*Disclaimer: The following is based on how the characters are depicted in the Harry Potter book series, not in the movies.
When I initially decided to embark on this Harry Potter Character Analysis series, I did so for two reasons. The first is that the series did an excellent job in developing a variety of truly memorable, complex, and nuanced people. The second is that analyzing the series itself would have been pointless without delving into the many personalities which helped make the series iconic. Though I chose to focus on my top 13, the series was overflowing with both main and supporting characters who all became irreplaceable to readers. And now we’ve reached the finish line: Harry Potter himself!
What was so special about Harry Potter? What made this abused orphan boy so important? Everything and nothing. There was nothing special about Harry’s appearance, his level of intelligence, his physical strength, or his magical ability. But his experiences with and reactions to the people in his life are what make Harry above average, what gives him that little… magic (pun intended) to vanquish evil and come out a hero.
Harry’s cousin, Dudley, taught him what it feels like to be bullied. His experiences with Dudley didn’t poison Harry and make him want to become an abuser to others, however. Instead, they taught Harry the value of kindness, and having grown up friendless, he learned how to value his friends when he finally did have them. He learned the value of loyalty gained from love and trust rather than posturing and intimidation. Harry’s aunt and uncle taught him that all adults aren’t worthy of trust or respect, that they are capable of abusing their authority, and that they definitely don’t have all the answers. This lesson in particular proved invaluable as Harry met many such untrustworthy, and far more sinister, adults throughout the series. Had he naively believed that everyone older was inherently wiser and had his best interests at heart, our protagonist, and the series, would have died early on.
Dobby taught Harry to care about those less privileged than himself. No matter how persecuted or disadvantaged one might feel, there are people who have it worse, and while that doesn’t make our personal circumstances less valid, we should always keep this in mind so that we might treat others with compassion. At Hogwarts, Harry wasn’t a poor, abused orphan. He was a wealthy, full-blood wizard, and a celebrity. This gave him the power to give a platform to the marginalized, to be an advocate for their rights. Though it took a bit of prodding on Hermione’s part to get him there, Harry grew to see Dobby as more than a house elf, but also as both an ally and a friend. His burial of Dobby was a moment which will resonate with readers forever. Having Dobby in his life gave Harry a greater tenderness and empathy. Seeing the world through the lens of a slave helped keep Harry humble.
Fred and George Weasley made Harry resourceful. The twins were the epitome of ingenuity! Though poor, they were also brilliant and creative. Fred and George were determined to make their dreams come true and found an unexpected solution to nearly every hurdle they encountered. Their influence encouraged Harry to think outside the box, to not become discouraged when the odds seemed insurmountable and to never give up, no matter how many adults in his life might be standing in his way.
Hagrid taught Harry that there’s more to most situations than meets the eye. Harry’s half-giant friend was largely discriminated against because of socially acceptable bigotry. Hagrid was far and away more honest, kind, and dependable than the people judging him, and the wild beasts whom he loved were usually just as misunderstood as he was. Often in the Harry Potter series, it was those who were widely respected and seemed to have it all together who were the most deadly; Lucius Malfoy was a perfect example of this. Draco Malfoy taught Harry that merely having a family isn’t good enough. The quality of that family was of the utmost importance. A person needs a healthy, happy, supportive, and safe family if they’re ever to be happy with themselves and their lives. Draco’s family didn’t just instill in him toxic, oppressive ideologies, but their affiliation with the Death Eaters endangered his life.
Neville taught Harry that courage can come from the most unexpected sources, and that no one is too insignificant to make a difference. Ron and Hermione’s endless loyalty to Harry were invaluable, but so was Neville’s. Though not one of his closest friends, Neville knew right from wrong and didn’t need any accolades in order to do the right thing. Ron gave Harry the first real friend he’d ever had, the first relationship where he wasn’t weighed, measured, and found lacking. In Ron, Harry found the brother (and an extended family) that he’d never had, and in Hermione, he found a sister, who happened to be a genius, but it was Neville who reminded him how valuable a person’s entire network can be.
Professor Dumbledore taught Harry to expect the best and prepare for the worst. He gave Harry the tools he needed to succeed both as a wizard, and as a compassionate human being. Dumbledore gave Harry a mentor who was worthy of respect and trust. Professor Snape taught Harry (and readers alike) that an ally is anyone who is fighting for the same cause that you are. Allies do not have to be friends, or to even like one another, but allyship is a matter of action, that true allies will live their convictions, regardless of ego-driven personal feelings.
Lord Voldemort taught Harry to be brave, to know that the odds are bad but go into battle anyway, to do what you have to because the alternative is unthinkable. Harry knew what this evil wizard was capable of, and because Lord Voldemort was such a calculating, highly intelligent enemy, it forced Harry to be strong, vigilant, and use every resource at his disposal to rid the world of this great evil. Lord Voldemort also inadvertently gave Harry his ability to speak Parseltongue. In trying to murder him as an infant, Lord Voldemort only ended up bestowing upon his greatest enemy yet another tool with which to destroy him.
In the Harry Potter series, we learn that Harry isn’t really just Harry. Harry, like most of us, is a compilation of the people who’ve had the most profound impact on his life, whether it be for the better, or for the worst. Harry is a direct result of the people he knew, and his actions and reactions towards them. With every friend, ally, enemy, and instigator, Harry grew wiser, braver, and more worthy to hold the title of hero. Harry Potter wasn’t a hero because he was extraordinary, but because he was imperfectly human, and constantly striving to be better. Harry Potter is the hero lying dormant in so many fans of the series, the one whom we can only hope to be courageous enough to share with the world if we are ever called to be brave.