I pre-ordered my copy of Deathly Hallows, thinking I was being smart because it would be delivered a bit early and I’d get the jump on everyone. I was already planning on staying away from the internet until I’d finished it, for fear of spoilers, and this was six years ago. Can you imagine the spoilers you’d have to avoid if it came out now? Impossible. I can’t even watch a TV show with any sort of delay without being spoiled while innocently scrolling through Facebook.
Because I am me, I somehow missed the delivery, even though I’d been home all morning, practically glued to the window in anticipation. I found a “sorry I missed you” note on the front door from the mailman, stating that he’d left my package in the apartment complex office. I sprinted to the office, but, alas…just as I got there, I saw the leasing agent driving away on a golf cart. My Harry Potter dreams were dashed before my eyes.
I knew where the packages were kept in the office, though, and was not above sneaking in and stealing my book while my roommate stood guard. We went to the pool afterward, the book now in my hands, and I didn’t stop reading until I’d finished it, sometime in the middle of the night, all red eyes and stuffy nose, the tears still drying on my cheeks. And I remember thinking, my heart full of love for this series I’d just finished, “what now?”
I have that feeling each time I finish rereading these books. I immediately want to dive back in, start all over, because I never want there to be a time in my life where I’m not at least partly living inside Hogwarts, hiking down to Hagrid’s for some tea, or studying in the library with Hermione, or watching Ron and Harry play Wizard Chess. Finishing these books for the first time was like saying goodbye to a friend, knowing that, though you’ll see each other again, it’ll never be quite the same. But different doesn’t always mean bad, which is why, I suppose, I keep rereading.
CHAPTER 33: THE PRINCE’S TALE
I’m a very “all or nothing” kind of person. I’m just not good with grey areas. I want things to be one way or the other. It totally throws me when someone changes their mind suddenly, because when someone tells me something, I think it’ll be that way always.
This is not how the world works. And yet…my mind remains, for the most part, unchanged. So to say I was thrown by Snape’s redemption, that’s the understatement of the year. My brain rebelled against it, refused to believe that it could have been so very wrong. JKR said Snape killed Dumbledore! We love Dumbledore! Snape is mean! We hate Snape! That’s how we feel, THERE IS NO CHANGING.
You know how in Pride & Prejudice, Lizzie and Mr. Darcy’s biggest problems with each other are basically summed up thusly?
“No,” said Darcy, “I have made no such pretension. I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe, too little yielding — certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost is lost for ever.”
“That is a failing indeed!” cried Elizabeth. “Implacable resentment is a shade in a character. But you have chosen your fault well. I really cannot laugh at it. You are safe from me.”
“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil — a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.”
“And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody.”
“And yours,” he replied, with a smile, “is willfully to misunderstand them.”
In the matter of Snape and, in fact, many other areas, I’m much more of a Darcy than a Lizzie. My good opinion once lost is lost forever! Did you hear that, Snape? You killed Dumbledore, therefore, you are bad and I hate you. Oh, what’s that you say? You have something to add? I DON’T CARE, I’VE ALREADY DECIDED THAT I HATE YOU.
OK. My diversion has taken a diversion, so let’s bring it back.
Snape is dead and Voldemort has given them an ultimatum: Harry has an hour to get to the Forbidden Forest, or Voldemort will kill everyone who stands in his way. Harry mulls these words over as they head back to the castle, which has gone completely silent, until they get to the Great Hall, where the survivors are gathered, helping the injured and mourning the dead. Among the dead are Fred Weasley, Tonks, and Lupin and I don’t want to be here anymore.
To escape the mourning, and his feelings, Harry flees to Dumbledore’s office, where he pours Snape’s memories into the Pensieve, and those of us who aren’t prone to forgiving and forgetting are about to eat all those nasty words we said about Snape, and feel really, really bad while we do it.
Harry falls first into a memory from pre-Hogwarts Snape. It’s the moment he meets Lily and, as it happens, little Aunt Petunia. Snape sees Lily showing an alternately terrified and curious Petunia a bit of magic. Petunia’s reaction is basically the opposite of Anna’s reaction to Elsa’s powers. Snape calls Lily a witch and the sisters take offense. Later, a friendlier Snape and Lily discuss Hogwarts and magic in general. Lily asks:
“Does it make a difference, being Muggle-born?”
Snape hesitated. His black eyes, eager in the greenish gloom, moved over the pale face, the dark red hair.
“No,” he said. “It doesn’t make any difference.”
Petunia was snooping, of course and, when caught, she insults Snape, so Snape makes a branch fall on her. Do you think this was intentional? Or was this like the time Harry “set” that snake on Dudley? We learn in this chapter that Snape’s childhood home is as miserable as Harry’s was with the Dursleys, but Snape’s angst turned darker than Harry’s, so I’m going with intentional.
Later, Petunia calls Lily a freak as she boards the train for Hogwarts. It turns out Petunia had written a letter to Dumbledore, asking to be let in to Hogwarts, but Dumbledore kindly explained that she couldn’t. It’s not altogether surprising that Petunia’s fear and disdain for wizard-kind stems from childhood jealousy of not being included. Who among us doesn’t still sometimes feel that sting?
On the train, Snape and Lily meet James and Sirius, and there is immediate hatred from all sides. Snape is disappointed when Lily is sorted into Gryffindor alongside his two soon-to-be bullies. The two only grow farther apart, as Snape gets deeper into Dark Magic, hanging out with people Lily despises, and obsessively following the Marauders around, trying to figure out what they’re up to, while berating James to Lily at every chance he gets.
We see again the moment James hoists Snape into the air, and Snape shouts “mudblood” at Lily. This time, however, we see Snape try to apologize and make things right. This, right here, is the end of their friendship, the end of any chance Snape might have ever had with her, though Snape never gives up. Not really. Not even after she dies.
But before that happens, Snape pleads to Dumbledore to save her, as Voldemort now knows the prophecy that Snape overheard, and believes Harry to be the one he must kill. Dumbledore is sickened by Snape’s worry for Lily, without worrying a bit about lives of her husband and child. Snape offers everything to Dumbledore, in return for keeping Lily safe.
Unfortunately, as we know, Lily doesn’t stay safe, and Snape is devastated. He wishes for death, but Dumbledore implores him to stay alive for Lily, to protect her living son, the one with her eyes.
Memories speed by, hidden moments from familiar events. We see how Dumbledore and Snape have protected Harry for all of these years. We see Snape caring for Dumbledore after he tried on the ring that housed a piece of Voldemort’s soul, promising to kill Dumbledore when the time presents itself, to save Draco and to protect Dumbledore from a death far worse than one Severus would provide.
Finally, we learn why the pair have protected Harry so well over the years. Because Harry, poor Harry, is the last of Voldemort’s Horcruxes, and so he must die. Snape is furious, not because he cares for Harry, but because he’s been keeping him alive all this time for Lily, as reparation for causing her death.
Last of all, we see how Dumbledore was instructing Snape even after his death, telling him exactly how to alert the Death Eaters of Harry’s escape from the Dursley house, and how to make sure the sword of Gryffindor makes its way to Harry. And just like that, the memories are over, and Harry is left lying on the floor of Dumbledore’s office, mind racing with all he’s just learned.
Oh, Snape! He did so many good things, though some were against his will, but always in the shadows, and only to make up for the terrible things he did. Does Snape fully redeem himself? He protected Hogwarts at the end, did all Dumbledore asked of him, but he treated most people, especially Harry and his friends, absolutely abysmally. Does his ultimate sacrifice make up for this? Does it excuse Snape’s behavior toward Harry? Sure, Harry is a constant reminder of Snape’s betrayal of Lily, but a stronger man might have looked at Harry as his last connection to her. That wasn’t Snape, though. He fought his good nature. He didn’t want anyone to know he might actually be a good man.
I can’t even nail down my own answers to these questions. Mostly, Snape’s story just makes me really sad. He was a tormented child, abused and bullied, with no real positive role models to pull him out of the darkness. It’s not until he’s lost the love of his life that he even considers becoming a better man. And even when he’s on the side of Good, he’s still a total dick. I don’t know what to think.
This is my own failing, that I strive to see the world in black and white, good or evil, often ignoring that tricksy grey area, the one where Snape proudly reigns, cloak billowing, a sneer on his face, waiting for his dear Lily to appear. Always.