In honor of his sixty-first birthday, I’m posting my backstory for Severus Snape in the Epithalamium series.
I try to write extensive backstories for major characters in long works before and during writing. When it’s a major canon character, it’s largely a case of filling in the gaps that Rowling left, which is something I really enjoy doing.
Birth: 9 January 1960Death: 2 May 1998Heritage: Half-blood
Wand: Acacia, dragon heartstring, 12 ¼″, unyielding
Patronus: Crow, later a doe
Height: 5′11″Build: SlimHair: BlackEyes: BrownSkin: Pale
Tobias Snape (father)Eileen Prince (mother)Severus Prince (grandfather)Marjorie Applebee (grandmother)Mary Prince (aunt)Ian Prince (uncle)
Severus Snape was born in Cokeworth, a suburb of Manchester, in North West England, on 9 January 1960.
His father, Tobias, was a Muggle factory worker and his mother, Eileen (née Prince) was the daughter of Severus Prince, a pure-blood wizard, and Marjorie Prince (neé Appleby), a half-blood witch.
Eileen, who was not magically gifted, had left school before her N.E.W.T.s, pregnant by a boy she refused to name. Her parents disowned her, and, at age sixteen, she had found herself alone and unable to use magic. The resourceful Eileen forged Muggle papers and found refuge in one of Manchester’s Mother and Baby Homes, where she lived until her baby was born on 3 September 1958.
The baby, a girl, was taken from Eileen shortly after her birth to be adopted. Eileen never saw her again.
After her recovery, Eileen left the home and found a job cleaning in a local textile factory, Fine Spinners and Doublers, where she met cotton spinner Tobias Snape, and the two began dating. Still under the age of majority for wizards and unable to legally perform any magic, Eileen did not tell Tobias that she was a witch.
She found herself pregnant once again, and after a hurried wedding in July 1959, Eileen and Tobias settled in a tiny flat in the working-class section of Cokeworth, where Severus was born, three weeks premature, on 9 January 1960.
Eileen and Tobias had a volatile relationship, which only became more so when the early blossoming of Severus’s magic forced Eileen to tell her husband that she was a witch.
Tobias was angry with Eileen for hiding her secret and became even angrier when he realised she could not use her magic to lift the family out of poverty. Although she was now of age, Eileen had little practical magical skill and would not rejoin the wizarding world, but she was proud of young Severus when it became clear that he was not only powerfully magical, but extremely intelligent, and in secret, she often told him stories of the magical world she had left behind.
One day, Eileen stayed home “sick” from work. She told Severus to say nothing to his father and left the house, telling Severus she’d be back for tea. When she returned that afternoon, she took Severus to his tiny room, closed the door, drew the curtains, and withdrew several tattered books from her bag, including Defence Against the Dark Arts¸ by Galatea Merrythought, a 1948 edition of Hogwarts: A History, by Bathilda Bagshot, and Magical Drafts and Potions, by Arsenius Jigger.
She instructed Severus to hide the books from Tobias, which he did. He read them all several times over the next years, never letting his father catch him. The books excited and inspired him, and he decided he couldn’t wait to go to Hogwarts and become a great wizard.
Tobias suffered from alcoholism and often came home drunk. By the time Severus was nine, Tobias had become abusive, striking his wife and beating his son with his belt whenever he was in a drunken rage.
By this time, the family had purchased a small, rundown home in Spinner’s End, the poorest section of Cokeworth. Severus took to wandering the streets, often ending up in a neglected playground that separated the better part of Cokeworth from Spinner’s End. It was there that he first saw Lily Evans.
The ginger-haired girl was around his age, and Severus was intrigued when he spied her in the playground near dusk one evening. She was alone, picking daisies, but her furtive manor stopped Severus from moving into the open and speaking with her.
He watched as she picked several, then held them in a bunch in her fist and peered intently at them. A moment later, when the bunch had tripled in size and the girl laughed delightedly, Severus knew she was a witch.
Excited to finally encounter another magical child, he returned often to the park, hiding in the shadows, hoping to catch a glimpse of the young witch. She only came alone once more, this time swinging high on the swing set before jumping off to come floating, unharmed, to the ground. When she left, Severus tried the trick himself, but instead of landing softly, he fell hard, skinning his hands and knees and putting yet another hole in his trousers. He returned to the playground early the next morning and repeated it again and again, until at last he succeeded in replicating the girl’s feat.
Severus was unhappy when she arrived at the playground the following day with a slightly older girl. He learned that the witch was called “Lily,” and the other girl, who was her sister, was “Petunia.”
Severus watched the girls over the following two weeks, but Petunia never showed any signs of magic. He wondered if Lily had ever told anyone else of what she could do.
One day, Lily did the swing set trick in front of her sister, who scolded her. When Lily then showed her annoyed sister a trick with a flower, Severus could no longer contain his excitement and showed himself to the girls. He told an astonished Lily that she was a witch and that he, too, was magical.
Petunia, frightened and a little envious, insulted Severus, who responded in kind, driving both girls off.
He was angry with himself and disappointed when Lily didn’t come back to the playground for an entire week. One afternoon, however, when Severus sat dejectedly on the swing, dragging his ragged heels in the damp sand, he looked up to find Lily staring at him.
He immediately apologised to Lily for his harsh words to Petunia, and she readily forgave him. She asked him to explain more about magic, which he eagerly did, telling her all about Hogwarts and the things he had learned from the books his mother had got him.
The pair became fast friends, spending many afternoons together in the playground. At first Petunia would join them, much to Severus’s annoyance, but she eventually stopped coming, after several arguments with Severus over the existence of magic and Hogwarts.
Severus and Lily had a brief falling out when she accused him of using magic to drop a branch on Petunia, who had been spying on the pair. He spent three days brooding over the unfairness—the branch really had broken on its own—before writing a note of apology to Petunia, which he slipped in the Evanses’ mail slot at two in the morning. Lily appeared in the park the next day, and all was forgiven.
Lily didn’t seem to mind that Severus was from the poor part of town, but when she invited him for tea at her parents’ house, he declined, ashamed of his tattered, poorly fitting clothes and his rough manners. When she gave him a Christmas gift of a notebook with a green leather cover—“for the spells you’re going to invent” —he was ashamed not to have anything to give her.
The following day, he swiped a box of Malteasers, Lily’s favourite sweet, from the corner shop near his house, the first and last time he ever stole anything. She insisted on sharing them with Severus, and they sat in the park, chewing the nearly frozen sweets and making snow-angels. It was the best day Severus had ever had.
When an owl arrived at the Snape home bearing Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall’s invitation for Severus to attend Hogwarts, it occasioned a crisis in the Snape family.
Tobias was furious, insisting that no son of his would be going to a magical school. Severus would go instead to the local comprehensive until he was sixteen and old enough to get a job. When Eileen informed Tobias that Severus would go to Hogwarts whether Tobias liked it or not, he became enraged and began to beat her.
Severus, without intending to, wandlessly blasted his father with a current of strong magic, knocking him unconscious. When Tobias woke several minutes later, he was subdued and wary of his apparently powerful son.
On 31 August 1971, Eileen took young Severus to London to get his school things and put him on the Hogwarts Express, while Tobias stayed away in the local pub, drinking his troubles away.
Eileen was nervous visiting Diagon Alley. After an uncomfortable visit to Gringotts to exchange their few Muggle pounds for Galleons, Sickles, and Knuts, Eileen gave Severus the Hogwarts equipment list and told him which shops he should visit to find inexpensive or used versions of what he needed, but she would not enter any of them except one.
In Ollivander’s Wand Shop, she spent an hour beaming as Garrick Ollivander tried Severus with several wands. When he handed Severus a plain, 12 ¼-inch Acacia model with a dragon heartstring core, Severus felt an electric rush of power surge through him. Horrified, he accidentally Levitated Ollivander to the rafters of his shop; however, Mr Ollivander calmly instructed the boy how to use his new wand to let him down slowly. Safely on the ground, Ollivander reassured Severus that he had done nothing wrong, and that his gentle landing was an indication that the Acacia wand was a good fit for young Severus and would eventually help him gain excellent control of his “impressive store of magic.” Eileen, who had cleaned out her savings-builder account, proudly purchased the wand for her son, the only new item he would receive that day.
While Severus would have liked to explore the revelation that was Diagon Alley, Eileen insisted they return to Muggle London at once. They spent the night in a rundown hotel room near Kings’ Cross with a dripping faucet and flies buzzing around the single lightbulb.
Severus had devoured his battered copy of Hogwarts: A History, and decided that, of the school’s four Houses, the best was Slytherin. Many wealthy and important mages hailed from that House, as had his mother and most of her family before her.
Eileen had told Severus about the proud, pure-blood Prince family, but she had never told him exactly why she was estranged from them, or why she had married a Muggle like his father, and he had been too afraid to ask. He could only guess it was because, as he had come to suspect, she was not magically gifted.
Severus was determined to make a name for himself, and Slytherin seemed the place to start, so he was delighted when the Hogwarts Sorting Hat placed him there moments after being set on his head.
He was less pleased that Lily had been sorted into Gryffindor House, as had James Potter and Sirius Black, a pair of boys he had met and exchanged taunts with on the Hogwarts Express.
Nevertheless, he was determined to make new friends among his housemates, which was difficult, as it soon became clear that he didn’t fit in with them. They were largely wealthy, from “good” families, with excellent manners, and none had been raised in the Muggle world, as Severus had. Severus was sensitive to his station, and he rebuffed anything he perceived as pity, developing a derisive demeanour that put off many people, students and teachers alike, and he made no real friends during his first year at Hogwarts.
Classes were a respite for Severus. Charms and Defence Against the Dark Arts came easily to him, while he found he had to work hard at Transfiguration.
Although some of the other Slytherins often derided the Transfiguration teacher, Minerva McGonagall, as a “blood-traitor” and for her partiality for the Gryffindor Quidditch team, Severus came to admire her.
She was more respectful to Severus than many of the other teachers, who found him unlikeable, and though she had been a Gryffindor in school, she always seemed to treat the students equally. In addition to her obvious intelligence and talent, Severus recognised that, like himself, she was a singularly powerful mage, and he often wished he had the courage to ask her about how she managed her intense magic.
Severus’s favourite class, however, was Potions. This surprised him. He had never had the opportunity to brew anything at home (though had pored over Magical Drafts and Potions), and potion-making had seemed to him a lesser sort of magic than the others. Under the tutelage of Professor Horace Slughorn, however, Severus came to realise the subtle power an excellent brewer could wield. Slughorn told his classes about potions that could snatch a person back from the very jaws of death, and others that would push them, unknowing, forever beyond the Veil. There were elixirs that could change fate, capture a mind or heart, cause indescribable joy or unendurable despair.
Severus was proud when, at the initial lesson, he was the first student to produce the simple Alihotsy Draught Slughorn had assigned. Severus’s potion had the intended effect and made his lab partner, Damien Pucey, laugh for more than twenty minutes—a school record, according to Slughorn.
It soon became apparent that Severus, who did well in all his classes and excelled in several, had a special gift for potion-making. Slughorn took him under his wing, lending him advanced books, and Severus eventually began to experiment with creating his own potions. Starting in Severus’s fifth year, Slughorn allowed the boy to use the Potions classroom after hours for his experiments, giving him the password and—knowing Severus could ill afford extra potions ingredients—free access to the Potions cupboard.
Slughorn had also invited Severus to join his “Slug Club,” a group of select students with either good social ties or outstanding magical prowess (or both) whom he entertained in his private quarters from time to time. Severus did not enjoy these events; his social awkwardness and his poverty stood out too much among the other students that made up the bulk of the Slug Club; nevertheless, he attended them dutifully.
It was at these Slug Club gatherings that sixth-year Slytherin prefect Lucius Malfoy first heard Slughorn extolling Severus’s extraordinary talent in Potions.
Malfoy, who was having trouble in his Potions N.E.W.T. class but didn’t want to admit it to any of his friends, turned to young Severus for help. Thanks to Severus‘s numerous useful suggestions and his nearly ghostwriting Malfoy’s essays, Malfoy ended up near the top of his Potions class. He appreciated both the help and Severus’s willingness to keep quiet about the source of Malfoy’s newfound Potions brilliance, and he took the younger boy under his cultured and well-connected wing.
With Malfoy’s coaching, Severus smoothed out many of his rough edges, including his manners and hygiene, and began to work at ridding himself of his Mancunian accent.
Seeing that the popular (in Slytherin) and socially powerful Lucius Malfoy had begun to accept Severus, other Slytherins began to pay attention to him. Although he was not especially inclined to work with other students (most of whom he considered stupid and dull), Severus was generous with his help, recognising it as a way of gaining acceptance and respect.
By the time Malfoy left Hogwarts in 1974, Severus had made several more friends in Slytherin House, including William Avery and Henry Mulciber, sons of Voldemort’s original Death Eaters.
Mulciber and Avery were already being groomed to become Death Eaters, and it was through them that Severus first heard of Voldemort.
They frequently talked of the power and wealth they would gain when “the Dark Lord” had taken over the wizarding world, and they openly practised magic that bordered the Dark Arts on any of their fellow students they disliked.
These things appealed to Severus, who was still insecure about his position in wizarding society and who was still frequently the subject of bullying by many students, notably James Potter and Sirius Black, who had formed a gang known as the “Marauders” with fellow Gryffindors Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew.
As they had matured, Severus had developed a deep crush on Lily Evans, feelings which had blossomed into what he came to realise was love over the summer before their fourth year at Hogwarts. Insecure and shy, Severus didn’t tell Lily the nature of his feelings, and she continued to care for him as a good—but platonic—friend.
The relationship between Lily and Severus grew increasingly strained over the next years, due to Severus’s friendship with boys Lily considered repugnant and hers with the hated Marauders.
Lily and Severus’s friendship finally ruptured for good at the end of their fifth year, when Severus, having just been humiliated by James Potter, refused Lily’s help, calling her a “Mudblood” in his embarrassment.
Severus was desperate to win back her friendship, but she refused to speak to him, and he retreated further into misery and resentment of the Marauders, and anyone else who made him feel small or who had something he wanted.
Severus had begun to suspect that Remus Lupin’s monthly disappearances weren’t due to a mysterious “illness,” but rather to lycanthropy. Determined to confirm his suspicions, Severus began to follow the Marauders, discovering that they disappeared into the Whomping Willow, a tree that beat anyone who came near, every month just before the full moon.
Knowing that Severus was stalking them, at the beginning of their seventh year, Sirius Black “accidentally” dropped a note for Severus to find, revealing the secret to entering the Whomping Willow and noting that Lupin would be chained up in the tunnel under the tree during the full moon.
As Black had hoped, at the following full moon, Severus used the information to enter the tunnel. When he didn’t find Lupin there, he followed the tunnel to a trapdoor. As he was about to open it, James Potter—whom Sirius had told at the last minute about the “prank” he’d pulled on “Snivellus” Snape—arrived and Stunned Severus to prevent him from entering the Shrieking Shack, where an unrestrained and transformed Remus Lupin might have killed him.
Severus was incensed when he discovered what Black had tried to do and was mortified that it was the hated James Potter to whom he owed his life. He was even angrier when Black received only a month’s worth of detentions as punishment.
Like most Hogwarts students, Severus went home for Christmas and summer, although he stayed at the school for the Easter holidays. Things in the Cokeworth house had not improved over the years; Tobias was still dependent on alcohol and had continued to abuse Eileen during Severus’s absences. He was frightened of his son’s magical power, however, and was, at first, less physically abusive while Severus was at home.
One night, just before Severus’s fifth year, Tobias came home drunk and began to hit Eileen. Severus intervened, and Tobias turned on him. Prohibited from doing magic outside of school, Severus was unable to defend himself and ended up with a broken arm, broken nose, and a black eye.
On the Hogwarts Express two days later, he refused to tell Lily what had happened, although she suspected Severus’s father was behind his injuries. She took her concerns to Professor McGonagall, who forced Severus to see Madam Pomfrey to be Healed.
McGonagall spoke to Headmaster Dumbledore, urging that they visit the Snape home and talk to Eileen and Tobias, but Dumbledore refused, telling her that they could not interfere with a student’s home life, particularly when there was a Muggle parent involved. Moreover, Dumbledore believed that Severus would resist and resent any attempt to intervene on his behalf and cause him to become even more secretive and withdrawn.
In June 1978, Severus finished Hogwarts with six Outstanding N.E.W.T.s: in Ancient Runes, Charms, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Herbology, Potions, and Transfiguration.
He was unsure of his next move. He wanted to pursue a mastery in Potions, but he had no way to support himself during the two years of intensive study required. Unwilling to return to Cokeworth, he accepted an invitation to stop with Lucius Malfoy at his family home in Wiltshire.
Malfoy, now a full Death Eater and eager to ingratiate himself with the Dark Lord, introduced the promising young man to Voldemort, suggesting that the talented and magically powerful Severus could be an excellent asset to their cause in spite of his half-blood status and largely Muggle upbringing.
A sceptical Voldemort demanded proof of the young man’s gifts and commanded him to duel Bellatrix Black, Voldemort’s most loyal follower and the most skilful duellist of the group.
During the duel, Severus employed several spells of his own devising, defeating Bellatrix. His victory impressed the Dark Lord. It also humiliated the proud Bellatrix and earned Severus her lifelong enmity.
Severus provided Voldemort with samples of several potions he had invented, including a traceless antidote to Veritaserum and an early version of Garrotting Gas, which gave off fumes that made anyone exposed to it feel as if they were suffocating.
These were enough to persuade Voldemort to invite Severus to take the Dark Mark, enticing him with promises of power and revenge against his enemies. The Dark Lord also offered Severus his own potions lab and access to several master potioneers to help him, in exchange for exclusive access to the fruits of Severus’s labours.
The offer was too good to pass up. In addition to being penniless and homeless, Severus was despondent over the marriage of Lily Evans to the hated James Potter that summer, and he felt very much alone in the world and powerless to attain what he wanted.
Severus took the Dark Mark on 3 September 1978 and was immediately put to work devising potions and going on offensive missions for the Dark Lord, carrying out terrorist attacks on witches and wizards who opposed him.
At first, Severus enjoyed the feeling of power these missions gave him, but as the attacks grew more violent and began to target helpless Muggles, he grew uneasy. By this time, however, he knew it was too late to leave—defecting Death Eaters were almost always killed.
He tried to focus on studying, brewing, and creating potions for Voldemort, alongside the master potioneers who had been recruited to the Death-Eater cause.
During this time, he lived largely at Malfoy Manor, even after Lucius married Narcissa Black in late 1978. Severus liked Narcissa, but her presence at the manor meant also seeing more of her sister, Bellatrix, who continued to dislike Severus and undermined him whenever she could. Lucius’s wealth and connections made him important to Voldemort, and with him, Severus soon became part of the Dark Lord’s “inner circle.”
Severus’s only real happiness during this time was when he was studying advanced magic. With access to the Malfoys’ extensive library, books the Dark Lord provided on Dark magic, and the guidance of the master potioneers, Severus was able to experiment widely. He became interested in mind magic, teaching himself Occlumency and Legilimency, as well as difficult Memory Charms. His success with creating an antidote to Veritaserum had shown him that there was much potential in harnessing mind magic to potions, and he began to experiment with mixtures that played on the consciousness and psyche.
He made the mistake of mentioning his experiments to the Dark Lord, who ordered him to come up with potions he could use to psychologically torture his enemies. Among the most horrible of these was the so-called “Drink of Despair”, which Severus created in the summer of 1979.
The potion caused the drinker to relive the worst moments of their life, with a heightened emotional response, leaving the victim weak and dying of thirst. Voldemort was so delighted with it that he used it as one of the protections for his locket Horcrux.
Shortly after leaving Hogwarts, Severus had visited his mother, trying to persuade her to leave his father and return to the magical world, but she refused. She had lived as a Muggle with Tobias for too long, she told him.
On 9 November 1979, Severus received word that his mother had died. She had hanged herself in the bedroom of the Cokeworth house. Severus, who had not seen her in more than a year, was devastated. He went to her sparsely attended funeral and let his father persuade him to join him at the pub afterwards.
Severus was disgusted when a drunken Tobias cried on his shoulder, wailing over his departed wife. Once Tobias was near passing out, Severus took him home and put him to bed. He never saw him again. Tobias died of a stroke in 1983, leaving the house in Spinner’s End to Severus.
In an effort to forget Lily, Severus had taken to sleeping with a series of witches who liked to latch on to Death Eaters in Voldemort’s inner circle, hoping to enjoy the benefits of a connection to the Dark Lord without having to take the Dark Mark.
In March 1980, Severus was at the Hog’s Head Inn in Hogsmeade, drinking with one of these witches, when he saw Albus Dumbledore enter the pub with a woman.
Intrigued, he surreptitiously followed the pair to a room above the pub, where he overheard the woman—who he later learned was Seer Sybill Trelawney—deliver part of a prophecy regarding the Dark Lord and “the one with the power to vanquish” him.
He brought news of the prophecy to Voldemort, who became obsessed with finding the subject of the prophecy. Severus was horrified when the Dark Lord told him that he had determined that his nemesis was the son of Lily Evans Potter.
Knowing the Dark Lord would kill the Potters, he asked his master to spare Lily, explaining that he had always wanted her. Voldemort laughed at him but agreed to give Lily Potter the opportunity to surrender her son and live.
Severus pretended to be satisfied, but he knew Lily would never exchange her son’s life for hers.
Sick with dread, he sent a message to Dumbledore, requesting a meeting. He told Dumbledore what he had done and begged him to save Lily. Dumbledore agreed, on the condition that Severus spy for him. Severus began to carry information on Voldemort’s plans and activities to Dumbledore and his Order of the Phoenix.
Despite Dumbledore’s promise, Voldemort killed both Lily and James Potter on 31 October 1981. Lily’s death devastated Severus. He considered suicide, but Dumbledore’s insistence that he devote his life to safeguarding Lily’s son, Harry, from Voldemort (who had ostensibly disappeared after the murder but whom both Dumbledore and Snape believed would eventually return to power) changed his mind. Severus believed he could achieve some measure of atonement if he could ensure the boy lived and Voldemort died.
Severus was among the Death Eaters arrested by the Aurors after Voldemort’s disappearance. He did not try to defend himself and sat in Azkaban prison for a month while Dumbledore argued for his freedom, convincing the Wizengamot that Severus had turned spy prior to Voldemort’s downfall. The Wizengamot agreed to free Snape, provided Dumbledore would keep a close watch on the young man to ensure his repentance was genuine.
Dumbledore installed Snape as Potions master and Head of Slytherin House at Hogwarts in December 1981.
At first, Severus was miserable. He knew his colleagues distrusted him, although most were polite, and, though he was secure in his knowledge of his subject, he felt unequipped to teach students, some of whom were only a few years younger than himself.
To hide his uncertainty, he developed a bullying demeanour in the classroom, which he would never lose, despite his fellow professors’ gentle suggestions that it was not the most effective pedagogical approach.
As the years passed with no sign of the Dark Lord’s return, Severus became more comfortable in his role at Hogwarts. Dumbledore allowed him to use the potions lab for his experiments, and he often spent his time off brewing potions for the Hogwarts infirmary.
Severus initially made no friends among the staff, although his fellow Heads of House, Filius Flitwick, McGonagall, and Pomona Sprout, tried to engage him, often inviting him to their informal social gatherings.
Severus was both grateful to and resentful of Dumbledore. He knew Dumbledore had only rescued him from a life sentence in Azkaban because the Headmaster would need a spy once Voldemort returned to power.
McGonagall, despite her reservations about the wisdom of having Severus teach children, was kind and welcoming, attempting to help him navigate the early difficulties of teaching. Severus rebuffed most of her attempts to help him, but he couldn’t help growing to like her, thanks to her intelligence, lack of sentimentality, and her dry wit, which was similar to his own.
Flitwick was also kind and helpful, and although they never became close, Severus admired the brilliant wizard.
He likewise respected Sprout and appreciated her expertise with the plants he needed for his experiments, and the two frequently conferred on plants and potions, although they never became friends.
Severus’s resentment of Dumbledore only increased when Lucius Malfoy—who, thanks to his wealth and connections, had also avoided prison after Voldemort’s fall—told him that Dumbledore and McGonagall were husband and wife. Severus couldn’t help envying Dumbledore for being so close to one of the only people he really (secretly) liked.
When Harry Potter arrived at Hogwarts in September 1991, Severus was miserable. Every time he looked at the boy, he was reminded of his own culpability in Lily Potter’s death, and Dumbledore often compounded the injury by reminding Severus of his promise to help protect the boy.
Severus reacted by becoming even more waspish and withdrawn than he had been, and took to bullying Harry relentlessly in class, causing Snape to clash frequently with Minerva, cooling their acquaintanceship.
In 1993, Severus was appalled when Dumbledore hired Remus Lupin as Hogwarts’s Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. Having both Harry Potter and a former member of the hated “Marauders” at what Severus had come to regard as his home seemed to sour everything for him, and he did what he could to undermine Lupin with Dumbledore, to little avail.
Severus believed that Lupin was secretly aiding his old friend Sirius Black, who had escaped from Azkaban prison that summer and had attempted to break into Hogwarts several times to murder Harry Potter, as everyone believed.
Severus was angry and disappointed when, at the end of the 1994 spring term, Sirius Black once again mysteriously escaped the justice Severus felt he had coming to him. Severus was unmoved when Dumbledore assured him that Black was, in fact, innocent of the crime he had been convicted of.
In his anger, Severus “accidentally” let slip to one of his classes that Lupin was a werewolf. The ensuing uproar forced Lupin to resign his post, giving Severus a small measure of satisfaction.
The 1994–1995 school year brought with it the Triwizard Tournament and the appearance at Hogwarts of two people Severus had hoped never to see again: his former comrade in the Death Eaters Igor Karkaroff and former Auror Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody.
Severus tried his best to avoid both men, but Karkaroff sought him out, terrified by the fact that the Dark Mark he and Severus bore was growing darker and more visible day by day.
Both former Death Eaters knew that this likely meant Voldemort was growing stronger. Moreover, there was clearly a spy at Hogwarts who had put Harry Potter’s name in the Goblet of Fire, forcing the boy to compete in a tournament that could get him killed. Severus got little rest, as he was constantly keeping watch on the many visitors to Hogwarts during that year, but he was unable to determine who the spy was.
During the tournament’s final task, the mark on Severus’s arm began to tingle and then burn, and he realised that Voldemort had at last regained physical form and was calling his Death Eaters.
Fighting the pain, he went to tell Dumbledore; however, at that moment, Harry Potter appeared from the final task of the tournament bearing Cedric Diggory’s corpse and the news of the Dark Lord’s return.
Thinking of the potions ingredients that had been stolen from his stores (a theft he had blamed on Potter), Severus quickly concluded that the spy who had put Potter’s name in the Goblet of Fire was using Polyjuice Potion and that it was likely that year’s Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, the man they had believed to be Auror “Mad-Eye” Moody but who was, it turned out, Death Eater Barty Crouch Jr.
Rather than Apparating directly to Voldemort’s side, as he and Dumbledore had determined he should do when the time came, Severus followed “Moody” to the castle when the latter took Potter, ostensibly to bring him to the hospital wing.
Fortunately, Dumbledore and McGonagall had also twigged to the problem, and the three of them prevented the imposter from harming Potter.
When Severus finally Apparated to Voldemort’s side an hour later, he was met with the Dark Lord’s wrath and subjected to an extended bout of the Cruciatus Curse.
Using all his skill at Occlumency, Severus managed to convince Voldemort that he was still a loyal Death Eater and that he had been biding his time at Hogwarts spying on Dumbledore, hoping that the intelligence would be of use to the Dark Lord upon his return.
Over the objections of Bellatrix Black—now Lestrange—and her husband, Rodolphus, Voldemort accepted Severus back into his inner circle, demanding he continue to spy on Dumbledore at Hogwarts.
Severus spent the ensuing years trying to balance giving Voldemort enough real information to avert suspicion, passing on false intelligence to him, and reporting back to Dumbeldore’s Order of the Phoenix.
When, in the summer of 1996, Dumbledore appeared at the castle, weak and suffering from a terrible curse that had destroyed his right hand, he immediately sought out Severus for help.
Using all his expertise in both the Dark Arts and potions, Severus was able to temporarily contain the curse that had afflicted Dumbledore in his hand, although he told the older wizard that the curse would likely kill him within a year’s time.
Snape baulked when Dumbledore insisted Severus should kill him before the curse could take him, but Dumbledore insisted, telling Snape that the Dark Lord had tasked Draco Malfoy with the deed and that Severus should complete the murder in the boy’s stead in order to preserve Draco’s life and his soul.
A few weeks later, Narcissa Malfoy asked Severus to help Draco. His hand forced by Narcissa and Bellatrix, who still did not trust him, Snape made an Unbreakable Vow to aid Draco and to kill Dumbledore should Draco fail.
The plan now set inevitably in motion, Dumbledore told Severus of Harry Potter’s fate as Voldemort’s unintended Horcrux, entrusting to Severus the mission to persuade the boy to sacrifice himself at the right time to render Voldemort mortal once again.
Severus was appalled at Dumbledore’s willingness to sacrifice Potter, and felt betrayed at having been led to believe that everything he, Snape, had been doing was to save Lily’s son’s life. Nevertheless, he moved forward with the plan Dumbledore had hatched, seeing no other way to ensure the Dark Lord’s fall.
On the evening of 30 June 1997, Snape received a message that Dumbledore had left Hogwarts with Harry Potter. He spent the evening in his office, alert for any trouble, his sense of impending danger heightened when he became aware that Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood were lurking outside.
Shortly thereafter, Filius Flitwick burst in to inform him that Death Eaters had entered the castle and that Professor McGonagall needed his help at the entrance to the Astronomy Tower.
Thinking quickly, Severus Stunned Flitwick and sent Hermione and Luna to care for him, telling them he had collapsed, in order to keep them busy and out of the fight he was certain would be deadly.
Arriving at the Astronomy Tower, he found a battle in full swing. He ignored the melee near the entrance and went up to the top of the tower, where he suspected something terrible was happening.
He arrived to find Draco, backed up by several Death Eaters, including Bellatrix, holding a clearly moribund Dumbledore at wandpoint. Severus knew the moment was upon him, and when Dumbledore quietly asked him to fulfil his vow, Severus killed him with an Avada Kedavra.
He then fled Hogwarts with the other Death Eaters and Draco in tow.
Snape spent the ensuing weeks at the Dark Lord’s side, ostensibly helping plan for the overthrow of the Ministry of Magic and the takeover of wizarding Britain.
He was unsurprised, but apprehensive, when, after the Ministry’s fall, Voldemort ordered him back to Hogwarts as Headmaster.
He returned, knowing that his former colleagues and the students all loathed him, and he spent most of his time in his office or in the Headmaster’s quarters, appearing only when necessary. It was the bleakest, loneliest time in his life.
His role required him to walk a fine line between allowing the Carrow siblings, Death Eaters whom Voldemort had appointed to teaching roles at Hogwarts, to punish students and preventing them from inflicting truly serious harm.
The only being who knew of Severus’s true allegiance was the enchanted portrait of Dumbledore that now hung in the Headmaster’s office; however, Severus found the constant reminder of the old man painful. Moreover, the portrait-Dumbledore continued to issue difficult instructions, including an order to deliver the Sword of Gryffindor to Harry Potter, who was in hiding, without letting the boy know from whom he had received it.
Another challenge was the open rebellion by many of the students and some of the staff; Snape had to be seen to punish and discourage it without harming any of the perpetrators.
Among the most vexing of the “rebels” was Minerva McGonagall, who often undermined the Carrows’ discipline of the students.
Minerva would pay dearly for this rebellion one evening when Voldemort, who had never forgotten Minerva’s rejection of him when the two were in school together, planned to allow several of his Death Eaters to sexually assault her as punishment and as a frightening example to others.
Severus, in an attempt to prevent her from being seriously injured, insisted on being her assailant.
Already sick with remorse at what he had been forced to do, Snape was horrified when Voldemort insisted he continue to abuse her, both to keep her in line and to provide amusement for the Dark Lord.
Unwilling to follow Voldemort’s command, a distraught Severus confessed to Minerva his true loyalties, persuading her of his honesty by showing her memories of his conversations with Dumbledore in the Headmaster’s Pensieve.
Snape was taken aback but ultimately agreed when Minerva suggested they acquiesce to Voldemort’s demands, both to preserve Severus’s position as his closest advisor and to provide misinformation, misdirection, and distraction to the Dark Lord whenever possible via the memories Severus would carry back to him.
On the evening of 1 May 1998, Minerva came to Snape’s quarters to report that the Carrows had forced their way into Ravenclaw Tower and appeared to be waiting for something.
During this meeting, Severus’s Dark Mark began to burn, and he realised that the Dark Lord was on his way to Hogwarts and that the final confrontation was at hand.
He and Minerva said their goodbyes, each aware that it was highly likely that one or both of them would not survive the night.
Later that evening, when he met Minerva in a corridor, accompanied, as Severus suspected, by Harry Potter, the pair pretended to duel, giving Snape an excuse to leave Hogwarts when Minerva “chased” him from the castle.
He joined the Dark Lord and his army of Death Eaters outside the gates of the school. As the battle began, he provided false information about the castle’s defences to his comrades and ostensibly joined in the attack while actually doing what he could to scuttle it and protect the castle’s inhabitants.
A few hours later, Snape was summoned to the Shrieking Shack, where Voldemort told him that he must die to allow the Dark Lord to take full control of the Elder Wand, which Voldemort believed had given Severus its allegiance when Dumbledore was killed.
Voldemort set his giant snake, Nagini, on Severus, leaving him to bleed out on the floor of the shack.
Severus believed in those moments that he had failed in the mission Dumbledore had left him, but when Harry Potter appeared in the shack, he realised he had one final chance to complete his atonement.
He gave Potter the memories that would spur the boy to fulfil his destiny, allowing himself to be killed by the Dark Lord, thus destroying the final Horcrux tying Voldemort to life and rendering him mortal once again. Severus died looking into the eyes of the boy who so resembled Lily Potter.
After the battle, Harry Potter told everyone who would listen that Snape had really been on the side of the Light and that he was a hero, but few listened.
He persuaded Minerva McGonagall to have Snape’s body retrieved from the Shrieking Shack and given a proper burial in the small graveyard in Hogsmeade. A graveside service was attended only by Potter, Ronald and Ginevra Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Minerva, his gravestone noted only the dates of his birth and death, and that he had served as Hogwarts Headmaster.
Potter eventually prevailed upon Minerva to help him clear Snape’s name officially with the Ministry’s War Crimes Tribunal. Harry and Minerva each testified to Snape’s true allegiance and provided the tribunal with memories related to Snape’s conduct during the war.
This caused an uproar when his wartime activities with McGonagall became public, and a 2005 biography of McGonagall penned by Rita Skeeter was filled with lurid half-truths and lies about the nature of their relationship.
Snape was overlooked in the honours that were passed out after the end of the war; however, Harry Potter would always insist on Snape’s inclusion in official lists of war heroes.
As a child, Severus was slightly built and often malnourished. He wore old, patched clothing, and was usually unwashed. As an adult, he was not considered attractive, with a prominent, hooked nose, sallow skin, and greasy hair.
His hygiene and manner of dressing improved drastically after Lucius Malfoy took him under his wing, and he eventually presented an elegant and well-kept figure.
Young Severus was lonely and timid but intellectually curious. He yearned to find a way out of the poverty that dogged his childhood, and set his sights on becoming the best wizard he could be.
His jealousy, his temper, and his unwillingness to suffer fools often got the better of him, losing him the opportunity to make many friends. As a teen, he became secretive and withdrawn as a result of his unpopularity and because of the bullying he suffered at the hands of the hated “Marauders”.
Thanks to careful tutelage by Lucius Malfoy, he eventually developed excellent manners and sophisticated tastes that set him in good stead with his fellow Death Eaters.
He disliked teaching younger children and let it show, often bullying and berating the students in his classes. He was a better teacher with his N.E.W.T. students, and his exacting standards ensured that any student who passed his N.E.W.T. classes was well prepared for advanced potions work.
Snape’s wand, a 12 ¼-inch Acacia model with a dragon heartstring core, was especially good at subtle spells and for potion-making.
After his father’s death in 1983, Snape became the owner of the small home in Spinner’s End in Cokeworth in which he had grown up. It was small, dark, and rundown, and Severus hated to spend time there. After the return of the Dark Lord, he and Peter Pettigrew spent summers there, ostensibly doing Voldemort’s bidding.
Severus bequeathed the home to Hogwarts after his death, his will stipulating that it be sold and the proceeds directed to the school’s Needy Scholars’ Fund along with the remainder of his savings.
Snape was a powerful wizard and excelled at many branches of magic. He enjoyed inventing potions and spells, and eventually learned much difficult and esoteric magic, including Occlumency and Legilimency, at which he became extraordinarily adept.
He was also one of the few mages who learned to fly without the aid of a charmed object such as a broom—a good thing, given his discomfort with broom flight.
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If you haven’t read the series through Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart, there will be some spoilers, so read at your own risk.