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Harry Potter: Why Is Snape So Mean To The Boy Who Lived?

Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) is a trash human being. He's a brilliant wizard, an unequaled Potions Master, and the kind of unforgettable character that only comes around once in a lifetime ... but he's a grade A complainer, insufferably self-important, and also a serial child abuser. And no one suffers his deranged torment more than the Boy Who Lived.

From the moment Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) steps inside the walls of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he comes under fire from the school's most questionable professor. He publicly mocks Harry during his first Potions class, he frequently punishes Harry for literally no reason at all, and he is not above sabotaging Harry's schoolwork to justify lowering his grades. It can't be for giggles because Snape doesn't seem to experience joy, so why does this grown adult despise this child so very much?

The short answer is that Harry represents all of Snape's many, many failures in life. He represents old rivals and old flames. And worst of all, he represents the Potions Master's most disastrous decision, one that permanently shattered his whole world. It changed everything for everyone else too, but let's be real — it's unlikely that the thought ever occurs to him. So here's really why Snape hates Harry so much.

Harry Potter is the son and spitting image of Snape's high school rival

Long before Snape becomes a professor at Hogwarts, he attends the school as one of its pupils. And while attending Hogwarts, he finds an enemy in James Potter (Adrian Rawlins), Harry Potter's eventual father. Since Snape is in Slytherin House and James is in Gryffindor House and Hogwarts thrives on ideological segregation, the two were never going to be fast friends, but Snape and James hate each other ... a lot. Snape's hatred is, in part, fueled by jealousy. James is an accomplished Quidditch player and is well-liked by most people for being a charming rapscallion.

Their feud stretches all the way back to their first journey on the Hogwarts Express, where Snape (Benedict Clarke) and James (Alfie McIlwain) argue over the merits of their preferred Hogwarts Houses and those who belong in them. It's an argument that Snape triggers but one that James enthusiastically escalates. In later spats, James does not wait for Snape to put his foot in his mouth and instead chooses to humiliate him in front of a cheering crowd. Yes, Snape is a pure-blood supremacist with a sulky demeanor, but James is a vicious, attention-seeking bully. There are no winners here.

Fast-forward to when young Harry arrives at Hogwarts. Snape is a grown man, 31 years old, and he runs into this child who looks exactly like his old rival. Both the books and the films go to great pains to hammer home just how similar Harry looks to his father, so it's not just a passing resemblance. In Harry, Snape sees someone who treated him like filth. Does it justify Snape's similar behavior toward Harry? No, obviously not.

Harry Potter's mother is Snape's schoolboy crush and adult obsession

During Snape's childhood, he makes exactly one friend: Lily Evans (Ellie Darcey-Alden), Harry Potter's eventual mother. Their friendship is partially one of convenience since they live near each other, but it's also built on a foundation of Lily being kind and Snape being creepy — because Snape spies on her before they officially meet and Lily turns a blind eye to this because she likes the idea of knowing more magical people. Even in his earliest days, Snape shows signs of possessiveness and elitism, and these attributes serve to divide the two as they enter their school years at Hogwarts.

It's no immediate separation, though — it's a war of attrition that spans the better part of five years. Their friendship ends when Snape (Alec Hopkins) calls Lily (Susie Shinner) a slur in public after she defends him against James Potter (Robbie Jarvis). Unsurprisingly, she decides that maybe keeping friends like that isn't so great for her mental health, and Snape's private pleading for forgiveness fails to secure her mercy.

Lily might have considered Snape her friend for a brief spell, but Snape always considered Lily the object of his desires, "object" being the key word here because it's highly unlikely that he ever considered her a three-dimensional human being with thoughts and feelings. Why else would he expect to get away with his insults? And instead of letting go, Snape holds on to that loss like it's the only anchor tethering him to reality. He never moves on. So when Harry attends Hogwarts bearing her unforgettable green eyes, Snape sees the woman he lost so many years ago. It's both pain and pleasure for the twisted man.

Harry Potter is a living reminder of Snape's worst crime

Snape's proclivity for making his life harder than it should be leads him to become a Death Eater in Lord Voldemort's (Ralph Fiennes) racist wizard cult. It might also have something to do with literally no one else wanting to be around him, but hey, that's Snape's fault, not everyone else's. In the service of his master, Snape works as a spy, collecting information wherever he can. And it's this duty that haunts him for the rest of his life because, during one such espionage mission, he delivers information to Lord Voldemort that directly leads to the murders of James Potter and Lily Evans (Geraldine Sommerville).

The real kicker here is that Lord Voldemort only kills them to get to their son ... and then proceeds to fail spectacularly at killing a literal child. Since Snape never learns how to regulate his emotions, he blames the young survivor for Lily's death. But he's also smart enough to blame Lord Voldemort and himself. Now twist all of that together and cram it just beneath the surface, and that's why Snape hates Harry so much. It makes sense, in a depressingly unhealthy way.

It's worth mentioning that Harry Potter has done some terrible things. He's not a physical abuser like his father, but he's no saint either. He's a stubborn kid who enjoys flouting the rules. Still, nothing in Harry's repertoire of minor infractions comes close to permitting Snape the leeway to act as he does.