I had some friends over tonight to join me in a bit of Robin Hood love from the BBC-(yes, I've continued my mission to corrupt others) and one of my friends declared that he has read all of book seven via some very clever hacker friends. Hmm. I think I'll echo Kuzco from The Emperor's New Groove here for a moment-"Riiiiight". Would Scholastic really be that ridiculous and easy to tap into? Or Bloomsbury? I doubt it. He kept going on about "oh...but I can't tell you that. It's in the next book", etc. Good gravy. People are so gullible around Harry Potter time. Last time the book came out I was working at B&N and had several very confused people ask me the difference between the regular and deluxe box set versions of the book-they seemed to think that the deluxe edition had deleted scenes or an alternate ending or something. I wanted to very rudely remind them that books are not movies and they don't have deleted scenes or alternate endings outside of the Choose Your Own Adventure world.
On to the next question, then!
Is Snape Good or Evil?
In terms of plot development, Snape has to be good or Harry has been right about him the whole series. If that's the case than it's a bit anti-climactic. If Harry's been right the whole time and finally proves himself right it's much more anti-climactic for his character development than if Snape is really good and proves himself, and Harry has to come to terms with it-it's another symbolic way that he would rise above the point his parents were at when they were killed.
Let's look at Snapes' track record. I'm really fond of looking at this via. the second chapter of book 6: Spinner's End. I'm using this chapter because Liz has already addressed this same question with my same conclusion using other text for back up. Let's break things down by looking at the chapter:
In the chapter Bellatrix and Narcissa show up at Snape's rather bleak house because Narcissa is worried about a promise that Draco has made. The promise is never fully explained, but we know that it deals with Voldemort. We assume that the task Draco was given is to kill Dumbledore (as seen later on in the book). Since this is never stated directly it's still in the strongly assumed category (unless Jo said it directly in an interview...I can't remember. Draco more or less confirms it in Chapter 27). That's not the point. Narcissa is worried because her son is headstrong and foolish (he's a teenager, in other words), and she thinks that Draco is in over his head. She doesn't think he'll be able to complete the task. She's come asking for help from Snape for a few obvious reasons: he's in a convenient position to look out for him as a teacher at the school, and she trusts him as an old friend. Bellatrix isn't so sure. She states forcefully that she does not trust Snape (US, 25). Snape asks Bellatrix why she doesn't trust him.
"A hundred reasons!" she said loudly, striding out from behind the sofa to slam her glass upon the table. "Where to start! Where were you when the Dark Lord fell? Why did you never make any attempt to find him when he vanished? What have you been doing all these years that you've lived in Dumbledore's pocket? Why did you stop the Dark Lord procuring the Sorcerer's Stone? Why did you not return at once when the Dark Lord was reborn? Where were you a few weeks ago when we battled to retrieve the prophecy for the Dark Lord? And why, Snape, is Harry Potter still alive, when you have had him at your mercy for five years?" (US, 25)
She definitely gives us something to think about. One interesting question to consider is not so much why did Voldemort trust Snape from the beginning, but why he still trusts Snape. Snape is never very clear about all of that in this chapter. He just says that the Dark Lord understands, that Voldemort shouldn't feel the need to share all of it with Bellatrix to pacify her...etc. etc. It's a bit cryptic. Especially considering how good Voldemort is at Legilimency. Snape must be really really good at Occlumency. And then there's the question of why Dumbledore trust's Snape-that's even more ambiguous (which makes it more exciting plot-development wise for Harry and crew to discover why it is! More proof!)
Anyway. I'm not going to detail the whole chapter. Snape gives counterpoints for each of Bella's claims. He suggests that Voldemort has asked him each one of these questions as well and has accepted his answers. He also says something rather interesting- "You think he (Voldemort) is mistaken? Or that I have somehow hoodwinked him? Fooled the Dark Lord, the greatest wizard, the most accomplished Legilimens the world has ever seen?" (US, 26). Well. That'd make for an interesting plot twist. Most of what he gives Bellatrix from this point on seems like relative truth (in the "from a certain point of view" way ala. Obi Wan). Where the conversation gets meaty is when he addresses the last part of her question-why he allowed Harry to live. Snape's been doing pretty well up to this point, but here his answer gets a little weak. He says that he didn't kill Harry because he is Dumbledore's favorite and killing him would put him into Azkaban. Really, Snape? Wouldn't killing any student put him into Azkaban? He also says that it was apparent that he (Harry) had no extraordinary talent. Now, we know that Harry, whatever he is, isn't Snape's favorite student but this is going a bit far. Snape knows that Harry is a good student. He's not the best, but he has already managed to thwart Voldemort four times in person-more than any other full grown wizard save Dumbledore perhaps, but even Dumbledore hasn't survived a killing curse-he competed in the Triwizard tournament, he can produce a coporeal patronus, he can withstand the Imperius curse-no. Even Snape cannot deny that Harry is incredibly talented in unique ways. (Dense perhaps at times, but that's what makes him human and interesting as a character). Harry is not, as Snape claims to Bella-"mediocre to the last degree".
A few questions then-
1) Why didn't Dumbledore give him the Dark Arts job until this year? Was it because of the curse? Because he knew it would bring out the worst in Snape? Because he wanted to keep him on staff as long as possible to keep a close watch on him and didn't want him in the cursed post? And why did he give it to him this year? My guess?: Because Dumbledore anticipated what was going to happen at the end of the year-he knew that his days were numbered. Snape is very talented in the Dark Arts and would be a good challenge to Harry's already high skills in what it would take to defeat Voldemort in the end (Snape is still teaching Harry in the end-he tells him that he must learn how to keep his 'mouth shut and his mind closed' to be any match in a real duel). I also find it interesting that what bothers Snape the most in that last confrontation is when Harry calls him a coward. Wow. That's a nerve.
2) How much about the situation did Snape understand during this scene with Bellatrix and Narcissa? My guess? Not at the beginning. He was probably just guessing. But with Narcissa in her weak, crying state-he may have perceived her thoughts through Legilimency. Perhaps Dumbledore thought something like this might happen and told him the correct action to take in such a situation?
Pay attention to the last two and a half pages. This whole unbreakable vow thing is ridiculously important. Snape's expression is so unreadable-so stoic here. Of the three things he promises-the last one is the one that gets him. His hand twitches and he hesitates in a way that he did not hesitate with the first two questions. He has no problem watching over Draco or protecting him-it's completing the task Draco's been given that worries him. Couple this along with the conversation Hagrid overhears and his hesitance on the tower and his anger at being called a coward and you have a veritable mess of proof to the contrary. Snape is good. Or on the side of good. As I said earlier, I think it's safe to assume that Snape will never be Godfather to any of Harry's children. He isn't likely to start nicknaming any of his children Severus, I don't think-but he is on the side of good, working for the same cause. It will be interesting to see how everything plays out.
So there it is. Snape is good. Joni is good. Joni is tired. Joni is going to go to bed.