Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Characters/James Potter

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Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Character
James Potter
Gender Male
Hair color Black
Eye color Hazel
Related Family Lily Potter, Harry Potter
Loyalty Lily Potter, Albus Dumbledore, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew

Overview[edit]

James Potter is the father of Harry Potter, the hero of the series. James' death at the hands of Lord Voldemort offstage, just before the opening chapter of the first book, sets up the conflict in the entire series. James was born 27 March 1960 and died 31 October, 1981. He was 20 when his son was born and was 21 at his death.

Role in the Books[edit]

Beginner warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

Philosopher's Stone[edit]

Though introduced as Harry's dead father, James Potter plays no direct role in this book. His image appears in the Mirror of Erised when Harry finds it the first time at Christmas, and a large number of pictures of him are in the photo album given to Harry by Rubeus Hagrid just before Harry leaves the school for the summer. Hagrid has mentioned also that James Potter was head boy in his seventh year at Hogwarts. James apparently owned an Invisibility Cloak that was given anonymously to Harry at Christmas, and then mysteriously returned to him in May when he had misplaced it. This Cloak becomes an important tool for Harry, Ron, and Hermione in exploring the school.

Prisoner of Azkaban[edit]

The Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher this year is Remus Lupin, who was one of James' best friends; at a number of points in the story, there is discussion between Harry and Professor Lupin about James. Additionally, the scenes in the Shrieking Shack involve Lupin, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew, all James' close friends, and include a number of details about their mutual school days. One major revelation is that James was an unregistered Animagus.

When Harry, Hermione, and Sirius Black are being attacked by the Dementors, someone casts a Patronus charm; Harry initially believes it to be James.

It was also revealed at the end of this book that the form James took as an Animagus was that of a stag. This had earlier caused some disquiet to Lupin; Harry's Patronus charm took the shape of a stag, and Lupin seems to have recognized it.

Goblet of Fire[edit]

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, while Harry is battling Lord Voldemort in the graveyard, the Priori Incantatem effect causes shadows of Voldemort's victims to appear, including Harry's father and mother who speak with him. The shades gather around Voldemort, hindering his attack on Harry when he breaks the connection between the two wands, just long enough for Harry to escape.

In the book's earlier editions, there was the famous mistake of the wand order. The shadows appear from Voldemort's wand starting with the most recent and proceeding towards the oldest, but the earlier editions had James appearing before Lily, implying that he died after her. This was corrected by the author in later editions.

Harry also decides that, emulating his father, he will die fighting Voldemort, rather than hiding behind a stone, if he must die.

Order of the Phoenix[edit]

At the party held at Order of the Phoenix Headquarters to celebrate Ron's being made a prefect, Alastor Moody shows Harry a picture of the Order of the Phoenix from the time of Voldemort's first rise to power. Moody seems to think Harry will be pleased to see pictures of his parents in the Order; Harry feels that he has been ambushed by this sudden revelation.

Late in the book, Harry, while viewing Professor Snape’s memory in Dumbledore's Pensieve, watches James Potter during his school days with his best friends Sirius Black, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew.

“It was as though he was looking at himself but with deliberate mistakes. James’s eyes were hazel, his nose was longer than Harry’s, and there was no scar on his forehead, but they had the same thin face, same mouth, same eyebrows. James’s hair stuck up at the back exactly as Harry’s did, his hands could have been Harry’s and Harry could tell that when James stood up they would be within an inch of each other’s heights.” (Page 641 of the US edition)

In that memory, Harry sees his father, apparently unprovoked, tormenting Snape. The current-day Snape catches him and hauls him bodily out of that memory. Harry is deeply disturbed by what he saw, his perception of his father radically changed. He remembers Snape's earlier statement that James had almost managed to get him killed, and wonders where the truth lies; he himself would never have behaved as his father did, and yet everyone tells him James was such a good person.

Harry broods for a long time over this revelation, eventually breaking in to Professor Umbridge's office so that he can talk to Sirius Black via the Floo network. There, speaking with Sirius and Lupin, Harry learns that the memory is accurate, but that James matured into a kind and compassionate man. This hardly consoles Harry, though, realizing he is the same age James was in the memory, and that he is not beating up his fellow students.

Half-Blood Prince[edit]

Harry mentions, after Dumbledore's funeral, that he has to visit Godric's Hollow, as that is where everything began. He feels, among other things, that he must visit his parents' graves.

Deathly Hallows[edit]

Harry learns that Albus Dumbledore once lived in Godric's Hollow, just as Harry's parents had, and also that Bathilda Bagshot still resides there. Bathilda, old as she is, may remember details about the Potters and Dumbledore that she can share with Harry. Though Harry decides to visit Godric's Hollow, circumstances prevent his doing so until Christmas. In the meanwhile, he finds a letter his mother wrote to Sirius in which Lily says that Dumbledore borrowed James' Invisibility Cloak.

Harry and Hermione arrive at Godric's Hollow on Christmas Eve. Crossing the village square, Harry sees that the war memorial, to a Wizard's eye, contains a statue of his parents and himself as a baby. He locates his parents' gravestone; Hermione creates a wreath of roses to lay upon it. Leaving the village, Harry finds the Potters' cottage; it has become a makeshift memorial, with the cottage's wall still bearing the scars from Voldemort's attack.

As they escape Godric's Hollow, Harry sees, through the shared link between his and Voldemort's mind, Voldemort's memories of the night his parents were murdered. James, caught unaware by Voldemort and without his wand, had fallen almost immediately.

When Harry, Hermione, and Ron visit Xenophilius Lovegood, Harry learns that his father's Invisibility Cloak is probably one of the three Deathly Hallows. Because it was such a unique artifact, Dumbledore had borrowed it, wanting to study it. We will learn that Dumbledore, as a young man, was fascinated by the Hallows, and was unable to pass up an opportunity to investigate the Cloak, just as he was with the third Hallow later.

Harry eventually learns that his fate is inextricably entwined with Voldemort's, that he must face, and be killed by, Voldemort in order that Voldemort might die. His fear is too great to allow him to pass the Dementors guarding the Forbidden Forest, so using the Resurrection Stone, Harry summons the shades of his parents, Remus Lupin, and Sirius Black to sustain him as he goes to meet his death. Upon reaching the clearing where Voldemort awaits, he deliberately drops the stone, releasing the four shades.

Strengths[edit]

It is implied by those who knew him that James was a powerful and talented wizard, able to master the Animagus transformation at fifteen. He also co-created the Marauder's Map with Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew. From the Prophecy, we understand that he defied Lord Voldemort three times, though no details are given as to how that happened. Remus Lupin has stated that he had been one of the cleverest Hogwarts students of his time.

Weaknesses[edit]

According to Remus Lupin, James' ultimate downfall was his trust in his friends, as he was betrayed by his close friend, Peter Pettigrew. It is possible that another weakness was concern for his wife and son, as he sacrificed his own life in an attempt to give Lily time to get baby Harry to safety.

Relationships with Other Characters[edit]

James married Lily Evans, who he met at Hogwarts. They had one child, Harry.

During his time at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, James was popular with other students, though he could be a rather arrogant bully. He, with active assistance from Sirius Black, and acquiescence from Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew, often tormented a classmate, Severus Snape, resulting in Severus' permanent and unreasonable hatred for James, and later, Harry.

James was a devoted and loving husband and father who cherished his son, Harry. A letter that Harry found at Number 12, Grimmauld Place, indicated that James would often play with baby Harry.

Analysis[edit]

We see James in two quite different lights. In Severus Snape's memories, from his first encounter with James in their mutual first year at Hogwarts up until "Snape's Worst Memory" in their fifth year, James was arrogant and a bully. Remus Lupin admits to Harry that this was how James behaved but had later chosen to mend his behaviour, becoming a self-sacrificing, caring and intelligent man who was extremely loyal to his family and friends. James was also mischievous and had a good sense of humour.

During James' teenage years, he had tried to attract Lily Evans' attention, but she ignored him, turned off by his bullying nature. Apparently, though, in his final two years at Hogwarts, he matured enough to show his sensitive side. We never see this, but James could not have remained the bully we initially see, and yet been the compassionate man Remus and Sirius describe, and certainly Lily would have remained aloof. However, James and Lily married shortly after graduating Hogwarts, and together joined the Order of the Phoenix, and had a son, Harry Potter. It was for his family's sake that James died, trying to give Lily enough time to escape with Harry.

Harry was frequently told that he physically resembled his father. Based on others' recollections about James, Harry built a rather idealized image of him. But when Harry learned that fifteen-year-old James often bullied weaker students, including Severus Snape, the disillusionment proved difficult for him to deal with, though he still loved his father. Harry later accepted that his father must have matured beyond his earlier bad behaviour in order for his mother to have married him.

Questions[edit]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

When Harry summoned James' spirit with the Resurrection Stone, James told his son how extremely proud of him he was, that he loved him, and would remain with him until his life ended.

Throughout the series, we see Harry's image of his father mature as Harry matures himself. Hagrid's initial description of James and Lily leads Harry to form an idealized image of his father, one which is seriously shaken by the revelations in Snape's Worst Memory. Harry is unable to get past this new image of James as a bully, in part because of sudden revelations concerning Dumbledore's past at the start of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, until very nearly the end of the series; in this, he is helped by the resolution of his worries about Dumbledore's past. It is only with Aberforth's illumination of Dumbledore's personal history that Harry starts to apply the aphorism, "knowing people by their choices," to his father and Dumbledore. By the end of the series, Harry's image of his father has become much more balanced and true to who we believe James actually was; Harry has grown out of his childish hero worship, and gained an understanding of the path that shaped James.

The absence of Harry's father makes his adoption of a series of father figures seem realistic. We can see that Harry tries to cast first Hagrid, then Lupin, into that role with limited success; then Sirius, with slightly better results; and finally, Dumbledore. Mr. Weasley provides some fatherly characteristics as well, particularly during the Quidditch World Cup in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. One of the author's strengths is the way she is able to make Harry's unconscious search for someone to replace James in his affections seem natural, keeping it low-key enough that it doesn't intrude upon the story, while still making it apparent to the reader.