Family Ties in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—Part 3

After exploring family dynamics in Part 1—The Magical World and Part 2–Institutions and Groups, we move on to individual British wizarding families. The posts on these families will be shorter than Parts 1 and 2.

To clarify the term “family,” I use it interchangeably in both the exact sense—family through blood and adoption—and broader sense—“found families” who regard each other as if they were biological family, through love, propinquity, and/or shared values uniting them in a family-type unit.

In OotP we see familial connection and disconnection in conventional and unconventional families suffering painful estrangements, death, division, insanity, emotional injury, imprisonment, and absence. Rowling’s imperfect families echo our own and their familiar struggles raise familiar questions. Is the family structure nurturing or chaotic? How are family members supported or shut out? When do parental expectations go too far? How does abuse impact children’s lives into adulthood and are they doomed to repeat unhealthy behaviors? Does the family allow individuality or dominate with the family narrative? How is unity usurped from within and without? What is the breaking point of family relationship and what is the fallout? Can deep wounds and rifts heal?

In OotP we learn more about families with whom we’re already familiar and are given for the first time critical information about others. I’ll examine one or more at a time. (All page references are from the Scholastic editions.)

The Trio

Harry, Ron, and Hermione are not merely a soul triptych of body/mind/spirit, alchemical trio, or even just friends. They are the primary unconventional family in the series, safety net and family to each other in every way. They love one another, go through much together, and support each other, with few quarrels overall. When the three are in harmony, things go well. When they have fights and divisions, they’re weak and floundering. Eventually they’ll be conventional family through marriage and children.

In PoA, Hermione and Ron had a schism over Scabbers and Crookshanks. In GoF, the Trio suffered two schisms: Ron believed Harry had secretly entered the Triwizard Cup tournament and felt betrayed, and Hermione and Ron fought over Hermione’s relationship with Viktor Krum.

In OotP, the Trio’s bonds have three severe tests.

At the beginning of OotP, Harry discovers that despite his battle with and revelation about Voldemort’s return, he’s been deliberately kept in the dark ever since. He’s been desperate for news while Ron and Hermione have not. They’ve been at Order headquarters in the thick of things, and have kept this information from him (63). Harry’s feelings of hurt and betrayal over this injustice causes him to lash out at his friends. If he can’t rely on them—his most intimate family, who can he rely on?

Dumbledore left Harry at the Dursleys to protect his life. This hidden placement within the Muggle world and Lily’s blood protection via Petunia, would keep Harry safe from the remaining “angry, desperate, and violent” Death Eaters and Voldemort’s possible return (835). Dumbledore knew he was condemning Harry to years of misery with the “the worst sort of Muggles.” However, the Dursleys provided Harry with an additional important protection: not being raised indulgently as the Boy Who Lived, the “pampered little prince” (837). No spoiled Dudley would have refused the Philosopher’s Stone or Riddle’s offer in the Chamber, defeated the Basilisk, or successfully faced Harry’s other difficult challenges. Only one toughened through suffering would be strong enough.

Still, Harry doesn’t know any of this during his painful childhood. He has suffered as an outsider to his family, and then he discovers that he has also been an outsider to the magical world where he rightfully belongs. He is completely ignorant of his heritage, yet is disconcertingly expected to live up to his “heroic” reputation when he knows nothing about his parents or past.

Time and again Harry has proven his worth, even recently standing toe to toe with Voldemort in the graveyard of Little Hangleton. He has earned every right to information about his own life and Voldemort’s actions. But once again he’s treated as an outsider, kept in the dark, and most painfully, by his two best friends—his “found family.”

We see a curious reverse of the Triwizard Cup champion selection when Ron is chosen as Prefect, not Harry. This is Harry’s “locket moment,” when he must deal with his own feelings of ill usage, and honestly face painful truths (167) about his expectations.

Harry’s turbulent feelings over both incidents perhaps tap into his childhood as devalued and uninformed outsider. He’s infuriated that this kind of treatment continues. In the headmaster’s office at the end of the book, Dumbledore confesses that he failed Harry in keeping things from him, and even tells Harry he should feel angrier.

We find some pleasant changes in the Trio in OotP. Harry finds his leadership potential grow, Ron has matured a lot, Hermione loosens up, and there’s more feeling of equal contribution between the three. But their bond is severely tested again when Hermione confronts Harry with his “saving people thing” (733) and is resistant toward his insistence on rescuing Sirius at the Ministry. Her point could be taken as a deep criticism of Harry’s very identity and his desire for good, and he doesn’t receive this appraisal well. A vehement fight ensues between them, yet Hermione and Ron, faithfulness trumping skepticism, help Harry anyway, and afterwards never once reproach him for the injuries they suffer in the botched mission. They always have and always will support Harry in familial love, never seeing him as a danger to be avoided (HBP 99).

In OotP the Trio expands their family with Neville, Ginny, and Luna, who provide faithful and invaluable secondary support, and with the DA. To the Trio, if you’re willing, you’re not excluded, whether you’re a clumsy friend, a half-giant, or an individualistic house elf. All have an important place at the family hearth.

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 HogwartsProfessor.com 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!

7 thoughts on “Family Ties in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—Part 3

  1. “She’s like my sister… I love her like a sister, and I expect she feels the same way about me.”–DH confirmation of your theories 🙂

    Great post, Arabella! I love the Trio–the three and their friendship are among my favorite things about the series. No one is ever more brother or sister to Harry than Ron and Hermione, and of course they both become so eventually by the marriages.

    Great highlighting of Hermione and Ron’s unconditional support and forgiveness during and after the Department of Mysteries. Only the closest friends go ahead and get in on a danger they’ve given warning of. And I love it that Neville, Ginny and Luna become included in this.

  2. Wonderful post, Arabella!

    I like how you show that a loving and nurturing family structure–which the Trio has–can also allow for genuine conflict, growth, and reconciliation. Understanding this will only help to clarify why other family units are unable to heal long-standing wounds.

    Also, it strikes me that not only are Harry and Hermione outsiders in and from the Muggle World, but each one is also an “only child” in their biological families, which perhaps heightens their longing for and appreciation of their Trio family.

  3. Thank you, Jenna. I should have used the DH “sister” quote, though I had it in mind. Harry is also generously forgiving to Ron in GoF when Ron apologizes.

    cbiondi, you encapsulated in a short sentence what makes the Trio such a great example of the way a healthy family works and how they are a measuring stick for other families in the series. And I like the point about Harry and Hermione being only children and Muggles. We get a picture of their “outsider” status in the Beedle the Bard stories discussion at Xenophilius Lovegood’s house, not knowing the stories “everyone knows.”

  4. Great post, Arabella. I was always moved by how deeply the trio came to depend on, care for, and learn from each other. cbiondi, I agree that Harry and Hermione seemed like outsiders, only children, who were deeply drawn to the comradeship of the trio. But I also think that Ron was sort of ‘lonely in a crowd’. As Dumbledore recognized, he was always overshadowed by his brothers and probably even Ginny, Molly’s longed-for daughter. Ron must have craved the special caring of his friends and must on some level have relished the fact that as the only member of the trio raised as a wizard he would (at last) be the one ‘in the know’.

  5. I agree, Mary Ellen. Ron is lost in the shuffle of his “more talented” brothers, and even his sister makes a name for herself with her famous bat bogey hex and Quidditch talents. This “outsider” found as much family with Hermione and Harry as they did with him

  6. In reading Sorcerer’s Stone with my son- his first time- I was struck by the circumstances that caused the trio to come together in the first place. Harry, as an outsider, had compassion on Hermione even though she was completely annoying and driven by her insecurities. And Ron, because he is Molly’s son, knew better than to leave a person in the path of a troll, for all that he griped about her in the first few chapters. And they continued, as you said, to be brought together by adversity, showing their “Gryffindor-ness” with their bravery and loyalty to Hogwarts. And, since I”m a huge Ron fan, I love how much he does in the first book and how much it is mirrored in book seven.

    But again, your post is about OOTP and I do find it interested in that it is Harry’s “rebellious” time against his Trio family. He is jealous, moody, doesn’t listen to their wise counsel with regard to Sirius’s actions or their advice about how to respond to Umbridge (which results in the scar on his hand). By Book Seven, of course, he comes around- as most of us do- to realizing how important and necessary that Trio Family is to his success, and ultimately survival- even with their dysfunctions.

  7. One of my favourite parts in the books is when Ron comes back to help Harry at the frozen lake in DH. Their apology to each other and the subsequent hug says so much about their unbreakable bond.

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