The Harry Potter Reread

The Harry Potter Reread: The Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 31 and 32

The Harry Potter Reread was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar, just like that remix of the famous song goes.

This week we’ll find out what happens when you try to restrain the Hogwarts groundskeeper and then make some snap judgements about visions! It’s chapters 31 and 32 of The Order of the Phoenix–O.W.L.s and Out of the Fire.

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 31–O.W.L.s

Summary

Ron cannot stop talking about the Quidditch final, and Harry and Hermione are keen to let him–because it prevents them from having to tell him about Grawp. Eventually, they’re forced to admit that they missed his epic performance and explain. Ron is flabbergasted, and insists that they can’t possibly go into the forest and hang out with Grawp. Hermione points out that they promised, and Ron figures that Hagrid will probably last until the end of the year anyway and that he’ll be fine. (Ron has obviously never read these books before, and has selective amnesia about the end of each school year.)

The fifth years are freaking about their O.W.L.s, studying until they’re delirious. Draco makes mention that his father knows the head of the Wizarding Examinations Authority, and that he’ll do well for that, though Neville doubts it, as his gran is friends with the same woman and she’s never mentioned the Malfoys. Students are selling black market brain stimulants to desperate fifth and seventh years; Hermione’s busy confiscating them, as none of them work, and some are clearly counterfeit anyhow. They get their exam schedules and find out that they’ll get their results in July by post. Hermione asks Harry to help her study, which turns out to be vaguely perilous, as she’s in a foul mood. Ron goes through his notes with his fingers in his ears. They begin with their Charms exam, and the first question deals with the levitation charm they learned in First Year…

The exams all come with a practical segment where the students perform various spells for testers. Harry feels that he does reasonably well on most of his practical exams, then aces his Defense Against the Dark Arts practical, getting a bonus point for producing a Patronus (which he manages while looking Umbridge straight in the face and imagining her getting fired). The rest of the exams pass by, with Hermione getting more and more frantic at each one she has next. During their Astronomy practical, Harry notices Umbridge and several others approaching Hagrid’s hut. Soon after, Hagrid bursts from his home, with the surrounding wizards (clearly Aurors) all attempting to stun him; the spell bounce off. Fang gets Stunned, and Professor McGonagall rushes out the front door, horrified at the scene. She takes four Stunning spells to the chest and collapses. The students are incapable of paying attention to their exam, watching Hagrid take Fang onto his shoulders and run off into the forest. Everyone is talking about the scene in the common room for hours after dark.

The next day is the History of Magic exam and Harry can barely concentrate. As he’s trying to fill out his exam, he falls into another Department of Mysteries Dream. This time he’s Voldemort and he’s torturing someone so that they’ll retrieve what he needs. The person tells him that he’ll have to kill him, and Voldemort promises he will by the time it’s over. The person he’s holding is Sirius.

Harry awakens in the Great Hall after he falls off his chair, screaming.

Commentary

Ron gloating over his Quidditch win is adorable, though unfortunately short-lived. (Seriously, he can’t even have this? It’s like even the narrative thinks that Ron’s accomplishments are trivial. I know that’s not really how it’s intended, but it makes me sad anyway.) We get a cute moments where Ron musses his hair and looks over his shoulder to see if anyone’s paying attention to him, and Harry can’t stop grinning because it reminds him of his dad and he clearly sort of gets why Sirius and Remus think of it as endearing now. Then they tell Ron about Grawp, and he makes the mistake if saying that they’re probably fine because it’s almost the end of the year anyway and Hagrid is still here. So if you needed a big red flag that Hagrid was probably going to leave soon, there it is.

Everyone’s going nuts studying for their tests. (Ernie Macmillan going on about how many hours he’s studying a day is particularly chuckle-worthy to me, as I remember students who were just like that around finals and how much I wanted to kill them.) Hermione bats Harry in the nose with a book so hard while he’s quizzing her that his eyes water, and I’d while I get that it’s funny, Hermione’s borderline violence when it’s testing time actually worries me a little. Like, I’m kind of terrified of what she’ll be like as an adult with work deadlines. While the wizarding world is certainly meant to be an exaggeration of ours in most respects, these kids are reacting to the tests and studying more like college grads developing their theses. Going after black-market stimulants, having breakdowns in the testing rooms, it’s all pretty awful. (Though Hermione explaining to the boys that the powdered dragon claw is actually dried doxie droppings is pretty great.)

Draco doesn’t believe he has to study all that hard because dear daddy knows the woman in charge of the examination board, which leads me to wonder if we ever really find out how Draco does in school? I get the impression that he’s sort of middle-of-the-road? But I don’t remember if it’s ever really discussed. Neville figures that it’s all talk on Draco’s part since his gran is friends with the woman and she’s never mentioned that Malfoys. The trio wonder if Draco’s right and she does have pull over the scores (it’s a mark of how terrified everyone is about these tests and the current atmosphere of the Ministry that even though this would be the most unethical thing possible in a government-set exam, they all believe it’s possible). Neville figures it wouldn’t help him anyway because his gran only ever tells her friend that Neville is not as good as his father and I’M FILLED WITH INCONSOLABLE RAGE.

At least Ron’s family doesn’t belittle him in front of friends.

I had forgotten that when the exams begin, we get this at the start:

He lowered his eyes to the first question: a) Give the incantation, and b) describe the wand movement required to make objects fly….

Harry had a fleeting memory of a club soaring high into the air and landing loudly on the thick skull of a troll…. Smiling slightly, he bent over the paper and began to write….

This is a really beautiful piece of writing. Because it seems like this tiny thing, kind of cute and tacked on, but in a few words we’re reminded of where this all started. They’re practically soldiers now, but just four years ago they were little kids who became friends in a bathroom following a troll attack. Makes me a little teary, thinking of that.

Harry’s DADA practical exam makes me wanna punch the air and holler, on the other hand. Just the most perfect f*ck you to Umbridge, looking her straight in the eye and producing this majestic Patronus that charges through the whole room. In fact, the more I think about it, the more important it is that Harry’s Patronus is basically a representation of his father’s Animagi form. For James, the stag represented mischief, friendship, solidarity, and that rules-don’t-apply arrogance. Harry takes up that mantle, but for his part the stag represents protection, defiance, taking a stand… ironically everything that James will ultimately come to stand for up to and including his death.

The exams themselves are super fun to read through if only because its the greatest look we get at what sort of curriculum they’ve been through at school. The needs of the plot means we miss so much of what the kids actually learn at Hogwarts, and Rowing plows through a good portion of it here with her characteristic tongue-in-cheek delivery. The Divination exam is particularly amusing, with Ron and Harry both happy that they’re done with the subject, and making teenage boy jokes:

“We shouldn’t have taken that stupid subject in the first place,” said Harry.

“Still, at least we can give it up now.”

“Yeah,” said Harry. “No more pretending we care what happens with Jupiter and Uranus get too friendly…”

“And from now on, I don’t care if my tea leaves spell die, Ron, die — I’m just chucking them in the bin where they belong.”

This is the second Uranus joke of the series, by the way. Throwing that out there for you.

Of course, the practical Astronomy exam is needed so that the students can see what happens on the grounds with Hagrid, but when it begins, the practical only serves to remind us that Astronomy is one of those subjects that we NEVER HEAR ANYTHING ABOUT EVER. LIKE, WHEN DID THEY DO AN ASTRONOMY AT ANY POINT. WHERE STRONOMY? MAKE GOOD STAR, SEE VENUST, HUG TELESCOPE? STRONOMY. LIKE STROMBOLI ONLY BETTER.

So any-who, we’re in the Astronomy exam and Harry notices the commotion on the grounds and we see what’s happening to Hagrid, and all I can think through the entire thing is–pause the exam? Why are you not pausing the exam? This is a thing you can do, you just go, “Put down your quills while we figure out what’s going on, kids! You can finish your test later.” I mean, when I was taking my ACTs, the fire alarm went off, and they paused the test and sent us out, and we finished it once the building had been cleared by the fire department. It’s not that hard. And that was just a fire alarm, not, you know, two teachers at my school being attacked on the grounds in front of me. Just saying.

That aside, this segment is particularly horrible because it’s pretty much everything we feared could happen this year. Aurors under Umbridge’s control attacking the staff in plain view (fine, it’s not indoors, but it’s easily visible from plenty of windows and the roof) because there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. Interestingly, this leads to one of my favorite parts of the book, where all the students talk it out together. I understand that it’s rough having to write so many characters in the same place, but I really wish there had been more moments throughout the series like this, places where the kids gets to talk through what’s happening in a group. It’s a side of Hogwarts that we don’t get to see much of, but boarding schools tend to create different ties from day schools. These kids can’t just call up their families whenever they’d like–what they have is each other. I wish it hadn’t taken this long to see that element of community from the kids.

(On a side note, I feel super bad for Lee Jordan, who has been releasing nifflers into Umbridge’s office now that Fred and George are gone. He loses his two best friends right before the end of school, and gets stuck there alone. They should have offered him a job and taken him along when they left.)

But Hagrid is gone, McGonagall is out of commission, and the final dream occurs in the middle of Harry’s last exam. At the point at which the Ministry comes for Hagrid, you have to assume that the endgame is approaching, and we reach it in short order. What happens next is frustrating in the extreme.

Chapter 32–Out of the Fire

Summary

Harry is ushered from the room by the examiner, who gives him a glass of water. Harry insists that he only had a bad dream but that he can’t finish the test. He rushes to the Hospital Wing looking for Professor McGonagall, where Madam Pomfrey informs him that she has been taken to the hospital. Harry takes Ron and Hermione into an empty classroom to tell them what he saw, and asks how they can get into the Department of Mysteries to rescue Sirius. Hermione doesn’t believe any of it, and tells Harry that he’s got a “saving people thing” that Voldemort is exploiting to lure Harry out. Harry doesn’t take well to that bit of wisdom. Ginny hears Harry yelling and enters the room with Luna, asking what’s going on and if she can help. Hermione says that they can; they need lookouts for Umbridge because they have to access her fireplace again and find out if Sirius is truly gone.

They enact the plan and contact Grimmauld Place, where only Kreacher is at home–but he won’t tell harry where Sirius has gone. Harry asks if he went to the Department of Mysteries, to which Kreacher replies that he’ll never come back from there. Harry is pulled form the fireplace by Umbridge; she had alarms on her door this time. The Inquisitorial Squad has his whole band of conspirators, including Neville who unluckily decided to defend Ginny and got dragged in too. When Harry won’t tell Umbridge what he was up to, she calls Snape and ask for more Veritaserum. He points out that she used the last of his stores on Harry recently, and that it takes another month to make. She puts him on probation for being unhelpful. Right before he leaves, Harry manages to shout to him that “He’s got Padfoot at the place where it’s hidden.” Umbridge asks what that means, to which Snape feigns ignorance and departs. Umbridge decides that since this is a matter of Ministry security, she’s going to use to torture curse on Harry.

Hermione insists that she can’t because it’s illegal, and tells her Fudge wouldn’t want her to break the law. Umbridge says that ahat Fudge doesn’t know won’t hurt him–after all, she was the one who sent the Dementors after Harry at the start of the year, and he never knew about that. Apparently, they had been looking for a way to discredit him, and she was the only one with enough brass to do something about it. She is about to use the curse when Hermione decides to tell all in an effort to protect he friends, sobbing her confession… only, Harry notices that she isn’t really crying. Hermione tells Umbridge that Harry was trying to contact Dumbledore because the “weapon” he’d been developing all year was finally ready. Umbridge demands to see it, but Hermione doesn’t want the Inquisitorial Squad present. When Umbridge tries to insist, Hermione says that she hopes Umbridge lets everyone see it so they’ll all know how to use it against her. Umbridge decides that she will go alone with Harry and Hermione to see the weapon.

Commentary

First off, Professor Tofty (the guy who does the majority of Harry’s exams) is convinced that he just collapsed in class because of the pressure of exams, and again, maybe your exams are too taxing? Because it seems like that’s not a rare occurrence and I dunno, it just seems like maybe your tests shouldn’t cause actual physical damage to students.

This chapter is just a step-by-step lesson in “Things That Could Possibly Go Wrong.” There are so many ways that the book’s finale could be avoided, but at least half of those things occur here. It’s hard to read when you know what’s coming.

Harry tries to find Professor McGonagall, but her injuries were severe enough that she had to be transferred to St. Mungo’s. Harry has a moment where he realizes that he’s utterly alone in this, that no matter what, he had always counted on McGonagall’s presence. (*sniff*) Of course, he realizes too late in this chapter that there is another member of the Order still at the school, and that’s Snape. And this is where we come up on the major issue with Harry not trusting Snape in the slightest. Because if he had trusted Snape, he would have thought to go to him after McGonagall. But he doesn’t, and it’s too late by the time that he remembers.

On top of this… I know that Snape gives Harry a basic rundown of what Legilimens can do, but nowhere in the text does he make mention of Voldemort being able to project false visions into his mind. And that’s SUPER IMPORTANT. Because Harry has dreams that are generally real in this book–he certainly thinks that they are–and it’s extra-specially essential that he know that not every one of these is guaranteed to be Live Voldy Vision. Which he is never told. Just. Maybe don’t be so negligent. Everyone. (I recall vividly that they do make a point of having Snape tell Harry this in the film. BECAUSE IT IS SO RIDICULOUS THAT HE DOESN’T.)

Harry tells the only people he feels he can trust, which leads to Hermione saying something super important in a very unfortunate way, which she does a lot. If she had led with “Voldemort is trying to manipulate you because he knows you care about people,” she likely would have gotten a much better response, instead of saying, “You’ve got a saving people problem.” Which, she’s right, he does, that’s just not how you put it in words. It’s funny because when I was younger, I definitely did not notice Hermione’s lack of tact. (Probably says something not so flattering about teenage me.) But yeah, this time around it makes me wince. Harry needs to think about what he’s doing, but he just gets caught up in being hurt because one of his best friends called out his can-do Gryffindor attitude.

Then Harry gets grumpy, which leads to this hilarious exchange once Ginny and Luna pop their heads in:

“Hi,” said Ginny uncertainly. “We recognized Harry’s voice — what are you yelling about?”

“Never you mind,” said Harry roughly.

Ginny raised her eyebrows.

“There’s no need to take that tone with me,” she said coolly. “I was only wondering whether I could help.”

…and now we know what they’re going to be like married.

Which leads to a very bad plan to contact Grimmauld Place. What we don’t know yet is that Kreacher did leave the house in December, and he went to the Malfoys. Narcissa encouraged him to mislead Harry if given the chance, and so he does, quite well. The clues stand out hard if you know to look for them; Harry isn’t feeling so much pain the way he did when Voldemort tortured Avery; Kreacher only responds to the Department of Mysteries once Harry has asked about it and is clearly extrapolating from there.

The kids get caught and we get a few bits of mystery solved for us–Umbridge was the one who sent Dementors after Harry at the start of the year. She tried to engineer his expulsion and discredit for Fudge, to keep rising in the ranks. Between this and her willingness to use the Cruciatus Curse on Harry, we get a clearer picture of Umbridge’s long arc. She is what happens when a person allows their ambition to overtake them entirely. She’s not ambition mixed with order like Crouch Sr., or ambition mixed with cowardice like Lucius Malfoy, or even ambition mixed with rage like Voldemort. She is pure ambition, the kind that completely destroys a person’s morality and integrity. Everything that Umbridge does is for the sake of her own advancement. Rowling made this more obvious in giving the background on Umbridge and showing how she shunned her own family to that end, but it’s perfectly clear in text even without that information. In a way, it makes her more frightening that anyone in the series, because the unspoken question is always there–what would have happened if Umbridge had gotten everything that she always wanted? She has the makings of a dictator, no question.

Before threatening with the curse, she calls in Snape for more truth serum to force Harry to talk and… this is honestly Snape’s finest hour. Kinda makes me wish he’d had more adults to push back against in the books because when he does, we get this:

“I have already told you,” said Snape smoothly, “that I have no further stocks of Veritaserum. Unless you wish to poison Potter — and I assure you I would have the greatest sympathy if you did — I cannot help you. The only trouble is that most venoms act too fast to give the victim much time for truth-telling….”

It’s one of the few times in the series where I am totally on board with Team Snape. (And then there’s Alan Rickman’s delivery of these lines in the film, which is basically a master class on Being Funny With A Resonant Voice 101.) We run into the problem of how much the reader trusts Snape as well at this point; right up until the end of Deathly Hallows, there was a contingent of fandom who never really believed that Snape was a double agent. But I remember being solidly in the camp of people who believed he was working for Dumbledore from the start, and when you do, you’re kind of mentally shouting at Harry the same way he’s shouting at Snape here. Just believe that he’s going to do what he needs to, idiot! Just let him take care of it! Trust him, this one time!

Either way, it wouldn’t have stopped Umbridge from trying to torture Harry, so it’s up to Hermione’s quick thinking, and she nails it right out of the gate. I mean, who else is capable of thinking under that kind of pressure? It’s the perfect decoy, and it’s a complicated one, and you know she’s just been shoved up against the wall this whole time working out what kind of lie she can tell to get them out of this. You’d expect Ginny could have also come up with something clever and deceptive, but Hermione is the one who understands what Umbridge wants. So she gives it to her.

There’s a lot of crazy happening here, but I really have to give a shoutout to both Neville and Luna. Neville, who never meant to get caught here in the first place, and Luna, who is the perfect reactionary companion for every fraught situation in the universe. A selection, if you will:

Though clearly struggling to understand what was going on, Ginny said immediately, “Yeah, we’ll do it,” and Luna said, “When you say ‘Sirius,’ are you talking about Stubby Boardman?”

And:

There was silence in the office except for the fidgetings and scufflings resultant from the Slytherins’ efforts to keep Ron and the others under control. Ron’s lip was bleeding onto Umbridge’s carpet as he struggled against Warrington’s half nelson. Ginny was still trying to stamp on the feet of the sixth-year girl who had both her upper arms in a tight grip. Neville was turning steadily more purple in the face while tugging at Crabbe’s arms, and Hermione was attempting vainly to throw Millicent Bulstrode off her. Luna, however, stood limply by the side of her captor, gazing vaguely out of the window as though rather bored by the proceedings.

And:

Ron froze, his eyes wide; Ginny stopped trying to stamp on her Slytherin captor’s toes; even Luna looked mildly surprised.

I feel like that’s a nice note to end on, so that’s where I’ll stop this week.

Final note: Today is mah birfday, so I am leaving you with this gem. Happy Hogwarts Birthday, everyone!

Emily Asher-Perrin is not sure she’d be able to keep that promise to Hagrid. You can bug her on Twitter andTumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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