Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!

Jul 31, 2017

Posted by: Dawn Johnson

Character Birthdays, Fandom, Fans, J.K. Rowling

In recent years, the fandom has often downplayed Harry Potter’s strengths in favor of analyzing his flaws. Eventually, we also downplayed his contribution to the victory over Voldemort in favor of praising his friends. Somehow, the trend gave rise to the sentiment that hailing Harry as the hero of the story diminished the roles of Ron and Hermione or the incredible bravery and leadership of Neville, Ginny, and others. But, in exchanging one emphasis for another, we may have forgotten why Rowling constructed the story as she did.

Defeating Voldemort required sacrifices on every corner of the battlefield, not just Harry’s, and it’s absolutely important to recognize that. Harry could not have accomplished what he did without the courageous acts of every single wizard who stood beside him along the way, many of whom refused to back down even as they faced their final moments. In the same way, ridding the world of Voldemort required that Harry make the decisions he made, and that is worth remembering and celebrating as well. They truly go hand in hand.

On his 37th birthday, let’s remember what inspired us when we first met the Boy Who Lived–what made us cheer and laugh and cry as we turned every page with him. He was a hero to us then–and still is. We can claim that and still love our other favorites, too. First and foremost, because Harry would be the first to give them all the credit they’re due. So, why not extend some in return?

1) He could have capitalized on his fame, but he didn’t.

Harry was never the arrogant hero Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape thought him to be. He could have used his name and renown to get all the attention and status he had long been deprived of, but he didn’t. Upon his first inkling that Draco’s interest in him was primarily about “knowing the right people,” Harry immediately declined the offer of friendship. And though he deeply desired to prove himself, to live up to his legacy and demonstrate that his parents’ sacrifice was not for naught, he wasn’t about to do that at the expense of his sense of right and wrong. He wanted to be his own wizard, and he wanted to do it with integrity, so he begged the Sorting Hat not to place him in Slytherin, lest he be tempted to let his ambitions run wild.


Move forward a few years to Hogwarts’ hosting of the Triwizard Tournament. While the Weasley twins were busy plotting ways to circumvent Dumbeldore’s age line so they could be named champions and partake of all the excitement, daring, and prestige that came along with it, Harry was content to watch from the sidelines. He had been involved in enough exploits already, and he had no wish to take the opportunity for acclaim from those he felt more worthy or deserving. When his name burst forth from the fiery cup, he was legitimately surprised, agreeing to participate only because it was magically binding.


At every turn Harry could have worn his name and his accomplishments like badges of honor, but he didn’t. He could have flaunted his gold and celebrated his triumph, not to mention his second escape from the most infamous dark wizard of all time. But he didn’t.


Then, when the Battle of Hogwarts was finally over, rather than take on the mantle of most powerful wizard, Harry used the elder wand in his possession to repair his own. He relinquished the legacy and legend he might have claimed, exchanging it for a far humbler one, a life in which he could simply live and love, need and be needed.

2) When he was called upon to act, he never backed down.

We were inspired by Harry because, though he had every reason–and many opportunities–to walk away from the fight, to say he had given or lost too much, he didn’t. He pressed on. He put himself on the line and made decision after decision to stay.

After Cedric died and Voldemort returned, Harry could have given into the fear that plagued many in the wizarding world. He could have said the cause was hopeless and refused to entertain the idea of Dumbledore’s Army, let alone lead it. But he didn’t do that. Though it was painful and exhausting and he fully recognized that his successes were always made possible by the help and support of other gifted witches and wizards, he did for his classmates what others had done for him. He instilled confidence in them. He gave them practical instruction. He gave them the gritty, tough advice no one else was willing to offer. He gave them hope. If you’re wondering where Neville learned how to believe in himself and be an effective leader, look no further.


After Sirius died, Harry could have told Dumbledore that he had no interest in his crazy plans, most of which Dumbledore hardly ever explained. He could have refused to join the Slug Club, where he pretended to be far more ambitious than he was. And when Dumbledore fell from the Astronomy tower and Harry believed Snape to be the worst of traitors, he could have decided all was lost, refusing to complete a mission for which he felt woefully unprepared. But he didn’t.


When he withdrew from the pensieve in Dumbledore’s office, at long last privy to the fullness of Dumbledore’s plan, he could have quietly left the castle, thinking to himself that the man he had trusted implicitly had finally asked for too much. But he didn’t. He walked into the Forbidden Forest accepting, believing, that victory depended upon his choosing every step, even if it meant he would not live to see it.


All of the bloodshed and the bravery and the unwavering support of his friends would have amounted to nothing, if he had been unwilling to lay down his life for them. His willing sacrifice killed the horcrux within and severed the connection with Voldemort, also extending magical protection to the friends who remained, ready to fight on to the end.

3) He did not let tragedy and loss define him.

Harry’s formative years were spent in loneliness and seclusion, yet he did not give in to resentment or bitterness. He did not take the opportunity to bully in return when the tables were turned, though he suddenly found himself possessed of unexpected skill and success. Rather, he warmly embraced two friends who might have seemed unusual choices to others in the wizarding world. One was from the poorest of wizarding families and the other from a muggle family of no consequence, but to Harry, they were family.


To be sure, Harry’s journey was not a smooth one, and he did not always bear his hardships with grace, he did not allow them to paralyze him into inaction either. Much has been made of his difficult 15th year–the angst, the whining, the complaining. But fans would do well to remember that he had been thrust into the spotlight following a horrific encounter with Voldemort, one which a good portion of the wizarding world refused to acknowledge, calling him out as a liar.


Then, while he had to stand up under the burden of having Cedric’s memory tarnished and his own integrity questioned, Dumbledore refused to counsel with or comfort him, his friends seemed to avoid him, and he was assigned extra sessions with the teacher who loathed him. If that were not enough, the Ministry of Magic liaison to the school saw fit to torture him for refusing to rescind his statements and having the gall to stand up to her. And in the midst of all that, remember, he patiently taught his classmates Defense Against the Dark Arts, because they needed him to.


It wasn’t a comfortable part of Harry’s story to read, but it was a pivotal part, because his choice to persevere through it, in spite of frustration and moments of immaturity, said so much about his character and what it would be– foreshadowing for us the steely determination with which he would approach the coming obstacles in his path.

4) He wasn’t just The Boy Who Lived. (Though he is.)

All of these points have a common thread–choice. Harry wasn’t just a boy who happened to survive a tragic event. He wasn’t just a boy that lived. He was a boy who lived. Dumbledore once wisely said to him, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Harry was naturally adept at flying and Defense Against the Dark Arts, able to master many spells that challenged older wizards. But his heroism had far more to do with how he chose to use those abilities, how he also knew his weaknesses and depended on others’ strengths, and how he responded to his circumstances, than anything else.

There are MANY heroes worthy of note in the Harry Potter series, but in honor of his birthday, let’s remember just how remarkable Harry Potter himself is and celebrate a life now punctuated by the words, “All was well.”


The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.