Friday, July 20, 2007

Potter and Me

At first I did not care for Harry Potter. I saw the movie version of Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone and was unimpressed. I was in the audience at the Hugos at the Philly Worldcon in 2001 when Goblet won best novel and people seethed. I was disappointed, I admit.

Then I caught The Chamber of Secrets on HBO. "Cool. A basilisk. Not a bad idea." Since book 5 was coming out, I decided to start reading them in order.

Fast forward to the present. Tonight, I am attending Pandemonium Hogwarts Alumni, I am the prosecutor in the mock trial of Severus Snape.

(Spoilers for Half Blood Prince below)

My Lords and Ladies, this session of the Wizengamot has been convened for the most serious… the most heinous breach of the Wizarding peace in nearly a generation: the murder of Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The accused, whom we are trying in absentia, is Professor Severus Snape, a teacher at Hogwarts. A man who was trusted not only by the deceased, but by every witch, wizard and Muggle who sent a child to Hogwarts. Snape profoundly betrayed that trust with the crime of murder.
What is murder? Murder is the unlawful killing of another with malice aforethought and without justification or excuse. The great Muggle Jurist, Sir William Blackstone described it as…

The crime of deliberate and willful murder; a crime at which human nature starts…

Let us break the definition down to its component parts. Unlawful: A soldier who shoots the enemy in combat, the auror who uses deadly force against a dangerous dark wizard and the executioner who flicks the switch are all killers, but morality aside, they have a legal authority to kill.
Killing of another: self explanatory.
Justification: Killings in self defense or the defense of others fall into this category. Deadly force is justifiable when the actor reasonably believes that deadly force is going to be used.
Excuse encompasses mental deficiency, insanity, lack of volition or the absence of intent. An inattentive muggle automobile operator or an errant potion brewer can kill. Though they may be negligent and otherwise culpable of manslaughter, their crime is involuntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter is a killing in a sudden heat of passion, such as a man who catches his wife with her lover and, in a rage, slays them.
And now, we reach the crux of this trial, the state of mind: malice. Blackstone describes malice as…

…not so properly spite or malevolence to the deceased in particular, as any evil design in general; the dictate of a wicked, depraved, and malignant heart.

The modern legal definition of malice requires any one of four factors.
• Intent to kill
• Intent to do serious bodily harm
• Highly reckless or depraved heart… in other words, a high disregard or contempt for human life.
• Lastly, not that it matters here, a killing occurring in the course of five following felonies: burglary, robbery, kidnapping, rape or arson.

The Ministry will expose Snape’s wicked, depraved and malignant heart. We will show his intent to kill and how it became the foul deed. We will present testimonial evidence showing Severus Snape knew of a plot by Our Enemy to use a student at Hogwarts to kill Albus Dmbledore. We will show he attempted to aid and abet the plot. We will prove that when the plan was executed, Snape voluntarily joined a Death Eater assassination squad smuggled into Hogwarts. And when our foe's hand picked executioner lost his nerve, Severus Snape used the killing curse on the man who was his mentor.
This, my Lords and Ladies is the very definition of murder.
You have a grave responsibility: to examine the evidence closely. And there is one inevitable conclusion; that Severus Snape murdered Albus Dumbledore in cold blood.

My Lords and Ladies, our hard duty is near completion. But the hardest part of your task- judging and deciding- lies ahead.
The learned counsel for the defense has, I must admit, presented an interesting philosophical question. Such lovely speculation is more suited for the hallowed halls of academia than the courtroom.
This court does not deal with such philosophy. This court deals with facts. The basic facts are undisputed.
First, the summer prior, Severus Snape volunteered to join the plot to assassinate Albus Dumbledore. More than that, he willingly and voluntarily took the Unbreakable Vow, obligating him to carry out the bloody deed should the intended assassin, Draco Malfoy, have failed.
Second, that during the school year, Snape repeatedly offered aid and advice to Malfoy in his evil mission. Harry Potter overheard the two arguing about this subject during a Christmas party.
Thirdly, that when a coterie of Death Eater terrorists entered Hogwarts, and cornered an already weakened Dumbledore, our enemy's hand picked executioner, Draco Malfoy faltered. He looked his intended victim in the eye and civilization took over. Morality and conscience cooled hot homicidal blood. Draco Malfoy was not a murderer.
But the defendant, Severus Snape was.
• Severus Snape climbed to the top of the Astronomy Tower.
• Severus Snape saw the tableau: the Death Eaters, Draco Malfoy, paralyzed with indecision and Albus Dumbledore helpless, wandless and ill.
• Severus Snape raised his wand.
• Severus Snape looked Albus Dumbledore in the eye.
• Severus Snape said two words and snuffed Albus Dumbledore’s life.
In front of a half dozen witnesses. The two of whom whose testimony we have heard saw the man daily for nearly six years.
Recall the definition of murder we started with? Let’s review.
• Unlawful? Certainly.
• Killing of another? Not even disputed.
• Wuthout justification? Snape could have refused the Unbreakable Vow. He placed himself in peril to be in good standing with his Death Eater peers.
• Without excuse? No passion. No lack of intent. No indication of clinical insanity or the Imperius Curse. And as we are discussing a Hogwarts professor and a master of potion brewing and dark arts, we don’t need to discuss lack of capacity. This was murder in cold blood.
• Malice Aforethought? How else can one use the killing curse? Who can say ADAVERA KEDAVERA without intent and a wicked, depraved, and malignant heart.
And all this was voluntary. Snape was not coerced into taking the Unbreakable Vow. Learned counsel for the defendant has again spun a fascinating theory. But let us use Occam’s Razor to interpret the events. ‘Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity,’ or to rephrase, ‘the simplest solution tends to be the best.’ Instead of a convoluted fantasy of noble sacrifice, we have the brutal truth. Severus Snape, a former Death Eater and double agent showed the world his true colors when he murdered Albus Dumbledore. There is no direct evidence to support the defendant’s theory of the case, and there is considerable motive in the defendant’s part.
My Lords and Ladies. The evidence presented is overwhelming. Rarely has such a clear case been presented. The defendant is unquestionably guilty. He performed this deed willingly. I know it. You know it. The counsel for the defendant knows it too, though she disagrees in interpretation and motive. Most of all, Severus Snape knows it. That is why he has fled with the Death Eaters. Back to his true master.
There is a tale of the great American Muggle jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes. As he was climbing into a carriage, his fellow judge, Learned Hand, said, “Do justice, sir. Do justice.” Holmes ordered the carriage to be stopped. "That is not my job," he said. "It is my job to apply the law."
In this case, to apply the law is to do justice. For there is one person in this sordid tale who can not speak for himself. Not Snape, whose absence from these proceedings is an admission of guilt. Unlike the defendant, he is not hiding. He is mute because Severus Snape silenced him. Forever.
Do justice for Albus Dumbledore. Apply the law. Find Severus Snape guilty of murder. Thank you.

How sharper than a serpent's tooth was such betrayal. And with this act, Severus Snape betrayed us all He betrayed the trust of our society. He betrayed every student at Hogwarts and their parents. He betrayed his fellow teachers and staff. And most unforgivably of all, he betrayed Albus Dumbledore, the man who stood up before this very body to vouch that Severus Snape was no Death Eater.
Dumbledore’s trust was his Achilles Heel. But that was typical of the man, the greatest and noblest of us. All who passed through Hogwarts were touched by his kindness and understanding. All that wisdom gone forever.
Dante placed traitors in the 9th Circle of Hell. Well, all the flames of Hades are not hot enough for this betrayer and murderer. We thought he came in from the cold. But society embraced a serpent to her bosom.
I started with Blackstone. I will end with Blackstone. He notes that murder was universally punished by death and that the King of England himself could not pardon a murder properly convicted. He then quotes the Bible. Numbers. Chapter 35: verse 31.
Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall be surely put to death.
I take no satisfaction, in the modern meaning in calling for Snape’s execution. But, my Lords and Ladies, he brutally and foully took the best of our society from us. There is but one just punishment.
Do justice.
Sentence Snape to death.

Counsel for the defense is going with a 'heroic sacrifice' theory. Like in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or The Last Temptation of Christ. Does that mean we'll have Bertie Bott's Communion Wafers?

Update: They ac quited him. Typical fangirls.

Book 7 is the best of the series and a wonderful and fitting climax.