I'm going with Salman Rushdie on this one:
"Snape, unlikeable as he is, is essentially one of the good guys. Is Snape good or bad? In our opinion, everything follows from it," Rushdie said.
I write a lot about character on this blog. My own work is character-driven, and it's great characters that excite me about other people's fiction. And few characters anywhere are as enigmatic, complex, tormented or driven as one Severus Snape.
There are a lot of reasons to believe Snape is evil, and a few (very good) ones to believe he's on the side of the angels.
Me, I need Snape to be good.
His physical appearance is one reason. In a more conventional kid's book, you'd expect the dark, greasy-haired guy with the bad attitude to be evil. But Rowling has refused to make Snape a villain over and over. Harry's own prejudices have been frustrated, and he's had the chance to learn not to judge by appearances.
He hasn't, and that in itself is interesting to me. Rowling has taken the hard road, showing her readers a world of moral complexity and subtle motivation.
Some of the good guys are, frankly, assholes. Sirius, Snape, even Harry's father all have pretty serious flaws. They still stand up for what's right.
The villains are capable of love and loyalty, tenderness and fear. No cardboard saints, no plaster demons.
Except that, if Snape *is* evil, the structure falls apart. The dark, greasy, bitter guy turns out to be a heart of evil after all. Dumbledore was wrong to ever trust him. Harry's prejudices were justified.
JK Rowling might even be able to hear the gnashing of my teeth over the rustling of that big pile of money she sleeps on.*
I'm looking for Snape to have killed Dumbledore by prior agreement. The souls of a wizard's victims are stored in the wand and can be realeased under the right circumstances. Snape will be beyond reproach and ideally positioned to aid in Voldemort's defeat. Harry will finally realize that Snape was his ally after all...
This is nerve-wracking. I've got three thousand pages invested in this story (from the cheap seats in the audience, but still...), and I'll be gutted if she lets me down.
*Who am I kidding? Rowling can't hear herself scream over the rustle of all those bills, let alone the vast, thundering fall of fresh revenue. And she deserves every bit of it.
Unless Snape is evil.