Her own mother's death on 30 December 1990 inspired Rowling to write Harry Potter as a boy longing for his dead parents, his anguish becoming "much deeper, much more real" than in earlier drafts because she related to it herself. In a 2000 interview with The Guardian, Rowling also established that the character of Wart in T.H. White's novel The Sword In the Stone is "Harry's spiritual ancestor." Finally, she established Harry's birthdate as 31 July, the same as her own. However, she maintained that Harry was not directly based on any real-life character; "he came just out of a part of me".
Rowling has also maintained that Harry is a suitable real-life role model for children. "The advantage of a fictional hero or heroine is that you can know them better than you can know a living hero, many of whom you would never meet […] if people like Harry and identify with him, I am pleased, because I think he is very likeable."
According to Rowling, fleshing out this back story was a matter of reverse planning: "The basic idea [is that] Harry … didn't know he was a wizard … and so then I kind of worked backwards from that position to find out how that could be, that he wouldn't know what he was… When he was one-year-old, the most evil wizard in hundreds of years attempted to kill him. He killed Harry's parents, and then he tried to kill Harry — he tried to curse him… Harry has to find out, before we find out. And — so — but for some mysterious reason, the curse didn't work on Harry. So he's left with this lightning-bolt shaped scar on his forehead, and the curse rebounded upon the evil wizard who has been in hiding ever since".
As a result, Harry is written as an orphan living miserably with his only remaining family, the cruel Dursleys. On his eleventh birthday, Harry learns he is a wizard when Rubeus Hagrid tells him that he is to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There he learns about his parents and his connection to the Dark Lord, is sorted into Gryffindor House, becomes friends with classmates Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, and foils Voldemort's attempt to steal the Philosopher's Stone. He also forms rivalries with characters Draco Malfoy, a classmate from an elitist Wizarding family, and the cold, condescending Potions master, Severus Snape, Draco's mentor and the head of Slytherin House. Both feuds continue throughout the series. In a 1999 interview, Rowling stated that Draco is based on several prototypical schoolyard bullies she encountered and Snape on a sadistic teacher of hers who abused his power.
Rowling has stated that the Mirror of Erised chapter in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is her favourite; the mirror reflects Harry's deepest desire, namely to see his dead parents. Her favourite funny scene is when Harry inadvertently sets a boa constrictor free from the zoo in the horrified Dursleys' presence.
In the previous books, Harry is written as a child, but Rowling states that in the fourth novel, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, "Harry's horizons are literally and metaphorically widening as he grows older." Harry's developing maturity becomes apparent when he becomes interested in Cho Chang, a pretty Ravenclaw student. Tension mounts, however, when Harry is mysteriously chosen by the Goblet of Fire to compete in the dangerous Triwizard Tournament, even though another Hogwarts champion, Cedric Diggory, was already selected. It is actually an elaborate scheme by Voldemort to lure Harry into a deadly trap. During the Tournament's final challenge, Harry and Cedric are teleported to a graveyard. Cedric is killed, and Voldemort, aided by Peter Pettigrew, uses Harry's blood in a gruesome ritual to resurrect Voldemort's body. When Harry duels Voldemort, their wands' magical streams connect, forcing the spirit echoes of Voldemort's victims, including Cedric and James and Lily Potter, to be expelled from his wand. The spirits briefly protect Harry as he escapes to Hogwarts with Cedric's body. For Rowling, this scene is important because it shows Harry's bravery, and by retrieving Cedric's corpse, he demonstrates selflessness and compassion. Says Rowling, "He wants to save Cedric's parents additional pain.” She added that preventing Cedric's body from falling into Voldemort's hands is based on the classic scene in the Iliad where Achilles retrieves the body of his best friend Patroclus from the hands of Hector. Rowling also mentioned that book four rounds off an era in Harry's life, and the remaining three books are another, "He's no longer protected. He's been very protected until now. But he's very young to have that experience. Most of us don't get that until a bit later in life. He's only just coming up to 15 and that's it now.
In the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Harry enters a tumultuous puberty that, Rowling says, is based on her and her younger sister's own difficult teenage years. Rowling also made an intimate statement about Harry's personal life: "Because of the demands of the adventure that Harry is following, he has had less sexual experience than boys of his age might have had". This inexperience with romance was a factor in Harry's failed relationship with Cho. Now his thoughts concern Ginny, and a vital plot point in the last chapter includes Harry ends their budding romance to protect her from Voldemort.
A new character appears when former Hogwarts Potions master Horace Slughorn replaces Snape, who assumes the Defence Against the Dark Arts post. Harry suddenly excels in Potions, using an old textbook once belonging to a talented student known only as "The Half-Blood Prince." The book contains many handwritten notes, revisions, and new spells; Hermione, however, believes Harry using it is cheating. Through private meetings with Dumbledore, Harry learns about Voldemort's orphaned youth, his rise to power, and how he splintered his soul into Horcruxes to achieve immortality. Two Horcruxes have been destroyed; the diary and a ring, and Harry and Dumbledore locate another, although it is a fake. When Death Eaters invade Hogwarts, Snape kills Dumbledore. As Snape escapes, he proclaims that he is the Half-Blood Prince — Harry's admired mentor is actually his hated enemy. It now falls upon Harry to find and destroy Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes and to avenge Dumbledore's death. In a 2005 interview with NBC anchorwoman Katie Couric, Rowling stated that [after the events in the sixth book] Harry has, "taken the view that they are now at war. He does become more battle hardened. He’s now ready to go out fighting. And he’s after revenge [against Voldemort and Snape]."
This book also focusses on the mysterious activities of Harry's rival Draco Malfoy. Voldemort has coerced a frightened Malfoy into attempting to kill Dumbledore. During a duel in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, Harry uses the Half-Blood Prince's spell, Sectumsempra, on Malfoy who suffers near-fatal injuries as a result. Harry is horrified by what he has done and also comes to feels compassion for Draco after learning he was forced into doing Voldemort's bidding under the threat of his and his parents' deaths.
Harry has occasional and disturbing visions of Draco being forced to perform the Death Eaters' bidding and feels "...sickened...by the use to which Draco was now being put by Voldemort", which again shows his compassion towards an enemy.
Harry comes to recognise that his own single-mindedness makes him predictable to his enemies and often clouds his perceptions. When Voldemort kills Snape later in the story, Harry realises that Snape was not the traitorous murderer he believed him to be, but a tragic anti-hero who was loyal to Dumbledore. In Chapter 33 ("The Prince's Tale") Snape's memories reveal that he loved Harry's mother, Lily Evans, but their friendship ended over his association with future Death Eaters and "blood purity" beliefs. When Voldemort killed the Potters, a grieving Snape vowed to protect Lily's child, although he loathed young Harry for being James Potter's son. It is also revealed that Snape did not murder Dumbledore, but carried out Dumbledore's prearranged plan. Dumbledore, who was dying from a slow-spreading curse, wanted to protect Snape's position within the Death Eaters and spare Draco from completing Voldemort's task to murder him.
To defeat Harry, Voldemort steals the Elder Wand from Dumbledore's tomb. It is the most powerful wand ever created, and he twice casts the Killing Curse on Harry with it. The first attempt merely stuns Harry into a death-like state. In the chapter "King's Cross", Dumbledore's spirit tells Harry that when Voldemort failed to kill baby Harry and disembodied himself, Harry became an unintentional Horcrux; Harry could not kill Voldemort while the Dark Lord's soul shard was within Harry's body. Voldemort's soul shard within Harry was destroyed because Harry willingly faced death but Voldemort's Killing Curse fails because Voldemort used Harry's blood in his resurrection. In the book's climax, Voldemort's second Killing Curse also fails and rebounds upon himself, as the result of Harry's Expelliarmus spell, finally killing him, because it is established that Harry, not Voldemort, became the Elder Wand's true master. Harry also becomes the worthy possessor of the remaining Deathly Hallows, the Cloak of Invisibility and the Resurrection Stone, hence becoming the real Master of Death. J. K. Rowling said, the difference between Harry and Voldemort is that Harry willingly accepts mortality, making him stronger than his nemesis. "The real master of Death accepts that he must die, and that there are much worse things in the world of the living" At the very end Harry decides to leave the Stone and Elder Wand but keep the Invisibility Cloak for himself, since it was his father's.
In a 2007 interview with MTV, Radcliffe stated that, for him, Harry Potter is a classic coming of age character: "That's what the films are about for me: a loss of innocence, going from being a young kid in awe of the world around him, to someone who is more battle-hardened by the end of it." He also said that for him, important factors in Harry's psyche are his survivor's guilt in regard to his dead parents and his lingering loneliness. Because of this, Radcliffe talked to a bereavement counsellor to help him prepare for the role. Radcliffe was quoted as saying that he wished for Harry to die in the books, but he clarified that he, "can't imagine any other way they can be concluded." After reading the last book, where Harry Potter and his friends survive and have children, Radcliffe stated to be glad about the ending and lauded author J. K. Rowling for the conclusion of the story.
Radcliffe stated that the most oft repeated question he has been asked is how Harry Potter has influenced his own life, to which he regularly answers it has been "fine", and that he did not feel pigeonholed by the role, but rather sees it as a huge privilege to portray the character of Harry Potter.
Some minor differences of the on-screen description of Harry and the novels' version include small things like his hair and eyes. In the novels, Harry's hair is described as being jet-black and very untidy. In the first two films, while his hair is black, it hangs down quite tidily and cleanly. The untidiness is, however, captured in the third and fourth films. In the third film, his hair is again black but also quite unkempt and untidy, sticking up in several places. In the fourth film, Harry's hair has grown considerably longer, appearing even untidier than in the previous film. In the fifth film, however, his hair is rather short and very well combed, gelled, and kempt, making it his most "un-Harry-like" hairstyle so far. In addition, another difference is his eyes, which are blue in the films but a "brilliant shade of green" in the books.
In the books, Harry is categorised as a "half-blood" wizard in the series, because although both his parents were magical, his mother, Lily Evans, was "Muggle-born". According to Rowling, to characters for whom Wizarding blood purity matters, Lily would be considered "as 'bad' as a Muggle, and derogatively referred to as a "Mudblood".
Harry's parents left behind a somewhat large pile of wizard's gold, used as currency in the world of magic, in a vault in the Wizarding bank, Gringotts. Later in the series after Sirius' death, all of his remaining possessions were also passed along to Harry. This inheritance becomes Harry's source of funding. The author J. K. Rowling noted that "Harry’s money never really is that important in the books, except that he can afford his uniform and so on.”
According to Rowling, Harry Potter is strongly guided by his own conscience, and has a keen feeling of what is right and what is wrong. Having "very limited access to truly caring adults", Rowling said, Harry "is forced to make his own decisions from early age on." He "does make mistakes", she conceded, but in the end, he does what his conscience tells him to do. According to Rowling, one of Harry's pivotal scenes came in the fourth book when he protects his dead schoolmate Cedric Diggory's body from arch villain Lord Voldemort, because it shows he is brave and unselfish.
Rowling also said that Harry's two worst character flaws are "anger and occasional arrogance", but that Harry is also innately honourable. "He's not a cruel boy. He's competitive, and he's a fighter. He doesn't just lie down and take abuse. But he does have native integrity, which makes him a hero to me. He's a normal boy but with those qualities most of us really admire." After the seventh book, Rowling commented that Harry has the ultimate character strength, being able to do what even Voldemort could not: the acceptance of the inevitability of death.
Throughout the series, Rowling wrote Harry Potter as a gifted wizard apprentice. She stated in a 2000 interview with South West News Service that Harry Potter is "particularly talented" in Defence Against the Dark Arts, and also good in Quidditch. Rowling said in the same interview that until about halfway through the third book, his good friend Hermione Granger – written as the smartest student in Harry's year – would have beaten Harry in a magical duel. From the fourth book onwards, Rowling admits Harry has become quite talented in the Defence Against the Dark Arts and would beat his friend Hermione in a magical duel. His power is evident from the beginning of the series; specifically, Harry shows immediate command of a broomstick, produces a Patronus at an early age, and survives several confrontations with Voldemort. Harry is able to speak and understand Parseltongue, a language associated with Dark Magic, which, according to Rowling, is because he harbours a piece of Lord Voldemort's soul. After Voldemort destroys that soul fragment in the seventh book's climax, Harry loses the ability to speak Parseltongue. Harry "is very glad" to have lost this gift. Harry is also the only student in his class capable of resisting the Imperius curse.
Throughout the majority of the books, Harry also has a pet owl named Hedwig, used to deliver and receive messages and packages. Hedwig is killed in the seventh book, about which Rowling says: "The loss of Hedwig represented a loss of innocence and security. She has been almost like a cuddly toy to Harry at times. I know that death upset a lot of people!"
In 2002, Harry Potter was voted No. 85 among the "100 Best Fictional Characters" by Book magazine and also voted the 35th "Worst Briton" in Channel 4's "100 Worst Britons We Love to Hate" program. In addition, Harry Potter is spoofed in the Barry Trotter series by American writer Michael Gerber, where a "Barry Trotter" appears as the eponymous anti-hero. On his homepage, Gerber describes Trotter as an unpleasant character who "drinks too much, eats like a pig, sleeps until noon, and owes everybody money." The author stated "[s]ince I really liked Rowling's books […] I felt obligated to try to write a spoof worthy of the originals."
In real life, Harry's iconoclastic appearance has become cult. According to halloweenonline.com, Harry Potter sets were the fifth-best selling Halloween costume of 2005. In addition, wizard rock bands like Harry and the Potters and others regularly dress up in the style of Harry Potter, sporting painted forehead scars, black wigs and round bottle top glasses.
Wizard rock is a musical movement dating from 2002 that consists of at least 200 bands made up of young musicians, playing songs about Harry Potter. The movement started in Massachusetts with the band Harry and the Potters, who cosplay as Harry during live performances
Harry Potter appears in the Robot Chicken episode "Nutcracker Sweet" voiced by Seth Green. He is shown to have Firebolt in a delicate place on himself. Quinton Flynn voices Harry Potter in the episode "Password: Swordfish." When the threat of the puberty creature Pubertis is known, Harry sees Dumbledore about this and receives a stone that might help him fight Pubertis. Upon confrontation with Pubertis, he rubs the stone two times, which summons ghosts to punch it. When it comes to the third time, (the stone starts "chafing") Dumbledore appears and tells Harry that the stone can only be warmed up three times (four if you take a week off) and that Pubertis cannot be destroyed since it lives in everyone.
In Epic Movie, a 2007 parody film, he is played by Canadian comedian Kevin McDonald, whereas Harry is portrayed as being somewhat of a pervert as seen when Harry tries to touch Susan Pevensie's breasts.
Episodes of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy has spoofed Harry as Nigel Planter. Unlike Harry, Nigel has an L-shaped scar on his forehead.
In an episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Potter is referenced thrice, once when Jimmy is watching a reel of movies rapidly (Where Hagrid says "You're a Wizard, Harry") and later in the filming for Jimmy's movie, as Jimmy plays a parody of Harry, called "Perry Bladder".
Wizards of Waverly Place once referenced Harry, as Justin was wearing a robe and glasses like Harry, to which Alex comments on with trying to guess who he looks like ("Barry something", "Jerry something", etc.)