I just finished rereading the Harry Potter series for the first time in four years. This reread was inspired by my insomnia (ahh, insomnia, the bedfellow that will never take a hint and go away) and by my deep love of the story.
Every time I reread the series, I’m bowled away by J.K. Rowling’s talent, skill, and attention to detail. I love her wit and humor. I love the way convenient plot points that appear in Sorcerer’s Stone (the Mirror of Erised, the Invisibility Cloak) have much deeper meaning when they’re brought to the forefront in Deathly Hallows. I love the sense of community that builds over seven books, and how the destruction of Voldemort (a wizard who loved no one) came at the hands of not only Harry Potter, but everyone who cared about him and/or believed in his cause. I love the core friendship of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and I love all three of them individually (but I love Ron the most).
Anyway, I have a lot of feminist and social justice-y thoughts about the Harry Potter series. I want to talk about how the series challenges privilege and stereotypes. I want to talk about how the series subverts the traditional “rugged male individualist loner hero” narrative and instead explores a narrative where the young male hero is exceptional because of his ability to embrace love and community.
I want to do both of those things, but those posts will have to wait for another time. Right now, I want to talk about five under-appreciated tertiary characters who are either overlooked or unfairly maligned by Harry Potter fans. (Why should the editors at Buzzfeed have all the fun with listicles?)
Here are the five most under-appreciated and underrated characters in the Harry Potter series, evaluated and ranked by a panel of three judges consisting of me, myself, and I.
5. Cho Chang
Cho Chang is #5 because a) her character as written is not all that interesting, and b) unlike the other characters on this list, she gets a silly, nonsensical portrayal in A Very Potter Musical and A Very Potter Sequel. So she’s not THAT overlooked, but she is often maligned, and I feel a need to defend Cho Chang.
Cho Chang is often criticized because she’s irrationally jealous of Harry’s friendship with Hermione, and she cries too much. She’s also not imaginative enough to be the love of Harry’s life, as she wants to call the student rebel group the “Defense Association,” and Ginny is the one who suggests “Dumbledore’s Army” as an alternative. She defends her friend Marietta instead of siding with Harry, and often storms off when she’s upset.
Cho is not perfect. She expects a little too much of Harry when they start dating, and she puts some of her loyalties in the wrong places.
But I empathize with her all the same. Rowling makes a not-very-subtle point that Cho is the wrong girl for Harry because she’s too prone to tears, and Ginny is the right girl because she rarely cries. I know I’m supposed to cheer on Ginny because she is the feisty, sporty girl tailor-made to be Harry Potter’s one true love, but honestly, if my hypothetical boyfriend was murdered, my reaction would be more similar to Cho’s than Ginny’s, and I would be closer to a human flood than a human hosepipe.
Cho’s not the most dynamic or complex character in the Harry Potter world, but I think she handled her boyfriend’s murder and attraction to Harry as best as she could, and no matter her faults, she was brave enough to return to Hogwarts during the final battle against Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Cho’s all right, and we should all cut her some slack.
4. Ernie Macmillan
Ernie Macmillan is pompous and self-important and often talks like an old man in a teenager’s body, and somehow these traits make him not very popular among the Harry Potter fandom! I can’t imagine why!
In all seriousness, though, I’m very fond of this Hufflepuff (even though I’m not quite sure what the hell a Hufflepuff is). He won me over in Chamber of Secrets when he admitted to being wrong about Harry being the heir of Slytherin, and he won me over even more when he publicly supported Harry in Order of the Phoenix. He also made me giggle when he became so indignant about the Inquisitorial Squad docking points from prefects, because Ernie clearly likes Robert’s Rules of Order even more than Stringer Bell.
When I first read the Harry Potter series, I remember a lot of fans hoping that Ron and Hermione would be Head Boy and Head Girl together. As much as I love everything to do with the Ron/Hermione romance, I can’t support this. Hermione deserved Head Girl and Ernie would have been Head Boy, puffing out his chest impressively all the while and following the rules – except when rebelling against Voldemort.
3. Fleur Delacour
Fleur Delacour is boss and I defy anyone to tell me otherwise.
Yes, I know the whole point of her character was that we shouldn’t judge her for being beautiful. Goblet of Fire showed us that Fleur, despite being vain and snobby, adored her little sister and was grateful to anyone who showed kindness to her family. And Half-Blood Prince showed us that she truly loved Bill Weasley and wasn’t just physically attracted to his ginger gorgeousness.
We’ve seen that story before – the story of the beautiful, vain woman who is humbled when she realizes that there’s more to life than physical beauty. I think the main reason I love Fleur is because that is not her story. Fleur is never brought down or shamed or humbled because she’s confident about her beauty. Rather, others are humbled when she shows them she’s not as shallow as they think she is.
This is a woman who, when seeing her fiance horribly scarred and mutilated, declares in front of her mother, “I am good-looking enough for the both of us, I think!” Yes, Fleur. Yes, you are. Please never change anything about your hilarious and mouthy self.
2. Percy Weasley
Percy is kind of a more obnoxious, less reflective Ernie Macmillan, and he’s a family-abandoning, Ministry-loving prat on top of that. He’s certainly not my favorite Weasley (though, in all fairness, that’s a high bar to reach, what with the eccentric Muggle-loving dad, tough mother, funny prankster twins, and Ron).
But when I reread the books this time around, I couldn’t help feeling moved by several Percy moments.
The moment in Chamber of Secrets when he and his brothers think that Ginny is dead, and he’s the one who has to send the owl to their parents…and then he shuts himself up in his room because the pain is too much to bear.
The moment in Goblet of Fire after the second task, where he runs into the water, white-faced and nervous, dragging Ron out of the depths of the lake. For all of his bluster about the importance of the tournament and how great it is that he’s taking Crouch’s place, Percy can’t help feeling worried when one of his younger siblings is in apparent danger.
The moment in Deathly Hallows when he shields Fred’s body from harm (DAMMIT, ROWLING, I WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU FOR THAT CHARACTER DEATH) and tears down the hallway, screaming Rookwood’s name and trying to curse every Death Eater he sees.
Percy is not the most likable Weasley by a long shot, but that quality always made me sympathize with him. Imagine being born after Bill and Charlie but before Fred and George, having a similar intellectual aptitude as Bill but lacking any of his “coolness” or badassery. One older brother was really handsome and smart, another was athletic and tough, and his two younger brothers were athletic and really funny. How is a boy supposed to fit in with that family when he’s such a nerd?
I’m happy that Percy ultimately reunited with his family, but I was fond of him even before that point. I always got the sense that Ron was his favorite sibling, and I have to appreciate any character who loves Ron that much.
1. Phineas Nigellus
I can’t help it, y’all – I love this elitist, racist bastard. He is seriously my favorite tertiary character in the series, and I consider it a crushing disappointment in life that I can’t have a portrait of Phineas Nigellus in my own room, making snarky comments at me during my more angst-ridden moments.
Phineas Nigellus is never seen in the series as anything but a portrait. We don’t see him until Order of the Phoenix, where he resides in the Black family house and goes from that location to the Headmaster’s office at Hogwarts. He is temperamental, cranky, prejudiced against Muggle-borns, and sometimes deliberately unhelpful, and I LOVE HIM SO MUCH.
Order of the Phoenix was my favorite book the first time I read the series (or it was until the magnificent Deathly Hallows was published) and I still love that novel, but it does have a LOT of Wizard Angst that gets tiresome. And even though I love Harry Potter, and I empathize with his reasons for being angry all the time, I also love Phineas Nigellus for not wanting to deal with ANY of his teenage bullshit – because, let’s face it, eight hundred pages of Harry Potter being angry can be a little overwhelming.
I know Phineas Nigellus is elitist and thinks Muggle-born witches and wizards are inferior to “purebloods.” I know he’s rude and insensitive to the pain of young people. But I don’t care. I think of how he went back to Grimmauld Place, going from portrait to portrait, calling Sirius’s name, and my heart breaks. And I think of his reaction after Dumbledore stunned several Ministry wizards and fled the premises of Hogwarts: “I disagree with Dumbledore on many points, but you can’t deny he’s got style.”
Phineas Nigellus is the best. He might be the most unpopular headmaster Hogwarts ever had in most people’s eyes, but from my perspective, he is the best. I love you forever, Phineas, and I promise I won’t put a blindfold over your eyes when I pull your portrait out of my Mary Poppins bag.