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Since its first publication in 1997, no one, not even J.K. Rowling herself, could have expected her books to become the phenomenon and pop culture staple that is the Harry Potter series. Twenty-two years, seven books, eight films, and many spin-offs comprising of the Wizarding World Franchise, the series may have ended, but as more adults finally start to join the Potter-universe and more children have come to enjoy reading the books, there will always be questions and places for discussion in this expansive universe.
One of the most-asked questions that people new to the fandom ask is what does the word “Always” mean in significance to the Harry Potter universe? While it isn’t a wizarding word jargon like words such as “muggle,” “Hufflepuff,” or “horcrux” and applies to everyday life, it seems confusing to someone unfamiliar with the lore as to why it’s such an important word that, even without context, it is present in necklaces, t-shirts, and even multiple forms of artworks.
Here’s why the word “Always” is an important quote in the Harry Potter series. I must warn you: spoiler alert for people who haven’t read or watched all the movies, as the context behind the word reveals a lot of key points that may ruin the mystery of a long-running theme of the books.
What Is The Significance of “Always” in Harry Potter?
For the uninitiated Harry Potter reader, “always” is how Professor Severus Snape explains to Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows why his patronus was a doe, which was the same shape Lily Evans’ (Harry’s mother) patronus took. Here’s an excerpt from the book:
From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe. She landed on the office floor, bounded once across the office, and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears. “After all this time?” “Always,” said Snape.
It was a shocking revelation, especially for readers who have been on the fence with Snape. How could a Slytherin like him harbor feelings for a muggle-born such as Lily Evans? Didn’t he just call her a “mudblood” two books ago? And how on earth did he have feelings for her?
The Prince’s Tale
To understand the meaning behind the word “Always” in a Harry Potter context, we have to look at the background of one of the most complex characters in the books (aka Severus Snape). One of the most hated characters in the series, Harry Potter and his friends were often bullied, insulted, and mistreated by this Potions professor. What I found interesting about his character was J.K. Rowling’s ability to hide where his loyalties really lie: was Dumbledore right to trust Snape totally despite what others thought about him; or was he really siding with Voldemort and working with the Death Eaters?
The readers were kept in the dark about Snape’s true loyalties. And towards the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, most people may have assumed Snape’s loyalty to Voldemort and his Death Eaters were undeniable after he killed Dumbledore. People believed that, despite Dumbledore’s wisdom and experience, his inability to see through Snape proved to be his undoing.
However, everyone’s view of Snape changed once the final installment of the seven books, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released. Voldemort killed Snape thinking he was the true master of the Elder Wand, the most powerful wand created by Death. Voldemort thought that, since Snape killed Dumbledore, the previous master of the Elder Wand, if he killed Snape, the wand’s loyalty would go to Voldemort. Harry, Ron, and Hermione witness Nagini bite Snape to death and are present in the room in Snape’s final moments. He gets Harry to collect his tears and hints at him to look at his memories through Dumbledore’s Pensieve. But not before asking Harry to “Look at me.”
Snape had an unhappy childhood, growing up in a working-class neighborhood with parents who were probably poor and a father who was violent. From the memory, Harry learned that Snape was a childhood friend of Harry’s mother, Lily Potter, who was known as Lily Evans as a child. It was Snape who informed her she was a witch, and he was also on bad terms with Lily’s sister, Petunia.
Lily and Severus both attended Hogwarts in 1971. They did not have a good first impression with James Potter and Sirius Black, who insulted Snape and mocked Lily. Lily was sorted into Gryffindor with James and Sirius, while Snape was sorted into Slytherin. Lily did not like James because of his arrogance and attitude towards Snape, who was becoming closer friends with students who would later become Death Eaters. It is implied that Lily did not approve of their friendship, and had grown distant with him. James was also attracted to Lily, but she was put off by his arrogance.
On one fateful day, Snape became the butt of James and Sirius’ jokes as Snape was forced upside-down, exposing his boxers to the students. Lily tried to defend Snape, but refused to go on a date with James in exchange for putting Snape down. Angry and embarrassed, Snape snapped at Lily, calling her a “mudblood” in public. If you’re new to the series, this is a derogatory term used to call a witch or wizard with no magical ancestry. Snape tried to apologize, but Lily shunned him.
After Hogwarts, Snape went on to join his Slytherin friends to become Death Eaters, servants of Lord Voldemort. Lily, on the other hand, dated and eventually married James Potter when he fixed his attitude. It was Snape who eavesdropped on Dumbledore and Sybil Trelawney when she recited the prophecy that foretold the coming of a child who could defeat Voldemort, and he was the one who relayed this prophecy to Voldemort. When he realized that the child in the prophecy was Lily’s and that, knowing her, she would die protecting her own child, he begged Dumbledore to protect her. Dumbledore agreed, but at the price that Snape serve as his spy inside the Death Eaters.
Unfortunately, Lily still died, but Voldemort was seemingly killed in his attempt to kill Harry Potter. However, Dumbledore told Snape that it was necessary to protect Harry Potter so that Lily’s sacrifice was not in vain. Snape agreed but insisted Dumbledore keep their deal a secret.
Years pass, and Snape grows to resent Harry as he resembles James but has Lily’s eyes. However, he continued to protect Harry despite his harsh treatment. Prior to the events of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore had acquired the Gaunt ring, one of Voldemort’s horcruxes, and tried it on, causing a curse that would have killed him had Snape not slowed down the curse from spreading.
Aware that Draco Malfoy was tasked to kill him and that he had limited time left, Dumbledore decided to ask Snape to kill him so that it could do three things: save Draco’s soul, grant Dumbledore a painless death, and gain Voldemort’s complete trust. Dumbledore revealed that Harry had to be killed by Voldemort at the right time, which made Snape upset as he felt they were raising Harry for slaughter. When asked why he cared so much about Harry’s fate, Snape conjured a doe Patronus. Lily’s Patronus had also been a doe, showing how Snape still loved her.
When asked if he still loved Lily all this time, Snape gave a short answer: “Always.”
Harry Potter and the Theme of Love
J.K. Rowling’s books have always dealt with the theme of love. Lily sacrificed herself to protect Harry. Fleur saw beyond Bill’s deformity and still love him even though people assumed she was superficial. Molly defeated Bellatrix herself because her love for Ginny was stronger than Bellatrix’s obsessive love for Voldemort. Narcissa lied to Voldemort just for the chance to save her son.
In many instances, you can see how love always trumps hate. Voldemort and the Death Eaters’ cause are based more on hate than love: they hate impure wizards and muggles, so their cause is focused on getting rid of people they don’t like. The Order of the Phoenix and everyone allied with Harry, on the other hand, are focused on love. They want to protect the people that Voldemort doesn’t see fit to live within their league (people like Hermione (a muggleborn) and Hagrid (a half-breed)).
But when it comes to Severus Snape before the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, came out, people had no idea where his loyalties lie. In truth, he still loved Lily enough that he spent the rest of his life after her death swallowing the pain of seeing her eyes on a boy who looked exactly like his own tormentor. Despite everything that had occurred, Snape continued to love Lily, which was what affected his decisions throughout the series.
Did Snape Really Love Lily?
Despite this reveal in the end, many are doubting whether Snape truly loved Lily or if he simply lusted after her. On one side of the debate, people claim that despite Snape being a double agent, Snape died protecting Harry and aiding him and Dumbledore when necessary. He might have been harsh with Harry, but he was actually one of the good guys and chose to save the son of the man who he hated for the woman he loved.
On the other side of that argument, however, are people looking at Snape throughout the books and claiming that his love for Lily does not excuse the behavior he showed throughout the book. While Snape did protect Harry on several occasions, he was verbally abusive towards students he didn’t like, particularly Harry, Neville, and Hermione. His love for Lily was no excuse, and if he did truly love her, he wouldn’t have taken out his anger on the children. But other fans give Snape some slack; after all, who wouldn’t be mad when you have to keep an enemy’s son alive and the love of your life is dead?
Alan Rickman Knew About “Always” First
Severus Snape will always be associated with the actor behind him, Alan Rickman. His astounding performance as the complex Slytherin professor confused moviegoers as to where Snape’s loyalty truly was. Rickman, the great actor that he is, delivered a good performance, but beyond his credits as an actor, he also used his knowledge about Snape’s true character to fuel his performance.
In the wake of Rickman’s death, Rowling revealed that she let Rickman in Snape’s true loyalties early on. In a tweet, she revealed that she explained to him the meaning behind the “Always” in Harry Potter.
Before his death, the actor had teased that Rowling once shared with him a tiny piece of information concerning his character. According to Rickman, the information helped him think his character was more complex and his story isn’t as straightforward as everyone thinks. By the time Rowling let him in on the secret, she had only written four books, but it was important for her that Rickman knew about the “Always” to help him with Snape’s ambiguous route.
The “Always” line in Harry Potter is a memorable quote that shows the importance of sticking to an idea throughout your life’s actions. Snape loved Lily, and he continued to do so until his dying breath. Whether it’s a love for someone or an idea of love you uphold, you’re looking for one you can carry out until the end.