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Much Stronger Together than Apart

The Trio in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

--J.K. Rowling, Chamber of Secrets DVD Interivew

By Mara Cohen

Page One | Page Two | Page Three
Read the archived discussion this essay here.

Traditional adventure stories seem to call for one main hero: a flawless, all-powerful character whose associates are never more than sidekicks. Comic-book stars like Batman and Superman don’t need their companions: Robin and Lois Lane exist to give the hero someone to talk to and, usually, someone to rescue. Detectives like Sherlock Holmes aren’t really helped by their respective Watsons, who remain in the dark until the end of the story; the “Watson” is there to keep the hero from constantly talking to himself, to give the reader a point of identification, and to make the detective look even more brilliant by comparison.

Many adventure heroes have few if any weaknesses and their companions are sidekicks: characters that add color and interest to the story but don’t really aid the hero in any substantive way. The concept of the Harry Potter “Trio,” therefore, is rather wonderful: three best friends whose strengths and weaknesses balance one another’s, and a hero who wouldn’t be as much of a hero without the others. Because Harry differs so much from that traditional “perfect” hero, his critics both within the books and outside them often fault him as being inadequate, observing that without the help he gets from his friends he would never succeed, as Severus Snape points out in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:

Of course, it became apparent to me very quickly that [Harry] had no extraordinary talent at all. He has fought his way out of a number of tight corners by a simple combination of sheer luck and more talented friends. He is mediocre to the last degree…1

Many critics of the series have the same complaint: that Harry isn’t a “traditional” hero. To fans, though, this is the quality that makes the Harry Potter series so eminently enjoyable. It doesn’t have a perfect (perfectly boring!) hero attended to by adoring-but-useless sidekicks. Harry is a real, flawed, interesting character whose friends play a vital role in his life and in the plot. Readers get a three-for-one deal with Harry, Ron and Hermione—together they add up to so much more than a single “hero,” even a hero-with-sidekicks. Each of them has the inherent abilities and inadequacies that make their characters real. Working together, they bolster one another’s strengths and cancel out weaknesses.

This quality to their relationship is best expressed in the first book, when the Trio has to tackle seven tasks on the way to rescuing the Sorcerer’s Stone. Each of them contributes and they can only get through it when they work as a team. Hermione gets them through the deadly Devil’s Snare (with a little help from Ron), all three work to get the winged key that opens the next door, Ron wins the magical chess game, and Hermione figures out the riddle of the potions. Finally, only Harry is left to rescue the Stone and he does so brilliantly, but he couldn’t have gotten there on his own. That chapter clearly demonstrates the interdependence of the Trio, emphasizes their unique skills, and shows that together they make up for one another’s weak spots. Later books show flashes of that interdependence, and they also show the Trio growing up.

Throughout the books, the Trio faces tests to their friendship. Each time, they end up reevaluating their priorities and deciding to put their friendship first, deepening the trust each has in the other two. Over the course of six years, Harry, Ron and Hermione have grown from children to adolescents, and in the final book they will become adults. The strength of their bonds is incredible, and their combined abilities, trust, and love will give Harry what he needs to finally defeat Voldemort.

Character Growth

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince serves as a backdrop for the emotional growth of the three turbulent teenagers, who experience more jealousy, rage, grief, romance, and tragedy in this book than in any previous book. Interestingly, it is Ron and Hermione who grow the most in the sixth book, rather catching up to Harry, whose experiences in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix leave him calmer and more clear-sighted than his best friends.

Of the Trio, Ron has always been the most “typical” teenager: he is interested primarily in fun, friends, Quidditch, and girls. But Ron has always had his issues with jealousy:

I’m the sixth in our family to go to Hogwarts. You could say I’ve got a lot to live up to. Bill and Charlie have already left—Bill was Head Boy and Charlie was captain of Quidditch. Now Percy’s a prefect. Fred and George mess around a lot, but they still get really good marks and everyone thinks they’re really funny. Everyone expects me to do as well as the others, but if I do, it’s no big deal, because they did it first.2

By the beginning of Half-Blood Prince, Ron is both a prefect and a member of the Quidditch team; he seems to have found a niche for himself among his brothers and has mostly gotten over his jealousy of them—after all, he’s the only Weasley boy at Hogwarts, now.

Two new jealousies spring up in Half-Blood Prince, however, that Ron has to master in order to grow up. From Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire onwards, it’s blatantly obvious that Ron is attracted to Hermione, that he wants a relationship with her that goes beyond friendship. In the beginning of Half-Blood Prince, and even a bit in Order of the Phoenix, he is suspicious of Harry and Hermione’s interactions. Mollified somewhat by Hermione’s asking him on a date, Ron’s jealousy grows upon learning the details of her previous relationship with Victor Krum, which leads him to pursue someone else in retaliation. Over the course of a couple of months, though, Ron seems to grow up a little. He overcomes his jealousy over Hermione and gradually mends their friendship, reestablishing the Trio’s status quo and setting the stage for a later romance. Also, by having an unsatisfying romance with Lavender Brown, Ron learns an important lesson about what matters in a romantic relationship and what he ultimately wants in a girl.

Another, less obvious jealousy is Ron’s jealousy of his little sister, Ginny. An excellent Quidditch player, she’s popular and a hit with the opposite gender. Right when Ron is free from the shadow of his older brothers, his little sister comes in to steal the spotlight, and they have one uproarious fight in Half-Blood Prince. But, as before, he gradually reestablishes their relationship. Later in the book, he is content with Ginny and Harry’s new romance and he fights side-by-side with her in the climactic battle. By the end of the book, Ron has suffered a near-fatal poisoning, the death of Dumbledore, and the sight of his oldest brother shredded by a werewolf. He is ready to let go of the parties-Quidditch-and-snogging part of his life and join Harry in the greater battle against evil. At the end of the book, he (along with Hermione) lets Harry know that they are going to accompany him on his journey rather than returning to Hogwarts.

Hermione, too, grows a lot in Half-Blood Prince. By acknowledging Ron’s importance to her as more than a friend, she ventures from the logical and safe into the unknown. She actually asks him on a date, taking an emotional risk that the Hermione of earlier books would have avoided: a risk that backfires. Readers see a new side of Hermione in Half-Blood Prince: hurt and disillusioned, she lashes out against Ron and engages in some un-Hermione-like petty behavior, attacking him with conjured canaries and dating obnoxious boys to make him jealous. But Hermione returns from her solitary Christmas break a calmer person. While still angry with Ron she simply ignores his behavior and gradually accepts him back into her life. Ron’s nearly fatal poisoning brings them back together as friends, all past behavior forgiven if not quite forgotten.

Throughout the series, Hermione has progressively gotten better at differentiating between the Rules and Authority, and Right versus Wrong. In the beginning, her belief in the Hogwarts teachers, the Ministry, and Things Written in Books was absolute. As various events open her eyes to the fallibility of those establishments, Hermione thinks more and more for herself and determines right from wrong using her own strong moral compass rather than the pre-established guidelines. This growth makes Hermione a much stronger ally and friend to Harry and Ron, because she is no longer blinded by Authority. The most logical of the Trio has become the most clear-sighted as well. Like Ron, Hermione has caught up with Harry in being ready to move past the trivialities of teenager-hood and fight evil on a larger scale. For a girl who thought of school as all-important, her pledge to leave a year early and help Harry hunt down Horcruxes really demonstrates how far she’s come in being able to view the big picture.

Unlike Ron and Hermione, Harry seems to have done more of his emotional maturation during the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It is then that he so famously acts all “teenaged”: losing his temper left, right, and center; making hotheaded, poorly planned decisions; and finally losing faith in his mentor, Dumbledore. Harry learns a lot from those experiences, though, and in Half-Blood Prince he seems to have turned a corner and forgiven Dumbledore for being imperfect. In the beginning, Harry looks up to Dumbledore as a hero; the wisest and most powerful wizard in the world. Only in the fifth book does Harry grow up enough to realize that Dumbledore is far from perfect, that he is in fact human: it is a bitter disillusionment.

But Harry’s recognition of Dumbledore as a fellow human rather than a paragon and his subsequent forgiveness sets the stage for their interaction in Half-Blood Prince, in which they work together with a new level of trust and understanding. Likewise, Harry seems to have found a new way to deal with the adult authority figures in his life, a way that is less likely to land him in detention. It’s as though he faces the adults––Professor Slughorn, Rufus Scrimgeour, even Professor McGonagall––man-to-man rather than child-to-adult. He refuses rather politely to answer their questions or play their games and is no longer reduced to anger at every turn. This speaks volumes not so much for how he views those characters but to how he sees himself; in Half-Blood Prince Harry refuses to play the child.

Perhaps one of Harry’s greatest accomplishments in Half-Blood Prince, though, is that he starts planning ahead for the first time. Until this point, Harry generally only reacted to what was happening around him, or acted on the advice or planning of others. Harry’s climactic scenes are always the result of someone else’s plans, usually Voldemort’s, and his actions are from spur-of-the-moment thoughts. But his “lessons” with Dumbledore in Half-Blood Prince, in which they learn as much as possible about Voldemort’s history, are the beginning of a proactive approach. At the end of the book, Harry is planning his next steps: instead of returning to Hogwarts, he’s going to visit the village where his parents lived. He’s going to hunt down the Horcruxes, and destroy them, before finding Voldemort. This change in Harry’s thinking stems from his emotional realization after Dumbledore’s death, when Harry realizes that there is nobody to stand between Voldemort and himself. At this point, Harry moves irreversibly from being the child-hero, destined for great things but protected by more powerful figures, to the hero, who in the end will stand alone to conquer evil.

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Read the archived discussion of this essay in Unfogging Deathly Hallows!