Throughout his life, the plucky and adventurous young wizard Harry Potter has been pitted against Lord Voldemort, a rogue wizard determined to kill him; in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, their combat intensifies as Voldemort returns to the Wizarding world and begins to gather his army. Until now, the Harry Potter series has portrayed a fairly straightforward conflict between good people, represented by Harry, and bad ones, represented by Voldemort, with few characters populating the middle of this spectrum. However, the sixth book introduces more characters who are torn between their good and bad impulses. Because of this, Harry has to figure out not only how to defeat his enemies but how to behave towards people of ambiguous moral standing. While Harry has trouble accepting that the people around him can occupy a middle ground between good and evil, by the end of the novel he’s beginning to acknowledge the possibility of moral redemption for the first time.
In the several installments preceding Half-Blood Prince, the contrast between good and evil is usually stark and uncomplicated. Harry and his friends fight Voldemort through a series of proxies – such as the ghostly Tom Riddle – each of whom proves irredeemably evil. Some characters, like Professor Quirrell or Peter Pettigrew, may seem good or have been good in the past, but after revealing themselves as Voldemort’s allies they lose all positive characteristics. Pettigrew, who initially seems only weak and cowardly, brutally kills Cedric Diggory at the end of Goblet of Fire, proving himself devoid of compassion, and at the beginning of Half-Blood Prince Harry casually remarks that Quirrell “deserved” to be killed – dismissing any possibility of nuance in the villain’s character.
However, Half-Blood Prince foregrounds several characters of troublingly uncertain morals. In one of the opening chapters, Dumbledore employs Harry to persuade Horace Slughorn to teach at Hogwarts. While the new Potions professor is a genial and well-intentioned man who behaves kindly towards Harry, it’s clear that he’s only interested in young people for their potential to accrue power and accolades. Because of this preoccupation, he displays crucially bad judgment, inadvertently enabling the young Lord Voldemort to immortalize himself through Horcruxes.
Similarly, Narcissa Malfoy’s visit with Snape in the second chapter reveals that Draco is actively working for Lord Voldemort. Eventually, it emerges that Draco has been tasked with killing Dumbledore – confirming the suspicions of his loyalty that Harry has held since their first year at Hogwarts. However, as Draco grows paranoid and distressed over the course of the novel, it becomes increasingly clear that he’s been coerced into an unsavory mission he’d rather avoid, simply because of his family’s ties to the Death Eaters. Although Draco is actively assisting the forces of evil, he’s also a teenager in way over his head.
Accordingly, instead of just deciding how to vanquish his enemies, Harry has to consider how to treat people who fluctuate in their moral behavior. At the beginning of the novel, he’s reluctant to acknowledge any gray area between good and evil. Although he proves correct in his suspicions about Draco, his growing obsession with the other boy’s movements shows a marked unwillingness to believe that someone who has behaved badly in the past could mend their ways. Similarly, he refuses to trust Snape, even when Dumbledore assures him of the professor’s loyalty and believes that he has sincerely repented of his previous membership with the Death Eaters.
In fact, it’s Dumbledore who constantly urges Harry to take a larger view of moral errors and reminds him of the possibility of redemption. Even when Professor Slughorn is actively obstructing his investigations into Voldemort’s past, Dumbledore is patient with the vain old man. Further, when Draco finally attempts to murder him, Dumbledore says that he understands the boy’s powerlessness against Voldemort and reminds him of his better impulses, saying forcefully that “you are not a killer.”
It’s difficult for Harry to fully absorb these lessons. Reeling from Dumbledore’s death at the end of the novel, he feels vindicated in his distrust of Draco and vengeful towards Snape, whose motivations have not yet become clear. However, Dumbledore’s example and Harry’s growing understanding of moral complexity set the stage for the final installment of the series, in which Harry will learn to truly respect people who are able to redeem themselves after a moral lapse.
Good vs. Evil ThemeTracker
Good vs. Evil 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.
[Harry] could not quite keep a note of derision out of his voice; it was hard to sympathize with Slughorn’s cosseted existence when he remembered Sirius, crouching in a cave and living on rats. “Most of the teachers aren’t in it, and none of them has ever been killed – well, unless you count Quirrell, and he got what he deserved seeing as he was working with Voldemort.”
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…
“You are determined to hate him, Harry,” said Lupin with a faint smile. “And I understand; with James as your father, with Sirius as your godfather, you have inherited an old prejudice. By all means tell Dumbledore what you have told Arthur and me, but do not expect him to share your view of the matter…”
If you were to be seen popping in and out of the Ministry from time to time, for instance, that would give the right impression. And of course, while you were there, you would have ample opportunity to speak to Gawain Robards, my successor as Head of the Auror office. Dolores Umbridge has told me that you cherish an ambition to become an Auror.
“I am not proud…” he whispered through his fingers. “I am ashamed of what – of what that memory shows…I think I may have done great damage that day…”
“You’d cancel out anything you did by giving me the memory,” said Harry. “It would be a very brave and noble thing to do.”
“Yes, Harry, you can love,” said Dumbledore, who looked as though he knew perfectly well what Harry had just refrained from saying. “Which, given everything that has happened to you, is a great and remarkable thing. You are still too young to understand how unusual you are, Harry.”
It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew – and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents – that there was all the difference in the world.
Come over to the right side, Draco, and we can hide you more completely than you can possibly imagine. What is more, I can send members of the Order to your mother tonight to hide her likewise…Come over to the right side, Draco…you are not a killer…”