When we look at the way the Ministry of Magic informs the Muggle Prime Minister about Lord Voldemort’s return, we are introduced to how powerless Muggles are in the face of magic.  Wizards have exemplary powers- we know this from the beginning.  Hagrid scoffs at the idea that a mere car wreck could kill James and Lily Potter, Neville informs Harry that they discovered he had magic because he was dropped out of an upper story window and he bounced.  So we know pretty early on that normal, ordinary Muggle deaths do not occur in the Wizarding world.

However Muggles are pretty powerless in the face of Wizards or Witches.  Muggles die without being able to raise a defense.  It’s one of the best, strongest reasons for keeping the Wizarding world and the Muggle world separate- the Muggles cannot protect themselves from Wizards.  If a Muggle has a gun and shoots a Wizard suddenly- even if the Wizards natural magic doesn’t spring in to defend him for some reason, any Wizard with a reasonable amount of first aid can heal himself and retaliate.  On the other hand, Muggles are supremely vulnerable to Wizards.  Most Wizards born to Wizards are raised with the belief that anything else is inferior, and they have a hard time peacefully cohabitating with other creatures of the Wizarding world (goblins and giants, for example).  Actually integrating the Wizarding World as is with the Muggle world would be impossible, and the Muggles would come off poorer for it.

When Dumbledore arrives on Harry’s doorstep, we see that he has moved from his behavior in the last novel of largely avoiding Harry to being much more involved than ever before.  Whether this is partially out of guilt or apology from missing it before or just as a natural order of things (I find both likely) it’s very exciting.  We also see that Dumbledore is stepping in to Tell Off the Dursleys, which is a moment where I think a lot of people cheered internally.  I think Rowling does this because Harry’s ending with the Dursleys later feels largely… unfinished.  Dudley seems to come around, but it’s one of those loose strings that may never get tied up.  (I like to think Dudley and Harry are in what they call Christmas Card Contact as adults.)  But to make up for that, we have Dumbledore roundly telling them off as well as generally giving them a hard time.  “Let us assume you warmly invite me into you home,” and all that.

Horace Slughorn is the first Slytherin we’ve seen who doesn’t seem to be made of evil.  While he is not exactly endearing, we see that he’s not the type to join the Death Eaters (in fact he’s actively avoiding them) and that he is reliably a Good Guy, whether or not he’s our favorite.  This is one of the themes that Rowling becomes so good at: the world is complex, and the people who are actually on your side may not be likeable, and they may not even like you at all.

Dumbledore tells Harry to take Ron and Hermione into his confidence on the matter of what’s going.  This solidifies them as a trio of friends, but also acknowledges the family dynamic.  Harry says to Ron, in Deathly Hallows, that he loves Hermione as a sister and always has.  This goes to follow that he loves Ron like a brother, and they do seem as thick with each other as Fred and George Weasley.

What Malfoy does to Harry is horrible, but I can’t help but believe that Harry might have done the same thing to Malfoy in his situation.  I know that at least once (I think more like twice) Malfoy has verbally or physically threatened Harry and his group of friends, and Malfoy was jinxed in such a way that he was left helpless, aboard the train.  So this may or may not be a case of getting a little of what he’s dished out to Malfoy.  We also see that Draco and Harry are both stepping up the game on each other, which culminates in their duel in the boys room later in the book (where Harry, to his regret, proves himself to be just a bit faster and nearly kills Draco).  This also foreshadows Harry’s later petrification under the cloak, to much more horrifying end- Dumbledore does it to keep Harry from interfering with the conflict with the Death Eaters- both for Harry’s safety as well as Draco’s, I believe.

This book starts a long storyline about Harry being obsessed with what Draco Malfoy is doing, and everyone around him completely dismissing him over it.  Dumbledore is dismissive of it, and I feel like this is to Harry and Draco’s disadvantage.  If Dumbledore had been just a bit more frank with Harry- that he knew what Draco was tasked with, that Harry was right but there actually were more important things to count on- then Harry might have been frank with Dumbledore and told him where Malfoy was spending all of his time.  Then they at least would have been able to keep an eye on that corridor and contain what was going on.  Dumbledore tends to hide things from people rather than reveal, seeming to trust only himself to see the whole picture.  Dumbledore is also master of saying odd things that are both truthful and also a cover for something deeper.  When Dumbledore is asked what he sees in the Mirror of Erised, he claims it is socks.  And we find out later that it is probably the same thing Harry has seen- his family, whole and restored.  However I’m not certain that in the image he’s not wearing a brand new pair of socks that his mother had given him or something like that.  Perhaps someone in his family was a knitter.

When he is asked what took him so long he tells Slughorn he was looking at the knitting patterns in the Muggle magazines in the bathroom.  It A: seems very like Dumbledore to look at knitting patterns and B: seems like he might have looked at knitting patterns to kill time whilst Harry did his work.  (Come to think of it, he might also look at knitting patterns because they remind him of his family.)  Hard to say.

At any rate Dumbledore is very good at giving slippery answers and non-answers, and I think he sometimes handles Harry badly.  Harry has some pretty solid evidence that Draco is up to no good, and instead of Dumbledore explaining that he KNOWS and has this all under control, he dismisses Harry pretty much out of hand.  Again, I feel at least a little more honesty would be better.  I also think it’s pretty insensitive of Dumbledore to dismiss Harry’s anger over finding out that Snape was also partially responsible for his parents’ death.  While Dumbledore is correct- when Snape took word to Voldemort he didn’t know who the prophecy referred to, or that Voldemort would target James and Lily Potter- he is also being a bit callous here.  Harry has suffered under Snape’s horrible, bullying behavior for years.  Snape has loathed and disliked Harry from day one, and there is a lot of pretty genuine ill-will between them.  Snape has spent a good portion of Harry’s school career trying to use every misdeed of Harry’s as an excuse to get him thrown out of Hogwarts, and he knows that Harry’s only protection as an adult lays in learning how to use the magic he’s been given.  Harry is, quite naturally, pissed off and he found this out at a really bad moment.

Half-Blood Prince is Harry’s school year to shine.  While he still has one teacher he hates, it’s on a subject that Harry is extremely competent on.  Furthermore Harry seems to trust that Snape, while he might be evil, is an adequate teacher on the subject.  He struggles with the work, but no more or less than any of the others.

He’s made the decision not to continue tutoring in DADA, which I think is mostly because he doesn’t have the time.  Quidditch Captain, plus the private lessons with Dumbledore, as well as starting to take some of the hardest lessons he’s ever dealt with and trying to keep a nose in what Malfoy was up to- he was booked solid.  It’s sad he didn’t, because if they had continued to use the Room of Requirement they might have figured out long before what Malfoy was up to and been able to at least put a stop to it.

Rowling does a clever thing with one of the memories.  He tells Harry that Merope’s heart had been broken after Tom left her, and that her ability to use magic may have just gone away.  This is actually a hint at what is wrong with Tonks: at one point they hit on the right tune but have the wrong note- they think that Tonks was in love with Sirius.  Later of course we find out that she’s in love with Lupin, who has been spurning her for her protection, but it’s a reasonable theory anyway.

Dumbledore also would have done a lot of good if he had somehow logged and conveyed exactly where all he had searched for horcruxes.  They knew of the two places he had found them, but I’m sure that the trio covered a lot of the same ground that Dumbledore had previously covered when they searched for the horcruxes.

Dumbledore displays here how well he knows Harry.  Harry has previously made several promises, just to himself, and carried them out.  He swore to put gold in the fountain at the Ministry of Magic when he went for his trial in OotP, and after the trial he dumped his whole purse in.  Later in the same book, he promises himself that next time he can he’s going to buy Dobby socks for every day of the year, and he does exactly that.  (Well, the book doesn’t explicitly state that he’s getting enough socks for every day of the year, but I don’t discount the possibility entirely.)  So when Dumbledore makes him promise that he does absolutely everything that is asked of him, no matter what (run, hide, save yourself) it’s because Dumbledore understands that this is the kind of thing that Harry will follow through on, even if it takes some prodding.

I’d also like to point out something I noticed on the very first read-through.  When Dumbledore starts begging Snape, he is (from our perspective) doing it unprovoked.  We know that Dumbledore trusts Snape implicitly, and Snape has not actually done anything threatening.  He’s just burst in on this scene.  Harry presumes that he’s fearing Snape, which is actually kinda stupid if you look at it.  Dumbledore has faced down much worse.  We find out later that Dumbledore has accepted the inevitability of his death, and he wants a quick and clean one- and that, for very good reason, it must be at the hands of Snape.  In fact, later we see that Snape does everything to protect Harry from the other Death Eaters, although the manner in which he does so is a bit ambiguous.

I think I could go on about this forever, but I’m pretty sure I’ve covered most of everything.  I’d better publish it before it really does turn into a novel, at any rate…