Further reflections spurred by reading The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore by Irvin Khaytman.
In the Goblet of Fire chapter of Irvin Khaytman’s Dumbledore book, he writes that there is a rift between Dumbledore and Snape, following the events of Prisoner of Azkaban, so severe that they are not even speaking to each other for most of this year. While I don’t agree that the lack of communication is caused exactly by the kind of rift Khaytman describes, I am completely convinced by Khaytman’s demonstration that problems arose because Dumbledore and Snape were not communicating.
In my reading, Snape is jumpy primarily because his Dark Mark is coming back and he has to reckon with the past, with the change in loyalties that have been mostly theoretical until now, and with the likelihood that the return of Voldemort is a death sentence for him, one way or another. He has to think about this while under the mocking and skeptical magical gaze of Mad-Eye Moody (or so he believes), who knows every bad thing Snape ever did, believes Snape does not have it in him to reform, and taunts him about it. Furthermore, Snape is resentful about being demoted from his role as unofficial part-time Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher because unlike Lupin when he was ill, or Quirrell and Lockhart, who were useless, Moody is fully qualified to teach DADA, much better than Snape is. I think Dumbledore is giving Snape space and keeping an eye on him while the Dark Mark intensifies, checking in on him during the Yule Ball, but not relying on him during this uncertain time, especially when he has his old war buddy Moody in whom to confide. The status-conscious Snape is touchy about this decreased access to the one person who matters most at Hogwarts — and this is something I did not realize until I read Khaytman’s book.
I had never before found a fully satisfying reading for Snape’s twisted gatekeeping tactics when Harry is trying to get to Dumbledore’s office to tell him that Barty Crouch, Sr. is in the forest (GoF 558). He sees Harry’s panic and takes pleasure in obstructing him from reaching Dumbledore — why? “Because he’s a miserable git” is not enough of an answer for me; Snape is a miserable git all of the time, but he only blocks Harry’s access in this manner once. Now that I look at the scene while thinking about Khaytman’s discussion of Snape’s reduced access to Dumbledore, it finally occurs to me that Snape is acting out his frustration at being excluded by wielding petty power and excluding Harry, in turn. It would be in character for him.
We see a callback to this kind of jealousy and insecurity in the Spinner’s End chapter of Half-Blood Prince when Snape knows just how to drop delicate taunts about Bellatrix’s decreased access to Voldemort. I don’t think there’s a direct line between the two incidents, and I’m sure Snape had many other opportunities to become an expert on the nature of jealousy, but remembering his (feigned) smugness and Bellatrix’s insecurity affirms my reading of a similar dynamic between Fake Moody and Snape during the year that Dumbledore confided in Snape the least.
On my next re-read of GoF, I look forward to spotting the instances when JKR shows us, without telling us directly, that Snape and Dumbledore are speaking far less than they usually do.