I have a couple of radical notions here.
1. I like Harry Potter.
This kid has the weight of his world on his shoulders, and he's known it at least subliminally since he was eleven. He's been marked for death since he was a baby, and he knows that, too. He's also been mistreated for ten years running, and despite that, he thinks about others. I'm going to give a lot of examples from PS/SS because I'm reading PS right now (just got the Brit editions. Yay!) Halloween Feast - he doesn't like Hermione at this point. At all. And yet, he goes to save her from the troll. Why? Because he's a good kid.
In OotP, he was annoying and I wanted to hit him a time or two, but the fact is, he's angry and scared and there's no adult he can rely on at this point - the Weasleys aren't his, Remus isn't his, Dumbledore won't talk to him, McGonagall he respects but doesnt't have that sort of relationship with, and Sirius is emotionally his ag now that he's trapped in Grimmauld Place.
On the other hand, he was a pleasure to watch teach - and it wasn't to get attention. He got joy from seeing his friends improve, not because he was leading them. Born teacher. His own teachers would have been proud if they could have seen.
2. I like Ron Weasley.
It's not easy being a sidekick, or a youngest brother in a family of overachievers, or poor. It's not easy to have one best friend take to flying and magic as if born to it, and have the other just be better at information gathering and analysis. And Ron isn't always graceful about that.
But. He has a head for strategy that neither of the other two have. And he has courage enough for any Gryffindor. And he's starting to be something other than Harry's friend or the youngest Weasley. He's a prefect now - watch him next year as he grows into it. He's a keeper now - watch him help Harry as captain. Or be captain. Watch him grow to be the leader he's meant to be - and be a greater Head Boy than Percy ever could be.
3. I like Hermione Granger.
She's me. Only smarter. And more dangerous because not only is she a powerful witch who can learn any spell right off, but she is also very, very ruthless and pragmatic. She doesn't think twice about burning Snape in the first book. She forments a revolution in the fifth. And she clearly wants to do something political in the future. But notice - none of this is for herself. It's all for other people.
A lot has been made about her makeover in book 4 - in professional essay collections as well as here. That she becomes acceptable once she's beautiful and it takes plastic surgery to make her so. We've all seen makeover movies - "Miss Congeniality" or "The Princess Diaries". Here's the thing. Normally, in makeover movies, the "victim" is magically able to maintain her new hair/makeup/mode of dressing even though she was not able to do so before. She becomes this new person.
Hermione fixed her teeth by taking advantage of a situation. This was the plastic surgery. I don't understand anyone's problem with this - her parents were going to correct this themselves. She just chose a faster and far less painful manner. And she did her hair up and wore pretty dress robes. But the next day, she was back to the way she was, bushy hair and all, and happy to be so.
And Viktor fell for her as she studied in the library, not because she was Cinderella at the Yule Ball.
4. I like the twins.
The first thing they do is help Harry get into the train - this kid they've never seen before. And they accept him as a brother, too. Better than a brother - brothers get teased.
They're also brilliant - they're doing advanced work in potions and charms, and I really believe that they're doing weapons research for Dumbledore. Yes, it's all jokes - but notice that they don't set out to hurt anyone. They filled the school with fireworks, but no one got injured. Neville is turned into a canary, but turns back right away. They test things on themselves before they recruit others. And, seriously - those Skivving Snackboxes could be useful in a first aid kit once perfected - to cure fainting, fevers and nosebleed (as opposed to causing them. Poor Alicia.) And the Puking Pastilles - my goodness. An emetic that works quickly but can be stopped before things get worse?
And I'll bet they're planning this, too.
Are they nice? Well. They could be nicer. But they're not malicious. And they're going to be invaluable to the Order.
5. I don't like Draco Malfoy. Yes, he's my OTP with Harry, but that doesn't make him more likeable.
I'm rereading PS, as I said. And what a little sh!t he is. Sorry for the language. From his first scene, where he introduces us to pureblood politics to his cowardice/bullying in the Forbidden Forest, he does nothing even neutral. Harry doesn't like him because he reminds him of his cousin Dudley - he's spoiled and brags of being a bully, and Harry hates bullies - and because he's gratuitously nasty about Hagrid, the first person Harry can remember ever being nice to him. Unlike the Weasleys who are nice for no reason. He challenges Harry to a duel and then doesn't show up, instead setting him up with Mr. Filch. So he has no honor and is a coward to boot. He curses Neville for absolutely no reason - the same thing that James does that people revile him for, and he steals Neville's Remembrall. In fact, Neville - completely ineffectual Neville - is a prime target for him, more than Neville ever is to the Weasley twins.
He also knows what buttons to push - Harry's family, Ron's poverty, Hermione's looks and bookwormish attitude. He's a nasty kid. Tom Felton is pretty, but Draco is nasty.
6. I *despise* Lucius Malfoy.
I drool over Jason Isaacs, but that's neither here nor there.
This is a man who bullies his son; who apparently bribes his way into favor with the ministry (which is why I *do* think he bribed Draco's way onto the team, even though Draco could have made it on his own, and I think he did it to undermine Draco's confidence and make him more controllable.) This is a man who has no problems trying to kill fifteen year olds, or to torture Muggles at a campsite. This is a man who willingly chose to follow Voldemort, but also chose to hide behind Imperious when he had to.
This is a man who taught his son to be prejudiced and believe himself superior - even the face of Harry's half-blood power and Hermione's sheer ability.
This is the man who slipped Tom Riddle's diary into Ginny Weasley's cauldron, knowing that she would use it. Knowing that through her, the Chamber would be opened and the basilisk set free. Knowing that, therefore, Muggleborns would die (it was only chance than none did.) And I do wonder how the basilisk could tell muggleborns from purebloods...Perhaps he put his own son in deadly danger.
Knowing that Ginny Weasley would probably not survive and deciding to sacrifice this *pureblood* girl, this *relative* of his to the cause. And he did it in the coldest of blood.
7. I don't completely trust Dumbledore, but I'd far rather be on his side than on Voldemort's. Like, a zillion percent.
I don't like all of his tactics. I hate that he's using children as weapons - not just Harry, but Hermione and Neville and probably Draco, and that he's done that since Voldemort's first rise to power. I'd like to think he hates it, too, but I don't know.
Dumbledore is like Hermione - he's pragmatic.
I do, by the way, buy most of his explanation as to why he didn't look at Harry during OotP, because we *saw* it - the one time his and Harry's eyes met, it was very bad.
But I also think there was guilt there. He knows that if defeating Voldemort called for Harry's death, he'd let it happen.
The hell of it is, he's probably right. Voldemort both sociopathic and immensely powerful, and he led a true reign of terror for eleven years prior to his defeat by Harry. If he had the chance to do it again, and to succeed this time, the world, both Wizard and Muggle, could well be destroyed.
I'm also sure that Dumbledore would sacrifice his own life if need be.
Dumbledore is scary. But he's not evil.
8. I don't like Snape, but I don't hate him, either, and I have a lot of respect for the difficult choice he made. He's still not a nice person, and he is deeply flawed. (That is, he is probably the most complex person in the books.)
He's a lousy teacher. He's terrorized at least one student almost beyond endurance, and there have probably been others. He's also damn good at potions - which he doesn't want to teach. And he did join Voldemort for a time. And then he did the impossible and walked out.
He favors his House. He hates Gryffindor. However, I have not seen the adult Snape treat muggleborns any better or worse than purebloods (except for Slytherin.) Like Draco, he has a talent for finding just the right buttons to press - witness his treatment of Sirius.
And in many ways, he's still that humiliated fifteen year old, just like Sirius is still the same inside. Sirius' imprisonment and personality both combined to keep him from fully maturing (although he was better when he was on the run.) Snape - I don't know what factors have kept him from seeing that the student who acts most like young James Potter is Draco Malfoy, not Harry.
I want to know, though. I want to know why he join and left the Death Eaters, and why he can't see Harry for what he is. I want to know.
9. I love Neville. :)
But doesn't everyone? Again, in reading Book 1, I saw when Neville showed himself to be the opposite of Peter Pettigrew. Peter would have backed down when his friends challenged him, and let it seethe inside. Neville didn't back down. He had to be cursed to get him out of the way, and that's not good *but* it also means that Neville could keep his pride. He did his best and got suitably rewarded. No one controls Neville - he's not a sniviling hanger-on. And he is strong and loyal and I hope we see even more of him in Book 6.