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In Prisoner of Azkaban, when Snape examines the Marauder’s Map he says

“Professor Severus Snape, master of this school, commands you to yield the information you conceal!”

Prisoner of Azkaban, chapter 14, Snape's Grudge

This doesn't sound like much of a spell, and it seems like an odd thing to say when he’s not the headmaster.

Can anyone explain?

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Exactly. All teachers are 'masters', and the headmaster is the head master. – DJClayworth Jun 15 '14 at 3:09
He simply means it in the sense "a master"; master is another word for "teacher". – Joe Blow Aug 26 '15 at 13:30
up vote 24 down vote accepted

The word master isn’t exclusively used to describe the Headmaster.

In some British schools, the term master is also used to describe any male teacher. It’s somewhat archaic, but that’s presumably the term Snape is using, which is consistent with his status. Quoting from the Wikipedia page for schoolmaster:

The word schoolmaster, or simply master, formerly referred to a male school teacher. This usage survives in British independent schools, both secondary and "preparatory", but is generally obsolete elsewhere.

It’s not a spell per se, merely an attempt to “intimidate” the map into divulging its secrets. Given that it’s probably a student-made object, I’m not sure what he thinks this will achieve, but being a teacher certainly carries status and authority within Hogwarts, and certain parts of the school might recognise that and behave accordingly.

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As someone who went to a British fee paying school (not Hogwarts though, unfortunately) I can confirm this. All male teachers are known as "masters" and are usually also defined by the subject they teach. Snape would be the Potions master. – Cugel Jun 14 '14 at 22:59
Been a while since I read them, but isn't snape even referred to as potions master at some point? – Brian Warshaw Jun 15 '14 at 0:08
@BrianWarshaw: You’re right. Chapter 8 of Philosopher’s Stone, when we first meet Snape properly, is called The Potions Master. – alexwlchan Jun 15 '14 at 6:08

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