Part 6 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a very quiet lead-up to the series finale. Yet again Harry has grown as a person and he is definitely no longer a child. The danger everyone is facing is not really out in the open, but bubbling beneath the surface all the time. If anything that makes it more dangerous, because you don’t know what you have to expect next.
This is a quiet book and that’s not a bad thing. Voldemort is not an open threat and they do not encounter him directly in this instalment, but his presence is still in everyone’s consciousness, always there beneath the surface. This is of course helped by Professor Dumbledore taking Harry back into Voldemort’s past during his extra “lessons”, as he calls them. And these are an integral part of the book. To understand how to destroy his Dark Powers, Harry must understand more about his mind.
Voldemort is always present, but not actually there. Because there is no mystery to solve by the trio and no outward challenge for Harry or all of them, this is probably the closest to a normal year at Hogwarts after the 1st year. Of course not all is well. Harry suspects Malfoy of being a Death Eater and finding our more about it is his mission, next to learning about Voldemort’s past. Outside of Hogwarts dark things are happening and the mood can get quite subdued. There are incidents at school, that seem to be related to Dark Magic. And yet – people are studying, the teams are playing Quidditch, there is no external evil teacher, no Ministry to dictate non-sensical rules, there is no monster at large in the school, there is no magical tournament and no notorious mass-murderer after Harry.
All in all, it seems like a quiet year. I even think Hermione is under-used. She does not have an important role in this part at all. She just keeps warning Harry of using his potion book, that once belonged to the mysterious “Half-Blood Prince”, but as he does not heed her warnings, she really couldn’t do anything good. So the year trickles by and then Dumbledore takes Harry on a dangerous mission. The finale comes as quite a surprise and it’s like all the action is packed in the last few chapters.
Harry is finally confident in who he is. He is almost grown out of boyhood – certainly by the end of the book. He is more active and he has his own opinions. He is not swayed easily by other people. When the new Minister for Magic wants his help, he know exactly what to say and how he feels about it. And his refusal is a sign of his strength of character, I think.
Speaking about characters, Slughorn is another genius creation. J.K. Rowling has created a Slytherin whom you can’t really dislike. He is not evil or “bad”, but he’s not an inspiring character either. He is after his own advantages and comfort. And that’s not a bad thing as such, only compared to Harry’s and Dumbledore’s active attempts to fight against the Dark Powers it seems very weak and feeble. Also Draco Malfoy goes through a very interesting and unpleasant change. We know he doesn’t like Harry and we know he likes to bully people, so he hasn’t been a likable character in previous books, but his enmity with Harry was always a source of entertainment for both. There have been unpleasant scenes, but it never got out of hand. It does get out of hand in this book, from both sides. Also it is interesting to see what Malfoy makes of the mission given to him – or what the mission does to him.
The story of the 6th instalment trickles along nicely (or sometimes darkly), until the upsetting finale. By the end Harry knows what he has to do in the next year and because of his mission he seems to have left his teenager self behind. Yes, he’s still only 16, soon to be 17, but what he is facing is more than most grown-ups have ever had to face. He can however hold on to the support of his friends, no matter what awaits him in book 7, and that is worth more than anything.