Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
by J.K. Rowling
House: Gryffindor, 6th Year
Quidditch: Seeker, Team Captain
Harry Potter's got a secret weapon, and it's not his Marauder's Map, his Invisibility Cloak, or his Nimbus 2000. This weapon is way more powerful than all of those tools combined, and, what's more, Harry doesn't even know it's there. In Book 6, we learn exactly what this weapon is and why it is important, and we watch as Harry begins to understand himself better, thanks to Dumbledore's guidance. Dumbledore tells Harry in Chapter 23:
"You are protected in short by your ability to love!" said Dumbledore loudly. "The only protection that can possibly work against the lure of power like Voldemort's! In spite of all the temptation you have endured, all the suffering, you remain pure of heart, just as pure as you were at the age of eleven, when you stared into a mirror that reflected your heart's desire, and it showed you the only way to thwart Lord Voldemort, and not immortality or riches. Harry, have you any idea how few wizards could have seen what you saw in that mirror? Voldemort should have known what he was dealing with, but he did not!" (23.154)
Here, Dumbledore highlights the weaknesses that many wizards and Muggles share. A hunger for power is at the heart of many people – Voldemort is not unique in that way. Why isn't Harry tempted by this kind of power? How does he remain "pure of heart"? How did Harry come to be so different from the people around him? What does Harry want more than anything? Chew on those questions for us, will you?
When a famed biographer, Eldred Worple, asks Harry if he can write Harry's biography and memoirs, Harry simply says, "I'm definitely not interested" (15.120). When the Minister of Magic pays a special visit to Harry at the Burrow (disguising it as a harmless family visit), Harry is not starstruck. Harry doesn't even bat an eyelash when the Minister offers to help get Harry started on a track toward becoming an Auror (his life's dream) in exchange for supporting the Ministry. Harry seems to care about one thing and one thing only: the truth.
When Dumbledore first suggests to Harry that his power lies in his ability to love, Harry nearly says, "Big deal." It would seem that Harry has miles to go before he truly understands the message that Dumbledore hopes to impart on him. When considering Harry alongside Dumbledore, we are struck by the fact that both are characterized by their ability to love. However, Dumbledore's ability is far more developed. Will Harry continue to explore his ability to love and its attendant power now that Dumbledore is gone? Will Harry interpret Dumbledore's death as the direct result of too much trust and too much love? There appears to be an angry, grudge-holding streak in Harry, and we wonder where this streak will lead him.
To Believe or Not To Believe, That Is the Question
This just in: prophecies are only powerful if one chooses to give them power. We've watched Harry grow up over the course of six years at Hogwarts, and during this time we knew that there was something special about him, that he was intended for greatness, and that he and Voldemort would one day meet in battle. When we learned of Professor Trelawney's prophecy in Book 5, our suspicions were confirmed. Harry Potter is the Chosen One, the one who is meant to defeat Voldemort. The prophecy said so.
In Book 6, however, this prophecy is complicated and revealed to be merely a string of words. Dumbledore tells Harry that the prophecy is only powerful because Voldemort chose to make it meaningful and true. Voldemort is the one who created an enemy in Harry Potter. Harry doesn't have to choose to fight Voldemort or to be his mortal enemy. Harry doesn't have to believe in the prophecy. He has a choice in the matter. Dumbledore asks Harry how he would feel about Voldemort if he had never heard the prophecy. Harry responds:
"I'd want him finished," said Harry quietly. "And I'd want to do it."
"Of course you would!" cried Dumbledore. "You see, the prophecy does not mean you have to do anything! But the prophecy caused Voldemort to mark you as his equal….In other words, you are free to choose your way, quite free to turn your back on the prophecy! But Voldemort continues to set stone by the prophecy. He will continue to hunt you." (23.160)
Dumbledore again teaches Harry how important the idea of choice is, and he shows Harry his own willingness to choose to fight Voldemort regardless of the prophecy, regardless of his childhood, regardless of anything except his desire to chase evil out of the world.
Harry's got a lot on his mind these days, but things aren't always so serious. He develops a major crush on Ginny Weasley and eventually the two begin to date. We also learn more about Harry's dream of becoming an Auror, a dream that is almost thwarted by a less than perfect O.W.L. result in Potions. Thanks to Professor McGonagall's urging and encouragement, however, Harry is able to continue his path toward becoming an Auror in this sixth year. He reflects on this particular dream:
It was odd, really, seeing that it had been a Death Eater in disguise who had first told Harry he would make a good Auror, but somehow the idea had taken hold of him, and he couldn't really think of anything else he would like to be. Moreover, it had seemed the right destiny for him since he had heard the prophecy a few weeks ago….Neither can live while the other survives….Wouldn't he be living up to the prophecy, and giving himself the best chance of survival, if he joined those highly trained wizards whose job it was to find and kill Voldemort? (5.249)
Harry Keeps It Real
Harry doesn't brag or boast. He is not intimidated by those who are older and seemingly more powerful than he is. When Snape picks on him in Defense Against the Dark Arts class, Harry "refuse[s] to drop his gaze, but glower[s] at Snape until Snape look[s] away" (9.65). He doesn't boast to Snape that he had single-handedly taught his fellow classmates how to perform a Shield Charm in the previous year. He doesn't want public praise or approval.
Harry is one wise little wizard too. He drills down to the heart of the matter, regardless of whom he's talking to. In response to Scrimgeour's apology for saying that it doesn't really matter whether Harry is the Chosen One or not, Harry says, "it was honest, […] one of the only honest things you've said to me. You don't care whether I live or die, but you do care that I help you convince everyone you're winning the war against Voldemort" (16.210). Man, he's good at doling out zingers that really highlight the truth. Again we see a passionate temper surface here. Where does this temper come from? Is it an obstacle or a strength?
Harry's Shadowy Side
Harry delves into some Dark Magic in Book 6, and we begin to see and understand the fine line any wizard or witch walks as they teeter between performing good magic and performing dangerous magic. We also begin to see parallels between Harry and several Dark characters such as Snape, Draco, and even the Dark Lord himself.
For instance, though Harry and Voldemort could not be more different in their approach to the world, they share a similar background:
- They are both orphans
- Neither grew up in a wizarding family
- Hogwarts was a first real home to both
- Both were/are very powerful and popular students at Hogwarts
- Dumbledore influenced both characters in big ways
Dumbledore picks up on these similarities too, but, as he points out, when Voldemort was Harry's age, he was obsessed with finding a way of becoming immortal, while Harry's heart is set on doing good things for the world.
In Book 6, we watch Harry grow attached to the Half-Blood Prince's Potions textbook and to all of the tricks, shortcuts, and spells written in the margins within it. It would seem that this Half-Blood Prince was a superstar wizard back in the day and Harry admires this Half-Blood Prince for his powerful knowledge. He even tests out the Levicorpus jinx on Ron, a jinx that reminds Hermione of something the Death Eaters might do. Harry even uses the bloody Sectumsempra curse on Draco Malfoy, nearly killing him. Then, when Harry tries to stop Snape from fleeing Hogwarts, he uses a series of dark curses, including some that the Half-Blood Prince (a.k.a. Snape) invented himself. Were you surprised when Harry attempted to use the Cruciatus curse on Snape? Harry's fascination with the Half-Blood Prince reveals to us a connection between this young wizard and the professor who kills Dumbledore.
Lastly, we can't help but notice a similarity between Harry and Draco in Book 6. Don't get us wrong – they are very different dudes – but, both seem to be on a quest of some kind, and both seem to be guided by great wizards. With Dumbledore's help, Harry learns all about Voldemort and his Horcruxes. Threatened with death and punishment, Draco is forced to serve Voldemort and to find a way to kill Dumbledore. To both Harry and Draco, school becomes more of a distraction than a primary concern. When faced with big fears and big ideas in their sixth year at Hogwarts, they have to grow up fast.
So, what do these parallels tell us about Harry himself and about what he still has yet to learn? Do the similarities between Voldemort, Snape, Draco and Harry make the Dark characters more human and sympathetic? What does Harry's affinity for the magic found in the Half-Blood Prince's textbook tell us about him? Why doesn't Harry crave power and fame like Voldemort did and does?