Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Choices

By J.K. Rowling

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"Malfoy, revenge? What can he do about it?"

"That's my point, I don't know!" said Harry, frustrated. "But he's up to something and I think we should take it seriously. His father's a Death Eater and–" (7.8-9)

Malfoy seems to be on a revenge mission, and it's strange that no one besides Harry seems to be keeping a close eye on him. Is everyone distracted, or do they not think a Hogwarts student capable of executing orders from the Dark Lord?

"You took that from Sirius's house," said Harry, who was almost nose to nose with Mundungus and was breathing in an unpleasant smell of tobacco and spirits. "That had the Black family crest on it."

"I – no – what – ?" spluttered Mundungus, who was slowly turning purple.

"What did you do, go back the night he died and strip the place?" snarled Harry. (12.78-80)

Harry really sees red in this moment when he realizes that people are stealing from his godfather (the former Sirius Black). We can't blame him, but we are glad that Harry's friends are able to keep him from doing anything drastic in this moment. This is one of those times when we see that Harry is capable of great anger and fury. If he didn't have such a capacity to love and to empathize with others, we wonder if Harry would be kind of dangerous.

"She wouldn't even stay alive for her son?"

Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. "Could you possibly be feeling sorry for Lord Voldemort?"

"No," said Harry quickly, "but she had a choice, didn't she, not like my mother--"

"Your mother had a choice too," said Dumbledore gently. "Yes, Merope Riddle chose death in spite of a son who needed her, but do not judge her too harshly, Harry. She was greatly weakened by long suffering and she never had your mother's courage." (13.32-35)

Here, we see Dumbledore's great capacity for compassion and empathy as he imagines what Merope Riddle must have been going through. This moment reveals to us the real suffering and sadness that lies at the foundation of Voldemort's life. Harry seems almost outraged by Merope's offense against her son, and, therefore, Harry shows compassion for his mortal enemy. Do you think Dumbledore believes it's important that Harry sympathize with Voldemort? How can this knowledge possibly help Harry defeat his enemy?

Harry was left to ponder in silence the depths to which girls would sink to get revenge. (15.102)

Well, now, Harry, not all girls are full of revenge. Isn't Harry the one trying to go about incriminating Malfoy? Hey, wait a minute, doesn't Ron show signs of inflicting revenge on Hermione after he finds out she went on a date with Cormac? Hmm… your theory is being tested, Mr. Potter.

"No, I did not. Though he had shown no hint of remorse, it was possible that he felt sorry for how he had behaved before and was resolved to turn over a fresh leaf. I chose to give him that chance." (17.112)

Dumbledore has always hoped and continues to hope for the best in people, regardless of their track record. When Voldemort returns to Hogwarts ten years after his graduation, asking for a job, Dumbledore wants to believe that he has had a change of heart. This hopefulness and willingness to believe in the good of people is what makes Dumbledore both powerful and vulnerable. And yet, we feel comforted that someone as important as he is would have this philosophy.

"Voldemort Stupefied his uncle, took his wand, and proceeded across the valley to 'the big house over the way.' There he murdered the Muggle man who had abandoned his witch mother, and, for good measure, his Muggle grandparents, thus obliterating the last of the unworthy Riddle line and revenging himself upon the father who never wanted him. Then he returned to the Gaunt hovel, performed the complex bit of magic that would implant a false memory in his uncle's mind, laid Morfin's wand beside its unconscious owner, pocketed the ancient ring he wore, and departed." (17.156)

Here we not only get a glimpse of Voldemort's greatest and most personal act of revenge, but we also see a lack of loyalty to his own Gaunt family – pureblood wizards. He doesn't want anything to do with anybody. He flies solo. What other acts of revenge, if any, do we see Voldemort execute? What does this act of revenge tell us about who he is and what he is capable of?

"This time, as you will have seen, he killed not for revenge, but for gain." (20.136)

Voldemort now has become capable of killing for all different kinds of reasons. Killing out of revenge means killing out of hurt or out of emotional trauma. Killing for gain means something entirely different. What does this most recent murder tell us about Voldemort and how he has changed?

"I am the Chosen One. I have to kill him. I need that memory." (22.201)

Harry plies Slughorn with short, direct sentences. The simplicity of his words in this moment coupled with the weight of what he is saying make for a cocktail of complexity and significance. It's no wonder that Slughorn is persuaded to give the memory to Harry. This is one of the few times that Harry actually utters the words, "I am the Chosen One." As we learn from Dumbledore, the prophecy doesn't mean anything, doesn't have any significance unless Harry chooses to listen to it and to accept it. He is not the Chosen One unless he wants to be. Here, we see him accepting that role in very clear terms.

"But Harry, never forget that what the prophecy says is only significant because Voldemort made it so. I told you this at the end of last year. Voldemort singled you out as the person who would be most dangerous to him – and, in doing so, he made you the person who would be most dangerous to him." (23.144)

Here's where things get interesting and complex. The prophecy, the one that we've been paying attention to since 1998 when Harry Potter first arrived in the world, is powerful only because Voldemort chose to make it powerful, only because he chose to believe it. If this is so, then perhaps there is no such thing as absolute truth – there is only the ways in which people interpret the truth. This unsettles us, because we've watched Harry struggle and fight so hard, and all because he was special, because he was, by a stroke of fate, bound to Voldemort forever. Voldemort has created his own worst enemy. Is your head reeling? Because ours are.

"If Voldemort had never murdered your father, would he have imparted in you a furious desire for revenge?" (23.150)

We think the answer to this question is most likely a resounding, no. Yes, Harry's quest to kill Voldemort is a personal one. But we also know that Harry understands the threat that Voldemort poses to humanity. Beyond the Dursleys, Harry has no blood relatives left, and so revenge perhaps comes more easily to him than it would to others.

"Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants do everywhere! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back! Voldemort is no different." (23.150)

Here is an interesting moment that causes us to put the story on hold and turn on the History Channel. Can you think of any other tyrants in history or literature that fit Dumbledore's description? What were these tyrants' childhoods like and what kind of power were they seeking? It would seem that Voldemort's desire for isolation and power might be his greatest weakness.

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