The Headmaster Snape Conspiracy
So, here’s a theory for those
who, like me, bemoaned the fact that Snape has never been given a second
chance. In a way, his biggest flaw was to submit to a master, this being
Voldemort. Which then led to him submitting to a second master, Dumbledore, to
redeem himself. Although his actions might have helped Harry, in the end, he
was unable to start over. It is a sad conclusion, indeed: No matter how hard
you try to make up for the damage you caused, you will not be able to start
over. I do not wish to engage in the debate whether he would have chosen death
over life or not – rather, I would like to offer some hope to those who prefer a
kinder, a more gentle world. This is my contribution to the “Snape survived and lived grumpily
ever after” theme.
In order to give Snape an escape hatch, we will have to revisit the final battle in Deathly Hallows. Step by step.
Chapter Thirty: The Sacking of Severus Snape
On their way to alert the other teachers, McGonagall and invisible Harry come across Severus Snape, the official headmaster of Hogwarts. After a fierce fight, Snape takes flight, and his decision is met with irony by McGonagall:
“Our headmaster is taking a short break.”
Now, there is an obvious discrepancy between the title of the chapter, the content, and the comment itself. Snape was not sacked, because it is the Board of Governors and the ministry which hold the power to sack a headmaster. We have been reminded of this fact twice, in book 2 when too many children had been attacked by the basilisk, and in book 5 when Dumbledore was sacked by Fudge. Of course, one may argue that the teachers sacked their boss by resisting his orders. For now, I will let this argument stand as it is. It is worth mentioning, though, that although McGonagall makes important decisions concerning the security of Hogwarts, she is not called headmistress at any point in the chapter, nor is she shown to enter the headmaster’s office, a tell-tale sign of being acknowledged as the official headmistress.
In an interview, Rowling claimed that Snape “abandoned his post”, which contradicts the chapter’s title as well.
Obviously, the title intends to mislead the reader. The teachers’ actions have nothing to do with his desertion. Effectively, they did not sack him, even if their actions led to him fleeing the castle.
The second information that I take away from the chapter and the interview is that Snape has officially been acknowledged by Hogwarts as headmaster. Bear with me, this argument is more amazing than it sounds. Snape had been installed as headmaster in a similar way to Umbridge: He was chosen against the better judgement of the other teachers by the governors/ministry, and both candidates were promoted not with the best interest of the children in mind.
Now, Hogwarts actually is not bound to acknowledge the person chosen by the ministry. Umbridge was denied the post, and due to that, she was unable to enter the headmaster’s office. Yet, it acknowledged Snape: Thus, Hogwarts is able to pick up the intention of the candidate. Snape was accepted and allowed entrance to the office, because he intended to serve the school to the best of his abilities. In order for him to be able to abandon his post, he must have controlled access to the headmaster’s office.
Next, let us remember what happens when Hogwarts is without a headmaster: The office remained closed to everybody, not just Umbridge, when Dumbledore had been sacked. The castle therefore does not distinguish between intention when allowing somebody entrance: Only the headmaster may pass. And when there’s a headmaster, the headmaster controls the admission of guests. Every time that Harry was allowed into the office, either Dumbledore was in the office (thereby letting Harry in without a password) or the headmaster’s password served as proof that the headmaster invited the person.
Let us move ahead to chapter thirty-three: The Prince’s Tale
Harry received Snape’s memories, and in order to watch them, he must gain access to the Pensieve in the headmaster’s office.
The gargoyle then asks Harry:
Do you spot the discrepancy?
If Snape had abandoned his post, there would, in effect, be no headmaster. Therefore, the gargoyle would have to remain silent, because nobody but the new headmaster would be able to enter the office. Snape’s password would have been rendered invalid.
At this point, the office still recognises Snape as the headmaster.
The most logical explanation, of course, is to assume that the castle is unaware of Snape’s death, because it happened in the Shrieking Shack, which is located in Hogsmeade, and despite its connection to the Whomping Willow, it is outside the boundaries of Hogwarts itself. And when Snape failed to return in due time due to his death, he effectively abandoned his post.
But here’s the thing: Rowling offers her words above in a very specific context.
Fan: Was the absence of snapes portrait in the headmaster’s office in the last scene innocent or deliberate
J.K. Rowling: It was deliberate. Snape had effectively abandoned his post before dying, so he had not merited inclusion in these august circles.
If Hogwarts was unable to
recognise the death of the headmaster outside the boundaries of Hogwarts, all
the people who received a portrait must have died in Hogwarts. Which is,
Hogwarts had, according to legend, been built 1000
years ago. According to harrypotterwikia,
there are 23 recognisable portraits in the office (movie version), with eighteen
additional ones. These people would have on average served 24 years. Taking
wizard lifespan into account, this makes sense, especially since some of these
headmasters are known to have served up to 40 years alone. Basically, almost
all of the headmasters in the past 1000 years would have had to have died on
the premises to receive a portrait. Which is incredibly unlikely.
Even if you disregard movie information: In the books, there are enough portraits to cover the walls. They have been described as “rows” of portraits. Let us assume that there are enough portraits in the room for them to debunk the aforementioned theory.
Conclusion: Hogwarts does recognise when a headmaster dies outside the castle.
Which leaves us in an uncomfortable spot: If Hogwarts would have recognised Snape’s death, and Snape had still been headmaster by the time Harry entered the office, then Snape was not dead yet.
Yet Harry claimed he was. And of course, he is the master of death, right? He must know…
Which brings us back to the Shrieking Shack.
Chapter thirty-two: The Elder Wand
Snape is bitten by Nagini, because Voldemort thinks him the master of the Elder Wand. Harry approaches the bleeding man, and he receives the memories Snape is ejecting. Before Harry abandons the man, they lock eyes:
[…] after a second something in the depths of the dark pair seemed to vanish, leaving them blank and empty. The hand holding Harry thudded to the floor, and Snape moved no more.
Seems quite dead to me. But here’s the thing: Harry never checks Snape’s pulse, nor his breathing. For all we know, his eyes have gone starry due to shock, induced by blood loss. Which is… incredibly likely. Since he is bleeding out. And nobody is even attempting to do first aid.
To our knowledge, Snape is still alive, albeit half-way on the other side already. Somehow, Snape survives far enough into this battle for Harry to walk back to the castle and into the headmaster’s office.
Still, there are issues. For instance, we said that Snape did not abandon Hogwarts yet, otherwise the gargoyle would not ask for a password. So… did he abandon Hogwarts by being such an ungrateful bastard as to die before his time?
Even it being a rhetorical question, there is a definitive no as an answer. After all, Dumbledore died before his time, too, ungrateful bastard that he was, leaving everybody in this utter mess, and yet he deserved a portrait. Snape did not.
Here’s the thing: Snape must have abandoned his post after having been left for dead in the Shrieking Shack. Therefore, he must have lived through this gruesome ordeal.
There are two very obvious problems with this one.
- Shock due to blood loss
Since Snape lost control over his extremities due to shock, he is unable to take a potion. Remember?
The hand holding Harry thudded to the floor, and Snape moved no more.
He would have needed somebody’s help to survive. Even if the poison was kicking in slowly, because he was bleeding it out, too, the wound had to be healed. And Nagini’s poison makes healing the wound quite a difficult task, as we have been told in book 5 when she bit Mr. Weasley.
However, I do know of a creature who is able to not only heal deadly wounds, but also the poison of even a Basilisk. Fawkes.
Now, Fawkes has left Hogwarts when Dumbledore died, and he would have no reason to approach Snape. How would he even know to look for him in the Shrieking Shack?
Let us remember what happened in book 2: Fawkes found Harry in the Chamber of Secrets, although it is basically inaccessible and unknown to anybody but the heir of Slytherin. Fawkes’s appearance was blamed on Harry’s loyalty to Dumbledore, and Fawkes acknowledged this act by offering his protection. This teaches us an important lesson. In order for Fawkes to offer his tears, Snape would have to perform an incredible act of loyalty to Dumbledore in the Shrieking Shack.
And he did. Remember when Voldemort preferred to hear himself talk, like any good, old-fashioned villain? He had to first make Snape understand why he had to die, before going for the kill.
“The Elder Wand belongs to the wizard who killed its last owner. You killed Albus Dumbledore. While you have, Severus, the Elder Wand cannot be truly mine.”
And Voldemort even remarks on Snape understanding what this implies:
“Perhaps you already know it? You are a clever man, after all, Severus.”
Snape is aware of the fact that his promise to Dumbledore is about to get him killed. In this moment, he must realise Dumbledore’s original plan: To sacrifice not only himself, but also Severus for the greater good. Dumbledore had planned to have the ownership of the Elder Wand die with him, yet Voldemort would believe Snape to be the master. Once he killed Snape, he would become cocky, giving Harry a chance to strike back. Snape was never supposed to live.
And yet, he remains silent. Sure, revealing his betrayal would have gotten Snape killed as well, but I imagine that it would have been tempting to take revenge on Dumbledore this way. Instead, Snape raises his wand.
Oh, we all know Snape to be no fool. The book never tells us which of the two enemies he prepared to attack. Because it would have told us about his allegiance before the grand reveal: Despite being betrayed by Dumbledore, being sacrificed without his consent, Snape decided to do Dumbledore’s bidding once more.
In Snape’s memories, Dumbledore told him:
“There will come a time when Lord Voldemort will seem to fear for the life of his snake. […] when Lord Voldemort […] keeps it safe beside him, under magical protection.”
In the Shrieking Shack, Snape decided that Nagini had to be killed. He could not do so openly, because she was in a magical cage to protect her from harm. Despite the fact that Snape is a talented wizard, he took too long to protect himself – because he was not even attempting a defensive spell. He was collecting his strength to attack Nagini in her cage.
This is his act of incredible loyalty towards Dumbledore. Snape is brilliant at defending himself – that is what he has been doing all his life. He showcased these particular skills when he disarmed Lockhart in Book 2, when he applied to become teacher for Defense against the Dark Arts, when he protected himself against the onslaught of attacks by McGonagall and the others in chapter thirty-one. Occluding, too, is a defensive technique, and Dumbledore considers it Snape’s strength. His entire existence is shaped by defending himself against bullies, emotions, those that consider him of less worth due to his blood, children’s remarks on teachers… you get the picture. Snape is a master at defending. He would not have failed to defend himself. Instead, he failed to attack in time.
Just like when Fawkes found Harry simply because Harry was loyal to Dumbledore, no matter the consequences, Fawkes appeared in the Shrieking Shack to save the day.
And Snape decided to
disappear. He abandoned Hogwarts whilst still being headmaster, and therefore,
he did not receive a portrait, even after he died sometime in the distinct
Probably when he heard that Harry named a bloody child after him. And Dumbledore, of all people. And weirdly, that child’s sister has the same name as his first crush. And to mock him, the brother is called after the two people he probably despised more than Voldemort.
For all we know, Snape moved to Jamaica, got a brilliant tan, and is the proud owner of a strange book shop in which you are anything but welcome.