The Harry Potter Reread wonders what would happen if it were translated into as many languages as the Harry Potter books. It would probably sprout wings and fly at that point.
This week we’re going to read the worst chapter ever and then have an epic smack down in the Ministry. It’s chapters 35 and 36 of The Order of the Phoenix—Beyond the Veil and The Only One He Ever Feared.
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 35—Beyond the Veil
Death Eaters have the group closed in and they’re outnumbered two-to-one. Harry asks Lucius Malfoy where Sirius is, and is taunted by Bellatrix Lestrange for it; he has clearly been duped. He raises his wand and the rest of his friends follow his lead, but Lucius is only interested in the prophecy that Harry is holding. When Harry refuses to hand it over, Bellatrix tries to call it with magic, but Harry prevents that as well. She suggests that they torture Ginny, so the kids all form a tight band around her. Harry assures the Death Eaters that if anyone is attacked, the prophecy will get smashed to pieces and Voldemort won’t be happy. When he says the Dark Lord’s name, Bellatrix is furious that he would dare; she tries to jinx him and is again stopped by Lucius. A couple of the glass spheres nearby break, and they hear fragments of the prophecies within them. Harry realizes that could be useful and tries to convey that to Hermione quietly, and she begins to tell the others.
Lucius Malfoy tells him that the reason he bears his scar is hidden in that prophecy, which gets Harry attention. Apparently Voldemort had assumed that Dumbledore would have mentioned that to Harry, and that giving him hints about where the prophecy was hidden would have urged him here sooner. Lucius reveals that the only people who can retrieve prophecies are the ones who the prophecies are made about, which they found out when Voldemort sent others to retrieve theirs. The Dark Lord can’t go in himself or risk getting caught by the Ministry at a point when they are trying to deny his reemergence. Then Harry shouts “now” and the six start smashing every shelf around them, causing chaos and a chain reaction of breakage as they attempt to flee. They get through the door to the room with the diamonds, and Hermione seals it behind them. It’s then that they realize that Ron, Luna, Ginny were behind them, not in front of them, and that they’ve left them behind. On the other side of the door they hear Lucius split the Death Eaters into pairs to find them. They hide under the desks as two enter the room. Harry stuns one of them, Neville accidentally disarms both Harry and one of the Death Eaters, then tells Harry to get out of the way so he can stun the guy properly. When he misses, Hermione stuns the man and takes his wand away. But the Death Eater falls into the bell jar and his head proceeds to turn into a baby head and then age. Hermione realizes it’s “time in a bell jar.” The Death Eater manages to emerge, but with a baby head.
They run into an office off the bell jar room and get cornered again and knocked off their feet, but Hermione silences one of them, and Harry body binds the other. The silenced one hits Hermione with a purple flame and she passes out, then breaks Neville’s wand and kicks him in the face. The Death Eater pulls off his mask and Harry recognizes him as Dolohov. The baby-headed Death Eater is flailing in the other room, giving Harry the distraction he needs to do another body binding charm, knocking Dolohov down for the count. He and Neville check on Hermione, who thankfully isn’t dead. Harry wants Neville to take Hermione and leave, but he refuses, insisting on carrying her and coming back with Harry to look for the others. Harry hands him back his wand fragments and they head to the other room where the baby-headed Death Eater is stumbling about. The cabinet that Neville accidentally broke earlier keeps repairing itself and breaking again—it holds the Ministry’s collection of Time Turners.
Harry and Neville make it back to the room with the doors, and before they pick another one to try, Ron, Luna, and Ginny fall into the room through another door. Ginny’s ankle is broken and Ron is laughing uncontrollably. Luna explains that they were chased into a room with planets; one Death Eater grabbed Ginny by the ankle, the other hit Ron with this strange curse that’s made him so giggly (and is causing blood to trickle from his mouth). Harry asks Luna to help Ginny, and just as he gathers up Ron the Death Eaters burst in on them. He drives everyone through the next door and seals it. The Death Eaters find other doors into the room—it’s the one with the brain tank—so Harry and Luna try to seal the doors but Luna misses one and gets knocked unconscious as five Death Eaters reach them. Ron is giggling over the brains and calls one to him; it has tentacles and they start wrapping around him, strangling him. Ginny gets stunned and it’s only Neville and Harry left. Harry runs from the room to draw the Death Eaters away, hoping that Neville can free Ron.
He ends up in the room with the stone archway, surrounded by Death Eaters. They order him to hand over the prophecy and he refuses. Neville barrels into the room to help and gets caught. Bellatrix Lestrange decides to torture him like his parents until Harry hands over the prophecy. She casts the Cruciatus Curse on Neville briefly and waits for Harry to submit. Suddenly, five Order members charge in: Sirius, Lupin, Tonks, Kingsley, and Moody. Harry dives out of the way and crawls to Neville as they fight them off. One Death Eater reaches Harry and starts to strangle him. The Order members are too caught up to notice, so Neville jabs Hermione’s wand into the guy’s eye so that Harry has enough breath back to stun him. He notices that Moody is unconscious. Dolohov comes after them next, hitting Neville with the dancing curse, then trying to slash at Harry the same way he did to Hermione. Harry shields himself and Sirius goes after Dolohov before the guy can nab the prophecy. Then Harry body binds him again. Tonks goes down across the room—Sirius tells Harry to gather Neville and the prophecy and get out while he goes after Bellatrix. Harry gets stopped by Lucius and rolls the prophecy to Neville. Before Malfoy can get his bearings again, Lupin dives between them and also tells Harry to get out.
Harry tries to pull Neville to his feet as his legs go wildly; this causes him to drop the prophecy and it smashes on the floor, heard by no one. Suddenly, Neville spots Dumbledore. Harry feels a surge of relief, knowing they’re saved. The Death Eaters all run for it, except Bellatrix, who is still fighting Sirius. He taunts her, and her next spell hits him in the chest. He falls back through the veil and disappears. Harry rushes to reach him, expecting him to emerge on the other side of the archway, but he doesn’t. As Harry hits the dais, Lupin throws his arms around Harry to hold him back, telling him that his godfather is gone.
I would like to point out that if we put Lucius’ dialogue in order from the end of the last chapter, it goes like this:
“Very good, Potter. Now turn around, nice and slowly, and give that to me.”
“To me, Potter.”
Yes, okay, yes, Lucius, we understand you’re very excited.
I had forgotten that the whole point of giving Harry these dreams—according to Lucius—is that Voldemort assumes that Dumbledore has told Harry about the prophecy and thinks that showing him the way to it will drudge up Harry’s curiosity. And this is stupid for about eight separate reasons—He assumes that Dumbledore tells Harry anything at all. He assumes that Dumbledore paraphrasing the prophecy to the kid isn’t good enough and that Harry will want to hear the exact wording. He forgets that Dumbledore could show it to Harry easily through a Pensieve if he asked. He figures that Harry will understand that he’s showing him the way to the prophecy in these dreams. He figures that Harry knows what the Department of Mysteries looks like in the first place, thus knows where these dreams even take place. (Okay, that’s about five separate reasons. It’s still a lot.) I’m hoping that Lucius just has it misinterpreted on the Dark Lord’s behalf, because if that was really the whole point of this, this might be Voldemort’s worst plan ever. Ever. And he’s not exactly a master planner.
The kids make a run for it by smashing a huge portion of the Ministry prophecies, and I find myself with a lot of questions about this. I mean, if the only people who can retrieve prophecies are the ones who the prophecies are about, then what is even the point of having this room? It’s not like it’s an access library where magic folk go all the time to look at records, it’s in a department of the Ministry that no one knows anything about. Why are these all collected in one place like this? Why are there so many of them? Wouldn’t you get rid of old prophecies that don’t apply to living people anymore? Why save them in this manner at all, wouldn’t it be better to just have them written down somewhere? Or is it important that they only be accessible to the people they are about? IDK, this just seems hugely unnecessary to me overall. The hell, wizards.
That time in the bell jar messing with that one Death Eater’s head is played for laughs through this chapter, but the more I think about it the more horrifying it is, help, I want that scrubbed from my brain this instant.
Neville breaks the Time Turner cabinet, which is interesting in more than one respect. First, that means the Ministry is straight-up out of Time Turners, so whoops! Hope you guys don’t ever need them again. Second, it’s interesting to me that they’re in the Department of Mysteries rather than some equipment department, since wizards do know what they are and what they do. On the other hand, some background reveals that the DoM used to do time travel experiments back in the 19th century, which were discontinued when Madam Mintumble got stuck in the 15th century for five days with horrible results for the present when she finally returned (she had aged five centuries she she got back and rendered at least 25 people unborn due to contact with their ancestors in the past). So maybe the Time Turners were just there because they always have been? Either way, it looks like that cabinet will just be breaking and mending for all eternity, so that kinda sucks. Wondering what happens if you stick your hand anywhere near it?
These books have gone on a journey in terms of who accompanies Harry in the finale; in the first book it’s Ron and Hermione, second it’s mostly Ron, third it’s mostly Hermione, fourth it’s no one. Here it’s a whole crew of people, and though it’s not smart for Harry to turn his nose up at their help, having them there teaches him another important lesson; that when you become a leader in battle, you will hold yourself accountable for the lives of all your soldiers. We see Harry come to this over and over again in the chapter, this silent prayer, a promise that he’ll do anything to get his friends out alive. A war is coming. It’s important that Harry know this is part of what it means to be a leader in one, even if it hurts.
Ron and Hermione become basically useless very quickly here, and I’d argue that it’s because Harry needs them too much from a narrative perspective. He needs to feel alone here. He also needs to go through something this traumatic with Neville because he needs to learn a bit more about Neville’s general valuableness as a person.
I’d like to talk a bit about Neville here actually, because there’s a lot from him in this chapter that could be easily overlooked, but tells us so much of what we need to know about him going forward. Neville tries to help, and messes up, breaking the cabinet, never managing to get that stunning spell across to the Death Eater he’s aiming for, but he picks himself up and tries again… and fails again. Eventually his wand gets snapped in half and he mentions that his grandmother is going to kill him because the wand was his father’s.
THE WAND IS FRANK LONGBOTTOM’S WAND.
Remember how we talked earlier about the possibility that maybe Ron’s education was a little stunted due to starting out with Charlie’s old wand at Hogwarts? Neville has been using his father’s wand his entire school life. And we know that Neville isn’t much like his father, at least not in temperament. Neville’s entire development as a wizard has been stalled by a grandmother who is desperate to get Neville to fill his father’s shoes. No wonder he can’t get any of these jinxes to fly. Sure, Neville might be frightened here, but he’s also determined, and he’s still having trouble taking shots. Getting his father’s wand broken is honestly the best thing that could happen to him. I’d also like to point out that in the battle in the veil room, Neville is the only magical person around who thinks to use a wand as a sharp, pokey harmful thing. Neville shows himself to possess the kind of common sense that we’re always lamenting wizards lack. And he saves Harry’s life in doing it. So you know, you’re a hero, Neville. You’re the best. *sniff*
When they run into the rest of the group again, Luna explains how they got out by way of a room full of planets, and talks about sending Pluto right at the Death Eaters chasing them and, just—Rowling basically predicted Pluto’s downgrade from planet status here with this joke. I’m not saying it was intentional (I highly doubt it was), but that’s AMAZING. Luna breaks Pluto into pieces, and suddenly human scientists are like “Dude, that’s not a planet.” Which actually gives me in-universe questions about this, making me wonder if wizard astronomy would make the same mistakes that Muggle astronomy does, meaning that they’d sort of follow suit when Muggles declared Pluto isn’t a planet. Science?
Then this happens:
“Harry, we saw Uranus up close!” said Ron, still giggling feebly. “Get it, Harry? We saw Uranus—ha ha ha— “
—and that makes Uranus Joke #3 of the series, by the by. Yes, I’m still counting. This is important.
On another note, Hermione seals that door with a special spell that doesn’t seem to be common knowledge in the group. But once she’s unconscious, Harry (and Luna, though she doesn’t really get the chance to finish the spell) picks it up instantly. So, another reminder of how skilled these kids are.
…I want to keep talking about other important stuff so I never get to the end of this chapter and have to deal with the thing I hate most.
The Order rushes in, and then Dumbledore arrives, and Harry feels safe because of that, making it the worst possible setup. And there’s Sirius, poor Sirius, who is finally where he wants to be, who is doing his job beautifully, knocking Death Eaters aside left and right, telling Harry to up-and-outta-there because Molly can say what she wants about Sirius thinking that Harry is James, but he knows that his godson is his to protect and wants him out of harm’s way. And he’s up there fighting Bellatrix, a member of the family that he loathes so much, enjoying the taunts and the chance to stretch his legs outside that horrible house—
—and then he’s gone. And it’s so sudden that you don’t have the chance to recover. And you never will.
Chapter 36—The Only One He Ever Feared
Harry screams that Sirius is not dead, remembering the voices he heard on the other side of the curtain the first time he’d been in the room, but Lupin will not let go of him. Even as Remus drags Harry back, he expects Sirius to reemerge… until he realizes that Sirius had never kept him waiting before. Dumbledore has most of the Death Eaters rounded up and hogtied. Moody is awake and trying to revive Tonks. Lupin asks Neville where the others are in order to round them up as well. Harry notices that Kingsley has been hit by Bellatrix, and goes after her for killing Sirius. He follows her through the think tank room, out into the department entrance with the doors. She gets out before him and the room spins; Harry asks for the exit door and the room seems to open it at his request. He dives into the elevator, goes up to the Atrium, dashes after Bellatrix when she stops to aim a curse at him. He hides behind the fountain as she taunts him. He gets up and hits her with the Cruciatus Curse, but it doesn’t have much effect. She tells him that he has to really mean it for it to work, he has to want to cause pain and enjoy it.
Bellatrix tells Harry that she’ll spare him if he hands her the prophecy, and Harry takes great pleasure in telling her that it’s gone. As he does, his scar sears; Voldemort knows. He tells her that as well, and that he suspects the Dark Lord won’t be happy about that. Bellatrix begs the Dark Lord not to punish her, and Harry tells her that he can’t hear her from down here… except then a voice speaks, and Harry opens his eyes to find Voldemort in the middle of the hall. Bellatrix grovels to apologize and tries to warn him of something, but Voldemort isn’t interested; he plans to kill Harry now that they are face to face.
But when he casts the killing curse, the wizard from the Atrium statue steps down between them to shield Harry—Dumbledore has arrived. They begin to duel, Voldemort throwing deadly curses at Dumbledore, Dumbledore seeking to drive him off, bringing the whole fountain to life. When Voldemort presses Albus on that not-killling subject, he insists that there are fates worse than death and that one of Tom’s (as he insists on calling him) problems has always been his inability to understand that. They continue fighting, Voldemort turning one of Dumbledore’s spells to a serpent, Albus countering with the appearance of Fawkes (who dies to be reborn again). Dumbledore encases Voldemort in water and the Dark Lord vanishes. Harry assumes the fight is over and tries to step out, but Dumbledore tells him to stay behind the statue. Suddenly Harry feels a burst of pain, so terrible that he’s sure he’s about to die. He feels that he is in the clutches of a creature with red eyes and it speaks through him, telling Dumbledore to kill him. Harry agrees with it, wanting the pain to end, wanting to see Sirius again. But that outpouring of emotion over Sirius causes the creature to withdraw and Harry clambers for his glasses while Dumbledore asks if he’s alright.
Several Ministry officials are on the scene, including Fudge. The Minister is flabbergasted by the whole scene, almost tries to have Dumbledore arrested before Albus points out the obvious; that he’s been telling the truth all year, that someone should grab the Death Eaters downstairs and start clearing up this mess. Fudge is more dismayed to find Harry there and demands to know what’s going on. Dumbledore creates a Portkey in front of Fudge, which also gets his ire up (he doesn’t have authorization to make one). Albus makes a list of demands, couched as a simple order of events: Fudge will tell Aurors to stop pursuing Hagrid, depose Umbridge, let Harry go back to school, get half an hour of time to discuss what happened here, after which he can contact Dumbledore at the school via letters sent to the headmaster. Dumbledore gives Harry the Portkey and promises to join him in a half hour. Harry touches it and returns to Hogwarts.
Harry has a moment where he looks at the veil and thinks that Sirius can’t be dead because he heard people on the other side of it before, hiding just out of sight. Which is such a profound metaphor for exactly how we often feel in the absence of the dead. They’re around a corner. The room smells like them. You hear their voice across a crowded room. Out of the corner of your eye, you’re sure you see them. Why won’t they stop hiding? Yeah. I give such credit to Rowling here, for all of this.
And then she lands on this:
But some part of him realized, even as he fought to break free from Lupin, that Sirius had never kept him waiting before…. Sirius had risked everything, always, to see Harry, to help him…. If Sirius was not reappearing out of that archway when Harry was yelling for him as though his life depended on it, the only possible explanation was that he could not come back…. That he really was…
I’m sorry, I actually do need a minute. (Walking away from keyboard…)
Okay…. This is articulating the flip side of Sirius’ recklessness, something that hasn’t been pointed out in the narrative before. Perhaps we think of him as irresponsible because the narrative gives us some guidance on that front, but Harry is also right; Sirius always risked everything to be there for Harry, to talk to him, comfort him, shore him up, be that living connection to his family. This is the one way that he would never let Harry down. And to use that realization as the pinpoint turn, the place where reality catches up…. It’s devastating. Harry’s grief is monumental in this perfectly understated way, brought home even harder by the break in Remus Lupin’s voice—he and Peter are the only ones left now.
And then this:
“Harry…. I’b really sorry….” said Neville. His legs were still dancing uncontrollably. “Was dat man — was Sirius Black a — a friend of yours?”
I don’t actually want to draw attention to the fact that Harry can’t begin to explain what Sirius was to him in that moment. I want to draw attention to beautiful, selfless Neville, who has been told for the past few years now about the danger of the murderer Sirius Black. Who in that moment knows not to question that narrative, to demand an explanation. Who only sees that Harry is in pain, and understands that this pain warrants his sympathy and understanding. He doesn’t know how important Sirius was, but he knows grief when he sees it, and his immediate response is only to offer his apology. This unimaginably sweet young man.
I need another minute.
Back to the action of the chapter, which doesn’t let up for a second. Bellatrix runs, and manages to avoid spells thrown at her by Kingsley and by Dumbledore. It’s often the case that people only remember Bellatrix for her insane devotion, but do we ever talk about what an incredible magic-user she is? Her skills are top-notch, which isn’t true for plenty of the Death Eaters. We get a better look at this when she schools Harry on curses after his feeble attempt to torture her. She explains that he has to really mean a curse, that he has to enjoy the affect it produces. (I can’t wait until we get to the point where this comes back in the final book. The payoff is everything.)
I had forgotten that Bellatrix tells Voldemort that she was fighting “the Animagus Black” when she tells him about how she was distracted when the prophecy broke. Why call him that? Is she trying to distance herself from her relation to him? Is that simply how Voldemort knows him because Lucius brought that information to him earlier in the year? I wonder….
Dumbledore hits the floor and it’s a showdown that we’ve basically been waiting the whole series for, as the title of the chapter harkens back to. It’s the only guy he ever feared—this has got to be a big deal, right? And wow, the visuals are striking with the fountain coming to life, and the snake and the phoenix, and water like molten glass, it’s all appropriately epic. But we learn quickly that Dumbledore has no intention of killing Voldemort, and at this point we don’t know why. His foreshadowing about a “fate worse that death” is particularly ominous here, but the real issue is the fact that Dumbledore knows about the horcruxes and knows that destroying Voldemort’s body at this point would only be a minor setback. (We have to assume that he could gain another body pretty quickly at this point with the resources he’s amassing.) So Voldemort peaces out, only to overtake Harry’s body for one final taunt.
It’s extremely important that the thing that causes Voldemort to recoil from Harry is the outpouring of emotion he feels when he recalls Sirius’ death. It’s a hefty clue about what should matter to Harry going forward. (This is an aspect that the movie handles in such an on-the-nose fashion that it’s laughable, but we’ll get to that in a couple weeks.)
And then Fudge is there with a bunch of Ministry folks, and he’s all “What happened to our fountain?” and you’re like SERIOUSLY, GUY. SERIOUSLY.
Nothing is really better than the timeline that Dumbledore rattles off to Fudge without concern. He knows Cornelius’ time is over. Everyone saw Voldemort, the jig is up, Fudge is out. Dumbledore is basically saying, “Hey, before you leave, could you remember to fill up car’s gas tank and put everything back where you found it and leave the keys in the mailbox? Thanks, you’re a real sweetheart.” Creating the Portkey without a by-your-leave is just the sprinkles on the sundae. (I don’t like sundae cherries, so, sprinkles.) It’s flipping the bird while the door hits Fudge’s butt on the way out.
Wow. We’ve only got two more chapters. Not sure I’m ready for it. See you next week.
Emily Asher-Perrin on another note, why does the think tank want to kill people? Do the brains harvest more brains? …Whoa. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.