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)

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