and Lily together (OP28), Lily is
being sympathetic to Snape as she tries to prevent James taunting him.
Although Snape calls Lily a Mudblood, this may be explained by the
public humiliation he was being subjected to. We all lash out in such
situations and say things we do not mean. Alternatively, Snape may be
concealing his feelings toward Lily from his classmates. At the same
time Lily expresses contempt for James, which may further endear her to
Following his explanation of Snape's mistake Dumbledore
“looked as though he was trying to make up his mind about something. At
last he said, ‘I am sure. I trust Severus Snape completely’” (HBP25).
Dumbledore was clearly considering whether to tell Harry something more
— namely to tell him of Snape’s feelings towards Lily, but decides
against it as the time is not right.
Snape has always loathed Harry, comparing Harry to the hated
James. But Snape’s loathing for Harry could be twofold: Harry not only
looks and acts like his father James, but has his mother's eyes, surely
giving Snape a continual burning reminder both of Lily’s untimely death
and that it was the hated James whom she loved.
Finally, Snape's love of Lily might also explain an intriguing
question I have with the canon. When Voldemort kills Harry’s parents,
James’s death is different from Lily’s. Voldemort was ultimately after
Harry that night in Godric’s Hollow, and both James and Lily were there
to protect their son. One would expect Voldemort to kill both James and
Lily — why then did Lily have a choice while James did not? A possible
answer is that Voldemort gave Lily the choice because he knew of
Snape’s desire for her — that is, Voldemort intended Lily’s life to be
Snape’s reward for the information he had provided on the prophecy.
Further, shortly after the night of the murders, Dumbledore knows
explicitly that it was Lily’s sacrifice that saved Harry, rather than
James’s death. Dumbledore uses this knowledge as the basis for Harry’s
future protection by making Harry’s home where his mother’s blood
dwells. How does Dumbledore know that Lily was given a choice? It seems
probable that Snape, as the only member of the Order of the Phoenix who
ever worked for Voldemort, was the source of this information.
The hypothesis that Snape loved Lily explains both why Snape
would regret his actions when, and only when, he discovers to whom the
prophecy applies, and also why Voldemort offers Lily, but not James,
the choice to live. Further, it is Snape who, on realising the threat
to Lily, informs Dumbledore that the Potters are in danger. Following
Lily’s murder Snape changes his loyalty from Voldemort to Dumbledore,
not because he has renounced the Dark Arts but in a quest for revenge
for the murder of the woman he loved — a very strong motivation for a
change of allegiance.
© 2005 by Cherry
edited by Paula Hall