Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Mortality

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"And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure." (3.110)

Harry and Dumbledore seem to share a similar bravery and taste for adventure. Even knowing the risks that certain events, outings, and quests entail, they do not hesitate to press onward. We see this in their attempt to steal the first of Voldemort's Horcruxes. We see this in Harry's quest for Slughorn's memory. We see this in Harry's resolve to destroy Voldemort, no matter what. The two wizards seem to possess a love and reverence for the unknown, for "that flighty temptress, adventure."

"Anyone we know dead?" asked Ron in a determinedly casual voice: he posed the same question every time Hermione opened her paper. (11.25)

You know it's not good when high school students are discussing which of their acquaintances have died. This single moment tells us a lot about how the culture at Hogwarts has changed. Death and tragedy lurk everywhere, even in the Great Hall over breakfast. There is no hiding from heartbreak or grief in a time of war.

Harry and Ron did not answer, but Harry knew that they were all thinking the same thing. There had been a horrible incident the day before, when Hannah Abbott had been taken out of Herbology to be told her mother had been found dead. They had not seen Hannah since. (11.41)

Can you imagine knowing that someone in Biology class had just lost a mother? This kind of loss is one that Harry knows so well. Family is one of the most universal ideas in the world – everyone can relate to the idea of what a family is and means. And so when someone at Hogwarts loses a member of her family, everyone can empathize.

"It's….Aragog….I think he's dyin'….He got ill over the summer an' he's not gettin' better….I don' know what I'll do if he…if he…We've bin together so long…" (11.115)

Aragog's death reminds us of the sadness and inevitability of death, even outside of the context of war. Death is something that everyone must endure, and, thus, it can bring people together and remind them of their humanity.

"Meanwhile in the village of Little Hangleton, a maid was running along the High Street, screaming that there were three bodies lying in the drawing room of the big house: Tom Riddle Senior and his mother and father." (17.152)

How does Voldemort get to a point where he is able to murder his father and grandparents? What in his childhood and in his schooling has allowed him to kill so easily his only remaining family? We later learn that Voldemort gains immortality by killing others.

"Well, you split your soul, you see," said Slughorn, "and hide part of it in an object outside the body. Then, even if one's body is attacked or destroyed, one cannot die, for part of the soul remains earthbound and undamaged." (23.55)

Oh, Slughorn, way to spill the beans. If Slughorn had never told Voldemort what a Horcrux is, do you think Voldemort would have discovered its purpose on his own? Here, we learn that a Horcrux is an outlawed form of magic in which one kills others in order to become immortal.

"By an act of evil – the supreme act of evil. By committing murder. Killing rips the soul apart. The wizard intent upon creating a Horcrux would use the damage to his advantage. He would encase the torn portion – " (23.62)

If you rip a soul apart, wouldn't you damage it? Doesn't ripping a soul apart sound like a violent way to treat your soul? If Voldemort's soul is divided seven times, we can't imagine that any one piece is very healthy or happy. How can it be powerful, then, if it is a weak fraction of a soul?

"Well, Harry," said Dumbledore, "I am sure you understood the significance of what we just heard. At the same age as you are now, give or take a few months, Tom Riddle was doing all he could to find out how to make himself immortal." (23.78)

Why does immortality appeal to Tom Riddle and not to Harry Potter?

"'Further than anybody.' And I thought I knew what that meant, though the Death Eaters did not. He was referring to his Horcruxes, Horcruxes in the plural, Harry, which I do not believe any other wizard has ever had. Yet, it fitted: Lord Voldemort has seemed to grow less human with the passing years, and the transformation he has undergone seemed to me to be only explicable if his soul was mutilated beyond the realms of what we might call 'usual evil'…" (23.92)

So, if Voldemort has gone "beyond the realms of what we might call 'usual evil,' where has he gone? There's a competitive streak in Voldemort, a desire to be better, stronger, and more creative than any other wizard. It would seem he found the most difficult task a wizard could ever assume, and he proved that he could master this task. He is a talented wizard who is in search, constantly in search.

"But firstly, no, Harry, not seven Horcruxes: six. The seventh part of his soul, however maimed, resides inside his regenerated body. That was the part of him that lived a spectral existence for so many years during his exile; without that, he has no self at all. That seventh piece of soul will be the last that anybody wishing to kill Lord Voldemort must attack – the piece that lives in his body." (23.98)

We wonder what this soul must be like. What does a soul look like? What does it do? What does it provide a person? If Voldemort operates with only a seventh of his soul within his body, what must he be like? Can he be happy, or do you think he cares about happiness?

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