Out of everything I wanted to see happen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, from couples finally getting together to Voldemort defeated, there was nothing I wanted to see more than a reconciliation between Severus Snape and Harry Potter. I have firmly believed throughout the entire series that Snape was on the side of good and that he would prove it in the end. Nevertheless, Snape’s relationship with Harry could be described, at best, as rocky. And Harry hated Snape with a passion. I was not sure that the two could ever be reconciled. It seemed that no matter which side Snape proved loyal to, Harry would never forgive him for his wrongs (even if these wrongs were later justified), and that Harry would never have a positive relationship with Snape. In the end, however, after Snape’s death, Harry is reconciled with Snape, although Snape himself may have sought a different kind of reconciliation.
First, it is important to understand the definition of reconciliation. The American Heritage Dictionary defines "reconcile" as “to reestablish a close relationship between; to settle or resolve; to bring (oneself) to accept.” 1 Basically, to be reconciled is to come into relationship with another, to settle one’s differences, or to accept another. I also like to think of it as looking at something from another’s point of view and accepting the way he or she sees things. For the purposes of this essay, reconciliation is not only reestablishing a relationship with another, but also coming to accept that person for who he is. It is looking past the hatred and supposed views into the depths of a person, and coming to new realizations and acceptance. I believe that we see the desire for the first form of reconciliation alongside the second form in the character of Severus Snape.
Now that we have a definition, let us move on to some examples of reconciliation, or rather lack thereof, in the Harry Potter novels. I think that it is safe to say that in the majority of difficult relationships throughout the series, there is an overwhelming lack of reconciliation. For example, the relationship between Snape and Sirius was antagonistic from the time they met on the train as eleven-year-olds, as we see in Snape’s memories in Deathly Hallows,2 until the last time we see the two in a room together over Christmas in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In this specific encounter, one might have killed the other if Harry had not been there and the Weasleys had not quickly entered.3 Readers know that the relationship between Snape and Sirius was strained, if not just plain adversarial, since the first time we see the two together toward the end of the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Snape came close to killing Sirius then and later took great delight in the idea of Sirius facing the Dementor’s kiss. Dumbledore himself settled for only a “lack of open hostility” 4 between the two men. Other examples of broken and damaged relationships include James Potter and Snape; Sirius Black and his family; Peter Pettigrew with Sirius Black and Remus Lupin; Voldemort and Harry, and for that matter, Voldemort and the majority of the Earth’s wizarding population. In many of these cases, one or more of the characters died before reconciliation could be attempted.
While of those associations mentioned Snape and Sirius provide one of the best examples of a relationship that never finds understanding, there is one major instance of true reconciliation in the series. This occurs only pages before the one with which this essay is primarily concerned: Percy Weasley, estranged from his family for nearly three years, reconciles with his parents, brothers, and sister just as the battle of Hogwarts begins in the Deathly Hallows. In light of the negative examples of resolution between characters, a positive example makes an even greater impact. Restored relationships like that of Percy and his family serve to drive home the significance of remorse which can heal even the deepest wounds. It is significant that Percy shows remorse for his actions, even if they were not as heinous as those of others. While some may question the authenticity of Percy’s action, I believe that it is credible and crucial to the series as a whole – in a story where few misunderstandings are worked out, Percy’s return to his family proves that even seriously damaged relationships can indeed be mended.
If so many relationships in the Harry Potter series remain estranged, why is it important for Snape and Harry to find reconciliation? While both parties are at fault in their relationship, most of Harry’s reasons for hating Snape stem from either minor unpleasantness, such as the way Snape treats Harry in potions lessons, or, more seriously, from actions that Harry perceives as wrongdoings on Snape’s part. Three of these occurrences stand out in particular. First, Harry blames Snape for Sirius’s death. While many, myself included, believe that nothing would have kept Sirius from rushing to Harry’s aid in the Department of Mysteries, and therefore, Snape had nothing to do with Sirius’s actions or his death, Harry believes that Snape was, at least partly, to blame for Sirius’s death. Confronting Dumbledore after the battle at the Department of Mysteries, Harry blames Snape for constantly goading Sirius and for failing to teach Harry Occlumency, a failure that leads Harry to the Department of Mysteries in the first place. Even though this hatred is unreasonable, he holds on to it, as evidenced in his first encounter with Snape after the battle: “Snape had emerged from the staircase leading down to his office, and at the sight of him Harry felt a great rush of hatred beyond anything he felt toward Malfoy…. Whatever Dumbledore said, he would never forgive Snape … never.” 5
Then, Harry’s hatred of Snape deepens when he realizes that Snape is the one who delivered a portion of the prophecy to Voldemort that condemned his parents to death. Finally, when Snape kills Dumbledore Harry’s hatred becomes so deep that it seems that reconciliation would be utterly impossible. This act is unforgivable and from that point onward, Harry wants to meet Snape only so that he may kill him. Harry appears incapable of considering Snape’s point of view or the possibility that he may have had a reason for killing Dumbledore beyond what Harry understands.
Snape is not blameless in the relationship. He takes great pleasure in picking on Harry during lessons, giving him numerous, unpleasant detentions, frequently telling Harry of James’s arrogance, and making life just plain miserable for the boy. He is a truly nasty man in many ways. Overall, however, this unpleasantness frequently masks how much Snape consistently looks out for Harry. It is Snape who saves Harry from Quirrell in the first Quidditch match. It is Snape who first defends Harry when Mrs. Norris is Petrified. It is Snape who gives Umbridge fake Veritaserum when she intends to interrogate Harry, aiding not only Harry, but Sirius as well. It is Snape who sounds the alarm when he realizes that Harry has gone to the Department of Mysteries. It is Snape who keeps the other Death Eaters from attacking Harry as they flee following Dumbledore’s death. Finally, it is Snape who leads Harry to Gryffindor’s sword, allowing him to accomplish the task of destroying the Horcruxes.
We can agree that Snape and Harry have a relationship that is at its most positive moments antagonistic and at its worst moments filled with hatred and loathing to the point that Harry desires to kill Snape almost as much, if not more, than he wants to defeat Voldemort. How can two human beings who hate each other on these levels ever find reconciliation? How can they ever see past their enmity and into the depths of the other, to finally accept each other for who they really are? One of them had to take the first step.
In possibly the most moving scene in Deathly Hallows as a whole, Severus Snape takes this step:
[Harry] did not know why he was doing it, why he was approaching the dying man: He did not know what he felt as he saw Snape’s white face, and the fingers trying to staunch the bloody wound at his neck. Harry took off the Invisibility Cloak and looked down upon the man he hated, whose widening black eyes found Harry as he tried to speak. Harry bent over him, and Snape seized the front of his robes pulling him close.
A terrible rasping, gurgling noise issued from Snape’s throat.
“Take … it…. Take … it….”
Something more than blood was leaking from Snape. Silvery blue, neither gas nor liquid, it gushed from his mouth and his ears and his eyes, and Harry knew what it was, but did not know what to do—
A flask, conjured from thin air, was thrust into his shaking hands by Hermione. Harry lifted the silvery substance into it with his wand. When the flask was full to the brim, and Snape looked as though there was no blood left in him, his grip on Harry’s robes slackened.
“Look … at … me….” he whispered.
The green eyes found the black, but after a second, something in the depth of the dark pair seemed to vanish, leaving them fixed, blank, and empty. The hand holding Harry thudded to the floor and Snape moved no more.” 6
When Harry revealed himself, Snape could have simply died. He could have ignored Harry’s presence as the young man stood over him. Instead, under enormous strain, Snape spoke, reached out, grabbed Harry and released memories he had withheld for, in some cases, nearly thirty years. He knew that he would not live to see Harry’s forgiveness, but understood that he must reveal the truth to Harry. Some may say that he did this to clear his name so that when the battle was over, everyone would know the truth and he would not be branded as a Death Eater for eternity, but a man faithful to Dumbledore to the very end. Others may say that he did this to keep his promise to Dumbledore that he would reveal to Harry that Harry must die at the hand of Voldemort for Voldemort to be defeated. To both of these, I respond, why, then, did Severus reveal his history with Lily? Why did he reveal his love for Harry’s mother? Would it not have sufficed to reveal only those memories that cleared his name or the one memory that revealed to Harry what must happen next? Instead, Snape allowed Harry to see his true self, the self that loved Harry’s mother until the moment he died (“Look … at … me”).7 He revealed the lengths to which he had gone in order that he might ensure Harry’s safety.
Another reason for Snape to reveal so much of himself to Harry is to prove his authenticity and sincerity of action. Harry reveres his mother more than anyone else. Even though he doubts his father after seeing Snape’s memory of the incident after the Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L.s,8 he never doubts his mother or her character. I believe that Snape would be aware of these things, especially since many, if not all, of Harry’s doubts about his father stem from Snape’s own comments and memories. Snape knew that his feelings for Lily gave what he was imparting to Harry about his long relationships with both Dumbledore and Voldemort credibility. I also believe that Snape’s memories, simply because they were memories, were credible on their own. Memories, unless they are altered in some way, are truth. Harry knows what a doctored memory looks like, and for that reason, would have trusted what he saw in the Pensieve, even if the memories came from the man he hated.
Was reconciliation with Harry what Snape truly desired? It can be agreed that Snape revealed more than was necessary to Harry to simply pass on the information he promised Dumbledore. He passed on more than was necessary to clear his name. But did Snape do this to be reconciled to Harry or to another?
In the moments leading to Snape’s murder, his concern seems to be for Harry alone. Voldemort controls the conversation and Snape says little. It is what Snape says that I find intriguing. On four occasions during this fatal dialogue Snape beseeches Voldemort to allow him to find Harry Potter and bring him to the Dark Lord. Over and over he asks to go find the boy and bring the boy to Voldemort. Why would he so persistently show this concern and desire to deliver Harry to one who only wanted to kill him? Dumbledore had cautioned Snape that when Voldemort began protecting Nagini in an unusual and unnatural way that it was the time for Harry to know the truth. It seems that in what Snape may have known were his final moments, his top priority was fulfilling his promise to Dumbledore. He would leave Voldemort, seemingly to deliver Harry to him, then find the boy, reveal that he must die at the hand of Voldemort, and then, Snape’s sixteen-year mission would be completed.
But was this Snape’s greatest concern? Voldemort knew that Harry would eventually have enough of seeing those he loved die for him and would come out personally to confront him. Snape himself knew Harry well enough by this point to be aware of his “hero complex.” Why then would Snape make such an effort to ensure that Harry would do what he already knew was the boy’s natural tendency? Why would Snape expend his final energies giving Harry information that he might not have needed? Granted, the key was for Harry to sacrifice himself willingly (as opposed to dying in combat), but I believe that Snape’s motives went deeper than just bringing down Voldemort. The clue lies in Snape’s final action: looking into Lily Potter’s eyes. Severus Snape had no desire for reconciliation with Harry Potter. While Snape had spent his life protecting the boy, he formed his opinion of Harry the moment he saw James Potter in miniature walk into the Great Hall to be sorted and loathed him. Yet, through his commitment to defend Harry, Severus Snape could achieve his one great desire: to be reconciled to the only person he ever loved, Lily Evans Potter.
Snape’s desire to be reconciled to Lily Potter is clear by the memories he chooses to leave with Harry. Rather than giving Harry memories where Snape and Lily are happy together, he shows Harry memories of mistakes he made in their relationship. The first memory shows something that he had planned for what appears to be a long time, but it did not go as expected. He divulges the memory where he reveals to Lily that she is a witch and he is a wizard. As the memory ends, Harry observes: “And Harry, the only one left to observe him, recognized Snape’s bitter disappointment, and understood that Snape had been planning this moment for a while, and that it had all gone wrong….” 9 Snape’s memories continue to reveal his mistakes and errors10 as he sends a branch down on Petunia’s head, convinces Lily to show him the letter that Dumbledore sent Petunia, as he sees her sorted into Gryffindor while he is sorted into Slytherin, Lily questioning his choice of friends. These mistakes lead to the memory of that fateful afternoon following the Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L when Snape calls Lily a Mudblood and her putting an end to their friendship permanently, along with all of his hopes. Snape then shows a memory of himself begging Dumbledore to protect Lily from the consequences of his fatal mistake of revealing the prophecy to Voldemort. He begs for her life, just as I am sure he begged Voldemort to spare her. The memories then show Snape grieving bitterly for Lily and Dumbledore’s proposal that Snape do everything in his power to protect her son, who just happens to have her eyes. Snape sees this opportunity as his chance to do something to reconcile himself to Lily, even if he can only be reconciled in his own heart and mind.
We then come across a memory which shows Snape’s desire to be reconciled to Lily more than any other. This moment takes place as Dumbledore tells Snape that Harry must die:
“I have spied for you and lied for you, put myself in mortal danger for you. Everything was supposed to be to keep Lily Potter’s son safe. Now you tell me you have been raising him like a pig for slaughter—”
“But this is touching, Severus,” said Dumbledore seriously. “Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?”
“For him?” shouted Snape. “Expecto Patronum!”
From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe: She landed on the office floor, bounded once across the office, and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.
“After all this time?”
“Always,” said Snape.11
Snape never cared for Harry, or at least if he did, he never admitted it. (I personally believe Snape never cared for Harry, but one might be able to argue that he did. He certainly did everything in his power on several occasions to protect Harry and to make sure he had the skills he needed to protect himself against the Death Eaters, like his insistence on Occlumency and nonverbal spells.) Snape’s one and only love and motivation was Lily Potter, a woman who scorned him because of the many mistakes he had made and actions she repeatedly warned him against, actions that would eventually lead to his death. Dumbledore suggested to Harry that Snape felt he had a life-debt to James and for that reason, repeatedly saved Harry’s life.12 Snape, from what we know of his character and his feelings toward James Potter, never felt this life-debt. He was only motivated out of love for Lily and his desire to be reconciled to her.
If anyone needs more evidence of this, one can find it in Snape’s final words and action. Snape lovers the world over cannot forget his last words: “Look … at … me.” 13 His final act is to look into Harry’s eyes, the eyes of Harry's mother, the eyes of Lily Potter, the woman Snape had loved since childhood. Delving into the realm of speculation, I imagine that as Snape looked into Harry’s eyes, even though the moment only lasted for a few seconds before he died, he saw Lily. As he looked into her eyes, he might have thought, “Now, I’ve done it. I’ve done everything I can to make it up to you. I’ve lived the last sixteen years protecting your son, all in your name. Now I’ve given him what he needs to face Voldemort, even if it means his death. I’ve kept my promise to Dumbledore. And I did it all for you.” And as he died, I imagine that he felt an immense peace looking into the eyes he loved and in his own heart and mind, finding reconciliation with Lily Potter. He also, in my opinion, found forgiveness from Lily in this moment, even if that forgiveness was only in his own mind as he died. I’m not sure, however, if he ever forgave himself for the things he did to Lily, especially her death. I think that he was more concerned with having peace and reconciliation with her than finding peace with himself. Although Snape never outwardly demonstrated remorse, his dedication to Harry, whom he so loathed, was certainly a sign of penance, which indicated he understood the wrong he had committed. This makes for a very complex situation with Snape, but his is a complex character and I expected nothing less.
Even if Severus Snape never truly sought reconciliation with him, Harry Potter finds reconciliation with Snape in his final moments and in the memories that Snape reveals. One need only read the Deathly Hallows epilogue to discover the proof of this reconciliation. As Harry’s youngest son prepares to board the Hogwarts Express, the boy voices his fears of sorting into Slytherin. Harry's response shows his change of heart regarding Snape: “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.” 14 Harry not only names his second son for the man he once passionately hated, but tells his son that Severus Snape, whom he had once called a coward, much to Snape’s anger, is the bravest man he ever knew. Snape began the process of reconciliation as he breathed his last and the proof of it is in Harry’s son. Harry views Snape on the same level, if not higher, than he views his parents and Dumbledore.
Along with this great acknowledgment, another thing may have led to Harry’s reconciliation with and forgiveness of Snape. Harry had known for years that the only reason he was alive is that his mother was offered the chance to live, but chose to die, giving him a protection that caused the curse to rebound and his life to be spared. Snape’s memories, though perhaps unintentionally, show Harry something that explains why Voldemort gave his mother the chance to live. Voldemort offered to spare Lily because of Snape’s request. Snape reveals to Dumbledore when he comes to beg for Lily’s protection that he begged Voldemort to spare Lily, something that disgusts Dumbledore. Voldemort does offer Lily the opportunity to step aside, something she refuses, leading to Harry being protected and his life spared. Reflecting again on his final conversation with Voldemort, I am convinced that Harry realized that he truly owed his life to Snape. Not only had Snape repeatedly saved his life in the time the two were acquainted, but Snape also set up the circumstances that allowed Harry to live. Despite the irony of Snape originally setting the events in motion that lead to his parents becoming targets of Voldemort, and perhaps because of this, Snape nevertheless brought about events that allowed Harry to live (and very possibly bringing about the defeat of Voldemort, but that is another essay). As much as anything else, if not more, I think that this knowledge about Snape led to Harry being able to forgive him and find reconciliation with him.
More than anything, I wanted to see reconciliation between Harry and Snape. There have been so many missed chances for reconciliation throughout the series that I felt the relationship between Harry and Snape must be made right. I was not disappointed. Snape initiates reconciliation by revealing his true self to Harry as he dies, already knowing and accepting who Harry truly is, a combination of his father’s arrogance and his mother’s kindness and strength. Snape’s true desire, however, was to find reconciliation with Lily and I believe that he found it in his final moments. Harry accepts Snape as he is, a man who, even if he was rather nasty at times, has loved deeply and gone to great and dangerous lengths for the woman he loved by protecting her only son. The proof of this is when Harry gives his son the name Severus, naming him for the bravest man he ever knew. Could this reconciliation have taken place had Snape not died? I am not sure, though I would like to think that it could have happened. In all reality, however, I am not sure that Snape could have humbled himself enough to allow Harry to see things that he had forced Dumbledore to keep secret. I am also not sure that Harry would have accepted them had Snape not been dying. In the end though, the two were reconciled. Harry now counts the man he loathed in the number of brave men and women who have protected him throughout the years, dying in the process, and from whom he draws his strength: Lily and James Potter, Albus Dumbledore, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin, naming Severus Snape the bravest of them all.
1. Dictionary.com, s.v. "reconcile."
2. Rowling, Deathly Hallows, 671–72.
3. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 518–21.
4. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 712.
5. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 851.
6. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 657–58.
7. Ibid., 658.
8. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 650–71.
9. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 665.
10. Ibid, 668–79.
11. Ibid, 687.
12. Harry asks Dumbledore in the last chapter of Sorcerer’s Stone (page 299–300) about Snape’s hatred of his father and himself. Dumbledore answers that Snape felt indebted to James for saving his life and this was something he could not forgive.
13. Rowling, Deathly Hallows, 658.
14. Ibid., 758.Bibliography
Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/reconcile (accessed 24 July 2007).
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1998.
———. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2007.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003.
———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1999.
———. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1998.