Despite the fact that the mistrust and hate between Harry and Snape is an important theme of the whole series, I do not fully understand Snape's behaviour in OOTP from a logical point of view, especially during the Occlumency lessons.


I collected some facts from the whole series to make my points at the bottom clearer. I am sorry that I cannot provide quotes, since I only have the (unabridged) audio books.

General Snape facts:

  • Snape is for the most part a very rational and controlled character (despite his uneasy/mean appearance).
  • Snape is a member of the Order.
  • His deal with Dumbledore is that he will protect Harry's life by all means.
  • It is even more than a deal, because the killing of Lily was ultimately induced by Snape telling Voldemort the (partial) prophecy in the first place, leading to Snape's catharsis after he realises the full extent of his actions.
  • That Snape actually cared more for Harry than it seemed becomes clear when Dumbledore reveals that Harry would have to die ("You raised him like a pig for slaughter!").

Situation in OOTP:

  • It is pointed out several times by several characters that it was the most urgent and seriously most important thing (no kidding now) that Harry learns Occlumency after realising that Voldemort can penetrate Harry's mind.
  • Snape points out to Harry that it is his (Snape's) job to find out the Dark Lord's plans for Dumbledore.

So, in summary, Snape should have been motivated as hell to teach Harry Occlumency properly to help the order and to protect Harry. For me, that includes being encouraging and helpful, not behaving as a "slimy git" and putting Harry under pressure with dislike and insults.

Even when Harry is caught using the Pensieve to explore Snape's memory, Snape could have exploited the situation to make Harry less biased towards him and straighten out their relationship in order to teach him Occlumency properly (i.e. controlling his understandable rage). The cognitive dissonance caused in Harry by seeing James and Sirius bullying Snape even let him take the risk to break into Umbridge's office just to have a chat with Sirius.

Are there any facts I missed that explain Snape's behaviour in a logical way?

Note: I hope I pointed out clearly enough that for me, Snape's general dislike or ambiguity towards Harry does not explain Snape's (irrational) behaviour convincingly.

Further note after comments and ASH-Aisyah's answer: To me, Snape's behaviour seems to be inconsistent. He manages to stick to Dumbledore's plan all the time and against all odds, but does not in this particular and critical case. Regarding his pretended loyalty towards Voldemort, he could have lied that someone else told Harry Occlumency, if Voldemort found out.

  • 10
    Snape is only rational and controlled to a certain degree - anything past his tipping point (in particular, anything related to Lily and his childhood) and he goes completely nuts. Harry, by sheer dint of existence, is past his tipping point already. Look at Snapes general (completely unprofessional and unhelpful) interactions with Sirius in book 5, or his absolute meltdown in book 3 after Sirius escapes. The man is anything but rational when dealing with these subjects.
    – DavidS
    Jun 22, 2016 at 10:36
  • By reading your comment, I basically agree with it, since these traits of Snape were portrayed throughout the entire series. However, if Snape was really such a loose cannon regarding critical situations like teaching Harry Occlumency, it would have been difficult for Dumbledore to rely on him.
    – code_onkel
    Jun 22, 2016 at 10:42
  • 2
    Note also that Snape's entire character arc is motivated by his love for a girl he met in childhood who never returned his affections and ultimately married his most hated enemy. Hardly the actions of someone with emotional control. If anything, quite the opposite.
    – Valorum
    Jun 22, 2016 at 10:46
  • I see some good points here. I will edit the first "fact" in order to reflect that and add some more explanation.
    – code_onkel
    Jun 22, 2016 at 10:51
  • 6
    @code_onkel A mistake that Dumbledore fully admits he made at the end of book 5. "I trust Severus Snape," said Dumbledore simply "But I forgot - another old man’s mistake - that some wounds run too deep for the healing. I thought Professor Snape could overcome his feelings about your father - I was wrong."
    – DavidS
    Jun 22, 2016 at 10:55

5 Answers 5


There are a few reasons that you might have missed out:

Firstly, Snape hated Harry. It's not just ambiguity or even general dislike. He truly hated Harry. Yes, in the end, he came to care for him, but only because he was Lily's son. It's partly because of the fact that Harry was a carbon copy of his hated rival, James. But at the same time, Harry had Lily's eyes, which must have been a constant reminder to Snape that the love of his life married someone else, and then died. Also, Snape might very well have resented Harry for surviving, instead of Lily. I mean, Voldy was going for Harry, but not only did Lily and James die instead, but Harry lived on to torment Snape.

So despite whatever grand plan Dumbledore might have roped Snape into, Snape just couldn't shake the fact that he absolutely hated Harry. In fact, up to the end, he only partly was affected by the news that Harry had to die, on Harry's own account. The main reason he's been saving Harry and he in the end didn't want Harry to die, was because he thought they were keeping Harry safe for Lily. But now 'raising him like a pig for slaughter' seemed blasphemous towards Lily who gave her life for him.

Secondly, Snape still needed to keep up the pretense that he was working for Voldy. Yes, he was instructed to teach Harry Occlumency. Which he partly did. At least to some extent. But if he had truly done a good job at it, and Voldy tried to break into Harry's mind, he might have found out that Snape had taught Harry well, and thus would have suspected Snape and not trusted him anymore. Just like how Snape tried to look into Draco's mind in HBP, but couldn't, and discovered that Bellatrix had been teaching Draco Occlumency.

Snape had to walk a very fine line between protecting Harry, and making sure it looks like he's trying not to. There was one particular scene in the book where Harry was complaining to Ron and Hermione, saying that he doubts Snape is actually trying to help. They were wondering if Snape was actually trying to make it easier for Voldy. And if Voldy had found that thought in Harry's mind, he would have trusted Snape more.

So Snape had to deal with walking that very fine line, while at the same time hating Harry and James and missing Lily, plus the general stresses that Dumbledore was putting on him. I guess it's enough to make anyone caustic. Plus, 'encouraging and helpful' seems completely out of character for him, whereas 'slimy git' practically defines Snape.

With regards to the Pensieve, trying to get chummy with Harry would have gone against his plan for Voldy. It would look like he was befriending his boss's enemy, even if he could stomach it. My guess is it was simply a convenient excuse to stop the Occlumency lessons.

  • Thank you, I actually missed out some of those. Maybe it's just inconsistent to me that Snape manages to stick to Dumbledore's plan all the time, but does not in this case. Since Snape was a double agent, he could have told Voldy "Look, I finally managed to gain the boys trust, now you're even better of." And wasn't it indicated somewhere that Voldemort was not aware of Snape being an Occlumens?
    – code_onkel
    Jun 22, 2016 at 11:11
  • No problem! But I dun think Voldy wanted Harry to trust Snape. He doesn't even comprehend trusting his own Death Eaters. Plus, if Harry suddenly trusts Snape, Voldy would probably want to know why... Also, really? O_O It would be strange if Voldy didn't know Snape was an Occlumens, since they're both so strong in Occlumency...
    – ASH-Aisyah
    Jun 22, 2016 at 11:33
  • 5
    At least Snape used Occlumency in a way such that Voldemort did not detect Snape using it against him (to hide his true allegiance).
    – code_onkel
    Jun 22, 2016 at 13:11

In HP 5, Snape was poised to be a double-agent yet again should it become necessary, because Voldemort didn't know about his conversation with Dumbledore regarding Lily. In fact, Voldemort was completely unaware of the Lily-Snape bonds, friendship, and attraction that Snape had with her. If there was anything Snape loved in his life, it was Lily. And when Harry was born, Dumbledore said things (revealed in HP 7pt2) to Snape to ensure that Snape was bonded to and loyal to the baby via Lily.

So when Harry starts to look into Snape (HP 5), Snape HAD TO cut Harry off and stop the lessons lest Harry (and thus Voldemort) expose Snape's deepest allegiances and everything Snape knows. Even just knowing Snape's deep loyalty and (platonic, unrequited love) relationship with Lily was far too much. The only way Snape could honor Lily in death was to protect Harry in life, and that required him rejecting Harry once Harry dug into him.

You can tell Snape's true allegiance when there is the most danger. In HP 4 when Lupin changes to a werewolf, even without his wand (he dropped it), Snape puts himself between Lupin and the children. He may be nasty and very hard on Harry — especially the more Harry reminds him of James Potter — but in the end, when push comes to shove, Snape is doing what he does mainly to protect Harry. He doesn't owe Dumbledore allegiance so much as Lilly/Harry.

Note, Snape uses his Order of the Phoenix status to pose as a double agent to Voldemort, so that part is not the secret he needs to keep, though at this point (HP5) the Order doesn't want Voldemort to know what they're doing — but at the start of HP6, Snape is already working as a "triple-agent" and divulging order "secrets" to Voldemort such as what day they plan to move Harry. I believe Snape used his need to stay on Dumbledore and the Order's good side (as a "double-agent" for Voldemort) as an excuse for why he didn't report in immediately to Voldemort when he returned. Thus he's technically a triple-agent and it isn't until the end of HP 7 pt 2 (or HP 7 the book) that we are assured that his loyalties are actually with Harry/Lily (and hence Dumbledore).

Harry's connection to Voldemort could have completely blown Snape's cover.

Because Voldemort is a complete psychopath, he wouldn't understand the love connection between Snape & Lily anyway — hence never looked for it. Love was always his weakness, the "Old Magic" that foiled him trying to kill Harry, and in many ways the same "Old Magic" that changed whatever Snape's patronus would have been to match Lily's.

  • 2
    Hi there! The "Snape didn't want Voldemort to see his true allegiance through Harry" part kinda answers the question, but the rest is a bit off-topic. May I suggest taking the tour and browsing the help center to see how this site works?
    – Jenayah
    Dec 16, 2018 at 22:39

"You raised him like a pig for slaughter!"

This sounds more like Snape feeling a little sorry for the kid, as he would probably have felt for any poor guy in such a situation, and not really due to any special care for Harry

Snape may or may not have really hated Harry, but he sure did dislike him, and also thought him to be academically incapable. He most likely truly believed that Harry would not be able to learn occlumency and block out Voldemort from his mind. Note that Harry notices his dreams about Voldemort becoming more frequent after the occlumency lessons. I don't think this has anything to do with Snape trying to sabotage him, rather, it's probably the side-effect of the pressure of the lessons, coupled with the fact that Harry wasn't very good in occlumency to begin with

Given Snape's personality, from the description of how teaches his class normally, I don't think he would have taken the approach of being "encouraging and helpful" towards his students, when he really wanted them to learn, rather he would be more likely to apply pressure and intimidation as a form of motivation. Moreover, he would never make it look as if he felt any affection for Harry, especially until Harry learned occlumency because during this period Harry was more vulnerable to Voldemort invading his mind, and so they could not afford him sensing anything like affection from Snape towards Harry (remember what Voldemort programmed Wormtail's arm to do when he felt the small sliver of mercy)

Hence, Snape's behaviour, as far during the occlumency classes, does not seem implausible given his personality

What I find more illogical is Snape actually giving up on teaching him occlumency solely based on his dislike of Harry and James, given the importance of the occlumency lessons. He was, after all, like you pointed out, "a very rational and controlled character"


My answer is that Snape despised Harry up until this point, truly did despite James and everything he stood for as well as his offspring, but I firmly believe that as the Occlumency lessons went on, Snape found more and more reasons to love the boy and saw Lily over and over again, and became to love him and that angered him at first, which is the result of his behavior in the film.


I think that Snape knew that he would be unsuccessful in teaching Harry Occlumency regardless of how much effort he put in. First of all, some people physically can not learn Occlumency, Gryffindors in particular, since they are, for the most part, very emotional and impulsive. Occlumency requires a clear mind and control, both which Harry doesn't have (can you blame him? He has a lot on his shoulders for a teenager). Harry would not be able to learn in even if he had put in an effort. That being said, he could possibly have kept Voldemort out of his mind for at least a little while had he put in more effort. To be fair to Harry, Dumbledore never told him why learning Occlumency was important. If he had, I'm sure Harry would have tried harder. But anyways, I am getting off track. Because Harry doesn't have the potential, Snape didn't want to waste his time putting in an effort.

Secondly, to learn Occlumency, you must trust your mentor. Snape and Harry did not trust each other, so Snape wouldn't have had any success in teaching him.

Thirdly, Harry's mind was very easy to breach. If Snape actually tried to teach him Occlumency, there was a possibility Voldemort would find out and that wouldn't be good for Snape. If Snape saw some potential in Harry, I'm sure he would have tried harder, but he knew that no matter what he did, Harry wouldn't be able to learn it and he didn't want to jeopardize his position.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.