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Harry Potter: Was Snape a Hero?

Updated on August 13, 2015

Was Severus Snape a hero? Or was he not a hero? That is the question, which has been repeated over and over again not only in the Harry Potter fandom but also in the mainstream media. Ever since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out eight years ago this question has sparked heated arguments between those who see Snape as a hero and those who don't. And there seems to be no universally correct answer to this question as even the author herself, Joanne Rowling has come with mixed statements about the matter.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Let's look at how our opinion on Snape changed throughout the books.

The first thing Snape does is take points from Harry for seemingly no reason and attempting to poison Neville's toad, Trevor, which fails, causing him to take points from Hermione for helping Neville with his potion. But he doesn't seem evil. He is just an unfair teacher who shows favoritism to his own house and seems to go out of his way to make sure that Harry doesn't feel special.

Harry does suspect him of wanting to steal the Philosopher's Stone but he turns out to be wrong and it turns out that Snape was trying to save Harry's life.

The Extended Potions Class Scene from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

In the third book Snape is only too willing to lead Sirius to the dementors without allowing anyone to explain anything. He also keeps trying to discredit Harry's and Hermione's explanation in front of the minister of magic and he is only too eager to witness Sirius getting the dementor's kiss. And he taught the students about werewolves when he was filling in for Lupin because he hoped that someone would figure out that he was a werewolf. He asked for an essay specifically about how to recognize a werewolf and he let slip what Lupin was, resulting in the entire school finding out about it, which forced Lupin to quit because he knew the parents wouldn't want him to teach their students anymore.

During Lupin's first class as teacher of defense against the dark arts Snape discourages Neville in front of the entire class and it is also shown that Snape is the thing, which Neville fears the most.

He did however not tamper with the wolfsbane potion he made for Lupin. And he did try to protect Harry and Hermione from Lupin during the full moon, shielding them.

Snape Teaching About Werewolves in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

In the fourth book Harry is the first one Snape suspects of stealing from his stock of potions ingredients due to his use of gillyweed and he threatens to use Veritaserum on him.

He speaks in favor of Harry's story about Voldemort's return, showing the minister the dark mark on his arm, which shows signs of him being summoned.

Snape Accusing Harry of Stealing in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

In the fifth book he teaches Harry (or tries to, more likely) to close his mind and keep Voldemort out. But he kicks Harry out of his office after Harry sees his worst memory in the pensieve. This is when we begin to understand why Snape loathed Harry's father and his friends and why some of that hatred clearly has been transferred to Harry.

Snape also notifies Dumbledore and the order after Harry, in desperation, tells him about Sirius being captive in the ministry. Snape may also have lied to Umbridge when she asked him for veritaserum to use on Harry. He told her that he didn't have any left, which we don't know is true or not. But he seemed to be a loyal part of the order at the time.

Snape Teaching Harry Occlumensy in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

In the second chapter of the sixth book Snape is visited by Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange. After being interrogated by Bellatrix and answering all of her questions with convincing answers, the reader is also convinced that Snape's loyalties lie with Voldemort and that Snape has been deceiving Dumbledore all those years. Even more so when he promises Narcissa to help Draco, making an unbreakable vow. This of course makes the reader more convinced that Harry is onto something when he overhears Snape telling Draco about the promise he made to his mother. And by the time he has Killed Dumbledore the reader is entirely convinced that Snape was evil all along.

Narcissa and Bellatrix Visit Snape in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

That is probably why it changed our view of him after reading the seventh book. Because it was chocking and brilliant of Rowling to do, fooling us like that. Everything finally made sense.

In the beginning of the seventh book Snape is sitting on Voldemort's right side and he joined the battle the night Mad-Eye Moody was killed, and he was the one who is to blame for George losing an ear. Snape becoming headmaster of Hogwarts after the death eaters seized the school only reenforced the reader's belief that he was indeed on the dark side.

But when Harry sees Snape's memories everything changes. We learn that Snape and Lily were best friends in their childhood years and that his parents were always fighting. We learn that Snape killed Dumbledore on Dumbledore's own request because Dumbledore had less than a year to live due to the curse on his hand. We learn that Snape joined Dumbledore and the order after Voldemort killed Lily, whom he was in love with. We learn that Snape protected Harry and remained loyal to the order because of his love for Lily. We learn that everything he did he did to maintain his cover so he could be able to keep spying on Voldemort. Even after his death Dumbledore continued to give Snape orders from his portrait.

But we also learn that Snape had made a deal with Voldemort, allowing him to kill James and Harry if he spared Lily and let him have her, a deal that Voldemort had agreed to. But Voldemort had no choice but to kill her too when she wouldn't step away from Harry.

In the end Snape is killed by Voldemort and pleads Harry to take his memories before drawing his last breath.

He is by Harry referred to as the bravest man he ever knew and his youngest son was named after him so we know that Harry forgave him.

Snape's Memories in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Was He a Hero?

Joanne Rowling herself has stated that she thought of him as a hero, though a very flawed one. But people can never seem to agree on this question.

The argument most fans of Snape use is that all the awful things he did were done in order to maintain his perfect cover and that he had to be mean in order to act like a death eater. Others have argued that he was too mean and that he made the lives of Harry and Neville unnecessarily difficult and that he bullied children and was childish for keeping a grudge against Lupin and Sirius and for transferring his dislike for James Potter over to Harry.

Fans of Snape admired his long-term, seemingly undying love for Lily while others called it a mere unhealthy obsession.

Some say Snape could have tampered with Lupin's wolfsbane potion but he didn't. But if he could then Dumbledore would surely know and the wolfsbane potion was the only thing protecting the students from Lupin during the full moon as it allowed him to stay sane during his transformations so he did it for the students and everyone else. It would also have been too easy to trace it back to him if he had in fact tampered with the potion.

The argument against Snape's status as a hero is that he wasn't really a good guy because he only switched sides for Lily. But Snape did spy on Voldemort for sixteen years, risking his life all the time and he got no credit for it until it was too late. What Snape did for the order was heroic but were his motives true? If he really loved Lily wouldn't he want her to be happy with James and Harry rather than want her to suffer the loss of them? Wouldn't he care for her son, who had her eyes? But if Snape didn't really love her how come his patronus was a doe then?

What do you think?

Was Snape a hero?

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    • B Brian Hill profile image

      B Brian Hill 2 years ago

      Snape is a hero. A brilliant, imperfect hero with a shining soul. I read all of the Harry Potter books to my daughter. It took over two years but I loved every minute!

    • Findecano profile image

      Findecano 2 years ago from Venezuela

      I think in some level it would be justifiable that Snape did the terrible things he did to maintain his cover. But a lot of what you already said, like the unnecessary bullying of children for no apparent reason, transferring the childish grudge he had for James over to Harry, his love for Lily (which can’t be healthy, like, really, you have to accept it; if it was healthy he would not be carrying so much hate inside him), don’t paint a good picture. Now, that wouldn’t be enough to justify he isn’t a hero, being a hero doesn’t necessarily means he has to be nice, and really he wasn’t nice at all, nor did he bathe that much apparently (I’ve always thought he’s too idealized by the fandom, just go and read some fanfics and see some fanart, geez).

      Also one can’t say he wasn’t brave. He gave his life to destroy Voldemort and was instrumental in the endeavor, but he is not a hero. A hero should embody an ideal and fight righteously for a cause higher than himself (like, say, Harry). Snape isn’t that at all. In fact, clearly, the Dark Arts were his passion, he joined Voldemort in his quest for power because of it, no other reason. I think those who say he isn’t a hero because he switched sides only after Lily died are spot on. All of his supposed heroics (like protecting Harry on several occasions) are related to Dumbledore’s plans to ultimately destroy Voldemort. I mean, before Lily got in the way he basically was cool with Voldemort murdering Harry and James if he spared her, what does that tell you? He is a tormented and tragic figure, but not heroic.

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      M L Morgan 2 years ago

      Snape will always be my hero. I had a huge crush on Alan Rickman as a teenager when he played the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood -Prince of Thieves. I got the feeling from watching the Harry Potter movies that he indeed was a hero. :) x

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