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.