The most greatly misunderstood character in the Harry Potter series was Professor Severus Snape. Why he was the way he was towards Harry was kept hidden until the closing of the final book. Snape is an excellent example of authoritarian teacher professionalism, ruse, deep love and passion–quite a lot for one character and it makes him very rich indeed and worthy of being paid attention to.

It appeared to many readers that Snape was “out to get” Harry and to do him harm. Yet, I couldn’t help recalling books I had read about the tradition of ballet training. Instructors tend to be harder on the more promising students to bring out the best which is hidden within them. Snape was not indifferent to Harry and was brutally honest which made him a valuable, yet irritating, teacher.

The daunting task of teaching Harry to let go of all emotion fell upon Snape. Parts of this rich dialogue is as follows:

” ‘Clear your mind, Potter,’ said Snape’s cold voice. ‘Let go of all emotion…’

“But Harry’s anger at Snape continued to pound through his veins like venom. Let go of his anger? He could as easily detach his legs… …

” ‘I told you to empty yourself of emotion!’

” ‘Yeah? Well, I’m finding that hard at the moment,’ Harry snarled.

” ‘Then you will find yourself easy prey for the Dark Lord!’ said Snape savagely. ‘Fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions, who wallow in sad memories and allow themselves to be provoked so easily – weak people, in other words – they stand no chance against his powers! He will penetrate your mind with absurd ease, Potter!”  J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, p. 473

Harry, to prove Snape’s point, wallowed in self-defensive fury: “I am not weak.” We see an echo of Harry’s friend Ron’s weakness of easy provokation when people made fun of him. There is an expression of “pushing people’s buttons”, or “knowing what button to push.” This is the problem Snape is trying to remediate.

We all have tendencies. Ron was anxious to measure up. Harry kept needing to prove himself strong.

Snape had his finger on the pulse of Harry’s weaknesses. Even Hermiony pointed out that Harry’s feeling that he, and he alone, can do the rescuing leaves him vulnerable to being bated. That is exactly what happened. Lord “Thingy” tricked Harry into a dangerous and pointless rescue mission, a mission he would not have gone on if he had emptied his mind as Snape had told him to.

Snape accused Harry of feeling “special” and feeling above heeding other people’s instructions. It was Snape’s brutal honesty about Harry’s flaws that was  going to help save him in the end.

Harry did not see himself above teamwork but if he needed to go it alone, he would. He did have special gifts for a special task. The one big redeeming feature within this book was Harry’s ability to see that he had weaknesses and flaws that needed to be addressed.

Snape was a walking poetic tragedy. If you have not read the series, I will not spoil the ending for you, but it continues to touch me deeply. He successfully hid his emotions to avoid exposing them for other people’s exploitation. In keeping those emotions private he was protecting Harry. He was everything and more of what I suspected him to be.

Janet A. Wiebe