old, calculating and conflicted, Severus Snape is a dark and uncertain presence in the world of Harry Potter. Snape is shaped by the circumstances of his birth: born into a poor family with little love for themselves, and less than none to spare for their son. By virtue of his social status Snape becomes an outcast. He is clumsy in social situations, finds it difficult to make friends, and is an easy target for those with privilege. With little to hold onto, he turns inward, his only company being his mind paired with a deeply rooted fury at the world. Over time, he sharpens his wit and intellect, challenges his creativity with inventions of his own making, and through this gains himself some small form of self-respect. To the hearts of those around him he strikes with fear and envy in the name of the Half-Blood Prince, even while his true identity is shown the worst forms of disrespect. Still, he craves for something more: the friendship, and perhaps more, of a certain witch, the only one who will speak to him, the only one who sees him as an equal. Tragically, his wish comes to naught when he is upstaged by his hubris. But while another might falter at the climax of his self-determined damnation, Snape clutches his best qualities in a death-grip and pushes forward, driven by love.
brasive mannerisms and moral ambiguity do hide a hero inside. An unfortunate childhood shaping his person, Snape is led down a path whose destination is the depths of evil. But though he falls prey to circumstance, he's given the opportunity to raise above.
‘…Tell me, boy, does anything penetrate that thick skull of yours? …’
Chapter 7: The Boggart in the Wardrobe
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Snape embodies the antagonist, carries the qualities of this figure so naturally that he lends himself to the notion of actually being an antagonistic force in Harry Potter's life. The student population of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, with the exception of his own Slytherin House, unanimously dislikes Snape, considering him cruel, biased and a bully. (Ch.5, CoS) Superficially, they are correct: Snape takes any opportunity to put those he has no regard for down, is partisan to the students in his house, and is sarcastic and spiteful in his communications with those he deems lesser folk. Neville Longbottom, a notoriously bumbling klutz, is a constant victim. (Ch.7 ↦ 8, PoA; Ch.12, OotP) Harry Potter's unique status as James Potter's son finds him at the mercy of Snape's spite from the first. (Ch.8, PS/SS) Snape ensures on many an occasion that the Slytherins are treated best, such as when he overbooks the Quidditch pitch for their practice, condemning the Gryffindor team as a result. (Ch.19, OotP) Aside from his special treatment of the Slytherins, Snape shows no kindness, fairness or mercy to anyone.
Further working against Snape's favour is his dark past riddled with an obsession with the Dark Arts, an inclination for pure-blood superiority and an intimate association with one of the darkest wizards of the time. From an early age, Snape is known to have studied and practiced the reviled Dark Arts, evil magic not used by the best of magic-kind and revered by the worst. Coming into Hogwarts in his first year, Snape is said to have had an extent of knowledge about curses that reviled those finishing their final year. (Ch.27, GoF) Under the identity of the Half-Blood Prince, Snape devises processes and creates spells of the darkest nature. (HBP) He keeps his half-blood status a secret from his Slytherin house-mates, and this combined with his mastery of the Dark Arts and cunning nature draw the attentions of a dark group of pure-blood witches and wizards: the Death Eaters. After graduating Hogwarts, Snape joins their midst and serves the Dark Lord Voldemort. Even when later events force him to change sides, a shroud of uncertainty wraps itself about Snape's true loyalties.
Snape's heroic qualities are tied to his memories and revealed as they are. Our understanding of Snape's true nature and motivations are like the slit of light that escapes the door-frame, growing steadily larger as the door swings open. Our eyes and ears and mind are Harry's, and through him as a medium of understanding we discover the truth behind the superficial antagonist.
At first sight, Snape's memories manifest in his treatment of Harry, in his belief that Harry is the same person his father was. Harry reacts as anyone would: with distaste and frustration at the injustice of which he has only a cursory knowledge. In his third year, Harry is offered a greater glimpse into the lit room beyond the door: the trick his father and his friend Sirius Black had played on Snape while they were children, which had almost led to his death. (Ch.14, PoA) Seeing that no harm is done, Harry is outraged at Snape's undying bias and discrimination against him. (Ch.22, PoA)
In his fifth year, Harry is given a more potent piece of evidence to the unfortunate case of his father and his father's friends as bullies of Snape: Snape's "Worst Memory", wherein James Potter publicly humiliates Snape in front of the school. (Ch.28, OotP) Harry's good feelings toward his father suffer, and he surprises himself in realising he has the capacity to feel pity for Snape. (Ch.29, OotP)
At last, the door is swung wide at the end of both the story and Snape's paths. Murdered by Voldemort, Snape's last request of Harry is to take his remaining memories and to give him a final glimpse into his green, green eyes. (Ch.32, DH) Harry dives into Snape's memories and the truth is exposed to light: Snape's love for Harry's own mother, Lily Evans, the regret that struck him of his dark, twisted path ending their friendship, and the remorse he harboured over his incidental involvement in her death had driven him to heroism. (Ch.33, DH) He had been Harry's protector almost since Lily's passing, had been Dumbledore's ally to the end. Tragically, that Snape is a hero and not a villain is revealed only at his death.