Books and Writing Essays
Canon discussion / Essays

Snape’s Eyes


Presented at Lumos 2006
Las Vegas, Nevada
29 July 2006[*]

Severus Snape, © Riikka JänttiHow wonderful it is that the second chapter of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is titled “Spinner’s End.” Wonderful, because, if read ironically, it refers not only to a place, but to Severus Snape’s fate, a rubric revealing that the information provided under it is the key to the whole story. Thus, the eponymous teller of tales will meet his destiny in precisely the way the chapter outlines. It is obvious enough who the “spinner” is, since Snape is either spinning Dumbledore or Voldemort. Obvious, too, is his “end”—his fate—since he agrees to kill the headmaster in making an Unbreakable Vow, a step he in fact takes near the end of the book. (As a momentary aside, to which I shall return later, I must apologize to the eternal optimists among you: Dumbledore is good and dead, and Snape did have a hand in killing him.) Yet the title of the chapter is wonderful for another reason. Readers, having followed Harry for nearly three thousand pages know full well that they can’t possibly trust what this character says about himself. This “spinner’s end” is foreshadowed early on, but we as readers, on the basis of the precise information the chapter provides, can’t possibly know for sure toward whom he is spinning, or the reasons behind this particular end. J. K. Rowling has done it again: she sheds new light only to cast new shadows. No character is more doggedly subjected to this treatment than Severus Snape.

But, perhaps, there is a way to judge the actions of Severus Snape? Can we look into his conscience and perceive what lies within? Might we stick to the text of the series, eschewing elaborate suppositions and theories, and give order to textual, formal, literary, and (ultimately) moral evidence in our attempt to fathom the depths of his soul? Perhaps, we should peer into the windows of his soul and discover what Snape’s eyes have to tell us?

I want to argue, today, that Snape’s eyes are central to unraveling the mysteries of the Harry Potter books. How he uses his eyes and what they do raise interesting and troubling questions about his own behavior, as well as about his role in helping or hindering Harry’s struggle with Voldemort. Working from the assumption that Snape has been reading Harry’s mind since he arrived at Hogwarts as a student, I will seek to explain the Potions Master’s behavior toward Harry. Re-interpreting his actions in this light—seeing things with his eyes—answers, in part, why he is cruel and unfair to Harry. Although Snape’s animosity toward Harry is genuine—for reasons only partially explained in the series so far—I believe, some of his behavior masks a hidden concern with Harry’s safety and welfare. As Snape explicitly tells Harry during his fifth year at Hogwarts, “Eye contact is often essential to Legilimency” (OP24/469). (All page numbers refer to the U.K. editions of the books.) In what follows, I shall apply this insight to an analysis of the Potions Master himself.

Rowling’s texts themselves seem to invite just such an approach. Readers are introduced to Snape for the first time at a Welcoming Feast where, following a now-notorious description of him as “a teacher with greasy black hair, a hooked nose and sallow skin,” they learn that “the hook-nosed teacher looked … straight into Harry’s eyes” (PS7/94). They first encounter Snape’s own eyes directly near the beginning of Harry’s first Potions class, in the following passage:

His eyes were black like Hagrid’s, but they had none of Hagrid’s warmth. They were cold and empty and made you think of dark tunnels.


Hardly a welcoming sight. But this juxtaposition with Hagrid is telling, for Hagrid lives openly and largely unselfconsciously. Hagrid’s eyes, too, speak volumes about his character. There is no better contrast to the closed and restrained Potions Master, unless it is Dumbledore. In fact, it also pays dividends to attend to the eyes of still other characters, particularly Dumbledore, whose eyes tend to “twinkle” in moments of great significance, rather than “glitter,” as Snape’s do. Yet, for today at least, these other characters are not my main concern.

If we turn to additional textual evidence, we notice both that Snape uses his eyes for a variety of purposes, and that his eyes also frequently act on their own. Snape, himself, looks, watches, gives a piercing look, catches others’ eyes, can’t see, shoots a look of pure venom, gives a shrewd and calculating look, stares, wears a look, sets his eyes, gives a look of loathing, avoids others’ eyes, glares, eyes others, turns to look, surveys with a look of gloating pleasure, peers, does not look, allows his gaze to linger maliciously, lingers to watch, examines, gazes, or (as he does in his final scene with Harry) closes in and looks down. His eyes, in contrast, make you think, fix, glitter, flash, narrow, wander, flicker, flick, bore into others’, gleam, have a mad glint, alight, glint, meet Harry’s, dart, sweep, fly back, rove, linger, rest on Harry, or meet others’. They sometimes do these things menacingly, dangerously, with malice, malevolently, strangely, unblinkingly, or with loathing in them. They are most often described as black, and the only other adjectives attached to them are cold, empty, fathomless, and dark.

What should we make of this assortment of verbs, adverbs, and adjectives? Whatever his other strengths and virtues, Snape’s eyes are not those of a conventionally nice person. His eyes are likewise stereotypically portrayed as villainous. At times his eyes reveal that he delights in evil. But what might a more systematic analysis of Snape’s eyes and the uses to which he puts them reveal?

By my count, Snape appears in eighty-one scenes in the six books of the Harry Potter series published so far. He is mentioned in numerous others, of course, but I find that what others say about this seemingly most untrustworthy of characters is, itself, often—if not usually—untrustworthy. We just don’t know if the characters are telling us the truth. The scenes that I have identified and tabulated, therefore, are accounts of events directly witnessed by Harry or, in one instance, the report of a near-omniscient narrator. In them, we as readers witness Snape doing something, saying something, or reacting to something. In many respects, assessing Snape’s actions, words, and reactions is no less fraught with uncertainty than assessing what others say about him, because they are almost always related by a focalized narrator providing us with only Harry’s thoughts. But on the basis of these eighty-one scenes, we can hold Snape accountable for his own behavior, at least, even if our understanding of it is inflected by Harry’s own.

In keeping with my current purposes, I’ll limit myself to an interest in only two kinds of Snape’s behavior, as indicated above: what he does with his eyes or what his eyes themselves do. In fifty-two scenes (or sixty-four percent of the time), we witness one or the other type of behavior. He engages in the various kinds of looking mentioned above in thirty-eight scenes, and his eyes do the things listed in thirty-four. There is some important overlap among these scenes, since in twenty of them, we witness both Snape using his eyes and his eyes doing something. I need hardly add that these twenty scenes include some of the most dramatic and significant of the series. Yet, this count leaves twenty-nine scenes (thirty-six percent of the total) in which Snape plays a role without using his eyes in any fashion.

Let me briefly describe what I perceive to be a conspicuous absence in these twenty-nine scenes—no hint of Snape’s eyes—and explain why I think this absence is also significant. Twenty-four of the twenty-nine simply report no real interaction with Harry at all. Sixteen of these are brief descriptions of Snape’s actions: in one, he is too busy to notice Harry; in another, Harry is invisible; in seven of them, Harry simply observes Snape, three times from a considerable distance; and in seven more, Harry simply reads expressions of dislike, hatred, disdain, unpleasantness, rage, disregard, or triumph in Snape’s features. An additional eight of the twenty-four scenes likewise include no interaction with Harry, but they are of a different sort: four tell readers about discussions Snape has with other characters, and four more relate historical events witnessed in Dumbledore’s Pensieve. Five more scenes bring us back to the total of twenty-nine mentioned a moment ago. In these, Snape actually interacts with Harry. In one, he torments Harry while explaining the nature of Harry’s detention, sorting through records of his father’s and godfather’s misdeeds. Three more directly call attention to what Harryperceives as Snape’s ability to read minds. In yet another Snape expressly warns Harry that he will soon know whether Harry is telling the truth only to be interrupted before Occlumency lessons can begin—an observation that leads us back to my main theme, Snape’s eyes.

We are thus left with the fact that when Snape actually interacts with Harry he is extremely likely to use his eyes in some fashion. Somewhat less often, he practices Legilimency with Harry’s full knowledge or, at the very least, leaves the impression that he has the ability to read minds. (Only the scene of detention narrated in Half-Blood Prince counters this expectation.) If we keep in mind Snape’s claims about the relationship between eye contact and Legilimency, it seems reasonable to assume that Snape has been reading Harry’s mind since his arrival at Hogwarts.

Occlumency, © Marta T.This assumption seems warranted for a number of additional reasons. First, Harry himself expressly wonders if Snape can read his mind in passages from The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. Likewise, the focalized narrator of The Half-Blood Prince makes the same point in relating the story of Harry’s bloody and ignoble arrival at Hogwarts: “As though he had read Harry’s mind, however, Snape said, ‘No Cloak. You can walk in so that everyone sees you, which is what you wanted, I’m sure’” (HBP8/154). This passage, of course, leads us to a second reason that we would be justified in our assumption. Readers of the passage, having already read The Order of the Phoenix, in fact, know that Snape is an exceptionally skilled Legilimens. Why should he not have been probing Harry’s mind all along? Third, numerous passages throughout the series describe Snape’s behavior, and that of his eyes, in ways that are exceptionally consistent with his actions during Occlumency lessons with Harry.

Snape’s eyes are most active during the scenes reporting upon these lessons. During Harry’s first lesson, we witness Snapewith “his cold, black eyes fixed unblinkingly upon Harry” (OP24/468). When Harry likens Legilimency to “mind reading,” Snape retorts, “‘You have no subtlety, Potter,’ … his dark eyes glittering” (OP24/468), and then adds: “Eye contact is often essential” (OP24/469). Over the next few pages, Snape“eyed Harry” (OP24/469) and “stared at Harry” (OP24/469). Similarly, in the passage, we find Snape, “watching him closely” (OP24/472), “staring at him” (OP24/474), and “eying Harry intently” (OP24/474). During the second lesson, “Snape’s dark eyes bored into Harry’s” (OP26/520), and Snape and Harry both “stared at each other” (OP26/521). We likewise find Snape’s eyes “narrowing slightly” (OP26/521), “glinting” (OP26/521), and “fixed on Harry’s face” (OP26/521). In the two scenes, we thus find Snape eying intently, staring, and watching closely. His eyes fix, glitter, bore into, narrow, and glint.

Each of these verb phrases, along with a selection of closely synonymous ones, also find their way into scenes in which Snape is likely engaged in Legilimancy, even though the fact of it is not mentioned directly. So, for instance, when in The Order of the Phoenix Harry and members of Dumbledore’s Army find themselves in Dolores Umbridge’s office, after Harry has dreamed of Sirius’s torment by Voldemort, Snape’s “cold, dark eyes were boring into Harry’s” (OP32/656). We later find out, of course, from Dumbledore, that Snape indeed got the message Harry had so eagerly sought to convey.

Similar scenes of likely Legilimency inhabit The Half-Blood Prince. When Slughorn raves about Harry’s skills in Potions, we learn that “Snape looked down his nose at Harry, his black eyes narrowed” (HBP15/299). Informed by Slughorn that Harry’s skills result from natural ability, Snape responds, “‘Really?’ . . . his eyes still boring into Harry, who felt a certain disquiet.” After Harry unwisely uses the Sectumsempra curse on Malfoy, readers encounter the following interchange:

“Apparently I underestimated you, Potter,” [Snape] said quietly. “Who would have thought you knew such Dark Magic? Who taught you that spell?”

. . .

“It was—a library book,” Harry invented wildly. “I can’t remember what it was call—”

“Liar,” said Snape. Harry’s throat went dry. He knew what Snape was going to do and he had never been able to prevent it. . . .

. . . He stared into Snape’s black eyes, hoping against hope that Snape had not seen what he feared, but—

“Bring me your schoolbag,” said Snape softly . . . .


After Harry complies, Snape examines his books. The narrative continues: “The cold, black eyes were boring once more into Harry’s; he tried not to look into them. Close your mind … close your mind … but he had never learned to do it properly …” (HBP24/494). The same lesson, of course, applies to Harry’s earlier encounters with Snape.

Paying close attention to Snape’s eyes leads me to believe that he practices some form of Legilimency or Occlumency no fewer than twenty-one times before Harry’s first lesson in Order of the Phoenix, and at least ten more times once the lessons begin. There is thus very strong textual evidence for the claim that Snape has had a pretty good idea of what Harrywas thinking right from his arrival at Hogwarts. Rowling’s descriptions of how Snape uses his eyes and her continued return to such words as staring, glittering, fixing, narrowing, and boring suggest that something must be afoot. What, then, are the implications of all of this?

As noted earlier, Snape’s eyes raise several interesting and troubling questions about his behavior toward Harry and his role in either helping or hindering him. Close attention to them, however, leads in two quite seemingly contradictory directions, both of which I find wholly consistent with other formal, literary, and moral evidence drawn from the books. First, Snape’s animosity toward Harry is genuine. Second, and somewhat contradictory, Snape is Dumbledore’s man—if not exactly through and through.

Snape’s hatred of Harry can be read in his eyes, and in fact Harry does precisely that on a good number of occasions. I need not belabor the point, since I’ve already run through their characteristics earlier, but Snape’s eyes simply loathe what they see in Harry. Furthermore, and perhaps more interesting, they correctly read the animosity that Harry’s own eyes return. In The Prisoner of Azkaban, for example, “Snape’s eyes were boring into Harry’s,” as the latter told bald-faced lies when confronted with his illegal trip to Hogsmeade. Snape, interestingly, tells the truth in a gloating lecture to Harry, because he knows the truth—having read it, along with hatred—in Harry’s eyes.  Likewise, during double Potions in The Goblet of Fire, “Harry sat there staring at Snape as the lesson began, picturing horrific things happening to him” (GF18/263). By the end of the period, Snape will have his revenge:

“Antidotes!” said Snape, looking around at them all, his cold black eyes glittering unpleasantly. “You should all have prepared your recipes now. I want you to brew them carefully, and then we shall be selecting someone to test one …”

Snape’s eyes met Harry’s, and Harry knew what was coming. Snape was going to poison him. . . .


Rescued by Colin Creevey, coming to get Harry for press photos, Snape resigns himself quickly: “Very well!” said Snape. “Potter—take your bag and get out of my sight” (GF18/264, my italics). A very similar episode takes place a bit later in the story. After embarrassing Harry with a dramatic reading of Rita Skeeter’s article in the Daily Prophet about his love life, Snape watches Harry as he “resumed the mashing of his scarab beetles, imagining each one to have Snape’s face” (GF27/447). Shortly thereafter, Snape picks a fight, accusing Harry of stealing Boomslang skin and Gillyweed, “his fathomless black eyes boring into Harry’s” (GF27/448). Harry protests his innocence. It is striking that in response, Snapechanges the subject, retorting, “You were out of bed the night my office was broken into” (GF27/448). It is mere supposition to theorize that had Harry not returned Snape’s hatred, it might perhaps have abated. Regardless, the texts clearly establish that a reciprocal dynamic of hostility has emerged. Still other passages suggest that Snape baits Harry on the basis of what he reads in the latter’s mind. In some respects, I think it’s reasonable to argue that a part of Snape is hurt when he senses Harry’s hatred. His ill-considered response is usually to lash out, a point to which I shall return briefly in my conclusion.

Further evidence of Snape’s genuine animosity toward Harry and others can be seen in several episodes in which he quite clearly loses control of his thoughts—and his ability to practice Legilimency in the process. Two related episodes, in particular, suggest this conclusion: Sirius’s appearance and escape in The Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry’s selection as aTriwizard Tournament Champion in The Goblet of Fire. In both cases, Snape should be able to recognize the truth of Harry’s claims. Yet, in both he apparently fails to do so. Again, his eyes offer several clues. Upon Snape’s arrival in theShrieking Shack, the narrator reports, “But there was a mad glint in [his] eye that Harry had never seen before. He seemed beyond reason” (PA19/264). Later in the hospital wing, Harry listens as Snape “roared,” “bellowed,” “howled,” and “shrieked.” Readers are also told that Snape should be “reasonable,” that he is “beside himself” and “talking nonsense,” and that he must “control [himself]” and “calm down, man” (PA22/306). Next fall, still smarting from the experience but less out of control, Snape again misses the truth, again indicated in his eyes, when he seeks to explain why Harry’s name has emerged from the Goblet of Fire:

“It’s no one’s fault but Potter’s, Karkaroff,” said Snape softly. His black eyes were alight with malice. “Don’t go blaming Dumbledore for Potter’s determination to break rules. He has been crossing lines ever since he arrived here—”

“Thank you, Severus,” said Dumbledore firmly, and Snape went quiet, though his eyes glinted malevolently through his curtain of greasy black hair.


In these two scenes, either Snape is playing a very complicated game, whose rules are lost upon me, or he simply abandons reason—and Legilimency—because of a genuine animosity toward Sirius and, most certainly, by extension, Harry.

If Snape’s eyes provide ample evidence of my first contention, Snape’s animosity toward Harry is genuine, they also suggest, somewhat to the contrary, Snape is Dumbledore’s man. Turning to the plot for a moment, I might first note that if Snape really can easily access Harry’s thoughts, and if his animosity is real, then he most certainly could make Harry’s life a whole lot more difficult early in the series or deprive him of it entirely later on by simply handing him over to Voldemort. Yet, even more important, Snape never permanently harms Harry or places him in danger beyond what normal Hogwarts students might expect.

Several more episodes, I suggest, offer us insights into Snape’s conscience. I’ll concede that each one, taken individually, proves nothing at all, but when taken together they suggest something important about the possible existence of a hidden concern for Harry’s safety and welfare.

In The Philosopher’s Stone, there can be little doubt that Snape endeavors to protect Harry from real harm. During an early Quidditch match, we learn, “Snape had his eyes fixed on Harry and was muttering non-stop under his breath” (PS11/140). Although this statement is served to readers as a red herring, casting Snape as the villain, its true import is made clear by none other than Professor Quirrell while under the control of Voldemort. Snape acted to save Harry during an attempt on his life.

More ambiguous, but still telling, are several passages found in The Prisoner of Azkaban relating to Snape’s suspicion of Remus Lupin. What first appears as simple animosity toward one of the Marauders of old, I believe, can be interpreted ultimately as genuine suspicion of Lupin—and for a very good reason. Snape’s first encounter with the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher follows:

Professor Snape, the Potions Master, was staring along the staff table at Professor Lupin …. Harry knew that expression only too well; it was the look Snape wore every time he set eyes on Harry.

(PA5/73, my italics)

His next encounter is a bit friendlier, but only a bit. His eyes play a very important role, as he finds Harry in Lupin’s office, having brought the potion he requires to remain mentally stable during his transformations into a werewolf:

[Snape] was carrying a goblet, which was smoking faintly, and stopped at the sight of Harry, his black eyes narrowing.

. . . Snape set the smoking goblet down, his eyes wandering between Harry and Lupin.


Upon being thanked for his efforts, he replies, “‘Not at all,’ … but there was a look in his eye Harry didn’t like” (PA8/117-18). His third contact with Lupin occurs at the Halloween Feast, the night of Sirius’s break-in: “Was [Harry] imagining it, or were Snape’s eyes flickering towards Lupin more often than was natural” (PA8/119). If we’ve been paying attention to Snape’s eyes in these scenes, his concern for Harry should be evident. Snape has been practicing Legilimency upon Lupinin order to determine his intentions, but as the next encounter, following Harry’s ill-advised visit to Hogsmeade, makes clear, Lupin has been successfully using Occulumency against Snape. We do not witness the workings of Snape’s eyes this time, but, remember, earlier in the scene, I’ve established, he has been using Legilimency to probe Harry’s thoughts:

Snape pointed at the parchment, on which the words of Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs were still shining. An odd, closed expression appeared on Lupin’s face.

“Well?” said Snape.

Lupin continued to stare at the map. Harry had the impression that Lupin was doing some very quick thinking.


I see little reason to doubt that Snape sees Lupin as a genuine threat due to his repeated efforts to shield his thoughts from Snape. Lupin may simply have been hiding his growing suspicions about how Sirius was managing to enter Hogwarts, but his use of Occlumency no doubt caused Snape some pause.

Snape himself uses Occlumency against Dolores Umbridge—along with its opposite Legilimency—in The Order of the Phoenix, once in response to her questions about the nature of his appointment at Hogwarts and once in response to her interrogation of Harry. In the first instance, Snape himself is being interrogated in front of his students:

Snape straightened up slowly and turned to look at her.

“Now … how long have you been teaching at Hogwarts?” she asked, her quill poised over her clipboard.

“Fourteen years,” Snape replied. His expression was unfathomable. . . .


As her questions become more pointed, Snape becomes even more guarded: “‘I suppose this is relevant?’ Snape asked, his black eyes narrowed’” (OP17/323-24). In the second instance, Harry frantically blurts out what he hopes Snape has already been able to ascertain through Legilimency, “He’s got Padfoot at the place where it’s hidden” (OP32/657). Umbridge queries both Harry and Snape. Turning to the Potions Master, she asks, “What does this mean, Snape?” In response, “Snape looked round at Harry. His face was inscrutable …. ‘I have no idea,’ said Snape coldly” (OP32/657). In both instances, Snape, if he is true to Dumbledore, protects information central to Harry’s wellbeing.

Still more telling are several additional scenes in which Snape’s eyes play important roles, especially the first, which, I believe, supplies what may be the only unambiguous textual evidence of Snape’s true allegiance: his appearance in Moody’s Foe-Glass. Appearing at the end of the fourth book, which Rowling herself has described as a “pivot,” the episode first relates what Harry sees in the glass, “Albus Dumbledore, Professor Snape and Professor McGonagall looking back at him,” and then conveys a line of text that is most salient to my argument about Snape: “Snape followed Dumbledore, looking into the Foe-Glass, where his own face was still visible, glaring into the room” (GF35/590, my italics). By this time, Snape knows Voldemort has returned, and he probably knows what Dumbledore will ask of him shortly. What best explains his appearance in the Foe-Glass? He must be Dumbledore’s man. If I am correct, this bit of evidence offers us essential guidance in interpreting every scene in which he appears, but especially two additional scenes from The Half-Blood Prince in which Snape’s eyes play a role: “Spinner’s End” and “Flight of the Prince.”

In the first, we again find Snape introduced to us in a familiar way: “a man with long black hair parted in curtains around a sallow face and black eyes” (HBP2/27). Other than peering once through the curtains of his house, rather than his hair, he uses those eyes in five different ways: twice, he looks away from Narcissa Malfoy; once, he looks into her face; once, he avoids looking at Bellatrix Lestrange; and once he fixes his eyes upon Narcissa. When the moment comes to take the Unbreakable Vow, readers encounter the following:

Snape’s expression was blank, unreadable….

Snape did not look at Bellatrix. His black eyes were fixed upon Narcissa’s tear-filled blue ones as she continued to clutch his hand.


The passage is perfectly consistent with Snape’s allegiance to Dumbledore and Harry: he is practicing Occlumency againstBellatrix with his “blank, unreadable” expression and by avoiding her gaze; he might even be practicing Legilimency upon Narcissa. His eyes do not tell us why he has agreed to kill Dumbledore.

The Dark Mark, © Bridget HainesIn the second scene, the “Flight of the Prince,” we find Snape’s eyes mentioned not at all, although his reaction to Harry obviously includes Legilimency, and the taking of one last look at Harry before he escapes: “Snape closed in and looked down on him where he lay, wandless and defenceless as Dumbledore had been (HBP28/563). It is significant that Snape sees Harry “wandless and defenceless.” It is also telling that he takes no further action against Harry except to disarm him and to punish him for a charge of cowardice.

So far I have limited myself to what I have termed textual evidence, but the two scenes from The Half-Blood Prince described above also fit quite well with what we might call the logic of the plot, consistent with my reading of Snape’s conscience and concern for Harry. Nothing within them absolutely precludes Snape’s being in league with Dumbledore. We learn, for instance, from Dumbledore himself, that the headmaster is aware of Snape’s Unbreakable Vow. Is it not possible that Dumbledore has conspired with Snape to arrange his own death in order to achieve a greater good? Doing so would be entirely consistent with his essentially Stoic character, the case for which I made in The Wisdom of Harry Potter[**]. Likewise, is Snape not acting upon Harry’s behalf during his flight from Hogwarts? He attempts to keep Harry at a distance, parries his attacks in fulfillment of Dumbledore’s plan to place an agent in Voldemort’s inner circle, prevents the Death Eaters in his midst from harming Harry, and passes on the opportunity to snatch Harry, the greatest prize of all. Further, I might add, Snape’s genuine rage with Harry is likely the result of the hurt he feels when he becomes the object of Harry’s hatred. If he has, in fact, worked on Harry’s behalf, if he is, in fact, Dumbledore’s man, re-entering Voldemort’s inner circle at the headmaster’s behest, is not an ignorant charge of cowardice the most painful of fates, given the reality of his unparalleled courage?

Although I do not have the time to rehearse the full argument, I could turn to other types of evidence as well in my reading of Severus Snape as both someone with genuine animosity toward Harry and someone who remains true to Dumbledore. In terms of formal evidence, I might point to the similarities between the description of Harry as he pours poison down the throat of his mentor (“hating himself, repulsed by what he was doing” [HBP26/534]), acting expressly on the orders of that mentor, and the description of Snape as he performs Avada Kedavra upon his headmaster of fifteen years (“revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face” [HBP27]), perhaps doing precisely the same kind of thing. In terms of what I might call literary evidence, I could argue that it makes little sense to paint Snape as the villain in the sixth book of the series, only to have him remain the villain in the seventh. Literature just tends not to work that way. Finally, and most important, I might appeal to the moral evidence of the work. Rowling has worked hard to portray Snape as a dislikable, cruel, and troubled individual who nonetheless associates himself with the righteous cause in a work filled with moral ambiguities. Who more so among her characters is over-determined for redemption? Voldemort is too far gone, and Draco Malfoy is too callow and misguided. J. K. Rowling is too good a story-teller not to have seen these possibilities.

In conclusion, I’m willing to concede that if we consider all of Snape’s behavior, ignoring how he uses his eyes and what his eyes do, plausible arguments can be made in favor of either seeing him as a dislikable, but nonetheless loyal, member of the Order of the Phoenix or seeing him as a duplicitous and especially crafty Death Eater. Yet, as I hope I have shown, attention to Snape’s eyes can bring certain plot developments, along with evidence of a more formal, literary, or moral nature, into sharper focus. Remember, “Eye contact is often essential to Legilimency.” If I am right, before the end, Harrywill look into Snape’s eyes and for the first time see the hurt they have concealed, along with a longing for love, and Harry will recognize courage within them and, like Dumbledore before him, offer forgiveness.


[*]Associate Professor of History, Lawrence University.

[**] Kerns, Edmund M. The Wisdom of Harry Potter: What Our Favorite Hero Teaches Us About Moral Choices(Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2003).

© 2006 Edmund M. Kern
edited by Paula Hall

Appendix: Scenes in Which Severus Snape Appears

What follows is a complete list of the scenes in which Severus Snape appears, along with information (key words and phrases) about how he uses his eyes or about how his eyes behave or are described. An asterisk (*) in the first column indicates that the scene has neither Snape using his eyes nor his eyes doing something on their own. The meanings of the terms used in the third column are made clear in the text of the preceding essay. The author invites comments and corrections from interested readers and can be contacted at:[email protected].

Scene (Book) Snape Using his Eyes Snape’s Eyes Doing Something Neither Using his Eyes nor his Eyes Doing Something Special Remarks
Feast (PS7) looked . . . straight into
First Potions Class (PS8) looked, watching blank, cold, empty
Troll (PS10) gave . . . piercing look Legilimency?
Courtyard, Snape Limping (PS11) caught . . . eye Legilimency?
Quidditch (PS11) had eyes fixed
Restricted Section, Invisibility Cloak (PS12) couldn’t see Harry is invisible
Search for Flamel (PS12) * interaction Legilimency?
Quidditch (PS13) * description Snape is too busy
Forbidden Forest, Snape/Quirrell (PS13) * distant no interaction
Before Rescuing the Stone (PS16) * interaction Legilimency?
Feast (PS17) caught Harry’s eye
Whomping Willow (CS5) shot a look “read minds”
Writing on the Wall (CS9) glittering Legilimency?
Mayhem in Potions (CS11) looking right at him Legilimency?
Duelling Club (CS11) looking; shrewd and calculating look Legilimency?
Valentine’s Day (CS13) * description no interaction
Malfoy on Dumbledore’s Absence (CS15) * discussion no interaction
Staff Room, Monster’s Attack (CS16) * description Harry is invisible
Feast (PA5) staring; wore look; set eyes on eyes Legilimency on Lupin- “it was the look Snape wore every time he set his eyes on Harry”
Potions before Boggart (PA7) stared, giving look of loathing glittering, black Legilimency? Emotional?
Staff Room, Boggart (PA7) glittering
Potions after Boggart (PA8) flashed menacingly
Lupin’s Potion (PA8) narrowing, wandering; a look in his eye; black Legilimency on Lupin and Harry?
Great Hall, Halloween, Before Siruius’s Break-in (PA8) flickering Legilimency on Lupin?
Great Hall, After Break-in (PA9) watching Legilimency on Dumbledore?
Snape Taking Lupin’s Class (PA9) glittered; black
Potions Class (PA10) * description no interaction
Christmas, Lunchtime (PA11) * discussion no interaction
In Front of the Secret Passage to Hogsmeade (PA14) flicked; black Legilimency?
Return from Hogsmeade (PA14) boring into Harry’s, flashing dangerously; eyes on Harry; gleamed Legilimency on Harry and Lupin?
Quidditch Final (PA15) * distant no interaction
Potions before Prediction (PA16) watching
Shreiking Shack (PA17) mad glint beyond reason
Hospital Wing (PA21) eyes fixed Legilimency on Dumbledore?
Snape Running to Whomping Willow (PA21) historical no interaction
Taking Sirius, Hermione, Ron, and Harry to Castle (PA21) * historical no interaction
Snape/Fudge Discussing Events (PA22) * discussion no interaction
Learning of Sirius’s Escape (PA22) staring beyond reason
Trying to Fail Harry (PA22) * description dislike
Feast (GF12) * description hatred
Interaction with Moody (GF12) avoiding Moody’s eyes Occlumency on Moody?
Fourth Champion (GF16) alight with malice; glinted malevolently beyond reason
Second Week of Double Potions (GF18) looked coldly glittering, met Harry’s; cold, black Legilimency?
Potions before Yule Ball (GF23) staring nastily
Yule Ball, Snape/Karkaroff (GF23) catching sight
The Egg and the Eye (GF25) stared right at; looking; still staring darting; black Harry is invisible
Potions, Skeeter Article (GF27) watched glittered, boring into, flashed, glittering, sweeping; black, fathomless beyond reason? Legilimency?
Madness of Crouch (GF28) glittering; black beyond reason?
Snape in Dumbledore’s Pensieve (GF30) * historical no interaction
Moody’s Office, Foe-Glass (GF35) looking back; glaring
Hospital Wing, Parting of the Ways (GF36) eying; glaring flew back, glittering strangely; cold, black
Feast (GF37) looked away lingered Occlumency on Harry?
Grimmauld Place (OP4) * distant no interaction
Potions Class (OP staring; looked down at rested on Harry
Potions Grades * description disdain
Neville Attacks Malfoy/Umbridge Visits Potions (OP15) turned to look; looked round swept up, narrowed, met; black Occlumency and Legilimency on Umbridge?
Pre-Quidditch Partisanship (OP19) * description no interaction
Snape/Sirius Trading Barbs before Occlumency (OP24) glaring; looked around; looking darting
Potions before Occlumency (OP24) * description unpleasantness
Occlumency Lessons I (OP24) eyed, stared, glared, watching, staring, eying, glared fixed unblinkingly, glittering; cold, black, dark Legilimency
Occlumency Lessons II (OP26) stared bored, narrowing; glinting with loathing in them; dark, cold Legilimency
Snape’s Worst Memory (OP28) * historical no interaction
Snape’s Worst Memory, Aftermath (OP28) * description rage
Potions, Aftermath Continued (OP29) surveying with a look of gloating pleasure
Potions before OWLs (OP31) * description ignoring
Umbridge’s Office, After Harry’s Dream (OP32) looked back; looked round boring into; cold, dark Legilimency and Occlumency on Harry?
Entrance Hall (OP32) stared Legilimency?
Spinner’s End (HBP2) peered; looked away; still looking away; looking down; did not look fixed upon; black Occlumency on Bellatrix? Legilimency on Narcissa?
After Malfoy’s Attack (HBP8) * interaction “read Harry’s mind”
Snape Victorious (HBP8) * description triumph
First DADA Class (HBP9) gaze lingered maliciously; looked away; lingering to watch roving, lingering; black
Slughorn Raving about Harry’s Potions Skills (HBP15) looked down his nose narrowed, boring into Harry; black Legilimency? Occlumency?
Snape/Malfoy Conversation (HBP15) * discussion Harry is invisible; Legilimency and Occlumency on Malfoy?
Apparition Lessons (HBP18) * description no interaction
DADA Class (HBP21) fixed; black
Sectumsempra, Aftermath I (HBP24) had not seen black Legilimency on Harry?
Sectumsempra, Aftermath II (HBP24) examined boring once more into; cold, black Legilimency on Harry?
Detention (HBP24) * interaction detention
Lightning-Struck Tower (HBP27) gazed swept; black
Flight (HBP28) closed in and looked down



First external Rowling link replaced--it pointed to the apparently now-defunct, so I pointed it towards JKR's archived website bio. I've considered and rejected pointing it to her current website, because I don't like it.

Second external Rowling link replaced with link to Lexicon "The Books" page.

Killed the third link and subsequent links.

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