Alan Rickman as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films
Severus is Latin meaning stern, strict, serious.
Severus Snape is Harry’s most hated teacher at Hogwarts. Already in the first book he and Harry take an instant dislike to each other. With Harry it is an instinct kind of thing; with Severus it is based on old grudges to do with Harry’s parents. He despised Harry’s father, and in later books, we learn more about why.
As discussed in a previous post, I believe Rowling has been very conscious of coats of arms and family crests connected with the surnames of her main characters. The stag is a common symbol in heraldry, and it occurs both in the Evans coat of arms (the maiden name of Harry’s mother) and in the Snape coat of arms.
N.b. no direct references to these particular coats of arms and family crests are given in the books; this is all “under the surface” stuff. Importance (or not!) of heritage and ancestry are part of the story though. For example the Black family tree is presented in the fifth book, and the Peverell coat of arms is introduced as a mystery factor in the sixth one.
Harry’s “patronus” shape is a stag. (A patronus is a kind of personal magic guardian that among other things can protect from Dementor attacks. It is closely connected to happy memories and what/whom you love.) The stag was also his father’s Animagus shape (James could transform himself into a stag). In the last book we learn that Snape’s patronus is a doe, and so was that of Lily Evans.
Even from the fifth book it was possible to deduct that there might have been some kind of friendship between Severus and Lily in the past, before she started going out with James. Not until the end of the last book do we get the full picture though: Severus and Lily having a bond that goes back even before Hogwarts.
With Severus Snape, Rowling managed to create an intriguing and mysterious character who got much debated among the readers who followed the series as it was being written. While Harry was clearly the main hero, and Voldemort clearly the main representative of evil; one strength of this series of books is that it also has a number of characters less easy to classify; Snape being the most tricky of them all. And or course there is only one letter that dissociates Snape from Snake…
Not only is Snape Head of the Slytherin’ House at Hogwarts – “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin” (PS5; said by Hagrid). It also turns out in later books that he even used to be a Deatheater, i.e. one of Voldemort’s followers. And yet Dumbledore seems to trust him. But he never reveals his reasons…
As the seventh book opens, with Dumbledore gone from the scene, it may seem there is not much room for doubt any more, where Snape’s true loyalty lay. However, this is a book that has doubt as one of it main themes, and things keep getting twisted and turned a few times more before the story finally comes to an end.