The Harry Potter series is full to bursting with characters of all kinds, but perhaps the character with the most surprising, complicated, and tragic storyline is Severus Snape. When we first meet him in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Snape seems like he’s destined to be the villain of the series. Yet, as the books continue, Snape becomes something far more ambiguous — and sympathetic. From his humble beginnings to his sad end, Snape was often a contradiction in terms. On the one hand, he was a villain, a Slytherin, a Death Eater, and Harry’s antagonist.
On the other, he was a hero, a member of the Order of the Phoenix, and filled with regret over his role in the demise of Harry’s mother. All of these descriptions are accurate, and Snape’s imperfect humanity and redemptive story arc make him a fascinating character.
In fact, there’s so much to Snape’s story that a substantial part of it happened well before the events depicted in the books. It’s only in flashbacks and stories peppered throughout the seven books that readers learn about the forces that shaped Snape, the mistakes he made, and the ways he attempted to make up for them. In the process, Snape's loyalties and motivations are revealed. Given his complex and winding story, it’s no surprise that fans still disagree about Snape’s true nature, with Pottermore pointing to him as perhaps the most divisive character in the series. Here, we explore Snape’s actions before readers met him as Hogwarts stern Potions Master.
Here are 20 Things Severus Snape Did Before The Harry Potter Books
20 ADAPTED TO HIS POOR UPBRINGING
Before leaving home to attend school at Hogwarts, Snape lived in a small town called Spinner’s End. His family was poor and it’s implied that his parents were too busy fighting with one another to pay attention to their son. As a result, Snape had to take the limited resources he was given and make the best of it. This could be seen in the mismatched and poorly fitting clothing he routinely wore.
Snape’s clothes were an example of his neglectful upbringing and pointed to both the reasons he desperately wanted to go to Hogwarts as soon as possible and why he was friendless and isolated. Even with his Hogwarts robes covering his clothes, Snape couldn’t hide the awkwardness that came from his deprived childhood.
19 BEFRIENDED LILY EVANS
Lily Evans and Snape lived in the same town as children and Snape was likely aware of Lily for some time before he finally got up the nerve to talk to her. While their first meeting went nothing like Snape had hoped, with Muggle-born Lily taking it all wrong when he called her a witch, they eventually became fast friends.
Lily was mesmerized by Snape’s stories of the world of witches and wizards and Snape was happy to find someone who accepted him and could also do magic. Despite being sorted into separate houses when they finally reached Hogwarts — with Lily going to Gryffindor and Snape going to Slytherin — they remained best friends for several years.
18 HAD A BAD RELATIONSHIP WITH PETUNIA
While Snape had a close friendship with Lily from the time they were children, that friendship didn't extend to Lily’s sister, Petunia. Unlike Lily, Petunia had no magic and so was of no interest to Snape. However, Petunia disparaged and ridiculed him, at one point causing Snape to lash out and make a tree branch fall on her.
He was also responsible for finding the reply to Petunia’s letter to Hogwarts begging to be let into the school despite her lack of magical ability. When Petunia discovers Snape's treachery, she calls Lily and Snape freaks and weirdos. Lily is devastated by her sister’s insults, but Snape is just happy to leave her behind when he and Lily go to school.
17 BEFRIENDED FELLOW SLYTHERINS
While Snape was far from a social butterfly, he did manage to make friends with some of his fellow Slytherins during his years at Hogwarts. The trouble was the students in the other houses had a negative opinion of the people he befriended, including Lily who questioned Snape’s choice to spend time with them.
Lily pointed out that a joke a Slytherin named Mulciber played on another student was not funny and used Dark Magic. Although Snape attempted to dismiss the issue and change the subject, his insistence on remaining friends with the other Slytherins drove a wedge between him and Lily, especially because of his desire to become a Death Eater, along with his friends.
16 BECAME AN ACCOMPLISHED WIZARD
Even as a child Snape is a talented wizard with an impressive array of magical skills. He showed a special talent for potion-making and was fascinated by the Dark Arts, both subjects he’d eventually teach at Hogwarts.
When Harry is coincidentally given Snape’s old potions textbook in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, he finds notes written throughout the book that improve upon the potions in it. In addition, Snape had jotted down the various spells and curses he'd invented, several of which became widely known in the wizarding community. Snape is also shown to have the ability to heal magical wounds, cure the damage inflicted by curses, and is even able to briefly take on three other Hogwarts professors in a duel.
15 GREW TO DISLIKE JAMES POTTER AND HIS FRIENDS
From their first meeting, Snape clashed with James Potter and his friends, including Sirius Black and Remus Lupin. On their first train ride to Hogwarts, James disparaged Slytherin, the house Snape was hoping to get sorted into. Then Snape scoffed under his breath when James declared his desire to be sorted into Gryffindor, leading James to insult Snape when Snape expressed his belief that Gryffindors were brawny, not brainy.
After that things only got worse between the boys. Popular and well-liked, James and Sirius seemed to revel in bullying the far less popular Snape. On one occasion in particular, James used curse after curse to torture Snape, humiliating him in front of the other students, who laughed and jeered at his misfortune.
14 BECAME INTERESTED IN THE DARK ARTS
When Snape started school at Hogwarts, he quickly developed a passion for the Dark Arts. While he was skilled at potion-making, he was also gifted at curses and jinxes. According to Sirius in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Snape knew more curses before he reached Hogwarts than half the seventh-year students.
Snape also learned to develop hexes of his own, as well as counter-curses to fend off Dark spells. Snape’s enthusiasm for the Dark Arts continued for the rest of his life. It’s no wonder then that later in life before taking the position as Potions Master at his alma mater, he applied to be the instructor for Defense Against the Dark Arts.
13 FELL IN LOVE WITH LILY
It’s possible that Snape was in love with Lily before he spoke to her. Regardless of when it happened, Snape held a torch for Lily his entire life. Lily may not have been aware of the truth of Snape’s feelings towards her, as he never told her about them and she never seemed to see him as anything more than a friend.
Yet, even after Lily married his childhood nemesis, James Potter, Snape went out of his way to try to protect her from Voldermort. In fact, Snape’s Patronus was a doe, just like Lily’s was. This demonstrated his unending devotion to her — and that his love for her was the strongest force in his life.
12 NAMED HIMSELF THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
The title of the sixth book in the Harry Potter series, references the mysterious Half-Blood Prince. The name is inscribed in the potions textbook Harry borrows for class. The notes written in the book show the Half-Blood Prince to be a singularly talented and creative wizard, and Harry learns a great deal from him.
It’s not until late in the novel that we learn that the true identity of the Half-Blood Prince is Severus Snape. The Half-Blood Prince was a nickname Snape gave himself because he was the son of a witch mother and a Muggle father. The name also embraced the magical side of his heritage by employing the last name of his mother, Eileen Prince.
11 BECAME A MEMBER OF THE SLUG CLUB
When Snape was a student, the head of Slytherin and Potions instructor was Horace Slughorn, a man who played favorites among his charges by including some but not all of them in his “Slug Club.” Slughorn would invite students to become members because he liked them, because they were well-connected, or because they showed great promise in the classroom. Slughorn suspected that these students would become important and famous in the future.
Snape was invited to join the Slug Club on the strength of the skill he showed in Slughorn’s class. Slughorn later expressed his disappointment in this choice after he learns Dumbledore met his end at Snape’s hands. Slughorn was selective about who was invited to join his club, so he believed he knew and could trust Snape. As a result, he was shocked by Snape's betrayal.
10 LOSES LILY’S FRIENDSHIP
While Snape and Lily maintained their friendship well into their years at Hogwarts, the friendship ended abruptly after Snape made one mistake in a moment of unguarded emotion. Lily came to Snape’s defense during a particularly bad round of curses and taunting from James Potter. After James let Snape go, he commented that Snape was lucky Lily was there to help him.
Enraged and embarrassed, Snape snaps back that he didn’t need the help of a Mudblood, a slur targeting Lily’s Muggle heritage. Lily found Snape’s slight unforgivable. Snape desperately tried to apologize, but Lily felt his actions revealed his true prejudices and she was unwilling to give him another chance.
9 HAD HIS LIFE SAVED BY JAMES POTTER
While James Potter was his biggest tormentor while he was a student at Hogwarts, James was also credited with saving Snape’s life on one occasion. Snape noticed that James and his friends snuck out of the school at night and wanted to know what they were up to. Aware of his interest, Sirius told Snape how to get into the Shrieking Shack on a night when Lupin had sequestered himself there to transform into a werewolf.
Realizing the danger, James went after Snape and prevented him from entering the Shrieking Snack, saving his life from an out-of-control werewolf in the process. Although others believed James was a hero for saving Snape, Snape believed James’ intentions were selfish and that he was simply trying to save himself and his friends from punishment.
8 BECAME A DEATH EATER
Snape embraced the idea of becoming a Death Eater from the time he joined a crowd of Slytherins who all aspired to the same thing. Most of them, including Snape, eventually joined Voldemort’s ranks. Snape didn’t care for most of the non-Slytherin students at Hogwarts outside of Lily. So once his friendship with her was severed, there was nothing stopping him from following the path of a Death Eater.
Snape had spent most of his life feeling lonely, dismissed, and uncared for, so the chance to become a Death Eater was appealing to him. It gave him a chance to feel powerful and be part of a cause greater than himself, no matter how misguided.
7 JOINED THE HOGWARTS FACULTY
After it appeared Voldemort was gone, Snape joined the faculty of Hogwarts. He first applied to teach his favorite subject, Defense Against the Dark Arts. Instead of giving him that job, Dumbledore gave him the position of Potions Master. However, students knew how much Snape coveted the Defense Against the Dark Arts role and speculated that it was Snape’s past as a Death Eater that prevented Dumbledore from giving it to him.
Despite not getting the job he wanted, Snape was a fairly successful Potions instructor and was respected by his colleagues. Yet, he also bullied and threatened those students that attracted his ire, like Harry, and sometimes showed unfair favoritism towards the Slytherins in his classes.
6 TOLD VOLDEMORT THE PROPHECY ABOUT HARRY
It was Divination instructor Sybill Trelawney who prophesied that a child born at the end of July would be Voldemort’s undoing. Sybill made the prophecy during an interview with Dumbledore at the Hog’s Head Inn for her teaching position. Snape also happened to be there that night and eavesdropped on the pair’s conversation, overhearing only part of the prophecy before he was caught and ejected from the building.
Nonetheless, Snape brought the information to Voldemort who realized that the prophecy could be about only one of two recently-born wizard children: Harry or Neville Longbottom. To Snape’s horror, Voldemort came to the conclusion that the prophecy was most likely about Lily’s son, Harry.
5 BECAME A DOUBLE-AGENT FOR THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
When Voldemort determined that Sybill Trelawney’s prophecy was about Harry and planned to go after Harry and his parents, Lily and James, Snape went to Dumbledore in an effort to save Lily's life. Snape begged Dumbledore to hide the family and in exchange agreed to become a double agent for the Order of the Phoenix.
Snape anticipated continuing as a double agent when Voldemort eventually returned, so for years, he kept up appearances with former Death Eaters hoping they would never guess his true loyalties. Since this was the task he set for himself, he had to be careful with every exchange and relationship he had — a major undertaking that spoke to his undying attachment to Lily.
4 USED OCCLUMENCY TO HIDE HIS TRUE LOYALTIES
As a long-term double agent for the Order of the Phoenix, Snape was in constant danger of being discovered by Voldemort or the Death Eaters. In particular, Voldemort was accomplished in the art of Legilimency, enabling him to see into the minds of others. His talent enabled him to know almost immediately when someone tried to lie to him.
Snape needed to maintain his cover with Voldemort and convince him that he was completely loyal. Fortunately, Snape was especially good at Occlumency, which enabled him to hide his thoughts, feelings, and memories from other witches and wizards. Due to his skill, Snape maintains his place in Voldemort’s inner circle for years, with the Dark Lord never suspecting his treachery.
3 TRIED TO SAVE LILY’S LIFE FROM VOLDEMORT
When Voldemort learned that a child who he believed to be Harry was going to defeat him, he became determined to go after the whole Potter family. Snape, never anticipating this outcome when he brought the prophecy to his master’s attention, begging Voldemort to spare Lily. His desire to save his childhood friend was so overwhelming that he also betrayed Voldemort and went to Dumbledore for additional help.
Instead of dispatching her immediately, Voldemort attempted to grant Snape’s request by giving Lily the choice of whether or not to step aside and let him take Harry. When she refused to leave her son, however, Voldemort struck — an act even Dumbledore was unable to prevent. Yet it was Lily's selfless act that allowed Harry to live.
2 SWORE DUMBLEDORE TO SECRECY
After Voldemort left an infant Harry without parents and appeared to meet his own demise in the process, Snape continued to work with Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix. This work was inspired by his unwavering love for Lily. After her untimely end, he did what he believed she would have wanted him to do.
In his anguish and guilt over what happened to her, Snape insisted he didn’t want anyone to know about his actions on behalf of the Order or his feelings for Lily. He went so far as to swear Dumbledore to absolute secrecy. Dumbledore protested the idea of never revealing the best of Snape to anyone but agreed to his request.
1 BECAME HARRY POTTER’S PROTECTOR
Snape makes his dislike for Harry perfectly clear throughout the Harry Potter series. Harry looks very much like his father, James, and Snape seems unable to help re-directing his ire towards his childhood bully at his son. At the same time, though, Snape swore to protect Harry from Voldemort.
Snape was unsuccessful at saving Harry’s mother from the Dark Lord, but as Dumbledore points out, Snape had the ability to make sure Lily didn’t die in vain. Lily's desire was to save Harry, so Snape, due to his love for Lily, chose to take up her mission and protect her child. While Snape frequently made his animosity towards Harry clear, behind the scenes he was doing his best to protect the boy, even when it appeared otherwise.
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