Voldemort's Agents, Malfoy's Cronies, and Hagrid's Chums:
Friendship in Harry Potter
by Harald Thorsrud
From the book Harry Potter and Philosophy:
If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts.
One of the surest signs of friendship is the willingness to help out in bad
times. Those who stand by us through hardship, depression, and failure will
certainly be there when things are good too. Good friends are loyal and
trusting and good friendships are admirable.
But it isn't always wise to be loyal and trusting. In
Chamber of Secrets,
Ron's father offers some sage advice on
this topic: "Never trust anything that can think for itself, if you
can't see where it keeps its brain"
(CS18). One way of interpreting
this is that we should be cautious about trusting anyone (or anything)
as long as we are unsure about his motivation. On the positive side, then,
we should trust those who wish us well.
That's true, but it's not much help. If you haven't had this experience, you
probably know someone who has: you think you're being treated well but in
fact you're not. Your friend may feel the same: he thinks you're treating
him well, but you're not. Perhaps people in this situation are just using
each other, or perhaps they've got some totally wrong-headed ideas about
what's good. In either case they might be right to trust each other, but
this doesn't mean that their friendship is admirable. So what exactly is it
about a friendship that makes it admirable?
The Potter books provide us with
an excellent opportunity to explore this question. We'll start with some
corrupt friendships, and then turn to
Hagrid's friendships for some contrast.
Finally we'll enlist the help of the Greek philosopher Aristotle to sort
it all out.
Towards the end of
Philosopher's Stone we
learn that Voldemort, in his weakened
state, had to share another's body to survive. If ever he needed a friend,
this would be the time. Enter Quirrell,
who was kind enough to let Voldemort
into his heart, his mind, and literally into the back of his head where the
Dark Lord began recouping his strength.
Quirrell's loyalty and devotion to
Voldemort was undeniable. Going
about with a foul-smelling turban wrapped around your head to cover a
grotesque companion is a bit inconvenient after all. And you wouldn't
kill a unicorn and drink its
blood for just
anybody (PS17)! Should we
admire Quirrell's loyalty and courage?
At best we might admit a grudging admiration, but we would be right to see
his friendship with Voldemort as
Wormtail also makes a great sacrifice
to prove his loyalty to Voldemort. To
complete the Dark Lord's rebirth,
Wormtail cuts off his own hand and
adds it to the giant cauldron
Earlier, he had insisted on the strength of his devotion
(GF1), but he was now required
to prove it. This was just as great a sacrifice as
Quirrell's, though most of us wouldn't
want to have to choose between severing our own hand and drinking
But in neither case should we think
Voldemort's agents were motivated
exclusively, or even primarily, by a desire to help their master.
Once he has regained his full strength and the rest of his estranged
followers return to him, we discover the real nature of
Voldemort's relationships. His agents
are motivated by equal parts of fear and greed. When he had lost his powers,
most of his supposedly loyal
Death Eaters plead innocence or
ignorance to avoid punishment. This sort always tries to back the winner,
whoever it may be (GF9,
GF33). Their loyalty is never
more than a thinly disguised hope for future rewards, a show designed to
advance their own ambitions. Wormtail,
for example, is rewarded with a silver hand capable of crushing rock
But there were some notable exceptions. Some
Death Eaters were motivated by
more than greed and fear. Not all of
Voldemort's followers abandoned him
when he lost his power. The most striking example is
Barty Crouch, Jr. His loyalty is
motivated by respect and admiration. Unlike the other
Voldemort as more than a way to
advance his own ambitions. He desires a deeper connection, hoping that
Voldemort will respect him in
return and even love him as a son
(GF35). This makes
Barty's case more interesting, and
more difficult to understand. Nonetheless,
Voldemort probably sees
Barty as a tool or instrument that he
can use to achieve his ambitions. No one would be a bit surprised if
Barty to get what he wanted.
It's not quite fair to offer the same account of
Malfoy's friends. The three of them are
more or less on an equal footing. Crabbe
and Goyle certainly don't have
Malfoy's brains, but they, like
Malfoy, are from aristocratic, well-to-do
families. Although we may not find much to admire about
Goyle, they do stick by their friend.
Unlike most of Voldemort's agents,
Malfoy's cronies aren't motivated by
greed or fear. They're not in it for the rewards, but rather for the pleasure
of hanging out with the sharp-tongued
Malfoy. They obviously enjoy
Malfoy's malicious humor, and it seems
that they really like him for who he is. No accounting for taste, we might
say, but there it is.
What should we think of Malfoy's
friendships? The easy answer is to say they aren't worth admiring simply
because Malfoy is a nasty piece of work.
But that may be too easy. Malfoy is not
(yet) a hardened criminal. We may think of him, along with
Goyle, as young lads gone wrong. Although
they have had plenty of material benefits, something has gone wrong with
their moral development. But in spite of this they have formed the best
friendships of which they are capable.
By contrast, consider Hagrid. If
there ever were a kind-hearted shaggy giant of a friend,
Hagrid is the one. The wise wizard
Hagrid with his life
CS14), as do
But Hagrid has his faults too. He's a
bit of a blabbermouth
GF 357), he sometimes
loses his temper (PS4), and his
love for monstrous animals produces disastrous results on more than one
For example, during Hagrid's first lesson
as Care of Magical Creatures
teacher, Malfoy gets wounded by the
(PA6). The accident was
Malfoy's fault since he did not approach
the creature with the proper respect, but nonetheless
Hagrid was supposed to be responsible
for his students. The matter is taken up by a disciplinary hearing to decide
the fate of both Hagrid and the
interesting thing about this incident, however, is not only the flaw revealed
in Hagrid's character, but the strength.
promise to help Hagrid construct a
defense for Buckbeak. But the boys
get excited over Harry's new
Firebolt broom and forget all
Hermione, on the other hand,
works tirelessly on the defense. As the hearing approaches,
Ron to his
hut. After they arrive, they
both remember their promise to help Hagrid
defend Buckbeak, and feel terrible
pangs of guilt. Hagrid waves this subject
away. Instead, he talks about the boys' shabby treatment of their friend
Hermione, which has caused her
to cry a lot recently. First, they had snubbed
Hermione because her concern
over the broomstick got it confiscated
for a few weeks while it was checked for curses. Then
Ron gave her the cold shoulder because
her cat apparently ate his rat
Hagrid is terribly worried about his
beloved Hippogriff, he
is more concerned with the boys' treatment of
Hermione: "I gotta tell yeh,
I thought you two'd value yer friend more'n
broomsticks or rats. Tha's all...
She's got her heart in the right place"
Hagrid's concern for
Hermione's happiness, and his
concern about the boys' mindless disregard for one of their friends, takes
precedence over the boys' neglect of
Buckbeak's defense. It's not
only Hermione who's got her heart in the right place. This concern for
the needs of another - that is, a concern for the sake of that person's needs
and not just your own - seems to be a crucial ingredient in genuinely good
friendships. But what exactly does it mean? Is a good friend simply someone
who has good intentions and acts on them? With the help of Aristotle, we
can see that it takes quite a bit more.
Even though he lived over 2300 years ago (384 to 322 B.C.E.), Aristotle
somehow managed to explore just about every interesting and important
philosophical question. His word is not the last on these topics - it's
nearly impossible to find the last word in philosophy - but he usually gives
us valuable insights and useful ways of looking at important subjects. This
is certainly the case when it comes to friendship, which Aristotle explores
in great depth and detail in two books of his
Nicomachean Ethics. 
To determine what is admirable about
friendship, Aristotle starts with the claim that whenever we love someone
or something, we do so because the object appears to be useful, pleasant,
or good.  This suggests that love is a very expansive
concept covering lots of different sorts of relationships. No surprise
there. We can begin to narrow down the kinds of love we experience in
friendship by noticing that it occurs only in relation to living things.
When we say that we just love ice cream, everyone understands what
we really mean is that we love to eat ice cream. It would be a bit odd
if we were constantly checking the temperature of the freezer to make
sure my ice cream is comfortable.
We don't wish good things for the sake of inanimate objects. But with friends,
Aristotle remarks, we do wish good things for their sake, and not just
for our own. 
So it's not just a matter of getting pleasure or some benefit out of a
relationship that matters, but wanting your friend also to get some pleasure
or benefit. There is a two-way relation that is essential to friendship.
This is part of what it means to have your heart in the right place. If we
were to wish good things for someone who couldn't care less about us, it
would be an expression of goodwill, but not friendship. For example, if we
asked Hagrid what he thought of the
stranger from whom he gets the
dragon's egg in
Hagrid would probably say that he wished
the stranger well. But it is doubtful that the stranger returns these good
wishes, nor would we want to call such a relationship, a friendship. So,
depending on what it is we love about our friend, we want to both give and
receive pleasant, useful, or good things. Thus, Aristotle arrives at three
types of friendship. Let's explore them further.
Useful Friends and Pleasant Friends
Let's say we love our friend, Laura, because she has an
enchanted flying car and we like to go flying in it.
We might hope that Laura benefits somehow from her relationship with us,
but primarily what we care about is the chance to fly. So if we want to
provide some benefit in return, it will be because we want to keep on flying.
In that case, our intentions might be good, but our motivation is suspect.
For it's not really Laura that we care about, but rather some incidental
fact about her, namely, that she has an enchanted car. Furthermore, we
might not even love her anymore if she didn't have such a car.
This is pretty much what we find going on with
Voldemort, who never expresses any
interest in the well being of his followers. They are merely instruments to
be manipulated, punished, and rewarded insofar as they fulfill his needs. It
would be totally out of character for him to be concerned about who
Wormtail really are, except insofar
as it will help to motivate them to do his bidding.
The same sort of analysis holds for friendships based on pleasure. Let's say
that we love our friend, Alex, because he has a great sense of humor. We
might hope that he finds us amusing too, but primarily what we care about are
the laughs we get from hanging out with him. We might even increase our own
pleasure by making him laugh. But, again, we are motivated primarily by a
desire for our own pleasure.
Goyle have this sort of relationship with
Malfoy. In return,
Malfoy enjoys a receptive audience for his
malicious humor along with the benefit of their protection. Although we can
imagine that they might genuinely like each other, it would be too much of a
stretch to imagine them trying to improve each other in any worthwhile way.
Perhaps at best, Malfoy might encourage
his cronies to be physically fit, and they might encourage
Malfoy to practice his cruel wit.
According to Aristotle, in both of
these types of friendship the most distinctive quality is that we don't
really care about our friends for who they are, but rather for what they
can do for us. It just happens to be Laura who has the enchanted
car and Alex who has the great sense of humor, both characteristics that
we value, but characteristics that could well be provided by lots of other
people, even though enchanted cars are quite rare.
Goyle are similarly replaceable.
Furthermore, Voldemort and
Malfoy enjoy the benefits and pleasures
resulting from their friendships regardless of whether their friends are good
people. In fact, Voldemort surely
knows that his friends are rotten to the core, and
Malfoy probably could not care less. But
they're both getting what they want out of their friendships.
Friendship in the Fullest Sense
By contrast, in an admirable friendship,
we enjoy the benefits and pleasures because we realize that our friend
is a good person. What we love about a friend in this case is primarily
that he is, or at least appears to be, a good person. Whatever benefits
and pleasures that follow are certainly enjoyable, but they are not the
basis of our friendship. In other words, we want good things for our friend,
for his sake.
But we shouldn't take this to be a completely selfless giving.
Aristotle does not think that helping our
friends requires ignoring our own interests. When we help a good friend,
we are at the same time pursuing our own good. To see this we must expand
our notion of the good from the sort that gets smaller as it is divided
to the sort that increases as it is divided. Dividing it makes it more,
not less. The good that Aristotle has in mind is the strength of
character, or virtue, from which good actions flow. When we help a friend
to strengthen his character, we have increased the amount of good available,
whereas when we merely take up space in the enchanted car, we have reduced
the amount of good available. Friendship in the fullest sense requires
a shared understanding that what is good for a friend is also good for
us. So when we strive for the good of a friend, we are also striving for
our own good.
In fact, Aristotle famously remarks
that a friend is another self. Just as we should love what is noble
and good about ourselves, so too we should love what is noble and good
in our friends. The love for a friend, understood as another self, turns
out to be an extension of the appropriate sort of love of oneself.
We can see an illustration of this in
Hagrid's friendship with
Hagrid identifies with
Harry right from the start. Like
Harry, he had lost both of his parents,
and was extremely unsure about how or whether he would fit in at
But the identification runs deeper. Since
Hagrid sees a reflection of himself in
Harry, he strives to promote
Harry's well being.
Hagrid takes delight in what is best in
Harry's character and does what he can to
promote Harry's further development. Even
though he admits that Harry occasionally
breaks the rules, Hagrid is convinced
that Harry is alright
he's got his heart in the right place. In other words,
Hagrid believes that
Harry would never break the rules unless
it were for the sake of some more important good. Likewise,
Harry refuses to believe that
Hagrid would ever intentionally harm an
innocent person (CS14,
Another ringing endorsement of Hagrid's
character comes in Goblet of Fire,
when his friends have to convince him to resume his position as teacher of
Care of Magical Creatures.
The Daily Prophet had published a story about
Hagrid, accurately revealing that he is
half giant, but slandering him as a brutal and arrogant liar who abuses his
position at Hogwarts and maims students
Hagrid is mortified by this, and believes
he should resign his position. But
Dumbledore, along with
see the gentle and intelligent Hagrid.
They see the Hagrid who nurses the
mail-carrying owls back to health after
they have flown through rough weather
Hagrid who is able to see the good in
creatures that everyone else fears and finds horrifying, and the
Hagrid who can be counted on to put the
good of his friends first.
Hagrid's friends reflect what is noble
about his character and thereby convince him to ignore the slander and resume
his position (GF24). In his
moment of extreme self-doubt, his friends reveal to him who he really is and
provide him with the confidence that he deserves. In this way, good friendship
provides us with a sort of mirror that discourages self-deception.
On the positive side, good friendship also strengthens moral character. We've
seen an example of this already in Hagrid's
calling Ron and
Harry to task for caring more for
broomsticks and rats than for their
friend. But we also see this when Neville
takes a stand for what he thinks is best for his friends
Hermione decide they must
prevent Voldemort from getting hold of
the Philosopher's Stone.
This requires sneaking out of their dormitory late at night and breaking the
enchantments conjured by their teachers to protect the
Gryffindor House had already
been severely penalized by the trio's apparently reckless disregard for school
rules. So Neville tries to stop his
three friends as they're about to sneak out and break the rules yet again. He
fails as Hermione knocks him
flat with the old
But the crucial thing is that Neville
exhibited a great deal of courage in trying to do what he thought was right
and genuinely good for his friends.
Even though Harry,
Hermione were justified in
breaking the rules again, Neville was
also right to try to stop them. Neville
cared for more than just the possible loss of
points from Gryffindor House.
He cared about his friends' growing fondness for breaking the rules.
Dumbledore also sees
Neville's concern in this way, and he
accordingly rewards him for it at the end-of-the-year ceremony.
"There are all kinds of courage," said Dumbledore smiling.
"It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies,
but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award
ten points to Mr. Neville Longbottom."
(PS17). Standing up to our
friends is admirable when we do so, as
Neville did, for our friends' sake.
We see another example of the positive moral effects of friendship as
Ron wrestles with his jealousy of
Harry. They are the best of friends, but
Ron grows understandably weary of
Harry's getting all the glory and
recognition (GF17). Similarly,
when Ron is
appointed Prefect, Harry becomes jealous
(OP9). But, although their
friendship is occasionally strained to near the breaking point, they always
reconcile. The best explanation for this is that they care for something
more than the pleasure or benefits to be had from hanging out together.
They care about each other. Caring in this way, for the friend's own sake,
Harry must overcome their jealousy and
reaffirm their commitment to the pursuit of common good. In other words,
jealousy arises from the mistaken view that the accomplishments of your
friend somehow detract rather than add to your own good. The common good in
this case is not the Prefect's badge itself - obviously only one person can
wear that - but rather the fact that Ron
was worthy of the recognition and honor. The strength of
Ron's character is the good that is shared
among his friends as they enjoy their time together.
"What's comin' will come, an' we'll meet it when it does"
The relations among the characters
in Harry Potter provide vivid confirmation of Aristotle's insights into
what is truly admirable and beneficial about friendship. Hagrid and his
friends do indeed have their hearts in the right place. The things they
love about each other are not incidental features, but what is most essential
to who they are: their general inclinations to act in ways that make
them admirable to each other and to us. Having your heart in the right
place also requires seeing your friend as another self. This in turn motivates
us to see that what is good for ourselves is good for our friends, and
vice versa. For these reasons, friendship in the fullest sense offers the
greatest safeguard against self-deception and the greatest encouragement
to develop ourselves in the most important ways. Friendship provides the
characters of Harry Potter - and indeed all of us - with essential values
that make life worthwhile and meaningful.
1 - See Michael Pakaluk,
Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, Books VIII and IX (New York: Oxford
University Press), 1998.
Nicomachean Ethics (VIII. 2. 155b19).
Nicomachean Ethics (VIII. 3. 1156b9-12, IX. 4. 1166a4).
© 2004, used by permission
This essay is an excerpt from Harry Potter and Philosophy:
If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts, edited by David Baggett
and Shawn E. Klein. Harry Potter and Philosophy is the latest
in the Open Court Pop Culture and Philosophy Series edited by William Irwin.
here to order a copy through Amazon.com.