Some of you might know by now that I am quite the Harry Potter fan (after all, i’ve only mentioned it a few times. A while ago, I ranked the primary characters in the Wheel of Time series (see part 1 and part 2). Since then, I’ve wanted to do something similar for Harry Potter, but I’ve lacked the motivation. You can read that as I’ve been lazy.
This past week, I received a new illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, created by Minalima. This thing blew me away. Seriously, check it out. It is so worth the money and if you plan on reading this book to your kids, you honestly couldn’t find a better edition for that. Now that my interest in Harry Potter has been peaked again, I’m taking on the challenge of definitively ranking these characters once and for all.
This ranking isn’t my personal feelings on a character. It is isn’t whether or not I like them or if I’d want to hang out with them, maybe that’s a tier list for another day. This is a list about the literary quality of the characters. The ones at the top are the ones that I think are deep, complex, fantastic characters. Some of them at the top aren’t my favorite characters and I hate one of them quite a bit. But they are great characters. The ones in the middle are kind of “eh” characters. The ones at the bottom are one-note or not all that interesting.
This will be a part one and I’ll explain my thoughts. This is completely based on the books and not the movies.
Also, keep in mind: I love this series. I love all the characters. So if I’m harsh to your favorite, just know that I was probably harsh to mine as well. It’s the name of the game. And, also, spoilers abound.
S Tier – The Best of the Best
Albus Dumbledore – The wise old wizard mentor is a cliche as old as time, or at least
as old as Gandalf. Though I’d argue it even predates Tolkien and shows up in quite a few ancient fairy tales and myths. Either way, Dumbledore is my favorite version of this archetype.
What we typically see with this kind of character is a being who is almost transcendent. They are all powerful, invincible, show up to the save the day, and can do no wrong. That’s why we love them. Think about Gandalf. You never for a second doubted his leadership. You never though he wouldn’t come back to save the day. You never doubted that he was a truly good guy who did things the right way.
And, sure, we see that a bit with Dumbledore. Enough for us to know that he’s a total badass, a talented wizard, and dedicated to the “good”. But we also see Dumbledore defeated. We see him hated by the wider wizarding world a few different times. In the last book, we see him ostracized and ridiculed. We even start to question him and wonder if he truly was a good guy or truly led the group in the right direction. We doubted him. That’s not a dynamic I often see and I love it. He subverts his archetype in a wonderful way.
Dumbledore has a deep history and is so wonderfully complex. My only complaint is that we didn’t get enough of him.
Ginny Weasley – This one is probably a bit of a surprise, especially considering she is the only Weasley in the S Tier. Honestly, if you’re thinking of the movie Ginny I’m not surprised that you’re surprised. But readers will understand why she’s in S Tier.
We get to see Ginny grow up, mature, work through some really serious issues and traumas, and then become this amazing, strong woman who leads the Hogwarts resistance in the final book. Her growth is one of the most intense in the series, even considering Neville. She grows from not even being able to speak to Harry to being the only one to call him on his crap in the Order of the Phoenix.
For all of Ginny’s life she is in her brothers’ shadows. We see that play out with Ron’s character, but it has to be even harder for Ginny. Especially after Ron starts saving the world with Harry all over the place and considering she’s the only daughter. Does that stop Ginny? No, she steps up, becomes a talented wizard, a fantastic Quidditch player, and a strong leader.
When she finally realizes her dream and gets to Hogwarts, she spend the first year possessed by Voldemort. That’s enough to make any grown wizard shrivel up. Not Ginny. She buckles up and handles it like the incredible person she is.
I love Ginny. Her story is so deep, she deals with so much, and she’s so great through all of it. S Tier character all day.
Dobby – I mean, it’s Dobby. Can I really put Dobby anywhere else other than S Tier? I don’t think anyone with a heart would place him lower than this. He’s a universally loved character, one of the highlights of the series, and his death sent shockwaves through the world. Dobby deserves to be at the top of any list.
But, more than that, he’s an interesting character. He spends the entire series subverting expectations and standing up for the good. In a lot of ways, he has more to lose than the rest of the Order. He faces the rejection and humiliation of his peers (his entire species, honestly), he faces torture from the Malfoys, he undoubtedly has so much trauma, he undercuts centuries of indoctrination and status quo. Does that stop him from rushing into danger to save Harry? Of course not. Because he’s freakin’ Dobby.
We all need to be like Dobby and we all need Dobbys in our lives.
Dolores Umbridge – Oh, here we go. I can hear the teeth grinding. Just looking at her picture, you have to feel rage seething inside of you. And, trust me, I get it. I hate her probably more than I even hate Voldemort. And, for that, she is an S Tier literary character. I think she is the best villain, but not the main villain, I have ever read.
She isn’t the main bad guy. Even in her primary story, the Order of the Phoenix, she’s the subsidiary bad guy, the roadblock Harry has to deal with while trying to tackle the main bad guy. And she isn’t even seen as a bad guy to most of the wizarding world.
I think Umbridge is written incredibly well. I think she is sinister and evil and conniving, but wrapped in a pleasant package. Sure, that’s been done before, but I don’t know of any character that releases the same surge of hatred that Umbridge does.
Really, a top tier villain and because of how great her character is, she has to be S Tier. It’s not only for the great good guys.
Hermione Granger – This might be the one I thought about the most. For a while, she was in A Tier. After all, that’s where Harry and Ron are. But I couldn’t do that. If any of the trio deserve to be S tier, and one of them at least should, then it’s definitely Hermione.
And I guess her place in S Tier is more about Ron and Harry’s shortcomings than her strengths as a character. Don’t get me wrong, she’s fantastic. But is she really well-written enough to land in S Tier? I think so.
She deals with a lot in the series and she faces it well, but more than that we see it add to her character and she grows as the series goes on. During the first book, she doesn’t seem to care that much about other people or feelings or social dynamics. She is all about school and doing well and following rules. But, by the Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix, she is instructing Harry and Ron on social cues. She learns to care for people and see others as equals and worthy of her time, even if they can’t teach her anything.
She learns to break the rules when she needs to, a trait that maybe isn’t a good one to teach kids, but I’ll let philosophers discuss that. Even beyond all of that learning, we see it truly change and impact her character. For that, for the deepness and complexity that brings to an already interesting character, I have to put her in S Tier.
Minerva McGonagall – Honestly, if you don’t love McGonagall, you’re wrong and I shouldn’t have to defend myself on that one. I’ll admit, my personal bias might have shaped this a bit. Maybe she belongs in A Tier, I wouldn’t complain if someone put her there. But here’s my case.
Minerva has some of the same positives as Dumbledore: she is incredibly strong and capable, fierce, powerful, awe-inspiring, but we see her be defeated. We see her struggle a few times. We see her tired and barely hanging on. Sure, we see her as the tough, impassable teacher at the start, but as the kids get older they see a different side of her and let the reader see that as well. We see a teacher who genuinely loves her students and will protect them to the death. We see a fighter, a mother despite not having kids of her own, a protector when Dumbledore can’t be there.
When Voldemort takes over Hogwarts, we see her as the primary defender of the students. Against Umbridge, she takes the blows for those who can’t. Because she can take it. She might be one of the strongest characters in the whole series.
Everyone talks about a Marauder’s backstory book and I would love that, but I would also love a deeper exploration of her backstory. She has so much complexity lurking behind the surface.
A Tier – Really Great Characters
Harry Potter – I don’t think I need to defend why he is so high, I think I need to defend why he is not S Tier. The simple answer to that is I didn’t think he was as good of a character as the ones above him. Despite seeing him the most, spending the most time with him, I didn’t see him grow and develop as much as some of the others. I didn’t see him become something more complex and deeper than he was.
At the start of the story, he was a brash, reckless, brave but careless boy. At the end of the series, he was that with a little bit more bravado and edge. He understood more of what it meant to be that person, but he didn’t really change. From the very start we see his courage and his willingness to sacrifice himself for others. We see that when he’s trying to get the stone. So his willingness to do die for others in the last battle, while noble, doesn’t signify change to me.
And, don’t get me wrong, I think Harry is a great character. One of the best. That’s why he’s in the A Tier. But I don’t see him subverting archetypes (Dumbledore and Umbridge). I don’t see him developing and growing (Ginny and Hermione). I don’t see him undercutting entire societal systems (Dobby). I just don’t see enough from his as a character to justify moving him up.
Ron Weasley – Ron suffers from a lot of the same issues that Harry does, but I think he has a little bit more growth. He also has some interesting, complex struggles that he has to deal with, things that make him more relatable.
Ron grows. He has dips and valleys. But, at the heart of his character, he is loyal and brave and strong. He needs to learn that about himself and we see him do that, which is why I like this character quite a bit. We see him understand his own worth in the face of an inferiority complex. First he deals with his brothers being incredible, Hogwarts legends and then his best friend is the freaking Chosen One. Ron finds his own value and worth in the midst of that complex situation.
The reason why I don’t have him S Tier is basically one thing: he doesn’t grow beyond the bounds of his archetype. He is the “best friend” character, the primary support role for the protagonist. He does grow, but only in the ways you expect him to. He doesn’t change and subvert that archetype, the way that Dumbledore does. He stays pretty consistently within it. So I think Rowling could have done something a little bit more interesting with that character.
Fred and George Weasley – These two might be the most loved characters in the entire series. For good reason. They are fun, especially in the otherwise dark times. They are good and kind. They are charming. What’s not to like?
I love that we get to see a different side of wizarding life with them. It sometimes seems like we see magic as this super useful tool, which it is, but it’s something like a hammer: it fills a need. Fred and George give us a different window to see the magic. It’s something fun and adventurous. They expound the boundaries of what it is and what it can be. That alone bumps them up a couple of tiers.
I also like seeing them develop during war-time. They are forced to change, but do so in a way that they don’t lose what makes them them. I think Rowling handled that really well, but my issue is that it came a little too late. For most of the series, we see them as they are with not much change. Sure, they have that rebellion in OotP, but that isn’t much of a character change, only a change of motivation.
They also don’t seem to deal with some of the same challenges that inferiority complexes that Ron and Ginny do, which makes them a little less interesting. Fred and George are great, but they could have been a little bit better to bump them into S Tier.
Hagrid – I mean, it’s Hagrid. He’s just the best. He’s a lovable, gentle giant. he is Harry’s introduction into this world and he’s so gentle at it. I love him.
He’s not S because there isn’t much else to him. Sure, he’s set up as a “is he the bad guy?” a couple of times, but he never is. Through the whole series, he is just good. I like seeing him struggle as a teacher, I like seeing him deal with Maxime. Other than that, I don’t think his story lines are all that interesting and I don’t see him grow that much. He’s the same at the end as at the beginning.
Neville Longbottom – This is another character that probably makes S Tier for quite a few people. He is the ultimate underdog, the perennial forgotten child, the underachiever, who becomes this hero and tough guy. In a lot of ways, people see themselves in him or at least want to.
I like Neville for a lot of the reasons everyone else does. He is a good guy, he is an underdog, and who doesn’t want to root for the good underdog? I love seeing him grow as a student from being bad at everything and extremely self-conscious about it, to learning that he is adept at herbology. We see him work really hard to learn Defense from Harry. We see that he is capable and then he proves it during the last book.
But he is not S Tier for almost the same reason as Ron: none of that is unexpected or all that interesting. We all know that he is going to do the things he ends up doing and while we love to see it happen, it doesn’t surprise us. It isn’t super interesting. So, for that alone, he can’t be S Tier.
B Tier – These People Have My Interest
Sirius Black – Oh, we’re getting into the controversial ones now, aren’t we? Sirius is another fan favorite and people might be annoyed that he is only in B Tier. But I think this is right where he belongs. And here is why.
Sirius is introduced in the Prisoner of Azkaban, but he rarely appears in that book. We don’t get a lot of his actual character in that one. Then he isn’t around for much of Goblet of Fire before making a couple strong appearances in OotP before falling out of the story. So, by estimate, he gets one solid book of character development. And that is not enough.
He tries to be a father-figure to Harry, or at least Harry views him that way, but he is a terrible father figure. I think Sirius knows that. So, instead of growing or improving, he reverts back to his childhood and views Harry as his best friend. A dynamic that is just kinda strange. The time he gets on page isn’t enough for him to deepen into anything major. His storylines are not that complex and full of some holes. Really, he isn’t that strong of a character.
But he’s a massive personality with a lot of implied interest. His ties to Harry’s childhood and parents is super intriguing. As the only prisoner to escape Azkaban and a highly-hated, wrongly accused wizard, he has some interesting challenges to overcome. And I think that is the kicker. He has the potential to be an amazing character, but his screen time is a little too short for him to realize all of that. So I’m interested in him, but I can’t call him a great character.
Molly Weasley – This one will probably get me some pushback too, because Molly is freakin’ awesome. I know that. We all know that. Everyone loves Molly, ok? This isn’t a most loveable character list. This is a list to determine how good of a literary character she is and I think she falls just short of being great.
She is the quintessential mother figure in the series. She is Harry’s adopted mother, for all intents and purposes, as well as being the mother to some of the most loved and cherished characters in the series. Half of the important characters seem to either be Molly’s kids or her adopted kids. She is a great, strong mother. But that is kind of where her character stops.
Think about it, what storylines does she have outside of being a mother? What growth do we see in her? What, outside of her role as a mother, do we see her struggle with? It is almost like her complete identity is being a mother. And I get it. That’s what she needs to be for Harry and for the story. But it makes for a not interesting character.
At the very end, we see scenes of Molly being a fierce warrior and that was super cool. If we saw that more throughout the series – if we saw Molly regularly battling Death Eaters or fighting with magic – than she’d be S Tier. Because the mother figure who is a strong warrior is super interesting subversion of that stereotype (hello, Sword of Kaigen). She didn’t do that until the very end. So she has to be lower for me. There isn’t much else to her other than being the world’s best mother.
Severus Snape – Three controversial ones in a row. Everyone has a strong opinion on Snape. Some people view him as this tragic anti-hero, a poor lost boy who needs a hug and some love. Some view him as a pretentious asshole who can’t get over a high school crush. For the record, I’m in the second boat. The simple fact that he elicits such strong, differing opinions in the fandom means he’s a great, interesting, complex character, right?
I guess he could be moved up a tier and I wouldn’t mind. After all, he is a complex character. We spend a lot of the series not really trusting him, and then trusting him, and then wondering what’s going on with him. His motivation is a little shrouded and no one knows what Dumbledore sees in him. We’re not sure what to do with him, and that’s why he made this category. Because his motivation is mysterious and I’m interested in it.
But when that motivation is revealed, the character looses me. It’s not some noble cause, it’s not a true change of heart, he just couldn’t get over a high school crush and let that obsession dominate his life. It’s kind of sad. I preferred him as a character before I knew his reasons.
Draco Malfoy – The anti-Harry Potter. At the start of the series, it’s fun seeing that rivalry. It feels right in place for a young adult school book. Of course, our main protagonist needs a rival, he needs a bully. But as the world expands and grows, becomes something beyond the walls of Hogwarts, I feel like we lose our need for Draco. Yet, he’s still there. Always.
Despite the incredible amount of drama and tension that Draco experiences, can you really point to one way that his character grows and improves? At the start, he’s a selfish, spoiled brat. At the end he’s still incredibly selfish, still very bratty, just a little more humbled. But not in the right direction. When he gets challenged, we see him shut down instead of fighting back.
Honestly, later Draco isn’t a great character and I feel like he’s in the story because Rowling thinks he has to be not because he adds any nuance or depth to it beyond a certain point.
Feel free to let me know how I am wrong, though.
Luna Lovegood – Yet another character who is widely loved and super fascinating…at least at the beginning. Like I mentioned for Fred and George, she opens our eyes to a different magical world: the absurdist, conspiracy theory side of it all. And that’s super interesting. For a bit. And then the schtick gets a little tired.
Like Neville, she’s another fun character to root for. She’s an underdog, an outcast, a weirdo. We want her to show her haters wrong, find true friends, and be loved. And she does. Kind of. She turns out to be brave and intuitive and smart. She stands up for her friends and is loyal. But she doesn’t really change. She is all of those things when we first meet her.
She is in this tier because her characteristics are super fascinating in and of themselves. She is an interesting enough person and I’m fascinated to read more about her story and her mind. But she isn’t higher in the tiers because she doesn’t go anywhere from there. She doesn’t expand, she doesn’t deepen. She’s this high because she starts strong, but she can’t go higher because she doesn’t take that anywhere.
Bellatrix Lestrange – “I’m evil and I love Voldemort.” That’s basically all there is to Bellatrix. Sure, she’s interesting because of how she is positioned: she’s the anti-Molly, the anti-Sirius. She’s the devoted follower of Voldemort. She is dark, mysterious and dangerous. And all of that is interesting enough because of how Rowling positions her.
I also enjoyed seeing her bounce between being a Voldy favorite to being on the outs because of her mistakes. Seeing her ambition curtailed like that was an interesting dynamic that gave her a bit of complexity. But, beyond that, she isn’t that deep or complex of a character. She doesn’t have a lot going on other than being evil.
But she is a fierce villain. She is a killer, she is vicious, she is frightening. As far as villains go, I think she is a really interesting and menacing one. But I wish I could see more of her growth or development as a character. That’s what this tier is for: people who are super interesting in concept and have my interest piqued, but never really live up to that.
Slughorn – I think Slughorn perfectly embodies what this tier is made for. Slughorn has so much potential as a character, his introduction is so interesting and intriguing. But he doesn’t have the screen time to properly develop into a truly great character.
When Slughorn is introduced, Voldy is already on the rise. We know he’s coming back, we know he’s gaining power, and we know it’s up to Dumbledore and Harry to fight back. We know Harry is the chosen one. We also know that Harry is conditioned to view Slytherins as the bad guys. They are almost always positioned as the evil kids, the Voldy supporters, the Death Eaters. Then Slughorn: a Slytherin who seems to be a good guy. True, maybe a tad selfish and ambitious, but not a Death Eater. That set up and when he is introduced is so fascinating.
I also like his backstory, how he was one of Voldy’s favorite teachers. How he knew Dumbledore from way back. There is so much about him that could be interesting, deep and complex.
But he never fully gets there. And I think that’s because we only have one real book with him. Sure, he’s in Deathly Hallows a bit, but not enough to develop or grow. With more screen time, he could be an S Tier character. Unfortunately, this feels like the perfect tier for him.
Aberforth Dumbledore – Like Slughorn, I think Aberforth perfectly embodies this tier. His premise is incredibly interesting, but he isn’t give enough time to truly develop and meet that potential.
In a lot of ways, I see Aberforth as the anti-Ron. They both grew up with over-achieving brothers. They were both considered a bit of a let down from their siblings. They both got involved with the anti-Voldy initiative, but in more of a support capacity (Aberforth with Albus and Ron with Harry). They’re both loyal and trustworthy.
But, whereas Ron took that inferiority complex and turned it into something good, Aberforth never really got there. His turned into bitterness and jealousy, almost hatred for his brother. Granted, Aberforth also dealt with the death of their sister and blaming Albus for that, but we never see him overcome these emotional hurdles. Which is fine. We don’t need to see him completely arc around these complexities to make him an interesting character. But we do need to see him deal with them, which he doesn’t have enough time to do.
He has so much potential that isn’t fully realized.
Remus Lupin – Rounding out this part one we have a character that I might change if I could re-do this tier list. I think I’d bump Remus a tier higher. But this is where I placed him and I’m committed to that.
I think in my most recent re-read I realized how little we actually see of Lupin. I realized that with Sirius as well, but I realized it more with Lupin who survives far longer. In my mind, in my memory, Lupin is a super important figure who is always around, always being helpful, with one of the largest screen-times in the series. In reality, he shows up in key moments and is around when he needs to be without actually dominating any story other than Prisoner.
I love the complexities and challenges that Lupin deals with. Being a werewolf and dealing with the wizarding worlds take on that while still struggling through his relationship with Tonks and having a child. Seeing him outlive his two closest friends and deal with death and loss in that. Really, he’s a super tragic character that doesn’t get enough credit. He’s what Sirius was supposed to be: a supportive, loving father-type in Harry’s life.
I think I put him in this tier because I’ve always wanted more from him. Depending on what day you ask me, he’s either A tier or B tier.
So there you have part one of this tier list. Part 2 will hopefully be coming soon. Let me know what you liked and didn’t like about my list.