While Harry has been an orphan since infancy, families happy and unhappy abound in the sixth installment of his narrative. Besides portraying the Weasleys and the Dursleys – families who have been important parts of his life since the first book – the novel provides new insight into other, previously inscrutable families, including the Malfoys and even Lord Voldemort’s own parents. In the book, a family’s values both reflect and influence its members’ characters: generally, families concerned with money or power produce troubled or malignant offspring, while loving and supportive families raise brave and well-adjusted children. Notably, while Harry grows up among the first kind of family (the Dursleys), he makes his home in the second (the Weasleys). Harry’s disdain for prestige and conscious embrace of the Weasleys’ positive values displays innate goodness; at the same time, it becomes clear that the Weasleys’ care and support is at least partially responsible for the stalwart character he develops and the brave deeds he’s able to achieve.
In Half-Blood Prince, dysfunctional families are linked by their obsession with wealth and status, often dooming their children in pursuit of these worldly goals. While Harry has always seen Draco Malfoy as unfairly advantaged by his family’s wealth and connections, in this novel it becomes clear that the Malfoys’ obsession with prestige and determination to maintain Lord Voldemort’s favor dooms Draco to become a Death Eater and a murderer. Not only has his family contributed to his unscrupulous character, it has actively limited his future prospects. Similarly, Harry’s spoiled cousin Dudley completely absorbs his parents’ obsession with material possessions and success, as a result becoming a boorish and uneducated young man. Dumbledore himself points out that it’s the Dursleys’ neglect of Harry that has saved him from the “appalling damage” they have inflicted on Dudley’s character.
Half-Blood Prince also imparts new information about Voldemort’s family: his mother Merope comes from a depraved family obsessed with its noble descent, and his father is a wealthy Muggle who abandons his son in disgust after discovering that Merope is a witch. Both sides of Voldemort’s family are destructively obsessed with the symbols of prestige dominant in their respective worlds, and the novel suggests that Voldemort’s character is at least partly the result of parental abandonment and the unloving upbringing he received. The knowledge that his long-standing enemies are shaped by the dynamics of their wealthy and powerful families imbues Harry with a prudent suspicion of these material advantages. It also complicates his approach to people who do evil things, because he’s forced to understand that bad character is at least partly the result of the treatment one receives from one’s family.
In contrast, although families like the Weasleys can’t offer their children many material advantages, their emphasis on character development fosters familial cohesion and equips their children to pursue meaningful lives. Unlike many of the novel’s villainous families, the Weasleys reject the pursuit of riches unless they are achieved through good character. While Percy, having achieved a high position in the Ministry of Magic, is the most conventionally successful Weasley, he’s abandoned his parents’ values and Dumbledore’s leadership to acquire it; because of this, his success causes a rift with his family. Similarly, the Weasleys are all suspicious of Bill’s fiancée, Fleur, because of her wealth and privileged background – exactly the attributes that families like the Malfoys value. Only after Bill is bitten by a werewolf and Fleur proves her genuine love and loyalty by staying with him, does Mrs. Weasley finally accept her into the family.
Throughout the series, Ron’s poverty has contrasted with Draco’s conspicuous wealth; both he and Harry have seen it as a disadvantage. However, in Half-Blood Prince the love and support that all the Weasley children receive from their parents contrast with the Malfoys’ subservience to Voldemort and Draco’s increasingly lonely position.
Unlike many of the novel’s villains, Harry explicitly rejects the materialistic family in which he grows up, showing his exemplary moral impulses; at the same time, the novel argues that his relationship with the Weasleys facilitates Harry’s character development – thus giving him more advantages than he could have derived from a more materially privileged family. One of the uncanny similarities between Harry and Voldemort is that they are both raised in unloving families obsessed with money and prestige. However, while Voldemort is defined by his environment, Harry transcends it. Visiting Slughorn’s house at the beginning of the novel, Harry is put off by the professor’s preoccupation with material comfort and his obvious preference for students that have become powerful and famous. Hours later, when he arrives at the Weasleys’ home, he’s filled with affection for the Burrow’s “crooked silhouette” – even though the house itself is very humble, the people he loves most are inside. Besides physically caring for Harry – Mrs. Weasley cooks for him, sends him care packages at school, and knits him sweaters for Christmas – the Weasleys model characteristics like empathy and self-sacrifice that become integral to Harry’s personality. At the end of the novel, as he contemplates the dangerous path ahead, Harry is comforted by the knowledge that before he sets off to fight Voldemort he’ll return to the Burrow to celebrate Bill’s wedding, savoring “one last golden day of peace” with the Weasleys.
Harry’s ability to discern between families that are merely privileged and those who cultivate positive values demonstrates that his character is fundamentally different from that of his adversaries. However, the Weasleys also give him the security and support he needs to develop into a hero.
Family Quotes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
You did not do as I asked. You have never treated Harry as a son. He has known nothing but neglect and often cruelty at your hands. The best that can be said is that he has at least escaped the appalling damage you have inflicted upon the unfortunate boy sitting between you.
“Is he…Do you think he’s good?” asked Harry.
“An interesting question,” said Dumbledore. “He is able, certainly. A more decisive and forceful personality than Cornelius.”
“Yes, but I meant – “
He used to handpick favorites at Hogwarts, sometimes for their ambition or their brains, sometimes for their charm or their talent, and he had an uncanny knack for choosing those who would go on to become outstanding in their various fields. Horace formed a kind of club of his favorites with himself at the center, making introductions, forging useful contacts between members, and always reaping some kind of benefit in return…
In spite of the feeling of dread that had just swept through him, his spirits could not help but lift at the sight of it. Ron was in there…and so was Mrs. Weasley, who could cook better than anyone he knew…
His eyes burned suddenly and he blinked. He felt stupid for admitting it, but the fact that he had had someone outside Hogwarts who cared what happened to him, almost like a parent, had been one of the best things about discovering his godfather…and now the post owls would never bring him that comfort again…
Harry did not really listen. A warmth was spreading through him…He knew that Ron and Hermione were more shocked than they were letting on, but the mere fact that they were still there on either side of him, speaking bracing words of comfort, not shrinking from him as though he were contaminated or dangerous, was worth more than he could ever tell them.