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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

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Read the archived discussion of this essay here.

The Roles of the Trio

Each member of the Trio plays a certain role that defines their interactions with one another and their place in the story. The depth of J.K. Rowling’s character development ensures that these roles are more than mere stereotypes; they are complex, detailed, and flawed. Hermione is the perfect example of this. In similar works, she would be nothing more than the researcher-sidekick, always ready with the textbook answer, rarely if ever making a mistake, and having no life of her own outside of being with the boys. In Harry Potter, though, she is much more. It is true that Hermione is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge and Rowling admits to using Hermione when she needs to give the readers information, but she has other qualities that are fresh and unexpected.

For one thing, Hermione has an uncommon empathy with the outsider. Hermione’s status as a Muggle-born contributes to her ability to view her world without prejudice. Like Harry, she comes to the wizarding world with fresh eyes, untainted by cultural biases. Time and again she shows acceptance for those who others shun or ignore, like house-elves, werewolves, and half-giants. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Hermione realizes quite early that Professor Lupin is a werewolf but seems completely unfazed by this information––she keeps his secret (even from Harry and Ron) until the end of the book. A year later, the Trio discovers that their good friend Hagrid is actually a half-giant, and Hermione’s reaction is quite different than Ron’s: he’s a little shaken; she takes it in stride. While nobody else in the wizarding world seems to pay much attention to house-elves, Hermione is drawn to their plight, and campaigns for the rights of these unpaid and often abused workers.

Because Hermione is such a bookworm, always quoting passages and rules, it’s tempting to dismiss her as academic, by-the-book and uncreative. Actually, the opposite is true: she excels at finding unusual solutions to problems. Hermione’s solutions could never be described as text-book, whether it is using a potion to disguise Harry, Ron and herself as their enemies, forming an underground defense organization, or using a wizarding tabloid newspaper to spread Harry’s story and undermine the Ministry of Magic. Hermione’s creative problem-solving and lack of prejudice combine to form what is perhaps her most interesting quality: she is not afraid to look “outside the box” for allies. Hermione reaches out to both Luna Lovegood, a younger Ravenclaw student, and Rita Skeeter, a journalist she despises, in order to get an important article published. She insists that Harry teach anyone who wants to learn when forming Dumbledore’s Army, resulting in a diverse mix of Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, and Ravenclaws. This Dumbledore-like ability to reach out and make contact with those not already a part of the inner circle hints at Hermione’s role in the final book––more than merely a researcher/librarian, she is the diplomat/recruiter of the group.

Ron’s role is rather less complicated than Hermione’s, while still being more than the typical sidekick. As a pure-blooded wizard who has grown up in the wizarding world, Ron acts as a guide and as an example of that world through his ideas and reactions. Because Ron comes from an unusually un-prejudiced family, he is not tainted with the unthinking biases that color so much of the magical community, but he is steeped enough in its culture to understand how the wizarding world thinks. Ron provides insight to Harry and Hermione (who both come from Muggle backgrounds) into the wizarding community’s mindset, whether by being amazed by Muggles and their lack of magical technology or dismayed by Hagrid’s half-giant status. Ron’s family plays an important role in the books as well, and by Half-Blood Prince both Harry and Hermione have essentially joined the Weasleys, which makes them something more than friends; they’re closer to being family.

Ron is more than just the token pure-blood, however. He acts as the wing man and defender for the Trio. It’s telling that when Ron chooses to go out for Quidditch, he goes for the position of Keeper. The defense position mirrors the role that he plays in “real life.” It’s Ron who chooses to take a hit in order for the others to move on during the chess game in Sorcerer’s Stone, and who rescues Harry from the Dursleys one book later, whisking him away in a flying car. He is always willing to jump into danger should Harry do so, even at the risk of facing giant spiders––his worst fear.

Beyond physical protection, Ron constantly defends Harry in conversation and stands up for him, whether to Draco Malfoy, Professor Snape or even Hermione. Ron stands up for Hermione the same way. He would rather get detention than let anybody badmouth his friends. His defensive nature coupled with his pure-blooded background tends to make him less open than Hermione and more suspicious; her open-mindedness and his distrust balance each other. While some critics argue that Ron’s only shining moment came in the first book, it seems more likely that the stage is set for a triumphant return of Ron’s heroism in the seventh and final installation, providing balance and character integrity for the series as a whole.

Harry is the Hero, of course. No surprises there: it’s his name on the cover of each book. But he is far from a traditional, stereotypical hero or the athlete who leaps tall buildings, slays monsters, or leads armies to war. Instead of being powerful and muscle-bound, Harry gradually transforms from “small and skinny”3 to... tallish and skinny. Physically, he is the ultimate Quidditch Seeker––small, fast, and with quick reflexes; better equipped for ducking and dodging than for attack. Rather than the standard list of physical superlatives, Harry has gifts of character, mind, heart and soul. In other words, Harry is a hero not because of what he is, but because of who he is.

Dumbledore has continually stressed Harry’s ability to love and his purity of soul as the real weapons against Voldemort. In Rowling’s magical world, it makes perfect sense that the skills of Harry’s that matter most are not his physical or even magical abilities but rather the quality of his heart and soul. Magical ability is more than just being a wizard or knowing the spells; the emotion and intent behind spell-casting matters. Whether it’s laughing at a boggart, conjuring happy thoughts to ward off dementors, or even feeling hatred and malice when casting an Unforgivable Curse—the ability to be in the proper state of mind makes all the difference. Harry’s ability to feel a complete range of emotions, including love, happiness, and humor as well as grief, anger and sadness, is a powerful advantage over an enemy who has sealed himself off from those feelings.

Time and again, Harry’s ability to love, to be happy and to laugh have saved him from certain disaster, whether by remembering Sirius while Voldemort was attempting to possess him or thinking of Ron and Hermione during his last dementor attack. In fact, Harry’s open heart and ability to love have enabled him to have the friends he has, from Ron and Hermione to Hagrid and Luna Lovegood. When it comes down to it, Harry is supported by a group that loves him, while Voldemort has only those who fear or idolize.

Harry is, at heart, a simple guy, someone who loves his friends, and likes hanging out and playing Quidditch. He is not tempted or controlled by any of the things that Voldemort would understand: power, money or fear. Harry is not power-driven or ambitious; he’s been chosen through circumstances beyond his control to become the Hero who will challenge and defeat Voldemort. This simplicity (part of the purity that Dumbledore mentioned in Half-Blood Prince) will most likely be crucial in the final book. In the first book, Harry manages to rescue the Sorcerer’s Stone and retrieve it from the Mirror of Erised simply because he wants to find the Stone but not use it. He has no desire for the riches or endless life that the Stone offers; he merely doesn’t want Voldemort to be able to use it for evil purposes.

Now, in a parallel situation, Harry wants Voldemort out of the way not because he wants the fame and glory that would come with conquering Voldemort, but simply because he knows he will never be able to live a normal life until he’s done so. This pure, disinterested motive is something that Voldemort will scarcely be able to understand or fight against, which makes it all the more powerful.

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