“When you have seen as much of life as I have, you will not underestimate the power of obsessive love…” - Professor Slughorn1
I want to look at Snape to try and answer this question: Did Snape feel an attraction for Lily and what light might this shed on Snape’s ultimate loyalties? Severus and Lily could have formed a friendship, or perhaps even more. If he did love Lily, he would desire revenge against James for taking her from him, and would stop at nothing to remove all human obstacles that stood between them, including the infant Harry. Before he passed the critical information of the prophecy to Lord Voldemort, Snape could have turned the situation to his own advantage, using it as an opportunity to remove James and have Lily. As we will see, Voldemort’s murder of Lily could quite possibly have guaranteed Snape’s ultimate choice of the Order over the Death Eaters.
Did Snape feel an attraction for Lily?
We know from Slughorn that both Lily and Snape excelled at potions, so, mudblood or not, Severus would undoubtedly hold much respect for her abilities and have something in common with her. As well as her potion’s ability, Lily was a beautiful girl. Even Severus Snape would notice her beauty. We also know from Sirius that James and Lily only started dating in their seventh year. That leaves a two-year window between Snape’s worst memory witnessed by Harry in the Pensieve, and James and Lily getting together. During this time Severus and Lily could have formed a friendship, or perhaps even more. Furthermore, JKR has already stated that James was not Lily’s only admirer: “She was a popular girl.” 2 Also, I believe I’m not the only one who thinks ‘that awful boy’ Petunia overheard telling Lily about the Dementors could be Severus Snape.3
Much is made of Lily’s eyes, and Harry having Lily’s eyes is significant to the Snape/Lily connection. As we have seen, Snape usually manages to control his temper with Sirius, one of his former tormentors, but he completely loses his cool when Harry calls him a coward, as Harry has made him do on many previous occasions: “his face was suddenly demented, inhuman, as though he was in as much pain as the yelping howling dog…” 4 I think Harry’s eyes remind him of some past exchange with Lily: possibly a break up from a dating relationship or their friendship failed. Whichever was the case, Snape didn’t need to actually be with her to fall in love with her. I would guess that Lily (and Harry’s eyes are a living reminder of her) might have made Snape lose control of his emotions.
Snape’s defining characteristics
Now Snape, as we know, does not go through life with his eyes closed. On the evidence of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, he is one of the most talented wizards and easily the most ice-cold and calculating character in the septology. For years has led a double life standing on the edge of a knife between the two most powerful wizards in the world. We know that he is closer and more vital to the Dark Lord than any other, his “favourite, his most trusted advisor.” 5 Snape has two defining characteristics which make him the perfect double agent and enormously useful to both sides. The first is inscrutability as symbolized by his mastery of Occlumency.– So many times his reactions and feelings are unreadable and his thoughts unknowable. For example, “He looked slightly paler than usual, and his cold, black eyes glittered strangely” 6 or the famous twitch as he makes the unbreakable vow with Narcissa.
The second characteristic is sang-froid – cold blood. Snape, at all times, keeps a tight control over his emotions and plays situations expertly. His calm, needling provocation of Sirius into a state of rage in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place (while he himself remains calm) exemplifies this: “They were squaring up to each other, Sirius looking livid, Snape calculating, his eyes darting from Sirius’s wand tip to his face.” 7
We know that Snape is always thinking, always calculating, and as such is very likely to have thought through who might be the potential victims of Voldemort before he passed the critical information of the prophecy to him, and also how he could turn the situation to his own advantage, which seems always to be his primary motivation. Snape is loyal only to himself. Engineering a situation to his personal advantage is in keeping with his character.
I think it is likely that if Snape did love Lily, he would not only greatly desire revenge against James for taking her from him, but would also stop at nothing to remove all human obstacles that stood between them, including the infant Harry. Snape’s love for Lily fed his hatred for James, and meant he would stop at nothing – even arranging the murder of her child – to possess Lily. Lily’s life would be spared in return for Snape giving information of the prophesy to Lord Voldemort.
The Prophecy Connection
Snape first overheard the prophecy when under orders from Voldemort to infiltrate Dumbledore’s inner circle, as he tells Bellatrix: “. . . you know, I presume, that it was on the Dark Lord’s orders that I took up the post?” 8 It is possible that Snape knew what the prophecy meant and whom it would affect, and that he formed a plan to turn it to his own advantage. Snape used the prophecy information ‘unexpectedly’ pointing Voldemort to the Potters.
Snape acting as a double agent for Dumbledore could be a reason the Potters were forewarned that they were marked for death (unless Dumbledore had a second mole within the Death Eaters, which I think unlikely). Snape - even then right in Voldemort’s inner circle - must have known that Wormtail was a fellow Death Eater and a traitor to the Order. He therefore knew that Wormtail would use his ‘friendship’ with James to lead Voldemort to the Potters’ hiding place, if given the opportunity. As we know, this happened when Sirius, unfortunately, made Wormtail their secret keeper as a double bluff.
The upshot of this is that due to his knowledge of Wormtail’s treachery, Snape knew that James and Harry Potter would be attacked and almost certainly killed, whether they had prior warning of Voldemort’s intentions or not. But by providing his apparently life saving warning, he managed to induct himself straight into the Order. Snape therefore used the prophecy information to please both Voldemort and Dumbledore. However, Snape was ultimately hoping to achieve his own endgame of killing James and Harry, thus achieving revenge against James, but most importantly, leaving the way clear to rekindle his relationship with Lily. Snape’s obsessive love for Lily fed his equally obsessive hatred for James, and meant he would stop at nothing – even arranging the murder of her child – to possess Lily.
Voldemort tried to spare Lily, and may have agreed with Snape, before the attack took place, to let her live. Rowling has confirmed that Voldemort would have let Lily live.9 Lily’s James/Harry free life was to be Snape’s reward for good service, and Lord Voldemort always rewards his loyal followers, doesn’t he?
We know Dumbledore was aware of the enmity between James and Snape, as he tells Harry “they did rather detest each other. Not unlike yourself and Mr. Malfoy.” 10 Dumbledore would know that James’s death would not cause Snape too many sleepless nights, and apparent remorse over marking James for death would be a big leap of faith to induct a Death Eater straight into the Order. Snape must have offered Dumbledore some other, more realistic proof of his remorse, and that could have been real feelings – love - for Lily.
I think that Snape may have been present at Godric’s Hollow on the night of the attack, waiting for the smoke to clear, and the chance to move in and comfort Lily. When his plan backfired and Lily died, Snape’s grief in the aftermath of her death would have been deep. And this deep true grief would be proof for Dumbledore that he wanted out of the Death Eaters. Dumbledore’s trust would only have solidified when he witnessed Snape’s emotional state. As Dumbledore tells Harry “You have no idea of the remorse Professor Snape felt when he realized how Lord Voldemort had interpreted the prophecy.” 11
Regardless of Snape’s involvement in the murder plot and continuing status as a Death Eater, Voldemort’s murder of Lily was the one thing I doubt Snape could forgive. It is quite possible that by doing so Lord Voldemort has guaranteed Snape’s ultimate choice will be the Order over the Death Eaters, not out of loyalty to Dumbledore, but again because of Snape’s own motivation: his desire for revenge against the Dark Lord. Rather than loyalty to the Order, I think that this desire for revenge against Voldemort for the death of Lily is the “iron clad reason for trusting Snape.” 12 That meant Dumbledore felt secure enough to place total faith in him.
Snape’s choice will be the key to the series because he has made himself the key member of both the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix, indispensable to both sides to the point where the fate of the war may rest on his ultimate choice. Voldemort’s life began with the obsessive love of Merope Gaunt for Tom Riddle senior; it would be fitting if the obsessive love of Snape for Lily were a major factor in finally ending it. It is an uncomfortable thought, however, that the fate of the wizarding world may hang on the choices of a hugely talented but virtually amoral and completely self-centred man, in many ways, if my theory of his use of the prophecy is correct, he is the ultimate Slytherin; he truly embodies the sorting hat's observation that those cunning folk use any means/to achieve their ends.13
1. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 177.
2. Anelli and Spartz, “TLC/MN interview Part Three.”
3. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 34.
4. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 564.
5. Ibid., 38.
6. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 619.
7. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 459.
8. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 32
9. Anelli and Spartz, “TLC/MN interview Part One.”.
10. Rowling, Philosopher's Stone, 217.
11. Ibid., Half Blood Prince, 513.
12. Ibid., 574.
13. Ibid., Philosopher's Stone, 88.Bibliography
Anelli, Melissa and Emerson Spartz. “The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling: Part One,” The Leaky Cauldron, 16 July 2005 /features/interviews/jkr1.
——— “The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling: Part Three,” The Leaky Cauldron, 16 July 2005 /features/interviews/jkr3.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1998.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.
———. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997.
———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 1999.