Monday, July 25, 2011

Harry Potter and the Half-Read Prince (3)

Friendly warning again: Spoilers ahead! Read on only if you have read all seven of the Harry Potter books.  

The finale in the three-part series is here at long last ... ...

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Finally, the chapters whence-forth Snape was to let himself be loathed by all: The Lightning-Struck Tower and The Flight of the Prince. Whereas up till then, he had to overcome his negativities to perform good, Snape now had to act in spite of his good side. In order to save Dumbledore from a painful and undignified death at the hands of the likes of bloodthirsty werewolf Greyback Fenrir and manic Voldemort-worshiper Bellatrix Lestrange and to protect Draco, Snape was forced, under the directions from Dumbledore himself, to kill with his own hands the headmaster who had guided him to the right path and helped him to fulfill Lily's mission for the past 15 years. It was certainly a task Snape carried out with immense torment - hatred and revulsion etched in the harsh lines on his face, like how Harry hated himself and revolted when forcing Dumbledore to take Voldemort's toxic liquid just a chapter ago. Yet, in spite of his inner suffering, he had to continue his act as a traitor, profound pain throbbing on deep within him, like he were Hagrid's dog trapped in the burning hut.

With his own wand, he had also destroyed the only person who knew of his unwavering true allegiance and condemned himself a betrayer and unfeeling Death Eater, subjecting himself now on top of a merciless and heartless Dark master on one side danger from his own real allies, including his charge Harry, this time round.

Nonetheless, when Harry attacked him as he was making his escape from Hogwarts, Snape did not forget to dispense his last guiding pointers to Harry: practise Occlumency, master non-verbal spells, stay away from Dark Magic. A teacher he was till the end.

Of note too was that Snape stopped a Death Eater from exacting the Cruciatus Curse on Harry, bellowing as he did. He himself did not fight back either when Harry was hurling spells at him. This extraordinary pursuit scene, so unlike that which deluged dramas and films common in these days, gave food for thought on the true meanings of courage and cowardice. Conventional wisdom has it that fighting equates bravery and scampering, cowardice. Snape has made us look beyond that superficial display of courage and ponder: perhaps the act of not fighting back in order to uphold an ideal and bracing for humiliation instead, is the real manifestation of courage.

In the last book of the series, the Deathly Hallows, Snape became the headmaster of Hogwarts. On pretense of suppressing dissidents, he re-enacted the anti-student group decree issued by the Inspector he detested, in order to protect the students. When Dumbledore's Army schemed to steal the (fake) Sword of Gryffindor, he carted it off to Gringotts to prevent the DA members from risking more punishment. When students got into trouble, he sent them for detentions with Hagrid, even though he knew the latter's allegiance very well, so that they could escape the more cruel alternatives by the Carrows. To deliver the actual Sword of Gryffindor to Harry, he got Phineas Nigellus Black to track his location, and then sent the patronus that represented Lily to Harry to guide him to the sword all without the young wizard's knowledge.

Harry stared at the creature, filled with wonder, not at her strangeness, but at her inexplicable familiarity. He felt that he had been waiting for her to come, but that he had forgotten, until this moment, that they had arranged to meet. His impulse to shout for Hermione, which had been so strong a moment ago, had gone. He knew, he would have staked his life on it, that she had come for him, and him alone.

When news of Harry's return to Hogwarts got to Snape, Snape got into action to track Harry down so that he could shield him from Voldemort. On top of that, knowing Harry's affinity for Dumbledore, Snape set the password to the Headmaster's Office to the former headmaster's name so that Harry could seek counsel from Dumbledore easily.

Snape finally had his long-expected fate coming to him, when Voldemort, capricious and holding no regard for his followers' welfare, took his life meaninglessly for a most astoundingly selfish purpose. In his final moments, Snape underwent a painful and protracted death as he struggled vigorously in spite of his wound and draining energy to deliver his last mission to Harry.

That was Professor Severus Snape. Headmaster and protector of a school which collectively misunderstood him. Teacher and guardian to the end of a boy whom he never liked and who himself deeply loathed him. All for his lifelong undying and unconditional pure love of a woman who will never love him in return. And all that he asked for as he departed from this world was to look at her eyes once more.

"Albus Severus, you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew."

—Harry Potter to his son in the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Monday, July 18, 2011

Harry Potter and the Half-Read Prince (2)

Friendly warning: Spoilers ahead! Read on only if you have read all seven of the Harry Potter books.  

Continuing from where we left off last week ...

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The Goblet of Fire marked the return of Voldemort to power. Here, we saw Snape's extreme unwillingness to have others know or recall about his past as a Death Eater. However, when Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge stubbornly refused to acknowledge Voldemort's return, Snape walked up and revealed his reappeared Death Mark before Fudge's eyes, in full view of teachers, parents and students around, including those who might not have known of his past identity otherwise —— once again sacrificing his valued dignity for a noble cause. Unlike fellow deflected Death Eater Karkaroff, Snape was unshaken in his resolution to stay on in Hogwarts to continue his mission for Dumbledore, Lily and Harry, mentally preparing himself to face the wrath of Voldemort. Finally, on the order of Dumbledore, Snape returned to Voldemort, knowing he was already branded a traitor, knowing the Dark Lord's intolerance of disloyalty, knowing his arduous task ahead, and —— knowing the cruel fate that awaited him if Voldemort failed to be convinced. Thus, in spite of the fears brewing inside him, Snape re-embarked on a treacherous journey as a double agent, putting himself in constant mortal danger from then on.

In the next title, The Order of the Phoenix, Snape undertook the task of imparting the skill of Occlumency to Harry, giving him a peek into some of Harry's most unpleasant memories. Harry noted that Snape took the chance to mock at him when Snape inquired who the dog threatening Harry in one of the memories involving the Dursleys belonged to. On closer inspection though, Snape's selection of the memory to remark about was most intriguing. Why did he focus on a dog when he could have inflicted worse hurt by jeering at Harry's fragility in face of the dementors or teasing about the kiss with Cho Chang? No doubt Snape might not have gotten a proper view of those more embarrassing scenes, but why didn't J.K. Rowling let him if that was the case? There is hence a possibility that Snape was actually concerned about the Dursleys' ill-treatment of Harry. This first-hand insight into Harry's muggle life might have partly contributed to Dumbledore's confrontation scene with the Dursleys in the book to follow.

Speaking of the next book, The Half-Blood Prince was the start of another tragic tribulation for Snape. Before that though, like in The Chamber of Secrets, Snape was again the teacher to meet Harry at the gates when the young wizard failed to arrive at Hogwarts with the rest of the students, quietly forsaking his dinner at the school-opening feast while waiting for his safe arrival. Disliking Harry as he was, Snape still kept a silent lookout for him during his arrival at the start of each school year, holding a vigil for him on an empty stomach when he failed to arrive with the others, and punishing him after he finally appeared in hope that Harry would not place himself in such danger again. Even though all these were misconstrued as bullying antics by almost everyone else.

A strict disciplinarian Snape was however, unlike Dolores Umbridge and the Carrows, he never resorted to corporeal punishment. Instead, what was the most physically excruciating task he assigned Harry in the name of cruel punishment? Flobberworms, probably the most harmless magical creatures around.

It is also in this year that Snape rescued a number of people from death or severe injury: Dumbledore, Katie Bell and Draco Malfoy. This marks a significant difference between Snape and some ordinary Dark Arts fanatic. Unlike Crabbe and the Carrows, Snape devoted efforts to the defence of the Dark Arts as well, studying the means of undoing their damage. A not very obvious aspect of Snape's personality was also in play. From his fine feminine-like handwriting, his notes-laden potions textbook, his devotion to his studies and research, his mastery of the subtle art of Potions and the elaborate charms he performed with a high concentration on Dumbledore and Draco, it can be sensed that underneath Snape's cold and harsh exterior was a thoughtful and caring soul after all.

Tata for the night and remember to come back for the concluding piece in the series!

"Karkaroff intends to flee if the Mark burns."
"Does he?" said Dumbledore softly, as Fleur Delacour and Roger Davies came giggling in from the grounds. "And are you tempted to join him?"
"No," said Snape, his black eyes on Fleur's and Roger's retreating figures. "I am not such a coward."
"No," agreed Dumbledore."You are a braver man by far than Igor Karkaroff. You know, I sometimes think we Sort too soon..." He walked away, leaving Snape looking stricken...

Dumbledore: "Don't be shocked, Severus. How many men and women have you watched die?"
Snape: "Lately, only those whom I could not save."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Harry Potter and the Half-Read Prince (1)

Friendly warning: Spoilers ahead! Read on only if you have read all seven of the Harry Potter books.

So far, we have shared with you two selections of the most enlightening and heartstrings-tugging lines from the phenomenal Harry Potter series. It is oft-quoted, however, that actions speak louder than words. Even more precious than loud actions though, are deeds performed in muted silence, heard by no one and seeking no witness. The most sanguine and noble acts in the books are those which did not manifest themselves as words or even get clearly depicted in ink. They took place in shadows and even under guises portraying otherwise, the warmth and earnestness in them stirring quietly in the heart, unspoken, unseen, unknown, but nonetheless undeterred. Welcome to the written yet never fully uttered tale of the Half-Blood Prince. While waiting for the full unveiling of the Pottermore site, tonight, let us trace after the steps of the elusive prince, who like his ethereal silver doe, leaves no footprint after him.

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 Born to a family living in abject poverty, its problems compounded by domestic violence, Severus Snape had a tumultuous childhood. His parents were constantly quarreling, with him watching on in pain as his father abused his mother. Woefully under-cared for as a child, he was poorly groomed and socially awkward in both demeanor and appearance. As a consequence, Snape was taunted by both Muggles and wizarding folks alike, the latter even attacking him relentlessly in what was otherwise his new-found shelter at Hogwarts. These long years of oppression first drove him to the Dark Arts, then eventually into the open arms of Voldemort's movement, which championed rights to the dis-empowered as a lure into their forces. His disenfranchisement with the movement came on later, but in a most excruciating way, in the process exacting a painful price he would never recover: the loss of the love of his life.

When Snape realized that Voldemort intended to kill the Potters' son, he was aghast at how Lily Potter's safety was being endangered. In spite of Voldemort's notorious cruelty to those who disobeyed him, Snape fled off to warn Dumbledore, the first risk to his own safety that he would come to repeat for time and again for the next sixteen years. At Dumbledore's demand of what he would give in return for the protection of Lily, he made up his mind —— "Anything."

After the devastating death of Lily, Snape took on the task of her son to fulfill her mission, as persuaded by Dumbledore, beginning an epic to be played out in seven books. Yet, he never liked Harry, seeing him as the shadow of the arrogant and bullying James Potter. Harry's striking resemblance to this boy who had tormented him repeatedly, in front of a large jeering crowd, and just for the sake of easing his buddy's boredom, made matters doubly worse. Nevertheless, he shouldered on the mission till his death, acting against his prejudice and hatred.

In Harry's first year, Snape prevented Quirrell from cursing Harry off his broom in the first Quidditch match. In the second match, he volunteered to referee, an act which remarkability could only be fully appreciated four books later, for it was only then that we learnt from his memories about his severe lack of aptitude for broom-riding. So in fact, he had faced the prospoect of humiliation by the throngs of charges under him, in his bid to be up close to protect Harry, even though that might not have been necessary as Dumbledore had turned up for the event to deter Quirrell from action.

However, Snape's heart for empathy beneath his cold and harsh exterior was not limited to Lily and Harry. In the Chamber of Secrets, Snape quietly worried for the student said to be captured by the heir of Slytherin, just as he was secretly alarmed when Harry demonstrated proficiency in Parseltongue, a trait shared by dark and dangerous wizards associated with Slytherin. The uncharacteristic grip on the back of the chair, like the odd look at Harry in the dueling club incident, was an early glimpse into his true psyche.

In the Prisoner of Azkaban, Snape opposed the appointment of Remus Lupin, whom he suspected of being sympathetic to the 'killer' Sirius Black, widely known to have led to the Potters' death. This and his long-held suspicion that Lupin had colluded in the nearly fatal prank Sirius pulled on him as schoolboys, deepened his dislike for Lupin. Despite these misgivings though, Snape was fair in his actions to Lupin. As a schoolboy, he did not divulge Lupin's identity as a werewolf to anyone - in spite of his near-death experience with Lupin and the latter's affiliation with James and Sirius. Not even to Lily, who did not appreciate that Snape was nearly killed by Sirius. As a teacher, Snape did not spread his doubts about Lupin among the students, trying instead to hide these concerns from Head Prefect Percy when the latter listened in to his discussion with Dumbledore about Lupin. On the contrary, Snape concocted the Wolfbane potion for Lupin meticulously and perfectly every month, keeping him in good health, even though he could have easily sabotaged the concoction to make life difficult for Lupin. Things did not stop there. When Snape found the Marauders' Map from Harry, he immediately summoned Lupin, whom he knew to be a Marauder, for questioning. Yet, in the whole process, he threw off only cryptic questions, not revealing his real suspicion of Lupin's gift of the map to Harry. Snape blew off only when he misunderstood that Lupin was realy on Sirius's side in the end, finally leaking Lupin's identity to the students. Also of note in this book was Snape's secret alarm when he saw Harry in a one-to-one proximity with Lupin, who he thought might be in cahoots with Harry's 'would-be murderer', Sirius.

Before we end the night, JK Rowling wrote in her book that, 'If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.' How about his enemies then? In contrast to the sloppy and undignified way the trio, Lupin and Sirius allowed Snape to be suspended and bumped around while he was unconscious, Snape took care to conjure up stretchers for everyone and lift them one by one onto them when they met the same fate, even though three of them had just knocked him unsound a short while ago and one of them, the ‘murderer’ of his beloved.

That’s all for today and we shall continue on another night. Sleep tight and remember to come back for the next article!

"...asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death."
--Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. (Asphodel: a plant belonging to the family of lilies, Wormwood: characterized by bitterness)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Best-Read Articles in Lavender Country

In the flash of an eye, Lavender Country has passed the half-year mark, serving its readers with fun tidbits, heart-melting anecdotes and inspirational stories along the way for the past six months. Let's take a look at our top five most-read articles so far:

In fifth position is Sweeping Away Fallen Leaves .... and Nightly Blues... : love blossoms quietly amid fallen leaves. A piece on the surprisingly sedative effects of cleaning. Self-help can be available at just the tips of our fingers.

Tying for fourth place are 手帕般的邂逅 A Kind of Meeting Like a Handkerchief and The Story Behind Lavender Country .  The kinds of relationships that feed on us like parasites, in contrast to those that nurture us - in other words, relationships that should not be held illusions of and relationships that should be held close to heart; and the motivation behind this website, along with the atmosphere it aspires to evoke.

For runner-up, we have Why haven't we seen them? 为何没看见?: Another  romantic piece, this time inspired by two people who were once equally pure and innocent at heart. An essay on life's oft-neglected simple pleasures and a reminder to stop and smell the roses.

Finally, *drum roll*  at the top place is ....
A Tale of Two Rats ! A  pair of star-crossed rodent lovers, or so it seems. Tribulation sometimes acts out only in our minds.

It looks like  The Story Behind Lavender Country  is the only post without a romance element. We sure need a dose of enchanting love - that which transforms our souls and uplift our spirits - in our lives.

Do you agree with the majority picks? What is your personal favorite? Drop us a note below and let us know! And not to forget, happy reading for the remaining months of the year ahead~

Lavender Country