Literature Study GuidesHarry Potter SeriesHarry Potter And The Half Blood Prince Summary

Harry Potter (Series) | Study Guide

J.K. Rowling

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Harry Potter (Series) | Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince | Summary

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About the Title

In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry borrows an old Hogwarts Potions textbook previously owned by someone calling himself the "Half-Blood Prince." The identity of this person remains a mystery until the end of the book.

Summary

A View from the Muggle World

The prime minister of England is visited by Cornelius Fudge, who reveals Voldemort is back and the wizarding world is at war. Fudge introduces the prime minister to the new Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour, who is taking Fudge's place. That same night, Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange visit Snape at his home in Spinner's End. Narcissa begs Snape to protect Draco, who has been given a secret and dangerous task by Voldemort. Snape makes an Unbreakable Vow to watch over Draco and also to carry out the task should Draco not succeed.

Back to Hogwarts

Dumbledore, who is taking Harry to the Weasley home—the Burrow—for the rest of the summer holiday, arrives at the Dursleys. He informs Harry that Sirius Black has left everything to him in his will, including Grimmauld Place. Dumbledore reproaches the Dursleys for their treatment of Harry. Then he and Harry leave to visit Horace Slughorn, a retired Hogwarts professor whom Dumbledore hopes to persuade to return to the school.

At the Burrow Harry reunites with Ron and Hermione and learns Fleur Delacour is engaged to Bill Weasley. Later in the summer, the three friends take a shopping trip to Diagon Alley, where they visit Fred and George in their highly successful joke shop. They run into Draco, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione follow him to Knockturn Alley under the Invisibility Cloak. They overhear Draco having a suspicious conversation with Mr. Borgin. On the Hogwarts Express, Harry overhears Malfoy talking about a mission he is on for Voldemort.

At Hogwarts it is announced Slughorn will be the new Potions master, and Snape will become the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Harry, who had planned to give up Potions class, reconsiders, so he borrows one of the school's extra textbooks. Labeled as the property of someone called the "Half-Blood Prince," the book features useful comments in the margins that quickly catapult Harry to the top of his Potions class—to Slughorn's delight and Hermione's chagrin.

Lessons with Dumbledore

Meanwhile, Harry begins private lessons with Dumbledore. They use the Pensieve to access one of Dumbledore's memories about an odd magical family, the Gaunts, Voldemort's family on his mother's side. The Gaunts pride themselves on being descendants of Salazar Slytherin, showing off family heirlooms such as an ancient ring and a locket. When they return, Harry notices Dumbledore is wearing the same ring on his hand, which looks shriveled and dead. Dumbledore refuses to answer any questions about his hand.

At a second lesson with Dumbledore, Harry views another of Dumbledore's memories. In this memory Dumbledore arrives at an orphanage to inform a young Tom Riddle that he is a wizard. Tom already exhibits selfish and cruel behavior, including collecting items from people he has terrorized. Dumbledore asks Harry to note this important piece of information.

Over Christmas break Harry overhears Snape offering to assist with Malfoy's mission. Later at the Burrow, Harry informs Mr. Weasley and Lupin about what he has overheard, but they insist Dumbledore trusts Snape for good reason.

Harry and Dumbledore meet again and discuss Tom Riddle's student years. Dumbledore shows Harry two memories, one belonging to Morfin Gaunt, in which Tom steals the ring Harry saw in the previous memory, and another belonging to Slughorn, in which Tom asks him about something called a Horcrux. However, according to Dumbledore, this memory has been altered and it is crucial they obtain the actual memory. He tasks Harry with retrieving it from Slughorn. However, when Harry tries to ask Slughorn about the memory and Horcruxes, Slughorn grows suspicious and defensive.

Harry and Dumbledore again use the Pensieve to explore the memory of a house-elf who worked for a woman named Hepzibah Smith. The memory is of showing a young adult Tom Riddle a cup that used to belong to Helga Hufflepuff. They also enter Dumbledore's memory of Tom Riddle asking for the Defense Against the Dark Arts teaching position, which Dumbledore refuses to him.

Other Suspicious Events

Meanwhile, other suspicious events are happening at Hogwarts. On a Hogsmeade visit, Katie Bell comes into contact with a cursed necklace, which Harry recognizes as being from Borgin and Burkes. It turns out the necklace was intended for Dumbledore. On Ron's birthday Ron nearly dies when he drinks some poisoned mead. No one knows how the mead was poisoned, but they suspect the bottle was meant for Dumbledore.

Kreacher and Dobby, whom Harry has asked to follow Draco, report back to Harry and inform him Malfoy is frequently visiting the Room of Requirement—a room that magically meets a person's needs and the place where Dumbledore's Army trained. Harry attempts to follow Malfoy there but cannot enter.

Horcruxes

With some luck Harry is able to eventually persuade Slughorn to give him the unaltered Horcrux memory. Harry goes immediately to Dumbledore, and through the memory, they discover Slughorn had informed Tom Riddle about Horcruxes—objects in which a person can hide part of their soul. The only way to split a soul is to kill someone. Dumbledore reveals he suspects Voldemort created seven of these Horcruxes in an attempt to become immortal. One was the diary Harry encountered in his second year. The others are likely trophies related to Hogwarts or other conquests.

Some weeks later Dumbledore urgently summons Harry to his office, saying he believes he has found a Horcrux. They travel magically to a lake in the middle of a cave to retrieve it. The Horcrux is at the center of the lake on a small island under heavy protection. Dumbledore retrieves the Horcrux at considerable damage to himself, and the two arrive back at Hogwarts with no time to recover. As they enter the school, Draco Malfoy ambushes Dumbledore. Dumbledore immobilizes Harry, who remains invisible and unable to move. Malfoy confesses he has been trying to kill Dumbledore all year, and he has also brought Death Eaters into the castle through the Room of Requirement. Despite his mission, Malfoy cannot work up the strength to kill Dumbledore. Snape arrives and kills Dumbledore, who falls from the tower. Snape flees with Malfoy, and Harry, now able to move since Dumbledore has died, gives chase. Several professors, students, and members of the Order of the Phoenix battle the Death Eaters. Harry duels Snape, who reveals that he, Severus Snape, is the Half-Blood Prince before escaping.

After the battle, Harry opens the locket but discovers it is a fake, and someone (with initials R.A.B.) has already taken the original. Everyone is horrified by Snape's betrayal. Dumbledore is buried at Hogwarts. Harry, Ron, and Hermione agree to go after the rest of the Horcruxes together.

Analysis

Growing Up a Hero

Part of the appeal of the Harry Potter series is the way J.K. Rowling weaves the heroic adventures together with the everyday challenges of growing up. On the one hand, this book presents Dumbledore's death, Snape's betrayal, Ron's brush with death, and a truly frightening scene in which zombielike creatures rise up from a lake and pursue Harry and the incapacitated Dumbledore. It also reveals the existence of Horcruxes—evil items that can only be created when a person commits murder and uses the murder to tear off a piece of his or her soul.

On the other hand, Harry is now captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team and has to run tryouts and practices. The students in Harry's year are 16 now, so hormones run high and romantic relationships between students become more important. Ron confronts Ginny about her dating life. Harry discovers he is developing feelings for Ginny even as he is pursued by several girls (who, Hermione warns him, have been discussing love potions). Ron and Hermione's relationship becomes increasingly fraught with romantic jealousy, which escalates as Ron begins dating Lavender Brown. Ron's brush with death is precipitated by his ingestion of chocolates full of a love potion intended for Harry.

These everyday struggles allow Rowling to develop fully formed characters that come alive. They also provide ample material for the humor that is such an important part of Rowling's tone.

The role of a growing fan base is important to remember as J.K. Rowling wrote this book. At this point in the writing of the series, millions of preteens and teens were reading the Harry Potter books and anxiously awaiting each new installment. These readers wanted to know what would happen to Harry and his role in bringing down Voldemort, but they also wanted to know if Ron and Hermione would become and stay a couple, and in whom Harry might become romantically interested. Rowling, with the freedom to write as long a novel as she pleased because of her astonishing fame, didn't hold back with these character details.

Snape's Betrayal

As the title indicates, one of the main threads in this book has to do with Snape, revealed at the end to be the "Half-Blood Prince." Through repeating Snape's Potions textbook margin notes, Harry gains insight into Snape's mind. When Harry tries out a spell written in the margins of the Half-Blood Prince's book that does violent and horrifying damage to an opponent, he learns Snape was a creative student who leaned toward the Dark Arts. This knowledge only fuels Harry's suspicions as does the overheard conversation between Draco and Snape. Harry is certain Draco is up to something nefarious. Harry is certain Snape is also up to something nefarious. When he finds out Snape was the one who told Voldemort about the prophecy, he is even more certain. Still, Dumbledore trusts Snape; he explains to Harry, "You have no idea of the remorse Professor Snape felt when he realized how Lord Voldemort had interpreted the prophecy, Harry. I believe it to be the greatest regret of his life and the reason that he returned." Could Dumbledore have been wrong?

These are the questions Harry and the others ask themselves, and they are the questions fans grappled with for the next two years as they awaited the final book in the series. In fact, a book titled The Great Snape Debate by Orson Scott Card, Joyce Millman, and Amy Berner, which tackles the question of Snape's loyalty and motives, was released in 2007, ahead of the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Keeping Secrets

Harry's more frequent interactions with Dumbledore underscore an important parallel between them. Both keep secrets, often because they do not want to burden others with difficult or dangerous knowledge. Dumbledore reveals more knowledge to Harry in this book than in previous ones, which clearly shows how much he has been holding back all this time. Although he has now given Harry the dangerous knowledge of the prophecy he has been keeping secret since Harry came to Hogwarts, Dumbledore was going to continue to hide the role Snape played in Harry's parents' murders. For his part Harry keeps the text and interpretation of the prophecy secret until Dumbledore (in an example of situational irony) tells him he should share it with his friends: "I think they ought to know. You do them a disservice by not confiding something this important to them."

Developing Themes

The theme of fate and free will continues to be entwined in Trelawney's prophecy about Harry and the Dark Lord. As word gets out, Harry is called by some "the Chosen One," and he begins to feel the burden of destiny. He breaks off his romance with Ginny because he believes the dangerous task of trying to kill Voldemort is his and his alone. Dumbledore reiterates either Voldemort will kill Harry or vice versa. However, Dumbledore also points out prophecies only come true some of the time. This prophecy is fated to come true only because Voldemort himself has taken action in response to it: "Don't you see? Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do!"

The themes of self-sacrifice versus self-preservation and death, resurrection, and immortality emerge with the introduction of Voldemort's quest to create Horcruxes and Dumbledore's self-sacrificing actions in the cave. Dumbledore drinks the terrible potion to uncover the locket. He forces Harry to remain out of sight as he faces the Death Eaters to protect him. In contrast, Voldemort has committed murder repeatedly to anchor himself to life, securing immortality.

Repeated Structures

Again, the story retains the basic school year structure. However, this book holds more loosely to other previously repeated elements. One object of focus from the beginning to the climax is the Potions book belonging to the Half-Blood Prince. The mystery of the identity of the Half-Blood Prince is resolved only as Snape leaves Hogwarts. Other mysteries appear near the beginning—the ring on Dumbledore's finger, Draco's visits to Borgin and Burkes, and the Unbreakable Vow—creating suspense and setting up the climax of the novel.

The climax of the book does not occur with Harry being separated from his friends and facing Voldemort alone, as it does in the first, second, and fourth books. The ending is closer to that of the fifth book in which Harry and Dumbledore face peril together and Death Eaters battle those in the Order of the Phoenix. The resolution of the book breaks the tradition of an explanatory conversation between Dumbledore and Harry because Dumbledore dies. However, Dumbledore is much more present in the book as a whole as he divulges information throughout.

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