The Harry Potter Reread forgot that the typeface gets smaller in the fifth installment of the series. We’re grown up now, kids.
As you might have guessed, we are starting Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix! Longest book by quite a few pages. Strap in because we’re here for the long haul. Let’s start with chapters 1 and 2—Dudley Demented and A Peck of Owls.
Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.
Chapter 1—Dudley Demented
Harry is spending the hottest day of the summer lying in Petunia’s hydrangea bush, listening for the news (because the Dursleys think it’s weird when he tries to watch it in the house). He’s been waiting every day to hear word of what’s going on since Voldemort’s return, but so far he’s heard nothing and had no contact. Dudley has been hanging out with a gang of friends, vandalizing parks and smoking. Mrs. Figg has been inviting Harry over for tea every time she sees him and he’s been trying to avoid her.
There’s a sound like a shot and Harry leaps to his feet with his wand, getting him in trouble with the Dursleys. They want to know what he’s doing listening to the news when his owls are keeping him informed on the wizarding world anyhow. Harry admits that they haven’t been bringing him news, but they don’t believe him. He stomps off into the neighborhood, trying to get away, sure that the noise he’d heard was someone Apparating or Disapparating, but eventually begins to think that maybe he was mistaken. He’s desperate for any word on the war, but the Daily Prophet hasn’t reported on it at all, and all of his letters from Ron and Hermione are cryptic and vague. They won’t even tell him when he gets to see him. Sirius seems to know Harry is frustrated at least, but he isn’t allowed to tell him more either.
Harry heads to a closed park and sits on a swing, furiously mulling over his lot. He’s having nightmares about what happened at the end of the Triwizard Tournament, and he can’t figure out why he’s not allowed to go to his friends, and he’s furious that no one will tell him what’s happening. He feels as though he isn’t trusted, or at least that he’s been forgotten after everything he went through.
Dudley and his gang turn up in the park, but they don’t notice him as they pass through. Harry wants them to, knowing that Dudley won’t be able to beat him up because he’s afraid of Harry’s wand. (Dudley has started boxing at school and is now made of muscles and better at hitting than ever before.) He manages to keep from calling to them, knowing that using magic would only get him in trouble. He leaves the park and follows close behind his cousin because Vernon and Petunia demand he never get home after Dudley. After his friends have dispatched, Harry catches up to Dudley and start teasing him about the nicknames his friends give him as opposed to the one Petunia has for him. Dudley eventually gets annoyed and tells Harry that he heard him having nightmares about Cedric, asking if that’s Harry’s boyfriend. Harry loses his temper and points his wand at Dudley, who goes into a panic.
At that moment, dementors suddenly arrive on the scene, Dudley panics further, punching Harry in the head and running toward one of them unknowingly. Harry scrabbles for his dropped wand, gets a hold of it and tries to do the Patronus Charm, but he can’t manage it, can only hear Voldemort’s voice in his head telling him to die. It’s only in realizing that he’ll never see Ron and Hermione again that he summons the strength to perform the charm at maximum. It drives away one dementor, then Harry directs it to the second that’s about to perform the Kiss on Dudley. They are dispatched, and Harry tries to figure out if Dudley can move.
Mrs. Figg arrives on the scene, and when Harry makes to hide his wand, she tells him to keep it out in case there are anymore. She then mentions that she plans to kill someone named Mundungus Fletcher.
When I first read this book, I assumed that Harry was going to get into the most trouble for hiding in the flower bush, and was surprised when he didn’t. Then again, the flowers aren’t doing that well, considering the drought. Petunia’s probably given up on them at this point. But I remember thinking “crap, Harry’s gonna be in so much trouble for destroying the flowers….”
So this is the book where we finally find out that Harry’s weird cat-lady neighbor is, in fact, a member of the wizarding community. He is unnerved by her determination to get him around for tea, and of course, that’s really just Arabella trying to be good to Harry after everything he’s been through, but he can’t possibly know that. It’s really too bad that she was never given leave to tell him—imagine how much more bearable the summers might have been had she been allowed to reveal herself to Harry following his first year at Hogwarts? She claims later that she doesn’t want the Dursleys thinking he had too much fun over at her pace, but once he was older, she could have made something up about Harry doing work for her around the house. The Dursleys would have loved that. I suddenly feel sort of cheated for the fact that Harry didn’t get to learn more about the magical world through his Squib, kneazle-cat-breeding neighbor.
On the other hand, the reveal at the end of that chapter was just the greatest thing on the first read. A sort of fist-pump in the air moment where everything went from awful to awesome in the span of a few short sentences.
So… this can rightly be pegged the most important point where basically everyone fails Harry. And I say everyone because no matter how much this may be Dumbledore’s doing, every single person fails to call him out on it. I’m not sure how this sits with me as a narrative choice; it makes for interest and relevant dramatic tension with Harry, but for Dumbledore to be smart enough to know that it’s cathartic for Harry to tell him about what happened in the graveyard with Voldemort, but not realize that leaving Harry in utter darkness for a month would do serious damage… I’m not sure I buy it. And Dumbledore can’t realize how damaging it is because he would fix the situation if he did—the last thing he needs is Harry panicking and plagued by depression and PTSD. It’s bad planning. Someone should have noticed and made to rectify it quickly.
But depression and PTSD is exactly where we’re at with the character. Rowling does an excellent job at depicting it, especially in depicting the darker side of those emotions. Not just the panic and frustration and the sadness, but the anger and the irritation. Harry is tired of rules, Harry is feeling reckless, Harry is being mean. What he does to Dudley may perhaps seem fair in a karmic sense, when we know what Dudley does to others, but it’s vindictive, and Harry is really only doing it to make himself feel better for everything he can’t control:
It gave Harry enormous satisfaction to know how furious he was making Dudley; he felt as though he was siphoning off his own frustration into his cousin, the only outlet he had.
Dudley’s shift toward boxing is understandable, but what makes it more fascinating to me is that it clearly does very little to help him refocus his sense of self. Dudley is not a remarkably talented or clever individual from what we’re shown, and you might assume that boxing would give him something to latch onto, something to modify his self-worth. But ultimately, power is what Dudley wants. It’s not skills or respect he’s aiming for, it’s fear. Which kind of makes me wonder how Dudley has looked on Vernon all these years, a man who has a tendency to rave when angered, to go straight to fury when he feels out of control.
Rowling stated in an interview that what Dudley saw/heard when the dementors were close was himself, as he really was, and that this event really did change him forever. Of course, the damage done on the parental front where Dudley is concerned in fairly acute, so he’s not going to become a darling overnight, or really ever. But it’s so relevant that he comes away from the experience understanding that he has to change. And it had to have been traumatic for Dudley, taking those first steps. The first time he realized his father was constantly making racist remarks at the television and really heard those comments for what they were. The first time he felt bad for how his mother gossiped about their neighbors. The first time he knew that hitting some kid wouldn’t actually elevate him, or make him feel bigger. It seems like it should be obvious, but for this kid? It would have been shattering. No wonder he had to be dragged the whole way home. No wonder it took him a couple years just to begin exhibiting some decency outwardly.
He’s lucky, of course, because without Harry’s command of the Patronus Charm, he would have been straight up de-souled. Harry’s command of that charm at this point is just damned impressive, and gives us an idea of what’s Harry’s full potential might amount to given more training and the proper incentives. The fact that he thinks of Ron and Hermione, that they are what provoke the necessary emotional connection to keep fighting in the face of everything that is haunting Harry’s dreams is sob-worthy.
Despite all these terrible things, we do get the brief reprieve of sassy teenage Harry in full swing in this chapter:
“Listening to the news! Again?”
“Well, it changes every day, you see,” said Harry.
Aw, Harry. I know you’re lashing out at the unfairness of the world… but you do it so beautifully.
Chapter 2—A Peck of Owls
Harry is treated to the shock of learning that Mrs. Figg has been a Squib all this time, and that one of her cats was keeping an eye on Harry in case Mundungus Fletcher decided to scram on his protective duties. He was the one who Disapparated in front of the Dursleys earlier (he heard about a “batch of cauldrons that fell off the back of a broom”), leaving Harry with no guard. Mrs. Figg has been around all this time keeping an eye on Harry—she apologizes for being so boring when he had to stay with her as a kid, but she knew that if he’d seemed like he’d had fun, the Dursleys would have never let him come over to her house. She babbles about how terrible it is that Harry used magic, what problems it’s going to cause, how angry she is with Mundungus.
He appears right in front of them with a pop and Mrs. Figg tells him off, then demands he go straight to Dumbledore and warn him of what happened. Harry is staggering with Dudley, who can barely walk or stay conscious. Mrs. Figg leads them back to the Dursley’s door, then has to leave and wait for instructions. Harry rings the doorbell and Petunia comes to answer; Dudley promptly throws up on the doormat. His appearance horrifies Petunia and Vernon, who question him relentlessly. When Dudley is capable of being mildly coherent, he will only say that Harry is responsible for what happened to him. Vernon demands to know what Harry did at the same time that an owl shows up from the Ministry—it informs him that he has performed underage magic in front of the Muggle, and that he will have a disciplinary hearing to attend. In addition, Ministry workers are being dispatched to snap his wand. Harry makes to leave immediately, despite Vernon’s protest, then receives another owl from Arthur Weasley. He tells Harry that Dumbledore has gone to the Ministry to sort everything, and that Harry just stay with his relatives, do no more magic, and make sure not to surrender his wand.
Harry is concerned, but decides to do as Arthur says. Vernon and Petunia question Dudley, who talks of how he felt under the influence of the dementors, but he has assumed that Harry did this to him. Harry explains that actually attacked them, and when Vernon questions what they are, it is Petunia who supplies the answer, telling him that they are the guards of the wizard prison Azkaban. Everyone is shocked silent, Petunia included. She admits that she heard “that awful boy” (James Potter Correction: this actually turns out to be Snape, though Harry assumes it was his father. Duh. Brain not working. Thanks, peoples!) telling “her” (her sister Lily) about them years ago. Harry gets another letter from the Ministry, saying that they’ve revised their decision, and the fate of Harry’s wand and return to school will be decided at the hearing they mentioned in the previous letter.
Vernon demands to know what happened to Dudley, so Harry tries to explain what occurred in the alley. Another owl arrives from Sirius, telling him that he’s been informed about the incident by Arthur, and that he must stay with his aunt and uncle. Harry is furious at the abruptness of these letters, but Vernon is still asking questions. He explains that he fought of the dementors with the Patronus Charm, at which points Vernon surmises that they were only in Little Whinging because of Harry somehow. Harry realizes that there must have been a reason, and figures that Voldemort might have sent them. Vernon knows the name as the person who killed Harry’s family, but he also knows that Voldemort is gone. Harry tells him that Voldemort is back.
Petunia is horrified, and for the first time in his life, Harry appreciates that Petunia is his mother’s sister. She knows what this means, how bad it is. But Vernon decides that this means Harry is dangerous to them, and that he must be kicked out immediately. Harry rightly panics, having been told several times to leave Number Four Privet Drive under no circumstances. A final owl arrives and drops in front of Petunia, addressed to her rather than Harry. It’s a red Howler envelope. Harry wants her to open it, but she refuses. It bursts into flames, bellowing the words “REMEMBER MY LAST, PETUNIA.” Petunia tells Vernon that Harry has to stay. She won’t explain her reasons, and she won’t tell anyone who the letter is from. She dismisses Harry to bed and tells him not to leave the house.
So Arabella has her kneazle-cat following Mundungus around to make sure he doesn’t shirk his guard duty, but he does because he’s not that great of a person. But then again, it’s pretty clear that he’s not that great of a person, so why didn’t Dumbledore pick someone better to tail Harry? Make him lend out his Invisibility Cloak for the purpose. I mean, the point is that they’re clearly worried that something of this exact nature was going to happen. (Not the dementors necessarily, but Mrs. Figg indicates that part of the reason for Harry having a guard was so he wouldn’t need to defend himself with magic should he be attacked.) So picking one of the Order’s least dependable members was a pretty stupid move. If they know that the Ministry is desperate to discredit Harry in light of recent events, all of this should have been handled differently. I would go so far as to say that the real mistake was not reforming the Order during Harry’s fourth year, when it was clear that this is where things were headed. There would have been no issue in being prepared, but their lack of organization when the moment finally came is hurting them badly.
This business with the bunch of owls is vaguely humorous as a distant situation, but the content of each letter is just staggeringly insensitive. Someone Harry trusted should have Apparated to the Dursleys immediately and been there to take care of him. None of this toss-off-a-hastily-written-warning crap. And what’s worse, the push and pull only serves to heighten Harry’s fear, depression, and isolation. Everyone is an idiot. Everyone gets negative parenting/guardian-ing stars. The only people who get a vague pass are Ron and Hermione because they’re not old enough to feel comfortable defying such direct instructions after they’re essentially put on lockdown. (Although it’s surprising that they didn’t anyway, given their track record.)
Harry is completely correct in his sizing up of the scene that follows; talking about magic in the Dursley’s kitchen is surreal, and makes it clear how much things are changing, even as they speak. This would not have been possible two years ago, by any stretch of the imagination. But now it is essential. Now even Dudley Dursley isn’t safe.
It’s incredibly relevant that this is the first book where the Dursleys are fully humanized in a manner that we’ve never seen before. The war is real and danger is coming, and they cannot afford to be simple caricatures any longer. This is Harry’s family, and what happened to Harry’s parents was frightening. There is very little about Vernon Dursley that is remotely redeemable, and when we consider that, the fact that he retained any information on what happened to James and Lily means something. The fact that Petunia remembers more than she says means something (and will mean more, as we will find out later).
So this Howler caused a load of speculation for a few years there. Who was it from? What did it mean? Everyone had an opinion. Of course, the answer is what a large portion of fandom had figured on; the letter was from Dumbledore, and it was referencing that last letter he sent with infant Harry, the letter than explained the protections the Dursley family would enjoy should Harry remain in their home until adulthood. It’s perfect timing as a reminder goes, and properly mysterious to boot. It has the added not-benefit of just making Harry unhappy and more paranoid. But at least he’s not being tossed out on his butt, so there’s that?
Emily Asher-Perrin thinks that in another life Dudley became an awesome line chef at some swanky restaurant, who everyone called “Big D.” You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.