Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Books/Deathly Hallows/Characters
Throughout the series, there is continual character development that begins in earnest in the fourth year (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), the year deeper emotions emerge in each character, and particularly the three main heroes. That Harry is not inherently bent toward evil is well established in the fifth year (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). However, in the final book, Harry is fully humanized, being more than the "good" hero, but also a person with a full range of emotions, even selfishness. For adolescence, this includes love interests that are increasingly complicated, awareness of the lines that blur good and evil. Sometimes things aren't completely black and white, which leads to growth and clarity of one's views of others (especially those whom one has idolized).
As an example, Dumbledore is viewed as "good" throughout the series, but throughout Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and by his own admission in King's Cross, he is seen as capable of "evil" choices too. Putting the search for the Hallows above his family, which ended in his sister's death, cost him dearly in terms of his own view of self, his relationship with his brother, and his awareness of his own limitations on possessing power.
Harry takes a similar journey through temptation. Like "real people in real life," it is only in Harry's being presented with the option to selfishly seek and possess power through the Hallows, or to willingly make his desires subordinate to the needs of others, that he becomes fully matured. Horcruxes or Hallows? Hallows or Horcruxes? The question perplexes Harry for a time. Should he choose what is easy or what is good? What is good or what is evil? What is beneficent or what is selfish? Power or purpose? Harry could not mature, nor could he or anyone else know who he truly was as a person, until he faced this personal trial and triumphed over the temptation in order to live out the actions that define him as ultimately good. Harry must complete the mission he has been given regarding the Horcruxes, and ultimately Voldemort, (which, per the prophecy, only he is capable of finishing) in order to remain selfless and "good."
There is less to say about Hermione and Ron with regard to character development, but we do have a chance in this final book to see each of them experience opportunities to take on the responsibility of leadership. Interestingly, Ron also has to deal with the same "coming of age" realizations that have been described about Dumbledore and Harry above. He has, to this point, believed that Harry "had the answers." Thus, he must also confront who the friend he has idolized really is; Harry is a human boy with some great talent and exceptional luck, but who still lacks understanding for things that have not been revealed to him.
Here, Hermione is able to display not only her academic knowledge, but also her insights into people, relationships (except when it comes to Ron), and emotions. From this view, it is easy to see why Hermione was not disillusioned by the "real" Harry, since she has already had to bail him out before with the knowledge he lacked, and spent previous encounters explaining to the boys why girls, boys, and people in general do some of the things they do. Quite apart from the physical (the author has told us her birthday falls in September, making her six months older than Ron and ten months older than Harry), she is emotionally more mature from the start than either Harry or Ron, because she grasps who they are, has grace for their weaknesses, and has a clear view of her role in their relationships and common mission. She only loses sight of this for a couple of weeks, as she grieves Ron's walking out on them, but recovers enough to take the lead while Harry is engaged in his own aforementioned struggle to come of age and enter adulthood.
Three aspects of each characters' development empower Harry's and his comrades' triumph of good over Voldemort's and his Death Eaters' evil:
- Love - it provides power and courage (to Harry and the rest) that Voldemort has never known, a selfless purpose for fighting to win, and is even able to protect others through powering "ancient magic".
- Wisdom - is also a weakness of Voldemort, and a strength that Harry can tap into with the help of those around him. He does not come to it completely alone, but in the end is able to connect all the dots, as Dumbledore did. Yet Harry establishes his own identity and even a bit of authority by bringing the crayons along to colour in the picture. We are not discussing mere information or knowledge, but a depth of understanding that digs deeper, to get past the "how?" of things and straight to the "why?". This is what saves Harry in the end: he truly grasps the full meaning of the prophecy, his role and why it is his, why Voldemort is weak in this area, and the implications of not only the connection between their wands, but the also the blood they share (since Voldemort stole a few drops when he regained his body), and thus, why he will be able to defeat Voldemort and live (more on this here). A second aspect of wisdom, which Harry, Ron, and Hermione will come to accept is that things are not always as they seem. Nothing is black and white, nor easily interpreted. Dumbledore didn't die because of someone else's choices, but due to his own greed and actions. Snape was not the consummate evil character always searching for a means to betray or destroy them all in support of Voldemort. He was, in fact, motivated to protect Harry by his unrequited love for Lily Potter: a choice made consistently in the face of the pain it caused him by Harry's constant reminders, physically both by his similarity to his father, reminding Snape of his father's character who inflicted humiliation and suffering upon Snape, and his constant reminder of Lily because he had Lily's eyes. Similarly, Harry's good father was capable of being a cruel bully, his mother of befriending a Slytherin, etc.
- Selflessness - One might be tempted to attach this to love, and indeed love is often the motivation, but there is still a point at which it is a separate issue. One must take action, and do something externally that demonstrates their internal choices. Harry triumphs over his personal desires for the Hallows, and pursues the Horcruxes instead. Ron triumphs over his disillusionment and anger and sacrifices his own pride (ego) to rejoin his companions on the mission and catalyze them back into action. Hermione, at the crucial juncture, puts the needs of the mission, Harry, and the many that it will save before her desire for a relationship and connection with Ron. They all prove themselves capable of being selfless, as do the members of the Order of the Phoenix, and of Dumbledore's Army, (like Neville, who winds up a hero in his own right) and all those who stand to fight for what is good rather than settle for what is easy. Harry, in the end, must willingly choose to lay down his life, and in so doing actually ensures his comrades' safety and his own survival (more on this here).
According to the author, a key event in Harry's maturation occurs in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Up until that time, he has basically reacted, going where he was led, with one apparent exception: he chose to attempt to protect the Philosopher's Stone, with assistance from Ron and Hermione, as early as the first book. It could be argued that he was led to that decision by circumstance, as evidence had been dragged under his nose that someone was after the Stone, and there was no adult who seemed willing to accept that evidence; but it was debatable whether he had actually made a wise choice. Apart from that, throughout the series up until the episode at Shell Cottage, Harry acts either as he is instructed to act, or in a way that places him directly between Voldemort and his goals, as best Harry understands them. In the events at Shell Cottage, though he finally understands that Voldemort wants the Elder Wand and is about to get it, Harry refuses to enter the race, instead speaking with Ollivander about wand lore, and with Griphook about Gringotts Bank, in order to work around Voldemort's plans instead of trying to face him head on. From that point on, Harry heads in his own direction, largely unsteered by what Voldemort is doing. Whether that can be classed as "development" or not is uncertain; it does seem to be a clear maturation.
Any discussion of maturation on Harry's part must finally include the penultimate confrontation between Harry and Voldemort. Harry has learned through Snape's memories that Harry's fate is to be killed by Voldemort. While the prospect fills him with fear, he yet moves towards his doom, aware that his own death should protect those he cares about (the defenders of Hogwarts) from further injury at Voldemort's hand. It is his choice to make that sacrifice, and it is a hard one; yet he chooses the path of sacrifice, rather than running away from it as he has in earlier books.