“There aren’t really any women of note in Harry Potter” you might find yourself lamenting with your friends one night after drinking too much wine and another conversation about Hermione. Everyone knows that Hermione Granger is a stone-cold badass, but she’s far from the only woman in the Harry Potter world that we should praise. There are plenty of other interesting characters running serving important functions. It’s time to give these overlooked women their due, already.
If you want proof that being a stay-at-home mom doesn’t make you less awesome, look to Molly Weasley. She has her hands plenty full of with seven kids (Fred and George alone would be a full-time job) but makes sure each of them is entirely cared for and loved. Her strengths may be cooking and cleaning, but she demonstrates on multiple occasions that she’s one of the best cooks in the country and her household spells are excellent, so she’s no slouch in the magic department. Even before she provided one of the best moments in the entire series during her duel with Bellatrix, Molly was a force to be reckoned with. She’s fiercely protective and fiercely capable, which we shouldn’t overlook because she directs those skills in more domestic ways. Not to mention, she probably has the best and longest-lasting marriage we see in all seven books. This is a woman with her ducks in a row.
Madam (Poppy) Pomfrey
Charged with overseeing the school’s hospital wing, Poppy Pomfrey is never off duty. No matter what the hour, if a student or faculty member is ailing, she tends to them with compassion and discretion. Patient privacy means a great deal to her; remember when Hermione drank the Polyjuice potion laced with cat hair? Madam Pomfrey drew a curtain around her bed to discourage curious eyes. Madam Pomfrey doesn’t put much stock in Hogwarts Houses—she can’t. Every student, regardless of their personality (looking at you, Draco) receives the same level of care. Her professionalism extends to the misunderstood and ostracized, too. Madam Pomfrey escorted Remus to the Whomping Willow for his monthly transformation. She even had a shred of sympathy for the likes of Dolores Umbridge, whom she treated after her run in with the centaurs in the Forbidden Forest. In short, she’s mother to the students of Hogwarts, and now that she’s retired (according to JKR herself), Hogwarts should name that hospital wing after her.
We don’t see a lot of Narcissa Malfoy in the series, and what we do see doesn’t exactly make us want to root for her, what with her sitting in her ivory towers and her perpetuation of a racist ideology. She definitely doesn’t come off as well as Molly Weasley, the loving stay-at-home mom, but Narcissa does have one quality that’s pretty admirable: she’s loyal. In fact, she’s so loyal, she could almost be a Gryffindor. And her loyalty doesn’t lie with Voldemort (AKA Wizard Hitler) even though he took up residence in her house and is quite literally breathing down her neck for most of The Deathly Hallows. No, she’s loyal to her husband (who, to be fair, is also kind of a dick), and most importantly, she’s loyal to her son. She risks her life by going behind The Dark Lord’s back to ensure Draco will be safe at school. If Narcissa hadn’t been so devoted to her son during the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry would have died. She loves her husband and her son, and for a Death Eater, true love is something that’s pretty rare.
As J.K. Rowling recently said, we seem to be entering the Age of Hufflepuff. So it makes sense to honor the wonderful woman that is Nymphadora Tonks. She is everything her House embodies and more—loyal, brave, funny, loving. Tonks is also entirely relatable: She’s a total klutz, isn’t good at household spells, and is overly enthusiastic even when it’d be better for her to step aside. She may be a force to be reckoned with in a duel, but her true power resides in her openness and her deep caring for others. Tonks gives of herself with abandon, making people laugh by changing her nose and stepping up to protect them without a second thought. Her concern and love for Remus when he starts putting himself in harm’s way because of his feelings for her is so deep she falls into a depression. And she up and runs off to the Battle of Hogwarts not long after giving birth, knowing Teddy is well taken care of and refusing to let her husband and friends fight alone. Tonks is someone everyone should aspire to be.
Let’s face it; although Emma Thompson did a fantastic job portraying this “all-knowing” seer in the Harry Potter movies, Sybill Trelawney is often seen as a bit of a joke. While other professors are teaching the students what is considered real magic, Professor Trelawney spends her days avidly watching the heavens and reading tea leaves. Most of the characters in the books find her annoying, overly dramatic, or simply silly, especially when she starts predicting the deaths of her students. Despite the reputation she gets for ditziness, Sybill actually does possess the abilities of an actual Seer. She makes two real prophecies that define not only Harry’s future, but also Neville’s, and of course, the entire wizarding world’s as well. And she cares deeply about Hogwarts, begging Umbridge to let her stay there and repeatedly calling it her home. She also willingly stays to fight at the Battle of Hogwarts, which is another point in her favor. And bonus points: her name is full of etymological references. In ancient Greek mythology, “Sibyl” was a priestess who could see the future. And her grandmother, the famous Seer in her family, was named Cassandra. So while Sybill Trelawney might easily be overlooked as a cool character, maybe you shouldn’t mess with her. She might predict a horrible death for you.
I have always been really fond of McGonagall. She’s that strict teacher you always grumbled about just a tiny bit, but you know you learned a ton from her class and you’re super grateful. McGonagall is a real take-no-prisoners kind of lady, but I like that she has a gentle side, too – I’m reminded of the scene in Order of the Phoenix where she all but yells at Harry to sit down and eat a Ginger Newt while she lectures him about being careful around Umbridge. Also, McGonagall is just a complete badass. What other 70-year-old woman can turn into a cat, survive five Stunning Spells to the chest, and form a battalion of suits of armor to protect Hogwarts? I love that she gets frustrated by her students and isn’t afraid to discipline them, even if they’re from her own House, but she’s fiercely protective of them as well. She’s basically the most perfect teacher ever. I adore her and I want to be her when I get old and cranky.
I am not a Mrs. Dursley apologist. She emotionally abused Harry; there is no denying that. However, when you peel away Petunia Dursley’s cartoonish evil stepmother veneer, you’ll see there’s more to her than meets the eye. Her bitterness toward her sister, even after she was murdered, is despicable. However, Lily was a constant reminder of Petunia’s rejection from Hogwarts, and instead of confronting her insecurities about herself, Petunia decided to cut ties with her sister. Combine Petunia’s insecurity with her guilt for ignoring her sister and her treatment of Harry, and you basically get the female version of Snape (who is lauded as one of Rowling’s most “complex” characters). Maybe Snape chose the wrong sister?
The real tragedy of Petunia Dursley is that she does want to do the right thing, but she is so repressed and used to appeasing her closed-minded husband that she can’t bring herself to do it. J.K Rowling suggests that “in the final book… something decent…almost struggled out of Aunt Petunia when she said goodbye to Harry for the last time, but that she is not able to admit to it, or show those long-buried feelings.” This goodbye is the first time we see Harry and Petunia actually resembling something close to family. It gave an unexpectedly bittersweet closure to the Dursleys and hope that they could see each other as family one day.
You know who’s one of the toughest, most talented students at Hogwarts during Harry’s years there? Ginny Weasley. She starts off as a shy little girl with a crush, but with a little advice from a friend and some life experience (just being physically possessed by the Dark Lord’s soul until she’s near death, nbd), she grows into a rebellious, unstoppable teenager. After the dramatic rescue in the Chamber of Secrets, Ginny manages to move on with her life and with other boys while still being supportive as Harry’s friend. She becomes an excellent Quidditch player and just as good a fighter as almost any of the other students. She doesn’t back down, especially when she’s told to: Ginny’s the one who gives Dumbledore’s Army the name just to spite Umbridge, and she ends up fighting alongside the older students and adults in the Battle of Hogwarts. She’s fierce, takes no crap, and does what she wants, and that’s why she gets my respect.
I have a lot of respect for characters who remind me of the weaknesses in my own character. I envy their ability to succeed where I struggle. Luna is a prime example of this in two ways. She accepts herself without judgement and allows herself to be completely present in every moment. It’s brilliant how J.K. Rowling sets up a spectrum of make-believe within an imaginary (at least until I get my Hogwarts letter) wizarding world with the Lovegoods firmly rooted in the camp of conspiracy theories. She’ll have visions of wrackspurts at odd moments and feel perfectly comfortable wearing radishes for earrings. Luna is an outcast… and she’s totally cool with it. She may be a Ravenclaw, but I’d make the argument that Luna really belongs in Gryffindor. It takes a unique style of bravery to rid yourself of insecurities and self-loathing, and she manages to do it without ever coming across as arrogant.Luna’s will-o’-the-wisp nature allows her to get fully absorbed in any passing thought. She’ll spend hours creating a roaring lion’s head simply to support her friends. She’ll explore a mysterious veil simply because it catches her attention. Luna would never send a text while watching TV and chatting with a friend in the other room. She is fully present in every moment of her life, and it’s a joy to see.