Spoilers: All five books and some movie canon, too.
AN: I apologize for the delay; it took longer than expected to write this due to RL issues. This essay is by no means a comprehensive, in depth essay of Harry Potter. I’d need an entire book to adequately analyze all of the nuances of this character. What I tried to accomplish is a general overview of the character, my interpretation of his strengths, weaknesses, and relationships, and what keeps me coming back for more. By doing so, I hope other people find this essay entertaining and informative, too.
“No. You’ve made a mistake. I mean, I can’t be a, a wizard. I mean, I’m just... just Harry.”
Philosopher’s Stone movie
I first experienced the phenomena known as Harry Potter in November 2001 when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone premiered in theaters. One of my college suitemates loved the HP books, but she didn’t know anyone who would go with her to watch the movie. I volunteered to go since a) it was close to her birthday and I wanted to do my part in helping her celebrate, b) I didn’t have anything else to do, and c) I wanted to know what all the fuss was about with these books. So I went. And watched. And fell in love. After the movie, I borrowed my suitemate’s HP books and read them all, falling more in love with the series after each book I read. By the time the second movie came out, I was an official Potter fan and gladly went with my suitemate to the theater to watch CoS. The final cementing of my Potter fanatic status began in 2003 when I made my first forays into the online HP fandom and started reading all of the fanfic the community had to offer, and finished in November 2003, two years after my first introduction to the Potter world, when I wrote and posted my first HP story on FF.net.
The rest, as they say, is history.
While I loved the HP universe, I didn’t immediately fall in love with Harry himself. I liked him, of course, and rooted for him to defeat Quirell and then Riddle in the Chamber of Secrets. I hated the Dursleys for treating him horribly and cheered when Harry won his first Quidditch match. But Ron, Hermione, and Draco captured my attention more and most of my fannish devotion went to them. Then a strange thing happened with PoA and continued happening with GoF. I started to fall in love with Harry himself. Call it the woobie factor, if you will. Like Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer before him, and like Lex Luthor from Smallville after, the more pain and angst Harry suffered, the more I came to care for the character. So by the time unstable, depressed, CAPS LOCK Harry closed out OotP grief-stricken over Sirius, apprehensive about the prophecy, and wordless with gratitude to the Order for standing beside him to the Dursleys, Harry reached the level of Very Favorite Character of Mine alongside Ron, Hermione, and Draco.
And climbed straight to the top.
The Boy Who Lived
…people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices, “To Harry Potter- the boy who lived!”
Philosopher’s Stone, p. 17
Everybody knows the story of the Boy Who Lived. On Halloween 1981, Voldemort sought out Lily and James Potter at Godric’s Hollow, killed them, and then tried to kill their infant son, Harry. But Voldemort’s killing curse rebounded off of Harry and back onto Voldemort, turning him into a shell of his former self and leaving newly orphaned Harry with his infamous lightning-shaped scar. Retrieved by Hagrid from the ruins of the Hollow, Harry was left in the care of his mother’s sister, Petunia, and her husband, Vernon, by Albus Dumbledore, who left a letter to the Dursleys explaining Harry’s predicament tucked inside his blanket.
Vernon and Petunia reluctantly took Harry into their home, and Harry spent the next ten years of his life in number four Privet Drive with them and their only son, Dudley. The Dursleys treated Harry like a servant, either ignoring him when he was around or talking about him like he wasn’t there, while they pampered and spoiled Dudley at every opportunity. Instead of a normal bedroom, the Dursleys forced Harry to live in a spider infested cupboard under the stairs; they also made him wear Dudley’s too large hand-me-downs instead of clothes that fit properly, which, along with his broken glasses and small stature, made him a prime target for ridicule by his peers at school. The Dursleys, who prize conformity and normality above everything else, taught Harry never to ask any questions, especially about his parents or his scar. They lied to him about his origins, telling him that his parents died in a car crash, and they never mentioned anything about wizards or magic, yelling at Harry anytime he said anything they considered abnormal, as Vernon did when Harry spoke about his dream of a flying motorcycle in PS.
Despite all of this, however, Harry grew into a relatively normal young boy, one who wished desperately for someone to take him away from the Dursleys but who still tried his best to live alongside them. Although Harry tried not to intentionally act out and raise Vernon or Petunia’s ire, he never allowed them to turn him into a victim; he fought when he felt the need to, as he did with Vernon for control of his Hogwarts letters, and he gave as good as he got with Dudley, using his sharp mind and fast legs to counter Dudley’s sheer size. Overall, Harry remained a polite young boy, one who would calmly and respectfully react to the sudden appearance of a gigantic man looking especially for him in a remote, rain-soaked shack on his eleventh birthday.
Harry’s entire world changed the night Hagrid revealed to him the truth about himself and his origins, that he was a wizard and famous throughout the magical world, that his scar, the only thing about himself he had liked growing up, was given to him by the same person who murdered his parents. Armed with this knowledge and little else, Harry plunged wide-eyed and gaping into the wizarding world, willing and eager to learn everything he could about magic, starting a long streak of disobeying the rules to witness magic performed for the first time (see Ron trying to turn his rat yellow or Hagrid use his umbrella to perform basic spells in PS.)
Harry spent his first two years at Hogwarts acclimating himself with this strange, new world. He discovered his natural talent for flying, made his first two friends ever in Ron and Hermione, and tried his best to be “just Harry” instead of the famed “Boy Who Lived” nearly everyone expected him to be. Like his time spent with the Dursleys, Harry remained very reactive to the events around him, trying his best not to stir up any trouble. When Harry did act, as he did by retrieving Neville’s Remembrall from Draco Malfoy and by saving Ginny from the Chamber, it was to help others and, usually, as a last resort. Again, like his time spent with the Dursleys, Harry remained very skeptical and wary of authority figures; he refrained from informing Dumbledore about his, Ron, and Hermione’s suspicions of someone wanting to steal the Philosopher’s Stone and about his hearing the strange voice in CoS until the very last minute. He relied instead on his own abilities, as well as those of Ron and Hermione, to solve his problems and try to save the day.
Harry’s third and fourth years at Hogwarts were all about friends, family, and fame. Harry’s relationships with Ron and Hermione, as well as theirs with each other, faced their first formidable roadblocks during these years. All of the fights occurring between the Trio stemmed from perceived slights to loyalty to each other with a dash of old-fashioned jealousy thrown in for good measure. Harry and Ron clashed with Hermione after they believed Hermione to betray them by telling McGonagall about Harry’s new Firebolt; Ron fought with Harry because he believed Harry didn’t include him in the plan to enter the TriWizard Tournament and Harry fought back with Ron because he believed Ron to be jealous of him and his unwanted fame; Ron bickered with Hermione due to jealousy over her relationship with Victor Krum and Hermione quarreled back with Ron because of his questioning of her loyalty to Harry. In the end, though, the Trio always worked through their differences and reconciled, each reconciliation strengthening the bond between them until the strength of their friendship and feelings for each other was so powerful that it fueled the Patronus Harry used in OotP to save himself and Dudley from the Dementors.
During his third and fourth years, Harry also made strides in overcoming his reticence in trusting authority figures by bonding with Remus Lupin and, later, with Sirius Black. Harry actively sought Remus out for help in combating the Dementors in PoA, and the two grew close during their training sessions. While Remus cared for most, if not all, of his students, he formed a special bond with Harry, one that went a shade beyond the standard teacher-student relationship. Ron remarked upon the special nature of their relationship after Harry first received his Firebolt, theorizing that maybe Remus had been the one to send it to Harry, despite the fact that Remus obviously could not afford such an expensive broom. In turn, Harry came to trust Remus, so much so he felt betrayed when he believed Remus to be in cahoots with Sirius, the man Harry hated most for reportedly betraying his parents. Harry respected Remus, particularly Remus’ own opinion of Harry, and he, out of the Trio, felt the most distressed when Remus left Hogwarts for good at the end of the year after the revelation of his werewolf status.
Harry’s close relationship with Remus served as a precursor to the more familial bond he formed with his newly discovered godfather, Sirius Black. Immediately after learning of Sirius’ innocence, Harry latched onto Sirius as a father figure and agreed to leave the Dursleys to move in with him. Although circumstances prevented the move, Sirius still adopted the role of protector of Harry, keeping tabs on him from afar with the aid of Dumbledore and attempting to help Harry any time he asked for advice. Sirius risked recapture by the Ministry to be close to Harry during the Tri-Wizard Tournament and tried his best to protect him from harm. With Sirius, Harry found an adult he felt comfortable discussing his life with, although he refrained from doing so many times in order to protect Sirius, and someone who had had a close, personal, positive bond with his parents. During these two years at Hogwarts, with the discovery of Sirius as his godfather and the deepening of his relationships with Hermione and Ron, Harry finally found the thing he longed for the most: a family.
In addition to Harry fulfilling his greatest wish of having a family these years, he also successfully dealt with one of the major problems that had plagued him since his re-entry into the wizarding world: his fame and the consequences of having it. The combination of Rita Skeeter and her relentless articles, the Tri-Wizard Tournament and Malfoy’s Potter Stinks badges, and Harry’s falling out with Ron from what Harry believed to be Ron’s jealousy of his “celebrity” status forced Harry to confront head on the full weight of his Boy Who Lived moniker. Without Ron by his side, his notoriety as the Boy Who Lived, notoriety increased exponentially by the tournament, became too much for Harry to handle. His frustration and resentment about who everyone perceived him to be- an attention seeking glory hound- grew until the night before the first task when he snapped and threw a Potter Stinks badge at Ron, yelling that if Ron was lucky he might have a scar of his own now and become famous for it, too. After this breakdown, however, the strain of being the Boy Who Lived vanished. Harry successfully completed the first task of the tournament and reconciled with Ron. With Ron believing in him again, and with most of the school supporting him again, Rita Skeeter’s articles, Malfoy’s badges, and all of the other negative attention directed his way affected Harry very little. He brushed off the gossip and taunting, having accepted it as par for the course but ultimately unimportant, and continued on with life as usual.
By the time the final task of the Tri-Wizard tournament occurred in GoF, Harry’s life had coalesced into something with which he was more or less happy. His friendships with Ron and Hermione were stronger than ever; he’d formed a family of sorts with Sirius Black; he was no longer the ostracized, supposedly fame hungry pariah of Hogwarts; and he’d mostly come to terms with his place in the wizarding world as the Boy Who Lived. Then everything began to fall apart with the death of Cedric Diggory and the return of Lord Voldemort and continued falling apart until the very end, culminating in Sirius’ death in the Department of Mysteries and Dumbledore’s revelation of the prophecy, leaving Harry angry, depressed, and very, very bitter.
From the start of OotP, Harry’s anger and bitterness correlated with his need to be active in and knowledgeable about the fight against Voldemort. The more he felt isolated and in the dark about events unfolding around him, the more Harry felt angry and frustrated. Isolated from Ron, Hermione, and Sirius at Privet Drive and ignorant of what they had been doing since Voldemort’s return, Harry spent his time with the Dursleys oscillating between anger at everyone for failing to inform him of current events, anxiety at what Voldemort might be doing post-resurrection, and relief that he hadn’t yet made a move against the wizarding world. Moving to Grimmauld Place with the rest of the Order only temporarily relieved Harry’s anger; his relegation to simple household duties with Ron, Hermione, Ginny, etc. increased his already potent frustration. Then Fudge’s consistent denial of Voldemort’s return, the news reports speculating on Harry’s mental instability, Dolores Umbridge and her fascist takeover of Hogwarts, Harry’s increasingly hostile Occlumency lessons with Snape, and Dumbledore’s refusal to acknowledge Harry at all fueled Harry’s mounting frustration and bitterness. His rage at his inability to affect forces beyond his control, coupled with his powerful feelings for Sirius and their make-shift family, compelled Harry from Hogwarts on a reckless rescue mission to the Ministry, the results of which caused a complete emotional breakdown in Harry. By then Fudge’s public acknowledgement of Voldemort’s return and Umbridge’s removal from Hogwarts meant little to Harry, not in the light of Sirius’ death and Dumbledore’s betrayal. Reeling from these two events, Harry ended the year feeling isolated from everyone, grief-stricken about Sirius, depressed, angry, bitter, and very apprehensive about the future and what exactly the “do-or-die” portion of the prophecy might mean for him in the coming years.
One of the few bright spots in Harry’s fifth year at Hogwarts concerned the expansion of his small circle of friends and loved ones to include members of the Order and Dumbledore’s Army. Although Harry reluctantly assumed the role of leader of the ragtag band of students forming the DA, by the end of the year, he had earned the respect of all the members, many of whom defended him from a sneak attack from Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle on the Hogwarts Express, and unwavering loyalty from Ron, Hermione, Neville, Ginny, and Luna, all of whom accompanied him on his rescue mission to the Ministry. Harry also made his first foray into dating his fifth year, finally going out with longtime crush Cho Chang. And, although he lost the only person he considered his true family, Harry gained a new sort of family, one who demonstrated how much they cared for him at the end of OotP through their confrontation with the Dursleys. He left for Privet Drive overwhelmed in the face of all of these people standing by him and very grateful for their love, support, and acceptance.
The Youngest Seeker in a Century
Strengths and weakness are such arbitrary categories. The qualities I listed as Harry’s strengths have occasionally proved detrimental to him over the course of the series, and, likewise, his so-called weakness have aided him from time to time. So take the categorizations of Harry’s main characteristics as “strengths” and “weaknesses” with a grain of salt. These are simply, in my opinion, the qualities that make Harry, Harry.
Air rushed through his hair, and his robes whipped out behind him- and in a rush of fierce joy he realized he’d found something he could do without being taught- this was easy, this was wonderful.
Philosopher’s Stone, p. 148
Natural talent: The antithesis of Hermione, who entered the wizarding world armed with as many facts as she could possibly learn from books to counteract her limited experience with magic, Harry relied instead on his instinctive, natural talents to initially navigate the unknown environment thrust upon him at the age of eleven. He demonstrated an uncanny ability to fly in PS, an ability so pronounced that McGonagall made him a member of the Gryffindor Quidditch team his first year, at feat not accomplished by any Hogwarts student for a hundred years. His innate skill in Defense Against the Dark Arts emerged his third year when, under the tutelage of Remus Lupin, Harry successfully cast the Patronus Charm, a charm many adult wizards find impossible to perform, and again his fifth year when he led the members of Dumbledore’s Army to O.W.L. success in DADA. His ability to throw off the Imperius Curse aided him in his graveyard confrontation with Voldemort in GoF. In addition to these, Harry possesses the ability to communicate with snakes and he can sense the thoughts and feelings of the Dark Lord, two skills bestowed upon him by Voldemort himself during Voldemort’s unsuccessful attempt to murder Harry as an infant. While Harry compensated for his initial lack of knowledge about the wizarding world with his studies at Hogwarts, his natural talents continue to play a large part in his successes, both in and out of school.
Quick and accurate judge of character: Lacking any presupposed knowledge of the wizarding world or its prominent families, Harry uses his ability to quickly and accurately judge a person’s character to determine who to trust and who not to trust. Based on how a person treats Harry and others, Harry bases his decision about a person’s character not on their appearance or reputation but on their behavior. So while the Dursleys and Snape treated Harry horribly despite him never having done anything bad to them, and Umbridge and Draco demonstrated bullying behavior and insulted Remus, Hermione, and Ron among others during their first few meetings with Harry, Hagrid, Ron, Ron’s family, Remus Lupin, etc. all accepted Harry for who he is and treated him with respect. Thus, Harry, in turn, liked and accepted Hagrid, Ron, Ron’s family, etc. back and bestowed upon them the same respect. This is not to say that Harry always makes the correct estimations of a person’s character. His initial opinions of Sirius, Hermione, and Luna were less than exemplary, but given enough evidence, he will change his mind about a person as he did with these three.
Desire to be a normal boy: Harry’s greatest wish in life is to be loved and accepted by others and to have a family of his own. He doesn’t want fame or fortune; he’d give up the notoriety of being the Boy Who Lived and the fortune left to him by his parents in a heartbeat if he could have his parents and Sirius back. He’s not particularly ambitious in his studies like Hermione, and he has no need to be successful to distinguish himself from others like Ron. Harry desires nothing more than to be “just Harry” and hates the destiny fate dealt him on Halloween 1981. This desire to be a normal boy keeps Harry grounded in the face of the extraordinary circumstances he lives with day in and day out. He remains relatively unaffected by all of the attention given to him by the press and the general population; the times when all the attention does affect him usually elicits irritation or frustration from Harry. He doesn’t try to be the savior of the wizarding world, relishing in his accomplishments a la Gilderoy Lockhart. When Harry does save people, it’s because, whether by chance or choice, he feels he has to help. In the end, Harry feels himself to be an ordinary boy living an extraordinary life, a life he would give up to live a quiet existence with those he cares for the most: his parents, Sirius, and Ron and Hermione.
Inherent morality: One of Harry’s greatest strengths is his inherent morality and goodness. He defends those, Hagrid, Neville, etc., who cannot defend themselves against their attackers, mainly a bullying Draco Malfoy. And despite all of the hatred and rage Harry feels towards Voldemort, Wormtail, Bellatrix Black, and the rest of the Death Eaters, Harry cannot bring himself to kill any of them. In all of his confrontations with Voldemort, Harry always remained on the defensive, aiming for his survival only instead of Voldemort’s destruction. Still believing Sirius to have betrayed his parents, Harry couldn’t kill him or even harm him once he had him pinned down in the Shrieking Shack, and after Harry learned the truth, that Wormtail was the one to have betrayed his parents to Voldemort, he saved Wormtail’s life from a vengeful Sirius and Remus in favor of incarceration in Azkaban. And while Harry cast the Cruciatus Curse on Bellatrix immediately after Sirius’ death, he didn’t have the necessary desire and darkness within him to make it effective. Harry felt horrified at learning the true nature of the prophecy that he would either have to kill Voldemort or be killed by him, so much so that he kept the true meaning of the prophecy from those closest to him. As Dumbledore told Harry at the end of OotP, this inability to kill Voldemort, Bellatrix, Wormtail, etc., the strength of his heart and his love, is his greatest strength, one Voldemort cannot even begin to understand and one that will ultimately be his undoing.
“COME BACK IN HERE!” [Uncle Vernon] bellowed. “COME BACK AND PUT HER RIGHT!”
But a reckless rage had come over Harry. He kicked his trunk open, pulled out his wand, and pointed it at Uncle Vernon.
Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 30
Rage issues: And you thought Bruce Banner had rage issues. Whether blowing up his Aunt Marge, beating Draco Malfoy to a pulp, or destroying Dumbledore’s office, Harry expresses himself through his rage. He rarely cries when grieving or depressed, and he very rarely discusses his feelings calmly and rationally with others. Instead Harry keeps his feelings bottled up inside until they explode in short, brutal, furious outbursts, sometimes accompanied by the actual destruction of nearby objects (see his systematic demolition of Dumbledore’s office at the end of OotP.) Before Voldemort’s return and Harry’s subsequent isolation between GoF and OotP, Harry retained some control over his anger, reacting only to the most extreme of circumstances, such as the times he blew up Aunt Marge or during his confrontation with Sirius in the Shrieking Shack. After the graveyard confrontation, Harry became much more volatile, expressing the grief, helplessness, and frustration he felt through angry outbursts with anyone and everyone, often taking his anger out on those closest to him. Sirius’ death and Harry’s resulting guilt and depression pushed his already tenuous control of his rage to the breaking point, and he suffered a complete emotional breakdown during his confrontation with Dumbledore, veering from fiery destructive tendencies to cold and calm declarations and back again during the course of their conversation. The confrontation served as an emotional catharsis of sorts for Harry, expelling his rage and leaving raw grief and a hollowed sadness in its wake, and for the moment, Harry seemed to have regained control over his anger. However, it still remains a potent force to be reckoned with in the future and one Harry will have to work hard at controlling.
Disregard for rules and authority figures: From the outset, Harry held very little regard for rules or authority figures. Unlike Hermione who abhors rule breaking, Harry feels no qualms for disobeying authority by breaking the rules if he feels the need to do so. Usually his rule breaking coincides with some quest for the greater good, as it did when he, Ron, and Hermione snuck out after curfew to comfort a grieving Hagrid in PoA or when Harry and co. defied Umbridge by continuing to participate in the DA against her wishes in OotP. Sometimes, however, Harry breaks the rules simply because they don’t suit his own purposes, most notably during PoA when he used his invisibility cloak to sneak out to Hogsmeade after he’d been denied permission by both Fudge and McGonagall. While Harry does feel some guilt over his rule breaking, especially when he gets caught and causes adverse consequences for others, he doesn’t possess Hermione’s overt respect for the rules or for the ones who make them. He consistently clashes with Snape, Umbridge, the Dursleys, and Fudge despite their positions of authority throughout the books, and while he respects Remus, McGonagall, Dumbledore, and the rest of the professors at Hogwarts, he will lie to them if he must. All in all, Harry abides by the rules and the rule makers until he, or the circumstances he finds himself in, choose for him not to, and then he usually feels little guilt or hesitation in committing the rule breaking itself, especially if it’s against an authority figure he despises like Snape or Umbridge.
Secretive: Coinciding with Harry’s reticence to discuss his thoughts and feelings with others, Harry has the tendency to be very secretive, especially when he feels revealing his secret will cause people to view him as weak or helpless. He refrained from telling Ron, Hermione, or Dumbledore about his dream of Voldemort and the ensuing scar pain at the beginning of GoF for fear of looking foolish in his worry about it. When Harry did tell Sirius about his scar pain in a letter, he downplayed the significance of the event to keep up a pretense of being cool, calm, and collected. In CoS, Harry didn’t tell Dumbledore about the strange voices he had been hearing throughout the school for fear of being considered crazy. And in OotP, against Hermione and Ron’s advice, Harry didn’t tell Dumbledore about his dreams of the door, certain that Dumbledore would tell him to stop focusing on the dreams, wanting instead to discover what lay beyond the door. Harry’s tendency to play things close to the vest nearly always comes back to bite him in the ass, sometimes horribly so (see Voldemort’s manipulation of Harry via dreams which resulted in Sirius’ death in OotP,) but Harry continued his trend of secrecy even after the Department of Mysteries incident by keeping the truth about the prophecy from Ron and Hermione. At least until Book Six.
Stubborn: Although Harry will change his opinion about things, as he did with his opinions of Sirius, Hermione, and Luna, occasionally his personal feelings will get in the way and, despite any evidence to the contrary, Harry will refuse to change his stance on a person or an issue. The most evident demonstration of this sort of stubbornness concerns Harry’s feelings for Snape. In spite of Dumbledore’s repeated vouching for Snape and his commitment to Dumbledore, Harry continues to be suspicious of Snape and his motives based on his less than stellar feelings for the Potions Master, feelings which are returned ten fold by Snape himself. These feelings led Harry, Ron, and Hermione to believe it was Snape attempting to steal the Philosopher’s Stone their first year, and they interfered with Harry’s Occlumency lessons in OotP to the point where both Harry and Snape abandoned the lessons so they wouldn’t have to continue meeting each other. The interference of both Harry and Snape’s negative feelings for each other allowed Voldemort to continue manipulating Harry through his dreams, manipulation that inadvertently led to Sirius’ death. Yet strides were made on both sides in OotP in overcoming the animosity between Harry and Snape in order to work together. Snape deceived Umbridge into thinking he gave her real Veritaserum for her interrogation of Harry and then refrained from giving her more during her final confrontation with Harry, and Harry took a chance on Dumbledore’s vouching for Snape and informed him of the vision he saw of Sirius in the Department of Mysteries, an action which resulted in the Order arriving at the Ministry just in the nick of time. So while Harry’s personal feelings may cloud his objectivity, he will set them aside when absolutely necessary.
The Noble and Most Ancient House of Potter
Obviously, since Harry is the protagonist, he interacts with nearly ever character to appear in the books, and it would be cumbersome to analyze his relationship with every witch, wizard, or Muggle he ever met. I concentrated instead on only a few characters and their relationships with Harry, those who have had the biggest impact on his life, good or bad.
The Potters smiled and waved at Harry and he stared hungrily back at them…
Philosopher’s Stone, p. 209
James and Lily Potter: Harry’s knowledge of his parents is limited to a few horrible memories (his own and Snape’s), a couple pictures gathered by Hagrid, the Dursleys’ occasional snide remarks, and various anecdotes from people who knew James and Lily that always seem to mention how much Harry looks like his father save for his eyes, which are his mother’s. Yet James and Lily are undoubtedly the biggest influence on Harry and his life. His greatest desire in life, to have a family, stems from their deaths, as well as his less than ideal stay with the Dursleys, and, as the Mirror of Erised showed in PS, the family Harry desires is his own. He wants to be reunited with his parents, and the few times he has reunited with them, due to the Mirror of Erised and his GoF confrontation with Voldemort, were some of the most bittersweet of his life.
The deaths of James and Lily also shaped how Harry views Voldemort. Because of the attack on the Hollow, Harry’s hatred of Voldemort is a very personal one and not one stemming from some abstract knowledge of the horrible acts he committed. Because of this Harry does not consider Voldemort to be some larger than life villain, one whose own name cannot even be said aloud. To Harry, he is simply a murderer, the person who took everything away from him as a child. This realistic view of Voldemort combined with Harry growing up away from the mystification of the Dark Lord and his evils help Harry control his fear and successfully survive four different encounters with Voldemort over the course of the series.
His parents’ legacy also influences Harry’s personality, specifically his moral code. In PoA, Harry spared Wormtail’s life because he believed it was what his father would have done. Harry’s ideal vision of who his parents were inform who Harry thinks he should be and how he should act, and when he discovers in OotP that his parents were like everyone else and had flaws and made mistakes, the knowledge rattled him. Harry feels so disturbed by Snape’s memory of his father’s callous cruelty and his mother’s hatred of his father than he risked Umbridge’s wrath to contact Sirius for an explanation. His attitude concerning his parents shifted somewhat after the incident in Snape’s pensieve, shifting from an idealistic representation to a more realistic estimation, but the new knowledge did nothing to lessen that fact that Harry’s greatest wish was still to be reunited with his parents.
“I’m warning you,” [Vernon] said, putting his large purple face right up close to Harry’s, “I’m warning you now, boy- any funny business, any at all- and you’ll be in that cupboard from now until Christmas.”
Philosopher’s Stone, p. 24
The Dursleys: Aside from the legacy of Harry’s parents, the Dursleys have had the biggest influence in shaping Harry’s life. Unlike James and Lily, however, whom Harry grew up wanting to emulate, the Dursleys represented everything Harry never wanted to be. Growing up with Vernon and Dudley’s bullying influenced Harry’s aversion to the behavior, an aversion most noted during Harry’s first year rejection of Draco Malfoy, who reminded Harry strongly of Dudley. And Petunia’s habit of gossiping no doubt influenced Harry’s dislike for his fame and all the talk it generated, especially by Rita Skeeter and her Daily Prophet articles. Harry rejected the Dursleys habit of judging someone based on their appearance or genetics instead basing his opinions on people by how they behaved toward him and others. Harry also dismissed the Dursleys fixation on appearance and material possessions, not caring very much about having a lot of money or having the best objects money could buy, valuing family and friends more than possessions.
Although Harry hated living with the Dursleys and wished to be nothing like them, their treatment of him did have an impact on his personality. Harry learned to be wary of authority figures from his time spent at Privet Drive, and his reticence to ask others, specifically adults, for answers and advice was conditioned in him early by Vernon and Petunia. While living with the Dursleys, Harry attempted to live under their radar, living life reactively instead of proactively, a behavior he continued to practice up to and throughout OotP.
“What?” Harry gasped. “They’ve got… they’ve got Ron?”
“The thing Harry Potter will miss the most, sir!” squeaked Dobby.
Goblet of Fire, p. 491
Ron Weasley: Harry’s best and first friend, Ron is the first person of Harry’s age to learn Harry’s identity and accept him for who he is instead of for what his name is. And this, to Harry, means everything, for his fame and his scar mean nothing to him but misery and pain. Ron quickly becomes Harry’s partner in crime, showing him the ropes of the wizarding world, aiding him in all of his adventures, good or bad. And Harry, in turn, becomes Ron’s first real friend outside of his family, someone who doesn’t care if he’s poor or sixth in the line of accomplished Weasley children. Their friendship helps Ron distinguish himself from his older brothers and helps Harry maintain some semblance of normalcy in a world where he’s been famous since infancy, and it provides both boys with someone who accepts the other without reservation or hidden motivations.
Although the two rarely talk about their feelings with each other, they share an intimate connection with one another, one present from their very first meeting on the Hogwarts Express. Their connection grows over the course of the series with Ron becoming Harry’s number one defender and protector and, according to the Tri-Wizard Tournament’s second task, the person Harry cares for the most. Like most friendships, theirs has its share of arguments, the most notable one being, of course, the misunderstanding over Harry’s entry into the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and the loss of the friendship during this separation hits both boys hard. Following the ease in which the two entered into their friendship, their reconciliation is similarly effortless, without big apologies or declarations of wrongdoing, accomplished through a simple statement of fact and a few nervous grins. Their friendship post-reconciliation becomes stronger than ever with Ron, along with Hermione, becoming the memory Harry used to fight off Dementors in OotP, and Ron’s loyalty to Harry became so implicit and without the need for any sort of justification that Ron accompanied Harry to the Department of Mysteries on the slimmest of supporting evidence. The two provide one another with support, loyalty, companionship, and simple acceptance of the other person based not on their families or reputations but on who they are as people.
“Are you insane?” said Harry, his voice easily as croaky as Black’s. “Of course I want to leave the Dursleys! Have you got a house? When can I move in?”
Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 379
Sirius Black: To Harry, Sirius always represented family. Before Harry knew of Sirius’ innocence in betraying his parents, Sirius represented the forces that separated Harry from his parents and was the person Harry hated the most for their deaths. Then after the confrontation at the Shrieking Shack, Sirius symbolized a new start for Harry, a new family for him to be a part of, and Harry embraced the notion, as well as Sirius, with open arms. In Sirius, Harry found someone he could confide in and ask advice from without any of the reservations previously seen in his relationships with Lupin, Dumbledore, or Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. Harry considered Sirius to be a father figure and cared for him more than anyone else, attempting to protect Sirius as much as Sirius tried to protect him, and Sirius’ death in the Department of Mysteries, a death Harry believed himself to have caused, destroyed Harry. He cast his first Unforgivable Curse as a consequence of Sirius’ death and, when Voldemort fused himself with Harry to confront Dumbledore, Harry wished for Dumbledore to kill them both so that the pain he felt from Sirius’ death would end. Sirius’ death left Harry disconnected from the world, depressed, bitter, angry at himself and at Dumbledore, and, above everything else, nearly overwhelmed with grief. Only Luna Lovegood’s words about seeing Sirius, and his parents, again beyond the veil, in addition to the Order’s final confrontation with the Dursleys, provided Harry with any sort of comfort in his grief.
“I cared about you too much,” said Dumbledore simply. “I cared more for your happiness than your knowing the truth…”
Order of the Phoenix, p. 838
Albus Dumbledore: The classic mentor figure, much of Dumbledore’s impact on Harry occurred behind the scenes, so to speak, without Harry’s knowledge. Dumbledore’s various decisions concerning Harry and how his life should be lived impacted Harry’s life more than anything else, save for Voldemort himself and his killing of James and Lily. It was Dumbledore who placed Harry with the Dursleys and bound him to them through the blood protection magic. It was Dumbledore who attempted to give Harry as normal a life as possible by withholding many of the answers to Harry’s questions, questions about his scar and its connection to Voldemort, questions about why Voldemort wanted to kill Harry in the first place, and, most importantly, questions about why he couldn’t kill Harry when he tried. As he stated in OotP, Dumbledore cared more about Harry’s happiness than his knowing the truth, but without these answers, especially without further elaboration on his scar and its connection to Voldemort, Harry had little hesitation in abandoning his Occlumency lessons with Snape, allowing Voldemort to manipulate Harry into charging half-cocked into the Department of Mysteries to save a non-existent Sirius. Dumbledore’s reticence in telling Harry the truth resulted in more pain and misery for Harry than he would have possibly felt had Dumbledore revealed the truth earlier.
Prior to the Department of Mysteries debacle, Harry respected Dumbledore and his opinion of him; he felt guilty for lying to Dumbledore about hearing the Basilisk in CoS and worried about his removal from Hogwarts in both CoS and OotP. But Harry’s anger and bitterness about Sirius’ death and Dumbledore’s part in it, about Dumbledore’s lies by omission about the prophecy and its implications, clouded Harry’s feelings for the Headmaster, leaving the two on shaky ground at the end of OotP.
“And notice this, Harry. [Voldemort] chose, not the pureblood (which, according to his creed, is the only kind of wizard worth being or knowing), but the half-blood, like himself. He saw himself in you before he had ever seen you…”
Order of the Phoenix, p. 842
Lord Voldemort: Undoubtedly the person who has had the biggest impact on Harry’s life. Without Voldemort, there would be no Harry Potter as we now know him. Without Voldemort, Harry would have grown up in a normal wizarding family with both of his parents, his godfather Sirius, and his “uncles” Remus and Peter by his side, and the Dursleys would be nothing more than a bad memory of Lily’s. But because Voldemort chose Harry over Neville as the boy most likely to fulfill the prophecy as he knew it then, as the baby born in July to parents who had thrice defied him would have the power to defeat him, Harry Potter became Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived. Without Voldemort, Harry would be the very thing he longs for the most: a normal boy with a loving family.
But Harry is not a normal boy with a loving family. He is a boy with no family, unusual powers, unwanted fame, a wicked scar, an epic archenemy, and a mythic destiny entangled with that of Voldemort himself, a destiny that proclaims that “either [Harry or Voldemort] must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.” Because Voldemort chose Harry, the two became intimately connected, sharing many of the same powers, possessing eerily similar backgrounds as orphaned half-blood wizards, both with the ability to sense the thoughts and emotions of the other. By killing James and Lily and attempting to kill Harry, an action which fulfilled the section of the prophecy wherein Voldemort would mark the chosen one as his “equal,” Voldemort provided Harry with a purpose and a destiny, one very much unwanted and resented by Harry but his nonetheless. And Harry, in turn, stands as the only defense between Voldemort and his complete domination of the wizarding world, armed with many of the Dark Lord’s own powers, intimate knowledge of Voldemort’s thoughts and feelings, and possessing the one entity sure to defeat the darkest wizard in a hundred years: love.
Beyond the Veil
So what keeps me interested in Harry? What keeps me re-reading the books and re-watching the movies time and time again? What keeps me searching for more and more fanfic to read, expanding my Harry-Draco love to include Harry-Ron and Harry-Luna and Harry-Pansy and so many other ship combinations? In the end, it’s the fact that Harry is so gut-wrenchingly normal. He doesn’t want anything to do with this mythic prophecy declaring him to be either a murderer or a victim. He hates Voldemort for taking his parents away from him, but his desire to be reunited with his parents, his desire to have a family of his own, supercedes that of exacting revenge on Voldemort. I love that despite all of Harry’s rage issues he doesn’t have it in him to kill Wormtail or Voldemort or even cast a proper Cruciatus Curse on Bellatrix Black. I love that he can’t string two words together around Cho Chang, and when he finally does speak to her, he's beyond bewildered at her emotional behavior. I love that he befriends all of the outcasts in society, Hagrid and Lupin, Hermione and Luna, Sirius and Krum. And, above everything else, I love the fact that in spite of, or maybe because of, all of the strange, wondrous, and extraordinary circumstances he finds himself in, in spite of all of the special abilities he possesses and the mythic destiny dealt to him by fate, Harry considers himself to be “just Harry,” a normal boy in an abnormal world, doing his best stay out of trouble even when trouble always seems to find him.
I though linking to all of the Harry Potter/Whomever manifestos in ship_manifesto would be an easier way of providing fic recs than me trying to search for good fics from every possible ship pairing. Plus if you like a certain pairing and have not read their manifesto yet, you should do so (and leave the essay author some feedback, too *grins*)
- Severus Snape and Harry Potter
- Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter
- Zacharias Smith and Harry Potter
- Remus Lupin and Harry Potter
- Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Harry Potter
- Ron Weasley and Harry Potter
Other website links:
- Switchknife's Slash Recs : An extensive slash recommendation with lots of recs for Harry/Draco, Harry/Snape, Harry/Ron, and other lesser known pairings.
- Potter Slash Archive : A fic archive of nearly every conceivable pairing featuring Harry or James Potter.
I don't know any links to good Harry/Female Character websites, but I linked to a few search engines that should lead to some quality fic archives.
- Top Harry Potter Sites
- HPANA's Top Sites
As always, feedback is a wonderful and much appreciated thing.