In Chamber of Secrets, in the first Duelling Club class, Snape suggests Malfoy use the Serpensortia spell against Harry. This of course reveals that Harry is a Parselmouth, but how could Snape anticipate this? Was there any reason for Snape to suspect Harry is a Parselmouth? Or was it just a way to laugh at how Harry would get frightened?

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    Snape wanted Malfoy to perform a spell that Potter would not be able to deal with, but would not be fatal. Summoning an animal fit the bill. Serpents are the mascot/totem of Slytherin, of which both Snape and Malfoy are members, so it makes sense that it was what came to mind. Feb 1, 2018 at 17:02
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    A chicken would hardly have been scary!
    – dobby
    Feb 2, 2018 at 6:46
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    Of course the real reason (as it often is with some of these odd cases) is 'plot'. The snake is merely a device to reveal Harry's ability and cause the other students to be mistrustful of him. Otherwise Harry might have retaliated by summoning a Lion.
    – Pharap
    Feb 2, 2018 at 14:38

1 Answer 1


First, it's not definite that Snape told Draco to use Serpensortia. All that we know is that he said quietly something to Draco before the duel.

Snape moved closer to Malfoy, bent down, and whispered something in his ear. Malfoy smirked, too.

It could have been something as simple as "hit him hard and fast. Keep him on his back feet" or "50 points to Slytherin if you defeat him in a suitable humiliating way". Secondly, the spell may have its own uses, whether on a direct combat level (the books and movies are hazy on whether magical shielding blocks physical attacks, or if the shielding is directional, possibly allowing the snake to provide a flanking attack) or simply on a psychological level, forcing the opponent to split their attention.

We do know that Snape enjoyed Harry's discomfort

"Don't move, Potter," said Snape lazily, clearly enjoying the sight of Harry standing motionless, eye to eye with the angry snake. "I'll get rid of it ......

And that the event led Snape to realize or decide something

Snape, too, was looking at Harry in an unexpected way: It was a shrewd and calculating look, and Harry didn't like it.

It is possible that Snape suggested that Malfoy use the spell to ferret out that Harry was a parselmouth, but there is no textual evidence that he even suspected.

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    Is there any evidence that Snape already suspected Harry was a Parselmouth? Feb 1, 2018 at 17:16
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    @MissMonicaE: None that I can find. The closest link, as suggested I think in a Quora discussion, is that both he and Dumbledore show up in the wake of one of the attacks, when Harry has just heard the basilisk in the pipes, so it's possible one or both of them used silent Leglimancy to read his surface thoughts and heard hissing overlaid with actual words, but that would require a lot of supposition.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Feb 1, 2018 at 17:18
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    On reading the question, I was contemplating that Snape may have seen this as an opportunity to test Dumbledore's theory about Harry containing part of Voldemort's soul. Although, I am not sure if Snape was privy to that detail yet. Perhaps, being familiar with the dark arts, he put two and two together on his own and this was a good opportunity to test it; his calculating looks was not directed towards Harry, rather, towards Dumbledore.
    – Josafoot
    Feb 1, 2018 at 17:33
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    @Josafoot My understanding was that the conversation where Dumbledore informs Snape about this doesn't happen until sometime in Half Blood Prince.
    – Cubic
    Feb 1, 2018 at 17:52
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    @Cubic That is what I thought as well :) . I also think that Snap seemed genuinely surprised by Dumbledore's revelation so not sure if he had any idea. Maybe, to play with the idea of my above comment, Snape knew Harry had a piece of Voldemort but was surprised that Harry had to die for Voldemort to die.
    – Josafoot
    Feb 1, 2018 at 17:58

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