His Heart on His Sleeve: A Conspiracy Theory
“Fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves… stand no chance against his powers.” Snape in OotP, XXIV
Over on Deathtocapslock, a comment on the sporking of PoA chapter “Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs” brought up Lupin’s very, um, disingenuous comment attributing the animosity between James and Severus to Snape’s supposed jealousy of Potter’s Quidditch prowess. The commenter asked why (within the motivations of the characters, not the needs of JKR’s plot) no one ever brought up the possibility that rivalry over Lily might have been an issue.
An even bigger hole to be explained is the scene in the Hospital Wing after Dumbledore’s murder.
“And he [Snape] didn’t think my mother was worth a damn either,” Harry said, “because she was Muggle-born…. ‘Mudblood,’ he called her….” (HBP, XXIX)
And no one questioned that interpretation.
Minerva and Remus were all but eyewitnesses to Severus literally camping out, all night if need be, outside the Fat Lady’s portrait to apologize to Lily—risking ridicule from the whole school, hexing from the Marauders, ostracism from the Pureblood supremacists among his friends, and official punishment for being caught out of bounds after curfew (meaning he might also have had his entire house down on him like a ton of bricks, if fifty points was the normal point deduction for being caught in that offense).
So they two at least knew, they had to know, that Severus calling Lily a Mudblood (once) was a mistake he desperately regretted and tried to fix, not the expression of his true opinion that “she wasn’t worth a damn either.”
Unless, of course, they had reason to have forgotten.
Backtrack a bit, and think about who would have known what when about Severus’s feelings for Lily.
“The Prince’s Tale” showed that Severus feared that James was his rival for Lily before SWM. Most likely James adamantly refused to imagine the corollary—though his antagonism for Severus was likely increased by that fear. James certainly would never tell his friends that he took Snivellus seriously as a rival.
All of Lily’s friends, though, knew at least that the two were friends, and probably that he took the friendship more seriously than she did.
After that public vigil outside the Fat Lady, everyone at Hogwarts must have been able to take a pretty accurate guess as to what Severus’s feelings for Lily had been. Fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, indeed.
At some point after the rejected apology, Sev must have given up the hope of gaining Lily’s forgiveness. It might not have been that night. They were neighbors; it’s very likely that Sev might have made overtures over the following summer, hoping Lily might have cooled off from her first wrath. But if his overtures were consistently rejected, he most likely would have given up at least by the beginning of sixth year. Teen pride being what it is, once he did give up on gaining her forgiveness he’d have had every reason to pretend that he was over her. And since some of his friends were pureblood supremacists (and as a half-blood he was already on shaky ground with those friends), he’d have strong reason to pretend that he’d never been all that serious about her in the first place. There were other girls, of purer blood, more worthy of him….
And it was in only in seventh year—at least a year later—that James and Lily actually started dating. So there would be no reason for any outsider to connect Severus and James’ continued antagonism to rivalry over Lily. Snape was over her—just ask him!—long before the two got together. He and James had been enemies (for totally unrelated reasons) ever since they met on the Hogwarts Express.
None of this was anyone else’s business anyhow.
Until Snape defected, specifically because of the danger he’d brought on Lily.
At that point, his continued feelings for her became a war secret.
And if there’s anything that Albus Dumbledore demonstrated absolute mastery of, it was keeping secrets.
On Snape’s side, what had previously been a matter of pride became a matter of both his own survival and Lily’s. We saw with the Lovegoods and Malfoys that Voldemort knew how to use people’s loved ones as hostages or objects of revenge, and that he was perfectly ready to control his own followers that way. My own guess is that Severus fed the Dark Lord the line that he wanted Lily to rape her as revenge on James (and on her for rejecting him years ago).
The second-to-last thing Severus would ever want Voldemort to guess was that Lily might really be a useful hostage for Snape’s good behavior. The very last would be that Severus had betrayed Voldemort for Lily’s sake. If Voldemort ever learned that, he wouldn’t hunt Lily to kill her as a minor obstacle. He’d hunt her to make an example of her.
On Dumbledore’s side, a double agent—finally!—among the Death Eaters was an asset not lightly to be risked.
Now, while Severus was just a double agent the only real issue was his Occlumency and acting. The only one likely to betray Snape’s true allegiance was Snape himself.
Eventually, though, Snape was in a more complex situation. When he returned to Hogwarts as Dumbledore’s newest questionable hire, he was a quadruple agent, whom Voldemort thought was a triple agent, whom Voldemort believed Dumbledore to imagine was a double agent. Dumbledore and Snape had fed Voldie the line that Dumbledore accepted Snape’s supposed repentance because of the headmaster’s known weakness: Albus just had to believe the best of everyone, evidence to the contrary.
So the one piece of information that must be kept from Voldie at all costs was that Snape had an actual reason to want to turn to Dumbledore.
Then two things happened. Voldemort killed Lily, and was temporarily vanquished by her. And at some point in the mopping-up operations, Severus was explicitly named as a Death Eater.
Now this was a problem.
Severus was fingered as a Death Eater. Dumbledore went before a secret tribunal and testified that yes, Snape had joined the Death Eaters, but that he’d turned, honestly repented, and become Dumbledore’s spy at great personal risk. Dumbledore even managed to get the proceedings closed so effectively that most even of the Order never found out about all this until years later.
Thus far this was, after all, no more than the cover story that Snape and Voldemort had prepared beforehand to hand-feed Dumbledore. The fact that Dumbledore believed it, testified in court to it, and saved Snape’s arse using it, only showed Severus’s success in snowing Dumbledore. If that were all.
But Dumbledore expected Riddle eventually to return. And when he did, he would be stringently evaluating the loyalty of any surviving free Death Eaters. And he must not seriously question Snape’s.
Snape had asked his master, the Dark Lord, to spare Lily.
And Lily was killed.
Sev was a master Occlumens, spy, and actor, but everyone has a limit.
We saw Severus’s grief the night of Lily’s death. The first chapter of PS showed Vernon’s view of the rejoicings in the WW at Voldemort’s defeat. Raise your hand if you think that Severus could, twelve hours after we watched him huddled making sounds “like a wounded animal”, convincingly project the impression that the sole emotion he felt was jubilation at the passing of the Dark Lord.
Mind, if any scions or younger siblings of DE’s among the students (who knew that Snape was a Slytherin and friend of DE’s, if not that Snape was supposed to be one himself) caught sight of signs of dejection in Snape, they might well have attributed it to grief over the loss of the Dark Lord and the downfall of his programme.
And some despondency could always be attributed to seeing some of his closest friends from school being accused of being Death Eaters. How shocking! Snape had never imagined such a thing—could such perfidy be true? And if he were the new head of Slytherin, the blow to his house’s prestige at having a number of former Slytherins outed as supporters of You-Know-Who must have been upsetting.
So some degree of lack of proper enthusiasm could have been excused.
But Snape was at Hogwarts, among people who had known him for seven years. Some of them still remembered that Snape had once been best friends with that girl, whazzername, you know, that Muggle-born who became Head Girl a couple years back, who married well but was unfortunately killed when her baby son, HARRY POTTER, defeated You-Know-Who.
What was her name again?
Minerva, in particular, might remember that earlier friendship when she mused on her newest colleague’s anomalous reaction.
And Dumbledore cannot guarantee that she, or others, won’t subsequently find out some of the closed proceeding’s results.
If Minerva, or anyone like her, ever found out that Snape had actually once been a follower of You-Know-Who—and then considered the fact that You-Know-Who had killed Lily—it wouldn’t require knowledge of any relayed Prophecy to correctly read Snape’s guilt and grief.
And if Minerva, or anyone like her, had known of Severus’s previous devotion to Lily and glimpsed his anguish at her death, and then subsequently learned that Dumbledore claimed that Snape had once been a loyal Death Eater but had turned his coat….
Um, in fact, that Snape had turned his coat at just about the time that Voldemort started specifically pursuing the Potter family, what an interesting coincidence…!
Well. Granger may say that wizards aren’t good at logic, but I think do think that Minerva, at least, could have calculated that sum.
If she were allowed to.
But if she—or anyone—ever figured it out, Riddle might too when he finally returned.
The one piece of information which must be kept secret at all costs if Dumbledore wanted to retain his quadruple agent was that Snape had had a real, burning, reason to want to betray Voldemort.
It is canon that Dumbledore countenances his followers using the Confundus Charm against children in his care (Kingsley against Marietta) and against fellow Order members (Severus against Mundungus).
In fact, he ordered the latter.
So it’s not hard at all to imagine Albus, in November of 1981, calling a private little meeting with Minerva.
After which she didn’t remember noticing anything out of the ordinary about the new Potions Master’s demeanor. She did still vaguely remember something about an insult and rejected apology in Snape’s fifth year, but she was now utterly convinced that the incident had no real significance. Thoughts of Severus and of Lily simply didn’t enter her mind together.
Severus and who?
In fact, if general impressions of Lily became a little blurred in the course of obscuring the spy’s true feelings for her, that would help explain why Minerva never mentioned his mother to Harry.
Repeat as needed with other staff and Order members, as they put themselves in Albus’s hands.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
“And he didn’t think my mother was worth a damn either,” said Harry….
Nobody asked how Harry knew this. (HBP, XXIX)