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(Click the character infographic to download.)
Affiliation: Order of the Phoenix!
Professor: Headmaster of Hogwarts
OK, so we have to admit it – we never would have guessed that Snape would emerge as one of the true heroes of this saga. Severus Snape has kept us wondering all the way through the series: is he a good guy? Is he a traitor? Why does he hate Harry so darn much? And just when we thought we knew any of those answers, Snape goes and proves us wrong. He's the ultimate double agent, and obviously, his disguise had us all fooled. Let's take a look at the two Severus Snapes…
On the outside, Severus Snape has "Death Eater" written all over him. Greasy, ill-tempered, batlike (we hope no one ever has to describe us as "batlike"), and perpetually frowny-faced, Professor Snape really seems to fit the mold of the stereotypical villain. He's also notoriously anti-Harry; even though he doesn't appear to be trying to thwart Harry directly over the course of the previous six books, he certainly dislikes the boy. After killing Dumbledore at the end of Book 6, Snape has us convinced that he's on Voldemort's side for sure. And in the beginning of Book 7, he seems like the worst of the Death Eaters when he blasts off George Weasley's ear. He's a convincing villain, and a seriously amazing double agent.
However, the hidden Severus Snape is much more interesting. So many layers we hardly know where to begin!
We only get to see the true Snape emerge right before he dies (the most tragic thing of all), but what we see in the Pensieve is a man completely different from what we expected, who's a far cry from the melodramatic, brooding stereotypical villain we thought he was. Though Snape has seemed to foster nothing but resentment, bitterness, and flat-out meanness, it turns out he's been motivated by the highest, best, most valuable qualities all along – love and loyalty. It's a huge surprise. Our feelings for Snape turn on a dime, just like Harry's do, as soon as we learn the truth about him; his love for Lily, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt by his doe Patronus, reveals a truly tragic, noble, and self-sacrificing character that we'll admit we never suspected.
Knowing that Snape has been on the Dumbledore's side for all seven of the Harry Potter books reveals him as an extremely brave man and a truly skilled spy. Snape has had to face and deceive the terrifying Lord Voldemort constantly. In fact, Snape is so courageous that Dumbledore implies that maybe he should have been in Gryffindor: "I sometimes thing that we Sort too soon" (33.144).
But we can't forget that Snape was, at one point, a true Death Eater. Though brave now, he once was not. Here's what Rowling has to say about the matter:
Given his time over again [Snape] would not have become a Death Eater, but like many insecure, vulnerable people (like Wormtail) he craved membership of something big and powerful, something impressive. […] He wanted Lily and he wanted Mulciber too. He never really understood Lily's aversion [to Mulicber and the Death Eaters]; he was so blinded by his attraction to the dark side he thought she would find him impressive if he became a real Death Eater. (source)
By the end of Book 7, Snape's character seems to make so much more sense. Learning about his rough family life and the bullying he suffered from in school, we can't help but feel for the guy and forgive him for being a confused, insecure young man. We end Chapter 33 wanting to give him a hug.
But let's take a step back, for a moment. Snape is definitely brave and admirable, but is he a nice guy? In his revealing chapter, "The Prince's Tale," we're totally touched by his unwavering love for Lily. But we can't ignore that fact that he unfairly hates Harry (who's just a kid, no less). The only reason he's been protecting Harry is out of his love for Lily. To put it simply, this is one complicated dude. In one interview, Rowling says, "I like [Snape], but I'd also like to slap him hard" (source). Chuckle. She also comments:
Snape is a complicated man. He's bitter. He's … spiteful. He's a bully. All these things are still true of Snape, even at the end of this book. But was he brave? Yes, immensely. […] Was he capable of love? Very definitely. So he's – he's a very – he was a flawed human being, like all of us.
Harry forgives him – as we know, from the epilogue, Harry – Harry really sees the good in Snape ultimately. I wanted there to be redemption and I wanted there to be forgiveness. And Harry forgives, even knowing that until the end Snape loathed him unjustifiably. it's totally, totally unfair that he loathes him so much […]. (source)
In the end, he's still the greasy, sour-tempered, sarcastic Snape we always knew him to be. Though he isn't really nice, he's completely set apart from someone like Voldemort by his ability to love, and it's his love that redeems him. He might not be someone we'd like to have for a housemate, but if we were waging a war against the Dark side, we'd definitely want him on our side.