rom his expert knowledge base to his creative vision in spell-invention to the wisdom of experience he had come to posses, Snape could well have been called adroit. Not merely clever, as his house of Slytherin expected of him, Snape's intellectual attributes extended to his scholarly profession, extreme life experiences, and personal ambitions.
Although certainly possessing the cleverness Slytherins are marked for, Snape bore the attributes of the house of Ravenclaw, as well: a striking intellect, perfected wit, unbounded creativity, and notable wisdom. An attentive student, Snape's success in school and his obsession with the Dark Arts leads him to the creation of his own original spells, which he records in his sixth level Potions textbook under the title of "The Half-Blood Prince". For his Defence Against the Dark Arts OWL in his fifth year, Snape hands in what an omniscient Harry describes as a lengthy parchment filled with scrunched writing. (Ch.28, OotP) The description brings to mind the habits of a particular student of the Hogwarts of the present: Hermione Granger, who is considered the most brilliant student in her year. His speed and expertise saves Dumbledore's life on at least one occasion. (Ch. 23, HBP) Despite his sometimes immaturity, such as when he takes cheap shots at Harry Potter, Snape is prone to experiential insights, such as the following:
‘There is no point apportioning blame,’ said Snape smoothly. ‘ What is done is done.’
Chapter 2: Spinner's End
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The only times he seems to loose his intellectual stature is when overcome by emotion. When trying to explain himself to a furious Lily Evans after the events of his "Worst Memory", Snape succumbs to a rambling of short-circuited sentences punctuated by frustrated silence. (Ch. 33, DH) Likewise, when he meets with Dumbledore following the murder of Lily and her family, Snape is barely able to put two words together. (Ch. 33, DH) Notably, once his task is set and a decision reached, he is able to pull himself together and returns to his usual coherency.
Being of Slytherin House, Snape's cleverness and cunning shone above the rest. Sirius reminisces of Snape's ample possession of these qualities when questioned by Harry and Ron during the Triwizard Tournament. (Ch.27, GoF) His cunning is put to the greatest test when he agrees to act as a double agent on behalf of Dumbledore against Voldemort, noted as one of the most powerful Legilimens in the world. To avoid treachery from coming to light, Snape provides Voldemort with just enough information to keep him convinced, and not enough to seriously implicate those whose side he is really on — in particular Voldemort's arch-nemesis, Harry Potter. Dumbledore himself notes that this task is one he believes best suited to Snape, and indeed ill suited to anyone else. (Ch. 33, DH) Although considered a desertion, his flight from Hogwarts at the onset of the Battle of Hogwarts can be seen as a clever avoidance of both an enemy about to undergo a revelation and an enemy currently only so by mistake. Following his flight, Snape returns to Voldemort's side in a final effort to assert his false allegiance and locate Harry, presumably to act the sentinel and keep him from harm, as Lily would have done. Unfortunately, unrelated circumstance that Snape had thought either forgotten or untraceable compels Voldemort to end his life.
rom an early age, Snape showed an interest in the Dark Arts. Inspired by this interest, he began to experiment with spell-creation; the earliest evidence of this is in the Potions textbook Harry comes into possession of in his sixth year. Harry is impressed by "The Half-Blood Prince"'s handiwork:
... but also the imaginative little jinxes and hexes scribbled in the margins which Harry was sure, judging by the crossings-out and revisions, that the Prince had invented himself.
Chapter 12: Silver and Opals
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
For a while, Harry believes that the Prince must be his father, who had used one of these original spells against Snape in the memory to which Harry had been witness, and compliments the Prince on his teaching skills, ironically in contrast to Snape. (Ch.12, HBP) Later, he discovers the true identity of the Prince. (Ch.28, HBP) This revelation is particularly potent given the favourable reviews Harry lauds upon the Prince and his well-known poor opinion of Snape.
Over the course of his school year, Snape had penned the following spells in his Potions textbook (and this list is, perhaps, only a glimpse at what else Snape invented, seeing as how we are limited to what Harry mentions):
- Toenail-growing hex
- Tongue to roof-of-mouth gluing jinx
- Muffliato (spell): fills the ears with buzzing noise
- Levicorpus (non-verbal spell): levitates bodies
- Sectumsempra (spell): causes great, bleeding gashes in the victim
Somehow, these spells travelled beyond the confines of Snape's textbook and into if not the general student population of the school, then James Potter's clique. Although later James's son fails to use Snape's own spells against him, in Snape's Worst Memory James does succeed. Bullying certainly being a horrible factor, Snape's humiliation is increased at his own creations being used against him, and only two years later do we and Harry discover this final, elucidating affront.
f all the positions Dumbledore could have handed to Snape upon his return to Hogwarts as an instructor — including the position of professor for his beloved Defence Against the Dark Arts class — Dumbledore sets the mantle of Potions Master over Snape's shoulders. Looking strictly at characterisation, this is the best choice: potions are naturally associated with poison, and Snape's character carries dubiously the title of antagonist for the majority of the series. Heading back into the realm of story, Snape, proficient in Potions, is quite suited for the position.
Despite his skill and knowledge on the subject of Potions, Snape resents his position: he wishes instead to be professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts. (Ch.7, PS/SS; Ch.8, PoA) Still, Snape takes pride in his position and in the art. In Harry's second year, Lockhart volunteers to make a potion in Snape's presence; Snape is understandably offended and reminds Lockhart that he is Hogwarts's Potions Master, following which is an awkward moment of silence. (Ch.9, CoS) Following the not-by-the-book advice of "The Half-Blood Prince" leads Harry to top marks in Potions in his sixth year. (Ch.9, HBP) Interest and years of practice, teaching and experimentation allow Snape to grow into the title of Potions Master; only his preference for Defence Against the Dark Arts serves to keep him from completely savouring it.
Superficially, Dumbledore's reasons for giving Snape the position of Potions Master instead of his much wanted job as professor of Defence Against the Dark arts rest on his knowledge of the curse Voldemort placed on the position when Dumbledore, years before, rejected his application for it. Dumbledore needed Snape at Hogwarts, and if he had given Snape the position there was no telling what may have happened to Snape, and a guarantee that his stay at Hogwarts would be compromised come the end of a year of teaching. But Dumbledore's hesitancy may link to the deeper issue of control. Dumbledore, throughout his life, struggled with the pursue of power; Snape gave him every indication that he struggled with the same thing, what with his elevating title of "The Half-Blood Prince" as a youngster, his joining the Death Eaters as an adult, and his obsessive bullying of Harry Potter in his later years. Dumbledore may have feared giving Snape what he wanted — handing him power on a silver platter. Come sixth year, Dumbledore is forced to ignore both of these reasons and instates Snape as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. If circumstances had been different, one can only wonder if Snape's wish would ever have been granted.
s one in a position to impart learning on young subjects, Snape is a bit of a horror. Those not in his house appear to unanimously despite him as a teacher. Snape is strict in his marking and sharp with his criticisms; as someone who strives for excellence, he expects that same drive in his students. Harry, in particular, feels the blunt of this, having to deal no only with his mediocre Potions abilities and Snape's bias towards him.
Deliberately causing mayhem in Snape’s Potions class was about as safe as poking a sleeping dragon in the eye.
Chapter 11: The Duelling Club
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Snape subjects those of his students outside of his House to what can only be described as bullying antics. Neville Longbottom, dismal in Potions, is a frequent victim (Ch.7, PoA); Snape's bullying of him increases in Harry's third year after Snape hears about the Boggart incident. (Ch.8, PoA) Sadly, Snape has fallen prey to that which is often said to occur to those who have been victims of bullying: he has become a bully himself.
Snape's bias for his students in Slytherin House is shown to be superficial. Hermione, as in every class aside from Divination, achieves top marks, and Harry himself receives an "E" — the second highest grade — for his Potions OWL, much to his great surprise (Ch.4, HBP) (and mine: although nothing in the text suggests this, I can't help but think that Harry, with his mediocre Potions grades, might have had a little help from the higher-ups during the grading of his OWL). Although he is certainly a bully, Snape is nonetheless a fair teacher, in the end.
rguably the greatest skill in his position is Snape's Occlumency. Without it, he would not have evaded Voldemort in his role as spy for Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix for the entirety of his post-Death Eater life.
‘Occlumency, Potter. The magical defence of the mind against external penetration. An obscure branch of magic, but a highly useful one.’
Chapter 24: Occlumency
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Under the guise of "remedial Potions", Snape attempts to teach Harry Occlumency. There lessons are unfruitful, as Harry does not try to learn the magic, and the lessons are cut short when he inadvertently views a painful memory of Snape's, sending Snape into a fit of anger. (Ch.28, OotP) Snape believes the lessons to have been foiled from the beginning, because they require the Occlumens to have the utmost control over themselves and Harry is one who would rather lay bare his emotions than hide them. (Ch.28, OotP) Ironically, Snape's loss of control at the abrupt conclusion of their lessons parallels Harry's inability to control himself to perform Occlumency.
The strangeness of Dumbledore's choice of Snape as Harry's Occlumency teacher may lessen given Snape's immeasurable skill in the art. Snape claims that Voldemort is the greatest Legilimens in history (Ch.2, HBP); if Snape is right, he speaks to his own abilities as an Occlumens (we must take note that in this passage he is persuading Bellatrix Lestrange of his innocence through pleads to Voldemort's power, and his claims may, therefore, be exaggerated). Further, if this is the case, Snape is in at least one way more powerful than the Dark Lord. This power is the greatest force that protects Snape from Voldemort's detection of his treason. It likewise sets him up to be the best choice of teacher in the art of Occlumency.
s Harry Potter often felt in Potions class, Snape seemed equipped with the ability to peer into minds. An accomplished Occlumens, Snape also carried the title of Legilimens, though his ability to access the minds of others fell short of his ability to block others from access to his own thoughts.
From as early as Harry's second year, Snape is though to have mind-reading abilities. Some manner of justification can be had before Harry discovers the source of Snape's uncanny perception. In his first year, Harry believes Snape stalking him, and despite his attempts to avoid the hated professor, seems unable to avoid him. (Ch.13, PS/SS) He later finds out Snape had been stalking him to ensure his protection, (Ch.17, PS/SS) but knowing his precise location alludes to Occlumency. In his second year, Harry and Ron are caught sneaking into Hogwarts by Snape, who "somehow" knew to expect them (Ch.5, CoS); here, literacy combined with a copy of the Evening Prophet could have lead Snape to the two children.
Most tenuously I offer the following example, and strictly only as a mind exercise, as without knowing the exact workings of the Legilimency spell we cannot know if this theory is applicable or atrocious.
…there was a particularly tense moment when Ron stubbed his toe only yards from the spot where Snape stood standing guard. Thankfully, Snape sneezed at almost exactly the moment Ron swore.
Chapter 14: Cornelius Fudge
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Originally, in regards to the strength of the Legilimency spell, I found this little passage illuminating. I concluded:
- Snape knew Harry and Ron were there, and ignored them
- Those invisible are untouchable by the spell
- Distractions experienced by the spell-caster — such as sneezing — interrupt the spell
- The spell-caster must be relatively close by
I added that the second point could be countered, as soon after Dumbledore appears to spot Harry and Ron while they are hidden under the Invisibility Cloak.
Later, I realised I had been working under the assumption that the spell could be cast without a specific target in mind. But while Legilimency is not tied to a voiced manifestation, whether or not it requires the target to be known is unknown. However, Snape does later claim that eye contact is one step away from being required when performing Occlumency:
‘It is the ability to extract feelings and memories from another person’s mind (…) Time and space matter, Potter. Eye contact is often essential to Legilimency.’
Severus Snape Chapter 24: Occlumency
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
In retrospect, I wondered if Snape's blunder here could be indicative of his not-quite polished abilities with Legilimency: a preclude to events a few years later when, after plenty of practice on Harry during his Occlumency lessons, Snape fails to use Legilimency against the less experienced and distraught Draco Malfoy.
At the end of my pondering, I decided that I had been looking to far into this passage; that here, in fact, coincidence had prevented Snape from knowing Ron and the others were in his presence, invisible. At best, the above is food for thought.