Goblet of Fire: medium-high
Order of the Phoenix: light, touches on incidents without much detail
Half-Blood Prince: medium
The question was recently posed to me, “how much of Harry’s success is just luck?” and as such, the focus of this essay is all about Harry’s luck and skills as a wizard.
For Sorcerer’s Stone, luck dominates the entire volume. Harry is always in the right place, at the right time, and has a sudden fortunate Christmas gift in the invisibility cloak. Also, three first years fighting a troll and living? Sure there’s skill, but they were all very, very lucky.
Chamber of Secrets is a tricky tome, because of the liberal use of Parseltongue. How did Harry know to use the basilisk fang? That was a lucky shot, no one taught him that move. Would he have figured out the pipes without Hermione’s clue from her petrified state? And just how coincidental and lucky was it Professor Sprout was studying Mandrakes that year, the cure for petrification?
Prisoner of Azkaban is where we start to honestly tap Harry’s potential, via the Patronus lessons. It was luck that got Harry and Hermione in a position to mess with time, but there was no luck involved in conjuring that Patronus – it was indeed a ‘put up or shut up’ moment.
In Goblet of Fire, Harry really starts to turn the corner in using more of his natural skill and things he’s learned instead of simply falling over the answer, or finding it Sorcerer Stone style in his pocket. This is critical to his survival in his battle with Voldemort.
Order of Phoenix continues the theme of skill dominating luck, right up to and through the Ministry of Magic battle.
By Half-Blood Prince, we see a different Harry once again, and as he has used a bit of luck to get himself this far, by the end of Half-Blood Prince he realizes that all the lessons ahead of him are practical. In Half-Blood Prince we see that the students are not really learning new things but instead taking what they know to a new level, such as non-verbal spells, with the point emphasised again and again. The ‘new spells’ are courtesy of the Half-Blood Prince’s book, and what wicked spells they are! Luck is addressed, via the Felix Felicis potion, but the subtle point is made on how people cannot rely on potions and luck to get what they need.
Harry is very lucky in his early wizarding studies to fall in with the right crowd – the brainy Hermione, staying under the watchful eye of Albus Dumbledore and the like. He also has the tendency to be in the right place at the right (and wrong) times to overhear information. But those days have come to a close.
Natural skill is where Harry shines and ultimately what will carry him through. There is no question he excels at some things – flying, for example. A natural, even. He is also exceedingly good at Defense Against the Dark Arts, whether or not this is motivated by his personal history or just something he’s good at (like some people are good at maths), he has the talent and skill to pick it up easily and effectively. One can only imagine what he would be like if he applied himself to other wizard subjects as well, like Transfiguration and Charms. Half-Blood Prince showed that he is very good at following instructions, exceeding even the best and brightest students of the Advanced Potions class.
But what about his friends? At no time can we say that Harry gets by on his wonderkid-self alone. In fact, in Sorcerer’s Stone, his friends are absolutely vital to his success in reaching the stone.
As for Ron, well, sidekick he may be, but he is definitely not the brains (Hermione) or the courage of most of these operations. In fact, the most bravery Ron has shown was demonstrated aptly in Sorcerer’s Stone, then discarded somewhere along the way. Sad, because Ron did have potential character wise to be more than “boy who never seems to live up to his brothers’ reputations” and he’s just not going to get there without some incredible leaps of growth in book seven.
As an example, in Sorcerer’s Stone, who can forget Ron’s well crafted wizard chess match? That was great! Here we saw Ron at his best, brave and intelligent. However, by the time we reach Chamber of Secrets, Ron’s year starts off with a bad sign and pretty much stays put – his wand breaks, and his family simply wouldn’t be able to afford a new one, so he hobbles through the entire year with a patchy wand. The reader is also introduced to a less confident Ron overall, one who is afraid of spiders and by and large, not too much help. In Azkaban, Ron is taken out of the action fairly quickly at the end, leaving Hermione and her trusty time-turner up to the task to give Harry the time he needs to set things right. Goblet of Fire shows Ron’s lack of confidence and jealousy getting the better of him, waiting until after the first task to team the boys back up again, but at the end of the day, the focus is more on Harry. Sure, he’s at the Ministry of Magic (Order of the Phoenix, but nearly getting strangled by brains is not exactly a flattering commentary on Ron’s role here. And Half-Blood Prince? Ron’s got his mind on girls and Quidditch, but then again, not much was asked of Ron for Half-Blood Prince anyway. Or Hermione for that matter.
Hermione, however, is presented in an entirely more flattering role almost the entire time. Sure the guys collectively get angry at her – once, in Azkaban. (We will ignore the whole ever-present Ron/Hermione dynamic here, which indicates the pair must get into one knock down, drag-out bickerfest per book, because of some blatant and basic personality conflicts, or as some would more kindly say ‘this is just sexual tension!‘).
While the trio was quickly established in Sorcerer’s Stone as a united force, the fact is clear – the trio will most likely be undone in some form or another for the ending of book seven to have a powerful conclusion. While team work is great, Harry’s growing independence means it is almost certain that it is he, and he alone that will need to face Voldemort. This is Harry’s journey, after all. He came into the wizarding world having defeated Voldemort alone, and by and large, he will have to go full circle in order to do so again. However, where baby Harry got by on luck, the growing up Harry will have to rely on pure talent to surive these last encounters ahead of him. Unfortunately for Ron fans, Ron will likely be discarded by the wayside first. Having served no critical role since Sorcerer’s Stone, Ron can be easily dispatched one way or another, without having to die in the process (although bets here are seeing it as ‘likely’). Hermione will also have to be neutralized in some fashion. As an intellectual crutch, Harry has come to depend on her less and less over the years, but still, when worse gets to worse, Hermione’s bookish nature always has had something critical and helpful to add over the years (the puzzles in Sorcerer’s Stone, the pipes, a time-turner, Rita Skeeter, the Half-Blood Prince’s heritage). Still, as we know from Order of the Phoenix, it is possible to take Hermione out of the action, given a powerful enough Death Eater. As for the others? It looks like a topic to shed some light on at another time.
So is Harry just lucky, or is he actually skilled? Probably both, but as time goes on, he is learning not to rely so much on luck, but on how he can build up his skill to get what he wants and just use that little bit of luck to ‘push things over the edge’. It’s time for Harry to use six years of learning, and everyone hopes that it is enough. But no luck potion in the world can help him on this road.