Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
If my friends and family are any indication—and the legions of Hogwarts fans online tell me that they are—the latest Harry Potter movie is being greeted with a great amount of anticipation. My sister-in-law planned to dress up as an Inferius and drive three hours to join friends at a midnight opening. And at least two other groups of friends have been holding ad hoc Harry Potter movie festivals over the last couple of weeks, watching the first five movies in the series in preparation for the sixth—Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
That movie-watching effort will be rewarded in the first moments of Half-Blood Prince as it picks up in the immediate aftermath of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. There are clues as to what just happened in those opening moments as Harry stares against the flashbulb-induced glare of a gathered crowd—newspaper headlines report Voldemort's return, for example. But anyone who hasn't seen the previous movie—or doesn't remember it (it has been two years since the last release in the series, much to the chagrin of many fans) will be at a distinct disadvantage. Though, as Harry tells Dumbledore not long after the wizened wizard shows up and starts making demands with little in the way of background information, you learn to roll with it.
As with previous movies that have introduced us to a new faculty member, Half-Blood Prince quickly introduces us to the addled Professor Slughorn, played by an always-excellent Jim Broadbent. Dumbledore manages to recruit Slughorn to return to his old post as professor of potions at Hogwarts by raising the prospect of the prestige that could be his for teaching Harry, now known in HP lore as "the Chosen One." "He will try to collect you," Dumbledore explains to Harry, who quickly surmises that he should allow it in an attempt to get Slughorn to reveal a long buried secret that might be the key to defeating Voldemort. For among Slughorn's collection of notable students is the one who was known as Tom Riddle before he became He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
While Harry sets about his job of wooing Slughorn, his classmate and nemesis Draco Malfoy is working on his own secret assignment while skulking around the Hogwarts castle in sharply tailored black suits. He looks like a junior member of a wizarding mafia, which is perhaps an apt description of the Death Eaters, an exclusive group of Voldemort's most loyal supporters that initiates Draco early on in the movie. But as Draco becomes a more tortured figure—wracked by his loyalty to his family, his desire to be respected, and the specter of his task—something curious happens. He actually becomes less clearly to be reviled. As his exterior is polished to a dark shine, you more clearly see its contrast with his interior, a boy who wants to belong and be loved more than just about anything else.
The power of belonging is a recurring theme in the Harry Potter storyline. It builds some people up and destroys other people. The slimy Severus Snape is shaped by his desire to belong yet never being warmly accepted by his peers. Whereas Harry, an orphan with no loving family to which he truly belongs, finds a kind of ground for his being when he is sorted into the Gryffindor house at Hogwarts and meets the people to whom he most belongs for the rest of his life. The real magic of the Harry Potter series comes not from spells and potions, but from the sustaining friendships of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. These relationships, as much as the fantastical world of giants, and Veela, and Pensieves, keep readers returning to this story.