Nį of hits since August 2006:
As most people reading this will know, the writer Dyce and I have been working on a story called Lost and Found, in which a team of carers including Luna, Neville and Hermione collaborate to save and support Snape after he has been physically maimed and emotionally shattered by Death Eater torture. As Snape slowly recovers, he comes to see the others, especially Hermione, as friends, and sometimes talks to Hermione about what he is feeling.
The story has generally been very well-received, but recently Dyce and I have been criticized for making Snape too "noble and nice," and for writing him as being quite open and communicative towards a close friend when he should show "distance... reticence and reserve." I would argue, however, that this idea of Snape as especially nasty or especially reserved is based on a fanon or film-derived perception of him, not on canon.
There's no doubt that canon Snape has an unfortunate manner - he's rude, abrasive, defensive and sarcastic, overly critical and almost never giving praise where it is due. But is he actually any worse than many of the "good" characters?
N.B.: I had originally written that "Snape is biased and unfair in the comparative way he treats the different houses", but this just goes to show that I too can fall victim to fanon. It was only when I came to write an essay on fanon tropes that I realised that this idea is 99% down to fanfiction and that Snape in the books is prejudiced (if you want to call it that) specifically against the Trio and Neville, not against non-Slytherins generally.
To begin with, JK Rowling has placed Snape's origins in what looks like the industrial north of England - an area where tactlesness (known as "being blunt") is seen as a proof of honesty and is cultivated as a virtue, and where the height of praise is "not bad." Hence, much of Snape's abrasive manner is cultural rather than personal. [Pottermore has since stated that Snape comes from the Midlands, but that includes areas of Derbyshire immediately south-east of Manchester, and quite "northern" enough for this argument still to hold water.]
Snape is hostile and even bullying towards Harry in part because he hated and feared Harry's father, and he is harsh towards Neville's failings. But in the Christmas scene in PoA Minerva is excessively rude and even cruel to poor dozy Sybill, she admits to having been very hard on Peter for his lack of academic ability, and the way she treats Neville - humiliating him by making him sit outside in the corridor waiting for someone to let him in to the common room, at a time when what she thinks is a mass murderer has been roaming that corridor with a big knife, and sending him into a midnight wood full of giant man-eating spiders - is not significantly better on the emotional level than the way Snape treats him, and considerably more physically dangerous. The second time we see Hagrid, he insults a terrified, cowering eleven-year-old child and then inflicts a painful and humiliating pig's tail on him just because he doesn't like the kid's father. And OK, we know that Dudley is a bullying little shit - but Hagrid doesn't know that. All Hagrid knows is that Dudley's father is a loudmouth, so he punishes the child for the sins of the father, just as Snape does.
Snape is fairly even-handed in how he gives out detentions - prior to the Sectumsempra incident we see him give five detentions to Gryffindors and three to Slytherins. We only see him actively praise a student twice, and they are one Slytherin (Draco) and one Gryffinder (Harry). Only once, when he takes ten collective points from Harry, Ron and Neville for brawling, do we see him take points from any Gryffindor other than the Trio. But he does take quite a lot of points from the Trio and none that we see from Slytherins, even though Draco's gang are quite badly behaved. In part this is because they are sneaky about it - twice we're told that Slytherins literally wait until Snape's back is turned before misbehaving - but Draco and co. are such trouble-mnakers that it's ahrd to ebelvie Snape isn't aware of it at all, and one suspects that he is reluctant to take points from his own house because he wants to win the House Cup.
He certainly turns a blind eye to his house-students cheating at Quidditch; but we are specifically told that Minerva cheats at Quidditch just as much as he does, and Hagrid lies and tells Harry that there isn't a witch or wizard who went bad who didn't come from Slytherin when he knows that one of the Gryffindor Marauders grew up to be a mass-murdering Death Eater (even if he's confused about which one it was). Harry sees Minerva and Hagrid as Good and Snape as Bad because Minerva and Hagrid like Harry and Snape doesn't, but in truth they are all much of a muchness - except that Hagrid is slightly the worst, because he actually physically hurts Dudley.
Most of the other apparently unpleasant things Snape does are things which other people do, although he gets blamed disproportionately because of his abrasive manner. He calls Hermione a know-it-all, but we are told that her classmates do the same; he wishes to see Harry and Ron expelled after hearing them say they hope he's been sacked; he is rude to Sirius, but no ruder than Sirius is to him - and when he captures Sirius he merely threatens him, whereas Sirius and Lupin are planning to kill Pettigrew in cold blood, for the same crime which Snape wrongly believes Siruus to have committed.
He's not even necessarily much ruder to the students than the other teachers are. We do see Filius Flitwick setting a student lines which read "I am a wizard, not a baboon brandishing a stick," which sounds very much like one of Snape's comments. Snape certainly has a well-developed and sarcastic verbal wit, but this kind of humour is much admired in Britain and has high social value, so it is unlikely to be an indication of true viciousness on Snape's part, any more than it is on Flitwick's.
[I've actually seen some fan-writers claim that Snape has no sense of humour, but they are obviously just not attuned to British wordplay. To a Brit, it's obvious that nearly every word Snape says is a joke - albeit usually rather a malicious joke.]
On those occasions when Snape is particularly nasty, if you pick the scene apart there's always some reason why he was especially stressed or freaked out at the time. For example, when he refuses to carry Harry's message about Barty Crouch Snr, if you look at what is said about Crouch Snr and exactly when Snape was under investigation by the Wizengamot, you find that Crouch had probably personally authorized the Aurors to Crucio Snape, all those years ago. When he is so rude to Tonks and unsympathetic to an injured Harry at the beginning of HBP, he has just been unexpectedly bounced out at by Tonks' new Patronus in the form of were-Lupin, of whom he is terrified (we know he is because when he brings Lupin his Wolfsbane he backs out of the room). And so on.
Then, as to our version being "too noble and nice," whichever side Snape is on he's spent much of his adult life subjecting himself to danger and stress for a cause he believes in. We see him go alone into the place where he was almost killed as a child, to confront the two people who almost killed him, one of them (as he thinks) a mass murderer and the other a werewolf he knows hasn't taken his Wolfsbane on a night of full moon, to save three children he doesnít even like. And that must have been the reason, because if he'd just been trying to catch Sirius he would have waited the few minutes it took to call a Dementor to assist him. The only aspect of the situation which was so time-critical that a few minutes mattered that much was the danger to the children.
Again, we see him sprint through the school in his nightshirt, ignoring a break-in to his own office on the way, because he thought somebody had been hurt. That must have been the reason, because what attracted him was the noise from the open Triwizard egg, which we are told sounds like somebody screaming in pain. And we know he came in haste because he hadn't even stopped to sling a robe over his nightshirt and we know his quarters are down in the dungeons (or he wouldn't have passed his office en route) and yet he arrived on the scene, at least two floors above his quarters and an unknown distance horizontally, only about two minutes after the egg opened. When Harry accidentally cuts Draco, Snape burst through the door, grey-faced, without stopping to find out who has been attacked or by what or what might be waiting to attack him, knowing nothing except that he heard a girl scream "Murder!"
And although he finds Neville annoying he goes to the trouble of telling Crabbe to cease half-strangling him, even though he is already on probation and this intervention could only get him deeper into trouble with Umbridge, and it's unlikely that Neville was really in danger.
We have very little data on how Snape behaves towards people he likes and who don't freak him out, since we normally see him through Harry's eyes. But his behaviour towards Narcissa in the Spinner's End scene is polite and guardedly kind, and we know that this is normal between them - not just a show for Bellatrix's benefit - because Cissy has sought him out specifically as a friend she thinks will help her. When he is trying to pump information out of Draco he expresses sympathetic understanding of how Lucius's arrest has affected the boy, even though they are in the midst of a fight; and when he heals him after the Sectumsempra incident he appears genuinely concerned and kind, reassuring him that he probably won't be scarred - a personal touch which goes beyond the mere practicalities of saving a student's life.
Most of the times when we see Snape interacting with Albus they are arguing, but the way Albus calls him to come and share a custard tart, and the strange little interaction over the Christmas hats in PoA, with Snape pushing the unwanted vulture hat across the table to Albus - "Here, you have it" - (a much more intimate and jokey action than just handing it across) suggest that they are genuine friends. It's clear from Minerva's comments that Snape regularly winds her up about Quidditch, which again suggests friendship, albeit of a teasing sort, and when he is sarcastic to Lockhart he is expressing what the other staff members think and they rally behind him. He lets Slughorn talk him into attending a party, even though it doesn't seem likely that parties are really his thing, and doesn't actively recoil when Sluggy puts his arm round him.
All of this indicates that Snape is held in some degree of affection by his colleagues, which would be unlikely to be the case if he were relentlessly nasty. Lupin says of him: "We shall never be bosom friends, perhaps... there is too much bitterness there," but he doesn't seem to think the idea of Snape being bosom friends with somebody is especially unlikely, or even totally to rule it out for himself.
So it's safe to assume that canon Snape is capable of being at least moderately pleasant towards people he likes. He just doesn't seem to like many people. And his reluctance to see any fault in his Slytherins suggests that, far from being a harsh, critical lover or parent, he would tend to be over-indulgent and believe that his little darlings could do no wrong.
As to whether he is especially reserved, child Snape huddles in the corner and weeps, teenage Snape swears and rants and lashes out (and has a nickname which suggests that he is considered a crybaby), and adult Snape flushes and blenches and shakes and shouts, he publicly either spits with disgust or retches with fright (I'm inclined to think it's the latter) after nearly being knocked off his broom in the first book, he physically manhandles a student and throws a jar at him when he's upset, he sulks, he rants, he lets his personal feelings influence his professional behaviour, he allows the false Moody to see how much Dumbledore's trust means to him.... Can one imagine Pomona Sprout, say, losing her cool as drastically and publicly as Snape does on a regular basis?
The one who really is distant, reticent and reserved is Lupin, with his sweet little smile behind which you ain't never going to find out what he's really thinking.... But Snape, as JKR has written him, is an almost totally open book. With the possible exceptions of Hagrid, and Trelawney when drunk, I would say that he's far and away the most emotionally open and emotionally labile member of staff, and his conversations with Harry during Occlumency lessons also suggest that he is capable of being quite chatty, so long as you donít mind service with a snarl.
This raises the question of how such a bundle of nerves manages to survive as a spy, but the best way to conceal what you're up to when playing poker is not to have no ticks and twitches but to have ticks and twitches randomly all the time. Maybe Snape's spying works the same way - if he shows Voldemort a seething mass of anger and resentment and neurosis firing off in all directions, Voldie is going to find it very hard to spot the bits which have been edited or faked.
It's been suggested that even if Snape is a very emotional person, he wouldn't have enough self-knowledge or emotional literacy actually to discuss his own feelings. But whichever side he's on, he's spent years fooling one of the best Legilimens on record, and I would argue that he would not be able to do so unless he is very well acquainted with the contents of his own head. We know Legilimency works mainly on feelings, not thought, and it wouldn't be enough just to be blank, to block Voldemort (or Dumbledore) out, because then Voldie (or Albus) would know at once that he was hiding something. To have survived as a double agent, Snape must be able to project a false self, complete with a set of false emotions which are enough like his real ones to be convincing, and yet are subtly edited and altered. So although he's not likely ever to be very mushy or romantic about his feelings - he's more likely to be dryly analytical and ironic - he does know what they are.
The mere fact that Albus trusts Snape so implicitly also suggests that Albus feels that he knows and understands Snape's feelings, and it certainly sounded as if they were discussing them (albeit rather heatedly) in the snippet of conversation which Hagrid overheard.
A lot of this fannish idea of Snape as terribly remote and reserved came about because it was possible to read him that way in the first two books, and by the time we see him ranting with terrified rage in PoA that idea of him had been firmly entrenched. The writer duj made a very telling point when she said that in the first two books "... it was still possible to ignore or reinterpret those early signs [the first indications that Snape might be very emotionally labile] in line with the image Snape was trying to project." That is, Snape tries to appear all cool and Spock-like but it's only an act, and that becomes more apparent as the series progresses. This is made absolutely explicit in the party scene in HBP, where Snape, caught unawares, looks at Draco with anger and some fear openly visible in his face, and then in the next second is "smoothly inscrutable" again; and also during the Occlumency lessons in OotP where we are told that "Snape looked agitated; but when he spoke again he sounded as though he was trying to appear cool and unconcerned."
Snape certainly does aim for reserve and value it - he refers scornfully to "Fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions, who wallow in sad memories," which seems to be a comment on himself as much as on Harry - especially as Harry has never been the wallowing kind. But the mere fact that he says it suggests that he knows that part of himself would like to wallow in sad memories, and needs to be rigidly controlled to prevent it. It suggests that he knows consciously that he has a lot of inner stress, and knows that he would like to be able to talk about it, although he thinks he should not. Hence, although he will never be one to "wear his heart on his sleeve" and discuss his feelings openly with all and sundry, if he had somebody he felt he could talk to openly in a way which was appropriate and did not involve loss of face, he'd probably have a great deal to say.
As to whether Hermione herself is very reticent about her feelings, we don't see her talk about emotions much, but then she has nobody but the boys to talk about them to, and they'd rather discuss Quidditch. She does admit openly when she's scared (sitting behind Harry on Buckbeak, chanting "I really don't like this"), she cries when she thinks that nobody likes her, and in front of Hagrid when Ron isn't speaking to her over Scabbers, and in the girls' loo when Ron is horrible to her in HBP; and she is very openly emotional, even strident, over the house-elf issue. She goes all starry-eyed and mushy over Lockhart, including doodling little hearts on her timetable, and she makes that very romantic/poetic speech about Harry being a great wizard, and friendship and bravery being more important than cleverness.
Admittedly most of that is when she is quite young but it shows she does have the capacity to be openly emotional, and to talk about feeling emotional, with the right person; and she openly and cheerfully admits to Harry that she went to a party with McLaggen to make Ron jealous. So she too both understands her feelings and is prepared, under the right circumstances, to admit to them.
With regard to specific plot-points in the story Lost and Found, and whether or not it is feasible that Snape would discuss what had happened to him with the others, including having been raped, it's normal for torture victims to veer between not wanting to talk about it at all, and bouts of needing to talk about it almost obsessively. It's normal for abuse survivors, especially those of an academic turn of mind, to want to get control over what happened to them by analysing it. And part of what makes many rape victims reluctant to disclose what happened to them is the feeling that people will look at them differently because of it, which is not an issue in Snape's case because the people who are involved in treating him already know what's been done to him.
In the story, except when he is in the grip of raging nightmare Snape doesn't actually talk about what happened much to anybody except Hermione and occasionally, very obliquely, to Albus and Minerva. Indeed, he only talks to Hermione about it at scattered intervals, weeks apart. [He does mention it to Horace Slughorn but in that case he isn't being open: he's forcing himself to overcome his reluctance to speak about it because he knows it will freak Horace out, and panic him into giving Albus the Horcrux memory.] We both felt that he would be quite likely to talk about it a bit to Hermione, who is practical and unsentimental and as analytical as he is, because it would help him to organize his raw feelings and to some extent distance himself from them.
Not to mention, as Dyce says, that "he desperately needs the reassurance that people won't turn away from him if they Know, and the only way for them to Know is if he tells them, really." The part of him that's self-preserving wants the reassurance, and the part that's self-destructive thinks they should turn away and half wants them to and wants to lacerate himself with his own self-disgust - either way, he wants the people he's close to to know how far his captors reduced him.
At a more basic level, it's been made explicit, in the party scene in HBP and during the Occlumency lessons in OotP, that canon-Snape's reserve is a mask, a conscious and pre-meditated thing that he actively does, rather than just an intrinsic part of him. The more tired and ill he was, the less he would have the energy to maintain that false front; and once he had let it drop with a selected few, and found that nothing bad happened as a result, he'd be less likely to bother with it in future.
I actually discussed this story, and how communicative Snape was likely to be, with a friend who is an expert on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and on abuse-trauma generally, and he replied that: "I think Snape would be the sort of person who would mostly use a euphemism or label of some sort. He would talk about 'That Event' or something, with gritted teeth. But he would then be able to discuss the effects in quite objective terms. It's like compartmentalising the emotion into that single term. As he went along, if he found this was acceptable to his interlocutor, he would let the emotion out in manageable chunks."
This was essentially how we had already written him - refering to his captivity as "when I was in that place" or "what happened last year" etc.. We only had him actually using the word "rape" three times and one of those was a cold-blooded attempt to freak out Slughorn. In the light of my friend the PTSD expert's comments I went back and changed the other two to something slightly more oblique, and with that very minor change he read through it and said (as a Harry Potter fan and a PTSD expert) "I didn't find any place that felt like it was out of character for Snape. The only thing I didn't immediately feel was right was the students holding and comforting him, but it did fit when I continued reading."
As to whether it's actually likely that of-age students would be allowed to sleep next to an injured professor as part of a therapeutic regime, it's pushing probability a little, I know - but not, we thought, any more so than the idea of the school remaining open while the students are being picked off by a basilisk, or stalked by a reputed mass murderer.