I found myself thinking about Snape lately. He’s not exactly my favorite character – but there’s something about his decisions as an adult that I’m beginning to understand as someone in her mid-20s. He’s lonely. He’s angry. He’s probably still traumatized from everything he’s ever lived to see.

He’s a bully, yes. But towards the end, we find out that he’s an ally all along. I was rereading the books late last year and I can’t help but notice that even as a kid or a teenager, he’s always been fascinated by the dark arts. I mean, he literally created a spell in his school years that can make people bleed to death (aka sectumsempra). He was friends with the death eaters. He called Lily a mudblood – something unforgivably offensive that it became the final straw for Lily to decide to finally cut him out of her life. 

The wizarding society is very clear about the dark arts being, well, dark. There’s a class called Defense Against the Dark Arts and the intensity of this subject is not lost on me. It’s a subject that acknowledges the fact that there are dark forces – there always will be. It’s a given. And we need to defend ourselves against it.  I don’t remember being taught anything remotely parallel to this in my high school.

The book was fairly explicit about Snape being fascinated or even attracted by it. And it’s also not exactly subtle in showing readers that certain groups of people (ahem, Slytherins) are more likely to be drawn to it than others.

I mean, we never see Harry or the other characters grapple with this attraction. Some characters, like Harry, are just steadfast in being against the dark arts.

I, too, was steadfast when I first read Harry Potter. I wondered if the “dark arts” are parallel to crimes and perpetration we punish and counter as a society. I was very careless with my metaphors. I was quick to hate on Snape for all his bullying, quick to be suspicious of him joining the Order, and quick to forgive him when it was revealed that he was actually a double spy, working with Dumbledore.

And Snape – though fascinated by dark arts – died kind of a hero. Harry even names his kid after him and calls him brave – which I think is something special. Gryffindor values bravery more than any other attribute; so for a Gryffindor, like Harry, to call Snape brave, probably means so much more than I could truly understand.

So! I concluded, there is hope and redemption for everyone. The end.

But I reread the books last year and Snape’s character stood out to me differently this time.

I guess it’s his loneliness. Sure, he bullied the students who were weak and afraid and lonely. Sure, he disliked Harry. But ultimately, he’s lonely.

We never really see him make a connection with someone. Maybe except for Dumbledore. His one true love, Lily Evans Potter, died not knowing how he truly felt about her. She died despite of his attempt to save her. And I can only imagine how it’s so easy for Snape to reroute all the signs and point them all to himself as the ultimate reason of her death.

In book 5, we see the members of the Order not fully trust him. And even if they say they do, which is mostly because Dumbledore does, they never really include him to the more intimate things. 

Not that he wanted to be included, of course. 

On the other hand, I don’t really have to assume that many of the Death Eaters also don’t trust him. Bellatrix makes it clear in the beginning of Book 6. Speaking of Bellatrix, it’s not really a secret that some Death Eaters are envious of his relationship with Voldemort because Snape is undeniably a brilliant wizard and Voldemort knows and even respects this about him. 

When I think about Snape being part of two mutually exclusive worlds (enemies, in fact), I begin to resonate with his loneliness. He’s not not a death eater. He is. And he’s also part of the Order. So he’s part of both. But he belongs to neither.  

In the same way, I often feel like I’m switching between two worlds that both matter to me. I feel like the community I used to strongly identify with has stopped being entirely representative of what I believe in. And it isn’t because they changed. It’s because I did. And opening a conversation about my doubts about certain values physically hurts – almost like it’s a stab at my being less of a member.

I’ve also been feeling that because I live and work in two separate cities, my emotional capacity is spent managing these two different cultures. And my mental capacity is spent between solving two different sets of problems.

I can’t even count the number of times that I felt simultaneously being part of both worlds but also part of neither.

Just like Snape.

Of course Snape’s loneliness is not an excuse for all the bad things he’s ever done to Harry or Neville or any of his other students. 

But seeing Snape as this person who has to manage two, if not multiple selves, at once, makes me soften towards him. And hopefully it helps me soften towards others too – acknowledging their complexity, understanding where they’re coming from, and being mindful of my own snap judgments.


There’s a brilliant podcast called Harry Potter & The Sacred Text that I highly recommend you listen to. One of the many things it does so well is talk about characters in Harry Potter in great depth. I can say with great certainty that I’ve become a more thoughtful and empathetic person because of this podcast.

This post has been inspired by that podcast!


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