Spoiler Alert: This article assumes the reader is familiar with the plot of the Harry Potter series. If you aren’t, you should stop reading now, pick up the first book, and have your mind blown by its excellence. Then come back and read this.
I, like many other millennials, spent a good chunk of my early years lost in the wizarding world created by J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series. I eagerly anticipated all the new books and movies, I dressed as Harry for Halloween, and to this day, I’m still proud to call myself a Ravenclaw.
The story of Harry Potter did more than just entertain me, though. In many ways, I think the series helped to shape my moral compass. I learned from and admired the virtues of many characters—the wisdom of Albus Dumbledore, the authenticity of Luna Lovegood, and the bravery of Severus Snape.
Among the list of amazing characters in the series, Snape is one of my favorite and one of the most complex. On the anniversary of Severus Snape's death, which J.K. Rowling recorded as May 2, 1998, I wanted to remember five of the valuable lessons I learned from this most iconic character.
Lead image from IMDb
It’s possible to love even those who hate you.
Perhaps one of Jesus Christ’s most beautiful teachings is His charge to “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, [and] do good to them that hate you.” It’s also one of the hardest to follow. I mean, it’s not always easy to love those who love you, much less those who don’t—but that’s what Severus Snape did.
He loved Lily Potter even in his childhood, but the years strained their bond. Lily eventually refused to even talk to Snape and ended up marrying his worst enemy. However, even when Lily died, Snape’s feelings for her did not. He selflessly placed himself in constant danger in an effort to protect her son, and ultimately gave his life in the process. Ironically, the character in Harry Potter who seemed to have the smallest capacity for love turned out to be the one who loved the most.
Treat people kindly—even when it’s not easy.
Snape was the man. He was utterly awesome. But since that’s out of the way, I’ll be the first to admit that he wasn’t perfect. In fact, he was one of the most two-sided characters I’ve ever encountered in literature. He could be mean, prejudiced, and vengeful. His peers found him reclusive and strange.
As a result, James Potter and his schoolmates made it their life’s mission to torment and bully Snape. On one occasion, they pulled his pants down and dangled him upside down in the air—in front of the girl he loved, no less. The scars from this boyhood abuse stayed with Snape throughout his life, leaving him with a cold and abrasive personality. He even seemed to delight in returning that abuse to his pupils.
I remember my elementary school self being moved by the traumatic and lasting effects of James Potter’s bullying. I learned that even though people have flaws, nobody deserves to be treated unkindly.
It’s not “Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater.”
He may have been weird as a kid, but Snape actually became straight-up evil for a while there. One might have even thought him among “the vilest of sinners.” After Hogwarts, he joined the ranks of the Death Eaters and became one of Voldemort’s most trusted servants. In fact, by relaying the contents of Sybil Trelawney’s prophecy to the Dark Lord, Snape was indirectly responsible for the murder of James and Lily Potter.
But though his sins were crimson red, Snape eventually saw the light. He spent decades as a spy for Albus Dumbledore, masquerading as a Death Eater and risking his life at every turn. Many in the Order of the Phoenix questioned his loyalty—“No one stops being a Death Eater,” said Sirius—but ultimately, Snape never wavered. His repentance proved absolutely critical to Voldemort’s demise.
Don’t judge the Slytherins too harshly—sometimes they’re the best among us.
“If the Sorting Hat had tried to put me in Slytherin,” said Ron Weasley, “I’d have got the train straight back home.” This attitude toward Slytherin house was not uncommon in the wizarding world. Although they were selected for their cunning, resourcefulness, leadership, and determination, Slytherin students had a bad—though perhaps partly deserved—reputation. As Ron explained, “There’s not a witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.”
For most of the series, readers had no reason to believe that Snape was good other than Dumbledore’s unexplained trust. And why would they? Snape was mean, vindictive, and perhaps most foreboding of all, the head of Slytherin house. But his late-game heroics proved a powerful point—bravery and value are often found in the unlikeliest of places. Readers never judged Snape correctly because they didn't know his whole story.
The same is true of us today. How often do we judge others only to find out we were mistaken all along? Or, even if our assumptions were correct, how often do we learn something about them that gives us more insight into their struggles? Sometimes the most difficult people to love or trust are the ones who most need it.
In the fight between right and wrong, one person can make a difference.
As a "peculiar people," we're charged to make a difference in the world—but the world is so troubled that it’s sometimes easy for me to get discouraged. “Even if I do what I feel is right,” I often think, “what difference would it make?” With the wrong mindset, even good things like giving what I can to the poor or being kind to those around me seem painfully insignificant. After all, I’m not going to solve world hunger, and I’m not going to stop unkindness. So why even bother?
Perhaps Snape thought the same thing on occasion. He’d witnessed the powers of evil firsthand, and they were fearsome and strong. Was there any point in fighting it? Right up until Snape's death, it seemed as though those battling for right were simply prolonging the inevitable—but with his final acts, he turned the tables in favor of good. The courage of Professor Severus Snape set in motion a chain of events that ultimately led to the collapse of Voldemort’s power and the redemption of the wizarding world.
Not bad for a peculiar kid from Slytherin.