A decade after the release of the final Harry Potter book, the series remains a global phenomenon. Though the movie franchise has been recently surpassed by the MCU in terms of box office, the book series remains the best-selling of all time, and the saga is still breaking records to this day, with Fantastic Beasts recently becoming the first Potter film to take home an Academy Award.
JK Rowling’s Wizarding World has opened the minds of kids and adults across the globe, but her characters are a major factor in Harry Potter having stood the test of time, and we’re counting down the very best of them. Though the movies will come into play, we’re looking more specifically at the books, ranking on development, backstories, entertainment value, and general importance to the series and its audience.
Unfortunately, that means leaving off a whole bunch of our favorite characters. There’s no place for Bellatrix Lestrange, or indeed Molly Weasley, whose defeat of Bellatrix is one of the single greatest Harry Potter moments. Professor Umbridge, though despicably compelling, doesn’t hold up to some of the series’ regulars, while the Dursleys’ change of heart came just too late.
Here are the 16 Greatest Harry Potter Characters.
“No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it. What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.”
There was no way we were ever going to leave Rubeus Hagrid out of a Harry Potter “best of” list. The BFHG (Big Friendly Half-Giant) is there for Harry from the very beginning, introducing him to magic, Diagon Alley, and the Wizarding World. Who can forget “Yer a wizard, Harry!“?
Even when things are rough for Hagrid, he never wavers in his support for Harry, going so far as to openly throw a “Support Harry Potter” party in the midst of Voldemort’s invasion of Hogwarts. Though he has the physical strength to back it up, Hagrid wears his heart on his sleeve perhaps more than any other character in the franchise, going against all the giant stereotypes in the book (though, admittedly, he tends to direct his many of his warm emotions toward highly dangerous creatures).
15. The Weasley Twins
“Honestly, woman, you call yourself our mother?”
Fred and George Weasley barely change at all through the series, but what they lack in development, they more than make up for in entertainment value. From the very first book to (most of the way through) the very last, the twins spend their Hogwarts years pulling stunts and pranks, occasionally taking some downtime to mercilessly rile Percy for taking his prefect duties far too seriously, or Ron, who is pretty much just an easy target.
Humor aside, their roles in introducing Harry to the Marauder’s Map are vital to his various investigations in the later books, and Fred’s death plays an important role in the finale of The Deathly Hallows. By killing off one half of the few comic relief characters (and one we had been invested in from book one), Rowling sets the stakes for the final few chapters at an all-time high.
14. Remus Lupin
“That suggests that what you fear most of all is – fear. Very wise, Harry.”
In The Prisoner of Azkaban, Lupin not only proves himself as the most competent Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher to ever grace Hogwarts, he also offers an insight into Harry’s past. Through his friendship with James, Lupin forms a bond with Harry that would last the remainder of the series, providing a cool head under increasingly dark circumstances.
That Lupin is so calm and collected is essential in keeping the mystery of his frequent disappearances under wraps, and when it is finally revealed that he’s a werewolf, it adds a layer of depth to Lupin by brilliantly juxtaposing his usual demeanour.
Though he appears less frequently as the story develops, Lupin works behind the scenes for the Order of the Phoenix, fighting for Harry at the Ministry and otherwise using his position to spy on the underground werewolf community. By the time of his death in The Deathly Hallows, Lupin has learned to accept his status in the world, and allows himself to fall in love with and eventually marry Tonks.
13. Dobby (& Kreacher)
“Yes, Harry Potter! And if Dobby does it wrong, Dobby will throw himself off the topmost tower!”
It goes without saying that anyone left unaffected by Dobby’s sacrifice is dead inside. Dobby is a regular feature through the books, but even in the film series, where he had not appeared since The Chamber of Secrets, his death in The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a tough moment to watch.
His death came after he had only just learned what it meant to be free. Dobby worked for the Malfoys when he first visited Harry, receiving death threats up to five times a day, but Dobby was the one house-elf with the courage to do what was right, even if it meant disobeying direct orders.
When it comes to courage and house-elves, Kreacher also deserves a mention here. Regulus Black’s loyal servant, Kreacher also finds the strength to stand up to his oppressors in The Deathly Hallows. After a few choice words from Harry and Hermione, Kreacher sets an example for house-elves by fighting evil in the name of his former master.
“There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it.”
With every good story comes an equally good villain, and you know you’ve got that box ticked when some of the most powerful sorcerers in existence refuse to even speak his name. Voldemort may come across as your one-note, generic bad guy, but it’s the fact that he is so unwavering in his pure evil that makes him so iconic. Even from childhood, we see Tom Riddle display no sense of remorse as he terrorizes various orphans and his own, disappointing (by his standards) family.
Moreover, Voldemort is legitimately terrifying. From his high-pitched hiss to his pet snake, Voldemort has us fearing to turn the page, but what scares us most in his raw power. Over their multiple encounters, Harry survives through courage and pure luck, and we simply don’t see a way that he could ever get the better of Voldemort in a straight duel.
11. Minerva McGonagall
“We teachers are rather good at magic, you know.”
You’re unlikely to find a stricter disciplinarian than Professor McGonagall, but where she differs from the likes of Snape and Umbridge is in the fact that she and Harry share an unspoken – and actually quite touching – mutual respect for one another. This is most evident in The Deathly Hallows, in which Harry only perfects the Cruciatus Curse after McGonagall is spat on, and McGonagall’s cry upon learning Harry is “dead” is the loudest of them all.
She comes into her own in the final book, taking the lead in the defense of Hogwarts and battling Voldemort at one point, but she has her moments even before that. In The Order of the Phoenix, McGonagall proceeds to repeatedly demolish Professor Umbridge with a series of one-liners, and she objects to leaving Harry at the Dursleys’ back in the opening pages of The Sorcerer’s Stone.
The bottom line is that she will take any step necessary to do what is right, even if it means actively encouraging Peeves to destroy the castle under Umbridge’s reign. Also she really hates Umbridge.
10. Ginny Weasley
“It’s for some stupid, noble reason, isn’t it?”
She doesn’t get anywhere near the attention she deserves in the movies, but book Ginny is a force to be reckoned with. After going through hell (almost literally) in The Chamber of Secrets, Ginny emerges not as the bumbling mess she had been early on in the story (specifically around Harry), but as a powerful witch, Harry’s magical and intellectual equal, and later a leader of the resistance.
Her relationship with Harry appears to come out of nowhere, but it’s actually set up at the very beginning. Ginny is infatuated with Harry from the first time they meet, and given her newfound confidence after book two and Harry’s utter cluelessness where girls are concerned, Ginny undergoes an incredible off-screen development that leads her to get what she wants.
But even then, the most impressive thing about Ginny is that she’s entirely independent and self-aware. She knows who she’s dating, and she encourages Harry wherever necessary to do what he needs to do, rather than settle down in the midst of a war.
9. Ron Weasley
“Don’t let it worry you. It’s me. I’m extremely famous.”
Ironically, what’s so special about Ron is that there’s nothing special about Ron. He’s an average-level student, your typical jealous teenager type, our voice of reason as ridiculous things unfold all around him. But just the fact that he’s just so normal is the reason he works so well as part of the trio.
Ron is the underdog – the last boy born to parents who wanted a girl. His family’s lack of money is a source of constant embarrassment, and almost everything he owns is second-hand. As a result, he feels unloved by his parents, intimidated by his brothers, and overshadowed by his best friend.
Essentially, Ron has no business being a hero. A chance meeting with Harry on the Hogwarts Express sees Ron propelled into a life he is thoroughly unprepared for, but through sheer determination and immense loyalty, he sets out to prove everyone wrong, and powers through to the very end.
8. Luna Lovegood
“Don’t worry. You’re just as sane as I am.”
Few characters are more compelling than Luna Lovegood, whose introduction in The Order of the Phoenix injects new life into the series. She immediately comes across as an oddball, out of touch with everything that’s going on around her, and almost a comic relief character. But we soon learn that she is a lot deeper than her obsession with Crumple-Horned Snorkacks would have us believe.
Luna is not only picked on relentlessly by her classmates; she witnessed her mother’s death as a young girl, and her only remaining parent is a social outcast. The fact that she is able to rise above it all and remain frustratingly naive is exactly the perspective Harry and the gang need in their fifth year at school.
After meeting Harry and joining Dumbledore’s Army, Luna’s sharp mind and magical power blossom through her eccentricities, and she goes on to play a pivotal role in the discovery of Ravenclaw’s lost diadem.
7. Sirius Black
“What’s life without a little risk?”
Sirius Black arrives on the scene as potentially the most dangerous threat Harry has faced in his school years so far. Sirius spends most of The Prisoner of Azkaban being talked about in hushed undertones, while the mystery of his escape from the wizard prison grows ever more fascinating that our interest is peaked right from the off.
That he turns out to be innocent, and Harry’s godfather to boot, provides the series with one of its biggest twists, and it says a lot about Sirius that he remains a fan favorite after only a book-and-a-half to develop a relationship with Harry.
Through The Goblet of Fire and especially the opening of Phoenix, Sirius is the father figure Harry desperately needs. In such a short space of time, he gets some of the best lines in the series through his bitter relationships with Snape, Kreacher and his mother’s portrait, and his untethered recklessness keeps the reader on their toes at all times.
6. Draco Malfoy
“No one asked your opinion, you filthy little Mudblood.”
For five whole books, Draco Malfoy is the worst of the worst. Born into money and raised by Death Eaters, Draco was only ever heading in one direction. It’s not that he’s necessarily a bad character – every fictional school needs a bully, and some of the most memorable moments in the books occur at Draco’s expense (“the amazing, bouncing ferret,” anyone?) – but it’s difficult to sympathize with him at first.
But as The Half-Blood Prince opens the door on his inner conflict, we find ourselves in the awkward position of caring about Draco Malfoy. Tasked with killing Dumbledore, we come to realize that Draco isn’t a murderer at all, as he falls further out of his depth.
We won’t go so far as to call it a straight redemption arc, but without Draco – Harry wouldn’t have defeated Voldemort. It’s a remarkable turnaround for a character whose destiny seemed so assured, and who could so easily have faded into obscurity. It’s just a shame we had to wait so long for Draco to come into his own.
5. Severus Snape
Like Draco, Snape is unlikable from the moment he and Harry first meet eyes, but there are flashes all through the story that there is more to the Potions master than you might realize. Love him or loathe him, you never quite know which way Snape is going to lean next, but he reaches a seemingly unforgivable low when he kills Dumbledore atop the Astronomy tower.
Ultimately, Snape is forgiven for that particular crime by some meticulous planning on Rowling’s part, but whether he actually redeems himself is, again, up for debate. Depending on how you want to look at it, Snape is either a bitter and flawed hero, or a villain overwhelmed by love (though both have the makings of a great character).
Either way, the fact that there is even a debate at all is down to Rowling. Snape has less time to recover than Draco, and from a far bigger crime, and that the author turns it around over the course of one Deathly Hallows chapter is an incredible feat by any standard, and the lone reason Snape has become one of the most iconic Harry Potter characters.
4. Harry Potter
“There’s no need to call me ‘sir’, Professor.”
Harry is the hero who never asked to be. He is doubted, bullied, and publicly ridiculed, but his ability to keep a cool head amid mounting pressure, and to throw himself headfirst into danger even if it means saving those who mocked him, is the reason he is as famous in the real world as he is in the Wizarding World.
He’s far from perfect, but that in itself is one of his most endearing traits. As if growing up isn’t already stressful enough, Harry has to do it with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and so his occasional temper tantrums are wholly understandable. In fact, that’s what makes him a three-dimensional, and ultimately believable, protagonist.
Our narrator through the story, we read as Harry grows and develops on every page. It’s through his eyes that we are able to experience the books’ most exciting moments, and the films don’t quite do justice to how quick-witted he is in his own right. As evidenced by the above quote, Harry is as sassy as he is brave, and a source of entertainment through the series.
3. Hermione Granger
“We could all have been killed – or worse, expelled.”
Hermione is first introduced as a thorn in Harry and Ron’s side, but where the boys round out the books as grown-up versions of themselves, Hermione is a different character altogether by The Deathly Hallows.
She remains the same, hyper-intelligent know-it-all, and comfortably the most capable of the trio, but having suffered through severe prejudice and various projections of love triangles, Hermione learns that there’s more to the world than book smarts. In the midst of a war, she finds time to give credit where it’s due, fight for those less fortunate than her (without sparing a thought for her own sufferings), and even break the rules for the greater good.
Along the same lines, she goes so far as to wipe her parents’ memories, ensuring their happiness in the full knowledge that she might not make it through the war. Even after everything she has gone through, she remains loyal to her muggle heritage, and in doing so, represents the entire non-magical audience.
2. Neville Longbottom
“No! I won’t let you! You’ll get Gryffindor into trouble again! I-I’ll fight you!”
Neville might not have the page time of his Gryffindor housemates, but going by our own criteria, Neville has all the boxes firmly ticked. Neville’s clumsiness is a source of great entertainment in the first two or three books, before it’s revealed that his insecurities stem from a tragic place, but even then, his blunt, awkward sincerity is a driving force in the later novels.
A whole new light is shone on Neville in The Order of the Phoenix, when Harry learns of his backstory entirely by accident. The fact that Neville has been holding these emotions in, and putting on a brave face even as he is mentally tortured by Snape and the Slytherins, is a huge credit to his character. As explained by Dumbledore, he could have been the Chosen One in Harry’s place, and rather than scoff at the idea, Neville has come so far even by Phoenix that we can almost believe him in that role.
And finally, no character in Harry Potter develops more than Neville. The nervous wreck turned hero may be cliché, but it’s an effective tool in storytelling, and few do it better than Rowling. Neville’s journey from “Why is it always me?” to leader of the Hogwarts resistance and destroyer of the final horcrux is by far the biggest character shift through the series.
1. Albus Dumbledore
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
Not be confused with Michael Gambon’s unnecessarily aggressive version of the character, book Dumbledore is up there alongside some of the great mentors in fiction. His death at Snape’s hands leaves a hole in Harry’s life equal to that of his parents and godfather, but just like the Gandalfs and Yodas of old, Dumbledore remains a looming presence even after his death.
Harry’s glimpse into his past, which shows us a Dumbledore blinded by love, opens his eyes to a character not only flawed, but not far from villainy. His post-death development, brilliantly juxtaposed with Harry’s, adds a layer to Dumbledore we would never have believed possible in such a short space of time.
But even before we know anything of Grindelwald or Ariana, Dumbledore stamps his authority on his every appearance. In his downtime, Dumbledore is the carrier of information, the deliverer of one-liners and the personification of cool and collected, which makes it all the more remarkable when the occasion requires him to step up.
Dumbledore goes head-to-head with Voldemort, holds off an army of inferi in a weakened state, and knocks out several Ministry officials in a split second. Whether you’re reading or watching, it’s hard to take your eyes off Dumbledore, and his childhood missteps only humanize a character who was already an iconic figure in literature.
Who did we miss? Leave your favorite Harry Potter characters in the comments!
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