An ode to Severus Snape and Alan Rickman

Image via Warner Bros.

I was an incredibly picky kid. My mother had to practically beg me to eat my vegetables, and the only dinners she could count on me to consume were Spaghettios and French fries. But when it came to books, I was voracious. I would devour every one I could get my hands on, reading as if my life depended on it — the Harry Potter series especially.

But after J.K. Rowling’s treasured series became immensely popular, and the film adaptation of The Sorcerer’s Stone came to our local theater when I was in fourth grade, my pickiness returned. As my parents walked me into the theater — it was an old little theater that only had one viewing room, complete with a stage and a beautiful red curtain — they looked at me excitedly, expecting me to be absolutely thrilled to be finally seeing my favorite tale on the big screen at last. However, I was busy having my very first “this better be as good as the books” moment of cynicism.

I had adored reading my entire nine-year-old life, but I had read the first four Harry Potter books so many times I lost count. During a time when dorky, awkward me had barely any friends (I had begged one particular girl to go see Sorcerer’s Stone with me, but she kept on dodging me until I got the hint), the magical world of Hogwarts was everything to me. I dreamed of turning 11 and getting my Hogwarts letter in the mail, finally learning the reason why I didn’t fit in — because I wasn’t a Muggle; I was a witch, of course! — and being whisked off to the grounds of Hogwarts. Bullying still happened there, but I wouldn’t mind my own personal Malfoy so much if I was able to live in a world of magic.

So when I saw Harry, Ron, and Hermione for the first time, I couldn’t help but be my picky self. Why didn’t Harry have green eyes? Why didn’t Hermione have buck teeth? (Little did I know that her hair would be the most infuriating issue for me during the next film.)

But then, I saw brooding Snape — Alan Rickman. He looked exactly how I had pictured him as I pored over the books in my bedroom, way past my bedtime — dark, black, greasy-looking hair, dour expression, a billowing black cloak. Pure absolute evil.

And nine-year-old me grinned. This is it, I thought. This is what I was waiting for. For the first time, I was seeing a character that I loved — also, feared and hated, but loved, deep down — come to life on the big screen. In that tiny theater, I got to root against Snape, the evilest of the evil (besides Voldemort, of course). At that age, I didn’t realize what a gift Alan Rickman had just given me: The ability to, somehow, fall even deeper into a story I adored so much. No offense to any of the other actors (who I grew to love as well), but for the first time, I was seeing a character I cared about being done true justice.

But that was back in 2001, and little did I know, Snape wasn’t all that he seemed. As J.K. released book after book of the series — which I devoured with increasing fervor as they came out — I started to understand that the evilness I had read and seen on the big screen wasn’t so black and white. Yes, he was flawed; yes, he was cruel to Harry, but it was all due to a broken heart. The pain Snape endured may have broken a weaker man for good, and perhaps a stronger man may have risen past it and used it as fuel to live a better life, but Snape wasn’t any of those men. He was a man who couldn’t let go of his broken heart, who couldn’t cope with seeing the eyes of his lost love in a boy after seeing those same eyes lifeless, dim, on that Halloween of 1981. He was flawed, but there was a reason for those flaws; he wasn’t pure good, nor was he pure evil — just like people in real life. And that’s why for so many people around the world, Snape wasn’t just a character. He was so much more than that.

I was a freshman in college when I saw the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 in theaters. Over those ten years, I had long let go of my dream of getting my Hogwarts letter, and my picky-eating habits had fallen by the wayside. I had grown into myself. I had made plenty friends over those past several months at a new university. And I had let go of the cynicism I had felt about the film being as good as the movie, because thanks to Alan Rickman, I knew it would be.

That jam-packed theater was full of bustling, excited Harry Potter fans; we didn’t know each other, but we all cried silently as one, tears streaming as Alan Rickman uttered one single word: “Always.”

J.K. Rowling may have created the multidimensional character of Snape, but Alan Rickman was able to bring that character to life. Even though Sirius Black uttered the words, Alan was truly the one to teach me that the world is not split into good people and Death Eaters — that even the seemingly evil characters have hearts, have been broken, have endured so much.

And, like Snape, that’s why for so many people around the world, Alan Rickman wasn’t just an actor. That’s why we’ll remember him. . . always.