Guest Post: Mums and Their Sons — Mother/Son Relationships in Harry Potter

In my ongoing series of posts about The Christmas PigI have been arguing that the latest work by Rowling, when used as a lens through which to read her other novels and stories, reveals that Mother’s Love is her repeated symbol for the unconditional and sacrificial love that is the Logos “fabric of realityand hence of Christ. See ‘The Blue Bunny‘ and ‘Rowling, Ring Writing, and Maternal Love‘ for how Jack’s love for his toy pigs, transference for his mum’s love for him, mirrors Lily’s love for Harry and Leda’s for Cormoran, the love that makes each of these heroes the allegorical Heart or Spirit in Rowling’s various psychomachia. Excited as I am about this idea, I was even more enthusiastic than I always am when Wayne Stauffer at Southeast Houston Community College wrote to me, this time about research he has been doing on just this subject. I asked him if he would share the first fruits of these efforts at HogwartsProfessor and he has sent the following, to include the invaluable appendices. Enjoy!

Mums and Their Sons: Mother/Son Relationships in Harry Potter by P. Wayne Stauffer

I began this analysis initially interested in Narcissa Malfoy’s intervention at the end of Deathly Hallows (DH) when Harry does not die at Voldemort’s killing curse. When she finds out Draco is alive, she lies about Harry being dead. Given the Malfoy pureblood mania in the series and six previous novels’ worth of Potter disdain, I wondered why she would do that. I also became curious about any parallels between Narcissa and Lily Potter in their motherly love for their sons…and their attempts to protect them. I then realized there are several additional sets of mothers and sons in the series. The following is an exploration of mother/son relationships across the Harry Potter series.

Rowling’s relationship with her mother and her devastation when her mum passed away not long after Rowling began drafting the Harry saga are already widely known, so I won’t comment more, other than to say that it seems intuitively obvious that mother’s love could not help but be a subtext somewhere in the background in the storylines of each novel.

The first four mother & son pairs that come to mind are Lily & Harry, Molly & Ron, Narcissa & Draco, and Petunia & Dudley, but there are several others as the series progresses— Giant Mum & Hagrid, Alice & Neville, Mum & Sirius, Merope & Tom Jr., and Eileen & Severus. Ron is the single exception in that all the others are only children—no siblings.

[A couple of side notes: Other only children in the series include Hermione, Luna, and Ginny (I know, Ginny is not an only child, but she is an only daughter). We don’t get much information about their relationships with their mums from which to draw solid conclusions, and mother-daughter relationships are different from mother-son relationships. Molly Weasley as a model magical parent and as the mother of several boys could be the subjects of subsequent analyses.

Also, Harry and Hermione have points of connection from growing up magical in the muggle world and as only children. Ginny becomes the sister Hermione never had; Ron becomes the brother Harry never had. Yes, Harry did grow up with Dudley, but theirs is hardly a brotherly relationship. Dudley was treated as though he were an only child while Harry was merely tolerated out of Petunia’s fear of Dumbledore. The Dursley’s did not encourage Dudley to consider Harry as his equal. Harry also may be drawn to Hermione because, like his mum, she has Muggle parents.]

This analysis focuses on four main combinations of a mother’s love for her son and its effects on him: Lily & Harry, Alice & Neville, Narcissa & Draco, and Merope & Tom Jr.

Join us after the jump for all that!

Lily Potter was magical but born to muggles and not pureblood. James’ family was pureblood, descended from Ignotus Peverell, the youngest of the Peverell brothers in the Tale of the Three Brothers and the holder of the invisibility cloak of the deathly hallows legend. Lily takes Voldemort’s killing curse for Harry, and her sacrificial love keeps him alive. She has no idea of the full extent of the magic of her sacrifice, its protective effect on Harry, and its rebound effect on Voldemort to kill that incarnation of him. She just wants to protect her baby. Tom Riddle, Jr. did not experience such a mother’s love, so Voldemort has no understanding of this impulse in Lily. Or the magic behind it. Or Harry’s later understanding of its power. Although physically absent from Harry’s life, Lily’s deep Love for him gives him magical protection. In her stead her sister acts as a surrogate mother for Harry and raises him unkindly and abusively. Yet he makes positive choices throughout the series, even to the point of urging Voldemort to show some sign of remorse and then using the disarming spell (expelliarmus) against Voldemort’s killing curse (avada kedavra) in the end.

Alice Longbottom is pureblood, as is husband Frank, but the torture inflicted upon her by Bellatrix Lestrange and Barty Crouch, Jr., leaves her incapable of nurturing Neville as he grows older. Neville seemed to be a squib for the first few months, and even at Hogwarts he has difficulty developing his magic skills until his participation in Dumbledore’s Army. Although still alive, Alice is physically and emotionally absent in Neville’s life. She loved her son but is unable to exert motherly influence on him. Neville’s stern but loving grandmother raises him as a surrogate mother. Yet he makes positive choices, from standing up to Harry, Hermione, and Ron in their first year at Hogwarts, to persisting in developing his magical abilities through Dumbledore’s Army and going to the Department of Mysteries with Harry, to destroying the final horcrux at the end. Gran is even proud of her grandson as she joins in the Battle of Hogwarts in DH.

Narcissa Malfoy is pureblood of the Black family line, and husband Lucius is also pureblood. Narcissa is present in Draco’s life and upbringing and also loves her son, both important factors in healthy childrearing and child development. Lucius’ influence, however, is more as an abusive father, so Narcissa may be acting as the buffer between father and son to protect Draco. In a wealthy family, Draco does not want for material comforts or desires, unlike Harry, yet he makes negative choices (until the end), from teasing Neville in their first year at Hogwarts, to gloating about choice seats at the World Quidditch Cup, to joining the Inquisitorial Squad. But I think it’s arguable that Draco “chooses” to become a deatheater and take on the task of killing Dumbledore: at the end of Order of the Phoenix (OP) when Lucius is sent to Azkaban, Draco is pretty much compelled to do Voldemort’s bidding, whether he wants to or not. Voldemort uses Draco to punish Lucius. Although Draco doesn’t like Harry, he doesn’t want to be a killer either. His failed attempts to kill Dumbledore, hesitance to identify a disfigured Harry at Malfoy Manor, and delayed attack on Harry in the Room of Requirement at the end show potential for his redemption. That may be part of Harry’s desire to also bring Draco and Zabini out of the inferno in the Room of Requirement.

Narcissa risks death by deceiving Voldemort about Harry’s death at the end of DH when she finds out that Draco is still alive. Her intuition seems to guide her that Harry will now prevail, and she can be a part of that defeat of Voldemort by indicating that Harry is dead. She also wants to protect her son (remember her appeal to Severus and his unbreakable vow in Half-Blood Prince, “He’s just a boy”), but her motives seem more selfish than selfless (her name is Narcissa, after all). She wants to know if Draco is still alive before she tells Voldemort Harry’s condition. If Harry had given a “No” response, I get the idea she would have told Voldemort that Harry was alive. And in this instance, 17 years after Lily interceded for Harry, Voldemort still does not conceive that Narcissa would choose to put herself in danger of incurring his wrath to protect her son. His own mother, Merope, seemed not to have wanted to continue living for her son’s sake, so he has no previous experience of that kind of love.

Narcissa is the only mum of the four who is present in her son’s life and active in parenting him, but in spite of this involvement, Draco becomes a selfish, arrogant, bully.

[Side observation— there is a curious scene at the end of the DH2 movie between Narcissa and Draco. Voldemort and theDeatheater army come to the ruins of the Hogwarts courtyard, Hagrid carrying Harry. Voldemort puts out his call for defectors from the Hogwarts side, and Lucius calls to Draco to get him to come over. But Draco doesn’t move. There is a long moment, and then Narcissa very quietly simply says, “Draco. Come.” And then he goes over to the Deatheater side. After Neville’s few words to Voldemort, Harry jumps from Hagrid’s arms, and mayhem ensues, Narcissa pulls Draco with her, hand in hand, as she marches in the exact opposite direction to get away from the melee. Lucius trails along behind them. Brilliantly played by Helen McRory and Tom Felton.]

[possible Flint?–Which brings up another point: Voldemort is renowned for his ability to know if someone is lying to him, yet he does not seem to perceive/feel Narcissa’s deceit at this time. Maybe he so wants Harry to be dead that his emotions are overriding his paranoia…? With only one horcrux left intact, his magical intuition is weakened…? Topic for another analysis.]

Merope Gaunt Riddle is pureblood through the Gaunt family. Her father Marvolo (Tom Jr.’s grandfather) is descended from Cadmus Peverell, the second of the Peverell brothers in the Tale of the Three Brothers and the holder of the resurrection stone of the deathly hallows legend, the gem set in the ring horcrux. Tom Sr. was muggle. Merope used a love potion to seduce him and then had second thoughts. When Tom left her, she became so despondent that she lost her will to live, even though she was pregnant with his child. She left the Gaunt hovel at Little Hangleton for London, where she lived in the streets long enough to make her way to the orphanage to give birth to Tom Jr., name him, and die. She was absent from his life and did not have enough love for her son to stay alive and care for him, so others, muggles, raised him unkindly and neglected. This lack of any maternal love and guidance turns Tom Jr. into the monster Voldemort. He makes numerous negative choices from hurting other children in the orphanage as a child, to killing his father, grandparents, and others to create horcruxes as a teenager, to continuous abuse of the Malfoys as an adult, to name a few.

I have only briefly mentioned the Giant Mum & Hagrid, Eileen & Severus, Mum & Sirius, and Petunia & Dudley pairs because we don’t get much information about them. We only hear of Hagrid’s mum from him when he talked a little with Olympe Maxime in Goblet of Fire, so that further analysis is mostly speculation. Similarly, we only get a little information about Eileen Prince from Hermione’s bit of research in HBP, and even that is when Eileen was a student at Hogwarts, before she had Severus. Sirius Black confides to Harry that his mum scorched his face from the Black family tree tapestry at 12 Grimmauld Place in OP, but that is all that is said. And our insights into Petunia & Dudley come primarily from their almost-cameo appearances at the beginnings and ends of the books. It is Harry’s story, after all, so the lack of development of these characters is likely due to their supporting roles in the story arc. Not much basis for meaningful insights into their family dynamics. But the similarities are there.

A couple of final observations about parental involvement.

The lack of loving concern from either parent had lasting effects on Tom Jr./Voldemort to make him self-centered, narcissistic, and socio-/psycho-pathological. Understandable and predictable we might say. But Dudley and Draco had the opposite—overly protective, indulgent parents—yet both were also self-centered bullies until DH. Since we don’t know much more about them, their change/redemption at the end of the series is too abrupt and feels incomplete, though they do give us cause to be hopeful for them.

It is also interesting that, although Harry, Neville, and Hagrid don’t have much parental influence growing up, they mature reasonably well-adjusted. This seems counter-intuitive. Then again, Draco, Dudley, and Severus grow up with two-parent influence, yet they make choices that are not so well adjusted. And then there are Hermione, Ginny, and Luna, who also grow up with two-parent influence, and they are reasonably well-adjusted, as might be expected.

Rowling upsets the expectations as only she can. She includes several complex pairings of present and absent mums with sons who make positive and negative choices because of those influences and in spite of those influences.

As early as Harry’s second year at Hogwarts, Dumbledore tells him, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” (CS 333). Narcissa’s choice at the end shows that her love for her child can be extended to another’s son. Knowing that Draco is safe, she takes the courage she needs to deceive Voldemort, which gives Harry the opportunity he needs to defeat the Dark Lord. Whether we see the Malfoy’s hurrying away from the final chaos in the movie or we visualize them rather sadly sitting off to themselves in the Great Hall in the book, we know Narcissa made the right choice out of her love for her son. Rowling gives us another character to dislike for most of the series and then view with sympathy after all because of the choices she makes.


Appendices to Mums & Sons in Harry Potter

To try to organize my thoughts, I made the following table to list parallel factors that affect the mother & son pairs. I also did a close reading of the novels to find instances of information about the four main pairs, Lily & Harry, Alice & Neville, Narcissa & Draco, and Merope & Tom Jr. I readily acknowledge that I may have missed some instances, but I think most are listed after the table. A better scholar than I am would have worked these details into a more coherent analysis, so I’ll just provide the data as a starter for that effort.

(1) Mums & Sons in the Harry Potter Series

Lily and Harry Narcissa and Draco
  • So much love but short-lived and absent for his childhood
  • Raised by Lily’s muggle sister in muggle environment
  • Born a day after Neville
  • No knowledge of his magical family until Hogwarts letter
  • Parents fought against Voldemort
  • Lily known as a kind person and gifted witch
  • Molly Weasley—“He’s just a boy!” OP film
  • Harry never knew his mother’s love
  • Mixed descent—Muggleborn mother, pureblood father (Ignotus Peverell)
  • No chance to connect with parents as a teen
  • Lily 21 when killed
  • Harry comes to romanticize his parents due to memories of others
  • Life circumstances out of his control
  • Doesn’t understand his childhood magical abilities
  • Much love (?) and continual presence, almost doting, for his childhood
  • Raises him in pureblood magical environment
  • Draco raised with full knowledge of his pureblood family heritage
  • Parents fought for Voldemort
  • Father was a deatheater and emotionally absent, bordering on abusive
  • Narcissa known as an aristocratic wife but not overly affectionate
  • Cares about Draco; makes unbreakable vow with Snape in HBP
  • He’s just a boy.” HBP film
  • Draco has his mother’s love
  • Connects with mother as a teen
  • Narcissa mid-late 20s when Lucius becomes a deatheater
  • Draco borders on fearing his father, prefers Mum
  • Parents act to control life circumstances for his benefit
  • Understands his childhood magical abilities
Alice and Neville Merope and Tom, Jr.
  • So much love but emotionally and psychologically absent for his childhood
  • Raised by grandmother (father’s mother) in pureblood magical environment
  • Neville raised with full knowledge of his pureblood family heritage
  • Doesn’t seem to have much magical ability
  • Born a day before Harry
  • Parents fought against Voldemort
  • Never knew his mother’s love; she doesn’t recognize him
  • Sees his parents, but they don’t recognize him
  • No chance to connect with his parents as a teen
  • Frank and Alice in their early 20s when tortured
  • Neville has a realistic understanding of his parents through regular visits—no romantic view
  • Develops his magical abilities at Hogwarts
  • Life circumstances out of his control
  • Merope didn’t have enough love to keep herself alive, much less to raise Tom Jr
  • Tom Jr was raised by muggles in an orphanage
  • No knowledge of his family until Hogwarts
  • Merope nearly a squib in her magical ability; grew up in an abusive home
  • Merope’s family pureblood (Cadmus Peverell), but Tom Jr’s father a muggle
  • Tom Jr doesn’t understand his childhood magical abilities
  • Tom never knew his mother’s love
  • No chance for Tom to connect with his mother as a teen
  • Merope was about 20-21 when she died
  • Tom, Jr came to hate his parents for abandoning him
  • Develops his magical abilities at Hogwarts
  • Life circumstances out of his control
Giant Mum and Hagrid Petunia and Dudley
  • Half-blood: magical father, giant mother
  • Mother left; not the “motherly type”
  • Father single parent
  • Father died, leaving Hagrid on his own
  • Life circumstances out of his control
  • Must navigate adolescence on his own
  • Half-blood status outcast
  • Makes impulsive choices in adolescence due to loss of parental guidance
  • Petunia dotes on Dudley
  • Definite preferential treatment compared to Harry
  • Petunia overprotective
  • Open hostility toward anything magical
  • Develops his parents’ dislike of anything magical
  • Parents’ treatment leads to bullying behavior
Eileen and Severus Mum and Luna
  • Severus half-blood: mother magical, father muggle
  • Bullied as a half-blood
  • Develops his magical abilities to a high degree as if to prove himself “worthy” of respect
  • Makes choices that cause him problems later
  • Mother loving and caring until untimely death
  • Luna without mother for her adolescence
  • Continued love and caring from her father
  • Seems very confident and comfortable in her magical abilities in spite of others’ disregard of her
Molly and Ginny Mum and Hermione
  • Solid, stable family life
  • Love and caring from both parents
  • Encouraged in interests and abilities
  • Develops her magical abilities to a high degree due to family encouragement
  • Comfortable with herself, so she can encourage others; no need to belittle others
  • Solid, stable family life
  • Muggle born, so some stigma from magical and muggle worlds
  • Parents both loving and caring
  • Encouraged in interests and abilities

(2) References in HP books to four mums and sons. (The novels are abbreviated and in the series order.)

Lily & Harry

PS p. 20 – parents died in a car crash

p. 51 – Hagrid first alludes to James & Lily being magical

p. 53 – Petunia ‘fesses up

p. 208 – Mirror of Erised encounter

p. 294 – Voldemort refers to James & Lily as they fought him-bravery & needless death

CS No particular references to Lily or Harry’s relationship to her

PA p. 179 – new memory of Lily

p. 203 – more about James-Marauder’s Map

p. 240 – more about James-patronus

p. 284 – more about James from Snape

GF p. 19 – more on Harry’s treatment by the Dursleys

p. 216 – killing curse in Moody’s class

OP p. 641 – Snape’s memory of the OWL & James’ bullying

HBP Lily was Slughorn’s favorite

DH news of Potters living in Godric’s Hollow at the wedding

p. 180 – Lily’s letter to Sirius

Chapter 17 – the scene of the Potters’ death

Alice & Neville

PS p. 94 – Neville first mentioned-lost his toad

p. 104 – still hunting Trevor

p. 112 – Hagrid finds Trevor

p. 120 – sorted into Gryffindor

p. 125 – Neville’s magical heritage

p. 139 – messes up the boil cure in potions class

p. 144 – Neville’s ineptitude while flying

p. 217 – leg loc curse by Malfoy

p. 242 – Neville, Harry, & Hermione caught at Norbert’s departure

p. 272 – Neville stands up to Harry

p. 306 – 10 points for standing up to HHR

CS p. 87 – Neville mentioned with Ron’s Howler

p. 185 – Neville responds to Colin Creevey petrified

p. 251 – Neville gets advice from relatives on next year’s classes

PA p. 55 – Neville & Gran in Diagon Alley

p. 125 – Neville in potions class

p. 134 ff – Neville in DADA class

p. 268 – fesses up to the list of passwords

p. 771 – further disgrace—Gran’s howler

GF p. 168 – Gran wouldn’t buy World Cup tickets

p. 190 – reference to Gran

p. 194 – tawny owl delivers forgotten items

p. 214 – cruciatus curse in Moody’s first class

p. 218 – after Moody’s class

p. 220 – Neville cheered up

p. 602 – Frank and Alice mentioned in Barty Crouch Jr.’s trial—memory/pensieve

p. 607 – Harry imagining how Neville feels

OP p. 173 – picture of the original Order of the Phoenix

p. 361 – Neville charges Malfoy outside of potions class

p. 512 – Neville & Gran at St. Mungo’s Hospital

p. 553 – Neville improving in DA sessions

p. 707 – Neville mentions Gran

Chapters 32-35 – Neville goes to the Dept of Mysteries

HBP p. 137 – on the train to Hogwarts

DH no mention of Alice or Frank

Gran fights in Battle of Hogwarts

Neville destroys the snake (last) horcrux

Narcissa & Draco

PS p. 77 – robe shop in Diagon Alley

p. 108 – Draco, Crabbe, & Goyle on the train

p. 136 – in potions class

p. 143 – “Midnight Duel” Draco & Harry

p. 194 – Draco taunts Harry about his family

CS p. 29 – Draco & Lucius mentioned

p. 50 – Draco & Lucius in Borgin & Burkes

p. 110 – Draco the new Slytherin Seeker

p. 191 – Draco & Harry in Dueling Club

p. 220 ff – Draco on the heir of Slytherin

PA Chapter 6 – incident with Buckbeak

p. 123 – Draco, Ron & Harry in potions class

GF p. 100 – Malfoys in the prime box at the World Cup

p. 165 – Narcissa didn’t like the idea of Draco going so far away to Durmstrang

p. 194 – eagle owl delivers treats

OP no mention of Narcissa

HBP p. 19 ff – Narcissa & Unbreakable vow

p. 113 – Narcissa & Draco in Madam Malkin’s Robe shop

DH p. 726 – Narcissa lies about Harry’s death

p. 745-746 – Malfoys mentioned as sitting to themselves in Hogwarts after Voldemort’s demise

Merope & Tom Jr.

PS Tom Riddle Jr. is not mentioned in the novel, even though Voldemort makes appearances; Merope not mentioned either.

Voldemort’s origins not mentioned

CS p. 231 – Tom mentioned in the diary

p. 240 ff – Tom “talks” to Harry from inside the diary

p. 307 – Tom reappears as his 16 year old self

No particular references to Tom’s parents in this novel

PA Tom Riddle Jr. not mentioned in this novel except as Voldemort awaiting the servant’s (Peter) return

GF Voldemort returns

Chapter 1 – mysterious deaths at Riddle Manor in Little Hangleton

p. 644 – “The Death Eaters” more on Tom’s family

HBP Chapter 10 – “House of Gaunt” – Merope

p. 258 ff – Secret Riddle

p. 349 ff – Sluggish Memory

DH no mention of Merope


  1. Brian Basore says

    I suppose somebody will explain Barty Crouch Jr. and his mother so that isn’t as confusing to me as it is so far, given the maternal role filled by Winky the Crouch Family House Elf when Barty needed it, after Mrs. Crouch died in Azkaban in place of her son.

    Then again it wasn’t the only time the author developed a story thread only as far she wanted to.

  2. Wayne Stauffer says

    Good catch, Brian. I totally overlooked this pair. She did what she could to help her son, but he, also, made wrong choices after her sacrifice.

  3. Louise Freeman says

    Very interesting! I am working on a paper about Molly and Ginny Weasley, and it occurred to me as I was working how little there is written about their relationship, or any mother/daughter pair.

    What does Molly’s reaction to Fleur say about her relationship with Bill?

  4. Wayne Stauffer says

    Yes, Molly is somewhat at odds with Fleur early on, but once Fleur asserts herself after Greyback disfigures Bill to say that she loves him no matter what, Molly comes around. I think Molly’s reaction is kind of a usual mom’s concern for the best for her child and she’s not quite sure of Fleur just yet.

  5. Thanks for this Wayne!
    For me (always looking for John’s 1-4-7 ‘spine’ of the series, the son-saving death of Mrs Crouch is the Book 4 hinge between the crucial son-saving acts of Lily and Narcissa (in the latter case, only a risk of dying at Voldemort’s hands, but as you say it is a real risk!).
    Minor correction? You list ‘Giant Mum & Hagrid, Alice & Neville, Mum & Sirius, Merope & Tom Jr., and Eileen & Severus. Ron is the single exception in that all the others are only children—no siblings’ – but both Sirius and Hagrid have siblings (in Hagrid’s case, a half-sibling on his mother’s side)? We don’t hear much about Regulus and Grawp in the early books, but both become important later.

  6. Wayne Stauffer says

    Thank you for the corrections Dr. Groves.
    I felt compelled to add a little more about Mrs. Crouch and Barty Jr., exactly Dr. Groves’ point above.

    Alert reader Brian Basore caught a missing mum & son pairing in Mrs. Crouch and Barty Crouch, Jr. As he also mentioned, they seem to come and go without much development. But they are still important. In the novel GF, this mother/son relationship is another example of a mother sacrificing herself for her son. After Barty, Jr. is sent to Azkaban, Mrs. Crouch devises the plan to get him out by trading places via polyjuice potion—she will take on his form, he will take on hers. She does this because her health is already failing. She would rather die in prison than have her son remain in prison. But this son continues to make wrong choices after his escape by going back to the Dark Lord and disguising himself as Alastor Moody to get Harry to the graveyard. This mother/son pair is important in the story arc because it reminds us of the sacrificial love at the turning point of the Ring Cycle. Lily saves Harry in the first book, Narcissa “saves” Harry in the last book, and Mrs. Crouch saves Barty, Jr. in this middle book.

  7. Louise Freeman says

    Unfortunately, Mrs. Crouch’s decision has a very bad outcome for Mr. Crouch.