It is one month past release. This journal is no longer going to be have spoiler protection, though long and rambling posts, will, of course, have cuts.
Well, I haven't done a post-HBP Snape post. Come to think of it, I didn't do a pre-HBP Snape post, either, but that doesn't seem to have been a mandatory thing, as the major question raised by HBP about Snape's loyalties hadn't really focused the discussion. I don't think it was ever much of a secret that I'm not a Snape fan, and he was the only character I said I could believe in an ESE!Character scenario (though I wasn't sure what the point of one would be).
Yet now that he has delivered the fatal curse and committed an act of extreme treason--which should have appealed to my Not-A-Snape-Fan sensibilities--I find myself entirely agnostic on the Great Snape Debate, which is why I haven't actually done a post on it. I can see a lot of possible scenarios with the set-up, including totally evil Snape in a couple of forms, but not excluding loyal-to-Dumbledore-at-the-worst-extreme!S
I think maybe it's because I don't like Snape (or hate him, not to sound too much like Lupin at Christmas), but for whatever reason, the puzzle of his behavior is an intellectual one, and I find it very intriguing. Every time I convince myself of one scenario, I stumble over a big problem with it.
ActuallyGood!Snape is a relief to think about because it justifies Dumbledore's belief in him and, as the Order follows Dumbledore, justifies the Order's wisdom. It's a redemption arc, which is always good, and it would make Harry see things in a different way. It makes structural sense. On the other hand, there's not much room left to pull it off, it's difficult to do from Harry's POV, and Snape has done things that are beyond the pale.
EverSoEvil!Snape is good because he's a genuinely scary character, and one who Harry has, as JKR put it, a very personal gripe with. It explains things like his betrayal of other Order members. It also provides an explanation for the thing that was driving me bats when I was working out the MoM battle timeline, which is that Snape had to have waited for hours after the kids disappeared into the Forest to inform the Order that they were gone; otherwise the Order would have been there waiting, as they could all Apparate and were considerably closer anyway. It would address his sadistic treatment of Neville and his overeagerness to feed Sirius and Lupin both to the Dementors without trial.
LooseCannon!Snape is good because anything could happen, but it ends up putting more weight on Snape than on Harry, which is bad in books that are about Harry.
Hence, my Snape agnosticism.
Let's say we go with what Snape says and what JKR seems to suggest in the LC/MN interview: Snape's been a DE all along and what happened was the final failure of Dumbledore's judgment. On the one hand, it's just so painful to think of Dumbledore being betrayed by someone he'd risked so much for--it's very powerful. And as JKR said, it makes things personal for Harry. He's driven now. The Order has again suffered a betrayal, this time by someone they had felt themselves quite righteous to have accepted and forgiven in the first place... it's a blow to the whole outlook. It could create great drama. Problem one: Dumbledore pleading for his life? Pleading at all? Problem two: If Snape had been evil all along, I doubt he'd have started an argument with Dumbledore about whether or not he was going to do something anymore. If he's just continuing a game he's always played, he'd be smart enough to stay under Dumbledore's radar. Problem three, more serious: Does that really wrap up the Snape arc very well? He seemed evil, for a little while he turned good, then what do you know, it turns out he was really evil, just like we thought in the first book? On the other hand, that's the perfect inversion of the typical redemption story--a good person turns bad, then becomes good again before the end. Here we have bad person turning good, then turning bad again. It could be neatly contrasted with Pettigrew, if Pettigrew is, as seems likely, redeemed in the next book. (Who exactly is he spying for in Spinner's End?) Then again, there's the other wrinkle that he was sympathetic (sort of) before he became bad, so it would seem yet another turn is likely before the end, and...
Scenario 2, Snape really was loyal to Dumbledore, but being around the Dark Arts again and being in close proximity to Voldemort turned him. Dumbledore didn't realize this was happening, and was shocked in the end, even though Snape told him outright that he was assuming too much. All year during HBP, he was vacillating between Voldemort and Dumbledore, and it's only at the last that he absolutely decides which road to take. This would make a good dramatic conflict for Snape as he realizes that the old urges are still there, that they are more and more tempting as he watches Dumbledore's supposed hero cheating and using dark spells while Draco Malfoy is being torn apart by his conscience. And in this scenario, it needn't be a long-term moral choice--he's doing what's pragmatic in the end to resolve his conflict, but may become conflicted again through book 7. Problem 1: How in the hell would that play out from Harry's point of view? The books are structured from this perspective, so anything that's vital to them has to be something visible to Harry. Snape's inner conflict doesn't fill the bill, and Harry's not in a mood to sit down and listen to Snape talk. (Of course, Snape could kidnap him and make him listen, I guess.) Problem 2: How many times can an audience watch him morally whipsaw without getting a stiff neck in one direction or another?
Scenario 3, Dumbledore and Snape Have A Plan. Dumbledore was talking to Tom in OotP about not being afraid to die, and being willing to die for some things. If he decided it was necessary to die, then having Snape kill him would position Snape high in the Death Eaters' circles, and maybe when push comes to shove in the last battle, he'll be able to save either Harry's life or his soul (keep him from tearing his soul by killing Voldemort). It seems to be the most clearly supported notion from the argument Hagrid overheard--"I don't want to do it anymore"="I don't want to kill you and you assume too much if you assume I'm willing to." It would justify Dumbledore's faith, and make it hinged on something other than a self-evidently unbelievable argument. Problems? Numerous. First, it involves Dumbledore asking Snape to deliberately tear his soul, which we know is a route to deeper dark magic. Second, Snape brags that he was instrumental in the murder of Emmeline Vance as well... is Dumbledore really likely to tell him to kill other Order members to keep his cover, and would genuinely good!Snape do so? Third, JKR seems to want to get across the emotional issue that people need to prepare themselves for evil Snape. Fourth, he's bragging to Harry about the book at the end (though to be fair, this is quite the Crazy!Snape scene, so it may not be representative). Fifth, Dumbledore may have believed Snape's emotional confession, because he seems to have had no concept of how bad it was between the boys. And so on. Lots of problems with it... and yet lots of support for it as well.
Scenario 4--Dumbledore has a plan, but Snape's not in on it. This is manipulative Dumbledore at his highest form. He's known all along that Snape would turn on him eventually, and knew he was lying. He may have believed that Snape could be reached, but wasn't counting on it--he kept him at the school and indebted because it kept him where he could be seen. And when the time came for Dumbledore to die, he did things like give Snape the position he wanted while having him get closer and closer to Voldemort, maneuver an Unbreakable Vow, and... Okay, er, that's kind of falling apart. But it would explain Dumbledore pleading and being out of character (if he was, indeed, pleading for his life)--it was a feint to get Severus to despise him so thoroughly that he'd strike the killing blow. The holes in this are too numerous to count.
Scenario 5--looking out for number one. Snape is loyal to neither Dumbledore nor Voldemort, and is a real loose canon in Voldy's camp, and ultimately will turn on Voldy in the end. Problem--the major problem with a lot of Good!Snape theories post-HBP--is that this would take too much of the power out of Harry's hands.
The thing is, there are things I like and dislike about any of these scenarios, and I'm actually very anxious to see where JKR is going with it. For myself in the interim, I'm going to try and present him as ambiguously as I see him.