- I think Snape and Alias' Jack Bristow have some personality traits in common: both definitely have that "by any means necessary" thing going on that leads them right up to the very edge of the dark side, sometimes crossing the line. Some miscreant on the 'net deliberately put the book's biggest spoiler right out where everyone could see it in 20-point type with a scrolling marquee and extra exclamation points in a community where it had no business being, so I knew the big loss right from the beginning. At first I was really disappointed, but it allowed me to watch for a few things early in the book.
I think Snape had to kill Dumbledore, else he would risk exposure and undo all he had achieved as a spy, not to mention being killed by his companions . . . Dumbledore would have died anyway, and if Snape were killed, too, there would be no mole, no infiltrator with information to protect Harry. That whole "he's a good actor" road runs both ways. Make no mistake: I think Severus dislikes Harry, and he fails to give Harry credit for being quite different from his father in certain respects. Regardless of that, however, I think he is loyal to Dumbledore.
Keep in mind that Dumbledore asked Lupin to infiltrate the werewolves that were aiding Voldemort, so asking those he trusts, including Snape, to spy on the enemy is not out of character. Dumbledore does trust Snape for a specific reason, though the real reason has yet to be uncovered. We are reminded of Snape's merits several times during the book: Although whatever curse was on Malvolo's ring protecting the Horcrux caused Dumbledore's hand to be permanently withered, he indicates that he might have lost his life instead of his hand had Snape not saved him. Lupin mentions Snape's proper preparation of his monthly potion.
However, Snape was willing to take the Unbreakable Vow, knowing full well what it would entail. He could very easily have begged off, despite the fact that he seems to care for Narcissa, indicating that it was Voldemort's order for Draco to complete the task, and that he would not cross his loyalty to the Dark Lord.
So . . . do a couple of plot lines cross paths here? The chance to prevent Draco from committing murder that would seal him to the path of shadow? Also, perhaps, I think that Severus told Dumbledore of the plot to kill him, and that he had taken an Unbreakable Vow. Furthermore, the potion Albus consumed in obtaining the false Horcrux may have had side effects he did not anticipate -- opening himself up to Voldemort, for example. Perhaps Snape had to play Judas in order for the world to be saved. Dumbledore did ask Severus to kill him.
Of course, all of this could be wrong, but I would be horribly disappointed if Rowling made Snape a true villain after all. It would be terribly trite, and would completely undermine the fascinating character she's created.
- Some folks are speculating that Dumbledore isn't really dead, basing their points on the fact that 1) the Avada Kedavra curse has to be uttered with hatred, and 2) in Goblet of Fire, all four victims of the curse have their eyes wide open after death. Dumbledore's eyes are closed. Hey, it's a magic world, anything can happen, and Dumbledore has done disappearing acts before.
This could be corroborated by several factors: the fifth book is named The Order of the Phoenix. Who heads up the order? Dumbledore. Who has a phoenix in his office? Dumbledore. What bird rises from death? The phoenix. And who disappeared after Dumbledore's funeral? Fawkes, the phoenix -- I'm sure we'll discover where he went in the last book. There's heavy suggestion that Dumbledore's Patronus is a phoenix. He even looks like Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, who also rose from the dead -- no reason for us not to expect that Dumbledore won't return. Heck, you could even say that there's a loose parallel of symbology working between Dumbledore/Fawkes and Gandalf/Gwaihir.
One other thing -- whether or not Dumbledore stays deceased, can't Harry and McGonagall just talk with him through his headmaster's portrait in the office? We've seen that they can be chatty.
However, I'd be even more surprised if Sirius didn't come back. He fell through a portal, for crying out loud, a door. Doors go both ways, and there's been so much emphasis on Harry's lack of a father figure that I would be incredibly shocked if he didn't return.
Speaking of death, no, I don't think Harry's going to die, not unless J.K. thinks she needs to kill her protagonist off to keep herself from being tempted to write more. I do think that Snape might sacrifice himself in some way in book 7.
- I liked Rowling's structure on this one: Dumbledore speaks of love as the great differentiator between the sides, and she parallels this heavily with the relationships in the book: Fleur and Bill, Ron and Hermione, Harry and Ginny, Tonks and Lupin, etc. It got me to wondering a bit about Dumbledore's family, though. We never hear much about the family of any of the faculty members, it's true, but given that he's such a high profile figure, hearing nothing about a spouse or a child of any sort seems a tiny bit odd. Surely he's had some romance in his past, with that swanky purple suit and all. :)
- I don't think we've seen the last of Horace Slughorn and the venom. Consider Dumbledore's advice to Harry to be careful around him, the repeated comparisons of Horace to a spider, and his keen interest in Aragog's venom. No, I don't think he'll use it himself, but given that we know he has a bit of vanity and likes his creature comforts, I don't think he'll be particularly selective about the buyer or the buyer's plans for the venom. We also know that he's let rather important bits slip before. No, given that Rowling made rather sure that we knew the venom had been harvested, I think we'll see it again. Besides, spiders are a recurring them in the books, and I don't think she's inclined to let go of them in the last one.
- Is Harry's scar the container for a Horcrux? Is he a descendant of Godric Gryffindor? Dumbledore at least indicates that a living being may contain a Horcrux when he mentions Voldemort's snake, Nagini, as a possible container, though he later dismisses that idea. He also mentions that he believes Voldemort planned to use Harry's death to create the final Horcrux (as its creation necessitates a murder), but obviously something went quite wrong. Harry's scar pains him wihen Voldemort is near or present in some form.
- Speaking of Harry's scar, he has another one that has steeled him and shaped his character: the one on his hand from Dolores Umbridge. She deserved so much worse than she got.
More on Harry: nice that he actually got to be right about Draco.
- Interesting little bit of character reinforcement on Hermione Granger: she fussed at Harry about the luck potion that he didn't actually use on Ron, after she'd truly altered the outcome of the Quidditch trials. And this isn't her first "for your own good" use of her powers. As Ron says: "You're a little scary sometimes. Brilliant, but scary." She's an ethical, responsible young woman, but perhaps also the most likely of the three to be vulnerable to the proverb: "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Ron is kind of an anchor for her.
- We never really got an answer in the book as to why the school has never been able to keep a Defense of the Dark Arts teacher since Voldemort's visit. Dumbledore mentioned it, but if he specifically laid it out, I missed it (it's possible: it was very late at night by that point). Just what was that little flick of the wand that Harry saw from Voldemort in the Pensieve?
- Poor Draco. He and Smallville's Lex need to have some ice cream together and talk about their fathers.
- Neville. I think he'll have his role in the final book, but I'm curious to see what it will be. I also suspect we haven't seen the last of Kreacher and Dobby: the house elves will get their little bow in the last book, I'm sure.
- Hogwarts. They're leaving. What part will the school play? It's been the backdrop for the whole series: will it be the place where Dumbledore's Army makes its final stand, with Harry "Dumbledore's man, through and through" commanding? Yet at the end of HBP, they're speaking of closing it, and I think Harry's about to begin the last leg of his hero's journey in earnest, leaving the safety of its confines. Closing it over ENTJ Minerva McGonagall's dead body, I'm thinking (and I sure hope that never happens to her). I think it will be there, the school is a character in itself, but J.K. is definitely in the part where she strips away Harry's supports to force him to stand on his own (though he's always had his peers, esp. the trinity of himself, Hermione, and Ron), so it might be present in a much more limited way.
Overall, I liked it. I think my only exceedingly microscopically minor quibble upon first reading is that writing in the margins of a book is very uncharacteristic of an INTJ (Snape). Necessary plot device, I know, but no INTJ I know has done so, and I count a greater-than-average percentage of them among my friends, including my husband. I think the seventh book is going to be very long, though: there's a lot of ground to cover, and many unanswered questions remain. I think she can pull all the threads together -- the editors aren't stupid enough to trim the finale in any way shape or form, so I'm sure she has as many pages as she needs -- but again, I think it's going to be the longest one yet.
I want to reread the whole series, start to finish.