As a story centered around a boy growing up without his parents, there has been much discussion about Harry Potter’s mother and father-figures. Almost all of the adults Harry comes across in the series leave a lasting impact on him, for better or worse. Obviously, all children can be influenced by any of the adults in their lives, but as an orphan who grows up in an abusive household, it makes sense that Harry searches for better influences from other adults in his life. He searches for love and acceptance, and while he isn’t exactly used to it initially, he gets that love from a lot of different adults across the series.
Obviously the first mother-figure we have to talk about is Harry’s actual mother, Lily. Though she is only alive for the first year of Harry’s life, Lily sacrificing herself for Harry—an act that ultimately killed her—actually protected him for years after. The love that Lily passed onto her son both literally and figuratively strengthened him against Voldemort and the Death Eaters. She also provided him with a support system that would serve him well as he grew older. Lily and James not only named their best friend Sirius Black Harry’s godfather, but were also extremely close with Remus Lupin. The strength of their friendships fostered a sense of family that Remus and Sirius carried over to their interactions with Harry, so that even though he didn’t have his parents, he had surrogates in his parents’ friends. In Harry’s most trying moment, when he has to travel through the Forbidden Forest to face Lord Voldemort, Lily–along with James, Sirius, and Remus–is there to help him with his task, showing how she’s always been with him.
Petunia Dursley was only a mother-figure in the sense that she was the legal guardian of Harry. She was abusive, vindictive, jealous, and often terrified of Harry’s magic. Her treatment of Harry ranged from neglect to active abuse, something that shaped Harry as a child, and that he was, surprisingly, able to overcome (see: the love given to him by his mother). Petunia’s interactions with Harry were often marred by her disintegrated relationship with her sister, his mother. The jealousy Petunia felt over Lily’s magical talents had turned to fear and hatred by the time Harry was left on her doorstep, and rather than take care of Harry, the last remnant of her now-dead sister, Petunia spilled that resentment she still felt into the nephew she was supposed to be protecting. While one could argue that the fact that she took him in in the first place was out of the final dregs of love she was able to retain for her sister, the abuse she both enabled and inflicted on Harry say otherwise. And honestly, a big part of her keeping Harry seems to be in large part because of her fear of Dumbledore. Though Harry was able to find love in places other than Privet Drive, his treatment by Petunia and her family stuck with him throughout his life.
Mrs. Weasley may be the greatest mother-figure in the entire series, especially since Harry did not have a great, or even adequate, mother-figure growing up with Petunia. While we see a lot of mothers in the series, most of who love their own children unconditionally, we don’t truly see that love extended to children outside of their families until we get to Molly. Already a mother to seven children, five of them dependent when she meets Harry, Molly willingly took Harry in when he was twelve years old. She has always been extremely understanding of Harry’s position, not taking him in because he is famous, but because she realizes that the events that made him famous also left him with trauma and without a support system. Ever since then she has looked after him, caring for his well-being both physically and emotionally. Even Hermione became her surrogate daughter, though Hermione’s parents were alive and well meaning. Molly, a stay at home mother, is fiercely protective and present, and together with her husband raised her children to be loving, tolerant allies despite their privilege as pure blood wizards.
While she is described as a stern, strict teacher, Professor McGonagall is a fair woman who deeply cares for her students, both in terms of their health and their success. Harry clashes with McGonagall often, though it’s really because of his own teenage angst, temper, and rebellious nature. However, McGonagall is often protecting him while he is at Hogwarts, most notably in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when Dolores Umbridge is clearly out to get him. The closeness between Harry and McGonagall is most strongly illustrated when Harry performs the Cruciatus Curse on Death Eater Amycus Carrow for spitting on Professor McGonagall. McGonagall does everything she can to help Harry’s development both as a good wizard and as a person, his well-being being her primary concern.
Each of these women made an extremely large impression on Harry’s life in different ways. Lily, Molly, and Petunia taught Harry the importance of a mother’s love (though in Petunia’s case, it was more in response to a lack of love). McGonagall didn’t only teach Harry Transfiguration, but the importance of fairness, integrity, keeping one’s head, and standing up for what’s right. These women were all extremely important figures to Harry and helped shape him into the character that millions of fans know and love. They’re the Real MVPs (except Petunia, she’s benched).