The New Ship at the Heart of Harry Potter

by DemenTom

An Armada of Ships

I love the relationship aspects of Harry Potter. When I say this, however, I am not just talking about the dating relationships. I am talking about the full spectrum of relationships: friends, enemies, rivals, teachers and students, learners and mentors, parents and children, siblings, friends of friends, friends of enemies, government and the governed, unhappy families, happy families, and, of course, romantic relationships. There is an old bromide in storytelling that it doesn’’t matter how much plot or imagination you have in a story if no one cares about the characters; people care a lot about the characters in Harry Potter. What makes a character sympathetic (or unsympathetic) is the nature of his or her relationships with others.

Here are examples of the types of relationships I mention above; I don’t pretend to list all of the examples and there are other types — this list is by no means exhaustive.

  • Friends: Harry, Ron, and Hermione; Fred, George, and Lee Jordan; Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan; James, Sirius, and Remus
  • Enemies: James and Snape; Sirius and Snape; Harry and Draco; Voldemort and everybody else
  • Rivals: Harry and Cedric; Harry and Dean (for Ginny); Ron and Cormac; Quidditch teams
  • Teachers and Students: Harry and McGonagall; Harry and Lupin; Hermione and McGonagall; Harry and Trelawney; Harry and Hagrid; Hermione and Hagrid; Draco and Snape
  • Learners and Mentors: Harry and Hagrid; Harry and Sirius; Harry and Dumbledore; Hagrid and Dumbledore
  • Parents and Children: James, Lily, and Harry; the Weasleys and their children; the Dursleys and Dudley; Ms. Finnegan and Seamus; Frank, Alice, and Neville
  • Siblings: A huge number of combinations of Weasley kids with each other, notably Ron and Ginny, Ron with Fred and George, Ginny and Bill, and Fred and George with Percy; Sirius and Regulus; Parvati and Padma; the Creevey brothers; Narcissa and Bellatrix
  • Friends of Friends: Harry and Ginny’s friend, Michael Corner; Harry and Cho’s friend, Marietta
  • Friends of Enemies: Harry with Draco’s friends, Crabbe and Goyle; Snape with James’ and Sirius’ friend, Lupin
  • Government and The Governed: Fudge and Dumbledore; Fudge and Harry; Umbridge and everybody; Scrimgeour and Harry
  • Unhappy Families: Sirius and the Blacks; Harry and the Dursleys; the Snapes; the Gaunts
  • Happy Families: The Weasleys (except Percy); the Diggorys, before Cedric’s death; the Potters, before Lily and James’ deaths
  • Romantic Relationships: Harry/Cho; Harry/Ginny; Hermione/Krum; Ron/Lavender; Ron/Hermione; Ginny/Dean; Tonks/Lupin, etc.; also, don’t forget these: James/Lily; Molly/Arthur; even Vernon/Petunia

As you might expect with a series of books entitled Harry Potter and the…, Harry has had every type of relationship possible within the six books to date.

As many people have noticed, Half-Blood Prince is unusually heavy on relationships. I think this serves two purposes, ultimately. First of all, it sets in place the character motivations necessary for the rest of the plot to unfold logically. Second of all, it has created the “ship” necessary to see us through to the end of the story.

That “ship” is leadership.

A friend of mine told me that he didn’t see any way for the forces of good to triumph now that Dumbledore was gone. Who, he asked, could possibly fill the leadership vacuum now that Dumbledore is gone? The answer seemed obvious to me: Harry.

I mentioned in my last editorial that Harry has gradually taken on Dumbledore’’s characteristics as a leader. Let’s examine what those characteristics are, and how they may manifest themselves in Book 7.

The A.P.W.B. Dumbledore School of Leadership

Certain characteristics of Dumbledore’’s have been amazingly consistent over the series, although many of them have been revealed in the smallest possible details. Many of these, I think, are characteristics any great leader would need to have.

Always be polite. Treat everyone, even your enemies, with respect.

Dumbledore is polite to everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY. He is polite to Alecto and Amycus in HBP. He is polite to Umbridge and Fudge when they are trying to throw him out of his own school in OotP. He’s even polite to Voldemort when they battle in the Ministry of Magic in that same book. He is kind to animals, friend to misfits, willing to pay house-elves if they want it. He is a friend to centaurs, merpeople, and even giants. The friendship with giants is particularly illustrative; when he sends Hagrid and Madam Maxime to the giants, it is with instructions to follow the customs of the giants in their dealings with them, in other words, to be polite as the giants understand that term.

In OotP, Harry finds it almost impossible to keep his temper with Umbridge. By HBP, Harry is maintaining his calm and politeness in dealing with the new Minister of Magic, even when he finds out Umbridge is still employed. Harry has grown a lot in his appreciation of and respect for the outcast members of his group. People like Neville and Luna answered Harry’s call, at least partially, because of the respect they have for him and the respect they know he has for them.

Listen to people.

Dumbledore definitely listens. He listens to his staff, his students, and anyone else who has something to tell him. This can be seen as an extension of his politeness, but it is something more: he listens because it is only in that way that he can learn certain things. Like Hermione (and Harry at times) he has a good ear for hearing exactly what people are saying, and that ability often aids him in sifting through complex mysteries. He realizes that Voldemort has created a Horcrux from Harry’s description of Riddle’s diary; he realizes there are probably more than one Horcrux from Voldemort’s comments about “going further, perhaps, then anyone on the path to immortality.”

Harry has learned to listen better, as well. In OotP, he demanded action when he thought Sirius was in jeopardy at the Ministry, and raged and stormed at Hermione when she suggested caution. By HBP, he is convinced he is right about Malfoy, but much more willing to listen to Ron and Hermione when they suggest there may be nothing in it. He turns out to be right, of course, but his willingness to listen has increased considerably.

Don’t be afraid to be unpopular.

Dumbledore did not shy from telling the truth about Voldemort, even when it resulted in his dismissal from his positions on the Wizengamot and in the International Confederation of Wizards. His comment to Harry in HBP that they try not to “sink beneath the weight of their grief, but carry on” was a humorous reference to something Dumbledore knows, and that now Harry knows: you can’t be afraid to be unpopular if you are going to be a leader. Dumbledore explicitly makes the point in GoF when he tells Hagrid that he gets owls every day criticizing his running of the school, and that if you are holding out for universal approbation, you will we be waiting a very long time.

This characteristic is kind of the flip side of Dumbledore’’s politeness principle: treat people with respect, but treat issues without regard to consequences for yourself. People respect that. Harry knows better, by now, than to let people’s mutterings about him bother him. Whether it is about Quidditch (i.e., Seamus and Dean or the unchosen members of the team), or about things the newspapers say about him, he has learned you can’t make important decisions and not be unpopular with a lot of people.

Don’’t be afraid to make decisions.

Leadership is a job, not a privilege; Dumbledore doesn’’t lead because he enjoys telling people what to do (like Voldemort), he leads because he can do it well. When you are in charge, however, you have to make decisions and live with the consequences. We see for the first time at the end of OotP how even Dumbledore can come to regret decisions he has made; he regrets not telling Harry sooner the nature of the prophecy.

By the end of HBP, Harry has organized an impromptu defense of the school using the D.A., sacrificing the rest of the Felix Felicis potion for what he is sure will be an attack on the school by Malfoy and the Death Eaters. He makes the decision and the rest of them follow his lead — and a good thing they did, too, or Greyback may have been able to wreak some havoc with the students before Harry and Dumbledore came back.

Stay busy. Work hard.

Dumbledore is a genius, of course, but he also works very hard. Think about it, he…:

  • …was Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot (i.e., a judge)
  • …was Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation Of Wizards (i.e., the wizard version of the U.N. leader)
  • …was Headmaster of Hogwart’s school of Witchcraft and Wizardry (i.e., he runs a large school)
  • …found time to do research and development in alchemy and the uses of dragon’s blood (i.e., a scientist)
  • …was the founder and leader of the Order or the Phoenix, a dedicated Dark wizard opponent (he ran his own spy ring)

Harry has always been willing to work hard when under pressure (i.e., leading up to Tri-Wizard tasks, or O.W.L.’s, etc.). In HBP, he works diligently as Quidditch captain, in classes, in private lessons with Dumbledore, and with running his own house-elf spy ring organization to try to find out what Malfoy is up to. Harry stays very busy and still manages to find time for Ginny. He works hard.

Trust people. Believe in them.

Dumbledore goes to great lengths along these lines. The list of people he trusts that others wouldn’t is considerable: Hagrid, Snape, Filch, Mundungus, Malfoy. The last name is interesting in this regard: during OotP, when all of the characters were asking, “Why didn’t Dumbledore make Harry a prefect?” my question was: “Why did Dumbledore make Malfoy a prefect?” I think we get the answer in HBP: Dumbledore even believes in Malfoy.

Harry has come to realize the value of believing in people like Neville and Luna, and they haven’t let him down. The degree to which Harry will have to trust others has yet to be put to its ultimate test, but when it comes down to it, I believe he will. He has learned this lesson from Dumbledore over and over. Harry himself was very touched by the degree to which Dumbledore trusts him in HBP.

Know your enemy.

Dumbledore’s last lesson for Harry: understand what you are up against. When it comes down to it, Harry knows more about what makes Voldemort tick than vice-versa. He knows where Voldemort comes from, what motivates him, and what he has been trying to do. I would have to guess that Voldemort will come after Harry early and often in Book 7, especially given that Dumbledore is gone.

The Final Requirement

Voldemort has some fanatical followers, but no friends; uses only the worst in people; motivates by fear, intimidation, or direct control; and ultimately wants the Wizarding world completely selfishly. He trusts no one, lies to his closest followers, and uses people. He is a totally loveless character, and he doesn’’t “lead,” he dictates.

Harry has many, many friends. He leads by example, by doing what is right, by being courageous and decisive, and does what needs to be done regardless of consequences. He trusts people, tells the truth, and worries more about others than himself. Harry has had many of these characteristics almost from the beginning in bits and flashes; others he has learned only gradually and recently.

In the end, it may prove that the love Harry needs to defeat Voldemort is not only the love he feels, but the love he inspires.