Rational Rebellion: Morality and the Rule of Law in Harry Potter

I’m at Leaky­Con in Bur­bank, CA right now, and yes­ter­day I pre­sent­ed a talk about law, moral­i­ty, and rebel­lion in Har­ry Pot­ter. It went bet­ter than I expect­ed, and though I wish I had been bet­ter pre­pared (and had prac­ticed it enough to not have to read it), it was fine, and I received pos­i­tive feed­back. Since most of you weren’t able to be there, I thought I’d post my talk and slides (with “(slide)” writ­ten into the script if you want to fol­low along). The slides are most­ly pic­tures and quotes to com­ple­ment the talk, but I did work on them, so I want­ed to put that out there.

With­out fur­ther ado:

Wel­come to Ratio­nal Rebel­lion: Moral­i­ty and the Rule of Law in Har­ry Pot­ter.

(slide) I’m Rachel Kibler, I dis­cov­ered Har­ry Pot­ter in 2003 and have loved Har­ry Pot­ter basi­cal­ly since 2003. I do have two dogs named Wash and Zoe though, so I’m an equal-oppor­tu­ni­ty nerd. And as you can see, my cakes are epic.

(slide) We’re going to talk today about how the char­ac­ters in Har­ry Pot­ter devel­op their moral­i­ty and rebel against author­i­ty. Har­ry, Ron, Hermione, Dra­co, the pri­or gen­er­a­tions of Snape, Sir­ius, and Dum­b­le­dore, and the next gen­er­a­tion in Albus and Scor­pius, all devel­op their sense of moral­i­ty part­ly as a reac­tion to author­i­ty and dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stance.

I’ll talk most­ly about Har­ry and his gen­er­a­tion, but I will touch on the oth­ers, includ­ing the behav­iors we see in Cursed Child. Before I real­ly say any­thing about Cursed Child, I’ll say so, so if you want to leave the room at that point, you can.

(slide) To make sure we’re all on the same page, I want to give my def­i­n­i­tion of rebel­lion, that it is “the act of resist­ing an estab­lished author­i­ty or influ­ence”. Basi­cal­ly, peo­ple with­out much pow­er act against peo­ple or insti­tu­tions with more pow­er. We see rebel­lion in many ways through­out canon. Some­times it’s small acts of rebel­lion, such as fig­ur­ing out how to get a book out of the restrict­ed sec­tion of the library, and some­times it’s large acts of rebel­lion, like start­ing Dumbledore’s Army. The greater the pow­er dif­fer­en­tial, and the more that is at stake, the more like­ly it is that peo­ple will rebel.

I have a legal back­ground, and I find the gov­ern­men­tal and legal struc­tures fas­ci­nat­ing, so please bear with me while I dis­cuss these a lit­tle bit.

(slide) The Min­istry of Mag­ic is meant to pro­tect witch­es and wiz­ards and keep their exis­tence a secret from mug­gles. How­ev­er, most of what the Min­istry ends up doing is pro­tect­ing itself from dif­fi­cul­ty and change. Fudge and Scrim­geour try to use Har­ry as a mas­cot, to bol­ster the Ministry’s rep­u­ta­tion, and their own. Fudge refused to lis­ten to Dum­b­le­dore about the return of Volde­mort and spent an entire year try­ing to pro­tect his domin­ion and sta­bil­i­ty and deny the truth. Scrim­geour does try to pro­tect Har­ry in the end, as he’s dying, but before his last moments, Scrim­geour did his best to pro­tect the Min­istry rather than pro­tect Har­ry. Scrimgeour’s rebel­lion, the only time he does some­thing against what he’s told to do, hap­pens when he’s about to die.

(slide) One thing we have come to expect from mod­ern West­ern gov­ern­ments is a series of checks and bal­ances on gov­ern­ment. In the wiz­ard­ing world, how­ev­er, there are no for­mal restraints on pow­er. The Min­istry has inter­twined branch­es of gov­ern­ment, with the Min­is­ter for Mag­ic act­ing as head of the Wiz­eng­amot, after kick­ing out Dum­b­le­dore, and writ­ing laws as he sees fit. In democ­ra­cies, it is a prob­lem for the same per­son to have exec­u­tive pow­er, judi­cial pow­er, and leg­isla­tive pow­er all at the same time. Gen­er­al­ly, the peo­ple who write the laws should not be the ones who decide whether they are law­ful.

At the begin­ning of Order of the Phoenix, Fudge says to Dum­b­le­dore, “Laws can be changed,” and Dum­b­le­dore responds, “Of course they can, and you cer­tain­ly seem to be mak­ing many changes.” Oth­er bureau­crats write laws with­out legal over­sight as well: Dolores Umbridge drafts were­wolf leg­is­la­tion, maybe cen­taur leg­is­la­tion too, and Arthur Weasley drafts his Mug­gle Pro­tec­tion Act.

It is hard to deter­mine a person’s moral­i­ty when they have pow­er, because they often seek to pre­serve that pow­er to the detri­ment of oth­ers. Fudge is no excep­tion, con­sol­i­dat­ing his pow­er and putting struc­tures into place that oth­ers rebel against in order to make real change.

There is no press over­sight of the Min­istry either. The Dai­ly Prophet is leaned upon by the Min­istry to keep Voldemort’s return under wraps. It doesn’t try to go against the Ministry’s wish­es, instead print­ing what the Min­istry says. Rita Skeeter says the Dai­ly Prophet exists to sell itself, and though it does some­times say things against the Min­istry, it gen­er­al­ly just prints what it’s told to.

There don’t seem to be many lawyers involved in tri­als. In the tri­als we see in the Pen­sieve, the hear­ing Har­ry goes to, and the com­mis­sion hear­ing of Mrs. Cat­ter­mole, the Min­istry bureau­crat is the pros­e­cu­tion and the judge and a mem­ber of the jury. The accused has no rep­re­sen­ta­tion. This goes against the rights most coun­tries give their cit­i­zens, and it shows how mono­lith­ic the Min­istry is in the wiz­ard­ing world.

In law, there’s a dif­fer­ence between civ­il law and crim­i­nal law. Civ­il law deals with actions between peo­ple, and crim­i­nal law deals with wrongs against the state. The same thing can be dealt with by both types of law, such as assault, but in civ­il law, the per­son who was assault­ed brings a law­suit, while in crim­i­nal law, the gov­ern­ment files the case. Civ­il law also cov­ers things like con­tracts and prop­er­ty. A civ­il law­suit gen­er­al­ly results in mon­ey chang­ing hands to fix what went wrong, or some­one being required to stop a spe­cif­ic behav­ior, where a crim­i­nal case can include mon­ey but also jail time or pro­ba­tion.

(slide – keep eye on slide and use “reparo” to fix it) Con­tracts are found in the wiz­ard­ing world, but they are a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from how we think of them. A con­tract requires an offer and accep­tance. Once some­one makes an offer and the offer is accept­ed, the con­tract is bind­ing and both peo­ple have to per­form. One con­tract we see is the Gob­let of Fire. Stu­dents sub­mit their names (an offer), and if they are cho­sen (an accep­tance), they are oblig­ed to con­tin­ue. We don’t know what the penal­ty is for not con­tin­u­ing, but Bartemius Crouch makes it clear that Har­ry has no choice in the mat­ter.

Gen­er­al­ly, for mug­gles, penal­ties do not hap­pen auto­mat­i­cal­ly if some­one breaks the con­tract. In Har­ry Pot­ter, though, we see con­tracts that we call self-exe­cut­ing con­tracts, where penal­ties take place auto­mat­i­cal­ly upon cer­tain con­di­tions. The parch­ment with the names of Dumbledore’s Army is a self-exe­cut­ing con­tract. By sign­ing the con­tract, the stu­dents agree to keep their mouths shut. As we saw with Mari­et­ta Edge­combe, when she broke that promise, she broke out in pim­ples spelling “sneak” on her fore­head. Mari­et­ta rebelled against the rebel­lion, show­ing that her loy­al­ties were with the Min­istry rather than with her fel­low stu­dents.

The most crit­i­cal of the self-exe­cut­ing con­tracts in the Unbreak­able Vow. We see Snape and Nar­cis­sa Mal­foy make the Unbreak­able Vow that Snape will pro­tect Dra­co, and that if Dra­co can’t per­form, Snape will fin­ish the task of killing Dum­b­le­dore. Ron tells us that the penal­ty for break­ing an Unbreak­able Vow is death. It is by far the most dras­tic of the self-exe­cut­ing con­tracts. It is a con­tract that gives no oth­er options, that allows for no rebel­lion.

(slide) Tort law (not torte law, which would be deli­cious) deals with harms between peo­ple. We don’t get any men­tion of tort law in canon, and I believe this may be because most harms can be fixed with mag­ic. The harms that would be ripe for a law­suit include Umbridge mak­ing Har­ry carve up his own hand – that’s a bat­tery if ever I saw one – and Har­ry and Dum­b­le­dore could have a rea­son­able libel law­suit against the Dai­ly Prophet. It could be that soci­ety is sta­ble enough with­out tort law­suits, but tort law is also a way for indi­vid­u­als to raise their claims against the state, so Sir­ius, had he lived, could have sued because of his unlaw­ful impris­on­ment. I’m not entire­ly sure why tort law is miss­ing from canon, but the best expla­na­tion I can think of is that most of the “every­day” harms can be fixed with mag­ic, and peo­ple don’t need to resort to extra­or­di­nary mea­sures to improve things.

(slide) The oth­er aspect of civ­il law that we find in Har­ry Pot­ter is prop­er­ty law, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the form of estates. Harry’s par­ents leave him all their gold. With their house blown up, they couldn’t have left any­thing else, but we know that inher­i­tance at least works in this instance. Sir­ius leaves Har­ry Grim­mauld Place, Kreach­er, and all his pos­ses­sions, get­ting around the tra­di­tion that could have sent his stuff to Bel­la­trix Lestrange. Dumbledore’s will is inspect­ed by the Min­istry, which is not uncom­mon, though inspect­ing the actu­al objects being passed is uncom­mon. Scrim­geour said this was to make sure Dum­b­le­dore wasn’t pass­ing on dark objects, which Hermione argued with. Dum­b­le­dore did man­age to pass on the objects in his will, except for Gryffindor’s sword. I think he wasn’t actu­al­ly expect­ing to be able to pass on the sword, but was just clu­ing the trio into the fact that it was a crit­i­cal part of their hunt for hor­crux­es. Dum­b­le­dore would have known bet­ter than to think he had the right to pass on the sword. His will was strate­gi­cal­ly draft­ed to pass on infor­ma­tion in addi­tion to objects.

The odd aspect of the law about what hap­pens when peo­ple die is in guardian­ship, that Dum­b­le­dore decides where Har­ry should go after his par­ents are killed, rather than the Min­istry. Per­haps Dum­b­le­dore had the author­i­ty of the Min­istry behind him, per­haps he cleared it with them after­wards, but in mug­gle soci­ety, the court con­sid­ers the best inter­ests of the child, and though Dum­b­le­dore did con­sid­er Harry’s best inter­ests, he did not do it in a method­i­cal or legal process.

(slide) That cov­ers civ­il law. Crim­i­nal law is much more exten­sive­ly cov­ered in canon, not that that should make us feel bet­ter about things. We know that there are three Unfor­give­able Curs­es, the Imperius Curse, the Cru­cia­tus Curse, and Ava­da Kedavra. Per­form­ing any one of these on a per­son sends you to Azk­a­ban for life. The­o­ret­i­cal­ly. In prac­tice, from what we see, it doesn’t real­ly hap­pen. Pos­si­bly because they’re not trace­able, but that’s an issue for anoth­er time. The Cru­cia­tus Curse and Ava­da Kedavra are unfor­give­able for obvi­ous rea­sons, but the Imperius Curse strikes me as par­tic­u­lar­ly bad because it removes a person’s abil­i­ty to choose between right and wrong. In law, we say that the per­son los­es their agency, which is some­thing we val­ue very high­ly.

Pun­ish­ment is not dis­trib­uted very fair­ly. We see two or three lev­els of pun­ish­ment in canon. One is a fine, such as Arthur Weasley hav­ing to pay a fine for bewitch­ing the Ford Anglia to fly. A pos­si­ble lev­el of pun­ish­ment is expul­sion and break­ing the person’s wand, like what hap­pened to Hagrid when he was wrong­ful­ly accused of open­ing the Cham­ber of Secrets. This may or may not be a Min­istry-sanc­tioned lev­el of pun­ish­ment – the break­ing of his wand prob­a­bly was, but maybe not the expul­sion, judg­ing by Dum­b­le­dore cor­rect­ing Fudge in Order of the Phoenix about what the Min­istry could and could not do with­out a hear­ing. At any rate, the third lev­el of pun­ish­ment is being sent to Azk­a­ban. There is no light lev­el of secu­ri­ty there – demen­tors are every­where. Hagrid said that com­ing out of there was like get­ting his life back. He was sent there as a pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure too, not even after a tri­al.

The final thing about the wiz­ard­ing legal sys­tem is that there is no appeals process. In mug­gle courts, if you think the judge or jury got it wrong, you can take it to the next lev­el and have a fresh set of eyes on the issue. In the wiz­ard­ing world, the Wiz­eng­amot is the final step, there is noth­ing past it, so if they get it wrong, you’re left with­out a way to fix it.

The Min­istry is just one source of author­i­ty in the wiz­ard­ing world. For chil­dren, Hog­warts rep­re­sents anoth­er author­i­ty.

(slide) Hog­warts is a sur­ro­gate home, espe­cial­ly for Har­ry and Tom Rid­dle. It offers struc­ture, for­mal­i­ty, and order, which is what we find in many fam­i­ly homes. The dif­fer­ent facets of human­i­ty are shown in the dif­fer­ent hous­es. We see ambi­tion and loy­al­ty and intel­li­gence and brav­ery, and though Slytherin turns out more dark wiz­ards than oth­er hous­es, it also turns out the good, such as Snape. Hog­warts does turn out the good, and it also turns out the bad. Hog­warts offers for­mal­i­ty and order and struc­ture, but the influ­ences in dif­fer­ent wiz­ards’ and witch­es’ lives are not as for­mal­ly defined. Tom Rid­dle, the Lestranges, Lucius Mal­foy, all went through Hog­warts, influ­enced by var­i­ous peo­ple (Slughorn among them). Though there is adult influ­ence, there is also a lot of influ­ence between stu­dents. We see in Half-Blood Prince that Tom Rid­dle cre­at­ed the fore­run­ners of the Death Eaters while he was at school. Har­ry, respond­ing to his own past, cre­ates a cir­cle of peo­ple loy­al to him through Dumbledore’s Army.

Hog­warts oper­ates in ten­sion with the Min­istry. Whether this is unique to Dumbledore’s reign at the school, or whether it has always been so is unclear, but at least dur­ing this rel­e­vant peri­od, there is a lot of ten­sion with the Min­istry over who has author­i­ty at Hog­warts. In Order of the Phoenix, we see what Hog­warts is like under com­plete Min­istry con­trol, but the more com­mon world we see is where Hog­warts is sep­a­rate from and rather dis­dain­ful of Min­istry inter­fer­ence.

Teach­ers are left to their own devices to pun­ish or reward stu­dents. The points giv­en or tak­en are pret­ty arbi­trary. In Philosopher’s Stone, Snape takes away two points from Har­ry in his first Potions les­son, in oth­er books Hermione is giv­en five or ten points for cor­rect answers, and there seems to be no rhyme or rea­son to these small amounts of points, and some­times even for large amounts of points, like Snape tak­ing 70 points from Har­ry for being late and dressed in mug­gle clothes in Half-Blood Prince. The only time we see over­sight of pun­ish­ments or rewards is in Order of the Phoenix, with Umbridge as High Inquisi­tor. Though stu­dents have rules they must fol­low, the pun­ish­ment for break­ing those rules varies pret­ty wide­ly, to the point of seem­ing arbi­trary. Is it any won­der that the trio seem to exhib­it lit­tle regard for the rules, when they’re just as like­ly to lose (or gain) fifty points as they are five points?

(slide) With all of these laws and struc­tures in place, rebel­lion turns out to be the ratio­nal way for­ward. Rebel­lion takes courage and a lot of deter­mi­na­tion. There are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent rea­sons for rebelling that we see in canon. One is stand­ing up for what is right, anoth­er is doing what oth­ers aren’t doing or aren’t seen to be doing, and the biggest is a reac­tion to cor­rup­tion or evil. Each of these have a num­ber of exam­ples.

One instance of stand­ing up for what is right is Firen­ze going against Bane by res­cu­ing Har­ry in Philosopher’s Stone, when he says he will set him­self against the heav­ens if he has to. Hermione cre­ates S.P.E.W. and stands up for house elf rights. The Min­istry has a depart­ment for the reg­u­la­tion and con­trol of mag­i­cal crea­tures, but Hermione thought house-elves were not being treat­ed with dig­ni­ty. Har­ry saves the mug­gle-borns from the Com­mis­sion in Death­ly Hal­lows. He saw the gov­ern­ment act­ing out­side its rea­son­able author­i­ty, and he went against the struc­tures we dis­cussed ear­li­er.

Rebel­lion also hap­pens when the char­ac­ters need to do what oth­ers aren’t doing. This is Hermione brew­ing the Polyjuice Potion when the adults didn’t seem to be inves­ti­gat­ing. It’s using the Time Turn­er to save Buck­beak and Sir­ius when no one else can. It’s tak­ing the hor­crux books out of Dumbledore’s office because they need the infor­ma­tion to con­tin­ue with their quest. This kind of rebel­lion seems to require more thought­ful rebel­lion, which is pos­si­bly why Hermione is the lead in these exam­ples.

The third kind of rebel­lion is a reac­tion to cor­rup­tion or evil. This is the most excit­ing of the kinds of rebel­lion that we see in canon. It includes Dumbledore’s Army, which is nat­u­ral­ly a reac­tion to Umbridge’s reign of ter­ror at Hog­warts. Dob­by, in com­ing to warn Har­ry Pot­ter about the Cham­ber of Secrets, breaks the spir­it but not the let­ter of his enslave­ment. He has to pun­ish him­self, but he is able to warn Har­ry. And of course, drop­ping out of school to hunt for hor­crux­es is a rebel­lious reac­tion to Volde­mort gain­ing pow­er.

(slide) Moral devel­op­ment hap­pens through­out this rebel­lion. Some­times it caus­es the rebel­lion and some­times growth hap­pens because of the rebel­lion. When moral­i­ty caus­es the rebel­lion, it is because the char­ac­ters real­ize that truth-telling, sub­mis­sion to author­i­ty, and fol­low­ing the rules are not always the right things to do. Some­times it’s okay to lie, some­times it’s okay to break rules. Exam­ples of this are going after the Philosopher’s Stone because he need­ed to pre­vent Volde­mort from return­ing, and start­ing Dumbledore’s Army after endur­ing the tor­ture from Umbridge and ridicule from the Min­istry. And some­times the moral devel­op­ment hap­pens because of the rebel­lion, like choos­ing to fight Volde­mort in the grave­yard. It was an act of rebel­lion that turned into a strong moral stance.

(slide) One thing about Harry’s moral­i­ty is that it’s not bold or auda­cious. It is based in loy­al­ty and rea­son. Har­ry rejects the ambi­tion of Slytherin (for the most part) and embod­ies the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the oth­er three hous­es. He relies strong­ly on friend­ship. One quote that I par­tic­u­lar­ly like on this point is, “Friend­ship strength­ens the soul’s integri­ty: friends become bet­ter peo­ple by act­ing for the other’s good and build­ing virtue. In short, lov­ing makes us more ful­ly human.” Har­ry always opts to be ful­ly human. In his grief for Sir­ius, he does say that he wants out, that he wants the pain to stop, but he seems to under­stand, even then, that his grief is because of love, and that love drove out Voldemort’s hate and cru­el­ty. Har­ry con­tin­ues to rely strong­ly on his friends, show­ing loy­al­ty to them and (most­ly) lis­ten­ing to their advice. His moral­i­ty is based in rea­son, which we see as he con­sid­ers his actions and is able to con­vince oth­ers of the right­ness of them.

I said his moral­i­ty is not bold or auda­cious. This is most­ly true. When he does act bold­ly, with­out much rea­son, he gets it wrong. We see this in Order of the Phoenix, when he pan­ics and thinks Sir­ius is being held in the Depart­ment of Mys­ter­ies by Volde­mort. Harry’s bold actions lead to Sirius’s death. When Har­ry becomes so obsessed with the Death­ly Hal­lows that he stops think­ing about the task Dum­b­le­dore left him, Dob­by dies.

(slide) Pla­to talked about philoso­pher rulers. He said that the peo­ple who should be rul­ing are the peo­ple who don’t want to rule, that philoso­phers should be rulers instead of the ambi­tious peo­ple who want to be rulers. The traits, accord­ing to Pla­to, of the philoso­pher rulers are courage, wis­dom, jus­tice, and self-con­trol. We see these ele­ments in Har­ry through­out the series. He dis­plays courage in small and large ways, he learns wis­dom over the course of the sto­ry, he stops the killing when­ev­er he can, show­ing jus­tice, and his self-con­trol is even­tu­al­ly a prod­uct of Dobby’s death. This cul­mi­nates in Har­ry walk­ing to his own death. Dumbledore’s quote is par­tic­u­lar­ly poignant in this set­ting: “It is our choic­es that show what we tru­ly are much more than our abil­i­ties.” Tobias Wolff said, “We define our­selves and our deep­est val­ues by the choic­es we make day by day, hour by hour, over a life­time.” Har­ry gen­er­al­ly makes the right choic­es. In Death­ly Hal­lows, Lupin says on Pot­ter­watch that Harry’s heart is in the right place and his deci­sions are almost always good. What Har­ry real­izes through­out his moral devel­op­ment is that life is ulti­mate­ly less impor­tant than virtue. That being good is so much more impor­tant than pro­tect­ing your life.


Harry’s moral­i­ty is in stark con­trast to Voldemort’s. Where Har­ry accepts that he will die, Volde­mort tries to escape this fate and his own mor­tal­i­ty. In Philosopher’s Stone, he says, “See what I have become?” He was a mere shad­ow of what he was before. Volde­mort acts with pur­pose but not with courage and not with loy­al­ty. His actions, there­fore, lead to dev­as­ta­tion rather than vic­to­ry in the end.

(slide) Oth­er char­ac­ters show their own moral­i­ty. Ron, for instance, is a lit­tle slow on the uptake, but he comes around and acts out of loy­al­ty to Har­ry and Hermione. Although we see instances where Ron acts self­ish­ly, his loy­al­ty saves Har­ry and Hermione many times. That friend­ship, that loy­al­ty, is also the cause of his anguish, as we see in how Slytherin’s lock­et tor­tures him. He felt like his best friends may have betrayed him, and that was the source of deep­est fears. Loy­al­ty is the base of his moral­i­ty, and it is how he sees the world. He sees peo­ple as his peo­ple or not his peo­ple.

Hermione, on the oth­er hand, is a leader. Her moral­i­ty is root­ed in rea­son and deter­mi­na­tion. When she is con­vinced of the right­ness or right­eous­ness of an action, noth­ing will stop her. Her acts of rebel­lion, as I men­tioned before, include the Polyjuice Potion, S.P.E.W., and Dumbledore’s Army. Her devel­op­ment through­out the series involves her loos­en­ing up, real­iz­ing that rules can be bro­ken and some­times must be bro­ken to do what is right. She acts as a voice of rea­son and stands up against injus­tice.

(slide) Snape is an inter­est­ing look at moral devel­op­ment. Lily was his ground­ing through­out his child­hood and time at Hog­warts. Although he was pulled towards Volde­mort by Lucius Mal­foy and oth­ers, his heart remained tied to Lily. It took Volde­mort threat­en­ing Lily to final­ize his loy­al­ties and make him turn to Dum­b­le­dore. He then acts out of courage and love and acts as a dou­ble agent. He pro­tects Har­ry as best he can for Lily, and he does the mer­cy killing of Dum­b­le­dore. A quote I real­ly like about this sit­u­a­tion is: “Love requires self-sac­ri­fice, bind’s one’s hap­pi­ness to the good of anoth­er, makes one vul­ner­a­ble to loss and grief, and strength­ens one’s com­mit­ment to the good.” Snape loves Lily to the very end, com­mit­ting him­self to the cause she worked for and the peo­ple she loved.

(slide) Like Snape, Dra­co is pulled towards dark­ness, pos­si­bly again by Lucius, but unlike Snape, he doesn’t have a Lily in his life. He tries to be a dark wiz­ard, but someone’s influ­ence kept him from going over the edge, per­haps Dumbledore’s, or per­haps hav­ing Har­ry as an exam­ple. I think the most like­ly pos­i­tive influ­ence in his life is his moth­er. She wasn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly good, but she seemed to be a gen­tler force, going to great lengths to pro­tect him. Grant­ed, Dra­co does try to use an Unfor­give­able Curse on Har­ry in Half-Blood Prince and tries to kill him in Death­ly Hal­lows, but he’s unable to kill Dum­b­le­dore, and he does act out of loy­al­ty, albeit to his fam­i­ly rather than friends who influ­ence him for good.

Even Merope Gaunt is a redeemed char­ac­ter. She even­tu­al­ly finds the good. Although she begins by enchant­i­ng Tom Rid­dle, Sr., she stops enchant­i­ng him out of deep love for him. She took the risk that he would leave her, but she couldn’t bear to keep tak­ing his agency from him. The les­son we learn from Merope is that some­times, striv­ing for good ends in heart­break. Being good some­times means self-sac­ri­fice and los­ing a piece of your heart.

Sir­ius is some­one whose rash­ness was encour­aged by James and tem­pered by Lupin. His moral­i­ty reflects this, ground­ed strong­ly in loy­al­ty and a sense of what is good in the world. He rebelled against his fam­i­ly name, choos­ing instead to fol­low Dum­b­le­dore. His Sort­ing into Gryffind­or was prob­a­bly a reflec­tion of this rebel­lion, because, like Phineas Nigel­lus said, Slytherins can be brave, but they always know when to save them­selves. With­out that strong sense of self-preser­va­tion that Phineas Nigel­lus talked about, Gryffind­or was the obvi­ous choice for a Black. Sir­ius under­stood that there are things worth dying for, as he told the Weasleys, and that dying for a good cause can mean more than liv­ing for a cor­rupt one.

Dum­b­le­dore also devel­oped his moral­i­ty from a young age, and even con­tin­ued to learn and refine his world­view in his last years. He was deeply affect­ed by his father’s impris­on­ment and his sister’s men­tal issues. He was loy­al to his fam­i­ly and real­ized that his self­ish­ness and love of pow­er were his weak­ness­es. It took his sister’s death to shake him out of going down a wrong path, and then bod­i­ly harm through the cursed hal­low to remind him of what is impor­tant. He was wise, but he still learned, and his strength was that he acknowl­edged his weak­ness­es and learned from them.

Dumbledore’s great secret is that love con­quers. This is some­thing that Har­ry has to real­ize over and over again, that love dri­ves out hate and is vic­to­ri­ous. Some­times love con­quers just because it’s there, not because it does any­thing, like Lily’s love for Har­ry pro­tect­ing him from Volde­mort for all those years.

(slide) I want to turn to Cursed Child for a lit­tle bit. It begins with Albus Severus Pot­ter rebelling against the fam­i­ly name and the lega­cies of his name­sakes. Albus doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly grow the same way Har­ry does in his own sto­ry, but Scor­pius does. Scor­pius is the one with the true heart. Scor­pius is left on his own for some of the play, and he learns a lot about striv­ing for good. When talk­ing about the world where the Augury and Volde­mort were still rul­ing, he says, “I hat­ed it there. Cedric was a dif­fer­ent per­son entirely—dark, dan­ger­ous. My dad—doing any­thing they want­ed him to. And me? I dis­cov­ered anoth­er Scor­pius, you know? Enti­tled, angry, mean—people were fright­ened of me. It feels like we were all test­ed and we all—failed.” And then, in Godric’s Hol­low, Scor­pius says to Albus, “And I wish I could tell my dad—well, I’m not sure what. I think I’d like to tell him that I’m occa­sion­al­ly capa­ble of more brav­ery than he might think I am.” Scor­pius rec­og­nizes that there is evil in the world, and he rejects it. Even though he’s in Slytherin, he strives for good.

(slide) Dum­b­le­dore speaks truths in Cursed Child just like in the series. JK Rowl­ing said that when she has some­thing truth­ful or impor­tant to say, she has Dum­b­le­dore or Hermione say it. In the play, Dum­b­le­dore talks through his por­trait. When Har­ry talks about want­i­ng to pro­tect Albus, he responds, “We can­not pro­tect the young from harm. Pain must and will come. You’re sup­posed to teach them how to meet life.” (slide) He also says, “There is nev­er a per­fect answer in this messy, emo­tion­al world. Per­fec­tion is beyond the reach of humankind, beyond the reach of mag­ic. In every shin­ing moment of hap­pi­ness is that drop of poi­son: the knowl­edge that pain will come again. Be hon­est to those you love, show your pain. To suf­fer is as human as to breathe.”

We see that Har­ry is still learn­ing after twen­ty-two years. When talk­ing to Dra­co towards the end of the play, he says, “Love blinds. We have both tried to give our sons, not what they need­ed, but what we need­ed. We’ve been so busy try­ing to rewrite our own pasts, we’ve blight­ed their present.”

Har­ry Pot­ter shows us a lot about what it means to act moral­ly. The char­ac­ters find their own strength and courage. It’s when they act out of courage, loy­al­ty, rea­son, jus­tice, self-knowl­edge, and self-con­trol that they dis­play their human­i­ty best. When they reject any one of those, they get things wrong, but by stand­ing up for what is right and by rebelling when it’s nec­es­sary, they find their true selves.

/end of talk

The points that came up dur­ing the ses­sion were that the mono­lith­ic nature of the Min­istry is not nec­es­sar­i­ly unknown in British gov­ern­ment gen­er­al­ly (that they don’t have the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers the same way we do), that there may be an appeals process that we just don’t know about, and that many peo­ple are dri­ven nuts by the arbi­trary award and removal of house points. One point that came up after­wards is that Dum­b­le­dore’s Army is an exam­ple of moral­i­ty cre­at­ing rebel­lion and rebel­lion cre­at­ing moral­i­ty, depend­ing on the per­son. I thought it was a fab­u­lous insight that some peo­ple joined the DA for some oth­er rea­son, to get back at Umbridge or to be cool, and it end­ed up cre­at­ing moral­i­ty there.

So that’s my talk. I’d love to hear it if you have com­ments or ques­tions.