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Severus Snape: Profile

"I don't need help from filthy little Mudbloods like her!"
     -- Severus Snape about Lily Evans (OP28)

"Longbottom, at the end of this lesson we will feed a few drops of this potion to your toad and see that happens. Perhaps that will encourage you to do it properly."
     -- Severus Snape (PA7)

"DON'T CALL ME COWARD!"
     -- Severus Snape (HBP28)

Young Severus Snape, by Makani copyright 2004Profile by Lisa Bunker
Severus Snape was a conundrum to all who know him: cruel to his most vulnerable students, yet respected by his colleagues; Dumbledore's confidant, healer and murderer; the only person known to have been both a Death Eater and a member of the Order of the Phoenix.

Severus Snape was the only child of Tobias Snape (a Muggle), and Eileen Prince Snape (a witch). The Snape household on Spinner’s End in an industrial part of northern England was not a happy one. Tobias Snape frequently unleashed his anger on his wife, and Severus, their wizard child, was neglected or worse. When he was about 9 years old, young Severus discovered another magically gifted child at the neighborhood playground, and fell in love with green-eyed Lily Evans’s generous nature and her daring -- and tried to forget that she was a “Mudblood,” a Muggle-born witch.

Severus and Lily attended Hogwarts together from 1971 to 1978, but Severus was sorted into Slytherin andLily was sorted into Gryffindor. Their other classmates included James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Bertha Jorkins and the children of the Death Eaters Avery and Mulciber. Students in other years included Regulus Black and Lucius Malfoy. This was the decade of Lord Voldemort’s first rise to power, and the student body at Hogwarts reflected the turmoil of the larger world. Blood status was fair game for schoolyard taunts and many young students were fascinated by Voldemort’s power and ideas. Snape, who allegedly arrived at Hogwarts knowing more curses than most upperclassmen, was one of these students. At any rate, Lily grew more and more disturbed as her old friend Severus developed friendships with a group of Muggle-hating Slytherins, especially Avery and Mulciber.

Snape and James Potter quickly developed a loathe/loathe relationship, partly because they were both attracted to Lily Evans, partly because James was so strongly against the Dark Arts. James and his best friend Sirius nicknamed Snape "Snivellus," and taunted him about his unkempt appearance. Both boys rarely lost an opportunity to hex one another.

Over the years. Snape spent a lot of time following James and his friends around, trying to find ways to get them expelled. When Snape became too curious about where Lupin went every month, Sirius Black tricked him into entering the passage under the Whomping Willow to find out. He would have been killed by Lupin as werewolf -- or wound up a werewolf himself -- if James Potter hadn't realized what was happening and pulled him back. Far from being thankful, Snape deeply resented being in debt to James.

Snape’s worst memory was of an incident that happened during his fifth year at Hogwarts. The day everyone took their O.W.L.s, James and Sirius snuck up on Severus and humiliated him in front of all the other students. Lily was nearby and stopped James, but Severus, angry and embarrassed, lashed out at Lily and called her the unforgivable -- a Mudblood. He apologized to her later, but she would have none of it. Severus could not have Lily’s friendship and still have his Muggle-hater friends. Lily severed her ties with her childhood friend and married James Potter three years later, but Snape would always love her.

Snape examining his Dark Mark, copyright Bridget Haines.As they reached majority, Snape and many of his Slytherin cohorts became Death Eaters. It is not known to what extent he participated in Voldemort's reign of terror, although he always remained in good standing with Voldemort. On Voldemort's orders, Snape applied for a Hogwarts professorship in the winter or spring of 1980 and while eavesdropping on her interview, overheard part of Trelawney's prophecy regarding "the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord" and passed the part he heard on to his master.

This small act was to be a turning point for Snape: when Snape learned that based upon the prophecy that Voldemort planned to attack the Potters to destroy James and Lily's infant son, he was terrified. Snape went to Dumbledore to warn him of the pending attack and to ask him to keep Lily safe. After the Potters were betrayed Snape was so full of remorse that he offered his complete allegiance to Dumbledore, on the condition that Dumbledore never reveal it to anyone. Snape was to stay undercover as a Death Eater, provide Dumbledore with inside information, and protect Harry at the same time. This was something Snape was ideally suited for: he was such an accomplished Occlumens that even Voldemort could not see his thoughts. As Dumbledore later told Snape, “To give Voldemort what appears to be valuable information while withholding the essentials is a job I would entrust to nobody but you.” (DH33). The downside for Snape was that he would be open to accusations of cowardice, something he became extremely sensitive to.

However, Dumbledore would not need Snape’s spying skills for many years to come; Voldemort’s physical body was destroyed when the Avada Kedavra curse he aimed at one-year-old Harry Potter rebounded on him. His mother Lily’s self-sacrifice seconds before had unexpectedly protected her son. When the Ministry put the Death Eaters on trial after Voldemort’s fall, Dumbledore vouched for Snape’s loyalty and Snape was never imprisoned.

Severus Snape, copyright Galia.For the next 16 years Severus Snape was the Potions Master at Hogwarts and head of Slytherin House, a position of considerable authority and respect. His teaching style was based on intimidation and bullying. He favored students of his own house while actively undermining the efforts of students from Gryffindor. The other professors knew that Snape had been a Death Eater, but all seemed to feel that Dumbledore’s trust was sufficient proof that Snape no longer subscribed to Voldemort’s goals.

When Harry started school, Snape took an instant dislike to this child he had promised to protect. Unfortunately for Harry, he looked just like Snape’s rival James Potter -- with the exception of his mother’s green eyes. Snape was also cruel to Neville Longbottom for no discernable reason except perhaps that he could sense that Neville was afraid of him.

From Harry’s point of view, Snape’s words were often at odds with his behavior. Despite petty harassment, points taken, and detentions given, Snape repeatedly protected Harry from Quirrell, stymied Umbridge's attempt to force Harry to drink Veritaserum, and never took advantage of his innumerable chances to kill him. When Voldemort regained his powers at the end of Harry’s fourth year, Snape was able to satisfy the Dark Lord of his loyalty and reestablish his position among the Death Eaters. His role, as far as Voldemort was concerned, was to use his position at Hogwarts and his membership in the Order of the Phoenix to bring information on Harry and Dumbledore to Voldemort. Only Bellatrix, Voldemort’s most fanatical follower, harbored any doubts that Snape was a true Death Eater.

During Harry's fifth year, Snape tutored Harry in Occlumency at Dumbledore's request, under cover of "Remedial Potions." The lessons went badly and ended abruptly when Snape caught Harry peaking at the memories he had stored in the Pensieve for safekeeping. Harry did not learn close his mind to Voldemort in time, and despite the fact that both of them glimpsed bits of each other's deprived childhoods, neither one seems to have gained any empathy for the other. Harry certainly wasn't the "pampered little prince" that Snape thought him.

Severus Snape, artwork by Riikka Jantti.Disaster struck in the summer of 1996 when Dumbledore began hunting for Voldemort’s Horcruxes and couldn’t resist trying on the cursed Peverell ring. Snape rushed to his aid, but could not permanently contain the damage. Snape estimated that Dumbledore had less than a year to live, but was shocked by the Headmaster’s response. Since Voldemort had plans to kill Dumbledore anyway (using young Draco Malfoy), Dumbledore told Snape to kill him before anyone else could, and thus spare Draco and maintain his cover. Snape saw the necessity and grimly agreed. About that time, a frantic Narcissa and a snarling Bellatrix trapped him into making an Unbreakable Vow to protect Draco and "carry out the deed that the Dark Lord ... ordered Draco to perform." (HBP2). Snape’s role was inescapable. It is Snape who murders Albus Dumbledore, the most powerful wizard of his age, the Headmaster who trusted him and hired him, and Harry's last remaining father figure. Snape escaped with Draco and fled to safety.

Snape had other instructions from Dumbledore, including a double cross that would hopefully protect Harry once he reached his majority and had to leave Privet Drive. It worked, but ‘Mad Eye’ Moody was killed and Snape (flying with the attacking Death Eaters), missed a shot and cursed George’s ear off.

Dumbledore also instructed Snape protect the children at Hogwarts as much as he could once Voldemort took control. Even though Snape was made Headmaster, his was no simple task because Voldemort had placed the Carrows at Hogwarts too. Alecto replaced the murdered Charity Burbage and turned Muggle Studies into a class where Muggle-haters were indoctrinated in Voldemort’s propaganda. Amycus became the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and used it to teach the Dark Arts instead.

Once Snape was ensconced in the Headmaster’s office, he could communicate with Dumbledore in a limited way via his portrait. This was how Snape knew when to get Gryffindor’s sword to Harry in the forest. Snape was told that “it must be taken under conditions of need and valor—and he must not know that you give it!” so he hid the sword in an icy pond and used his doe Patronus to draw Harry to its hiding place. Snape’s tenure as Headmaster ended just before the final battle when McGonagall and Flitwick confronted Snape, and rather than fight them, he escaped by flying out an open window.

Snape flew to Voldemort in the Shrieking Shack where he begged to be allowed to find Harry Potter first. Voldemort did not suspect his motives, but killed him anyway in an erroneous attempt to gain mastery over the Elder Wand.

Severus Snape was a consummate spy and he died a perfect spy’s death: his cover intact, his final briefing delivered, remembering the woman he loved. Harry was able to use Snape’s final intelligence to kill Voldemort once and for all. Harry made sure that the Wizarding world knew the true role of Severus Snape.

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Primary editor: Lisa Waite Bunker. Previous editors: Steve Vander Ark and Michele L. Worley.
Original artwork of Young Severus ©2004 Makani, used by permission.
Original artwork "The Dark Mark" ©2002 Bridget Haines, used by permission.
Original artwork "Tarot: Head of Slytherin" ©2005 Laura Freeman, used by permission.
Original artwork of Severus Snape ©2004 Riikka Jäntti, used by permission.
Original page date 1 January, 2001; Last page update 14 October, 2007.