Before I get started, I'd like to do a little bit of reminiscing. I didn't know any of you in 2007 (which is a darned shame ;-) ), so inquiring minds would like to know: what were you doing in the summer Deathly Hallows was released? Miss M had just finished 2nd grade, and I was doing the same juggling of my own schedule and hers as I am doing now, but with a lot less dance in it (only 2 hours a week - imagine that!). I was 37 years old and planning on spending my evening camped in front of a bookstore with my 2nd eldest niece, who is also a very big HP fan, to be among the first to purchase the book we'd all been waiting for. Poodles (the terrible nickname said niece has had to put up with from the time she was about 18 months old - she is now 23) and I had been having a friendly
Each of us made ten predictions and put them in a sealed envelope in the custody of my youngest brother; we figured that since he's a cop he could more than likely be trusted. ::g:: After we had both read the book, the predictions were revealed. Seven of my 10 were correct, so I won (2 nights of baby sitting - a prize *not* to be sneezed at). Among my better attempts at channeling Sybill was the certainty that Severus Snape was not the villain he appeared to be at the end of Half-Blood Prince. My divination of his motivations, however, fell flat. I entirely missed the Lily thing. Sadly, I also knew that he would die, because the anti-hero very rarely survives in these sorts of stories, though I thought he'd reveal his real allegiances by dying to protect Harry. I also predicted Horcrux!Harry. My niece was very against that idea because she thought that meant he would have to die, as did I. SInce he did, but then lived again, we counted that one as a draw. Also in my crystal ball were the death of a Weasley (though I predicted Percy), Regulus Black as R.A.B. and the locket mentioned off-handedly in Order of the Phoenix being the horcrux missing from the basin, and Hero!Neville (though I predicted that he'd be the one to off Bella). All in all, I did pretty well, but there were still many surprises, including some very unpleasant ones. Did any of you make predictions about the outcome? What were they, if you did, and how close did you come? OK then, on with the show!
Chapter One: The Dark Lord Ascending
Had I not been so throughly convinced that Severus was still on the Order's side, this chapter would have certainly made things look very black against him. We see him here for the first time among the Death Eaters, and, presumably due to his accomplishing the death of Albus Dumbledore, in a position of power and trust with Voldemort. In keeping with the tradition of medieval kings, Severus takes his place to the immediate right of the Dark Lord; Yaxley must go lower. The news he brings certainly seems traitorous. And he is quite calm in the face of Voldemort's 'fierce' Legilimency.
There's been a lot of fandom speculation about how this works. What we saw of it in OotP leads me to believe that it (Legilimency) is all about memories. When Snape breaks through into Harry's head (and when Harry breaks through into Severus's), that's what we 'see', particularly memories of the unpleasant things they'd have rather forgotten. So, is Occlumency the ability to direct a Legilimen's search without them being aware of it? The ability to alter memories without the tell-tale traces that alteration has taken place? To fabricate memories completely? But if that is the case, why would Voldemort need to ask who the source was? Wouldn't he have seen it in the 'memory' he believes he's taken? So it looks here as if he believes he is discerning truth from lie, and there are other instances in the various books where Snape, Voldemort or Dumbledore seem to be using Legilimency as a substitute for veritaserum. Is this inconsistent or am I reading too much into this (has been known to happen ::g::)? What do you think? In any case, it is a powerful demonstration of Severus's abilities as an Occlumens, since he satisfies the world's most skillful Legilimens in 'a moment or two'. I also wonder who the mysterious 'source' is supposed to be, since we never hear of them again.
Next we hear of Pius Thickness' (great Dickensian name!) corruption by Imperious and we get a look at the court intrigue just barely under the surface as well: Yaxley's resentment of Severus's position, Lucius's disgrace, the palpable fear among the followers even as they rejoice at the Malfoys brought low. Notice how both Draco and Lucius look to Narcissa for guidance as Voldemort twists the knife? It's the first hint we have that Narcissa is made of something stronger than she looks to be.
It's interesting that Voldemort chooses Lucius's wand to substitute for his own for the mission to intercept Harry's transfer from Little Whinging - not as an honor, but with the devastating ' I see no reason for you to have a wand anymore.' With that comment, he strips from Lucius his status as a wizard. This is not a temporary borrowing, but a permanent change. With no wand, Lucius Malfoy is reduced, in essence, to the status of squib and will have to depend on Narcissa and Draco for any magic he might need to do, and for magical defense. That's quite a bed to have to lie in. The only one seemingly more beneath his contempt is the even more debased part of the Black family tree that had the indecency to mate (in his view) with a beast. It almost seems as if we are supposed to feel sorry for the Malfoys. Does anyone else get that sense? Upon first reading, I probably did, a bit. But now, especially when I contrast their fate with Severus's, I feel as contemptuous as Voldemort. They deserve a little bit of suffering for their poor choices, methinks.
And now we come to the prisoner we saw dangling over the table when first we entered the room. It's a tradition in every book to meet a new professor, and though we assume that Charity Burbage is not new to Hogwarts, she is new to us. She is, we discover, the Muggle Studies teacher. She has been brought to Malfoy Manor to be executed for the crime of teaching the heresy that Muggles aren't that different from wizards and, even worse, advocating that wizards should interbreed with them and fully accept Muggleborns as magical. She recognizes Severus at the table and pleads repeatedly for his help. We are told: 'Snape looked back at her, quite impassive, as she turned slowly away from him again.' From this, we are meant to infer that he is in complete agreement with her fate. One cannot know what Severus thought of her as a colleague, since we never see them interact at Hogwarts, or what sort of relationship, if any, they had with one another. But the first thing I noticed about this is the lack of contempt upon his face. No sneer, no display of hatred, just impassivity. Since he can't save her without dooming himself, what is going on in his head? There is a lovely little fanfic piece of 'missing canon' which was written by mountainmoira which has a very comforting answer to this question. It's called The Measure of Mercy, and if you've not had the pleasure of reading it, go ahead and treat yourself to it now. It's short, but very intense and satisfying.
The chapter ends with Charity's death and the disgusting image of Voldemort releasing Nagini to eat her corpse, and we are left to contemplate the horrors to come under the Dark Lord's rule. I think this opening chapter sets us up pretty well for the dark tone of the rest of the book and lays the groundwork for the next several chapters. What do you think?