Despite being rivals in the backstory of the Harry Potter series, James Potter’s rescue of Severus Snape was a quietly vital moment.
Over the course of seven novels – themselves adapted into eight films – Harry Potter revealed details about several eras of the wizarding world. While the main focus was on Harry Potter and his friends’ time at Hogwarts, sections of the story alluded to events from previous decades involving Harry’s parents.
In the history of Harry Potter franchise, James Potter’s rescue of Severus Snape was a world pivotal moment – though neither man was particularly happy with the development, and it only spurred their long-running rivalry.
In the Harry Potter series, Severus Snape has long been established as one of Harry’s most consistent antagonists. The potions professor at Hogwarts despite his history as a former member of Voldemort’s Death Eaters, Snape has a personal distaste for Harry in particular. This is ultimately revealed to be a byproduct of Snape’s lingering resentment for Harry’s father, James – who had been a major rival to Snape in their youth. Nonetheless, Snape proves himself several times throughout the series as a surprising protector for Harry. He saves the boy’s life on several occasions, which Dumbledore notes to Harry is partly because James had once saved Snape’s life when he was a member of the Marauders.
The new version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban further explored this connection through the introduction of James’ friend Remus Lupin. A new teacher at school, Lupin’s presence intensifies Snape’s anger at the past. It is eventually revealed that while at school, James, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew discovered that Lupine was a werewolf. To contain his transformations, Lupine was kept inside the supposedly haunted Screaming Shack under the full moon. But Snape’s attempts to uncover the truth led Sirius to tease that the truth was at the Shack. Snape rushed towards the Shack, unaware that he was walking into a deadly situation. In the end, James rushed into action and managed to reach Snape before he could be fully exposed to Lupin.
Although Snape discovered the truth about Lupin, James’ actions saved his life. However, this did not quell the rivalry between the two young men. In fact, it’s been suggested that James’ debt was something that enraged Snape. Their shared feelings for Lily Evans had only intensified their rivalry, and Snape’s impulsive attacks on Lily about her Muggle-born status had strained their relationship. This in turn left her open to a romance with James years later when he had grown more mature. While Snape may have shielded Harry in part from his enduring love for Lily, his debt to James cannot be understated – and has been directly referenced as the reason Snape saved Harry from Quarrel in the new version of Harry Potter at the Sorcerer’s Stone.
This connection largely carries over to the films and goes a long way to explaining the inherent hatred Snape seems to have for Harry. Notably, however, it also adds to the image of young James Potter, who was somehow the worst. While that doesn’t excuse Snape’s behavior at the time, James Potter’s only seemingly redeeming moment from this time in his life was his decision to stop his friend from accidentally killing someone. It might even have been a wake-up call for James in his fifth year, helping him to become a better person. Although it never appears in the actual events of the book or film series, James’ rescue of Snape – although it’s a pretty bad indictment of the kind of person he and her best friends were in her teens — quietly is one of the most important moments. in the history of the series.
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