The Harry Potter Reread

The Harry Potter Reread: The Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 15 and 16

The Harry Potter Reread will now recite it’s very own haiku:

Magic is the best!
Harry thinks so too, you know
So were the 90s

(One of those lines is a lie.)

We’re back to watch the government take over a school and form a resistance. It’s chapters 15 and 16 of The Order of the Phoenix—The Hogwarts High Inquisitor and In The Hog’s Head.

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 15—The Hogwarts High Inquisitor

Summary

The next day in the Daily Prophet, there’s a big headline announcing Dolores Umbridge’s new position as Hogwarts High Inquisitor, a position created by the Ministry to combat supposed changes that Dumbledore has been making to the school. All classes will be inspected by Umbridge. The trio head to classes and receive their essays back from Snape. Harry does horribly, Ron only does a step above, and Hermione is very interested in the grading system, so the twins explain it during lunch. They’ve already had an inspected class with Flitwick and claim it wasn’t too bad. Harry and Ron arrive at Divination and find Umbridge there for an inspection. She follows Professor Trelawney around the classroom asking her questions. Then she requests that Trelawney predict something about her. When the prediction is given with typical vagueness, Umbridge is clearly unimpressed.

Harry and Ron head to DADA, where Umbridge instructs them to read the next chapter of their textbook. Hermione raises her hand and informs Umbridge that she’s read the whole book already, and also that she disagrees with it. Umbridge takes exception to Hermione thinking she’s allowed to have any opinion on the text at all, and reminds the class that they are following a Ministry approved curriculum now. When she points out that the only Defense Against the Dark Arts professor they ever had teaching age-appropriate lessons was Quirrell, Harry points out that he had the slight problem of also having Lord Voldemort attached to the back of his head. He receives another week of detention for that.

Angelina Johnson is predictably furious with him, and when McGonagall sees her yelling at Harry, she also becomes furious with him for not keeping his head down. She takes points from Gryffindor; Ron thinks it’s wrong, but Hermione agrees with McGonagall that Harry should be quiet around Umbridge. Harry is angry with his head of house until they reach Transfiguration, where Umbridge is inspecting. She tries to interrupt Professor McGonagall, who abruptly shuts her down with terrifying efficiency. When the trio get to Care of Magical Creatures, Umbridge is there again. Grubbly-Plank doesn’t know where Hagrid is, but Umbridge is pleased enough with her teaching methods. When she asks the students about Hagrid, Draco gets into his hippogriff injury, which Harry announces was due to Draco not following Hagrid’s directions. He receives another detention from Umbridge for that.

Following that final detention, Harry returns to the common room to find Ron and Hermione waiting for him along with a bowl of murtlap essence to ease his hand. Hermione makes the point that they need DADA training this year and suggests that they get a teacher, pointing out that Harry has the experience necessary. Harry is shocked by the suggestion, moreso when Ron agrees with her. He eventually snaps on them, shouting about how everything that he did was by the seat of his pants, an accident, a mistake, that he wasn’t trained to handle these situations, that he was never ready for anything that occurred. Hermione tells him that is precisely why he would provide the best training for other students—since they’re not going to be prepared either. She asks that he consider the idea, then everyone awkwardly heads up to bed.

Commentary

So, who is like, “We’re going to create an important position at the school that sounds special and official, so we can investigate Hogwarts and mess with its innards. Oo, I know! We’ll call the position the High Inquisitor! Sounds respectable, right?” I mean, did the wizarding world miss out on the Spanish Inquisition entirely? (I highly doubt this.) Because that just seems like the kind of name you should veto straight away.

Of course, the Daily Prophet is smart enough to include dissenting opinions about the Inquisitor position while simultaneously discrediting said dissenters—Madam Marchbanks expresses her displeasure with the move and the paper promptly links her to dangerous goblin groups. I’m actually surprised that the Prophet allowed as much of her quote in there as it did, since she is super-pro Dumbledore.

Looking at the grading system that the twins explain to Hermione—and I love how the book pretends that Hermione doesn’t know that grading scale back-to-front just so we can get some exposition on it—from what I can tell, the O.W.L. scale is relatively on par with GCSE grades. I think? Would that make N.E.W.T.s on par with A-Levels? That seems right, if my memory is serving. Grading in the UK utterly baffles me. When I was studying abroad, I honestly had no idea how I was doing. I just sort of shrugged at my papers and chucked them in the garbage regardless of how they were marked. (It was a rough year.)

We see our first observed class in Divination, and while we’re all aware that Trelawney is a terrible teacher, this is still hard to stomach simply for how mean the whole process is. Umbridge loves having this power over people, so she’s doing her absolute best to make certain that Sybil can’t perform at all, never mind well. What’s worse, this is basically just a highly exaggerated version of what many teachers go through in our world. In the US today the problems of vicious, uninformed oversight are making it near impossible for so many teachers to do their jobs. So in some ways, this passage hits even harder now.

We get a little bit of background on Trelawney, learning that her great-great-grandmother was a famous Seer, but that no one in her family has had the Sight since. Honestly, seeing how Sybil’s gift works, I think it’s entirely possible that other members of her family did have the ability, just similarly to her. As is often noted by fans, Trelawney does tend to predict correctly, even when she’s not in a trance state. (She predicts that Umbridge is in some great, vague danger, but that danger does come to pass later on in this book.) Which might just be coincidence, or perhaps there’s an element of intuition that makes you more likely to develop divination abilities? I actually wish this was delved into more, considering how important prophecy turns out to be in the Potterverse.

They head to DADA, where Hermione makes one of her greatest stands of the series, telling Umbridge that she’s already read the entire course textbook and that she finds it lacking. In this confrontation we find just about everything that can possibly go wrong in a classroom setting; the textbook is so simple that Hermione finds it easy to read over the course of a single week (even as smart as Hermione is, it’s clearly a breezy and dull read); Umbridge takes exception to Hermione displaying a contrary opinion to the text and refuses to engage her in any discourse to address it; Umbridge then makes it clear that she does not recognize any student’s right to question the curriculum and that everyone will accept the information taught in class as gospel. It’s one thing to say ‘this is what we have to cover, feel free to develop what opinions you will and bring your questions to me.’ Umbridge is saying precisely the opposite, which is not teaching. It’s conditioning.

Then she brings up Quirrell and Harry points out that dear old Quinnius had that weird little problem of Voldemort coming out the back of his skull, and you suddenly realize—none of these kids knew that. They knew some of what happened at the end of their first year, but they definitely didn’t know that Voldemort had latched onto the back of a professor’s head or they would be far less surprised at the Dark Lord’s return as a group. It’s one of my favorite things to consider in fictional universes, the perspectives of anyone outside the main cast of characters, because often they know next to nothing. Which means that Harry must sound CRAZY to them right now. He just told a room full of people that Voldemort was hitching a ride on the back of their first DADA teacher’s head, a man who they may or may not know is super very dead now. From their perspective, it might just seem like Harry insists that every dead person has had a connection to Voldemort.

Harry gets more detention, which is horrible, then gets chewed out by Angelina and McGonagall, which is more horrible. Also not helping. Then the kids get to Transfiguration and all of Ron’s dreams come true as he gets to witness Minerva give the most epic brush-off in all of Hogwarts history.

There’s a lesson here that I feel Rowling brings off very well. Though Umbridge does wind up with ultimate control later on in this novel, these first two observed classes teach us about the art of refusing to give up one’s own power by showing us opposite ways to handle the situation. Trelawney has no power to begin with; Rowling has said that Sybil is aware that her position is the school is far more precarious than others (indeed, we find out that Dumbledore had planned to phase out the subject at Hogwarts altogether until she spouted a prophecy and became a target for Voldemort), and she brings that into the observation. She’s uncomfortable with Umbridge and allows herself to be bullied. It’s still wrong, still upsetting to witness, but Trelawney plays directly into the kind of oppressive dynamic that Umbridge is trying to create.

McGonagall has No. Damned. Patience. For this nonsense. In fact, I’m going to reproduce a snippet in all its glory for reference:

Hem, hem.”

“I wonder,” said Professor McGonagall in cold fury, turning on Professor Umbridge,” how you expect yo gain an idea of my usual teaching methods if you continue to interrupt me? You see, I do not generally permit people to talk when I am talking.”

I just wish I had this amount of swagger. At first glance, it’s all about McGonagall doing this for the sake of politics, making a stand against the Ministry’s interference. But you can’t make a stand like this without pure, fearless confidence. Which is something that Minerva McGonagall has by the lake-ful. All hail her majesty. That small smile Harry reckons he sees on his way out the door just takes the chocolatey cake.

And then you’ve got Grubbly-Plank, who is just wonderfully unflappable while still appearing to cooperate. I swear, that woman is a secret superhero.

Harry gets more detention, making the scar of the back of his hand permanent. Ron wants Harry to tell someone, but Harry has altered his tune on that too; he expresses concern that the next rule to come down from the Ministry might be to fire anyone who disagrees with the Hogwarts High Inquisitor. And this is a major swerve in Harry’s development because his protective instinct is expanding—he considers it his responsibility to keep quiet so he can keep McGonagall safe from Ministry interference. We’ve observed Harry’s difficulty in trusting adults for reasons that are largely obvious when looking back on his childhood, but now we’re seeing something new emerge; because Harry has handled so many horrific situations, he’s now beginning to think it makes more sense for him to just keep his hands on the wheel at all times. It’s better that he shoulder the burden, rather than let the school suffer the loss of another good teacher. Which is the perspective of someone who should be much older than he is.

Hermione suggests that Harry teach some of the students defense, and she and Ron start giggling when Harry tries to double-back, insisting that all his previous run-ins with Pure Evil had been nothing but luck. What they don’t realize is that Harry’s not just failing to show perspective on his own accomplishments—he’s basically at the start of a full-blown anxiety attack. After so many misadventures, Harry losing that little kid buoyancy, he’s having a harder time on the recoil. It’s that thing that people always say about kids getting faced with death or tragedy: “Kids are flexible, they bounce back.” But Harry saw someone die just a few months ago, and was mature enough to accept and absorb that loss. He’s not bouncing back anymore, and he’s starting to realize how improbable it is that he keeps coming back from confrontations relatively unscathed. Mortality is coming clear to him, and he’s not having an easy time of it.

Chapter 16—In The Hog’s Head

Summary

They keep off the subject of Harry teaching defense for two weeks until Hermione brings it up again when they’re all in the library. Harry still isn’t sure of the idea, but has been thinking of lesson plans all the same. He asks if he’d only be teaching the two of them, but Hermione thinks he should open the lessons to anyone who wants them. Harry doubts anyone would show up to that, seeing as everyone thinks he’s crazy. Hermione isn’t so sure, and suggests that they meet during their first Hogsmeade trip, thinking it wise to keep away from the school. Harry is worried that Sirius might meet them on that trip, but his friends try to keep his mind off of it. Hermione has let some students know that Harry will be teaching defense, and has instructed them to meet at the Hog’s Head pub, since it’s off the main road and students don’t normally frequent it. It’s dingy pub that smells of goats and has all sorts of strange, shadowy patrons. (The barman looks familiar to Harry, though he can’t quite figure out why.)

Hermione insists that she only told a few people, but over two dozen show up at the pub, flooring Harry. Among them are Dean, Neville, Lavender, Parvati, Padma, Cho and a friend of hers, Ginny, Lee Jordan, the whole of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, Luna, Susan Bones, Hannah Abbott, Ernie Macmillan, Michael Corner, Justin Finch-Fletchly, and the Creevey brothers. Hermione starts the meeting by letting them in on the point of this gathering—to learn proper Defense from the most qualified person among them. One of the kids, a Hufflepuff Quidditch player named Zacharias Smith, is not convinced that Harry and Dumbledore are telling the truth, which Harry realizes they should have suspected at this meeting. He tells the crew that anyone who is here to learn about Cedric Diggory’s death is out of luck.

The whole group is surprised to find out what Harry is capable of when his various accomplishments against Voldemort are brought up, but again Zacharias acts skeptical when Harry downplays it and won’t demonstrate. Hermione asks if everyone wants to learn from Harry and they all agree. She tells them all that they’ll work out a time and place to meet up weekly, and then creates a paper for everyone to sign. It’s a record of who’s there, but also an agreement not to tell anyone what they’re doing. Ernie Macmillan is reticent to sign being a prefect (despite his earlier insistence that this would be the most important thing he did all year), but signs once Hermione assures him that she would never just leave the list lying around. Zacharias is also reluctant to sign, as is Cho’s friend.

As they’re leaving Hog’s Head after the meet up, Hermione mentions (after she and Ron both agree that they dislike Zacharias) that Michael Corner and his friends only heard about the meeting because Ginny is dating him. Ron gets in a panic about his little sister stepping out with someone, still believing that she was sweet on Harry. Hermione notes that Ginny moved on from Harry months ago, which is when Harry realizes that’s why Ginny has been talking around him lately. He can’t be too bothered, as Hermione also makes the point that Cho couldn’t keep her eyes off Harry through the whole meeting.

Commentary

We get several points in this chapter where Ron and Hermione both either hold back from a conversation, or preface talks by saying “Please don’t blow up at me,” which is one of the things that likely contributes to fandom’s ire over Capslock Harry. But on a reread, it occurs to me that this is actually a clever and less-damaging way of showing the ripple effects of PTSD. Harry’s inability to handle these stresses is now causing his friends untoward stress for fear of snagging that tripwire. He’s an emotional minefield. And it’s not his fault, but it’s not theirs either, which leads to an overall feeling of dissatisfaction.

I feel like it should be made clear at this point that Dumbledore clearly does not give a mermaid’s lack-of-behind what Harry learns in school for the rest of his career at Hogwarts. He’s so far behind in his work from the beginning, which is really not his fault altogether. But no one is like ‘hey the chosen kid is having some trouble, maybe we should give him a hand, or create a study hall, or let him pause his academic career while this war thing goes on.’ In fact, while fandom sometimes rails at Ron and Harry for relying too much on Hermione academic prowess, I’d make the argument that Hermione has been deliberately engineered into that position. Dumbledore very much takes the let-people-do-what-they’re-good-at tack, and it applies here tenfold. You can’t really control the friendships of children, but you can encourage them, which many authority figures do where Hermione’s assistance to Harry and Ron comes into play. Everyone is basically like “Good thing you guys have Hermione, keep that up!” instead of “You know, you rely on Hermione way too much, I’m disappointed in you.” At that point, we’ve got to consider that her presence has been a given to the people in charge for years.

They go to the Hog’s Head, which we will later learn is the pub that Albus’ brother barkeeps for. So this is technically our introduction to Aberforth, though we don’t know it. Our only real tip-offs are the fact that Harry thinks there’s something familiar about the barman’s face, and the fact that the place smells like goats. Ahem. He’s hilariously grumpy and unhelpful. Best kind of bartender.

Harry’s right about this meeting, in that Hermione should have expected that the people who showed up were probably going to pry for answers regarding the end of the Triwizard Tournament. But it’s so vindicating to watch Harry stand up for himself and tell everyone flat out that he doesn’t have to rerun his trauma for their edification, and they can stuff themselves if that’s the only reason they came. It’s even more satisfying to watch Ron come to his defense on that account because FRIENDSHIP.

“Are you trying to weasel out of showing us any of this stuff?” said Zacharias Smith.

“Here’s an idea,” said Ron loudly, before Harry could speak, “why don’t you shut you mouth?”

But just like the previous chapter, we’re given a reminder of how little these kids actually know about Harry’s escapades. As the few people in the know start giving out information, these students begin to realize that Harry has abilities are far beyond anything they were ever going to learn in school. Within the context of the book, it’s more important because Harry realizes their collective impressed-ness, which is essential if he’s ever going to feel comfortable teaching anyone. But when you bother to consider it from their perspective, it would be astounding. Harry may be famous in the wizarding world for something that happened when he was a baby, but outside of his end-of-the-year evil-jams (and the tournament last year), he likely just comes off as a relatively quiet, skinny kid who’s really good at Quidditch and keeps to his small group of friends. Now they’re suddenly learning that said quiet kid is phenomenally skilled at fighting dark magic, and has basically kept it to himself this whole time. It would alter your entire perception of him as a person.

Harry is clearly uncomfortable with the whole thing, but he’s learning a valuable lesson that most kids find out too late; your innate abilities in life might not be what you expected, especially not as they were billed to you in school. Harry liked the idea of being an Auror, sure, but he never bothered to consider that for all intents and purposes he already was one. He’s been doing the work since he was eleven years old on instinct.

We’ll get to the parchment and its significance later on, but for now, it’s already pretty clear that there is a measure of dissent in the group already. I do think it’s too bad that so many of these kids were just introduced in this book, if only because it makes kids like Zacharias Smith irritating beyond all reason. We don’t have time for your attitude, kid. Either get in line, or GTFO.

We have Ron’s awkward big-brother rage moment over Michael Corner dating his little sister, which is awkward to me because I’ve never been a fan of guys doing the overprotective stay-away-from-her thing with their female relatives (she’s allowed to date who she’s wants, Ron, shut up), but it does lead to Harry’s revelation that this is the reason why Ginny is talking near him now. And I always loved this progression, really; Ginny’s big animated heart eyes over Harry makes her too shy to let her true personality shine, which is absolutely a thing that kids do when they’re crushing. It has the added unfortunate effect of making it impossible for Harry to see that they’re a great match because she’s too scared and deferential. Once that cloud lifts, it doesn’t take long for Harry’s head to turn.

But we’ve got to go with the current crush before that can happen, so Harry is going to make big animated heart eyes over Cho for a while.

Emily Asher-Perrin wants to be the irascible barman at a creepy wizard pub. You can bug her on Twitter andTumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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