Severus Snape, a member of the Order of the Phoenix, meets with Narcissa Malfoy, Draco's mother, and Lord Voldemort's faithful supporter Bellatrix Lestrange. Narcissa expresses concern that her son might not survive a dangerous mission given to him by Lord Voldemort. Bellatrix feels Snape will be of no help until he surprises her by making an Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa, swearing on his life that he will protect and assist Draco in his mission.
Dumbledore picks Harry up from his aunt and uncle's house, intending to escort him to the Burrow, home of Harry's best friend Ron. On the way they make a detour to the temporary home of Horace Slughorn, former Potions teacher at Hogwarts, and Harry unwittingly helps persuade Slughorn to return to teach. Harry and Dumbledore then proceed to the Burrow, where Hermione has already arrived. The next morning, Harry, Ron, and Hermione get their Ordinary Wizarding Level (O.W.L.) results, along with lists of school supplies. Later, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger follow Draco to Dark Arts supplier Borgin and Burkes. Harry is instantly suspicious of Draco, whom he believes to be a Death Eater.
The students return to school, where Dumbledore announces that Snape will be teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts. In the meantime, Horace Slughorn will resume his post as Potions teacher. Harry now excels in Potions, thanks to having received a used Potions textbook that once belonged to someone named "The Half-Blood Prince," a mysterious former student who wrote numerous tips and spells in his Potions textbook that Harry uses to achieve superb results. After a class contest, The Half-Blood Prince's tips help Harry win a bottle of Felix Felicis, more commonly known as "Liquid Luck." Though Harry's success pleases Slughorn, his newfound brilliance in potions angers Hermione, who feels he is not truly earning his grades and does not trust the Half-Blood Prince.
Believing that Harry needs to learn Voldemort's past to gain advantage in a foretold battle, Dumbledore schedules regular meetings with Harry in his office. During this time, they use Dumbledore's Pensieve to look at memories of those who have had direct contact with Voldemort. Harry learns about Voldemort's family and his foe's evolution into a murderer obsessed not only with power, but with gaining eternal life. Dumbledore shows Harry a memory involving Slughorn conversing with the young Tom Riddle at Hogwarts, which has clearly been tampered with. He sets Harry the task of convincing Slughorn to give him the true memory so that Dumbledore can confirm his suspicions about Voldemort's rise to power and near-invincibility.
Using the dose of Felix Felicis he won in class, Harry succeeds in retrieving Slughorn's unedited memory. In it, Slughorn tells Riddle about the process of splitting one's soul and hiding it in several objects called Horcruxes. It is these objects, forged only through murder, that have gained Voldemort something close to immortality—by splitting his own soul into seven pieces, which is the most powerful magic number. Dumbledore explains that in order to destroy Voldemort, all the Horcruxes must first be destroyed. Two Horcruxes—Riddle's Diary from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and a ring belonging to Voldemort's grandfather Marvolo Gaunt—have already been destroyed, but four others remain.
As Harry learns more about his great enemy, the love lives of the main characters start to become more active. Ron and Hermione grow closer together, but after learning from his sister Ginny that Hermione had previously kissed Viktor Krum, Ron shuns her. Harry's attempts to repair things between the two fail, resulting in Ron going out with Lavender Brown and making Hermione jealous. After Ron is nearly killed in an attempt on Dumbledore's life, he and Hermione reconcile. Ron and Lavender break up when Lavender sees the two of them walking out of the girl's dormitories together. However, this was only because she hadn't noticed Harry walking ahead of them. Harry develops feelings for Ginny, but is reluctant to pursue her for most of the year because of his friendship with Ron. Following a wild Quidditch victory Harry and Ginny finally strike up a relationship, with Ron's reluctant consent.
Near the end of the year, Harry and Dumbledore journey to a cave to retrieve a suspected Horcrux, Slytherin's locket. Dumbledore expertly finds a secret passageway to a large, pitch black underground lake, which Harry and Dumbledore cross in a small boat to an island in the centre. The locket is at the bottom of a basin and can only be reached by drinking the potion above it. Harry helps Dumbledore, who drinks the potion, and though Dumbledore is severely weakened, together they manage to fight off Voldemort's Inferi that have been hiding in the lake. They take the locket and return to find that the Dark Mark has been placed over the highest tower in Hogwarts in their absence. Harry and Dumbledore ascend the tower where they are ambushed by Draco Malfoy, accompanied by Death Eaters that he helped get inside Hogwarts. Dumbledore freezes Harry under his Invisibility Cloak with a body-bind spell to keep him hidden. Draco disarms Dumbledore of his wand and then threatens to kill him, which turns out to have been his mission from Voldemort. Draco is unable to go through with it, and Snape arrives and casts the spell to kill Dumbledore instead. Harry ignores the battle raging in Hogwarts to pursue Dumbledore's killer. Snape successfully fights Harry off, and he reveals that he is in fact the Half-Blood Prince before he, Draco, and the rest of the Death Eaters escape.
After Dumbledore's funeral, Harry decides to break up with Ginny, saying it is too dangerous for their relationship to continue. Harry finds out that the locket is not the real Horcrux, containing only a note from someone named "R. A. B.". Harry is so devastated by Dumbledore's death (and upset by its futility) that he tells his friends he will not be returning to Hogwarts and will instead spend the next year searching out Voldemort's Horcruxes. Ron and Hermione insist on joining him in destroying Lord Voldemort for good.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the sixth book in the Harry Potter series. The first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was first published by Bloomsbury in 1997, with an initial print-run of 500 copies in hardback, 300 of which were distributed to libraries. By the end of 1997, the UK edition won a National Book Award and a gold medal in the 9- to 11-year-olds category of the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize. The second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, was originally published in the UK on 2 July 1998 and in the US on 2 June 1999. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was then published a year later in the UK on 8 July 1999 and in the US on 8 September 1999. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was published on 8 July 2000 at the same time by Bloomsbury and Scholastic. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the longest novel in the Harry Potter series, was released 21 June 2003. After the publishing of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the seventh and final novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released 21 July 2007. The book sold 11 million copies within 24 hours of its release: 2.7 million copies in the UK and 8.3 million in the US.
Rowling stated that she had Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince "planned for years", but she spent two months going over her plan before she began writing seriously. This was a lesson learned after she did not check the plan for Goblet of Fire and had to rewrite a third of the book. She started writing the book before her second child, David, was born, but she took a break to care for him. The first chapter, "The Other Minister", which features the meeting between the Muggle Prime Minister, the Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge, and his successor, Rufus Scrimgeour, was a concept Rowling tried to start in Philosopher's Stone, Prisoner of Azkaban, and Order of the Phoenix, but she found "it finally works" in Half-Blood Prince. She stated that she was "seriously upset" writing the end of the book, although Goblet of Fire was the hardest to write. When asked if she liked the book, she responded, "I like it better than I liked 'Goblet', 'Phoenix' or 'Chamber' when I finished them. Book six does what I wanted it to do and even if nobody else likes it (and some won't), I know it will remain one of my favourites of the series. Ultimately you have to please yourself before you please anyone else!"
Rowling revealed the title of Half-Blood Prince on her website on 29 June 2004. This was the title she had once considered for the second book, Chamber of Secrets, though she decided that the information disclosed belonged better in book six. On 21 December 2004, she announced she had finished writing it, along with the release date of 16 July. Bloomsbury unveiled the cover on 8 March 2005.
The record-breaking publication of Half-Blood Prince was accompanied by controversy. In May 2005, bookmakers in the UK suspended bets on which main character would die in the book amid fears of insider knowledge. A number of high value bets were made on the death of Albus Dumbledore, many coming from the town of Bungay where, it was believed, the books were being printed at the time. Betting was later reopened. Additionally, in response to Greenpeace's campaign on using forest friendly paper for big-name authors, Bloomsbury published the book on 30% recycled paper.
In early July 2005, a Real Canadian Superstore in Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada, accidentally sold fourteen copies of The Half-Blood Prince before the authorised release date. The Canadian publisher, Raincoast Books, obtained an injunction from the Supreme Court of British Columbia prohibiting the purchasers from reading the books before the official release date or from discussing the contents. Purchasers were offered a Harry Potter T-shirt and an autographed copy of the book if they returned their copies before 16 July.
On 15 July, less than twelve hours before the book went on sale in the Eastern time zone, Raincoast warned The Globe and Mail newspaper that publishing a review from a Canada-based writer at midnight, as the paper had promised, would be seen as a violation of the trade secret injunction. The injunction sparked a number of news articles alleging that the injunction had restricted fundamental rights. Canadian law professor Michael Geist posted commentary on his blog; Richard Stallman called for a boycott, requesting the publisher issue an apology. The Globe and Mail published a review from two UK-based writers in its 16 July edition and posted the Canadian writer's review on its website at 9:00 that morning. Commentary was also provided on the Raincoast website.
Some reviewers noted that Half-Blood Prince contained a darker tone than the previous Potter novels. The Christian Science Monitor's reviewer Yvonne Zipp considered the first half to contain a lighter tone to soften the unhappy ending. The Boston Globe reviewer Liz Rosenberg wrote, "lightness [is] slimmer than ever in this darkening series...[there is] a new charge of gloom and darkness. I felt depressed by the time I was two-thirds of the way through". She also compared the setting to Charles Dickens's depictions of London, as it was "brooding, broken, gold-lit, as living character as any other". Christopher Paolini called the darker tone "disquieting" because it was so different from the earlier books. Liesl Schillinger, a contributor to The New York Times book review, also noted that Half-Blood Prince was "far darker" but "leavened with humor, romance and snappy dialogue". She suggested a connection to the 11 September attacks, as the later, darker novels were written after that event. David Kipen, a critic of the San Francisco Chronicle considered the "darkness as a sign of our paranoid times" and singled out curfews and searches that were part of the tightened security at Hogwarts, as a resemblance to our world.
Julia Keller, a critic for the Chicago Tribune, highlighted the humour found in the novel and claimed it to be the success of the Harry Potter saga. She acknowledged that "the books are dark and scary in places" but "no darkness in Half-Blood Prince...is so immense that it cannot be rescued by a snicker or a smirk." She considered that Rowling was suggesting that difficult times could be worked through with imagination, hope, and humour, and compared this concept to works such as Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows.
Rosenberg wrote that the two main themes of Half-Blood Prince were love and death and praised Rowling's "affirmation of their central position in human lives". She considered love to be represented in several forms: the love of parent to child, teacher to student, and the romances that developed between the characters. Zipp noted trust and redemption to be themes promising to continue in the final book, which she thought "would add a greater layer of nuance and complexity to some characters who could sorely use it." Deepti Hajela also pointed out Harry's character development, that he was "no longer a boy wizard; he's a young man, determined to seek out and face a young man's challenges". Paolini had similar views, claiming, "the children have changed...they act like real teenagers."
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was met with positive reviews. Liesl Schillinger of The New York Times praised the novel's various themes and suspenseful ending. However, she considered Rowling's gift "not so much for language as for characterisation and plotting". Kirkus Reviews said it "will leave readers pleased, amused, excited, scared, infuriated, delighted, sad, surprised, thoughtful and likely wondering where Voldemort has got to, since he appears only in flashbacks". They considered Rowling's "wry wit" to turn into "outright merriment", but called the climax "tragic, but not uncomfortably shocking". Yvonne Zipp of The Christian Science Monitor praised the way Rowling evolved Harry into a teenager and how the plot threads found as far back as Chamber of Secrets came into play. On the other hand, she noted that it "gets a little exposition-heavy in spots" and older readers may have seen the ending coming.
Christopher Paolini, writing for Entertainment Weekly, pointed out that the change of tone was "disquieting" as the world evolved, and praised the character development, though he considered Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the best. The Boston Globe correspondent Liz Rosenberg wrote, "The book bears the mark of genius on every page" and praised the imagery and darker tone of the book, considering that the series could be crossing over from fantasy to horror. The Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela praised the newfound emotional tones and ageing Harry to the point where "younger fans may find [the series] has grown up too much". Emily Green, a staff writer of the Los Angeles Times, was generally positive about the book but was concerned whether young children could handle the material. Cultural critic Julia Keller of the Chicago Tribune called it the "most eloquent and substantial addition to the series thus far" and considered the key to the success of the Potter novels to be humour.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has won several awards, including the 2006 British Book of the Year Award and the 2006 Royal Mail Award for Scottish Children's Books for ages 8–12 in its native United Kingdom. In the United States, the American Library Association listed it among its 2006 Best Books for Young Adults. It won both the 2005 reader-voted Quill Awards for Best Book of the Year and Best Children's Book. It also won the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Seal for notable book.
Before publication, 1.4 million advanced orders were placed for Half-Blood Prince on Amazon.com, breaking the record held by the previous novel, Order of the Phoenix, with 1.3 million. The initial print run for Half-Blood Prince was a record-breaking 10.8 million. Within the first 24 hours of release, the book sold 9 million copies worldwide, 2 million in the UK and about 6.9 million in the US, which prompted Scholastic to rush an additional 2.7 million copies into print. Within the first nine weeks of publication, 11 million copies of the US edition were reported to have been sold. The US audiobook, read by Jim Dale, set sales records with 165,000 sold over two days, besting the adaptation of Order of the Phoenix by twenty percent.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was published simultaneously in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Along with the rest of the books in the Harry Potter series, it was eventually translated into 67 languages. However, because of high security surrounding the manuscript, translators did not get to start on translating Half-Blood Prince until its English release date, and the earliest were not expected to be released until the fall of 2005. In Germany, a group of "hobby translators" translated the book via Internet in less than two days after release, far before German translator Klaus Fritz could translate and publish the book.
Since its wide hardcover release on 16 July 2005, Half-Blood Prince was released as a paperback on 23 June 2006 in the UK. Two days later on 25 July, the paperback edition was released in Canada and the US, where it had an initial print run of 2 million copies. To celebrate the release of the American paperback edition, Scholastic held a six-week sweepstakes event in which participants in an online poll were entered to win prizes. Simultaneous to the original hardcover release was the UK adult edition, featuring a new cover, and which was also released as a paperback on 23 June. Also released on 16 July was the Scholastic "Deluxe Edition", which featured reproductions of Mary Grandpré's artwork and had a print run of about 100,000 copies. Bloomsbury later released a paperback "Special Edition" on 6 July 2009 and a "Signature Edition" paperback on 1 November 2010.
The film adaptation of the sixth book was originally scheduled to be released on 21 November 2008, but was changed to 15 July 2009. Directed by David Yates, the screenplay was adapted by Steve Kloves and produced by David Heyman and David Barron. The film grossed over $934 million worldwide, which made it the second-highest-grossing film of 2009 worldwide and the fifteenth-highest of all time. Additionally, Half-Blood Prince gained an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography.