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A Fine Line: Severus Snape/Harry Potter

Title: A Fine Line
Pairing: Severus Snape/Harry Potter
Fandom: Harry Potter
Spoilers: Through Order of the Phoenix
Notes: Page numbers refer to U.S. paperbacks.
Disclaimer: Snape/Harry is a popular pairing, and it's one people ship for very different reasons. I think this is a relatively comprehensive view of those reasons, but it's inevitable that I haven't hit on everything. People may have other reasons, or may disagree with some of what I say here. I think that's brilliant and lovely and I'd love to hear your thoughts, particularly if they're different than mine. Please. Call me out.
Acknowledgements: Piles of thanks to my f-list for the beta, to the Snape/Harry community for their suggestions and comments and entire existence, aubrem for holding my hand, cordelia_v for assorted assistance and comments and critique, and individum for helpful tips. Also, I'm crap at titles, so apologies on that.
ETA 2008: Obviously, a lot has changed since I wrote this essay. I'm not going to update the meta, but I have updated the links. Except I did it over here. Most of the links in this post are currently broken; I'm not sure when I'll get around to fixing them.
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Introduction
Snape/Harry is not an easy pairing, and I've spent a very long time trying to put my thoughts about it into something that vaguely resembles coherency. But I'm having a hard time pinpointing why I love this pairing (and let it be stated for the record that I love this pairing like I love few other things), let alone why anyone else might.

Because, let's face it. This pairing is insane. We've all read the books. Snape and Harry hate each other, or very nearly. There's a 20-year age difference, and a pretty serious power difference: Snape is Harry's teacher and is a more powerful wizard. They have a long history of mutual distrust, dislike and suspicion that pre-dates Harry by quite a few years. Snape is a nasty piece of work, bitter and petty and cruel; Harry is a teen-ager in all his angsty, self-centered, capslock glory.

And yet.

When they come together—even in canon—the chemistry is palpable. Sparks fly. They're a train wreck, these two, and I love me a train wreck. I particularly love avoidable train wrecks, and if Snape and Harry could take just a few minutes to stop hating each other, they might realize they have an awful lot in common.

Like what?
  1. The background. Harry was certainly neglected by the Dursleys; fandom seems divided on the issue of abuse. I'm not going to go there. Snape's background doesn't seem much happier—during the Occlumency lessons of OotP, we get glimpses of "a hook-nosed man shouting at a cowering woman, while a small dark-haired boy cried in the corner" (OotP 591). Harry was bullied in primary school by Dudley; we know Snape was bullied mercilessly at Hogwarts by Harry's father and his friends. They're both outcasts of a sort: Snape's a loner (although I don't believe he's hated by, say, the other Order members, he doesn't socialize with them), and Harry's friends (with the possible exception of Hermione) tend to think of him more as a celebrity than a peer. Ron in particular is susceptible to this.

    They have similar senses of humor—dark, sarcastic, and largely focused on making fun of other people. (Look at the way Harry talks to Dudley, for instance. Harry's much more mild than Snape is, but he hasn't had the years of practice.) They even have a certain physical similarity: "Perhaps it had something to do with living in a dark cupboard, but Harry had always been small and skinny for his age" (PS/SS 20); "Snape-the-teenager had a stringy, pallid look about him, like a plant kept in the dark" (OotP 640). Perhaps most importantly, they've both been marked by Voldemort. Their identities (both internal and external) are very wrapped up in those marks—Harry's scar and Snape's Dark Mark. I can't help but feel that Snape is something of a warning for Harry: Snape is what Harry could become if he's not careful.

  2. The war. What the hell are these two going to do when Voldemort is defeated? Harry's entire life has been shaped by Voldemort; it's because of Voldemort that he was raised the way he was, and since entering the wizarding world, he's been fighting him or training to fight him. That's a huge burden to put on one so young, and it's one that seems largely ignored or misunderstood by most of the adults in Harry's life. One of the only people in a position to understand is Snape, whose life has been similarly shaped by Voldemort. We don't know why he became a Death Eater, but there's no doubt he did so at a fairly young age (probably 17 or 18), and that at some point, he realized he'd made a mistake. He's spent the rest of his life trying to atone, and once it's over, he's going to be at something of a loss.

    Not to mention the fact that, assuming both of them survive the war, they're going to be even more messed up than they are now. Harry will have seen and done some terrible things, and it's pretty safe to assume that Snape already has. It's very easy to imagine the two of them turning to one another for understanding they aren't able to find elsewhere.

  3. The manipulation. Snape's a spy. Harry's a weapon. Both of them are pawns in a war that is really Dumbledore's and Voldemort's, and neither of them have much say in ... well, anything. That has to get old, and once again, they can pretty much only turn to one another for understanding. They need something to control for themselves, and a relationship—whatever form it may take—is one thing that's theirs. This plays out in fic in several ways, anything from a manipulative Dumbledore forcing them to cooperate with them going along grudgingly; to the two of them deciding to thumb their noses at their handlers by having a lot of sex.

  4. The bond. Dumbledore says it: "When one wizard saves another wizard's life it creates a certain bond between them" (PoA 427). Snape's a nasty bastard, yes, but he saves Harry time and again. He owes a life debt to Harry's father, and he saves Harry's life outright during the Quidditch match in PS/SS. But after that, his debt is paid—and he spends the rest of the books watching Harry's back anyway. It's one thing to save the life of your best friend. It's another entirely to save the life of someone you can't stand just because it's the right thing to do. Harry's got to figure that out eventually.

So, okay. There's lots of potential for the two of them to find common ground—assuming that's what you're looking for. There are certainly fics where they never manage to find it. And that's one of the things I love most about this pairing: There's something for everyone. There's light-hearted romance, there's pain, pain, pain, and there's everything in between.

Personally, I'm here for the painpainpain—and the power, which is really the heart of the ship. Snape's got it all when Harry's at school—he's older, in a position of authority, and is the stronger wizard. But Harry has raw magical power in spades, and the second he leaves school, everything changes. He's an old money celebrity with huge status in the wizarding world. He was marked as the Dark Lord's equal and he's probably got more raw power than Dumbledore, even if he can't quite manage to control it or tap into it just yet. Snape has to know that. And Snape can never hope to achieve the kind of wealth and power and status that Harry was born to. It's my read that Snape is attracted to that power but resents the hell out of it all the same. He has, after all, spent his life serving powerful wizards, and Harry's the most powerful one yet. And that, to me, is a very interesting dynamic to explore; the balance of power shifts and changes with the characters and their circumstances, and is rife with possibilities.

One of which is, of course, abuse. This pairing certainly has a dark side, and can be very controversial. Some people (and here I include myself) are here for the forbidden fruit, the darkness, even—dare I say it?—the chan. But, as aubrem points out here, while Snape/Harry can be—and often is—about abuse of power, it's almost never about abuse of trust, because there isn't any. Harry just does not trust Snape, full stop. That's an important distinction to make, and it can help make the pairing more palatable for people bothered by the somewhat dodgy ethics involved in cross-gen pairings. But this pairing is not about hearts and flowers and teddy bears. Sometimes it's not even about love.

Occasionally it's about redemption. I'm not of the opinion that Snape needs any redeeming, but I know others disagree. There is certainly a lot of redemption-themed fic, helped along by the dichotomies JKR has set up: dark and light, corruption and purity, traitor and betrayed. Again, these are all interesting themes to explore, full of possibilities, and a lot of excellent fic does just that.

That said. Some people are just not interested in reading about teachers shagging their students, regardless of whether we're talking about chan. Even plenty of Snape/Harry shippers aren't at all interested in the teacher/student aspect, and they've built up several genres full of great stories featuring an adult Harry. These still have to contend with the age difference, but let's face it—it's not really the years that matter, but the maturity. And Snape? Not so mature, certainly not when it comes to Harry. The years of not getting along are more of an issue here, but aged-up Harrys (Harries?) tend to be mature, tolerant and easy-going enough to handle Severus. These authors have some play in their characterizations of Harry; canon Snape is an adult and can be assumed to be set in his ways. Harry, on the other hand, is young and has a lot of growing up yet to go. Few of us are the same person at 26 we were at 16 (thank god).

With all that in the background, I'd like to examine some common ways fic writers manage to bring these two together. I haven't tried to make a comprehensive list of all the classic Snape/Harry stories; this is, rather, a sampling of good stories with which I hope to suck more people into this pairing. There is an expanded guide posted here, and you can check out my original post asking for suggestions. I haven't listed anything I haven't read, and I haven't put full warnings on everything, although it should be pretty clear what you're getting into by the category the story's in. Please, when you get there, read the full headers to make sure you're interested in the story. Works in progress are not listed.

Fic: At Hogwarts
The vast majority of Snape/Harry stories take place while Harry's at school. I believe it's because this is when the dynamic is at its most interesting and most volatile.
  • The tutor. Harry goes (or is forced to go) to Snape for private lessons in DADA/Occlumency/killing Dark Lords. They reach an understanding. In these, Harry is usually between 15 and 18; I don't consider this chan, but others might. This is one of my favorite genres because of the shifting of power—in most, the student surpasses the teacher, and angst ensues. Crucius by Delores Crane; Scratch by Aucta Sinistra; Mind Games by Arsenic.
  • Abuse of power. Exactly that. Snape abuses his power. These stories are often chan, often non-con (certainly dub-con), and often PWPs. They're also often very good. Dragon-Blind by Thamiris; The Life Debt by Rushlight; Idle Hands by Nimori; A Man of Habit by Switchknife
  • Miscellaneous. Truth by thisveryinstant; Twelve by Isis; A Choriambic Progression by Mairead Triste and Aristide; Pale Green by Torch; Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme by Femme; Aqua Fresca by Stella Hobbit
  • The potions accident. Harry sneaks into the potions lab to make some mischief and something goes wrong. Alternately, something goes wrong in class. Sanguis Vinculum by Meri Oddities; The Familiar by Resonant
  • The classics. The Snape/Harry novels & series that everyone's heard of. They take place at Hogwarts, but don't fit neatly into any of my little categories. The Tea Series by Telanu [not a direct link]; the Civil War-verse by Sushi; If You Are Prepared by Cybele; Primer to the Dark Arts by Icarus (also fits in the 'tutor' category).

Fic: Post-war
There's a huge variety of post-war fic, probably because there are so many options to play with. Who won the war? Did Harry succumb to the dark? What kind of baggage is he going to have? In most, Harry is a bit lost, and there's almost always some underlying angst. Still, this is probably where you're going to find the most light-hearted stories in the ship. (Unless, of course, Voldemort wins. In which case this is where you're going to find some of the darkest fics in the ship. Most of those are multi-pairing, though, and not listed here.)

Fic: Somewhere in between
  • The warfic. Warfics are usually set after Harry leaves Hogwarts, but not always. They usually set up Harry and Severus as partners, although sometimes they have to go into hiding together. These are often transitional stories, where Harry is only starting to come into his power and ends up turning to Snape to guide him. Returns of the Day, Within the Pale and Noons of Dryness [series] by Ellen Fremedon; And Tell Me Who is Victor by Switchknife; So Lonely Without Me by Caligryphy; Down, You Lie Down Too by Resonant; In Between Days by Atrata
  • The bond/marriage/courtship fic. Harry and Snape are compelled, forced, thrown accidentally, or asked very nicely to enter into some sort of arrangement that will bond them for life. Sometimes it's a spell gone wrong, sometimes Dumbledore talks them into it, sometimes it's necessary to protect one or the other from Voldemort. These stories are often long and involved, focusing on the negotiations and adaptations the two of them have to make in order for the relationship to work. Sometimes they take place while Harry's a student, sometimes they don't. The Courtship of Harry Potter and A Convenient Marriage by Diana Williams; Dumbledore's Folly by Dementor Delta; Courtship Rituals by Meri Oddities

Fic: Something completely different

Archives
  • Detention, a huge Snape/Harry archive, with over 600 stories and 100 pieces of art. [In the interests of full disclosure, I'm one of the Detention mods.] It took over from Walking the Plank late last year. Detention is mostly open; stories are checked for grammar and spelling and whatnot but not turned away on the basis of 'quality.'
  • After Class, a smaller Snape/Harry archive (and mailing list). Again, After Class is a mostly open archive.
  • From Dusk Till Dawn, the Harry/Snape Fuh-Q-Fest. The quality can be a bit dodgy at times, but this FQF has been running since the fall of 2002. Almost 500 stories have been written for the various waves (wave eight just finished) and many of them—particularly the early stories—are not archived elsewhere. You'll have to join the yahoo group to get the password.
  • Primus Inter Pares. A Snape/Harry post-war (i.e., futurefic) archive. Divides stories into Quidditch!Harry, Auror!Harry and Professor!Harry.
  • Snape/Harry is a popular pairing, and there is A LOT of fic out there. Check the Potter Slash Archive [closed] and Ink Stained Fingers [open] for stories that aren't on Detention or After Class. Note that both of those archives are password protected.

Recs
As I've mentioned, there is a HUGE amount of Snape/Harry out there, and navigating it can be hard. Any recs list I compile would be ridiculously incomplete, so I've listed some reccers who can fill in the blanks.
  • switchknife. I probably don't need to point anyone at Switchknife's Slash Recommendations, but I'm going to do it anyway. It was the first recs page I found, and I read every Snape/Harry story recommended there in something like a week. Switch is probably the reccer with taste most similar to my own: if you're looking for dark and angsty, this is the place for you. The website hasn't been updated in a while, so be sure to check Switch's LJ for more [relatively] recent recs. Many of the links are broken but the stories are easy enough to find: anything linked to Walking the Plank is now on Detention, and for stories on Ink Stained Fingers, you'll have to use the mirror site to find them.
  • ptyx. Ptyx's SS/HP recs are well worth checking out, too. As this is a pretty angsty ship, there are plenty of angst recs, but she does tend to stay away from violence and non-con.
  • snarry_reader. This large recs list is fairly new and updated regularly; it's compiled by Snape/Harry fanatics aubrem, cordelia_v and gaycrow. The three of them have widely differing taste in fic, and so the list has a little bit of everything, from light-hearted romance to heavy, gut-wrenching angst. There's even a handy sidebar to help you find the sort of stories you're looking for.
  • Others who maintain recs pages with a fair bit of Snape/Harry are amanuensis1 (here), kaiz (here), isiscolo (here) and saturn92103 here)
  • crack_broom's Snape/Harry recs and hp_flashback's recs are also good places to look if you're just diving into the pairing.

Art
I've picked out one piece by artists I love, and then supplied links to their websites and LJs. Otherwise this list would be very long indeed. This list has a little bit of everything -- romantic, dark, humorous, sexy, etc. Most are worksafe but I've marked the ones that aren't.

Other stuff
Tags: #text, harry potter
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