The Harry Potter Reread really thinks we should make synchronized swimming a thing again. It’s just so pretty. And it expands the amount of fun you can have a pool, which is always a win, right?
We’re back at Hogwarts and we’re about to get a closer look at the new DADA teacher! (oh no.) It’s chapters 11 and 12 of The Order of the Phoenix—The Sorting Hat’s New Song and Professor Umbridge.
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 11—The Sorting Hat’s New Song
Once in the carriages, Ginny asks about Hagrid’s absence. Luna insists that she’ll be glad if he’s gone, since he’s not a very good teacher. This gets her the ire of everyone in the group (though Hermione only offers it reluctantly), but she doesn’t seem phased. They reach the castle, and Harry sees no sign of Hagrid’s light on in his cabin. When they reach the Great Hall, Harry notes that he’s not there either. He suggests to Ron that perhaps Hagrid is still on his mission for Dumbledore, the one he received at the end of last year. When he looks toward the headmaster, he realizes that the woman sitting next to him is Umbridge, the one who was next to Fudge at his Ministry hearing.
The Sorting Hat begins its song, but this year it’s different; it gives something of a history lesson, talking of how the four founders of the school became divided, and how the houses were never united the same way once Slytherin left. It then warns that Hogwarts is in danger from enemies and worries that Sorting the children will give them the wrong idea, tells them that they must be united as a school. The students are clearly shocked, as the hat has never prepared a song like that before. Nearly-Headless Nick is about to explain that the hat has done this before, but he’s cut off by McGonagall glaring daggers at everyone who is continuing to talk. The Sorting occurs, Dumbledore neglects his usual speech in favor of moving along, and dinner is served. Harry asks Nick to clarify what he was about to say, and the ghost explains that the hat offers those warnings when it detects danger on the horizon. The advice it gives always boils down to the houses uniting and standing strong together. Harry balks at the idea of cross-House friendships (thinking of Draco), but Nick terms it more on the end of “peaceful cooperation.” He points out that he would never be disrespectful to the Bloody Baron, but Ron says it’s only because he’s terrified of him. He eventually aggravates Nick to the point where he relocates himself further down the table.
After the meal, Dumbledore rises to give the year’s first announcements. After he welcomes back Grubbly-Plank and introduces Dolores Umbridge as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, she interrupts him and insists on giving her own speech. In it, she tells the students that she expects they will all be very good friends. She also claims that teaching magic is one of the highest callings of their society and insists that the old ways do not need tinkering with. Most of the students stop listening, bored with her speech, but Hermione susses everything out quickly—Umbridge’s appointment and the contents of her speech make it clear that the Ministry is interfering at Hogwarts. Dumbledore gets everyone clapping for Umbridge, finishes his announcements, then sends the students to bed. Ron and Hermione gather up the first years to take them up to Gryffindor Tower. Harry is certain that he didn’t look as young as these kids in his first year. He smiles encouragingly at them, but one of the students whispers to a new Gryffindor and the kid looks on him, horrified.
Harry rushes upstairs ahead of everyone, realizing that he had been stupid not to expect this of the students, since he’d never been able to explain anything that happened following the Triwizard Tournament. When he reaches the portrait of the Fat Lady, he realizes that he doesn’t know the password yet. Neville rushes to him, excited that he’ll remember it for once this year—it’s the same as the name of his new plant. Harry bypasses the common room in favor of going upstairs to bed, but once there, Seamus Finnigan tells them that his mother hadn’t wanted him to come back to Hogwarts this year because she believes the Daily Prophet; she thinks Dumbledore’s crazy and Harry’s a liar.
Harry is furious and has a row with Seamus, telling him to ask to switch dorms to stop his mother from worrying. Seamus takes exception to anyone talking ill of his mother. Ron comes in on the scene and tells Seamus to knock it off, that he believes Harry. When Seamus won’t quit, Ron tells him he’s a prefect and that warning is an official one. When Ron asks if anyone else has a problem with Harry, Dean says that he hasn’t bothered telling his parents anything about the deaths because they’re Muggles. Neville says that his gran believes the Prophet has gone downhill, and that they believe Harry. Everyone goes to bed unsettled, and Harry tries to wrap his brain around how many people must be thinking badly of him if even Seamus is prepared to have a go at him.
You have to love how Luna, in pure Ravenclaw fashion, cannot be bothered to pretend that Hagrid is a good teacher. And her lack of perturbed-ness when Ron tells her off. Luna doesn’t normally present common reactions to behavior, but she always strikes me as the sort of person who is completely aware of where people’s emotions are coming from, even if she doesn’t communicate it well through body language and expression. So being called “Loony Lovegood” hurts because she knows it’s a deliberate mockery, but Ron’s temper in defending Hagrid is interesting to her because she can see it’s more about Hagrid than it is about her.
We get more forewarning of just how bad the rumors about Harry have been over the summer when Lavender and Parvati do a terrible job of greeting him with a false congeniality that makes it particularly clear that they had been talking about him. Hagrid is still nowhere to be found, and to make the even trio more wary, Umbridge is spotted at the professor’s table. So let’s talk about Umbridge, because Rowling released a lot of information on the woman in the past year, and it gives us a much better idea of where the heck she comes from in all this:
Umbridge’s father Orford was a wizard, but her mother was a Muggle. Dolores’ younger brother ended up a Squib, so she and her father withdrew from from her mother and brother. The two of them went back into the Muggle world and never had contact with Dolores and her father again. She was in Slytherin during her time at Hogwarts and moved quickly onto a Ministry career after school, starting in the Improper Use of Magic Office. But Dolores was incredibly power-hungry and ashamed of her father who, though he was a wizard, worked in the Department of Magical Maintenance (essentially a janitor). Dolores pressured her father to retire, promising him an allowance if he kept out of sight. Once that was done, she claimed no connection with her father whatsoever, telling whomever asked that he was dead and had once been a member of the Wizengamot. Bad things tended to happen to people who asked Dolores Umbridge about topics she preferred not to discuss. We’ll also find out later on in this book that she created a piece legislation that made it impossible for werewolves to find work in the magical community. Her hatred of “half-breeds” would have likely gone much further given time; she also wanted to find a way to tag all merpeople.
So what we have here is a person who feels intense self-hatred. Dolores Umbridge cannot stand the Muggle part of her heritage, and it’s likely that this is a large part of the reason why she is so bigoted towards beings she considers to be half-breeds—because in a way, she is one herself. Here we have someone who essentially divorces her own family to create a personal background that fits with the image she wants to convey outwardly. She is undoubtedly one of the most odious characters in this series, made more interesting by the fact that showing a woman who displays this severity of ambition is incredibly rare in fiction. Then we get to her awkward interrupting speech, and it quickly becomes clear that we have reason to fear this woman far more than Barty-Crouch-Jr.-as-Mad-Eye-Moody or any other Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher before her. The suggestion that “progress for progress’s sake” should be avoided is perhaps the biggest red flag of the whole thing because progress, by its very definition, should always be a good thing. Umbridge is deliberately framing the mere idea of progress as potentially dangerous, which she does frequently with any subject she finds distasteful.
In essence, she is a classic fear monger with all the alarming rhetoric that applies to such a position. Everything that threatens “tradition” and standard “values” is labelled dangerous and disruptive. Anything new should be met with suspicion and kept at a distance. And she’s already got her foot in the door.
We’ve not been present for a full Sorting Hat song since Harry’s first year, so it’s exciting to get to hear another one. On the other hand, if this were the first one you’d ever heard, you might be surprised by what a downer it is. But this version is far more informative than previous versions, explaining that the four founders of Hogwarts had once been good friends, a fact that would likely surprise the majority of students given inter-house rivalry. The suggestion made is that Slytherin basically went off the rails, stormed away, and left a lot of hurt feelings and ground axes in his wake.
I do find it funny how the hat talks about the founders and the qualities they value on this round. Because in this version of the Sorting song, it essentially says, “Gryffindor likes brave people, Slytherin likes ambitious purebloods, Ravenclaw likes smart people, but Helga was just like ‘gimme all your rejects and I’ll be nice to them!'” It makes it sound like Hufflepuff had no standards, when in reality it’s just the opposite; the point is really that Hufflepuff didn’t create some BS arbitrary rubric by which to select the most worthy students. “Loyal and hardworking” was sort of an afterthought as a moniker because Hufflepuff didn’t think she needed adverbs to describe her kids. In fact, the “hardworking” aspect of Hufflepuff House basically proves that she was the best educator of all of them—each of the other founders clearly value talent over practice and dedication, which is an easy way to get a group of students who flounder the instant they come up against something difficult for them. (*cough* Harry has this problem all the time *cough*)
The point is, Helga Hufflepuff was the only good founder, and the other three were clearly entitled jerks in their own specials ways.
Nearly-Headless Nick talks of times when the Sorting Hat has given warnings before, seemingly whenever danger is imminent in the wizarding world. Which suggests that the poor hat just sits in the headmaster/mistress’s office soaking up everything it hears, and spends its time quietly panicking when things get scary outside. The message it spouts is one that Dumbledore has already been working to spread amongst the students, and one that is core to the series—that the way to stay safe, to win the fight, is to cooperate with each other. The Sorting Hat is essentially telling us that Hogwarts has always been a shadow of what it could be. That ever since Slytherin left, the school has been fractured beyond repair.
This is essential to the mythology of the series. Hogwarts has been framed (from Harry’s quite limited perspective) as a haven, a safe place, a circus of color and light and magic and everything good in the world. In Goblet of Fire, we learn that the wizarding world is a broken place, and it’s deeply upsetting. But this… this is where we find out that Hogwarts itself is wrong. It will bear out further as the school becomes less and less safe due to Ministry presence, but this is the point where the tenets of the story are flipped upside-down. The place that Harry has long held aloft as his true home, the place where he belongs, is revealed to be just as much a problem as the Ministry he’s clashing with.
Hogwarts has to change.
Can you imagine if this was your first year at the school? Especially if you were a Muggleborn student? How frightening would this year be, how confusing from the perspective of an impressionable child who doesn’t have all the facts? I’d pay some serious money to get that story.
Harry heads up to bed and we get his first closer encounter with someone who isn’t sure he believes Dumbledore’s party line. It so important that we see this perspective from Seamus for a very specific reason—these kids are still kids. Seamus isn’t sure of Harry’s story because his mother isn’t, and it is so incredibly rare for a child (even a teenaged one) to go against the beliefs of their parents. And Harry sees that, which is why he bashes Seamus’ mother rather than him. It’s sad to see the first proper row between this entire group of roommates; Dean’s position is particularly precarious because he’s closer to Seamus than Ron or Harry, but he also deliberately keeps his Muggle parents out of the loop on these events. Dean has no one to direct his opinions, and while it prevents him from being influenced by the adults in his life, it must be incredibly lonely (and frightening) not to have that guidance from his family.
And then Neville, bless his heart, tells Seamus that he believes Harry because his gran does. It’s anything but surprising because we’ve already been given evidence that she is a force of nature and a domineering guardian. But it’s more than that—it’s the fact that she knows what her son and daughter-in-law fought for. That she remembers the way it was before. Harry knows that as well, which makes Neville’s opinion and agreement with his grandmother count for so much more.
Chapter 12—Professor Umbridge
Seamus dresses in a hurry and rushes from the room the next morning. Hermione meets Ron and Harry in the common room, lamenting a poster that the twins have put up offering a part-time job to anyone willing to test their products. She tells Ron they’ll have to speak to them about it because they’re prefects. When she finds out about Seamus, she tells them that Lavender also doesn’t believe Harry. He gets snippy over it, leading Hermione to remind him that they’re on his side, leaving Harry contrite. She reminds them that this is exactly what Dumbledore warned about at the end of term last year, what Voldemort excelled at. She points out that it’s really too bad that people aren’t trying more for house unity. As she’s saying this, a group of Ravenclaw students band together tightly as though terrified that Harry might attack them, so he and Ron fail to see Hermione’s side of things.
Once they reach the Great Hall, Angelina Johnson approaches Harry and tells him that she’s the new captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team and that tryouts are on Friday—they need to replace their Keeper now that Wood’s graduated. Hermione receives her copy of the Daily Prophet, insisting that it’s important to keep up with what your enemies are saying about you. Ron gets their schedules and finds that Monday is particularly horrific; they have Binns, Snape, Trelawney, and Umbridge all in one day. When the twins arrive, he asks if they’ve got those Snackboxes in order because he desperately wants one. Hermione tells them they have to stop advertising, but they warn her that she’ll want one before long because fifth year is for O.W.L.s and everyone loses their minds leading up to exams. They had considered not returning for their final year, but didn’t think it would be kind to their mother after Percy, so they plan to use the year for research to make the joke shop spectacular. Harry wonders about the exams and Ron confirms that they’re very difficult, and that they’ll also get career advice this year. They both express thoughts about becoming Aurors, but Hermione wants to do something particularly worthwhile, thinking of SPEW….
After an extremely dull History of Magic lecture, the trio try to guess at what they think Snape will do to ruin their first Potions lesson of the year when Cho walks by, greeting Harry. He asks how her summer was, then quickly realizes that was a mistake, since Cedric had been Cho’s boyfriend. Ron gives her a hard time about her Tornadoes Quidditch badge, asking if she liked them before they started winning in the league. She insists she’s been a fan since she was six and walks off. Hermione tells Ron off for being a git to her, especially seeing it was clear that she only wanted to talk to Harry anyhow. They bicker as Harry realizes that Cho had deliberately gone out of her way to talk to him, so that means that she’s not blaming him for Cedric’s death. They reach Snape’s class, and Potions professor informs them that only students with Outstanding O.W.L. scores will be able to take N.E.W.T. level Potions, which suits Harry just fine.
Snape has the class create the Draught of Peace, an exceedingly complex potion. While many of the students produce incorrect potions, Snape zeroes in on Harry, points out where his work faltered and vanishes his potion entirely, leaving him with nothing to turn in at the end of class. Hermione admits during lunch that she’d hoped Snape was going to be better this year since he’s a member of the Order. Clearly, it makes no difference to him. When Ron insists that there’s really no evidence that Snape stopped working for Voldemort, he and Hermione start bickering again. Harry finally snaps at them for fighting all the time and rushes to Divination. Ron eventually reaches Harry and sits down next to him, telling him and they’ve stopped rowing, but also that Hermione thinks Harry should stop taking his temper out on them. Ron thinks she’s right. Trelawney is going to focus on dream interpretation this term, since it often comes up in the exams. Harry doesn’t want anyone to interpret his dreams, so he tries to get Ron to remember his instead. They’re assigned a dream journal to keep for the entire month and Ron bemoans their extensive homework load.
They arrive at Defense Against the Dark Arts and Professor Umbridge forces the class to greet her in unison. She insists that their former education has been sloppy and frantic, and that she will be teaching them basics. She instructs them to read the first chapter from their books, but Hermione doesn’t; she sits with her hand in the air. Eventually, the rest of the class—bored out of their minds from the reading—come to look at Hermione until Umbridge feels she must call on her. What ensues is a very uncomfortable round of call and response where Umbridge berates every student who talks out of turn, and the whole class is shocked to find out that they will never practice defensive spells in class. In fact, the first time they will be expected to use them is in their exams. Umbridge tells the children that they have been exposed to dangerous magic they don’t need to know about, as well as dangerous half-breeds (talking of Professor Lupin).
Umbridge points out that they are in school—this is not real life. And even in real life, no one would want to attack students. Harry suggests to Voldemort, at which point Umbridge begins explaining to the students that all the rumors they’ve been hearing about the Dark Lord’s return are a lie. She takes ten points from Gryffindor for Harry talking back, then gives him detention, but he can’t stand for it. He gets to his feet and asks if she thinks that Cedric Diggory dropped dead all by himself. When Umbridge insists it was an accident, Harry counters that it was murder. The class is aghast and Umbridge is stiff and silent. She calls Harry sweetly to her desk, writes a note to McGonagall and demands that Harry go straight to her. On the way to her office, he’s harassed by Peeves, which gets him shouting. McGonagall calls Harry to her, asking why he’s not in class, and he gives her Umbridge’s note. She brings Harry into her office, asking if what the note says is true, if he shouted at Umbridge and called her a liar.
When Harry confirms that it is, she tells him to have a biscuit.
Harry is surprised, to say the least. McGonagall tells him to be careful around Umbridge, and that the her note explains that he is going to have detention every day this week with her. Harry asks if McGonagall can change it, but she insists she can’t and tells Harry that he is going to have to learn how to keep his head down and his temper in check. She reminds him of Umbridge’s speech at start of term and Harry indicates that he’s aware that the Ministry is messing with Hogwarts now. McGonagall is glad that he’s at least listening to Hermione and dismisses him from her office after forcing him to take another cookie.
Okay, so here’s something that I don’t see talked about… ever(?) which I think is pretty important to how we discuss the kids and how smart everyone is and such—Hermione has perfect recall:
“Don’t you remember what Dumbledore said at the end-of-term feast last year?”
Harry and Ron both look at her blankly, and Hermione sighed again.
“About You-Know-Who. He said, ‘His gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust—’“
“How do you remember stuff like that?” asked Ron, looking at her in admiration.
“I listen, Ron,” said Hermione with a touch of asperity.
She can say “I listen” to the boys all she wants, but she’s able to quote Albus Dumbledore’s end of the year speech word-for-word to them. That’s something she heard months ago. It doesn’t take her any time to dredge it up, she’s not fumbling over the tenses or anything. She heard those words once and they are seared into her memory. She’s getting upset with Harry and Ron for not being able to concentrate in Binns’ lecture, but she seems to be the only person capable of doing so, if Harry’s assessment of the room can be believed. It’s entirely possible that the reason Hermione is capable of focusing is because she automatically remembers everything she hears. So all this shade people throw at Harry and Ron for not working as hard as Hermione? They are straight up incapable of doing what she does, guys. Perfect auditory memory is not a skill, it’s something you’ve got or you don’t.
I’m not saying that Hermione shouldn’t get credit for the hard work she does, because she does a lot of it. But she also has certain advantages that everyone else around her clearly don’t have. Which means it’s not as simple as, Haha, Harry and Ron are just stupid and they don’t take school seriously enough, which clearly means they never work hard and they should feel lucky that Hermione even looks at them let alone associates with them.
While we’re on the subject, I really can’t blame Harry and Ron for being less than enthusiastic about school when we find out from the twins that O.W.L. exams basically cause nervous breakdowns in a sizable portion of the student population. Just, I would probably distance myself from the workload too. Sorry, but my mental health is worth more than that. So I don’t care much if Ron and Harry are not super respecting of their course work. They seem to absorb the material pretty well when Hermione recalibrates it for them, so it likely has more to do with how the material is being taught than we know.
This idea of how necessary a standard education truly is comes up again as the twins talk about their debate to return to Hogwarts for their final year. It’s a relevant argument that doesn’t present itself often enough when education comes up as a topic; not everyone needs the same type of schooling. Often, the tried and true curriculum doesn’t account for students who work differently, for kids with interests that live outside the rubric. What’s true in our world is typically shown to be true in the wizarding world, and here we have Fred and George, who are only going through with their entire Hogwarts education because they don’t want to upset their mother after Percy’s defection from the family ranks. Truth is, Fred and George have the right idea for what they are passionate about—using their final year for market research among the students is incredibly smart. It’s what they need at this point in time, and that probably still would have held true even if the Ministry hadn’t been interfering at the school.
Cho tries to talk to Harry again, and wow, I completely forgot how Ron “fake Quidditch girl”s her over her support of the Tornadoes, and it just made me livid this time around. He even uses the crappy “she probably only likes them now because they’re popular” argument, and RON I HAVE NEVER WANTED TO PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE SO BAD.
Harry gets pissed at Hermione and Ron for bickering so much in this chapter, and it’s another situation where everyone is kind of right? Harry is taking his temper out on them a bit, but also Ron and Hermione are really just going at it over every little thing. Because teenagers and crushes and it’s hard to talk about feelings. Tellingly, Hermione’s primary reasons for arguing with Ron are his moments of insensitivity toward others—calling the first years “midgets”; being callous towards Nearly-Headless Nick; being a jerk to Cho. And this is particularly relevant because this is exactly what Ron has to overcome in his person to be “worthy” of Hermione later on. Once Ron begins displaying that sensitivity, he’s grown up enough for Hermione to consider a relationship with him seriously.
Snape is back doing what he does best (being a mean bastard), but it seems to me that Rowling has altered him ever so slightly to reflect Alan Rickman’s portrayal at this point; there’s far less shrieking going on and a lot more soft intonations. Which at least means that Snape has learned to grasp subtlety in his time back among the Death Eaters. Guess that’s something?
Onto Defense Against the Dark Arts, it’s clear from the moment that Umbridge insists on the kids speaking in a bright and chipper unison that she’s the worst human being on the planet. (Don’t we all automatically hate the people who force us to cheerlead?) But things rapidly get uglier from there as soon as Hermione protests the course work and the students begin to realize that their defense education is about to take a dive. You have to give this book credit for going through step by step and showing how to (and how not to) effectively resist authority. This first example shows us what not to do; Harry confronts Umbridge in front of the class, and while it’s probably good for them to hear what he has to say, it results in some terrible consequences that we’ll get to later. Because McGonagall understands how these things work (the “have a biscuit” bit is one of her crowning moments of the series), she says as much to Harry; this is not how you fight back, kid. You can’t do this to her face, or you end up on the chopping block before you can do any good.
So it’s all terrible, but it’s wonderful to see the seeds of rebellion get sown so early. The students may be wary of Harry because of the Daily Prophet‘s lies, but they can tell when they’re being sold a bridge….