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The Ending Of Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince Explained

As the sixth installment of the "Harry Potter" movie franchise, 2009's "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" comes in with a brutal start: London's Millennium Bridge is destroyed by vicious Death Eaters. Now, everyone in the Wizarding World knows the Dark Lord Voldemort has returned. Gone is the air of wonder and delight that colored the first few films. "Half-Blood Prince" continues the franchise's descent into darker themes and events as the characters — and audience — grow up.

Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, "Half-Blood Prince" stands out amongst the other films for its melancholy gray palette and artistic approach to each shot. Though there are plenty of lighthearted moments in the film as it savors the last year our trio will be at Hogwarts, the mounting threat of Voldemort hangs dangerously over their heads. This year, Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) has finally been appointed to the Defense Against the Dark Arts position after desiring it for many years. Meanwhile, Harry's (Daniel Radcliffe) mind is preoccupied with three things: his blossoming romance with Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), his theory that Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is a newly minted Death Eater, and whatever mysterious plot Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) has going on regarding the new Potions professor, Slughorn (Jim Broadbent).

The end is a series of shocking — unless you'd already read it — events. Harry and Dumbledore discover that Voldemort has split his soul into seven pieces, hidden in items called Horcruxes. Draco lets a bunch of Death Eaters into Hogwarts with the intent of killing Dumbledore, but when he falters, Snape steps in to finish the deed. It's the end of their childhood for good and a dramatic, but crucial setup for the final part of the story.

Harry was right about Draco, but not quite

Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy have been rivals since Harry's first day at Hogwarts. Draco's always been an entitled, arrogant bully who's gone out of his way to hurt Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson), but "Half-Blood Prince" takes him to new extremes and yet sets him on a new path.

For the whole school year, Harry is convinced Draco has been inducted into the Death Eater ranks, joining his father. The last scenes prove this is true: Voldemort charged Draco with killing Dumbledore and he's got the fancy Dark Mark to show for it. He tries halfheartedly a few times, with the cursed necklace and the poisoned bottle of mead, but this time, he enacts his true plan, letting the Death Eaters into Hogwarts via the Vanishing Cabinet. They corner Dumbledore at the top of the tower, but, even though Draco's been a horrible person for the last six years, he doesn't have it in him to murder someone. He hesitates, even though he's certain Voldemort will kill him and possibly his family if he doesn't complete the task.

Dumbledore, to his credit, knew all along that Draco was plotting this, but he doesn't want Draco to follow through — because he doesn't want his student to cross that line. He tells Draco, "Years ago, I knew a boy who made all the wrong choices," comparing the young Slytherin to a teenage Tom Riddle.

This moment marks the beginning of a change for Draco Malfoy — now proven to not be purely evil — as he retreats from the dark grasp of Voldemort. Upon seeing that Draco wouldn't have killed Dumbledore, Harry realizes that Draco isn't quite the villain he always painted him to be. This sets up key moments in the "Deathly Hallows": when Draco chooses to protect Harry from Voldemort and when the Malfoys leave the Death Eaters. Ultimately, the Malfoys care more about protecting their family than Voldemort's evil aspirations.

Snape appears to pick a side

More than Draco Malfoy, Severus Snape takes center stage in "Half-Blood Prince." He's long been an antagonist to Harry — the mean, snide Potions professor who has it out for Harry, specifically. And yet, for years, Dumbledore has supported Snape.

As Harry grows closer to Dumbledore this year, he tentatively sees Snape in a different light and a flicker of trust grows. So in the climax, when Harry is watching Dumbledore's confrontation with the Death Eaters, he trusts Snape to take care of the problem and doesn't engage like he wants to. This immediately backfires, however, when Snape flings the killing curse at Dumbledore.

To Harry, this proves what he's believed all along: Severus Snape is loyal to Voldemort. But it's revealed in "Deathly Hallows" that Dumbledore actually asked Snape to kill him, to spare Draco from the harm of succeeding (or failing) and to spare himself from torture at another Death Eater's hands. Earlier in the film, Harry walks in on the two of them talking and hears Snape tell Dumbledore that he asks too much — Snape didn't want to kill him. Additionally, Snape makes the Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa Malfoy to keep Draco safe and complete his task — killing Dumbledore — if he couldn't. So, Snape has pressure twofold to kill Dumbledore, but his action is not a betrayal.

After six years of trying to figure out if Snape is with them or against them, the ending of "Half-Blood Prince" seems to cement him as a bad guy, but that's all turned on its head in "Deathly Hallows" when it's revealed he was following Dumbledore's orders. However, despite Snape landing the killing blow, Dumbledore's precious wand — the Elder Wand — picks Draco as its next master because he disarmed the headmaster. That becomes crucial in the next film.

The titular Half-Blood Prince is Severus Snape

As for the title of the film, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the meaning of it becomes clear as Harry chases Severus Snape out onto the grounds after he kills Dumbledore. Harry attempts to use the vicious spell he learned from the pages of his used and marked-up potions textbook, Sectumsempra. Snape deflects it, snidely remarking about Harry using his own spell against him, dropping a bombshell in the process. The mysterious "Half-Blood Prince" who wrote notes in the book? That was a teenage Severus. Prince was the last name of Snape's mother, while the "half-blood" comes from him having a Muggle father and witch mother.

All year long, Snape's notes in the textbook help Harry flourish in Potions, letting him get close to Slughorn, and helping him acquire the memory of Tom Riddle that Dumbledore asks for. The title of the film highlights how crucial Snape is to this year's story in particular — he's not merely an unpleasant teacher but a character with a huge impact that only becomes more important in "Deathly Hallows."

The end of childhood and the beginning of Voldemort's demise

For Harry, Ron, and Hermione, this movie marks the end of their admittedly rocky childhoods and their first steps toward adulthood. Much of the film is concerned with their teenage romances, but by the end, the three of them decide to not come back to Hogwarts for what is supposed to be their last year of school. After years of Voldemort hanging over their heads, they now have a path to stop him.

Other than Dumbledore's death, the other crucial part of the ending of "Half-Blood Prince" is the revelation that Voldemort has split his soul into seven Horcruxes — various magical items that keep him alive even when his body is killed. This is how he survived the night Harry's parents died. Plus, the diary from "Chamber of Secrets" was one of those Horcruxes. Dumbledore's plan was to hunt down each Horcrux and destroy it, but with him out of the picture, Harry decides he needs to take that responsibility on himself. Ron and Hermione join him, and they do exactly that in "Deathly Hallows."

But first, they discover that the locket Harry and Dumbledore nearly died retrieving is actually a fake Horcrux. In it is a letter signed "R.A.B." — it's later revealed that this is Regulus Arcturus Black, the younger brother of Sirius Black, Harry's godfather. He was a Death Eater who defected and attempted to destroy the Horcrux but died in the process. Harry, Ron, and Hermione now have to find the real one, and all the others, to save the Wizarding World.

Right now, you can stream all eight "Harry Potter" movies on HBO Max.