Snape is not a magnificent bastard.
The thing is, I can buy Snape’s acting motivation for his treatment of Harry as some sort of deep, deep cover thing… he has to act the part of someone who despises Harry so perfectly because when and if the Dark Lord returns, he needs to be credible as a Death Eater. I could buy it as an act to keep safe the boy of a woman he loved, or even just to keep a boy safe, a child, an innocent, someone who has been placed in his charge as a student.
After all, he did save Harry Potter’s life on multiple occasions in the first book alone.
And the thing is, you could extend this to the rest of his treatment. Neville is the alternate pick for child of the prophecy. Voldemort might have been content to ignore him, but Snape was playing a very long, very deep game with the Death Eaters. And of course if he wants to keep in good standing with the once and future Death Eaters, he the half-blood collaborator has to ingratiate himself at every turn, which means lavishing points and favors on their children and taking away from the children of Voldemort’s enemies whenever he can.
Strangely, very few Snape defenders seem to emphasize this, instead focusing on, “Well, it’s understandable he’d treat Harry that way, when he’s the identical son of the guy who was a bullying dick to him.” And on a basic level, they’re right. I do understand why someone might do that: because they’re a horrible person… or because they lack the discernment and self-control necessary to be in a position of power over children.
I can understand having an instant dislike, a visceral negative reaction, to someone who looks identical to your former bully and romantic rival and is also directly related to him.
I can sympathize with not being able to repress or hide that reaction. I mean, it would take a lot of skill to hide that, to keep it off your face, to keep it out of your voice, to keep it from affecting your actions.
You’d pretty much have to be a paragon of self-control, a master of hiding your true thoughts and feelings. Very few people have that knack, that level of self mastery that would be necessary to put on an act.
…though if I were to think of fictional characters who would be able to pull it off, the first person who springs to mind is Severus Snape, the greatest occlumens in the world.
He can sit at the table with Voldemort… the man who MURDERED his one true llove… while one of his colleagues is being tortured and begging for mercy, he can sit there and watch her murdered without blinking an eye… but he can’t control his reaction to Harry?
The “he couldn’t help it, Harry looks like James” theory kind of depends on the idea that Severus Snape hated James more for marrying Lily than he hated Voldemort for killing her.. that he hated a tween-aged boy who looked a lot like the man who married Lily Evans so much more than he hated the man who murdered her.
So let’s forget the idea that he couldn’t help it and say it was all an act.
Say the persona he adopted for basically his whole adult life was an act.
Say that even though as a boy he was a sneering misanthrope, the sneering misanthrope he grew into was a self-sacrificing act of love designed to protect Harry Potter and ultimately the world from Voldemort.
Aristotle put it this way: we are what we repeatedly do.
You remember that scene in Batman Begins where Bruce Wayne is trying to explain his drunken playboy persona to Rachel, and he says something like, “This isn’t who I am.”, and she says “Deep down you may still be that same great kid you used to be. But it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.”?
Deep down, Snape might have loved Lily Evans and wanted nothing more than to avenge her death and protect the boy who had her eyes. But that’s not who he was. That’s not how he lived his life.
Snape contributed a lot to the cause along the way, but the shape his contribution took and how he carried it out says a lot about the kind of person he actually was.
And his defenders can say, “Yeah, but it worked! He fooled Voldemort! He protected Harry! He got the information to Harry at the end and Voldemort was defeated!”
it’s hindsight bias to say that because the actions they took ended in the Dark Lord’s demise, they must have been necessary. In a world where the rules of magic say that love is basically a force field, I can’t believe there wasn’t another way, a better way, than the one they took. It worked, in the same sense that using a shotgun to amputate an infected toe might work.
Though of course, Dumbledore–the man who put him up to all of this–would agree that it was necessary because it worked.
Remember when Dumbledore basically confessed to Harry that the worst failing of his life had to do with thinking that evil was acceptable if it was for the greater good?
Yeah… this would be another example of that.