Family Ties in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—Part 1

If Prisoner of Azkaban is about Harry’s father and Half-Blood Prince is about his mother, Order of the Phoenix is about family relationships.

Family Ties That Bind, Choke, and Divide

We have many families in Harry Potter’s world, but only four of the ones we meet are intact nuclear families—the Dursleys, the Weasleys, the Grangers, and the Malfoys. The others are splintered by dysfunction, death, and division.

In OotP several families are already familiar to us and we learn more about them, while others are introduced for the first time. Some are conventional families by blood, while others are unconventional, formed of individuals bonded together by love, propinquity, and shared goals. Families of either kind can provide loving, beneficial, and health-giving environments or offer bitter estrangements and permanent, damaging wounds. In both types of families given prominence throughout the series we encounter only one good father figure and three good mother figures.

Familial connection and disconnection are key themes in OotP, with family members shown to be loving, happy, involved, cruel, intolerant, disaffected, emotionally injured, and sometimes combinations of these traits. Several families in the book suffer the loss of a parent or parental figure: Arthur Weasley’s near fatal injury; Dumbledore’s emotional and physical absence; Sirius Black’s death; Hagrid’s absence while on assignment; Frank and Alice Longbottom’s insanity, and Lucius Malfoy’s imprisonment.

In J.K. Rowling’s seven-book saga, and in this book in particular, characters are framed in families and tribes, with many dynamics at play. Their dramas raise many questions. What is the family structure? How does a family support or deny its members, and vice versa? How do parental expectations burden a child and must the child live up to them to be accepted? How does abuse impact children’s lives into adulthood? Is individuality encouraged, or at least allowed? How far does tolerance go? How are families split or mended? Is someone or something outside or within the family usurping it? Should a child become the family caretaker? What is the breaking point of family relationship, and when do family members become “other”? Can deep wounds and rifts heal? What does “brethren” really mean? Am I my brother’s keeper?

There are no easy answers, because Rowling gives us no family that is ideal or without imperfection, one lighting the way by sterling example. Family relationships, blood or chosen, suffer tension, pain, or alienating discord. We follow a family’s progress and growth, but the end result disappoints our hopes for them. We want something better, all the messiness tied up in a hopeful bow.

Rowling refuses pretty ribbons. We see ourselves in her families filled with selfish, noble, immature, wounded, aspiring, sacrificial, unkind, nutty, fallible, relatable people. Restoration and resolution, when it occurs (and often it doesn’t), is hopeful but flawed—sometimes satisfying and sometimes incomplete. Such honesty about family dynamics is one of the strongest aspects of the Harry Potter books. Rowling portrays families as they are, rather than how we’d like them to be. And this reality rings true.

Over the course of three posts, we’ll examine the many family units in OotP. However, before we can discuss individual wizarding families, we must look at the wider picture—the umbrella of the magical world itself. So we’ll begin by examining that umbrella, and how the racial families under it relate to it and to each other. All page references are from the Scholastic editions.

The Magical World

The global magical world is withdrawn from and hidden within the larger civilized human family called Muggles. This world within a world situation is due to Muggle persecution, which led to the ratification of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy in 1692. From that point on, Muggles have been kept oblivious to the presence of the magical world in their midst, aided by their disbelief in magic, and forced memory modification, without their knowledge and consent, when exposed to it. All magical beings consider themselves superior to Muggles, although Muggle Studies is a Hogwarts subject, and there are wizards who indulge in “Muggle-baiting” (GoF 120-122 ). Others, such as Arthur Weasley, find them fascinating, but are hindered in knowledge and competency with them by lack of contact.

The magical community, instead of being united by their need to survive, is instead a dysfunctional bunch, splintered into various racial families of beings* who disdain each other. It is wizards who have dominance in the magical family, and they who have established the governments, laws, schools, and regulations. In Britain, the Minister of Magic has, by necessity, connection with the British Prime Minister, and we can presume this model is likely common elsewhere.

Wizards don’t even give lip service to equality with other races, creating a metanarrative in which they are the chosen, rightful leaders and everyone else likes it that way. This is most ironically demonstrated in the iconic Fountain of Magical Brethren at the Ministry (127), a mockery of brotherhood and togetherness. As power brokers, wizards have marginalized all other magical beings, who in turn feel themselves superior but constrained. Most don’t regard themselves as bound by wizarding ethic or law. Other than the house elves, all magical beings prize freedom from the unjust system, and some have fought against wizards for it. The only wizard who seems to have built, or tried to build, friendly relationships with them is Albus Dumbledore.

* “Being” is classified as “a creature worthy of legal rights and a voice in the governance of the magical world.” Although they qualify, two races, the centaurs and merpeople, refused classification as beings (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them x-xiii), preferring to keep “beast” status, and giants and dementors were never invited to be so classified. But as these races have detailed interaction with wizards in the story, I include them.

The magical world is comprised of the racial families below:


Though wizards are at the top of the heap, they also have a pecking order amongst themselves based on aristocracy, wealth, and blood purity, with purebloods superior to half-bloods and Muggle-borns. Wizarding communities are discreetly tucked incognito within Muggle communities, though towns like Hogsmeade are solely wizard habitations (DH 318). Some wizards live individually hidden among Muggles, such as the Black family, and Horace Slughorn while he’s in hiding, though squib Arabella Figg lives as a Muggle. Arabella is perhaps a unique example, though, as she is working incognito for the Order, watching over Harry, and only reveals herself during the dementor attack on Harry and Dudley (22).

Wizards have regular relationships with other magical beings whom they consider inferior—goblins (banking, metalsmithing), dementors (security), and house elves (inherited household service that is really slavery)—and regard them as necessary conveniences. They have little or nothing to do with beings in the wild, such as centaurs, merpeople, and giants. Wizards are the only ones allowed wands, and their injustices continually engender further resentments in the magical world.


Since the Goblin Rebellions in the 16-1700s (724; PoA 77), goblins have been denied wands, but still do powerful magic without them. They’re generally hostile toward wizards, and subversive goblin groups exist, though it’s not clear whether all goblins are sympathizers with them (308), as they aren’t open about their political allegiances (85).

The goblins control the magical world’s economy and operate Gringotts bank; they mint the currency and each coin has the serial number of the Goblin who made it (398). Unverified rumors circulate that Minister Cornelius Fudge wants to wrest control of the economy and gold supplies from the Goblins through force, if necessary (192).  Goblins are also exceptional metalsmiths who have created many treasures, including the relics of the four Hogwarts founders. The Black Family dishes are “’finest fifteenth-century goblin-wrought silver” (83), and Hagrid takes a prized gift of an indestructible goblin-wrought battle helmet to the giants (428). Goblin views of their works’ ownership are found in DH.

Although we don’t learn about their society, Goblins, like magical humans, apparently live in nuclear families. Although Voldemort murdered a goblin family in Nottingham during the previous war with Voldemort, it’s feared that goblins may be tempted to his side if offered freedom. Ragnok, an influential and anti-wizard goblin who works with Bill Weasley at Gringott’s, remains furious over Ludo Bagman’s leprechaun gold swindle during the World Cup (85-86).

Though goblins don’t show up at the Battle of Hogwarts, they play a part in Voldemort’s defeat through Griphook, who gets the Trio into Gringotts (DH 505).


The star-gazing Centaurs, who live deep in the Forbidden Forest, are an ancient herd family—“a race apart and proud to be so.” They’re intolerant of the other magical races, especially humans who regard them as uncontrolled, half-breed beasts with to be regulated, having only “near human intelligence.” As a rule, centaurs don’t harm the innocent young, but in this book, some are provoked enough to want to harm Harry and Hermione.

Centaurs “watch the skies for the great tides of evil or change that are sometimes marked there,” although even they sometimes read them wrongly. They are skilled in archery, divination, magical healing, and astronomy (754-58; SS 253-254; FB 6).

Though giants are unwelcome in the Forest, Hagrid has had a cordial working relationship with the centaurs, and Firenze greatly respects him (601-603). When Firenze accepts Dumbledore’s invitation to teach Divination at Hogwarts, the herd brutally kicks him out as a traitor and nearly kills him; they regard this as a betrayal of both herd and esoteric knowledge. Hagrid’s lifesaving intervention (686-687) sours his relationship with the herd, and his introduction of Grawp into the Forest ends it; Hagrid now carries a crossbow when he enters (686).

The centaurs show up at Dumbledore’s funeral and shoot arrows as a tribute (HBP 645). They are silent bystanders as Hagrid carries Harry’s body toward the castle and he angrily calls them cowards. Apparently shamed, they join Firenze in fighting against Voldemort and the Death Eaters in the second wave of the Battle of Hogwarts (728; 733-734), and with the wounded Firenze, are part of the celebration afterwards (745).

HOUSE ELVES:  House elves serve their wizarding families for life and are extremely loyal to them, even if mistreated. They regard freedom as dangerous. When Winky is sacked by Barty Crouch, Sr., her grief exhibits itself in extreme ways (GoF 378). Kreacher is not only loyal to the Black Family, but is personally devoted to even extended family members (198). Hokey and the Hogwarts elves seem happy in their positions and are treated well. Dobby is cruelly treated by the Malfoys, whom he sees as evil, but is unusual in that he covets independence and is overjoyed to be freed. Though he revels in being a free elf, he allies himself with Harry and Harry’s friends as his chosen family, and tries to urge other elves toward freedom.

Elves aren’t merely servants; they have intimate knowledge of their masters’ lives. Dobby knows Lucius’ plans to open the Chamber. Winky is a confidante of Barty Crouch, Sr., and loving guardian of Barty, Jr. (GoF 381). Hokey’s mistress, Hepzibah Smith, entrusts her elf with the Founders’ treasures she owns (HBP 435). Kreacher loved Sirius’ brother Regulus and grieved over his kind master’s suffering and death (193-197), and in an unusual turn, when Voldemort abuses Kreacher, Regulus betrays the Dark Lord and puts the elf’s life above his own (DH 195-196).

It’s not surprising that the Hogwarts elves (and Kreacher) fight alongside good wizards at the Battle of Hogwarts. They celebrate as equals with everyone afterward, though they probably later fix the feast.


Though we know little about them beyond the suffering they cause, the dementors could be considered some kind of family or herd. We learn nothing of their intelligence level, methods of communication and negotiation, or societal or family structure, though they increase breeding after joining Voldemort (HBP 14). Nor do we learn whether they have contact with magical beings other than humans or all work for the Ministry.

The dementors appear mostly to move as a unified force, but apparently can be individually for hire, as in the two recruited by Dolores Umbridge to attack Harry (747). Some become temporary Hogwarts guards (PoA), while presumably others still guard Azkaban.

Dementors are physical beings, driven by lust for their version of food, but as that food—human happiness and souls—is spiritual in nature, they bring despair and depression, and they aren’t moved by human pleas and can be repelled only with a Patronus, they’re quite mysterious creatures. Hunger trumps loyalty to their employers, such as when they leave their Hogwarts guard stations to attack students on the Hogwarts train and Quidditch field in PoA, and as predicted by Dumbldore, abandon Azkaban en masse to join Voldemort, “who can offer them more scope for their powers and pleasures” (544-545; GoF 706). The dementors are the only beings Dumbledore apparently never approached in friendship.

Dementors fight with Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts, for them a veritable and perverse feast.


We meet the merpeople (the other race that declined being status) who live in the Hogwarts lake during the Triwizard Tournament, during which they demonstrate a strong sense of honor. It’s not clear if they have magical abilities and they seem fearful of wands (perhaps because wands have been used against them), but Dumbledore has learned their language and cultivated a good relationship with them.

The Hogwarts merpeople are led by a chieftaness, Murcus, and seem to have family-oriented domestic lives, living in a village of stone houses surrounding a square. They have gardens and even keep pets, such as grindylows. Lovers of music, they have a choir (GoF 498-506; FB 20).

At Dumbledore’s funeral, the merpeople sing as a tribute, but given their habitat and perhaps inclinations, don’t participate in the Battle of Hogwarts.


Giants have no magical abilities, but have had dealings with the magical world, which detests and has abused them. A dying breed, they are violent by nature and live in caves in remote mountain areas. Giants have no nuclear family structure, but instead gather in tribal groups under a leader called a Gurg. They are loyal only to the strongest among them and prey on smaller, weaker giants, such as Grawp. While not as intelligent as humans, some giants have mated with them (both Hagrid and Olympe are half-giants), but giants as a rule trust no humans, magical or otherwise. Wizards hate them.

During the first war giants allied themselves with Voldemort, and when the Dark Lord was defeated, Aurors killed many of them and the rest went into hiding. Upon the Dark Lord’s return Dumbledore pleads with Minister Fudge to reach out in friendship to them lest they are swayed by Voldemort’s promises of freedom. When Fudge refuses, the headmaster sends Hagrid to the giants, aided by Olympe (Gof 708, 719). But Voldemort sends Death Eaters who persuade the giants for his side, and they begin wreaking havoc after the Ministry battle (HBP13).

The giants fight on behalf of Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts (two are present when Voldemort AKs Harry), but Grawp fights against them.

A Terrible Lie

The golden Fountain of Magical Brethren is not only a lie, it’s a cruel fantasy of the wizards who decreed its creation. Instead of admiring and looking up to wizards, every other magical race apart from the house elves is either disinterested in them (merpeople), has an uneasy alliance with them (goblins), despises them (centaurs), or wars on Voldemort’s side against them (dementors, giants). The shattering of the fountain group (the wizard’s head—rule—is destroyed first) is merely the physical manifestation of the fractured reality.

None would call themselves “brothers.”

All in the Family

Just as we long for troubled families in the series to find healing and redemption, we long for a revelation in the Epilogue that the painful divisions in the magical world are erased. But nineteen years is not a long enough time for such magic as this. Rowling doesn’t let us know about beings other than wizards, although it’s probable that the giants will soon be extinct, if they aren’t already (except for Grawp, under Hagrid’s care). Perhaps Hermione, Ron, and Harry, and their friends, are making a difference in the welfare of non-wizard beings and beasts. Although Hogwarts still has Houses, perhaps the Battle of Hogwarts and its aftermath have broken down some walls and prejudices, especially for youngsters entering Hogwarts in post-Death Eater times. Respect and tolerance, if not outright friendship, would be a victory worth celebrating.

While it lacks assurance of real change, though, the Epilogue does offer hope.

Hope that the magical world, with effort, can vastly improve family ties. That real brotherhood, instead of a fake statue, is, if not a probability, a possibility.

Harry and his friends have shown the way with sacrificial, extraordinary, heroic love.

About Deborah Chan/Arabella

Deborah Chan, previously “Arabella Figg” I read the first three Harry Potter books in 1999 to see what the fuss was about and was hooked. After participating at for several years, and then here at the pub, I joined the Blogengamot in 2009. I enjoy discussing and writing about the books I love, and particularly enjoy looking into characters' psychological and emotional motivations. My husband Rick and I live in Spokane, WA, where I’m a columnist for our newspaper, The Spokesman-Review. Our cat Casey Rose is my gravatar. Butterbeers all around!

20 thoughts on “Family Ties in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—Part 1

  1. There’s nothing quite like the human tendency for control, is there? Once at the top, we make a point of holding our position at all costs. And, of course, that destroys families.

    Great post, and very thoroughly fleshed out. I’ll look forward to your sequels. I’m curious: when I think about it, the only way I can get “only one good father figure” is if it’s limited to living actual fathers. Arthur Weasley is brilliant, but James is good, too, and I don’t think either Dumbledore or Sirius were a complete failure, though neither were they absolute successes. But then, I haven’t read your next post, so I’m sure I’m missing your criteria.

    The merpeople are interesting, and I think could’ve been developed in some very intriguing directions if more of the tale had been spent at the bottom of the lake. 😛 But I’m fascinated by the refusal of the centaurs and merpeople to be classified as “beings” and all that entails. (I haven’t read Fantastic Beasts, so that’s new information to me.) “Sorry, we don’t want to be part of your family…” not that the wizards have done much to make them feel welcomed. And of course, in a governmental sense, it’s very understandable that they wouldn’t want anything to do with the Ministry of Magic.

    Totally not even sure how to comment on the idea of dementors being family. I understand perfectly why you included them in the list, and I agree, but ewww. 🙂

  2. Wow, what a post, Arabella! I, too, am looking forward to the next posts examining specific families and family-related issues.

    I like how you set up this backdrop of types of beings and beasts as tribe-like contexts for families, since that’s how the WW has conceived of itself from metaphysical, moral, and legal perspectives. A lot of the discord that arises in families is created by individuals who question these categories and choose to cross boundaries out of love for unique individuals. Examples we get to see include all Wizard-Muggle pairings, pureblood-nonpureblood pairings, Human-Giant pairings, Wizard-Veela pairings, a Wizard-Werewolf pairing, etc. [How much do we know about other beings and beasts, such as Veelas, Werewolves, Vampires, etc.? I haven’t read Magical Beasts either.]

    There are certainly other reasons for dysfunction in families, which I’m sure will get explored in later posts, but many of them arise from these specific “boundary-crossings.” It’s only when family/tribe structures stop seeing themselves as centrally about these groupings (and stop engaging in desperate attempts to “preserve” such groupings) and instead see themselves as nurturers of developing individuals who ideally would choose to be with whoever they really love, that at least this specific form of deep family dysfunction and source of ostracism, alienation, and bitterness will end.

    There does seem to be some hope in Deathly Hallows for a move toward this newer vision in that Kingsley Shacklebolt becomes Minister of Magic. When Harry, Hermione, and Ron tune into “Potterwatch,” it’s Kingsley who earned Lee Jordan’s promised vote for Minister of Magic by saying, in response to a query about Muggles versus Wizards:

    “I’d say that it’s one short step from ‘Wizards first’ to ‘Purebloods first’, and then to ‘Death Eaters’. . . . “We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving” (p. 440).

    While Kingley’s response is specifically about Wizards and Muggles, it’s a step in the right direction. And as Travis discusses in Harry Potter and Imagination, this gradualist first step needs to be taken, and I’m sure that people like Hermione would press to continue along that path that Dumbledore worked so hard to pave the way toward with his personal friendships and alliances. [Also helpful is Hagrid’s love for and/or fascination with all life forms (well, with the exception of the horrible dementors).]

  3. Such a great post, Arabella, on so many levels. I have always thought the HP view on family very interesting- in the beginning of SS Professor McGonnagal (I can never spell her name) describe the Hogwarts Houses as “your family while you are at school” to the first years about to be sorted. Even the Quidditch teams become a smaller family unit wihtin the big House families. And OOTP is a great example of how “families” form and operate in the Wizarding Word: we see up close the Blacks, the Longbottoms, the Centaurs, Giants, Harry’s young parents, and the Weasley’s. And then of course the over-arching families of the Order and Dumbledore’s Army.

    I had many thoughts while reading this post, but I want to re-read it before I dive in. Just wanted to say “thanks” for such a great post and giving me lots to think about.

  4. Wow, thank you for such encouraging comments!

    When I reread the series last fall, I closed OotP and thought, “What did I get from it this time?” And I thought, “It’s about family.” So I decided to do a post on that. Little did I know that it would grow to be so big and that I would discover well over twenty family units in the book worth exploring! Which became even more, because the more I explored, the more I needed to unpack…and then further unpack.

    You’re right, Jenna that controlling expectations and behavior are very destructive to families, trying to destroy individuality to maintain the metanarrative. I consider Arthur Weasley as the one good father and will develop this subject more in Parts 2 and 3.

    It’s interesting that we actually learn quite a bit about the merpeople in just a couple paragraphs, much more than we learn about family/social structures of the other beings who get much more ink. I loved that they have a choir and found myself picturing folding chairs and a music stand, which is rather hilarious. I was most curious about the dementors and their society/family units; it would be fascinating to learn more. Don’t want to think about a dementor potluck. Well, that would be the Battle of Hogwarts, wouldn’t it.

    Staying a “beast” was definitely saying “bug off and leave me alone.”

    cbiondi, I didn’t include werewolves (hybrids). Veelas aren’t in MB&WTFT so I didn’t include them, but will include both in Parts 2 and 3. Absolutely, crossing boundaries through embracing “other” into families is a major conflict issues of the series, and seriously impacts both family unity and intermarriage progeny. I’m sure the Potter family’s inclusion of Teddy Lupin went a long way towards his acceptance.

    Dumbledore, bless his heart, went far beyond “every human life is worth saving,” to “every being is worth saving.” I’m betting Harry and Co. have carried on this influential view and that over time it would make a great difference in tolerance and acceptance.

    PotterMom05, every family unit you mentioned will be in Parts 2 and 3. It was exciting to see you on the same path.

  5. I’ll add that the family theme extends over the whole series, but I kept it to those families/beings that appeared in OotP (which the veelas didn’t), pulling other books in. Otherwise this essay would have been a full-sized giant instead of a Grawp-sized one. And Grawp is big enough! 😉

  6. It occurred to me that of the nonwizard magical beings we encounter we get nothing to very little of their female members.

    We have Olympe (half giantess who offers no feminine giant perspective, other than rejecting her giant heritage); Murcus, merpeople chieftainess (but her portrayal was rather gender neutral); Winky (house elf, and we do get a feminine nurturer in her). No female goblins, centaurs or dementors. Fleur in the other books represents veelas, but not the veela perspective.

    Any thoughts about this? Would having feminine representatives enlarge your understanding of these racial families and their interaction with the larger magical family?

  7. Oh Arabella haven’t you set yourself a task! Deconstructing family in HP while at the same time delving into racial – indeed tribal and cultural – markers and meanings and simultaneously commenting on class.
    Your opening paragraph had me musing…”are the Dursleys, the Weasleys, the Grangers and the Malfoys truly intact?” In the sense of two parents still both involved with their offspring yes as that is what the wider world sees. Below the surface though, I wonder. Each of these families has some initiator of dysfunction: Harry’s magical presence for the Dursleys, Percy’s enthrallment with the Ministry creating dissension and disharmony for the Weasleys, Hermione’s magical powers separating her -and increasingly so – from her muggle parents, and Lucius’s enthrallment with Voldemort engendering fear and a sense of inadequacy in his only child.
    It’s one of the themes I believe JKR handles well in OoTP, that every family – indeed every tribe – has its dysfunction, every family and every tribe has its outsider who creates a tension and a challenge to accepted norms and that these must be faced, and each family finds a way – though not always the way we would choose – to manage these.
    Along those lines Dolores Umbridge is the outsider in the Hogwarts family – itself already teeming with hidden and sneekily spoken resentments and disapprovals (e.g. Minerva’s comments about Sybill; or the Hogwarts house-elves judgements of Dobby.) I suppose what I’m getting at is that no matter the dysfunction -present in all families and tribes – JKR makes the case that individual and family alike do find a way of functioning, (no matter that it’s twisted and distorted!) What’s interesting is that in some cases its the family that rejects the individual (Sirius, Andromeda and the Blacks; or Percy and his Weasley siblings), in others the individual rejects the family (Remus choosing not to join what could be a natural family for him -the werewolves). Alternatively we also see the individual – despite their instincts – conforming to expectations so as not to threaten their place (Draco perhaps), or in the face of disapproval and mockery choosing to just be themself (Luna at Hogwarts) or developing their courage to be an individual despite family perception (Neville with his grandmother).
    I’m going away now to think some more on this.
    And two quick thoughts – are the Death Eaters a family/tribe?
    And are Hermione’s parents out loud and proud to their muggle community about their daughter the witch – or is it the trait that dare not speak its name? That’s something I have always wondered.
    I’m looking forward to the next parts of your article.

  8. Arabella, this is a wonderful post that I plan to really study over the next few days. I have been re-reading the HP series and I’m up to Order. I am looking forward to reading it with your insights on families fresh in my mind, as well as Cbiondi’s thoughts on John Locke’s and the DA. How thrilling it is to have such riches, so many layers of meaning in such an enjoyable book! I suspect there are points of intersection between Lockean thought and what makes families functional or disfunctional (maybe something about excessive and unjust control and exploitation).

    I was moved by your by your last comment: “Just as we long for troubled families in the series to find healing and redemption, we long for a revelation in the Epilogue that the painful divisions in the magical world are erased. But nineteen years is not a long enough time for such magic as this.” It’s so true and it was one of the things I appreciated about the JKR’s final epilog: there was healing, or the beginning of it, but also that the healing was still incomplete. We live in a world that is moving towards light, but not yet fully redeemed.

    Thank you for an inspiring and thought-provoking post!

  9. You put your finger on an important overlap, as usual, Mary Ellen, between family issues and Locke in OotP!

    One of the issues that Locke deals with in Chapter 6 of Second Treatise of Government, “Of Paternal Power,” concerns the rights and responsibilities that parents have toward their children. If many of the families/groups in OotP followed Locke’s reasoning (below) that parents are guardians of their children’s development and well-being (rather than the Hobbesian & Co. view of parents owning their kids and molding them after their likeness), there would be less dysfunction:

    “[A]ll men by nature are equal. . . . Children, I confess, are not born in this full state of equality, though they are born to it. Their parents have a sort of rule and jurisdiction over them, when they come into the world, and for some time after; but it is but a temporary one. The bonds of this subjection are like the swaddling clothes they are wrapt up in . . . age and reason as they grow up, loosen them, till at length they drop quite off, and leave a man at his own free disposal” (sect. 5).

    “The power, then, that parents have over their children, arises from that duty which is incumbent on them, to take care of their off-spring, during the imperfect state of childhood. To inform the mind, and govern the actions of their yet ignorant nonage, till reason shall take its place, and ease them of that trouble” (sect. 57).

    “His command over his children is but temporary, and reaches not their life or their property: it is but a help to the weakness and imperfection of their nonage, a discipline necessary to their education: and though a father may dispose of his own possessions as he pleases, when his children are out of danger of perishing for want, yet his power extends not to the lives or goods, which either their own industry, or another’s bounty has made theirs; nor to their liberty neither, when they are once arrived to the infranchisement of the years of discretion” (sect. 65).

    In a sense, then, the “boundary-crossings” that I mentioned in a previous comment @2 are about individuals reaching the “age of consent” and exercising their liberties to live as their reason sees fit. On a Lockean view, parents should welcome that individuation and have done what they could to have fostered their children’s healthy development to get to such a point. A lot of the negative family dynamics we see or find out about in OotP–such as the Blacks, etc.–stem from the parents (or parent-figures, in the case of other kinds of family-like groupings) trying to exercise too much control over the children–which would be a boundary-crossing of its own, on Locke’s view, by reaching into a moral space that was beyond a parent’s jurisdiction. I think that you may have been suggesting something like this, Mary Ellen, in your parenthetical comment: “(maybe something about excessive and unjust control and exploitation).”

  10. I had something else to say that I can’t remember because this Locke conversation has gotten me sidetracked. I read an essay over on Leaky Cauldron titles “The Invisible Family”- talking about the Grangers. Now, the obvious fact that they are Muggles means they do have a limited role in the story. But is it possible that they are actually the only successful (in the Lockean term) parents in the series? Hermione vacations with them, especially in the earlier books, but as she gets older we see increased independence and a personal confidence in her decision making. Obviously being an only child plays into some of her personality traits, but after the first book, Hermione is the most confident and self-secure of the trio (at least from Harry’s perspective) and brings the stability the trio needs. A tribute to her parents, perhaps? Does that take it too far?

    Which, as a side note, makes the “Obliviating” scene in the movie so powerful and sad, and is one of the better additions to the text, in my opinion.

  11. I have a couple of more points now that I’ve reread the original post.

    The first is t question about the dementors (arguably one of the top Rowling imaginations for the WW). In HBP or DH isn’t there a comment about them “breeding”? Or was that an added line in the movie (see, example #542 why the ebooks are so handy)? As readers, we started to see dement ors capable of independent thought in OOTP because of the two for hire that Umbridge sent after Harry, but then to hear about them feasting on peoples unhappiness, that there is so much unhappiness around that more dement ors can be created- how can that not send shivers up your spine? oy! But if breeding is something dementors are capable of, then that does give them another piece of criteria to make them “family” or better used “tribe.”

    It has been brought up and debated rather endlessly how in OOTP we get the deconstruction of James Potter, and Sirius and Lupin to a lesser extent. I do think, on top of Cedric’s death and Harry’s general lack of coping throughout the book, that his response to Sirius’s fake imprisonment is a response to figuring out “what family does.” Not only does Harry have, as Hermione puts it, a “saving people thing,” it also comes to define how Harry thinks a family should operate. Since he has non of his own, he creates families for himself, and while that begins to shine through in the earlier books, it is incredibly obvious in OOTP = he’s a member of the DA, that’s who he looks to for help with Umbridge, and in the MOM; he’s on Quidditch, he, Fred and George rush to Angelina’s defense after the Slytherin match; Sirius is his godfather, Harry must be there to do something. I know Arabella pointed most of those out already, but I just continue to mull over it now. 🙂 But my general psychoanalysis being that Harry shows in OOTP, more than any other book you could argue, what his definition of family is and what is means. Which perhaps also makes he absence of Dumbledore even more acute for him, because Dumbeldore’s actions fly in the face of everything Harry believes a family ought to be.

  12. Rowling did say in one interview that Dementors don’t breed so much as “grow like a fungus where there is decay”. Add grains of salt to taste about extra-textual statements, the death of the author, etc.

  13. Darcy58, so many good thoughts here. I’m addressing these very issues in the next two posts. And yes, the DEs are a family.

    Mary Ellen and cbiondi (and PotterMom 05), thank you for bringing in the Locke connection, one which I wouldn’t have seen and which enlarges the meanings of family in this book. Certainly the Blacks and the Dursleys manifest the problems of control, and the larger world families such as the Ministry also, with the Grangers the opposite. Although I’ve focused somewhat on control, I’m going to take another look at it as I finalize the rest of this essay.

    PotterMom05, excellent thoughts about Harry’s view of family. I will incorporate this, with your permission, because there has been so much to unpack I hadn’t considered it. Oy.

    Honestly, I can’t wait to have these discussions, and will do my best to get Part 2 up as soon as possible. I know you all will add so much to this topic.

    The dementors do breed, whatever form that takes, and it’s canon. See p. 14, HBP, where Fudge tells the British Prime Minister: “That’s right. And they’re breeding. That’s what’s causing all this mist.” We don’t know how dementors communicate., but as they seem to move in tandem and breed, but also act independently, I ascribe to them some kind of societal or tribal structure.

  14. Fascinating post, Arabella–but there’s something that bothers me. In its course, I find myself increasingly confused as to what you mean by “family.” Is absolutely every affinity group in the Potter saga to be understood as a family? There are families in the Potterverse, and there are groups that are family-like in the intensity [and sometimes messiness] of their bonds–the Trio most centrally, and before them the Marauders. But not every group is a family; werewolves are united, at best, by a shared unfortunate circumstance. Remus has otherwise nothing in common with other werewolves; he’s a lonely guy who discovers a surrogate family in the Marauders , then loses that before finding literal family with Tonks.

    Furthermore, metaphorical families are much more unstable than literal ones. The relationship of the trio becomes increasingly problematic as sex begins to intrude [a not uncommon feature of adolescence] and indeed nearly destroys it in DH. In the end the Trio both endures and triumphs, but mainly by getting folded into a literal family, with all three united with each other [and with Ginny and the Weasleys] through marriage. There’s a reason why Harry/Hermione shippers used to sneer at the Harry/Ginny shippers as OBHWFs–One Big Happy Weasley Family.

    Finally, folding everything into family obscures what I’ve always considered to be a central theme of Potter–the importance of inclusive community. Families can never be fully inclusive, even when, like the Weasleys, they can be quite open in their family boundaries. Harry’s personal odyssey isn’t simply about reconstituting his fractured family–though that’s critically important. It’s also about learning how to understand his place in community–in particular, learning that the community isn’t simply about protecting Harry Potter and furthering Harry Potter’s own agenda. To his credit, he feels conflicted and guilty about that, especially that [as he sees it] people keep dying for him. But because he sees this only in terms of himself, his response is to constantly keep pushing people away–most egregiously, in my view, Ginny. He fails to understand that those of his community are there because they’re all in it together, fighting for a cause much bigger than they are. Thus when he realizes at the end that *he* has to die for *them,* it’s a transformation–at long last he gets to give back [Well, he’s long been giving back, but never really realizing what he’s doing], and it liberates him. It’s no longer all about Harry. While he does return and confront Voldemort, the victory really belongs to the community–to the DA, which refuses to be cowed by Harry’s death, to the rest of the wizarding world and the magical creatures who [sometimes shamed by the children and their heroism] rallies to their cause. Harry’s chief part in the final battle is the protective charm his “death” provides them. While this community is bound by love and loyalty, it’s not really a “family” except in a really broad metaphoric sense. But in that case why call it a family at all? Why not call it a community? I know this reaches far beyond OotP, but I think these issues are worth raising.

  15. David, thank you for weighing in with such thoughtful comments. I like your last paragraph about Harry understanding that it’s not just about or up to him. I feel that the filmmakers changing Voldemort’s defeat from being surrounded by the magical community was an incredibly bad choice, stripping it of almost all meaning.

    For the purposes of the subject I’m using the term “family” and family units in both the exact and the broader sense, as in many cases what some consider community others call family. I don’t see much difference in “There are families in the Potterverse, and there are groups that are family-like in the intensity [and sometimes messiness] of their bonds.” In my initial drafts I originally quoted a magnet I have on my fridge–“Friends are family you choose for yourself.” Although Harry can never “reconstitute” his original family, he does find family elsewhere. And though this doesn’t make up for his loss of his own parents, he does find a family to whom he belongs, where he loves and is loved in return.

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean in “metaphorical families are much more unstable than literal ones.” Dysfunction and instability know no marriage or birth certificate, as too many blood families can testify (and think of the Blacks and Dursleys). I feel the Trio embody family in the best sense of the term, whether incorporated by marriage into the Weasley family or not. Their bonds are tested by many things, including romantic relationships, but their love remains firm in the face of incredible challenges and heartbreak. They don’t become closer or more solid through marriage.

    I’m also a bit puzzled by “Finally, folding everything into family obscures what I’ve always considered to be a central theme of Potter–the importance of inclusive community. Families can never be fully inclusive, even when, like the Weasleys, they can be quite open in their family boundaries.” If you mean that no one can become a blood family member, that’s true. But as Molly says that Harry is “as good as” her son, and the family treats him as one of them, to me that’s family as good as it gets.

    I agree about the werewolves and don’t consider them a family (where I would the Death Eaters). Werewolves are organized by Greyback to fight for Voldemort, but until then they strike me more as loners with only a disorder in common. As for Lupin, I believe he found family in the Order as well, and will be covering this.

    We may be going by different definitions of family, but I hope you will accept the term “family” as I’m using it, especially as I get into individual families, clarify further where you disagree, and continue to join in and follow the discussion.

  16. I don’t know if this is going to make the discussion clearer or more muddied, but let me throw in some thoughts from the realm of evolutionary and behavioral biology about groups and family.

    One of the ways one defines family, of course, is blood ties or consanguinity — shared ancestry that is reflected in a higher than average frequency of shared genes. As we learn when Harry and Sirius study the Black family tree tapestry, most pure-blood wizards (in England at least) are related to one another.

    Evolutionary biologist have long puzzled over why altruistic (or seemingly altruistic) behavior arises. Why would one animal put it’s life in danger for another? Why would this trait of altruism not be selected against by evolutionary pressures?

    Altruistic behavior poses no real problems to evolutionary theory as long as the individuals ‘saving’ each other are closely related: siblings, aunts, uncles, parents share enough genes so that defense of the family member is biologically equivalent to defense of self. So intra-family altruism would not be selected again, and quite probably would be selected for if it insured the survival of higher percentage of family members with shared genes.

    One might make similar arguments about much larger groups with a very high degree on consanguinity: the cohesiveness of pure blood wizarding families, the Order of the Phoenix, the Death Eaters, even the individual Hogwarts houses, might be in part explained by a high degree on consanguinity which in turn would naturally favor intra-group altruism — self sacrifice on the part of one individual to the betterment of other members of the group. That Slytherins and Death Eaters and even many higher-ups at the Ministry of Magic favor pure blood wizards might be viewed as entirely natural behavior from the standpoint of evolutionary biology. It’s just making sure that, even if I don’t survive to reproduce, others who share many genes with me will carry on: in other words, these groups really ARE family, and might be expected to behave like family, from an evolutionary perspective.

    The problem for evolutionary biologists arises when animals who are clearly not related put themselves in danger in a way that aids other non-related or distantly related animal. Re David Carleton’s post: in the natural world, animals behaving towards other animals as if they were biologically family happens often enough to have created a theoretical quandary; it should be selected against, and yet this biologically improbable, self-sacrificing, family-like behavior among non-related animals continues not only to exist, but to be quite common.

    There are a whole bunch of evolutionary theories which attempt to explain all this, but suffice it to say that, Arabella, from a biological perspective you are on to something in describing certain very intensely interlinked groups as being essentially like family.

  17. Great post, Arabella!
    I have also thought about the family relationships, though not to the extent you have. I am very impressed how you researched all this.
    You are leaving me with:
    – A lot to digest and think over.
    – New authors to read, John Locke for example.
    I am off to read your next installment, which I am sure will add to my list of things to contemplate.

    I love when you give my brain a good work out. 😉

  18. Thank you, Moe, for such kind words; I’m glad you enjoyed this and I look forward to your thoughts about the next parts. cbiondi‘s posts on Locke are outstanding.

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