Severus Snape is one of the most divisive characters in the Harry Potter fandom. He has many devoted fans – he had them even before the big reveal about Lily in the last book. But he has as many, if not more, determined detractors, who insist he was a bully and a creep.
Because I’m a hateful person, I tend to get irritated by both sides of the argument.
I read a lot of Snape-centric fanfiction at one time, and that made me very familiar with the point of view of the devoted fans. My time on the side of tumblr where I tend to hang out allowed me to see the other one. Both have occasionally made me want to tear my hair out. And so, for the peace of my own mind if nothing else, I decided to take a detailed look at this character’s actual actions as we have them in canon, without the different interpretations fandom puts on them, and see what comes out of it.
If we examine Snape’s life chronologically, the first we see is “a hook-nosed man (was) shouting at a cowering woman, while a small dark-haired boy cried in a corner” when Harry first breaks into Snape’s memories during their Occlumency lessons.
Now, this is a snippet that allows for a variety of interpretations, but I’ll try to keep it conservative. Let’s say Snape’s father didn’t actually beat his mother or him, that he was “just” emotionally abusive. That it was abuse, not just regular arguments, is made pretty clear from the way Eileen Snape is describes as “cowering” here. So, point one, Severus Snape comes from an emotionally abusive home. He grew up in a bad neighborhood, too, going by what Petunia says in his memory, and was poor.
Then we get this:
Snape looked no more than nine or ten years old, sallow, small, stringy. There was undisguised greed in his thin face as he watched the younger of the two girls.
So, young Severus watches two girls playing. I think it’s safe to say he’s lonely – people who have plenty of friends don’t spend time by watching others play. His behavior is also stalkerish, but he is nine or ten, and he clearly has no one to tell him it’s wrong.
We hear him say this to Petunia: “Wouldn’t spy on you, anyway, you’re a Muggle”. So he is prejudices against Muggles, in spite of his father being one. But then given how he treated his mother, that is not so surprising. However, it seems more like utter disinterest and like he looks down on them than active hate.
We get another snippet of Severus’ home situation a bit later, here:
“How are things at your house?” Lily asked.
A little crease appeared between his eyes.
“Fine,” he said.
“They’re not arguing anymore?”
“Oh yes, they’re arguing,” said Snape. He picked up a fistful of leaves and began tearing them apart, apparently unaware of what he was doing. “But it won’t be that long and I’ll be gone.”
“Doesn’t your dad like magic?”
“He doesn’t like anything, much,” said Snape.
Apart from confirming that it was bad, it also shows us that Severus was really friends with Lily at this point, not just admiring her from afar and giving her information about the wizarding world. They are actually talking about their personal lives, and Lily worries about him, so at the very least she was his friend.
Then, Severus makes a branch fall on Petunia’s head after she spies on him and makes fun of his clothes. Now, this is one of those things that’s very open to interpretation. Did he do it on purpose, or was it accidental magic? I’m in favor of accidental, because it happens so immediately after and fulfills the typical requirement of accidental magic of anger or other emotional distress, but it’s not clear.
At any rate, when Lily accuses Severus, he tries to deny he did anything instead of apologizing and explaining it was an accident. Understandable, under the circumstances, but also telling. Snape’s interactions with Lily also tells us that while he likes her a lot, he doesn’t care for her enough to care about Petunia by extension, because she is important to Lily. It shows that right from the start, this was something else than perfectly healthy friendship on Severus’s side.
Then on the Hogwarts Express, we learn that Severus’s mother was in Slytherin and raised him to identify himself that way. Also, the feud with the Marauders starts. It’s very clearly started by James. Severus and Lily are talking to each other, minding their own business, and James chooses to make a disparaging remark about Severus’s house of choice. Severus retaliates in kind when James mentions Gryffindor, and James escalates it further by calling Severus a mean name.
Later Lily, Severus’s only friend, is Sorted into a house that is the sworn enemy of his, and Severus goes to the place where all his anti-Muggle prejudices will be supported and strengthened. Even worse, he seems to catch the attention of Lucius Malfoy right from the start, the worst influence imaginable.
The next point in time we have is probably the snippet that says “a girl was laughing as a scrawny boy tried to mount a bucking broomstick,” which is presumably Severus in his first year, learning how to fly. Hard to say if the girl is Lily and if the laughter is good-natured or if it’s someone else and it’s mean-spirited, so I’ll let it be. The last snippet from Harry’s first foray into Snape’s memories, “a greasy-haired teenager sat alone in a dark bedroom, pointing his wand at the ceiling, shooting down flies,” is impossible to date with any kind of precision, but it’s another indication of Severus’s loneliness and relative isolation.
What comes next is the incident with Remus. We don’t really know when it happened, but likely in their fourth or fifth year. It was before the OWLs, but when Harry watches the memory where Lily mentions it to Snape, he says it’s a few years after the Sorting. So Severus was around fifteen, and so were the Marauders.
Now, we don’t know how bad things were between them at this point. Severus doesn’t use their bullying of him as a way to turn Lily against them in the talk we witness that seems to have happened relatively shortly afterwards, but that can just as well be because he doesn’t want her to know – his embarrassment over her seeing him bullied and the subsequent reaction is the reason they fall out in the end, after all.
What we know from Sirius is that Severus was “sneaking around” and “trying to get them expelled”, and given how the meeting on the train went and that their relationship obviously didn’t improve, I think it’s safe to assume there were at least verbal attacks happening. If the dynamics stayed the same, they were initiated by the Marauders, but Severus didn’t exactly take it lying down. It also seems that while he was trying to get the Marauders expelled, it was by actually catching them red-handed at what they were doing, and not trying to falsely accuse them or something like that.
Then Sirius tried to use one of his best friends to kill Severus.
Now, the age excuse goes for him just as much as it goes for Severus. He was fifteen, too. I don’t think for a minute it was premeditated murder or anything. It was meant to be a joke and Sirius didn’t think it through, in all likelihood. Still, what happened to Severus was that he went down to a tunnel, actually saw a transformed werewolf (which must have been pretty terrifying) and then got pulled out by the boy he absolutely hated. Given their relationship and what we’ve seen of James, I doubt he was gracious about it, too. Dumbledore later forbid Severus to tell anyone, which is perfectly in line with his usual sensitive approach to traumatized children, but couldn’t have made the experience any easier.
So now Severus has the knowledge Sirius actually tried to kill him, his suspicion about Remus is confirmed, and he has the humiliation of James saving him to deal with. Around the same time, too, Mulciber tried to do something “dark” to Mary Macdonald, something Severus felt he could dismiss as a joke, so probably nothing as straightforward as outright torture. My personal guess would be some kind of mind-control (maybe not Imperius exactly, since that’s outright banned, so it would be hard to pass as a joke), probably in some vaguely sexual context. Severus thinks, or pretends he thinks, it’s a joke. Just like Sirius thought it was a joke to tell him how to get past the Whomping Willow. That explains why Severus immediately pulls them as a counter-example in this discussion with Lily:
“…thought we were supposed to be friends?” Snape was saying, “Best friends?”
“We are, Sev, but I don’t like some of the people you’re hanging round with! I’m sorry, but I detest Avery and Mulciber! Mulciber! What do you see in him, Sev, he’s creepy! D’you know what he tried to do to Mary Macdonald the other day?”
Lily had reached a pillar and leaned against it, looking up into the thin, sallow face.
“That was nothing,” said Snape. “It was a laugh, that’s all – ”
“It was Dark Magic, and if you think that’s funny – ”
“What about the stuff Potter and his mates get up to?” demanded Snape. His color rose again as he said it, unable, it seemed, to hold in his resentment.
“What’s Potter got to do with anything?” said Lily.
It also explains why he gets so angry (and frustrated, because he can’t tell her the truth) when she tries to split hairs by saying the Marauders don’t use Dark Magic and then implies he should be grateful to James for saving him, when Severus has every reason to believe James was primarily protecting Remus.
At this point, Severus is also in love with Lily, and possessive of her, something she is not comfortable with it. He realizes it, and tries to curb the displays of his possessiveness at least. He’s also desperately jealous of the popular James.
Next comes the terrible scene after the OWLs.
The way Severus reacts when James calls out to him clearly indicates that he was used to actual magical attacks from the Marauders at this point, so my guess is that after the Lupin incident it got to that point. By Lily’s reaction, too, it seems she isn’t exactly surprised by what she sees. Another indication this wasn’t the first time something like that happened.
Besides, we hear Lily say that James was “hexing anyone that annoyed him just because he could,” so that was likely doubly true for Severus, who probably annoyed him a little more than most. I’d also like to point out that when Lily asks James what has Severus done to him, James doesn’t even try to justify it by saying that Severus in person is a Dark wizard. He clearly was not the same kind of boy Mulciber was.
Another thing of note here is that Severus’s attack is immediately violent in the most straightforward sense – he uses Sectusempra on James. Here we come to the kind of hair splitting I was just talking about: Sectusempra is undeniably a dark spell, while what James used technically isn’t. Can we really argue it did less harm, though? And it’s important to think of Harry using Sectusempra on Draco in book 6 as we consider this, too. It does tell us something about Severus, but not that he was an evil, irredeemable case at this point.
Lily stands up for Severus. She is the only one, and even her mouth is said to “twitch” when he is turned upside down. Hopefully he did not see that, but still, it says something about the relationship. I don’t think I’d have smiled if my best friend was bullied in this way when we were sixteen. Lily clearly has a degree of distance from Severus at this point. Likely, it has something to do with her disapproving of his Slytherin associates.
I say associates, not friends, because none of them came to his help during that incident, and there was a lot of people there, so I’d assume at least some Slytherins, too; besides, Severus was there by himself, and we have that picture of him as a lonely teenager. He might have had acquaintances, but I don’t think he had much in the way of friends beside Lily.
Lily forces James and Sirius to let Severus go on wandpoint, and then, after James throws it in his face, Severus lashes out and calls Lily a “mudblood”.
As a result of his mistake, Lily joins in with the taunts James and Sirius were using on him and then walks away, leaving him to their mercy and free to continue the bullying. We don’t know what happened after Harry is pulled from the memory, if a teacher appeared or if Remus stopped them or if James had time to go through with his threat of what was effectively a sexual assault (publicly stripping someone against their will…what else do you want to call it?). Even if I assume it didn’t get that far, this was an extremely traumatizing experience.
To make it worse, of course, Lily broke their friendship over this incident. From what she says, it’s not really this one instance. It’s more of a tipping point. Nevertheless, the fact that it happened like this no doubt connected it to the Marauders in Severus’s mind, and made it possible to blame them for it instead of himself.
When he tries to apologize, Lily accuses Severus of being impatient to join Voldemort, and he can’t find it in himself to deny that accusation. People who dislike Severus will say it’s because it was true, his fans will say it’s because it was pointless, because her mind was clearly made up. Without getting into this discussion, it’s clear at the very least that many of Severus’s companions or house-mates, however you want to call them, certainly planned to join Voldemort. Whether Severus did or didn’t at this point is unclear. Personally, I’m inclined to think he was on the fence about it. And I do not doubt that this incident did away with any hesitation.
Now, to be perfectly clear: that’s not Lily’s fault. It’s not on her. Nevertheless, it is what happened.
After that, there’s a time gap, so let me use it to summarize Severus’s life so far: he has a shitty home life in a shitty neighborhood, and the only good thing about this life was his friend Lily, and the hope that he’d go to Hogwarts and be in Slytherin like his mother one day. Then he does go to Hogwarts, and his House created a chasm between him and his best friend that only widens with time. Plus, he is tormented by two popular boys, and no one really has his back. Then he finally loses his only friend. So far, he definitely comes out of it as a victim of circumstances more than anything else, even though I’m pretty sure many of his choices were far from ideal, too.
Presumably, Severus’s last two years of school were not a nice thing to behold as he became much less of a victim and more of a perpetrator. After he was done with Hogwarts, he officially became a Death Eater. At that point in time, I don’t think he could have had many illusions about what kind of organization he was joining. The war had been going on for eight years already.
He knew Voldemort was violent and didn’t shy away from murder, at the very least, and of course he knew Riddle believed in the supremacy of wizards over Muggles and of purebloods over Muggle-born. This is partly what Severus was raised in, too, but Voldemort preached a more extreme version of what his mother taught him, and Severus accepted it, in spite of his best friend being a Muggle-born for years. He seems to have accepted it even while she still was his best friend. Their talk as children implies that he saw her as something of an exception to the rule from the start. A credit to her blood, I guess.
On the other hand, Severus was socially isolated from anyone who wasn’t a Death Eater sympathizer at this point, having lost his only real friend. He was also eighteen. So while I don’t want to make too many excuses for him, I do think he felt like there was no other road open for him. It doesn’t excuse him by far, but it does provide a kind of perspective.
A year and a half pass with Snape the loyal Death Eater, and then he overhears the prophecy and hurries to Voldemort to tell him. Voldemort then promptly deduces it concerns Lily. Now, when Snape asked him to spare her, Voldemort couldn’t have given him an unequivocal promise, otherwise I don’t think Snape would have gone to Dumbledore. I imagine he said something along the lines of “if feasible, I’ll spare her.” So now Snape’s master, whom he swore his loyalty to, refused to grant him this relatively easy request. I imagine that shook Snape’s loyalty a little…and so he goes to Dumbledore.
It’s not a nice meeting. I don’t blame Dumbledore for it, he’s a pragmatist and he needed a spy, but what he does to Snape there is pretty ruthless. I’m not trying to cast him as an innocent victim at this point by any means, but what happened at that meeting was a cold-hearted deal, not Dumbledore offering help. So Snape certainly wouldn’t have walked away feeling that Dumbledore was the good guy, or even the better guy. He asked for a steep price. Of course we all know he’d have kept Lily and James safe anyway, but Snape didn’t.
So now Snape is caught between two masters, trusting neither. That situation keeps for almost two years, and it must have been pretty much hell. Spying, like any other work, probably takes practice, and even though Snape was naturally disposed towards it, I imagine that especially at the beginning, it involved a lot of punishment from Voldemort for not following orders before he learned better what to keep to himself and what to pass on to survive.
So he went through two pretty bad years, and at the end of it, Lily died.
Let me note that I have no illusions about the nature of his attachment to her. He was no doubt in love with her as a teenager, but more than loving her in the usual sense, it was a kind of desperate dependency. From what we can tell, she was the only person he had a good relationship with (possibly aside from his mother). That’s not healthy in any situation, and in the tense and impossible one Severus found himself in at Hogwarts, it’s much worse. Hence his possessiveness and jealousy. That’s why the end of that friendship hit him so hard, and that’s why her death did, too. His anchor was gone.
While it’s undoubtedly not nice of Snape not to care about the possibility of James’s and Harry’s death overmuch, I wouldn’t go as far as Dumbledore did and call it disgusting, especially not when it comes to James. Still, it was selfish in a way, so I find it interesting that Snape’s interest in Lily wasn’t entirely so. When she dies, they haven’t been friends for over four years. Snape never saw her anymore, presumably. But he was still heartbroken by her death, even if it didn’t mean any tangible loss of companionship to him. It’s probably a testament to his fixation on her more than anything else, but still, I think it’s worth pointing out.
So Lily died partly by his fault and he is heartbroken, and Dumbledore once again ruthlessly exploits it to ensure his future help, even though he broke his word to Snape in a way. Yes, Peter’s betrayal wasn’t his fault, but what he made with Snape wasn’t a promise to a friend, it was a cool deal. Keeping the Potters safe for Snape spying. Snape delivered on his part of it, and Dumbledore didn’t deliver on his. But Snape still agrees to help protect Harry, the son Lily had with the man he hated and who tormented him. Dumbledore is very right when he says that it’s “the best in him.” This is probably Snape’s most “good” moment in the entire series.
What follows is ten and half years of what must have been a very shitty life. Doing a job he doesn’t want to do, endlessly remembering his terrible years at Hogwarts as well as Lily, who was now dead. Having him teach at the school was a form of torture. If he was only generally surly I would say I fully understand where it came from.
But then, of course, Harry comes to Hogwarts, and we begin to see Snape at his worst.
The decade between Lily’s death should have been used to try and cope with his multiple issues. It’s not entirely Snape’s fault that it wasn’t. He was alone, without friends, and Dumbledore is useless at that kind of thing. He had no one to help him. Hogwarts tied him to his unfortunate past in a way that must have been hard to escape. But at the same time, he was a grown man now, and so he is responsible for his own choices. He could have used the promise he gave Dumbledore, the choice he made that day, to move on and beyond his grudges. He didn’t.
It’s not just his treatment of Harry, either. He also bullies Neville, a child whose backstory he would certainly know. Likely, he does it because he also knows he was the other option for the prophecy and so blames him for Lily’s death. That’s hardly an excuse, of course. He treats him, Harry, and Hermione terribly. Ron occasionally, too, but less frequently. And while Harry at least eventually provokes him in some ways, his behavior towards Neville is entirely without even a hint of an excuse. A teacher is supposed to try and help a student struggling in their subject, not humiliate them and threaten them.
I will not go over all the instances of Snape’s bullying of his students. There are way too many to count. The most notable are probably the “I see no difference” he gives to Hermione when she is cursed with huge teeth, and threatening to poison Neville’s toad.
And please, don’t come to me with the argument that it was part of Snape’s cover. That is simply not true. Yes, he could have hardly been seen going out of his way to be kind to Harry, or the Muggle-born students. But there was absolutely nothing about his job as a spy forcing him to go to such lengths to persecute them. He could have always claimed it was Dumbledore who made him act decent. Hell, he was supposed to be a double agent. His behavior actually made it more suspicious. I mean, if Snape acts like that at school, then Dumbledore has to have some pretty strong reason to believe he is actually on Voldemort’s side, right? Since Snape’s actual behavior gives no reason to believe he is reformed?
There is one specific incident of bullying that I want to mention because it comes up often enough in Snape Defense circles. It’s in Prisoner of Azkaban, when they go to face the boggart. Lupin comes in with his class, and out of the blue, without any provocation, Snape singles Neville out in front of a new teacher to tell him what a loser Neville is. That right there is completely disgusting. Had he attacked Lupin, I’d have understood. God knows he has good enough reason to dislike the man. But Neville? Seriously?
Snape-defenders like to bring up the unprofessional behavior Lupin displayed by mocking Snape in front of his class later, but seriously, after what he did? He deserved that and more. The class on boggarts was ill-conceived. Making people face their worst fear in public is a terrible idea. Especially so in case of Neville with his traumatic family history. But the part with Snape was just about the only part done right.
During Harry’s fourth year, Snape’s Dark Mark starts to get darker. It’s a testament to Snape’s bravery that he stays his course the entire time, and goes back to Voldemort when he knows torture awaits him there. (Incidentally, his speech to Fudge at the end of the book was where I fell in love with his character).
Now, there’s also a lot of differing opinions of what being a Death Eater was like. Was it a cushy, comfortable thing, or was it daily torture from Riddle? What you think about that naturally influences how much you value Snape’s willingness to be a spy. My personal opinion is that it was different in the first and second war. In the first, I imagine that while Voldemort was harsh in punishment, as long as people did what he wanted, he pretended to be kind and considerate. After all, you don’t gain a lot of followers by torturing people on sight.
After he came back from the dead, though, I think he was different. Paranoid, always punishing his loyal followers extremely harshly, unstable. The few interactions we see him having with Death Eaters seem to point in that direction. So I think that after book four, life got much more difficult for Snape.
It’s also worth commenting on his changed relationship to Dumbledore. At some point through the years, they became friends of sorts, or at least Snape’s feelings towards Dumbledore turned friendly. It shines through in the interactions we see in their memories. In particular, of course, it shines through when Dumbledore asks Snape to kill him.
But before we get to that, there are a few other points. For one, Snape’s position in the Order. “Bill doesn’t like him,” Ginny says. Given that Bill is pretty relaxed, I think it’s a good indication of the general approach. Not that I think Snape necessarily deserved to be liked at this point. On the other hand, yet another group of people who despised him was hardly beneficial for his mental state. And he has to deal with Sirius being on the same side with him now, and going right back to calling him by the derogatory nicknames from their childhood. It’s yet another form of torture.
But now he can fight back much better than he could at Hogwarts, with Sirius being vulnerable, and he does. Oh boy, he does. His taunting of Sirius is completely merciless. It’s hardly him being the bigger person, but at the same time, well, it is entirely understandable.
Next, Snape is ordered to teach Harry occlumency. The boy he despises – it doesn’t matter for the moment how unjust that is – and he’s ordered to face the chance of him seeing his most private thoughts. I don’t see how Dumbledore thought something like that would ever work, not with something as intimate as occlumency.
I’m honestly still surprised that Snape didn’t kill Harry after he found him snooping in the memories. Or at least, didn’t lash out with a Sectusempra. That scene right there shows that Snape did, in fact, grow somewhat as a person since he was sixteen. He used the cutting curse on James in a similar situation. He “just” throws Harry to the ground and throws a jar in his general direction.
Of course, someone this unstable still shouldn’t be working with children, but then, Snape’s unsuitability as a teacher is a given. He’s not at Hogwarts because of his ability to form young minds, he’s there as part of the war effort. And given the givens, the situation after he finds Harry in his Pensieve could have gone much worse.
I know it sounds a lot like giving Snape brownie points for minimal effort, but I also believe people have their limits, and Snape was, at this point, pushed way beyond his. Extreme provocation is, I think, the term.
Then there is Sirius’s death. Severus’s goading of Sirius was very far from kind, but I find it understandable enough under the circumstances. Harry’s tendency to blame Sirius’s death on it never made sense to me. It’s not like Sirius stepped out of the house and the Ministry captured him or something. He left to help Harry, exactly as the other Order members who were in the Ministry that day. His death was an occupational risk of being in the Order, not a specific result of him being a fugitive.
Not long after that, Dumbledore is cursed and asks Snape to kill him. From what we know, it seems that after Lily, Dumbledore was the closest Snape had to a friend. And he was expected to kill him. Dumbledore is so very nonchalant about it all, but it’s an enormous thing to ask. Snape agrees, and doesn’t change his mind even after Dumbledore frankly treats him like shit. I mean, “services you owe me”? Seriously? What exactly does Snape owe Dumbledore?
There is also the question of how much Draco’s struggle affected Snape. It’s fanon that Severus was Draco’s godfather, but it’s unlikely, given the relative social position of Snape and Lucius Malfoy. Nevertheless, even if the relationship was no more personal than Draco being one of his favourite students, it’s not nothing. As a teacher, I can tell you that much. Watching him desperately trying to stay alive and dealing with his mistrust at the same time, seeing him trust people like Bellatrix instead… Well, it could have only added to Snape’s terrible situation.
Then he finds out Harry has to die.
I’m still surprised he didn’t just say ‘fuck it’ and leave at this point. Everything he ever fought for was gone now. He betrayed Voldemort, Dumbledore betrayed him, and Lily was dead. At this point in his life, Snape has nothing. And he still goes on.
Snape’s romantic “Always”, by the way, has the advantage of not having to be romantic at all. Not that I am under the illusion that Snape got rid of his obsessive approach to Lily. Taking the part of her letter with “love, Lily” proves he never did. But she was also the only good thing that ever happened in his life. What other form should the Patronus take? Seriously. Dumbledore’s surprise is ridiculous.
Snape does what is expected of him, kills Dumbledore, and somehow manages not to be broken even by that. Instead, he goes on the become a hated headmaster. He fights a losing battle of trying to keep the Carrows from hurting the students too much. No one knows about his agreement with Dumbledore to kill him, so he has absolutely no one to talk to. Of course, he hadn’t really had anyone since Lily ended their friendship, but he had hints of it, at least. Now he is as alone as a human can be, and he still does his job until the bitter end.
The recap of Snape’s adult life goes basically “shitty person in a shitty situation doing shitty things”. His life was terrible, and he took it out on innocent children. He was still a victim of circumstances to a degree. However, he was also an active cause of bad things happening to people now.
In fact, the tl;dr of the entire article is that Severus Snape had an extremely shitty life. He was also quite a shitty person, with redeeming moments. Those moments manage to outdo most people’s noblest deeds by far, given the risk he put himself in. How does one measure that?
My personal answer is that one doesn’t. I don’t think the question of “does the risk Snape put himself in and his sacrifice make up for his years of bullying Harry, Hermione and Neville?” can be answered. By what criteria are you going to measure thins kind of thing, anyway? The good deed does not undo the bad, and the bad does not undo the good. Both of these things are equally true of Severus. He was a hero, and he was a bully, and a murderer.
He’s not as much morally grey as he is black and white. And I mean both black and white. He has two poles, and ignoring one while emphasizing the other is a dangerous space for apology on one hand and pretentious taking of a moral high ground on the other.
Yes, I am irritated that Rowling had Harry name Albus Severus after him. I am irritated because it seems like she only acknowledges the heroic part, not the other part. I don’t like that. I am also irritated because sometimes it seems like his love for Lily is supposed to be Severus’ redeeming quality. Which, no. His clingy, possessive attachment to Lily is far from redeeming. If I was to use a word to describe it, I’d say “inevitable”. Given the circumstances of Severus’s life, it was inevitable.
His story with Lily is not a tragic love story. It is no doubt tragic, though. It is a tragic tale of a lonely child who fixates too much on the only person in his life who is actually kind to him, but who doesn’t really know how to love anyone properly, in the truly selfless way.
What might actually redeem him, in part, is the choices he made. The choice to protect Harry, the choice to go back to Voldemort after he returned and spy again. The choice to stay on the side of the Order even after he found out Dumbledore betrayed him and lied to him. The choice to try and help Hogwarts in any way he could after Dumbledore was dead. His unhealthy attachment to Lily was what gave him the initial impulse to do that, yes, but what do you expect? To turn towards the light, people need to have some experience with it in the first place. She was the only one he ever had. That was a very unfair burden to place on her, but it is how it was. There should have been more for him, but there wasn’t.
Loving Snape without reserve means not acknowledging the damage he did to Neville, especially, during Hogwarts. Hating him without reserve means not respecting how hard and brave the choices I cite above were. Let’s not do either.