As oily, nasty, slimy, and hateful as Snape is, it seemed — at least until Year Six — that he still could be on the side of the Order of the Phoenix.
After the incident with the troll at Halloween during Year One, Filch handed Snape bandages with Harry quietly watching from the door of the room. “Blasted thing,” Snape said. “How are you supposed to keep your eyes on all three heads at once?” If Snape were allied with Voldemort and was attempting to steal the Stone, Snape would not have been broadcasting any evil intentions to recover the Stone to anyone other than a fellow supporter, and there is no evidence to support any claims that Filch is a follower of the Dark Lord.
A source of inner turmoil, Snape’s own actions and words sometimes indicate support for Harry’s well-being. After Mrs. Norris was petrified by the basilisk during Year Two, Snape interrupted Filch’s tirade and uncharacteristically suggested to Albus Dumbledore that “Potter and his friends may have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.” In character, Severus then proceeded to interrogate Harry as to why he was in the vicinity of the attack, with the purpose of having Harry banned from the upcoming Quidditch match.
Later, when Harry returned from his illicit trip to Hogsmeade during Year Three, Snape started in on Harry — not about breaking the rules as might be expected, but berated instead, “Everyone from the Ministry of Magic downward has been trying to keep famous Harry Potter safe from Sirius Black. But famous Harry Potter is a law unto himself. Let the ordinary people worry about his safety. Famous Harry Potter goes where he wants to, with no thought for the consequences.” During an Occlumency lesson in Year Five, Snape was surprisingly much angrier when Harry inadvertently opened his mind to a vision from Voldemort than when Harry reversed the Legilimens spell on Snape and had been able to view Snape’s own pathetic childhood memories.
Dumbledore also believes that Snape is against Voldemort. When Harry recalled Dumbledore’s memory from the Pensieve about Karkaroff revealing the names of Voldemort’s supporters to the Ministry, the Dumbledore within the memory stated, “Severus Snape was indeed a Death Eater. However, he rejoined our side before Lord Voldemort’s downfall and turned spy for us, at great personal risk. He is now no more a Death Eater than I am.” His reasoning remains secret, his response to Harry’s question, “That, Harry, is a matter between Professor Snape and myself.” According to Dumbledore, Snape sabotaged the Occlumency lessons — not because he was supporting Voldemort — but because of his lingering hatred of James Potter, unfortunately and unwittingly making Harry’s mind more and more open to Voldemort.
Voldemort, too, thinks that Snape is against him. When Snape met with Quirrell at the edge of the forest with Harry spying on his broom overhead, Snape ended the conversation by stating, “We’ll have another little chat soon, when you’ve had time to think things over and decided where your loyalties lie.” If Snape was in league with Voldemort, and Voldemort had entrusted Snape with the knowledge that he was living in Quirrell’s turban, the conversation doesn’t make any sense. If Snape was in league with Voldemort, but didn’t know about Voldemort living in Quirrell’s head, Snape could have been trying to convert Quirrel over to the dark side not knowing that he *was* the dark side, but that doesn’t make make sense given the events that eventually transpired. The only logical conclusion is that Snape really was trying to stop Quirrell from stealing the Stone. Because of his “residence” at the time, Voldemort was aware at that point that Snape did not side with him. Also, at the end of Year One, Quirrell said that Snape had administered a countercurse to Quirrell’s efforts to kill Harry during the Quidditch match. And Quirrell stated that Snape had insisted on refereeing the following Quidditch match in order to protect Harry. Both statements are likely to be true as Quirrell/Voldemort planned on killing Harry immediately upon recovery of the Stone and he had no reason to lie.
When Voldemort paused at one of the gaps of missing Death Eaters during his rebirthing at the end of Year Four he stated, “and here we have six missing Death Eaters… three dead in my service. One, too cowardly to return… he will pay. One, who I believe has left me forever… he will be killed, of course… and one, who remains my most faithful servant, and who has already reentered my service.” The faithful servant was Barty Crouch Jr. who was masquerading at Hogwarts as Mad-Eye Moody, the coward was likely Karkaroff, and the one who had left forever was probably Snape.
Snape could still be a spy for the Order. At the end of Year Four, while Dumbledore handed out orders to each of adult wizards, he told Snape, “Severus, you know what I must ask you to do. If you are ready… if you are prepared…” Snape replied, “I am”, and strode off looking “slightly paler than usual” and with his eyes glittering strangely. I speculate that Dumbledore probably wanted Snape to resume his duties as a spy within the Dark Lord’s ranks. By the middle of Year Five, Snape gave evidence of his resumed contact with Death Eaters by asking Sirius, “Did you know that Lucius Malfoy recognized you last time you risked a little jaunt outside?” He likely easily lied his way back into the ranks, saying to Harry in the middle of any Occlumency lesson that “The Dark Lord almost always knows when somebody is lying to him. Only those skilled at Occlumency are able to shut down those feelings and memories that contradict the lie, and so utter falsehoods in his presence without detection.” Professor Lupin acknowledged to Harry that Snape was “a superb Occlumens.” During an Occlumency lesson in Year Five, Snape told Harry that it was not up to Harry “to find out what the Dark Lord is saying to his Death Eaters.” Harry replied, “No, that’s your job, isn’t it?” “Yes, Potter,” Snape said. “That is my job.” High Inquisitor Umbridge angrily retorted to Snape that she expected better of him when he was unable to deliver her a new batch of Veritaserum and that “Lucius Malfoy always speaks most highly of you.”
So, if you accept the premise that Snape could be on the side of the Order of the Phoenix, it might be possible that – if you haven’t read the Half-Blood Prince yet, read no further!! – Snape did not actually kill Dumbledore. Perhaps the “killing” was a setup, that Dumbledore and Snape planned the event ahead of time in order to convince Voldemort to finally come out in the open. After all, most wizards shared Bill Weasley’s sentiments that “Dumbledore was the only one You-Know-Who was ever scared of.” With such a public killing and subsequent high-profile burial ceremony, it could be an elaborate hoax. Even though Snape cast a forbidden curse, it is known that forbidden curses must be meant in order to take full effect. Since it is possible to cast certain spells without speaking, could Snape actually have cast an alternative spell while speaking the forbidden curse as a decoy? Maybe Snape, seeing the desparate situation Dumbledore was in, used the fake curse to deal with the situation at hand (a wandless Dumbledore surrounded by Death Eaters)…
Dumbledore said to Harry at the end of Year Three, “Pettigrew owes his life to you. You have sent Voldemort a deputy who is in your debt… Trust me… the time may come when you will be very glad you saved Pettigrew’s life.” When Bellatrix and Narcissa visited Snape’s home at Spinner’s End and found Pettigrew (Wormtail) with him, perhaps Peter had turned towards the Order. Or just maybe the story is as it appeared, that Snape rejoined Voldemort and killed Dumbledore when the newest Death Eater, Draco Malfoy, failed.
Who knows? For every point I made above in support of the possibility that Snape isn’t as evil as it appears, there is at least one point that can be made in support of the opposite — not to mention the Aveda Kadavra killing curse! It’s only a wishful-thinking theory that will probably be unfortunately disproven during Year Seven.
The epic tale now long over, it seems that I was right on most points, except the remote possibility that Dumbledore was still alive.
Thank you, Joanne, for an unforgettable tour through the fantasy micro-universe you created. The Tolkien of our generation, you walked the fine line with so many intricate details that could have degraded into the riculous but were somehow entirely believable. What a ride!