Severus Snape was not a hero. Severus Snape was not brave.
Severus Snape was immature, vindictive, delusional, and misogynistic.
I’ll explore the matter of Snape’s lauded bravery in “protecting” Harry and the “danger” inherent in being a double agent for Dumbledore, but first, let’s examine the biggest piece of the puzzle that is Severus Snape: his celebrated love for Lily Potter.
The fact that anyone—I mean anyone, ever—thinks this is something to be celebrated is a testament to J.K. Rowling and her ability to make a loser seem like a sympathetic hero.
Allowing yourself to be convinced by the romance of Snape’s intense devotion is cute when you’re a child reading a large book for the first time, but as a grown adult, you should be able to put some of this into the context of your own experiences.
And if in your own life, in the real world, away from wizards and wands and magic, somebody behaved like Snape, you’d call him out for spending 20+ years pining over a woman who never loved him and who, in all probability, he never actually loved.
Snape fell in love with Lily as soon as they met. Why?
Because she was nice to him. Being someone who was constantly ridiculed and downtrodden, Snape was incapable of separating kindness from affection. He also has no idea how to appropriately categorize positive feelings.
“This girl made me feel warm and fuzzy because she didn’t call me names. Yup, must be love. I’ll just go ahead and dedicate my entire existence to her.”
In reality, if Snape had a more normal childhood and was shown affection regularly, he probably would have been more capable of accepting a role in Lily’s life as a person, instead of bemoaning that she didn’t choose him to be the person.
Ironically, if he wouldn’t have been so emotionally desperate, it’s entirely possible Lily might have been interested in the first place, and their relationship would have gone a different direction.
It’s hard to be accurate about these sorts of things, but I’m fairly certain that in all of history, being overtly desperate has resulted in getting the person you want exactly zero times.
Whatever the case, we can’t be too forgiving in terms of Snape’s emotionally stunted upbringing. You know who else was never shown affection as a child? Harry Potter—and he didn’t immediately assume that every girl who smiled at him was in love, and then go on a rampage when they didn’t.
During the course of their friendship together, Snape refused to accept the idea that Lily only wanted to be his friend, because, you know, sometimes women just don’t realize what’s good for them, since they’re so stupid.
Ignoring the increasingly clear signals that it just was not going to fucking happen, Snape repeatedly tries to escalate their relationship, because he just knows in his heart that he’s right for her. He never, ever accepts her assertion that they’re just friends, and behaves as though Lily will eventually realize that they’re meant to be.
An imperfect arrangement, to be sure, but one that “works” — until Lily starts dating James Potter, completely stripping Snape of his stubbornly held delusion that they’re going to be together.
Snape is such a fragile child that he is absolutely incapable of accepting that maybe she’s just not that into you, bro.
Instead of manning up and accepting that, he becomes first sullen and withdrawn, then eventually vengeful and mean—going so far as to call Lily a “mudblood.”
Despite being the one to effectively end their friendship (racial slurs tend to do that), Snape creepily watches Lily from afar, growing more tormented as her relationship with James deepens, but never attempting as to actually reach out and apologize.
Instead, he just keeps watching and waiting, pining and hating. Snape’s fixation on Lily is neither sweet, nor beautiful. It’s creepy and insane and dangerous.
Think about this: a woman and man fall in love. They get married. They decide to get paired tattoos. The woman gets a doe, the man a stag. Aww. They post pics on Instagram and everyone thinks it’s adorable.
Then you find out that some guy who was obsessed with her in high school saw the Instagram picture and got the same tattoo as the woman because he just loves her so much. Is that cute? Is that sweet? No. It’s terrifying.
Be honest, Snape apologists: if some dude you never dated was so obsessed with you that he went so far as to get a tattoo that matched on yours—or, in this case, manifesting your Patronus—you’d think he was fucking crazy, and you’d call him creepy, and you’d make fun of him with your friends.
His behavior isn’t just off-putting, it’s wildly unfair to Lily. Snape’s entire relationship with Lily is unfair to her.
First, he was actively trying to sabotage her relationship by repeatedly telling her that James wasn’t good enough or right for her. Dick move.
More unfair is his view of her. Snape makes Lily perfect in his own mind. Like many people who pine for someone they can’t have, he idealizes Lily, treating her like an idea rather than a human being.
Snape places upon Lily the burden of being the one that got away, saddling her with the responsibility of being the only one who can make him happy. That in and of itself wildly unfair, but it pales in comparison to the unspoken extension of that: if being with Lily is the only thing that can make Snape happy, by choosing not to be with him, she comes the reason he’s miserable.
Poor Severus! Your one chance for happiness and it’s gone.
If only Lily would have seen through James’ bullshit and left him for you. Then you’d be happy, and you’d make her happy, too!
Snape’s immaturity comes from his inexperience—he’s literally never been in a relationship. Snape lacks the experiential perspective to say, “You know what? No matter how great she seems from afar, someday we’d just end up arguing over who takes out the garbage and frustrated about not being able to decide what to watch on Netflix.”
But as much as we’d like to be understanding of that, his inexperience is his own fault because he never even made an effort to get over Lily. So far as we know, he’s a virgin. That alone is enough to give a guy a serious case of One-itis.
Chances are he would have gained a little perspective on things and maybe loosened his mental hold on Lily if he’d just gone to a few parties and gotten his dick wet. Bellatrix seems like she’s perennially down for some no-strings-attached sex, and I’m certain there were a few other women who would have let him (ahem) Slytherin.
Rather than at least ATTEMPT to move on—which would have made everyone’s life easier, especially his—Snape clings to his “love” for Lily; an act of desperation and cowardice widely mistaken for nobility.
Snape sees Lily as his love, his girl, his one hope. He’s staked a claim on, and in his mind, she’s his emotional and mental property—she simply belongs to James physically, for the moment. James becomes more than a rival; he’s an obstacle to be removed.
The second problem is Snape’s reaction to being passed over and refusal to move on. To the complete shock of absolutely no one, his stubborn devotion to making this unrequited love the defining experience of his life breeds anger and resentment, and his misogynistic claim on Lily manifests itself vis-a-vis his abject hatred of James, and by extension, much of the world.
Seeking shelter for his fragile ego and in desperate need of a place to belong, Snape signs up to be part of a regime hell bent on the literal genocide of a group to which (surprise!) the woman who spurned him belongs.
At some point, completely independent of his affection for Lily, Snape decides murdering everyone who isn’t a pureblood is wrong and turns traitor.
Snape only defects to the Order of the Phoenix when it turns out that his Long Lost Lily is on Wizard Hitler’s List of People Who Need to Die STAT and his thought process presumably a combination of:
“Maybe becoming a Death Eater because a girl rejected me in high school MIGHT have been a *slight* overreaction on my part.”
And “Maybe being on the same team gives me a better chance at winning Lily over, even though she’s married, in love, and happy. Because, you know, my unhealthy obsession with her is more important than her actual wants, desires, and happiness. Fuck agency, man.”
Motivated purely by self-interest and completely void of any sort of higher moral calling, he decides to turn against Voldemort, agreeing to be a spy for The Order. This makes sense because Dumbledore is fully aware that Snape is far too cowardly and unreliable to whip his wand out and stand with The Order, so may as well try to pump him for some intel.
But guess what? Snape is unsurprisingly probably the most useless spy in the history of spies because after years and years of working for Dumbledore, the information he brought back from the other side was worth exactly dick.
How many Death Eaters did he kill? Zero.
How many Horcruxes did he help find? Zero.
The only piece of actionable information Snape brought to Dumbledore was, “Oh, shit, looks like Voldemort is going kill Lily and her kid, and I guess James, too,” prompting The Order of the Phoenix the hide the Potters.
But guess what!?
Dumbledore already knew that.
Remember that the only reason Voldemort specifically targeted Harry was because of the prophecy, which alluded to Harry (or Neville) being capable of killing him.
“Oh, you mean Voldemort found out about the Prophecy? Thanks, Sev, but welcome to Last Fucking Week. I was there when Trelawney actually said it, dumbass.”
Snape’s little tidbit of intel was worthless because Dumbledaddy already knew that shit, and—being Dumbledore and all—probably had a plan in place to begin with.
And…oh. Wait a minute. How did Voldemort find out about the Prophecy?
That’s right: Snape told him.
Having discovered the existence of the Prophecy through eavesdropping and other shit that whiny cowards are good at, Snape immediately runs back and tells the Dark Lord, “Yooo, some psychic hippie chick spit some prophecy about a kid who may be able to kill you getting born soon.”
And then it turns out—oops!—That Girl You’re Still in Love With is pregnant, and you just marked her and her as-yet-unborn child for death.
Congratulations, ya just played yaself. And, further, you’ve become the agent of your own misery. You suck at everything, and Lily gets killed anyway.
If Snape had any respect for himself, when he came upon Lily’s body he would have taken a shard of broken glass from one of the many broken picture frames in Harry’s nursery and slit his own throat. If not a heroic death, at least a tragic one with some weight. Unlike his actual death.
But, no. With Voldemort seemingly defeated, Snape is accepted back into the Wizarding World, and instead of spending time doing something productive with his grief—like, oh, I dunno, growing as a person—he simply wallows in his narcissistic despair, refusing to get over a girl who was never in love with him and convincing himself that if Lily had just chosen him instead of James, everything would have been okay.
”Don’t you SEE!? If you’d just be with me, everything would be different.”
This, by the way, is the EXACT justification stalkers use for their actions.
Years after her death, he’s a dick to Lily’s kid.
Why? Because Snape is a vindictive teenager trapped in the body of a grown man. Owing to his rampant immaturity, he accepts a job that puts him in a position of power over students, and then leverages that power to insult and humiliate children.
You would think that—having been bullied himself—Snape would have an issue with the entire idea of it, but no.
He’s a damaged child, and rather than protect those weaker than himself, he sees certain kids as the avatars of those who hurt him twenty years ago and actively persecutes them.
This is exacerbated with Harry’s arrival, because despite Snape’s assertion that he is so devout in his love for Lily that he’s willing to protect her son, his behavior clearly evidences that he sees Harry as a stand-in for James, upon whom he can exact revenge.
Again, this is crazy.
The few times Snape actually helps Harry out aren’t enough to win any points for bravery, loyalty, or even love. Oh, you’re going to interfere when Quirrell tries to hex Harry’s broom, preventing a 10-year-old boy from plummeting to his doom?
Yeah, so would every decent human being. Congrats, hero.
In point of fact, with the exception of that one instance, Snape doesn’t do a single thing to protect Harry for the rest of the series.
Maybe he’s too busy bullying students to the point where he literally becomes Neville’s worst fear. Or ruining Lupin’s career. Or being completely cowed by Umbridge. The only student Snape “protects” is Draco, and even then barely manages to do it.
There’s a lot of talk about Snape consistently risking his life by being Dumbledore’s spy. We’ve already covered that he was completely ineffectual in that role, but I’ll admit that it was undeniably dangerous.
Having said that, does doing something dangerous make you brave? Yeah, if you’re doing it for someone else.
But Snape wasn’t.
The only reason he was willing to keep spying on Voldemort was because he had no other choice.
Dumbledore was in complete control, and despite Severus repeatedly saying “I can’t do this anymore,” he was forced to. Because what choice did he have? If he refused at any point, Dumbledore could have exposed his treachery, and Voldemort would have just killed Snape.
I don’t care how dangerous something is; if you’re doing it because you have no choice, it comes down to survival, not courage or altruism.
So, sorry, Snape. You’re a hack.
Snape is cowardly and self-serving, and he deserved to die the ignominious and pointless death that he did. It should have passed with no fanfare, no glory, and no praise.
And yet, Harry Potter names his kid after Snape.
You could what would have been a good name, Harry?
How about Remus Sirius Potter, a name that honors two men who actually died for you, and neither of whom emotionally manipulated or abused you for 7 years.
I dunno, just a thought.