(Okay. Hands folded, thoughts gathered, past the first flush of WTF? and bewilderment and heartache and 'You thought WHAT?' outburts, and on to the more meticulous dissection of the story's climax.)
Some of you must have noticed that in the past 2 days, I've been sort of spamming your "Thoughts on HBP" posts with a particular theme: that of Snape's loyalties, and that it isn't ambiguous at all.
It was at first dismaying, and now it's a revelation, that everyone didn't have the same read as I did on Snape and Dumbledore. My appreciation for this book has jacked up, because of that. My appreciation for Rowling, too, with her knowing her audience, knowing that some people would see it, and that others would be uncertain, and others would be deceived as her protagonist was deliberately deceived. And that there would be debate. And that's--wow.
So I was wrong. It isn't obvious.
But it is all there, and I still won't put "I think" or "I believe" on any of this.
--For those of you who saw it, do you agree that The Sixth Sense couldn't have ended any other way? That, while the film is designed to deceive you and make you gasp at the ending, the evidence of what is going on is all there if you know how to put it together? If you do see the twist halfway through the film, then you don't wonder after that point--you know. Every moment after keeps confirming what you know. If you didn't get the twist until the end, but you watch the film a second time, you see how every moment confirms the truth, even if it was meant to deceive.
(Notice how I didn't reveal the ending. Yes, it's a brilliant film, and if you haven't seen it, you should.)
HBP, in regards to Snape's loyalties, is crafted in the same manner.
And part of why I haven't been responding with "the moments of proof"--part of why I was howling, "But you cannot let this book end there when we KNOW the answer!"--is because it's so plain to me. Every moment illustrating the actions of Snape with regard to Dumbledore and vice-versa just keeps confirming what I know, over and over.
Because it's there from Chapter Two.
Chapter Two, Spinner's End, is in the book for one reason: to show Snape's loyalty to Dumbledore. To show the web of deceit he's had to craft to stay in Voldemort's graces, to show Narcissa snaring him in a moment when he will be forced to die for the cause, because she has bound him to a treachery so terrible he will not be able to carry it out. (Except that his boss will tell him, surprise, yes you WILL carry it out.) I could speak about the title and its metaphor of the crafty spinner of lies meeting the portended moment of his doom, but that's metaphor and quite subjective, certainly. I'm speaking of the reason the reader is asked to watch the scene at all.
Why is "Ah, Snape is indeed loyal to Dumbledore, then," the true interpretation of that scene? Because if Snape were loyal to Voldemort, the Spinner's End scene would never have been in the book. Never, no way, no how. It would serve no purpose. It would weaken the book. If Snape were loyal to Voldemort, there is no reason to foreshadow their plans--it makes the killing less powerful a moment, not more. If Snape were loyal to Voldemort then this scene eliminates his ambiguity and makes the killing less powerful, not more. I can't even anticipate what other arguments people may say for this; this is one of those "this is how a book IS, this is what a reader KNOWS," moments where words fail me to explain. But if you wish to set forth your arguments, then I will know where to begin, and I'll answer them. I'll amend this post to include them, if necessary.
Coming away from that scene, you don't know what Snape's being bound to. I thought it might be the killing of Dumbledore. But I thought it could be other things too. What I did know was that Snape had become trapped, and this meant that he would most likely choose to die before carrying it out. I envisioned Snape preventing Draco from killing Dumbledore and then ordering Dumbledore to kill him, so that he would not be forced by this Vow to complete the mission. (We find out later that the unfulfilled vow kills by itself, so, that might not have gone that way--but as it stood in Chapter Two, I suspected Snape had bought his own death, with that vow.) Come the revelation that Snape's now DADA (which I called! Yay!), the "curse" of the DADA position reinforced my fear that Snape was for the chop.
It wasn't until chapter 19--and you can see the post on hbp_chapters if you want to see how I remember the very chapter--that I said, "Shit. Dumbledore is going to make Snape kill him. So that Draco Malfoy will not be a murderer and because Snape's life is more valuable to him than his own and so that Snape can keep his cover. Oh, my god, what a wrench this is going to be to watch."
(Yes, as evidenced by my first post-HBP post, I had other suspicions/expectations convoluting the plot. I thought part of why Dumbledore was the expendable one had to do with the possibility that Voldemort had found ways to take him over at times. Explaining D.'s erratic behavior. More on that later. But the essential "Snape will kill Dumbledore at Dumbledore's command" never left me.)
And as it fell out just that way, I didn't gasp, I didn't wonder--I nodded at every turn. Nodded when Draco couldn't bring himself to kill Dumbledore, that Snape arrived, that Dumbledore saw the I cannot do this, don't make me do this in Snape's eyes, and said, "Please..."please don't hesitate any longer, do it, I have commanded it and you know it has to be... Nodded when Snape's face twisted in that expression of I hate you for making me do this, hate myself for being the one who must do this.
Nodded at every word Snape yelled at Harry, nodded as he blocked every curse Harry threw without returning one of his own, goading Harry all the while, you must be stronger than this, you must remember every lesson I have given you, foolish boy, if you are to destroy the dark lord and justify this sacrifice --and not only nodded but wept at his "Don't call me coward!" as Snape broke just that much, unable to bear that that word should be used to brand the bravest act of his life.
In the past two days, some of you have broken down those moments and found the one or ones that clinched it for you. I'll point you to fabularasa's "Dumbledore would never plead for his life; that's the theme of this whole series" essay as one example if you haven't seen it, because it's perfect.
Of course I believe everyone can and should take any interpretation from the book that they like regarding Snape's motives. Or regarding anything. That's the beauty of the interaction between a text and its reader; the immutability of the actual words mixed with the possibilites of interpretation.
But Rowling's Sixth Sense-ing us with this one, guys. 'S all there.
More thoughts on other HBP stuff soon.