Harry’s family life has been less than ideal. Up until he was 11, he thought his parents had been killed in a car wreck. He was told he was nothing but a burden to his aunt and uncle.
Harry is not a beaten pup. In my work I have seen a few neglected children–not abused mind you, just ignored–and almost without exception they are either too loud and boisterous in order to claim attention, or they are withdrawn and painfully shy. Harry is neither of those things. He is extraordinarily well-adjusted, appropriate, and confident. He recognizes that he deserves better than he gets without asking for pity or exception. Futhermore, he truly appreciates Hogwarts, its faculty, and his friends there, without moaning about his previous lack of love. How did he come to be so ‘ok’ in spite of it all?
The answer has to lie with the same thing that originally saved him from Voldemort’s curse: his mother’s love. Dumbledore tells Harry that her sacrifice permeated his very skin, repelling the attack like a force field around his body. Somehow it must have also embued him with the knowledge, the deep conviction, that he was greatly loved and considered worthy of the ultimate sacrifice. Though it all happened well before his memories began to stick, still he occasionally has flashes of that terrible night, so the love he felt from her then must have stayed with him as well.
Then there is the fact that Lily and James are not really gone, are they? They appear in the Mirror of Erised in Sorcerer’s Stone, in his confrontation with Voldemort in the cemetery in Goblet of Fire, and in the moments before his death in Deathly Hallows. Also, Sirius tells him in Prisoner of Azkaban, “Those who love us never really leave us.”
What is our ‘take-away’ from all this? First that our earliest experiences define who we are even if we don’t actively remember them. Second, that we should be aware of this as we raise our own children, making sure the fact that they are loved is absorbed into their skin to be carried with them throughout their lives. Finally, we need to realize the true importance of love, to the point of being the most important thing, and especially the power of a mother’s love.
Don’t ever mess with a she-bear protecting her cub!