The Harry Potter Reread has always wondered why cruise ships are so appealing to people when you can get the stuff on them pretty much anywhere else with the added benefit of being able to go other places beside the ship. Also why do cruise ships have pools on them. Many pools. It just seems so redundant.
Today we’re going to have trouble with the stairs to the girl’s dormitory and start taking so snazzy defense lessons. It’s chapters 17 and 18 of The Order of the Phoenix—Educational Decree Number Twenty-Four and Dumbledore’s Army.
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 17—Educational Decree Number Twenty-Four
Harry feels much better over the weekend, excited about how well the meeting at Hogsmeade went and glad that there is a group of students who don’t think he’s crazy, who want to learn from him. But on Monday, he emerges into the common room to find Educational Decree #24 from the High Inquisitor: all school clubs and groups are disbanded until they receive approval from the Inquisitor. Harry realizes that someone in the bar or one of the students must have told on them, and is brought low instantly. Ron rushes up to the girl’s dorm to tell Hermione, but the stairs turn into a slide once he hits the sixth step. Hermione explains that it’s an old feature because the founders thought boys were less trustworthy than girls. Ron shows Hermione the decree, but she insists that no one from their group blabbed to Umbridge because she jinxed the parchment they all signed–they’ll know if someone betrays them.
They head down to breakfast and the Great Hall is buzzing. Harry insists that they’re still going about their defense lessons, but they warn the members from other houses away from their table to avoid suspicion. Angelina begs Harry to behave himself around Umbridge so she doesn’t ban Quidditch, and Harry agrees. While Harry’s in History of Magic, Hedwig shows up outside the window. When he brings her into the classroom, he discovers that she’s injured. He tells Professor Binns that he doesn’t feel well and seeks out Professor Grubbly-Plank in the staff room for help. Professor McGonagall is also there and he leaves Hedwig in their care, taking his letter after receiving a quiet warning from McGonagall that the lines of communication in and out of Hogwarts were being watched. His note is from Sirius and simply instructs another meeting, same time, same place. Harry tells Ron and Hermione what went down, and they don’t seem surprised, wondering if someone hadn’t intercepted and injured Hedwig on her flight. Hermione is nervous about meeting Sirius, but doesn’t see any way to warn him off it without being caught.
As they’re walking by to get in line for Potions, Malfoy is going on about how Umbridge gave the Slytherin team instant permission to keep playing because of his father being in with the Ministry, then going on about how the Minister wants to sack Arthur, and how they’re going to cart Harry away to St. Mungo’s Hospital. Ron and Harry manage to keep their tempers in check, but Neville goes after Malfoy for the comment about St. Mungo’s and Harry and Ron have to hold him back. Snape opens the door and sees this, taking points from Gryffindor. Harry knows why those comments upset Neville, but he can’t tell Ron, who is flummoxed by the whole thing. Umbridge is waiting in Potions, and tells Snape that the Ministry would prefer the potion he is currently teaching to be removed from the syllabus. Then she questions him on his application to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, which Snape is clearly unhappy to be discussing. Harry messes up his potion as he’s trying to listen, earning him no marks for the day and an extra essay. He wants to skip Divination, but Hermione wants him not to after leaving History of Magic.
Trelawney is besides herself in class; she got her inspection results back and has been put on probation. When they get back to the common room after dinner, Angelina tells them that they don’t have Quidditch practice—Umbridge is taking her time in deciding if they can have permission. He works on his essay for Snape instead, watching the fire for Sirius. Fred and George are exhibiting one of their Skiving Snackboxes to an enraptured crowd, with Hermione aggravated beyond reason but powerless to do anything about it because it’s not against any school rules. Harry expresses his confusion that the twins didn’t get many O.W.L.s when they’re clearly so talented. Hermione insists that they’re not good at anything useful, but Ron points out that they’re making good money. Eventually everyone goes to bed, and Sirius appears in the fire. He knows about their Defense group from Mundungus (who was the witch under veils at the Hog’s Head, sent to keep an eye out) and points out that they chose a terrible place for a meeting, since the Three Broomsticks was loud enough that they would have been harder to hear. He delivers a message from Ron’s mother telling him not to join the defense group, and advising Harry and Hermione not to go through with it either. Sirius personally thinks it’s a great idea and asks them where they’re planning to meet. They can’t figure out where would have enough room, and are discussing when Sirius suddenly tenses and disappears. A moment later Umbridge’s hand appears in the fire, groping for Sirius’ head, and the trio rush away horrified.
So I was thinking about Hermione using magic to knit the hats and how Harry points out that she’s getting better, and it made me wonder about the nature of magical skills. Like, you learn to cast a charm to wash dishes and the first time it slops water all over the floor, and eventually you get better at magically washing dishes. Do you get better because you’re better at casting the spell, or do you get better because you understand better in your mind how to do said task, so whatever subconscious work you’re doing to keep the charm going improves? That was horribly worded, but it’s sort of hard to put what I’m thinking into words. I guess what I mean is, when activity spells get more complex, you’re probably having to engage with magic differently than you would with a singular task spell. (Like a disarmament one, for example.) I dunno. More information on magicking, please.
I had forgotten that the background given on the girl’s dorm stairs was that the founders thought boys were less trustworthy that girls? Whaaaaaat. I mean, when Hogwarts was founded schools weren’t exactly co-ed (or accepting women) in the Muggle world, so maybe it makes sense that these rules would seem archaic and also weird. This brought me to another weird thought; we get a lot of the same prejudices in the wizarding world that we find in the Muggle one. There’s classism, and racism, and othering, and so forth. But Rowling makes women a visible part of wizarding history in a way that women in the Muggle world are often not considered. And I wonder if she did this thinking that magic would be a great equalizer between genders in that regard, or if she simply did it because she wanted to without considering how it broke her narrative pattern. It’s relevant that two of the Hogwarts founders were women, and that they were friends with the male founders, not wives or family. It suggests that they considered each other equals, which would be frankly unheard of in the western Muggle world during that time period.
Hermione lets Harry and Ron in on the jinx she placed on the paper, and it’s sort of a throwaway bit here. But you have to admire how cold and calculating it is on Hermione’s part, not just to place the jinx on the paper, but also to do it without telling Harry and Ron. She basically just decides that she’s going to set her own parameters for this and moves along with it. We also get another hilarious moment from Ginny in this chapter when she rushes off to the Ravenclaw table to tell her boyfriend Michael Corner not to bother them about the defense club out in the open, calling him a “fool.” Which pretty much lets you know how well Ginny thinks of the guy when the chips are down.
Poor Hedwig. Between her injury and the grabby hand in the fireplace coming after Sirius, I realize that the abuse associated with Umbridge is often rendered through her putting hands on people; she touches Harry after each quill detention, she had to have put hands on Hedwig to hurt her, she tries to rip Sirius from the fireplace by his hair. Last year, most of our villainous characters were people who caused damage through other means—Crouch Sr. by neglect, Rita Skeeter by spreading falsehoods, Ludo Bagman by cheating. We don’t arrive at damage of a physical nature until the end of Goblet of Fire, with Voldemort removing Harry’s blood protection for the express purpose of laying hands on him. And once that protection is broken, we see it being broken in many other places by the main antagonist of this book. Which makes me feel like Umbridge’s grabby-ness is a very intentional distinction.
Her questioning of Snape and the next lesson with Trelawney are both framed as humorous, and while Snape is genuinely funny, Trelawney really isn’t if you think about it for longer than a few seconds. The more dramatic aspects of her personality are distracting enough to help us gloss over how poorly she’s being treated. Rowling often uses animal descriptors when giving impressions of characters, and Trelawney is usually likened to dragonfly in many respects. There’s a fragility that comes with such a description, and going along in this book, we’ll see just how true that is for Trelawney.
It’s so funny to me how I find myself much more supportive of Fred and George on this reread. Not for the pranks and the attitudes, but for their complete lack of alignment with the establishment, even a magical one. And I think it’s really important that Rowling includes their successes in these books that are ultimately aimed at young readers. Harry Potter taught a lot of children who struggled with literature to enjoy reading, and many of those kids could likely relate to Fred and George, as being good in a traditional academic setting demands quite a bit of reading and comprehension of that reading. The Weasley twins are a glimmer of hope to children who don’t have that academic bent. Rowling makes it clear that there are many ways to be successful, but she doesn’t shy away from the sort of prejudice that people are trained to have against that–Hermione voicing her dismissal of the twins and what they do, Mrs. Weasley’s disapproval, they are common reactions to out of the box thinking. What’s important is that Fred and George continue doing what they love because they know they’re good at it.
We get to the chat by the fireplace, and honestly, Sirius is right, it was pretty dumb to have that meeting in a quiet space where everyone seemed super shady. I’m pretty sure we never find out how Mundungus pissed off Aberforth, but I’m super curious about it now—did he insult the man’s goats?
Sirius relaying the message from Molly makes it clear that she knows that Sirius is going to contact the trio, which suggests that she’s given up on trying to tell Sirius how to keep himself safe. She does try and guilt trip the kids (specifically Harry and Hermione since she knows she has no authority over them) in a spectacularly passive-aggressive fashion, which is a parental tactic that really gets under my skin in a personal way. All the same, I find Sirius’ relaying of it pretty funny. I’ll get more to what I think of his advice when we get to Hermione’s reaction to it in the following chapter. I do feel the need to point out how dearly Crookshanks still loves Sirius, even when he’s not in dog form. And I actually find it relevant that the half-kneazel is still so adoring of Sirius when we know that they’re very intuitive creatures. Apparently, Sirius’ deteriorating state doesn’t change how he registers to Crookshanks, which is a pretty big vote of confidence.
And then we get to Umbridge’s hand in the fireplace and that moment is so simple and SO TERRIFYING, I mean, what a great horror-school kind of incident that manages to be so frightening without doing anything truly gruesome.
Chapter 18—Dumbledore’s Army
The trio talk in Charms class the next day, Hermione sure that Umbridge has been reading Harry’s mail—the reason why Hedwig got injured, and why Filch got that fake tip about a dungbombs order. Angelina tells them that she got permission to reform the Quidditch team after telling McGonagall what was up. Hermione voices concerns that maybe the defense group they’re planning is a bad idea after hearing Sirius’ opinions on it. The boys have Quidditch practice in the rain and it’s awful (particularly for Fred and George, who have discovered that their Fudge Fever comes with a current side effect of boils located on their butts), and once it’s over, Harry scar sears in the locker room. Once everyone is gone, Ron asks him about it. Harry realizes that he’s getting clearer on his flashes of Voldemort’s moods; this time he was angry that things aren’t moving fast enough, in Umbridge’s office he was happy, in Grimmauld Place he’d been angry again. Ron thinks he should tell someone, but Harry can’t think of who since Dumbledore already knows and they’re not exactly speaking to each other.
Harry sits in the common room after everyone has gone to bed, going over his potions book without really absorbing the information. He falls asleep, has another dream of walking down a creepy corridor, and is woken up by Dobby who has brought a healed Hedwig back to him. The house-elf is also wearing nearly all of the hats, scarves, socks Hermione has knit. (He brings some of them to Winky even though she still doesn’t like clothes.) Dobby explains that the other house-elves won’t clean the Gryffindor common room anymore because they find the clothes insulting, so he has to do it all by himself. He doesn’t mind because he keeps hoping that he’ll run into Harry. Dobby would like to help with whatever is giving Harry bad dreams, which he can’t, but then Harry thinks to ask Dobby if there’s a place where he and students can meet. Turns out, Dobby knows just the place: the Come and Go Room, or, the Room of Requirement. It is a room that only appears when the user has need of it, with whatever the user has need of. Dobby volunteers to show Harry the room whenever he wants to have to a look.
After being given the instructions to find it, Harry gathers the group the next night and finds everything that they need for the club; books, cushions and dark magic detectors. Hermione has the group properly elect Harry as leader, then suggests they come up with a name. They decide on the “Defense Association,” D.A. for short, but Ginny suggests that they refer to it as Dumbledore’s Army because that’s what the Ministry fears most. Harry suggests that they start practicing with disarming spells, which Zacharias laughs off until Harry points out that he used that spell on Voldemort last year. They start practicing, and Harry moves around the room, helping people out. When he reaches Cho, she starts making mistakes because she’s nervous. Eventually it’s past time to go back to the dorms, so everyone packs up and heads back a few at a time after deciding when they’ll meet again.
There is a great sort of side action going on in this scene where the trio are discussing the defense group, with Peeves hovering over the kids and throwing ink pellets. We get this great visual of Harry, Ron, and Hermione lifting there bags when Peeves floats over them, then putting them down once he’s moved away. And it’s little moments like that that really communicate what makes going to Hogwarts different from other schools. Those are moments I wish we’d gotten more of in the films, this points where no one verbally acknowledges that they have to adjust what they’re doing to accommodate an annoying poltergeist in the room.
So Hermione basically starts to question their impulse to do this whole defense group thing precisely because Sirius says he thinks it’s a good idea. It’s an interesting place where Hermione makes a sort of clerical error; just because Sirius is having these difficulties, is making poor choices and distinctions, is encouraging cowboy behavior, that doesn’t mean that every idea that he supports automatically becomes a bad one. The point is that he wants them to create the club for the wrong reasons; for him it’s about bucking authority, standing up to a nasty bureaucrat. But the real reasons behind creating the group are smart, essential ones; they need these skills, they need to be able to protect themselves and others. It actually doesn’t make much sense to me that Hermione doesn’t get that distinction. If anything, I’d say Rowling wedged Hermione’s worry over his comments on the defense group into the narrative just to makes it more clear how unbalanced Sirius is becoming. The more Hermione pegs his comments as veering toward reckless behavior, the more likely we are to make note of it as readers.
We find out that the house-elves are pissed with Hermione for leaving around hats and socks for them to find, leaving Dobby to clean the Gryffindor common room by himself, and man, is that ever crappy. Of course, Dobby’s actions are also problematic, as he’s actually negating the protest of his fellow house-elves therefore preventing Hermione from knowing that her actions are unwelcome so she can improve. But really, we just need to see Dobby so he can tell Harry about the Room of Requirement, otherwise known as the Best Room Ever. Most important, it plays beautifully into Rowling’s theme of Hogwarts being there for its students and giving them what they need. It’s one of my favorite series themes because it makes the school itself a character, which is common in fantasy and sci-fi narratives (they same way we often think of ships as characters).
The kids get their first defense lesson, and I’m super proud of Harry for quietly taking down Zacharias when he suggests that a disarming spell would be a useless place to start training. I also love how they come up with the name, and how Ginny is responsible for the actual Dumbledore’s Army part of it, and just, good job at rebellion, kids. Keep it up. Although, it drives me crazy that Cho straight up admits that she shoved her friend there, like, it’s one thing if she’d said, “she was on the fence and I talked her into it, but she’s really nervous to be here.” Instead, Cho browbeats her buddy into doing something she clearly doesn’t want to do, and you already know it’s a recipe for disaster because you don’t drag people to the revolution, guys.
This is one of my favorite Harry lines ever, by the way:
“That was quite good,” Harry lied, but when she raised her eyebrows he said, “Well, no, it was lousy, but I know you can do it properly, I was watching from over there….”
Almost going with the empty compliment, but then turning it into a joke and managing to be genuinely encouraging. Moments like that strike me as points where Harry showcases his father’s better traits. It strikes me as a very Prongs sort of thing to say.