Prof. Abditus Questor
Book 6: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
PLOT SUMMARY: Narcissa Black Malfoy is frantic with worry about her son, Draco, whom Voldemort has given the task of killing Dumbledore; so she gets Snape to take the Unbreakable Vow: to carry out the deed himself if it seems Draco will fail, and Snape cannot refuse because doing so would blow his cover as a counterspy. Dumbledore uses Harry as an inducement to recruit Horace Slughorn to return to Hogwarts as a teacher of Potions. Harry has to use a textbook from the Potions classroom, which has elaborate, innovative, and very successful marginalia by its former owner, the "Half-Blood Prince" (who we eventually learn was Snape, so called after his mother's maiden name, "Prince"). Harry learns from Dumbledore that Voldemort's mother was Merope Gaunt, the daughter of Marvolo Gaunt, the last direct descendant of Slytherin; she used a love potion to attract a handsome muggle, Tom Riddle, but was abandoned by him before she died bearing his child, Tom Marvolo Riddle (Jr.), anagrammed as "I am Lord Voldemort." The child was raised in an orphanage, whence Dumbledore brings him to Hogwarts. There Tom learned from Slughorn that a Horcrux is an object in which a wizard can hide a fragment of his soul, which is fragmented when the wizard commits a murder, which rips the soul apart. The wizard cannot be killed as long as any of the Horcruxes still exist. Voldemort (we eventually learn) deliberately splits his soul into seven parts, with six Horcruxes: his school-days diary (destroyed in book 1), a Gaunt family ring (destroyed by Dumbledore in book 6), a Slytherin locket, a Hufflepuff cup, a Ravenclaw diadem, and the serpent Nagini (all destroyed in book 7 by, respectively, Ron, Hermione, a magical Fiendfire started by Crabbe, and Neville Longbottom). In addition, Voldemort unintentionally and unknowingly also split his soul when he killed James and Lily Potter and attacked the infant Harry, making Harry a seventh Horcrux, which explains some of his abilities (such as talking with serpents) as well as his mind connection with Voldemort. Dumbledore, who is dying from injuries received when he destroyed the Horcrux ring and from poison he drank while attempting to recover the Horcrux locket, is disarmed by Draco, who cannot bring himself to commit the murder, so Snape (after a plea by Dumbledore to do it), kills the headmaster. Dumbledore's body is encased in a marble tomb at Hogwarts.
QUEST: One quest, reflected in the book's title, is for Harry to discover the identity of the Half-Blood Prince (which foreshadows his discovery in book 7 of Snape's true nature and loyalty). A more important quest is to learn about Voldemort's background and evil use of the Horcrux magic. But the major quest is Harry's realization, resulting from Dumbledore's death, that finally he must fulfill his destiny relying on his own abilities alone.
COMMENT: Book 6 is a transition from the Dark Night of Harry's soul in book 5 to the relative light of information about Voldemort's background, the Horcruxes, Harry's connection with Voldemort, and Harry's realization of the destiny that has always been his—not because of fate, but because of Voldemort's identifying him as the one the prophecy spoke of. Book 6 still has an abundance of darkness, as also has book 7; but it is all darkness before the dawn and the full daylight with which the final book ends.
Book 6 elaborates a number of themes that relate to the Ancient Wisdom. Some of these have been treated before, but all of them are paving stones on the road to the final resolution of Harry's quest in book 7. Some of the most prominent are the following.
Death is a major theme in the whole Harry Potter series. In an interview reported in the London Telegraph in 2006, J. K. Rowling said, "My books are largely about death. They open with the death of Harry’s parents. There is Voldemort’s obsession with conquering death and his quest for immortality at any price." In the seventh book, the inscription on James and Lily's grave marker is "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (I Cor. 15.26), which is said to be the theme for the entire series. While in quest of the Horcrux locket in book 6, Dumbledore and Harry cross a lake contain bodies of the dead, and the headmaster says, "There is nothing to be feared from a body, Harry, any more than there is anything to be feared from the darkness. . . . It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more" (p. 566). This book culminates with the death of Dumbledore and his cremation, at which "Harry thought, for one heart-stopping moment that he saw a phoenix fly joyfully into the blue" (p. 645). Dumbledore's death brings Harry to the realization that we must each fulfill our own swadharma, the obligation of our inner nature. He tells Ron and Hermione, "I've got to go after the seventh bit of Voldemort's soul, the bit that's still in his body, and I'm the one who's going to kill him" (p. 651). Death is, to be sure, merely the reverse side of birth; and every death to one state of existence is a birth to another state of being for the immortal entity that is our authentic self.
Love is a theme that complements that of death. It was Lily Potter's love for her infant son, Harry, that surrounded him with protection from Voldemort's attack before book 1 begins. It is Narcissa's love for her son, Draco, that lets Harry survive to overcome Voldemort in book 7. In a touching scene in book 6, Fleur's love for Bill changes his family's attitude toward her. After Bill Weasley has been savaged by a werewolf, his mother expects that Fleur will no longer want Bill as her husband because, instead of handsome, he is disfigured. But Fleur announces, “I am good-looking enough for both of us, I theenk! All these scars show is zat my husband is brave!” And she pushes Mrs. Weasley aside and takes the ointment his mother had been applying to Bill’s wounds and applies it herself. They expect an explosion from Mrs. Weasley, but she says instead that Great Auntie Muriel’s beautiful goblin-made tiara will look lovely with Fleur’s hair at the wedding, and the two women collapse into each other’s arms. Most significantly, love is the power that Voldemort, who is on a flight from death, does not understand or have; and it is the power that will enable Harry to overcome the Dark Lord.
Esotericism in the special sense that things are not what they seem on the surface (exoterically) is pervasive in the whole series, especially in relation to the character and actions of Prof. Severus Snape. On the surface, Snape seems to be a villain. He overheard part of the prophecy about Voldemort's downfall and reported it to the Dark Lord, thus bringing about the death of Harry's parents. Moreover, in chapter 2 of book 6, Snape took the Unbreakable Vow to kill Dumbledore if Draco Malfoy failed to do so. And in chapter 27, Snape used the Avada Kedavra Curse to kill Dumbledore with "revulsion and hatred" in his face after Dumbledore said, "Severus . . . please . . . ." Only in book 7 do we learn that Snape regretted his early mistake in supporting Voldemort and became fully loyal to Dumbledore, that he had to take the Unbreakable Vow to avoid being revealed as a double agent, that his revulsion and hatred were against having to kill Dumbledore; and that Dumbledore's plea was for Snape to do what he must, especially as the headmaster was already dying and Snape's action was necessary ultimately to protect Harry. Snape's first name, "Severus" (the first two syllables pronounced like "sever"), appropriately expresses our perception of his divided or "severed" nature. He seems like an evil character, although Dumbledore trusts him fully; he proves ultimately to be loyal to the headmaster and a factor in Voldemort's downfall. Exoteric or surface perception and esoteric or inner reality are often different. So, when Tom Riddle left Hogwarts, having been Prefect, Head Boy, and winner of an Award for Special Services to the School, everyone thought he had a future in the Ministry of Magic, but he chose instead to follow the dark way.
Thinking is a powerful force, summarized by Hamlet's rebuke to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Today, many people assume that thoughts are a superficial byproduct of the brain; but, as the Master K.H. wrote to A. P. Sinnett: "thoughts are things — have tenacity, coherence, and life, — . . . they are real entities" (chronological letter 18). That ancient truth is illustrated in book 6, when Harry plays a helpful trick on his best friend, Ron Weasley. Ron has an important position on the Quidditch team of Gryffindor House, but he lacks self-confidence because he is the youngest of six Weasley sons, with five older and very accomplished brothers. Because he is nervous and expects to fail, he often performs very poorly at the sport, although he in fact has great talent for it. Harry has a small bottle of Felix Felicis potion (also known as "liquid luck"), which he won in Potions class; drinking it gives the drinker an ability to succeed in whatever he does and creates an exhilarating sense of confidence. Harry lets Ron think that he has slipped a dose of Felx Felicis into Ron's drink just before a critical Quidditch match, and Ron, thinking he has liquid luck in his body, performs with brilliant perfection, winning the match. In fact, Ron played so well solely because he thought he could.
Duty (that is, dharma, the call of one's own inner nature) is our primary responsibility in life. Harry and Snape both illustrate that great truth, albeit in diverse ways. Harry, although often disregarding school and conventional rules, invariably performs his dharmic duty. So, when he accompanies Dumbledore into Voldemort's cave, in quest of the Horcrux locket, he fulfills the promise he has made to the headmaster by forcing him to drink the poisonous liquid protecting the locket and by rescuing him afterwards, when he helps Dumbledore to escape from the cave. On the other hand, Snape, when he is confronted with the necessity of killing Dumbledore, out of his dharmic loyalty to the headmaster, fulfills his duty also, albeit with "revulsion and hatred" at the necessity. Although apparently diametric opposites, Harry and Snape both loyally fulfill their dharmic duties to Dumbledore.
Self-reliance is an imperative in the Ancient Wisdom that is illustrated centrally in the Harry Potter books. It is set forth in the third of the three Truths of the White Lotus: "We are each our own absolute law-giver, the dispenser of glory or gloom to ourselves; the decreer of our life, our reward, our punishment." The Wisdom recognizes no vicarious atonement in the sense that one person, human or divine, can relieve another of the consequences of the other person's actions. Harry depended heavily on Dumbledore's support and directions; he was consequently unhappy when he seemed not to receive the headmaster's guidance, and indeed became petulant at what he supposed to be a slight. However, when Dumbledore died at the end of the sixth book, Harry was driven to recognize that he, himself, had to fulfill his destiny of confronting and defeating Voldemort. At Dumbledore's funeral, "Harry saw very clearly . . . how people who cared about him . . . his mother, his father, his godfather, and finally Dumbledore, all determined to protect him; but now that was over. He could not let anybody else stand between him and Voldemort." As he tells Ron and Hermione, "I'm the one who's going to kill him." That is his dharma, and he cannot rely on any other to do it. Others will help him; none of us is alone in this world, but each of us, alone, must fulfill the dharma that brought us into the world. Harry is the "Chosen One" to end Voldemort's flight from death and restore peace and order to his world.
Mutual support is another pervasive theme that is paradoxically compatible with the theme of self-reliance. It is illustrated by the continuing relationship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione, which strengthens throughout the series. In fulfilling our duty, we often need the support of another. And giving such support is a moral imperative for all of us because the Ancient Wisdom tells us that we are all brothers and sisters in the one human family. The mutuality of support is illustrated when, before departing for Voldemort's cave, Harry assures his friends, "I'll be fine. I'll be with Dumbledore." Then, when Harry assists the mortally wounded Dumbledore to leave the cave, in a reversal of their usual relationship, Harry tells the headmaster not to worry as he can apparate them back to Hogsmeade. Dumbledore replies, “I am not worried, Harry. . . I am with you.” Harry, who depended on Dumbledore throughout his young life, becomes Dumbledore's support in the latter's last hours. That is a touching expression of the relationship we naturally have with one another.
Wholeness and its lack, which is the nature of evil, is a major theme of the entire series. In the Ancient Wisdom, evolution has three major goals: the spiritualization of matter, the increase of our awareness of reality, and the restoration of the wholeness of the individual with the divine source of all. The central and governing event in the Harry Potter books is Harry's coming into wholeness, which is also the purpose and meaning of Yoga (etymologically meaning "union"). By the end of book 7, Harry has become a complete mensch, a Yiddish term for "a person of integrity (that is, wholeness) and honor." Book 6 records major steps toward that end. It is thus a transition from the Dark Night of book 5 to the clear light at the end of book 7.
As Harry increasingly achieves a wholeness of his soul, Voldemort demonstrates the opposite: a commitment to the fragmentation of his soul, which is directly opposed to the purpose of evolution, and is hence the essence of evil. The fragmented parts of a soul, produced by the commission of cold-blooded murders and secreted in some external objects, are called "Horcruxes." That term, invented by J. K. Rowling, seems to have two parts: "hor" and "crux." A "crux" is "a puzzling or difficult problem: an unsolved question," and the nature of evil is puzzling and difficult. "Hor" suggests "horror," which is also the nature of evil. The horrible puzzle of the Horcrux is achieved by an act of cold-blooded murder, which is itself an act of fragmentation and regression, as our evolutionary journey is toward greater empathy and assistance to one another.
Instead of unifying his soul, Voldemort has split it into parts, intending to produce seven parts in order to prolong his bodily life as much as possible, but in fact he produced eight parts, the eighth being the fragment he accidentally and without awareness put into Harry. Note that in the Ancient Wisdom, the Eighth Sphere or Planet of Death represents a state in which the spiritual Monad has no possibility of reinsoulment, but has become a lost soul. "In the Eighth Sphere the lost souls are ground over and over in Nature's laboratory, and are finally dissipated into their component psycho-astral elements or life-atoms" (G. de Purucker, Occult Glossary, p. 43). Voldemort's Horcruxes represent his descent into the ultimate state of dissolution. As we will see in book 7, until his very end, Voldemort has the possibility of redemption and return to wholeness in a state known as Avichi (Purucker, loc. cit.). But he rejects that possibility and so remains as a fetus-like being, whose future is left undecided but whose past life has been wasted and whose spark of Life must consequently, at some point in the future, repair the damage done during Voldemort's last, and sadly lost, life.