We see a lot of father-son relationships in the Harry Potter books: Draco and Lucius are practically clones, and we can see a little of Arthur Weasley in all of his red-headed children. But some characters’ paternal dealings are a little more complicated, and some completely non-existent. Let’s see how those fathers, or lack of them, shaped key characters.
Dudley looked a lot like Uncle Vernon. He had a large, pink face, not much neck, small, watery blue eyes and thick, blond hair that lay smoothly on his thick, fat head.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
There are some characters we just know were totally shaped by their fathers. Then there are some who are virtually made from the same cookie cutter. Just look at Vernon and Dudley Dursley.
If ever there was a father and son so closely linked in looks, personality and, er, mass, this is them. Albus Dumbledore reviewed Vernon and Petunia’s parenting skills as ‘appalling damage’ when he gazed upon Dudley. After following neatly in his father’s misguided footsteps, bullying Harry to the delight of his dad, Dudley threw a curveball in Deathly Hallows by actually having an original thought of his own.
Upon their final, cringingly awkward goodbyes, Dudley announced suddenly that he didn’t think Harry was a ‘waste of space’(!) and even shook Harry’s hand as thanks for saving him from the Dementors a few years earlier. Interestingly, he only did this when his father had briefly left the room…
Then we meet poor Draco. And yes, we’re saying ‘poor Draco’ tentatively here. When we meet the younger Malfoy, he’s already a sneering bully, having been twisted and moulded by his very proud family. Ingrained with the same ambitious and snotty attitudes of his parents from the day he was born, particularly from Lucius Malfoy it seems, Draco appears as a miniature version of his dad – and proud of it. How many times can you tally up Draco starting a sentence with ‘my father’?
Draco, torn between the adoring love of his mother and the brutal harshness of his father, never grew a spine or a view that was uniquely his own and ultimately became a parrot of his father’s views. As his father got more and more embroiled in his Death Eater services to Lord Voldemort, however, we discovered that Draco didn’t have the same cold subservience of Lucius. He may have looked and acted exactly the same, but seemed to have retained a scrap of compassion – he couldn’t kill Dumbledore. And he hesitated in identifying a captured Harry. As much as Draco wanted to emulate his dad, it ended up being a case of style over substance.
Harry saw Draco’s face up close, now, right beside his father’s. They were extraordinarily alike, except that while his father looked beside himself with excitement, Draco’s expression was full of reluctance, even fear.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Although Harry’s late father cannot be with him during his Hogwarts years, he acts as a constant ethereal presence – always there, from Harry’s similar appearance, to his first fight against Voldemort, to their final goodbyes projected out of the Resurrection Stone. Although the constant feedback to Harry is that he has his ‘mother’s eyes’, Harry is so similar to James that even Sirius seems to have a hard time forgetting he doesn’t have his ‘old best friend back’.
Harry also seems to have picked up James’s Quidditch skills, the same unkempt hair, the same disregard for rules. However, the Lily in Harry makes James’s son a lot softer around the edges. Where James seemed to delight in tormenting the poor, bedraggled younger Snape, or ‘Snivellus’ as he’d call him, Harry forgives Snape’s cruelty when he learns the truth about his former professor’s life. This shows that Harry had learned from the mistakes of his dad.
Then there’s that same adventurous spirit, innate bravery and determination. James may have had his faults, but he was brave to the core and sacrificed his life for his wife and son. Harry didn’t think twice about sacrificing himself to Voldemort to end the war and save the people he loved. Harry is not just his dad’s mirror image, but seems to have something at his core that James had too. Just look at their matching Patronuses.
‘You think the dead we have loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him. How else could you produce that particular Patronus? Prongs rode again last night.’
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
So how about a father and son that have more than a few distractions between them? While Harry, Draco and Dudley are only-children, Ron’s dad Arthur has a bit more on his hands than most. As such, Ron is more of an amalgamation of all his family, with the sense of humour of Fred and George, the determination of Ginny, but certainly the kindness and loyalty of his father. But there are a few little things. Both Ron and Arthur aren’t exactly high achievers: Ron’s average Hogwarts marks remind us of Arthur’s dead-end job at the Ministry. But what they lack in ambition and wealth, they make up for in their good hearts, loyalty and warm nature. And we definitely notice certain similarities when Hermione reprimands Ron in the same sort of way Molly reprimands Arthur.
Mr Weasley was slumped in a kitchen chair with his glasses off and his eyes closed. He was a thin man, going bald, but the little hair he had was as red as any of his children’s.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Then there are those characters who didn’t really have dads at all. We don’t know much about Tobias, Severus Snape’s Muggle dad, but from the little we do know, they didn't sound like they were exactly close.
The broken home from which Snape seems to have come from explains a lot, and may have contributed to his cruel, snide personality in later years. Although he’s proud enough to use his mother’s maiden name as a pseudonym, Snape is very much a self-made man, and has very much carved a lonely path.
‘How are things at your house?’ Lily asked. A little crease appeared between his eyes.
‘Fine,’ he said.
‘They’re not arguing any more?’
‘Oh, yes, they’re arguing,’ said Snape. He picked up a fistful of leaves and began tearing them apart, apparently unaware of what he was doing. ‘But it won’t be that long and I’ll be gone.’
‘Doesn’t your dad like magic?’
‘He doesn’t like anything, much,’ said Snape.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Finally, there is Voldemort. A man so torn by his lineage that he becomes the most vitriolic force imaginable. Tom Riddle, his father, wasn’t necessarily an evil man, in fact, we didn’t really know the guy. After all, he was trapped under Merope’s magic for the majority of their relationship.
Once Merope ‘released’ him, however, Tom scarpered and Merope died after giving birth to their son. It’s fair to say Voldemort may have a couple of abandonment issues as a result. Voldemort is so consumed with jealousy and anger and selfish greed that he stays stuck in the mould he was cast in as a child. He never gives thought to his impact on others or to anything beyond his own ambitions, and he grows up loathing sharing his absent father’s name.
‘You stand, Harry Potter, upon the remains of my late father,’ he hissed softly. ‘A Muggle and a fool … very like your dear mother. But they both had their uses, did they not? Your mother died to defend you as a child … and I killed my father, and see how useful he has proved himself, in death ...’
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire