34

At the start of Harry's second year, Harry and Ron arrived at Hogwarts in a flying Ford Anglia which crashed into the Whomping Willow.

Snape had several objections to this theatric arrival, his main one being that the boys damaged the tree:

"I noticed, in my search of the park, that considerable damage seems to have been done to a very valuable Whomping Willow,” Snape went on. “That tree did more damage to us than we—” Ron blurted out. “Silence!” snapped Snape again. ~Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Chapter 5: The Whomping Willow (emphasis mine)

The tree originally was put there to trap a student while he was in werewolf form. There is a better solution now, a potion called Wolfsbane, so the tree probably serves no purpose except occasionally whacking some first-years who wander too close, ignorant of its existence. Snape couldn't have seriously thought that damaging the tree would cause Dumbledore to expel Harry Potter, the boy wonder, the one Snape was tasked to protect.

“Well, you’re expelling us, aren’t you?” said Ron. Harry looked quickly at Dumbledore. “Not today, Mr. Weasley,” said Dumbledore. “But I must impress upon both of you the seriousness of what you have done.
"..."
Snape looked as though Christmas had been canceled. He cleared his throat and said, “Professor Dumbledore, these boys have flouted the Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry, caused serious damage to an old and valuable tree — surely acts of this nature —
~ibid (emphasis mine)

Strangely enough, Snape seems to think that these two offenses put together are severe enough to compel Dumbledore to actually expel Harry and seems disappointed that it is not so. Why is that?

One would think that the location where he was almost mauled to death by a werewolf wouldn't be so precious to Snape. The tree is a relatively new arrival, there are no long-standing Hogwarts traditions and stories about it, except Lupin's, so what makes the Whomping Willow so valuable? Was it a dig, aimed at Dumbledore for bringing dangerous things (werewolves and brutal trees) into Hogwarts?

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    Snape just wants to be dramatic to be the maximum ahole he can be to Mr Potter if you ask me. I don't think JK has enough of an understanding of economics / mathematics to have a good concept of what "value" is btw. This is just a story device to make a bad situation worse – Raditz_35 Oct 24 '17 at 9:47
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    @Raditz_35 yes, i agree about the story device. What i don't get us why JKR hasn't used Snape to tell Dumbledore that HP is being a reckless airhead (like his dad) and that next time he could endanger lives, not just property. That would've been in character, much more than wailing about a valuable tree. He's not a herbology prof and doesn't seem to care about trees later on. But maybe it's to show us that Snape cares more about the tree damaging HP than vice versa. – Ekaterin Nile Oct 24 '17 at 10:03
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    That's not a sensible argument. "Why didn't he say x? That's what I would've written!". Sometimes there are multiple ways to do something, that means always. And I believe JK's choice is strictly better in the context of the book, but this is neither the question nor the right forum to discuss her literary skill and the great editing of particularly the first 2 books – Raditz_35 Oct 24 '17 at 10:29
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    What makes it precious to Snape (who never states that it is valuable to him personally) is the fact that Mr Potter damaged it. If you have it in for someone and he damages an object of yours (ever been in fight in a relationship?), that object becomes the most important thing in your life suddenly. It's really just human. As I stated, this isn't mathematical value, it's a normal human reaction. Also, let's hint at the genius of the first 2 books: It's from the point of view of a 12 year old. All he gets is that the tree was valuable. Remember when you were a kid? We get filtered information – Raditz_35 Oct 24 '17 at 10:53
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    @Raditz_35 care to write an answer? You make some good points. – Ekaterin Nile Oct 24 '17 at 11:10
45

Snape emphasized its value to get Harry in trouble.

Snape almost certainly didn't personally or emotionally value the Whomping Willow. He certainly wouldn't have positive associations with the place he was nearly attacked by a werewolf.

However, there are two things to consider. The first is, as a professor, Snape would have some idea of the "objective" value of school property even if he personally has negative associations with it. Him saying it's valuable could be referring to its objective value, not to its value to him. The second thing is, he wanted Harry and Ron to get some sort of punishment for what they did, and probably figured Dumbledore wouldn't be inclined to punish Harry. He didn't want them to get off lightly for flying the car to Hogwarts, so he made sure to emphasize all the reasons it was wrong.

The first time the mentions its value, it's in telling Harry and Ron what they did wrong, and making sure they know they're in BIG trouble.

“I noticed, in my search of the park, that considerable damage seems to have been done to a very valuable Whomping Willow,’ Snape went on.

‘That tree did more damage to us than we –’ Ron blurted out.”
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 5 (The Whomping Willow)

The second time he mentions how valuable the tree is, it's right after Snape finds out that Dumbledore isn't going to expel them (and probably suspects they'll get away with a very small punishment if any).

He likely didn't want them to be actually expelled, since he was loyal to Dumbledore, but he certainly did want them to be punished.

“Snape looked as though Christmas had been cancelled. He cleared his throat and said, ‘Professor Dumbledore, these boys have flouted the Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry, caused serious damage to an old and valuable tree … surely acts of this nature …’

‘It will be for Professor McGonagall to decide on these boys’ punishments, Severus,’ said Dumbledore calmly. ‘They are in her house and are therefore her responsibility.”
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 5 (The Whomping Willow)

The Whomping Willow probably was valuable - it's likely rare.

It isn't really clear how rare Whomping Willows as a species are. The only indication is that Lockhart says his experience with exotic plants would make him good at tending to the Whomping Willow - but Lockhart is a liar and could have been saying he's met exotic plants to make himself seem more impressive, so that doesn't necessarily mean much. However, no Whomping Willow is mentioned other than the one at Hogwarts, so it's possible that they might be rare.

In addition, "valuable" might be used somewhat in reverse - not referring to the tree itself, but referring to how costly, time-consuming, or dangerous tending to its injuries might be.

“Professor Sprout’s arms were full of bandages, and with another twinge of guilt, Harry spotted the Whomping Willow in the distance, several of its branches now in slings.”
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 6 (Gilderoy Lockhart)

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    They could also be rare in Great Britain. Like many animals in zoos which are very valuable in the country the zoo is in, because it takes so much work to get one there. But in their home country they may be extremely common. – Wildcard Oct 25 '17 at 5:30
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    This is pretty much the answer I came here to give. Snape is clearly intent on causing as much trouble for Harry and Ron as he can, so he emphasises the facts in a way that are most likely to cause them trouble. – Cronax Oct 25 '17 at 8:47
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    Slytherin house's gonna get the SFF cup this year :) – Ekaterin Nile Oct 25 '17 at 14:30
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    Lockhart being a liar perhaps makes his claim more evidentiary: as a liar, he would want to make the most impressive claim he could, so the fact that he made a claim about Whomping Willows suggests that he thought it would be impressive (as well as relevant to the school). – Acccumulation Oct 25 '17 at 18:33
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    @Morrigan Thanks! :) Finally, Dumbledore can't snatch it from us! – Bellatrix Oct 25 '17 at 23:26
33

It is a rare, old tree, which presumably makes it valuable.

We see that they're rather 'exotic':

"Oh, hello there!" he called, beaming around at the assembled students. "Just been showing Professor Sprout the right way to doctor a Whomping Willow! But I don't want you running away with the idea that I'm better at Herbology than she is! I just happen to have met several of these exotic plants on my travels..."
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, chapter 6 (said by Prof. Lockhart)

So we know that they're rare. It's also fairly old; that we can see by the description of the tree:

Ron gasped, staring through the windshield, and Harry looked around just in time to see a branch as thick as a python smash into it. The tree they had hit was attacking them. Its trunk was bent almost double, and its gnarled boughs were pummeling every inch of the car it could reach.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, chapter 5

So we have old and rare... and hiding a secret tunnel. This would make it fairly valuable, I'd say ;)

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    how it's old? the WW was planted in 1971 which is baby age for a tree... – Ekaterin Nile Oct 24 '17 at 9:47
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    @Morrigan - it wouldn't have been much use for protecting the opening if it was seedling then. Presumably it was transferred from somewhere else, not planted as a seed when Lupin arrived. – Mithrandir Oct 24 '17 at 9:49
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    @Mithrandir or they could've enhanced the growth by magic – Ekaterin Nile Oct 24 '17 at 9:50
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    Nothing Lockhart says is necessarily true - he lives in his own fantasy world most of the time. And in the real world, old trees can be successfully moved and replanted without any magic. I've personally successfully transplanted a rose bush that was known to be at least 100 years old. – alephzero Oct 24 '17 at 12:57
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    @FabioTurati - for one, the thickness - younger trees are generally thinner, so the older it is the thicker it is. Second, yes, the gnarledness - AFAIK that does imply age in a tree, although I'm not confident about that. – Mithrandir Oct 24 '17 at 17:17
12

To my knowledge we aren't ever given a canonical answer - however it is likely valuable for similar reasons to the muggle equivalents: it's very old (which tends to lead humans to respect it) and presumably it's also rather rare since we don't see any others of its kind in either the books or the films and are only briefly mentioned in Chamber of Secrets and are specifically referred to as "exotic". Given the characters' reactions to the tree and its animated nature it would appear that they aren't something you see every day.

There is also the fact that the Whomping Willow effectively guards the entrance to the secret passage leading to the Shrieking Shack (and the passage's existence as well) - while it's debatable what value that provides to Snape himself at this point it's clearly something he is aware of from his time at school with the Marauders.

7

I read it rather differently from others, I guess.

Snape is basically a double agent, which puts him in a somewhat...strained position. On one hand, he's loyal to Dumbledore. On the other hand, a large part of his value is in his appearing that he's likely to revert to following Voldemort as soon as the chance arises.

To maintain that illusion, he does what he can to make sure the world knows that he despises Harry, and will harm him any way he can, any chance he gets. Nonetheless, he has to do so in a way that isn't too obvious--if he were to break the rules, anybody looking on would expect Dumbledore to fire him. This leads to one of two possibilities:

  1. Dumbledore does fire him, and he's no longer in a position to do much to protect Harry, or else
  2. people start to wonder exactly why Dumbledore hasn't fired him, and may start to suspect the truth (thereby reducing his value).

Therefore, he takes the middle path, so to speak--he acts strictly within the rules, so Dumbledore wouldn't have cause to fire him, but he also makes it apparent to anybody looking on that he's out to hurt Harry any chance he gets, even if the reason may be somewhat specious (or perhaps: especially if the reason is somewhat specious).

As such, it actually fits well with his role to exaggerate the value of the tree. Nobody can expect Dumbledore to fire him just for enforcing school rules. At the same time, if he makes it look like he's making excuses to attack Harry, that helps anybody in Voldemort's camp believe that he's still really a loyal Death Eater.

  • Its unlikely Snape expected Voldemort to return. – TheAsh Oct 25 '17 at 17:24
  • @TheAsh: I'd say rather the opposite. Well, I suppose he may have (at least sort of) expected Voldemort to fail, but had to consider it essentially inevitable that he'd at least try to return, and given his past...accomplishments, just assuming he'd fail would be foolish at best. – Jerry Coffin Oct 25 '17 at 18:29
6

Clearly there are magical elements to Snape's reasoning here, but the answer might be simpler than you think: mature trees take decades to grow, and can be massive in size and extremely difficult to transport.

The value isn't just in the cost of the original sapling, it's in the decades it took to grow into its current state. Buying and transporting a fully mature tree can be extremely expensive.

I couldn't find a mature willow for sale, but here is a 54 foot tall Aleppo pine tree on sale for $19,000 (originally $27,000, shipping, unloading and installation not included):

enter image description here

Presumably wizards would use more magical means of transport, but muggle tree moving companies have to use all kinds of specialized equipment to move large trees:

enter image description here

or even helicopters:

enter image description here

Destroyed trees can turn out to be extremely costly:

  • yeah...but, magic. scratch that. Dumbledore magic (and probably Prof. Sprout) I doubt it was this involved as it would be for ye olde Muggle – NKCampbell Oct 24 '17 at 20:03
  • @NKCampbell True, probably, for the transportation part. Do we have anything in the books about moving BIG things (like houses and stuff)? Were there magical construction companies that did the "heavy lifting", or was that something any wizard could do? – BradC Oct 24 '17 at 20:09
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    @NKCampbell Good examples, although I always thought there was some magical element of the vehicles themselves (or the beasts pulling them) that was an important part of how they worked. If so, the same wouldn't necessarily apply to a random large object. Maybe that's worth its own question... – BradC Oct 24 '17 at 20:34
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    @NKCampbell Weeell, Professor Sprout did have to go out and bandage it, and got pretty scratched up in the process. So it's a non-trivial project. – MissMonicaE Oct 24 '17 at 22:20
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    I would imagine that moving a Womping Willow is more difficult - and therefore more expensive - than moving a tree that doesn't try to beat up the person uprooting it. – Robyn Oct 24 '17 at 22:57
4

I agree with Bellatrix:

Snape emphasized its value to get Harry in trouble.

However, there is something I want to add on:

Snape would have thought it great to get Harry thrown out for the same reason he was almost likely expelled!

“They planted the Whomping Willow the same year that I arrived at Hogwarts. People used to play a game, trying to get near enough to touch the trunk. In the end, a boy called Davey Gudgeon nearly lost an eye, and we were forbidden to go near it. No broomstick would have a chance.”

But Snape went down anyway:

"anyway, Snape had seen me crossing the grounds with Madam Pomfrey one evening as she led me toward the Whomping Willow to transform. Sirius thought it would be — er — amusing, to tell Snape all he had to do was prod the knot on the tree trunk with a long stick, and he’d be able to get in after me. Well, of course, Snape tried it — if he’d got as far as this house, he’d have met a fully grown werewolf — but your father, who’d heard what Sirius had done, went after Snape and pulled him back, at great risk to his life… Snape glimpsed me, though, at the end of the tunnel. He was forbidden by Dumbledore to tell anybody, but from that time on he knew what I was…”

Also

“They don’t use Dark Magic, though.” She dropped her voice. “And you’re being really ungrateful. I heard what happened the other night. You went sneaking down that tunnel by the Whomping Willow, and James Potter saved you from whatever’s down there—”

Thus, Snape was almost certainly threatened with expulsion for both this highly dangerous act and probably also for finding out Lupin's secret. He would have thought it great to get James' son expelled because the very tree that James almost got him expelled for.

  • I mostly agree, except Snape was a victim of a nasty prank so it's doubtful he was threatened with expulsion. ..it's not Dumbledore's style. but almost surely he was asked to keep Lupin's condition a secret, which he may have considered dangerous favoritism, not unlike Dumbledore's towards HP. I thought him mentioning the willow is like saying - here, HP and Ron are irresponsible, it's like the marauders all over again, remember what happened at the whomping willow? – Ekaterin Nile Oct 25 '17 at 18:07
  • @Morrigan Snape was actually sneaking around and following James regularly. According to Lily, he was "obsessed". Highly unlikely that the night of the prank was the first time he approached the whmping willow. – TheAsh Oct 25 '17 at 18:11
  • yes, but without sirius' help he'd have been stuck outside. .. I am sure Dumbledore was able to convince everyone concerned that it's in their best interests to keep quiet... except a few rumors circulating in the common rooms of the respective houses... – Ekaterin Nile Oct 25 '17 at 18:19
3

Expanding on Bellatrix's response, it may have not been personally valuable to Snape, but he may have suspected that it was personally valuable to Dumbledore. As such, Snape may have brought it up in front of Dumbledore hoping for some more leverage to get Harry and Ron into trouble.

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    There is a reason why there is a reputation threshold to comment. Please take our tour to understand the kind of answers we are looking for. – Skooba Oct 25 '17 at 14:07
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    Can you expand on why it may have been personally valuable to Dumbledore. Not for LQP reviewers, be aware of the title of the question and that this answer DOES in fact answer the question. – Edlothiad Oct 25 '17 at 14:09

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