The Harry Potter Reread went outside without an extra sweater on this week, and it was the most surreal feeling. Truly the most. The absence of layers was frightening. Send help for layer withdrawal.
We’re going to pal around at Grimmauld Place this week, and learn about wizard cleaning! It’s Chapters 5 and 6 of The Order of the Phoenix: The Order of the Phoenix and The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.
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 5—The Order of the Phoenix
Sirius explains to Harry that Grimmauld Place was his parents’ house, now his since he’s the only Black left in his immediate family. He offered the place as headquarters for the Order, which is apparently the only “useful” thing he’s been able to do. He guides Harry downstairs to the basement kitchen, everyone following along. Bill and Mr. Weasley are there, clearly discussing something secret; they start rolling up parchment when everyone comes in. Mrs. Weasley gets everyone to help her with dinner, but tells Harry to sit since he’s had a rough day. Harry talks with Sirius (and Mundungus Fletcher, who is busy trying to pilfer silver from the house), who asks him how his summer’s been. When Harry tells him its been crappy, Sirius admits that he would have welcomed a dementor attack—anything to get his mind off the monotony. He’s been cooped up in the house, since his Animagus form will have been blown by Peter, unable to do anything useful for the Order because Dumbledore insists he stay put.
Fred and George send dinner flying (literally) to the table, which gets them a telling off from Molly, who can’t understand why they have to use magic for every little thing now that they’re technically of age. In the process she accidentally brings up Percy, which makes the room awkward for a moment. At dinner, Harry listens to everyone’s conversations; Arthur and Bill and Lupin are discussing where the goblins might stand in the war, Hermione and Ginny are enjoying Tonks’ show of changing noses throughout dinner, and the twins and Ron are listening to Mundungus’ tales of less-than-legal dealings involving some toads. Molly snaps at him for this, which causes Harry to ask Sirius why Mundungus is in the Order. Sirius explains that his intel as a crook is useful and he’s very loyal to Dumbledore, who got him out of a scrape once.
After dinner, Sirius asks Harry why he hasn’t been drilling everyone about Voldemort, and the atmosphere in the room freezes. Molly is furious that he’d think of telling Harry anything, especially because Dumbledore has apparently told everyone not to let Harry in on more information than he absolutely needs. Sirius thinks this is wrong and feels that he’s allowed to tell Harry what he likes as his godfather (and therefore the legal guardian intended for Harry by James and Lily following their deaths). Mr. Weasley and Lupin suggest that Harry be filled in to an extent to prevent him from getting incorrect information. Molly is peeved that no one is standing with her on this subject, telling Sirius that Harry is not James, and that Sirius hasn’t exactly been a great godfather locked up in Azkaban the past thirteen years. Just as it’s about to get ugly, Lupin insists that everyone calm the hell down.
Molly tries to gain some control over the situation by getting the rest of her children out of the kitchen. Arthur tells her that Fred and George should be allowed to stay because they’re of age. Ron tells his mother that Harry will tell him and Hermione anything that he finds out. So Molly zeroes in on Ginny, who heads upstairs screaming over it. Harry asks them basic questions, and they give him the framework of things: Voldemort isn’t killing people because his resurrection didn’t go as planned—Harry was supposed to die in the graveyard, not head back and immediately tell Dumbledore what happened. The Dark Lord is keeping a low profile so the wizarding world stays ignorant of his reemergence. He’s trying to recruit people and groups to his cause, and the Order is doing their best to foil those plans. Harry asks why the Ministry won’t admit to what’s going on, and they tell him that it’s all Fudge’s doing. He enjoys his position of power, but Dumbledore was very popular back in the day when Cornelius ran for office (though Albus himself never ran). He’s taking it personally, convinced that Dumbledore is out to supplant him because that kind of thinking is easier than acknowledging that Voldemort’s back.
The Order has to be very careful about who they induct, but they’ve made some headway; Tonks is a new member, and it’s important to have Order participants in the Ministry so they can spy, since Voldemort has spies of his own. Kingsley is the Auror lead on the hunt for Sirius, so he’s been able to feed them misinformation on Sirius’ whereabouts. The Ministry is busy trying to discredit Dumbledore; they’ve demoted him from Chief Warlock to the Wizengamot, and they’re threatening to take away his Order of Merlin, among other things. (Dumbledore just wants to stay on the Chocolate Frog cards.) Voldemort is doing more than just recruiting, though… he’s looking for something, a weapon that he didn’t have before. Before Sirius can fill Harry in on what that might be, Molly interrupts, insisting that if they tell him more, he might as well be inducted into the Order. Harry is keen on this, but Lupin agrees with Molly and she banishes everyone to bed.
Okay, I need to get something out of my system: Tonks’ clumsiness is way overplayed. Like, to a pantomime level. She knocks over everything she brushes or probably looks at. If she’s aware that she’s that clumsy (which she portends to be), she wouldn’t offer to help Molly with dinner because she would know she has a problem and is physically incapable of handling gravity. I feel like this is a leftover from the “kids books” aspect to the Potter series, and it annoys the heck out of me here. The wizarding world should be asking themselves if Tonks has some kind of magical unbalancing disease, it’s so extreme.
We get Fred and George’s dinner fiasco, which establishes something about the wizarding world that intrigues me. In most western cultures, coming of age isn’t really something to get all crazy about. Often it comes with the ability to vote, to serve in the military, maybe to drink. You are no longer required to have a legal guardian who looks after you. But in the wizarding world, it comes with the ability to do any magic within legal parameters. Fred and George aren’t going out and binge drinking, but they are basically binge magic-ing. Not exactly a surprising reaction to being legal, though Molly seems to think it’s completely unacceptable.
Harry overhears some fun conversations at dinner, and some not-so-fun conversations, which really just serves to show the dynamics being built between the kids and various members of the Order. Tonks is clearly fun to hang out with, Mundungus is trouble even if his jokes are funny, and Lupin is busy discussing goblin politics with Arthur and Bill. Arthur imagines that the goblins would be reticent to team up with Voldemort due to deaths of goblins that occurred in the first war, but Remus rightly understands that Voldemort might offer them freedoms they’ve otherwise been denied, and how that might tempt them. (I shudder to think what sort of freedoms he is denied as a werewolf because you can just imagine how far-reaching that prejudice is. You can’t give blood! You require too many sick days to be employable! Your custody over your children is dodgy at best! Any time you’re irritated, people tease you about “that time of the month” and it’s totally acceptable! But wait—there’s more!)
The fight that breaks out following dinner is up there with some of my favorite moments in this series. It’s so important because it illustrates everything right and wrong about filling the kids in, and both Sirius and Molly are really wrong here. Molly calling Sirius out on thinking Harry is basically a stand-in for James… yikes. On the one hand, she’s not entirely wrong. It’s easy to forget—Harry is only five years younger than the James that Sirius last had contact with. Fifteen-year-old James Potter isn’t that far away for Sirius, and he sees a lot of Harry’s father in him. Kind of inevitable. In addition, Sirius is the one who brings up the topic of Harry asking questions in the first place. When we get a clearer picture of where Sirius is at in the next chapter and where all of this is coming from, we can recognize that Sirius is basically encouraging Harry to act out on his behalf. Not really the best thing he could be doing.
On the other hand, Molly basically saying “you’ve been stuck in Azkaban for most of his life, so great job being a crappy godfather, I definitely get parenting rights over you here” is out of flipping line. Fact is, Sirius is in a terrible place as a result of being kept in this house, and literally no one seems to care. Instead, Molly attacks Sirius for being a bad role model, for not thinking of Harry as an individual person and putting him in danger, which completely neglects what support Sirius has provided to Harry since his return. It also belittles the injustice that Sirius suffered being framed for a crime he did not commit (against people he considered his family), and the damage he incurred being stuck in Azkaban for so many years. Sirius is not a fully functioning adult with ample experience and stability at his back. He is a wrongfully-committed prisoner who has been re-imprisoned, whose mental health has likely been irreparably compromised due to his incarcerated time. Talking to him like he’s just some petulant man-child is reductive and cruel.
Unsurprisingly, Remus is the one who has everyone to go sit in their corners; he makes certain that Molly understands her concern for Harry is not a burden she bears alone, and diffuses Sirius’ fighting impulse with a few firm words. (It strikes me that Lupin is one of the only—probably the only left alive—people who has that kind of pull with Sirius, that level of trust.) And, of course, it is he and Arthur who take the long view of things, pointing out that leaving Harry utterly in the dark is bad planning all the way around.
Molly takes the sliver of control she has left and uses it to shout Ginny up the stairs and into her room. It’s a useless gesture, frankly, but this is not coming from a rational place for Molly. In fact, her desire to protect Harry as viciously as she does tell us two things: (1) she does indeed consider Harry to be another son to her, and (2) she has yet to accept that Harry’s role in the coming war is a given. Molly doesn’t want any of her children to be a part of the upcoming conflict, so she’s scrabbling to hold onto her power as their guardian, insisting that they obey her and keep their heads down. But she’s raised a brood of Gryffindors, and not one of them is going to feel right backing away from it. Arthur and Remus are realists enough to know that these kids are going to be in this no matter what. The least they can do is prepare them with real intel.
I really do love the moment where Ron insists that Harry will share everything with them:
“Harry’ll tell me and Hermione everything you say anyway!” Ron said hotly. “Won’t — won’t you?” he added uncertainly, meeting Harry’s eyes.
For a split second, Harry considered telling Ron that he would tell him a single word, that he could try a taste of being kept in the dark and see how he liked it. But the nasty impulse vanished as soon as they looked at each other.
STOP YOUR BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP NEVER STOP.
But they get the information, and it’s really not that big of the deal—which Harry will note in the next chapter. It’s kind of nuts that they were considering keeping any of this from him at all, and I think that’s what we’re meant to take away. This book is usually dragged over the coals because a lot of dumb choices are made here, but it occurs to me that that’s actually the point. This is the start of the second war, and people are making poor decisions. So Dumbledore is like “Don’t tell Harry anything because mind-share with Voldemort!” But all they really had to do was sit Harry down at the start of the year and tell him: the “weapon” the Dark Lord is after is a Prophecy containing information about both of you. We can’t tell you what’s in it because he might have a mental connection to you, but we can tell you that it’s in the Department of Mysteries where it is safe from him.
Literally every major thing that goes wrong in this book might be avoided for that. But it’s not a plothole—it’s awful decision-making by everyone involved. And that happens in war, people make mistakes. They make big mistakes. It would be far less damaging to Harry for Dumbledore to simply tell him, look, your mind might be connected to Voldemort’s. I can’t spend lots of time with you in case it’s true because that door goes both ways. Let’s start you on Occlumency right now and head this off at the pass. At least Harry would have felt emotionally validated, less isolated and alone. But Dumbledore isn’t thinking about Harry as a person at the moment. He’s thinking about him as an asset in a war, and forgetting that there’s a terrified fifteen-year-old under there. He’s deliberately forgetting it because he knows he cares about Harry. It’s a bad way of handling things, but if the Potterverse shows us anything consistently, it’s the fact that adults often handle things badly.
The other mistake made here is referring to the Prophecy as a “weapon.” It just makes it sound like it’s something entirely different. When the kids are guessing in the next chapter, they’re imagining some awful curse that kills loads of people. It muddies the issue. But after how hard it was to wring the most basic information out of this crew, you have to sort of shrug your shoulders.
Chapter 6—The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black
Mrs. Weasley tells all the kids to go straight to bed and not to talk. Harry and Ron get ready for bed, then Ron makes sure to lock the door—apparently if you don’t, Kreacher comes in at night and goes through your stuff. Ron asks Harry what he thinks, and Harry notes that the only thing new was the reveal of the “weapon” that Voldemort is looking for. Fred and George Apparate into the room, telling them to keep quiet or their mother will hear, but also wanting to discuss said weapon. No one is sure what sort of thing it would be, but they figure that if their side has it, Dumbledore might be the one keeping it. The twins vanish when it’s clear that Molly is listening at the doors to make certain they are doing as she told them.
The next morning Harry and Ron are called downstairs to help get rid of an infestation of doxies. Sirius and Molly are being stiffly polite to one another. Kingsley rings the doorbell, which sends the portrait of Sirius’ mother off screaming again. Harry tries to listen to their conversation, but has to step away from the door before Molly scolds him for it. They spend the morning spraying doxies and putting them, paralyzed, into a bucket. Fred and George want to pocket a few to use their venom in Skiving Snackboxes—a product they’ve made that lets you get out of class by making you sick with one half, then restoring you to health with the other. They don’t have a premises for their joke shop, but they’re currently running it as a mail order business… which works out fine because their mom won’t read the Daily Prophet anymore.
Once they’re done with the doxy curtains, Mundungus shows up with his contraband cauldrons and Molly goes off on him for using the house that way. Then a house-elf show up in the room, muttering to himself about Mudbloods and traitors and what his poor mistress would think if she knew these people were in his house. This is Kreacher, the Black family house-elf. He feigns politeness to everyone in the house, but talks (very clearly) under his breath about how he loathes them all.
Hermione tries to speak to him, introducing Harry, which leads Kreacher to call her a Mudblood. The Weasleys get angry, but Hermione insists he’s not in his right mind. Sirius thinks he is, however, and asks what Kreacher is there for. (Hermione suggests that Sirius free Kreacher, but Sirius points out that they can’t because he knows too much about the Order.) Apparently, when the house-elf claims to be cleaning, he’s really coming in to rescue some item of the family’s that they’re about to throw out. Sirius figures out that today it’s the family tapestry on the wall. He dismisses Kreacher and goes over to it. Harry follows him and notes that it’s a tapestry of Sirius’ family tree, but that he’s not on it. Sirius explains that he was burned off of it by his mother after running away from home when he was 16. He ran to James’ family, and the Potters treated him as a second son. Eventually, Sirius got his own place using some money left to him by his Uncle Alphard (who was also blasted off the tapestry). Sirius shows Harry another family member who was erased; his cousin Andromeda—Tonks’ mother—who married a Muggle-born. Harry realizes that Andromeda’s sisters are two people he recognizes; Bellatrix Lestrange and Narcissa Malfoy. Sirius explains that all purebloods are related since there are so few of them. (He’s actually related to Arthur and Molly, though Molly is through marriage.)
Harry is shocked to realize that this is Sirius’ family, and it’s clearly a touchy subject for his godfather. According to Sirius, his little brother Regulus was a Death Eater, who got murdered by Voldemort for trying to get out of the organization when he got in too deep. His parents thought Voldemort had the right idea about things until they realized how far he was willing to go to get it. Sirius isn’t proud of his family, and hates being in this house again after he thought he’d left it behind. He’s also angry about being kept inside, not allowed to do anything for the Order. He tells Harry that he was thinking of asking Dumbledore to let him accompany Harry to his Ministry hearing as Snuffles. When Harry looks concerned over the hearing, Sirius tells him not to worry. They all eat lunch and spend the afternoon eradicating the cabinets, which contain many sinister objects (including a music box that lulls people to sleep and a silver snuffbox that bites). The twins keep pocketing things they want to experiment on for products, and Kreacher keeps coming in to smuggle thing out. They continue their work cleaning the house over the next few weeks—though Harry has come to think of it as waging war instead. He enjoys the work because it keeps his mind off things, but eventually Molly tells him that she’s ironed good clothes for Harry’s Ministry hearing tomorrow. He’s going to work with Arthur, and Sirius has been told not to attend by Dumbledore… who was in the house last night, but did not stop to talk to Harry.
Just to prove that Molly is in overkill mode, she takes to wandering the halls, listening at doors to make sure the kids don’t talk about what they just heard. As though by preventing it for one night, she can prevent it forever. And more to the point, it doesn’t stop the kids from talking anyway.
Was anyone else utterly bemused by the fact that Molly is still using guidebooks by Gilderoy Lockhart to get rid of household pests?
I can’t help but respect Fred and George for using themselves as guinea pigs in their own inventions. Especially because testing Puking Pastilles sounds like one of the grossest ways to spend your time. And just because I’m weird like that, it occurred to me to wonder exactly what the Pastilles are doing; are they making you throw up something that you already ate? If so, do they have to sell them with a disclaimer that tells you to eat before you use them? If not, is the Pastille creating something for you to throw up? I’m sorry, this is nasty to wonder about, but I was suddenly seized by curiosity on the mechanics of magical sick-inducing products.
Okay, I’m not sure that Rowling was thinking too hard about this, but I noticed something wonky about Kreacher’s introduction:
It looked very old. Its skin seemed to be several times too big for it and though it was bald like all house-elves, there was a large quantity of white hair growing out of its large, batlike ears. Its eyes were bloodshot and watery gray, and its fleshy nose was large and rather snoutlike.
Thing is, Harry has been told that Kreacher is male before at this point due to pronoun usage. But the narration refers to him as an “it.” I understand doing these sorts of things for effect sometimes, but considering the position of house-elves in this universe, it reads as particularly telling that Kreacher’s introduction paints him more as a thing than a being.
There’s much more to be said about Kreacher later, but he does draw our attention to the Black Family tapestry, which is graced with the words “Toujours Pur,” French for “Always Pure.” (Why French? Who knows! Ah, rich nobility.) This allows Harry to get some real info on Sirius’ childhood at which point we realize that it’s sort of a miracle that Sirius is even a halfway decent person, let alone a relatively good one. You’re looking at a kid who grew up in a household pretty much on par with Draco Malfoy’s, except Sirius’ mother was clearly not one for coddling. Or affection. At the very least, we know she was verbally abusive toward her older son. And I say at the very least because it takes something pretty severe to prompt a sixteen-year-old to run away from home and never look back. It takes a specific kind of family to let him do it. There’s violence implied, violence in the act of blowing someone’s name off of a family tapestry. Violence in Sirius himself who acts out when he’s feeling petty and angry. Sirius came from a toxic home in every sense, and he spent most of his childhood trying to escape it.
Can you imagine eleven-year-old Sirius getting Sorted into Gryffindor his first year? The pride he felt, alongside the abject fear? Knowing that his parents would find out, knowing how furious and disappointed they would be, knowing it was further proof of just how different he was from them? Wanting an ally in his younger brother and never finding one? There is something particularly remarkable about a child who is capable of seeing past the opinions of his family (which is so difficult to even conceive of at a younger age), enough to be diametrically opposed to everything they stand for before he’s even hit his teens.
Knowing all of this brings Sirius’ character into sharp focus for the very first time in the series. Suddenly all of his actions—including the terrible ones—are given another lens to filter through. We see that the superiority of the Black family did manage to wedge itself in there no matter how hard Sirius tried to back away from it; his mistreatment of Kreacher and bullying behavior we know he enacted in his teens are part of that. His attempt on Snape’s life when they were children was likely triggered by something specific, however; I’ve said before that the desire to let one of your dearest friends murder someone you don’t like is anything but rational. And now we know that there were plenty of triggers in Sirius’ life. Enough that not long after that unforgivable prank, Sirius ran from home and the Potters took him in.
This is the first we officially hear of Harry’s paternal grandparents. Rowling has said that they spoiled their son James, and we can assume that extended to Sirius to some degree once he’d moved in. But regardless of teenagers who get their way by aging parents, it doesn’t change the fact that the Potters opened their home to Sirius with love. And that Sirius clearly needed and appreciated that love. He mentions that he gets his own place quickly after coming of age, and while we know Sirius is an independent kind of guy, it also seems likely that he didn’t want to be a burden on James’ parents. (For all we know, they might have been ill by that point.)
Keep in mind that Regulus Black joins the Death Eaters very shortly after Sirius runs away, as timelines go. Actually, don’t keep that in mind, it’s too depressing. Also don’t keep in mind that Sirius’ brother dies during the war, and that Sirius never finds out the true reason why. He never finds out that his brother gave it all up and did his bit to stop Voldemort. He never finds out that Kreacher helped him do it. Which is part of the reason why he never knows that the locket they throw out in the drawing room after tackling the doxies is a damned horcrux (that Kreacher handily sneaks off when no one is looking). Sirius’ father dies the same year that his brother does, and I don’t care if he had zero fuzzy feelings about his family, that’s going to mess you up while you’re fighting a war.
So Harry has been wondering why his godfather is so tetchy and he gets a wardrobe’s worth of explanations that he’s really not equipped to wade through. But we know, and that’s the important thing. We know that keeping Sirius in this house is a mistake. Honestly, why couldn’t they let him outside to do some work for the Order? Dumbledore claims it’s too dangerous, but they have access to Moody’s Invisibility Cloak. We’ve been informed that Disillusionment Charms are a thing. Why can’t Sirius go out like that? (I feel like it shouldn’t need saying, but the guy has ample experience with Invisibility Cloaks via his BFF.) Better yet, why couldn’t he be housed somewhere else? Dumbledore is the Secret Keeper for Grimmauld Place, so why can’t they just set Sirius up somewhere that doesn’t destroy him? If Kreacher is really the problem—Sirius mentions that the house-elf will only take orders from people in the family—then send the elf away with him, but at least get him away from that shrieking portrait of his mother.
On a completely different note, Sirius and Molly are painfully polite to one another about cleaning and the rattling in the writing desk. Molly suggests that Moody take a look at it to make sure it really is a boggart in there and not something more dangerous, which Sirius agrees to. It occurs to me that Moody’s magical eye might make him one of the only people who could potentially see a boggart in its true form….
The rest of the chapter is funny little visuals about this charming old home trying to kill them all (I think the music box is my favorite), and then we’re reminded of the fact that Harry is going to is hearing tomorrow and everything is ruined forever. Gosh, this book is just a bundle of joy, huh?
Emily Asher-Perrin figured she’d be more even-handed on Sirius this time around, but finds that she’s grown more protective over him instead. Go figure. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.