I’m a Potterhead. In fact, I’m the Potterhead who re-reads Harry Potter whenever life seems bleak and - as I write this, I’m wondering if I should abandon writing it altogether and pick up Philosopher’s Stone right now. I love the characters, considering I grew up with them, pretty much.
I was 14 when Order of the Phoenix came out, and my entire class had a running contest for who would finish the book first. When Sirius Black died, I did not believe it. It did not strike me till much later that he was actually dead. Even as Harry pushed Voldemort out of his head, I was waiting for Sirius to come running out and hug him and console him... The end of Order of the Phoenix was devastating for me, really. Sirius was my favourite character.
And then came the wait for Book 6, and this was the period when I got introduced to fanfiction. I read fanfics every waking minute that I wasn’t in school, doing homework, or discussing the HP World with my best friend.
This was when I realised that no matter how much of a PG13 Ron/ Hermione shipper I was, the ships I truly got behind were Drarry (Draco/Harry), WolfStar (Lupin/ Sirius), Snarry (Snape/Harry), Snupin (Snape/Lupin), Snirius (Snape/Sirus)... pretty much all the gay boys, especially if one of them was Snape. I realised I loved Snape, and fandom loved Snape, and Snape was just... uff!
When The Half Blood Prince came out, my love for Snape only multiplied. I was the “smart” reader, the one who stood by Snape even when the whole world thought he was a murderer (I mean come on!). I knew Snape loved Lily, because true fans have always known. What else in the world could make sense?
I thought Harry Idiot Potter and all the rest of them were being completely blind to the truth. I wondered how Mr VoldyVolVol hadn’t realised yet! Snape was My Favourite Character, and I wouldn’t let anyone vilify him. He had replaced Sirius in my heart - the bullying, privileged little ass - and while I had always been a Slytherin, now I was a Slytherin who had Snape’s back.
My love affair with Snape continued well into my adulthood. When The Deathly Hallows confirmed what I knew to be true all along, I gloated.
He was the tragic hero of the story, I would tell anyone who was foolish enough to still listen to me. Look at this poor boy from an abusive household, this brilliant boy who fell in love with a muggle-born girl despite his racist upbringing, this amazing young man who joined the dark side because he was a little misguided, but has repented ever since at great risk to his life... Look at this superb hero, I would say, who did everything he did because he loved Lily!
Here’s the thing, though: Snape is also an extremely abusive person; and in real life, this very excuse is used by many, many people to justify their abuse.
I was 23 when I decided to consciously, confidently call myself a feminist. I went through all the phases that young people often go through before owning the “F-word”. It wasn’t that I didn’t know there was inequality in the world, or that I didn’t experience it myself.
It wasn’t even that I didn’t protest this inequality. I was a warrior in my own little world, even if I say so myself. But my battles were limited to myself. I wanted equality for myself. I wanted freedom for myself. Other girls, please!, were not capable of handling all of that! But I was different. I wasn’t a girly-girl, boys told me. I was a capable girl, an intelligent girl, a not-like-other-girls girl.
“It’s not like I’m a feminist or something,” I would say, making I don’t know how many people cringe. Not because I knew who a feminist was, but because I knew what being a feminist meant: not cool, not womanly, not likeable. It meant boys wouldn’t want to date you - especially when you’re already ugly. Never mind that I wasn’t particularly kicked about dating any boy around me. I was just frustrated that they didn’t want me.
When I finally realised that - despite my denial, despite my queasiness, despite the world telling me that this is not who I should be - I was a feminist, the revelation brought with it angry Facebook posts, long rants to friends, and some very horrible real life hypocrisy.
As a sex-positive feminist, I had no qualms about slut shaming “other women” because they “hurt” me and mine. At the same time, would it be so wrong for me to “hurt” other women if I went after their partners, I would wonder. I had rules for how everyone should behave - but these rules seldom applied to my friends, and even less to prospective lovers.
It took some time for me to grow comfortable with the labels I applied to myself, and grow out of toxic ideas of right and wrong. I moved away from people who weren’t good for me, and decided to educate myself, take myself and my desires seriously.
It took me several years to accept that not only do I not need the approval of men, I needed their romantic desire even less. I realised that this binary of man-woman, boy-girl was in itself silly, and if I had even spent half the time looking inside as I’d spent looking outside, I would have realised this much earlier.
But through all this, I firmly believed that Snape was the best thing to happen in Harry Potter. That Snape was an amazing, misunderstood character.
I never looked closely enough at why I loved Snape so much - until it hit me one day, in the middle of a personal, romantic, ‘crisis.’
I loved Snape because I thought I was Snape - misunderstood, awesome, and terribly in love. It didn’t matter that he was an abusive, nasty, bad tempered, racist man. I was willing to forgive him for all of his faults because - and only because - he was in love with Lily, and he would do anything for her.
I had bought into the very toxic idea of relationships that I was espousing against every day, lock stock and barrel.
While I criticised such obsessive love coming from young men in real life, men who refused to move on, men who caused emotional trauma to themselves and the object of their unwanted affection, men who went to extremes for the sake of their love and threw acid on their lovers or murdered them with machetes... While I criticised these men in real life who did not have JK Rowling to tell their stories, I stuck by Snape.
I held him up as the epitome of sacrificial love, and I thought it some ideal to suffer like Snape did for Lily. In my head, anyone who went through what Snape did should be celebrated.
A few months ago, I was part of the team that organised a book discussion on fiction and gender violence. It was a discussion I was looking forward to for several reasons.
Firstly, this was going to be readers discussing books, not writers, and I wanted to listen to their views on the books we love and our guilty pleasure in reading fiction that doesn’t exactly match our politics. One of the speakers mentioned Snape, and how it’s not okay for us to excuse his violence by glorifying his love for Lily.
With everything else that was said that day, this is the one point that resonated with me. I cannot excuse Snape for being an abusive teacher, a racist killer, a petty adult because of a heartbreak. It is impossible to be an adult and not have experienced heartbreak at some point in your life. And if that heartbreak is an excuse for bad choices we make, then we should excuse every human being for anything they do.
Fiction - books, movies - makes us believe that it’s only a special kind of person who can love a difficult man. We have imbibed this as the truth - and since we all want to be this special person, we all end up making stupid choices when it comes to who we love and who we don’t.
Love doesn’t have to be a nasty, snarling, sarcastic but brilliant person who makes you question your self worth at every step. Love doesn’t have to be a brooding, distant, calculating person who rations their affection in little pinches. There is nothing special about loving this difficult person - we’ve all been doing it forever, and making excuses for this person to everyone around us.
My love affair with Snape ends now. He will be a fond memory, a person I used to like before I became the person I am today. But the excuses I made for him, I will try not to make for anyone else, ever again.