If there’s one thing that J.K. Rowling excels at, it’s creating complex characters who straddle the boundaries of right and wrong. One of the most glaring examples of this is Potions Master and Head of Slytherin house, Severus Snape. In Rowling’s own words, “Snape is all grey. You can't make him a saint: he was vindictive & bullying. You can't make him a devil: he died to save the wizarding world.” Nevertheless, the great Snape debate rages on as fans continue to judge him on both his actions and unpleasant demeanor.
Love him or hate him, if it wasn’t for Severus Snape, Harry Potter’s story would have turned out a lot differently. Snape risked his life on a daily basis to ensure Voldemort’s downfall and Harry’s ultimate sacrifice, all in honor of his one true love. Not only was Snape a master double agent, he fooled the most powerful dark wizard of all time. Only an extremely skilled Legilimens could have pulled that off, especially right under Voldemort’s lack of a nose. Although J.K. Rowling revealed Snape’s deepest secret in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, there are still some things you may not know about Hogwarts’ Potions professor. Here are 15 Things You Didn't Know About Severus Snape.
15 He was the only Death Eater who could conjure a Patronus
A product of an unstable and possibly abusive family, and frequent target of bullying at Hogwarts, Snape took a liking to the Dark Arts at an early age. This immediately put him at odds with his best friend and object of affection, Lily Evans, who was very much against the use of dark magic. Nevertheless, Snape's desire for revenge and need to impress Lily became stronger when James Potter began vying for her attention as well. At the start of the First Wizarding War, he joined the Death Eaters along with other Slytherins from his year.
Dementors and other dark magical creatures were aligned with Lord Voldemort during both Wizarding Wars. They were all drawn to the darkness and negativity surrounding him. What need, then, did a Death Eater have of producing a Patronus-- a powerful light charm that was the complete antithesis of what they stood for?
Unlike his Death Eater comrades, however, Snape’s immense capacity for love was stronger than his pull toward the darkness. His memories and feelings around growing up with Lily brought Snape his only true happiness and as such he was able to produce a full Patronus.
14 He invented a number of spells and curses while still a student
Most Harry Potter fans are aware of one of Snape’s homemade curses, Sectumsempra. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry comes to possess Snape’s Advanced Potion Making textbook where he has written the curse in the margins. Harry then uses it against Draco Malfoy and even tries to use it against Snape after he kills Dumbledore. However, there were a number of other spells and curses invented by Snape as a student.
Since Snape invented Sectumsempra, it seemed only natural that he’d also create a counter-spell to reverse its effects. Vulnera Sanentur heals the wounds created by Sectumsempra’s violent slashes. He was also the creator of the Muffliato Charm, which created a buzzing sound in someone’s ear so they couldn’t eavesdrop.
Owing to the fact he was bullied all the time, he also created Langlock, which glued a person’s tongue to the top of their mouth, rendering them speechless. Levicorpus was also likely a product of his bullying and is seen in the film version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. During his Occlumency lesson, Harry becomes privy to Snape’s worst memory where James Potter uses the spell to taunt him.
13 His portrait didn't appear in the Headmaster's Office right away
As was the case when Dumbledore died, Headmasters' portraits traditionally remain in their office at Hogwarts’ in tribute to their service of the school. Although Snape was indeed Hogwarts’ Headmaster during Harry’s final year there, he was ousted by the heads of each house before he died, as they were unaware of his double agent status.
However, seeing as he was secretly working in the best interest of the school on Dumbledore’s orders, it was likely to have appeared eventually. In a special question and answer session with J.K. Rowling at Carnegie Hall in 2007, she clarified that Snape’s portrait did not appear right away for these reasons.
“The perception in the castle itself and everyone who was in the castle, because Snape kept his secret so well, was that he abandoned his post.” She then went on to say “Harry would have insisted that Snape’s portrait was on that wall, right beside Dumbledore’s.” He did name his son after both Snape and Dumbledore, after all. Besides, who’d be able to argue with The Chosen One, anyway?
12 it's his fault George Weasley lost his ear
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, members of the Order of the Phoenix take Polyjuice Potion to disguise themselves as Harry in order to escort him to the safety of The Weasleys'. During their journey, they’re attacked by Death Eaters who seem to be waiting for them. Since Snape was a member of The Order of the Phoenix, it can be assumed he knew of the plan to escort Harry and tipped off Voldemort.
However, even if you read the books, it’s easy to forget the part Snape played in the actual “Battle of the Seven Potters” as it came to be called. When George Weasley and Remus Lupin arrive at The Burrow, George’s ear has been cursed off. Lupin reveals that Snape was the one who threw the curse after his Death Eater hood flew back revealing his face. He also gave himself away by using Sectumsempra, one of his signature curses, which Lupin had been aware of when they were students at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, this part is left out of the film version, making it a fact that’s easily glossed over when tracing Snape’s actions as a double agent.
11 Rita Skeeter published a book about him
Never one to tell it like it is, the queen of sensationalist journalism in the wizarding world, Rita Skeeter, loved stretching the truth during her interviews and reports on current events. Aside from her libelous column in The Daily Prophet, Rita also sought to capitalize on her gossip and rumor-mongering by creating largely fictionalized biographies of famous witches and wizards. She was the author of numerous controversial books designed to get her noticed and make her famous.
Hogwarts headmasters, in particular, were subjected to her scandalously nasty unauthorized biographies. She was the author of The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore along with Armando Dippet: Master or Moron?. J.K. Rowling also revealed, in a 2007 Bloomsbury chat, that Rita Skeeter even wrote one of her famously unpleasant books about Snape entitled Snape: Scoundrel or Saint?. Despite what Harry or anyone else said to clear his name, it seems that no one was safe from her Quick-Quotes Quill.
10 He could fly without a broom
Flight without a broomstick was seen as largely impossible for witches and wizards-- until Lord Voldemort came to power, that is. It’s unclear how this ability is obtained, whether by spell or curse or some other form of magic, but it’s most certainly of dark origins. Aside from Voldemort, the only other person who mastered it was Severus Snape—a credit to his obvious skill. Both Voldemort and Snape could surround themselves in a smoky black mist in which spells and curses could still be performed while in the air. It’s likely that Voldemort taught this skill to Snape sometime during the Second Wizarding War, when he had helped take over Hogwarts.
In the film version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, when Snape is ousted by the heads of houses, he takes this smoky form and flies out the window and into the night. Other Death Eaters were seen taking similar shapes in the last few films, but they were most likely just apparating rather than flying.
9 He was the youngest Head of House & Headmaster at Hogwarts
Dumbledore appointed Snape as Potions Master shortly after his stint as a Death Eater in the first Wizarding War. Although he initially wanted the Defense Against the Dark Arts position, Dumbledore probably thought that unwise, especially if people knew of his past. The main reason, however, was because Tom Riddle (aka future Lord Voldemort) jinxed the position after he was rejected from it at the tender age of eighteen. Snape was just twenty-one years old when he took the position and was also given the title of Head of Slytherin house after Horace Slughorn retired.
Sixteen years later, he would also become the youngest Headmaster at Hogwarts after Dumbledore’s death. Most of the previous Headmasters were well over the age of sixty when they died, and likely even older (as seen in their portraits hanging in the headmaster’s office) since wizards tend to live longer. Snape was only thirty-eight when he took the position and was subsequently murdered-- a fact that’s often overlooked due to the timeline in the Harry Potter books.
8 He was partially based on Rowling’s high school chemistry teacher
On multiple occasions, J.K. Rowling has stated that the majority of the main characters in Harry Potter were inspired by various people from history and her own life. Ron was based on her best friend from childhood, Sean Harris. There’s even a little of herself in Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, a fact she grudgingly admitted in a 1999 interview. Aside from members of the Golden Trio (as they’re called by fans), Rowling even based divisive characters like Severus Snape on people she knew.
Although Rowling has said that Snape was based on a combination of three people, only one has really come to light as a direct inspiration. Appropriately, Snape’s muggle counterpoint was Rowling’s chemistry teacher in high school. John Nettleship taught the author sometime during her secondary school career from 1976-1983 at the Wyedean School in Sedbury, England. Like Snape, he was described as a particularly strict teacher with long, black hair and a penchant for bullying students.
7 His last name comes from a small village in England
As most Harry Potter fans will have undoubtedly noticed, J.K. Rowling has a passion for etymology. Often you can tell a lot about a character just by breaking down the meaning of their name. Some names for things are purely invented, while others are taken from existing words. “I also collect unusual names, and I take them from all sorts of different places,” she mentioned in a 2000 interview.
Such is the case with Severus Snape, whose last name Rowling took from an actual place in England. A small village in Suffolk County, east of Cambridge and north of London, Snape boasts itself as the home of the British classical composer, Benjamin Britten. It’s unclear why she chose that village’s name in particular; she may have just liked the alliteration along with Severus. If you look up the origins of the word, however, it has an alternate spelling of "sneap" meaning "to be hard upon, rebuke, revile, snub.” Sounds like she picked the right word after all.
6 His name is connected to Lily & Petunia via the Victorian Language of Flowers
Despite its flaws, Tumblr can sometimes hold a wealth of legitimate fan theories. Take a 2012 post by user tomhiddles, in which she makes the connection between Snape’s first words to Harry and something called the Victorian Flower Language. “The first thing Snape asks Harry is ‘Potter! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?’ According to Victorian Flower Language, asphodel is a type of lily meaning ‘My regrets follow you to the grave’ and wormwood means ‘absence’ and also typically symbolized bitter sorrow. If you combined that, it meant ‘I bitterly regret Lily’s death’.”
Before you blow that off as just an interesting fan theory, you should know that Pottermore did a short feature on how Snape and Lily’s story was entwined through this symbolic language. Along with mentioning some of the potion ingredients Snape rattles off to Harry, it also examines the connection between and meaning behind Lily, Petunia (her sister), and Severus’ names. Another amazing example of how J.K. Rowling created multiple layers of meaning throughout Harry Potter, even in the very first book.
5 He used to have facial hair
Although it was never actually mentioned in the text of any of the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling’s previous incarnations of Snape had facial hair. There exist a few select illustrations of various characters drawn by Rowling herself when she first started developing the series. Before Pottermore, they existed on an older version of her website where they were the source of much analysis and speculation.
Now, one such illustration of Snape appears in the Potions description on Pottermore. In it, Snape clearly has stubble on his chin and the hints of a mustache as well. Another illustration shows him with a five o’clock shadow as he stands among Harry, Ron, Hermione and a few other characters. In the American versions of the books, artist Mary Grandpe also draws Snape with a circle beard giving him the appearance of a classic villain. Perhaps J.K. Rowling chose to leave out the description of any facial hair on Snape to make it less apparent whether or not he was really a villain, a fact which many fans still can’t agree on to this day.
4 Alan Rickman kept a secret about Snape til his death
In numerous interviews over the years, especially after the release of the seventh Harry Potter book and final film in 2011, fans and reporters alike asked Alan Rickman whether he knew what was going to happen in terms of Snape’s reveal. Each time Rickman was asked, he only refuted the claim that he knew everything, but did confirm that Rowling had given him one tiny clue that drove his performances through every film. However, he would never reveal exactly what that information was. “I promised her that I never would, and I never have,” he told New York Times interviewer Patrick Healy in 2012.
After Rickman’s untimely death earlier this year, one fan took to Twitter hoping Rowling would finally reveal the secret. Luckily, she obliged and replied back with the reveal; “I told Alan what lies behind the word ‘always’.” So even though he may not have known that Snape was a double agent or every detail to his backstory, Rickman knew the underlying driving factor for everything: Snape’s love for Lily. Pass the tissues, please.
3 He smells of bitterness and old shoes
While some fans might disparage her Twitter presence, J.K. Rowling has become known for her active Twitter account. Almost every day, she constantly posts her personal thoughts about politics and English sports in addition to Harry Potter related information. In the last few years, she has also taken to answering select fan questions via the social network.
While sometimes she responds to nasty comments and snarky trolls, for the most part, fans have legitimate burning questions they are dying to have answered by their idol. Once such question appeared at the end of last year regarding Snape. “What does Snape smell like?” a Twitter user named HEIROFSLYTHERIN pondered. Not even addressing the fact that it’s an odd question in the first place, Rowling responded in turn with a completely acceptable answer—”bitterness and old shoes.” For someone who spends a lot of time in Hogwarts' dungeons, somehow it makes perfect sense.
2 Tim Roth was Warner Brothers first choice for the role
Unbeknownst to many Harry Potter fans, Alan Rickman wasn’t the first and only choice to play Severus Snape. Warner Brothers actually had their eye on Quentin Tarantino-favorite, Tim Roth. Although Roth considered the role and admitted his kids really wanted him to take it, he was already in the middle of filming Planet of the Apes at the time.
Even though Roth would have been much closer to Snape’s age in the book, it’s hard to imagine the character now without Rickman’s distinctive voice and slow, deliberate form of speech. His performance brought Snape to life in a way that delighted even the most hard-to-please fans. There’s no doubt that Roth would have made an excellent villain, as he’s known for those kinds of roles, but Snape is so much more than that. Besides, as The Hateful Eight actor told the website Metro.co.uk he “wasn’t ready to be on a lunchbox,” and that “the right guy got the role.” We couldn’t agree more.
1 Alan Rickman was instrumental in Snape’s look on film
J.K. Rowling’s descriptions of Severus Snape often portrayed him as looking like “an overgrown bat” with his long black cape billowing behind him. Aside from that, the only other descriptions were about his physical features and the way he carried himself. When creating his costume for the films then, the designers collaborated with Alan Rickman based on his understanding of the character.
“I was very specific about it. I said the sleeves should be really tight. There should be a lot of buttons. Because that helped me, the idea that he has to do that,” he told The New York Times. He was also adamant about the length of the sleeves, which covered more of Snape’s hand, alluding to his secretive nature. Seeing as Snape is an Occlumens, the idea that he’s overly controlled in all areas of his life, emotions and fashion included, makes perfect sense.
Rickman also made sure that Snape’s costume stayed the same throughout all the films despite different designers. In an interview with Uproxx, the late actor pointed out “you sort of got the feeling that's the only thing he's got hanging in his wardrobe.” The question is, what does Snape wear to sleep, then?
We'll leave you with that haunting question. Feel free to leave any sleep-wear speculation in the comments!