The Harry Potter Reread was all ready to go to the park and then it rained and ruined everything. No picnic tea parties for anyone.
Today we’re going on a really awkward date and getting a new Divination professor. It’s chapters 24 and 25 of The Order of the Phoenix—The Beetle at Bay and Seen and Unforeseen.
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 24—The Beetle at Bay
Harry finds out what had made Voldemort so happy the night before—ten Death Eaters have broken out of Azkaban, including Bellatrix Lestrange. The Daily Prophet has a statement from Cornelius Fudge saying that these escapees likely had help from Sirius Black and are going to join him. Hermione then finds an article saying that a Ministry worker named Bode died in St. Mungo’s after being delivered a plant for Christmas that the Healer failed to note was a Devil’s Snare. The trio had seen him on the closed ward with Lockhart, and Hermione pegs the event as murder. Harry realizes that he’d met Bode before when he went to the Ministry for his hearing; Bode was an Unspeakable who worked for the Department of Mysteries. Hermione goes off to send a mysterious letter about something (like she does). Harry and Ron run into Hagrid, who is sporting fresh injuries and still won’t tell them what they come from. He’s also been put on probation by Umbridge.
Word gets around school about the Azkaban breakout, and the students who had relatives die in the first war are suddenly thrust under a bright spotlight. The school seems to be warming to Harry and Dumbledore’s perspective in light of everything, and the teachers are talking together in hushed tones away from the staff room (which is no longer safe with Umbridge around). There is a new Educational Decree stating that teachers are not permitted to speak with students about anything except the subjects that they teach. When Lee Jordan tells Umbridge that she can’t tell the twins off for playing games according to this decree, he comes back with scratches on the back of his hand. Harry recommends Hermione’s murtlap cure.
Umbridge hounds Trelawney and Hagrid’s lessons, clearly determined to fire one of them, and both of the professors perform terribly under the scrutiny. The trio can’t visit Hagrid any longer for fear of her showing up again. In D.A., the news about the Death Eater breakout has changed Neville entirely, making him Harry’s most determined student. The only person learning faster than him is Hermione. Harry’s Occlumency lessons are going horribly, however; he now feels as though he’s gaining access to more of Voldemort’s emotions rather than less, his scar hurts constantly, and he’s dreaming about the Department of Mysteries every night. Ron suggests that perhaps Snape is deliberately making this more difficult, that he’s still working for Voldemort, but both Harry and Hermione won’t take that answer as it would mean deciding not to trust Dumbledore’s judgment.
With all this plus mountains of homework, January goes by in a flash and it’s suddenly time for Harry’s date with Cho. Hermione gets a letter in reply to her previous mystery letter, and asks Harry to meet her at the Three Broomsticks at noon and bring Cho along if he must. Ron is stuck at Quidditch practice. Harry meets Cho and they head to Hogsmeade starting by talking about Quidditch, which puts them both at ease. Then Pansy walks by with a gaggle of friends, saying that Harry is a paltry choice compared to Cedric. The two make it to Hogsmeade, and Cho suggests they go into some shops, but posters of the Death Eaters are in every window. Cho points out how strange it is that there are no Dementors searching for the escapees this time, making Harry think of their true loyalties. Cho then suggests that they go get coffee at a cute little teashop called Madam Puddifoots. The place has been decorated for Valentine’s Day and is full of couples, and Harry could not be more uncomfortable. Roger Davies (the Ravenclaw Quidditch Captain) is sitting next to their table with his girlfriend, snogging.
Harry and Cho struggle to figure out what to talk about, so Harry brings up going to meet Hermione around noon, which upsets Cho. She mentions that Roger asked her out a couple weeks ago, though Harry can’t imagine why she would bring that up to him. Then Cho mentions that she came here with Cedric last year and asks Harry if he mentioned her before he died. When Harry tells her he’d really rather not talk about Cedric, Cho bursts into tears, saying that she needs to talk about it and so does he. Harry admits that he’s talked to Ron and Hermione about it, leading Cho to tell Harry to go meet her and any other women he’s got lined up after that. Finally understanding, Harry laughs at the assumption that she thinks there’s something going on between him and Hermione, and his reaction leads Cho to storm out of the teashop.
Grumpily, Harry heads over to the Three Broomsticks, too early to meet Hermione. He ends up talking to Hagrid who is clearly drunk and (as we’ve come to expect) won’t say where his cuts and bruises are from. He talks of how he and Harry are both outsiders and both orphans before draining his tankard and leaving. Hermione shows up with Luna Lovegood and none other than Rita Skeeter. She is striking a deal; Rita writes Harry’s story for The Quibbler (since the Prophet would never touch it), and gets the truth out there. Since Rita has no choice unless she wants to be outed as an unregistered Animagus, she takes the job.
We get word of the breakout from Azkaban, and the narrative very clearly focuses on Bellatrix. For all that the reader knows, this is because we’re aware of her horrific acts against Neville’s parents. But really, it’s meant to be prophetic as well—she will be responsible for the major death of this novel, and we’re supposed to keep her in mind. The breakout itself is cause for plenty of worry, but it was also somewhat inevitable as part of the war. I do wonder about the particulars, though; did the Dementors just back off and essentially let them walk out? Did Voldemort send someone to pick them up?
The kids who have connections to Death Eater acts, who lost their families to them, are experiencing Harry levels of attention, and all of them seem to hate it. (Of course.) Pre-Rita’s interview, it represents a sort of thawing of the ice, a recognition amongst a portion of the student body that Harry has so little control over the attention he receives. It forces some of these kids to consider that Harry has no hand in his portrayal, and no say in how often he is pestered. It’s a good starting point for a shift in school opinion.
Lee’s punishment with the quill after mouthing off to Umbridge makes me wonder how many kids got that treatment. It seems unlikely that any of them were made to use it quite so extensively, but the acknowledgment that this is her preferred correction method makes its use that much more disturbing. At least he gets clued in to murtlap, which helps the Weasley twins out with their products. Poor Hermione would probably be furious to know that she’d contributed to that, however removed she was from the recommendation.
Neville’s furious dedication to D.A. now that Bellatrix is out of Azkaban is the first real uptick we see in his more traditional heroic complex. I think it’s relevant for several reasons, the first being that until Bellatrix was out of prison, I doubt that this fight could be properly real to Neville. He obviously took his training seriously, but he’s never been in the action the way the trio have. It’s still remote to him, still only theoretical. The reality of the woman who destroyed his family being unleashed on the world again, the possibility of her being able to do that to another family, that is what gets Neville’s attention. That is what prompts the sort of evolution that his grandmother has clearly been seeking in him all along.
The trio talk Harry’s Occlumency lessons, and Ron suggests that perhaps Snape is setting Harry up to fail (which he is, in a manner of speaking) because he’s really working for Voldemort. Harry and Hermione both respond by saying that Ron is wrong, and the reason they know he must be wrong is that Dumbledore trusts him. And if they can’t trust Dumbledore’s judgment on this, who can they trust? And while Ron is wrong about Snape in this particular instance, it’s fascinating to me that Ron is the one who is reticent to trust Dumbledore’s say-so on everything. Hermione is the most logical of the three of them, but here we have her favorite blindspot of learned authority figures. So it’s on Ron to be the sole member of the trio to be skeptical of Dumbledore.
We get to date time, and there’s already the red flag of Harry basically not seeing Cho up until the date itself. (Maybe that’s just a big red flag to me? Even as a teen, I was always super against dating someone without having spent a little one-on-one time beforehand because I want to know that I can talk to them for an extended period before committing to spending an evening. Yeah, that might just be a me thing.) And we have a brief period of niceness, where they bond over Quidditch and Harry not being able to play, and how they basically met playing Quidditch. And then they don’t know what to talk about, and the reminder of the Azkaban breakout in Hogsmeade exacerbates that. And then Cho takes Harry to a super twee tea shop for coffee, and I can’t really blame Harry for feeling uncomfortable there because it’s their first date, and I wouldn’t want to be sitting in Make Out Central on my first date either.
But then Harry does a dumb thing and suggests they go meet Hermione at noon without qualifying the reason, and we’ve got two problems here; first off, it was just a super stupid thing to suggest right at the start of the date without making it clear that he was enjoying himself with Cho. But there’s also the problem of the perception of male/female friendships. This isn’t the first time that someone has assumed that Harry and Hermione are involved, and no, it’s not because they have some crazy secret chemistry that everyone is picking up on. It’s because they are a boy and a girl who are very close friends, and society generally doesn’t make many allowances for that. (I say this as a girl who had a very close male best friend all through junior high and high school. Even our parents were convinced we would end up together. It was so persistent, I started to think maybe we did like each other because everyone kept telling me we did. It’s weird, you guys.) So while I know that Harry screwed this up, I really sympathize here. It’s no fun when prospective partners are threatened by your friendships.
And then there’s the added discomfort of Cho’s desire to talk about Cedric. And she’s right, they probably both do need to talk about it, but they might not need to talk about it in the same way. And Harry certainly doesn’t want to talk about it with her. Cho, in her grief, never manages to understand that the attachment that Harry formed to Cedric by being present for his death is nothing like the attachment that she had to Cedric as his girlfriend. They both need to process the event, but not together, and certainly not while dating each other. So that is adds an extra layer of awful to this whole event. It’s no wonder it ends in tears.
Harry isn’t happy about it, and his brief talk with Hagrid in the Three Broomsticks isn’t really helpful. Hagrid (who we will later know is busy dealing with his giant half-brother Grawp) is thinking on family, and how difficult it is when you don’t have one, and how he and Harry are alike in that gap. You get the sense that Hagrid is tying his lack of family to his outcast status, and he’s not entirely wrong in this case. He and Harry have moments where they are ultimately separate from everyone for that lack of familial support and access to knowledge. Hagrid has this worse than Harry (who is semi-adopted by the Weasleys), but in Hagrid’s mind, his brother has it worst of all. Which maybe puts his willingness to be beaten by him into perspective.
And then we get to the gleeful end of the chapter, our reward for wading through all this unhappiness. Hermione’s got Rita Skeeter on a leash, and she’s going to write Harry’s side of things for The Quibbler. And it’s awesome. And Luna is awesome. And perhaps things are starting to look up, even just a teeny tiny bit?
Chapter 25—Seen and Unforeseen
Harry feels strange about giving Skeeter all the info for the article, but Dean and Neville are full of praise for his actions at dinner. (Seamus is still keeping quiet.) Hermione asks Harry about his date, and when he tells her how horribly it went, Hermione makes it clear to Harry how he screwed up the date. Ron and Ginny come back in from Quidditch practice, saying it was horrible. As they’re cleaning up after dinner, the twins come into the common room to talk about how terrible the practice was. They admit Ginny is good, though they don’t know how Ginny got so good when they never played with her as a kid; Hermione informs them that she’s been sneaking into the Burrow shed to play on their brooms since she was six. Ron can’t do well unless no one’s watching. The twins are thinking that without Quidditch there’s practically no point in staying at school any longer—they don’t care about exams because their business seems to be working out. (They solved their Snackbox boils problem because Lee tipped them off about the murtlap after Harry told him about it.)
The Quidditch match is blissfully short, but horrible. Gryffindor loses, and the only reason they lose by a mere ten points is because Ginny manages to catch the Snitch. She tells Harry that once he’s back on the team (insisting that his lifetime ban is only as long as Umbridge is around), she wants to try out for Chaser, since she prefers scoring goals. Ron is inconsolable, having missed every Quaffle thrown his way. That night Harry has another dream about the door, but Ron’s snoring wakes him up before he can get through it. That morning he receives an abundance of letters and a copy of The Quibbler containing his interview. Everyone helps Harry opens the mail, counting the letters of who believes him and who thinks he’s crazy. Umbridge shows up and asks about the mail, giving Harry no choice but to show her what’s he’s done. She’s livid, deducting 50 points from Gryffindor, giving him another week of detention, and creating a new decree saying that any student with a copy of The Quibbler will be expelled. Hermione is jubilant; she knows that banning the article will make everyone read it.
Harry quickly becomes a school hero. The entire student body (excepting the Slytherins, particularly the ones whose parents he named as Death Eaters) seems to believe him now. Seamus apologizes to Harry, and Cho does as well, saying that the interview was very brave. The teachers are equally over the moon about it, and the students have bewitched the pages of the interview to looks like school texts or vanish when they’re not reading, so Umbridge can’t find it anywhere. That night when Harry goes to bed, he has a dream that he is Voldemort, talking to Rookwood, one of the escaped Death Eaters. The man is explaining that Bode could not remove something even if he had wanted to, even under Malfoy’s Imperius Curse. Voldemort is angry at Avery for giving him false intel, saying that the work they have been doing these past months is useless and enlisting Rookwood’s help. Harry wakes screaming and tells Ron what happened.
The next day they tell Hermione what Harry dreamed, and they start putting things together. Bode probably broke his Imperius Curse after he tried to retrieve this important item—the weapon they keep talking about—for Voldemort. Since he was healing in the hospital, eventually he would have been able to tell everyone what happened to him, so he had to be killed. Sturgis Podmore was the same, put under the Imperius Curse by Malfoy, but caught and sent to prison. But Hermione points out that Harry shouldn’t have had this dream, that he should be learning Occlumency. Harry is furious with her, and the day doesn’t go by all too well. At his next Occlumency lesson, Snape sees the memory of that dream and asks how it came to be there. The next time he tries to get into Harry’s mind, Harry manages to perceive Snape among his memories, uses a Shield Charm to repel him on instinct, and gets into Snape’s head instead, seeing young Snape and his parents. Snape gets into Harry’s head again, and this time Harry sees something new—he’s traveling down the corridor to the Department of Mysteries, but this time the door opens. Snape desists and starts to berate Harry for not trying hard enough when they hear a shriek.
Heading to the Entrance Hall, they find Professor Trelawney standing amongst her belongings sobbing. She has been fired by Umbridge, who is taking great pleasure in watching Sybil fall apart in front of the school. McGonagall goes to Trelawney, telling her that she won’t have to leave the school. Umbridge asks on whose authority, and Dumbledore arrives. He says that while Umbridge has the power to fire teacher, she cannot dismiss them from the castle, and he wants Sybil to stay. When Umbridge asks what she will do when another teacher requires her room, Albus tells her that the new Divination teacher will prefer accommodations on the ground floor (reminding her in the process that he still has the ability to appoint staff).
And with that… he calls Firenze into the Great Hall.
A lot of this chapter seems to be dealing with emotional maturity, and the general theme seems to be girls are awesome at it and boys are not. And… I kind of hate it? Look, I know people do studies and stuff on this sort of thing, and there’s a general cultural dialogue that girls mature faster that boys and are all around better with emotions at an earlier age. And maybe if we’re speaking in big sweeping generalities, that sort of “wisdom” applies. But to be perfectly frank—I had male friends in high school who could talk about emotions. Who would resolve arguments with friends by actually speaking to them and figuring out what was going on, even at the tender age of fifteen. Now, according to many people I meet on the internet, those men are unicorns, so maybe I should put my buddies in an anthropological exhibit where people ask them uncomfortable questions all day in exchange for bourbon. I mean, they’d probably dig that if the bourbon were good enough.
I’m not saying that Rowling is The Most Wrong about teenage boys. I’m just saying that there should be one or two boys who don’t have the emotional IQ of a moldy piece of cheese. That’s all. It doesn’t even have to be our main characters! I get the impression that Neville does have that maturity, but his timidity makes it difficult to express, so we never see it. And everywhere else, we’re just seeing examples of boys cutting girls off at the knees because lady emotions are weird and complicated and also cooties. The twins and Ron never let Ginny play Quidditch with them when they were kids. (Which will be extra ironic when she becomes the only Weasley to play professionally.) Harry can’t manage to talk to Cho about messing up their date, so she’s the one who ends up apologizing to him. All the boys are looking slack-jawed at Hermione for not recognizing the importance of Quidditch, even though she’s completely right about how it divides the Houses and makes the school environment that much more hostile.
“But Hogwarts is based on the English boarding school system and these things are part of it, blah, blah, blurb…” Yeah, of course. But I’m actually with Hermione on this 100%, and hope it’s something that changes in Hogwarts’ future. Not getting rid of Quidditch, but maybe making the the teams separate from the Houses altogether. There’s no reason it has to be part of that legacy, and it would foster inter-house relationships, and actually lead to a far more interesting rivalry. Make Quidditch competitive for the rights reasons, and prevent all the other Houses from ganging up on Slytherin if they happen to make it to the final round, which should never be allowed in the first place no matter how crappy the Slytherins are to the other Houses. (Because that’s a chicken-or-egg scenario anyhow; maybe this problem would have improved over the centuries if this sort of ganging up never took place.)
The Quibbler releases its article on Harry, and one of my favorite bits here is everyone reading Harry’s mail aloud and tallying who thinks he’s right and who thinks he’s crazy. There’s a “reading comments on the internet” quality to it as well, which tickles me for a multitude of reasons. (Group web hug, everybody!) It’s mostly just fun to watch Umbridge predictably flip out over it, and become powerless in its wake. Rowling is teaching young readers some of the very basic principles of rebellion here; the more forbidden something is, the more interesting it will become to the masses. The more Umbridge tries to control this conversation, the less of a handle she has on it. It’s relieving on so many levels, particularly once Seamus comes around. I do wonder what Dumbledore thought of this; I actually doubt he saw it coming. It’s possible that printing that article was further damaging to Dumbledore’s standing with the Ministry, but I’d assume that Albus would recognize its importance was greater—in earning Harry the support of his peers.
Back to Occlumency lessons, and things are just as rough as ever, but this is the first time that we get a glimpse into Snape’s mind. We get a flash of his parents (specifically his father being verbally abusive to his mother), and also a scenario where a young Snape is teased for trying to mount a bucking broom. (Could this be with Lily, though? It depends on how young he is, I assume.) And this is really where my particular ire for Snape’s inability to evolve comes to the forefront. Because I understand that Harry saw certain things that Snape didn’t want him to see. (He didn’t put them in the Pensieve, so that was always a possibility, but I digress.) On the other hand, Snape just spent the evening rooting around in Harry’s childhood memories—memories that make it clear that Harry is not the spoiled, arrogant boy that Snape is constantly making him out to be. Memories that actually prove that Snape has something in common with Harry, being that they both had abusive family households where magic was abhorred. And rather than consider the possibility that Harry is different than Snape had imagined, he doubles down on his opinion of Harry and refuses empathy.
It occurs to me that this is probably exactly what Snape did where James was concerned. Once James grew up a little and tried to put that bullying past behind him, Snape doubled down on his opinions of James, rather than acknowledge that he had changed for the better. Because if he could hold onto that image of James, that meant that he could still be right.
This is another place in the Potter series where we see how abuse perpetuates abuse. We saw it in the last book, with Barty Crouch Jr. treating Alastor Moody to the same sort of prison his life was under his father’s imperious rule. And here we see how Snape—despite hating his own father—has become the same kind of abuser that the man was. Shouting people down, belittling them with words, making them feel insignificant and small.
We get to Sibyl’s dismissal, and here we get one my favorite aspects of the resistance within Hogwarts—the teachers. Earlier in the chapter, we see the ways in which the staff are rewarding Harry for the interview—a box of sugar mice from Flitwick, random points to Gryffindor from Sprout—clearly proud and pleased that someone was able to speak out. But we don’t really get the measure of how much this must be wearing on the staff every day until we see them rally around Trelawney and bring her back to her rooms. It’s more relevant for the fact that Trelawney isn’t exactly a “beloved” professor, and certainly not a talented one in her field. But she’s one of them, and the callousness of her treatment hurts them all.
And then the brilliant final blow on Dumbledore’s part, which is why, for all the mistakes he makes in this fight, you still have to love him; he replaces Trelawney with Umbridge’s worst nightmare. With a guileless smile on his face. This along with the interview is the turning point of this book, really—Hogwarts is finally fighting back.
Emmet Asher-Perrin hopes that all the teachers hung with Trelawney for a while and drank some more cooking sherry with her. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.