James Potter might not have literally pulled the Sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat, like his son did, but he certainly had lion-esque energy that flowed through to Harry.
Now, there are many ways to be brave, and very few Gryffindors had the opportunity to act the hero quite as often as Harry, (although we all respect Seamus Finnigan’s various gallant battles with his cauldron) - but James Potter came pretty close. Along with his wife, Lily, he repeatedly acted against Voldemort to such an extent that Trelawney’s prophecy specifically stated that they’d defied The Dark Lord three times.
Then, when Voldemort did find them, James tried to hold him off so that Lily could escape with Harry. Yes, there is no denying that James Potter’s bravery was legendary. While he was over-confident at school, James would mature in his later years.
James may have been pretty heroic as an adult, but as a student, his willingness to compromise his own safety for others was less altruistic. Take the way he and Sirius set themselves and Peter Pettigrew the task of becoming Animagi so they could accompany Lupin on his wolfish forays. True, Lupin called those little escapades ‘the best times of my life’, so it was clearly an act of support that meant a lot to him. But the fact this also required a lot of rebellion would’ve likely attracted James to the task too.
Sirius, who was also no stranger to rebellion, later compared Harry to James – even though by Marauder standards, Harry was, comparatively, a lot more careful. For example, when Harry chastised Sirius for not being discreet enough during his years on the run from the Ministry, Sirius replied: 'The risk would’ve been what made it fun for James.’
Professor McGonagall certainly agreed that Sirius and James were quite similar in this regard.
‘Black and Potter. Ringleaders of their little gang. Both very bright, of course – exceptionally bright, in fact – but I don’t think we’ve ever had such a pair of troublemakers…’
A risk-taker with a dislike of authority and an appetite for troublemaking. Sounds like quite a few Gryffindors we know.
It’s funny how certain people can bring out the best in someone. Lily Evans certainly had that effect on James – who wasn’t impressed by his cocky ways at school. However, when Snape called Lily a Mudblood after she’d attempted to stop James hexing him, James’ arrogance turned into something better. He stood up for her.
‘Apologise to Evans!’ James roared at Snape, his wand pointed threateningly at him.
Not that Lily needed or appreciated James’s attempts to be chivalrous – oh no, she saw right through him – but the thought was definitely there. And it does seem that James’s feelings for Lily might have motivated him to, in Sirius’s words, ‘deflate… his head a bit.’
Arrogance is not a trait specifically mentioned by the Sorting Hat, but for a certain sub-set of Gryffindors, sometimes all this noble bravery can go to someone’s head. And, as just discussed, James’s head was apparently in need of deflating. And the way James treated Snape as a student did not impress his son at all when he looked into the Pensieve.
In James’s defence, Sirius would later tell Harry that Snape ‘never lost an opportunity to curse James’ himself, and that ‘a lot of people are idiots at the age of fifteen’. Not to mention being ‘up to his eyes in the Dark Arts’. But Sirius also told Harry that James hexed people ‘just for the fun of it’. As for Snape himself, he had a pretty strong opinion on the matter, naturally.
‘How extraordinarily like your father you are, Potter,’ Snape said suddenly, his eyes glinting. ‘He too was exceedingly arrogant. A small amount of talent on the Quidditch field made him think he was a cut above the rest of us too. Strutting around the place with his friends and admirers…’
The only other thing to say in mitigation is that James was certainly not the only Gryffindor whose bravery came with a healthy side-order of arrogance. Sirius was almost as bad; Dumbledore, in his youth, was arrogant enough to think he and Gellert Grindelwald might unite the Deathly Hallows and so conquer death; even Harry had, as Hermione called it, ‘a bit of a – saving-people thing…’ which often led him to ignore other people’s advice. But thankfully, arrogance is the sort of thing that can be worked on. Thank Merlin that Lily was able to help James with that – even if it couldn’t undo the past.
Another Gryffindor-esque trait Harry and his father shared was a tendency to act before thinking. When Sirius told Harry James enjoyed taking risks, he said it with a sense of pride, but such actions usually come with consequences. Running around Hogsmeade with a werewolf, creating a map that allowed people to enter and leave Hogwarts without anyone else knowing, targeting Snape in front of multiple people – we know Hogwarts isn’t the best when it comes to school safety, but the Marauders didn’t exactly help matters.
Harry’s rash decisions were often seemingly motivated by the desire to rescue his friends, rather than a reckless desire to have fun. Remember – this is the young man that secured a few extra points at the Triwizard Tournament for “moral fibre”! But Harry’s passionate attitude didn’t always turn out for the best – especially when he got enamored with the Half-Blood Prince textbook, full of scribbled-down spells that Harry couldn’t help but try out, despite Hermione’s best warnings.
But that’s the thing about being a Gryffindor – bravery can become passion, chivalry can become arrogance, nerve can become recklessness – but all in all, James Potter proved that the traits of a Gryffindor can produce a true hero, as long as you’re willing to work on your flaws and listen to your friends.