The Harry Potter Reread

The Harry Potter Reread: The Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 37 and 38

The Harry Potter Reread has plans to start a jug band, and could use a spoon player. Or a spoon bender. That wouldn’t be useful for music, but it would look really cool.

We’ve reached the end of Book 5. It’s time for chapters 37 and 38 of The Order of the Phoenix—The Lost Prophecy and The Second War Begins.

Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under theirappropriate 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 37—The Lost Prophecy

Summary

Harry arrives at Dumbledore’s office feeling wretched and ashamed. Phineas’ portrait wakes and he asks Harry if Dumbledore is coming back. Harry cannot bear to talk to any of the portraits. Finally, Dumbledore arrives, letting Harry know that everyone else is safe and will make a full recovery. Albus looks Harry in the eyes and tell him he knows how he feels, which sets off Harry’s temper. He begins to destroy items in the office, a table as well. Dumbledore apologizes, insisting that it was his fault that Sirius died. Phineas doesn’t believe that Sirius is gone, and goes to his other portrait at Grimmauld Place. Dumbledore begins to explain his actions during the year, telling Harry that he worried that Voldemort was going to use the connection between them to spy on him and then encourage Harry to destroy himself. So, Albus made himself remote so that Voldemort would not know that they had a closer relationship.

He then explains how events unfolded: Kreacher left the Black house on Christmas and went to Narcissa Malfoy. Though he could not divulge the secrets Sirius instructed him to keep, he was capable of giving her valuable information—specifically, that Harry cared deeply for Sirius. He was instructed to mislead Harry after he had the vision of Sirius being tortured, so he injured Buckbeak to get Sirius out of the way, and then lied about his whereabouts when Harry called. Snape had already contacted Order headquarters to make certain Sirius was still around, but when Harry didn’t come back from the forest sojourn with Umbridge, he figured that Harry was heading to the Ministry and told the Order members at HQ. (He also gave Umbridge fake Veritaserum when she tried to interrogate Harry before.) Sirius was instructed to stay put, but he was not willing to sit by if Harry needed him and came with the group. Harry gets angry when Dumbledore insists that Sirius should have respected Kreacher more, unwilling to hear a bad word against his godfather.

Dumbledore decides it’s time to really lay out his plan to Harry, to give him the details that he’s been harboring all along. He explains that the reason why he left Harry in the care of his aunt in because he used the blood protection Harry’s mother provided in sacrificing herself for him, and extended it to Petunia. As long as Harry lived with his aunt, he would be safe from Voldemort there, and she would be afforded some protection as well. (At this point, Harry recognizes that he was the one who sent the Howler to Privet Drive that summer.) Dumbledore reveals that flaw in his plan to Harry by recounting the trials Harry underwent each year at Hogwarts. He should have told Harry why Voldemort had marked him, why he came after him as a baby, but he didn’t because he couldn’t bear to cause Harry any more pain, particularly after how well he was acquitting himself, fighting battles that grown wizards would have balked at when he was only the child. Dumbledore admits that he cares for Harry too much, and so he did not tell him what he most needed to hear—the prophecy that linked him and Voldemort.

The prophecy was given to Dumbledore when he was interviewing Sybil Trelawney for the Divination position at Hogwarts. (It was one of her only true Seer moments. Dumbledore hired her following that to keep her safe, even though he was considering dropping Divination as a course altogether.) Dumbledore retrieves the Pensieve and shows the prophecy to Harry. It says that the one with the power to vanquish Voldemort will be born at the end of July that year, to parents who defied Voldemort three times. That this child will have power that Voldemort does not understand. And that one of them will have to kill the other because they cannot survive while the other does. Dumbledore gives Harry another interesting piece of info: It could have been Neville instead. His parent defied Voldemort three times, and he was also born at the end of July. But Voldemort marked Harry by choosing him, by trying to murder him—he picked Harry because he though there was a similarity between them, both being halfblooded wizards. And by coming to kill Harry, he created the blood protection Lily left on her son, giving him the power that Voldemort doesn’t understand. That power was also behind the locked door at the Ministry, the same power that prevented Voldemort from possessing Harry entirely. That power is love.

The reason why Voldemort was trying to learn the entire prophecy is because he only heard the first half of it before Harry was born, learned of it from someone else who was sitting in the Hog’s Head when Albus interviewed Sybil. That person was thrown out halfway into the prophecy, so Voldemort believed he needed the rest of it to figure out how to beat Harry. It occurs to Harry that the wording of the prophecy indicates that one of them has to die, but it’s hard for him to care very much in the middle of such grief. Dumbledore also admits that he didn’t make Harry a prefect this year as he felt that he had enough to deal with—Harry looks up to see the headmaster crying.

Commentary

There are increases in severity to the grief that Harry feels with each new death he encounters. With Cedric, Harry felt responsible in a way, but eventually rationality probably won out—he couldn’t have known that the Triwizard Cup was a Portkey that would transport Cedric to his death. Here, there is no possible way that he won’t feel at fault. He fell right into a trap, and that trap caused Sirius’ death. In these final two chapters, Rowling does an excellent job of capturing a more intense mourning than before. In Goblet of Fire and at the start of this book, Harry is dealing with a sort of numbing depression. Now it’s a fitful state; he goes from raging and violent to debilitatingly sad to wishing for comfort to wishing he could disappear. And this sort of see-saw isn’t exclusive to grieving—anyone who has ever been in too much pain knows exactly what this feels like. (The desire to throw and break things resonates particularly hard with me.)

Dumbledore finally enters and insists that he knows how Harry feels, which is the exact wrong thing to say. But, in point of fact, Albus knows exactly how Harry feels because this is quite close to the way that his sister Ariana died. It’s a smart touch here, a hint that will be expanded upon in the last two books.

Their discussion of Kreacher is interesting to me. On the one hand, Dumbledore nails it right on the head: Sirius made the mistake of not treating Kreacher well, and he did it not because of a hatred or dismissal of house-elves, but because Kreacher was a reminder of everything about his home and family that he hated. Kreacher should have been handled better, and unsurprisingly gave over his loyalty to a member of the family who would be kind to him. Dumbledore talks of the Ministry fountain and basically aligns himself with what Hermione has been moving toward these past few years. There is an imbalance in wizard culture that has to be addressed. Other the other hand, Dumbledore used Legilimens to extract the information that he required from Kreacher, so… how is he any better here? More to the point, if Kreacher was such a liability in the first place, the best thing they could have done was have Sirius banish Kreacher to another homestead and forbid him to talk about anything having to do with their work or him or whatever.

But then, Dumbledore made some grave errors in dealing with both Sirius and Snape that he only barely acknowledges. He admits to Harry that he had assumed that Snape could get over his hatred of James to teach Occlumency and that he was incorrect on that front. He also admits that knew keeping Sirius locked away was bound to cause problems because Sirius was never going to stay behind when Harry was in danger. But one place where he still fails to realize his mistake is here:

“Snape — Snape g-goaded Sirius about staying in the house — he made out Sirius was a coward — “

“Sirius was much too old and clever to have allowed such feeble taunts to hurt him,” said Dumbledore.

Oh. Oh, Albus. No. Sirius was not. Sirius hated Snape enough that on his worst day he thought trying to get him killed was fine. Being on the receiving end of taunts from that man was never going to work out well. Being active and useful was the thing that Sirius valued most—which you should get as a fellow Gryffindor. And Sirius was by no means too old because, as I feel I must constantly repeat, the years that Sirius spent in Azkaban cannot be counted as time and experience. They were a hellish limbo. So if we add a couple years for this time out, that brings Sirius to… 23 years old? 24? For all intents and purposes, that is as much as we can allow him. Those twelve years he was out of commission would have made a huge difference to his maturity level, absolutely. But those were years he did not live, and Dumbledore makes a huge mistake in not recognizing that.

On a side note, I love how Phineas reacts to the news of Sirius’ death. I don’t think he cared much for Sirius personally, but his shock is welcome, given everything that’s just happened.

Dumbledore finally lays everything out for Harry in terms of the prophecy. And it’s funny because you see where Voldemort might have been right had Albus cared for Harry less; the smarter move would have been to tell Harry about the prophecy, but give it to him vaguely. That would have prevented Harry from having to know about the murder aspect until he was old enough to consider it properly, but then Dumbledore would have had to paraphrase, and Harry might have actually want to hear the full version just as Voldemort predicted. In essence, Voldemort doesn’t factor love into the equation again. He believes that Albus sees Harry only as a means to an end. It’s strange because I feel like I bought this less the first time I read the book, but it almost works better for me this time around? Again, all the mistakes are stupid ones, but they’re stupid ones that play into serious character flaws that Rowling set from the start. It’s not surprising to hear the Dumbledore cares for Harry, only to hear that he’s been allowing that care to cloud his judgement for such a long time. I’d make the argument that the same is true where Snape and Sirius are concerned; Albus makes the mistake of believing that Sirius and Snape are both the best versions of themselves rather than taking them as they are.

We’re getting a lot of flip-flopped ways of looking at behavior by the end of this book, and it’s something that I always appreciate about the Potter series; Rowling rarely makes characters “purely” good or evil, and in the process of making sure that good and bad traits are balanced for more well-rounded characters, she also points out the ways in which behavior can be interpreted under different lenses. Last week, I mentioned that Harry’s thought that his godfather would never keep him waiting was a flip-side to Sirius’ recklessness. In this chapter, Harry’s tendency to “play the hero” is reframed by Dumbledore; sure, Harry does have knack for running to the rescue of others, but he does this because love is the guiding factor for all of his actions. He cares for people, and so he has to help them. So while he leaps without looking more often than he should, it comes from a meaningful place.

The acknowledgement that the locked room in the DoM is basically a “love room” is an interesting idea that I sort of wish had been brought back around. Obviously you don’t want that room to house anything so obvious as a “love weapon” that can defeat Voldemort. But Dumbledore mentions that the DoM has been doing studies on what lies in that room for years now, and it just seems like a big missed opportunity not to talk to some “love scientist” before the series is over. Still, this is the point where the theme of the entire series is essentially stated out loud. Love is what will save them. Love is what Harry possesses that Voldemort does not.

We find out about the other key piece of the prophecy; the fact that it could have just as easily been about Neville and that it became Harry by virtue of his selection by Voldemort. And it’s not surprising that Voldemort picks Harry for being a half-blood like himself, and of course, it’s poetically fitting—Voldemort creates that manner of his destruction through all of his own choices. He chooses to try and kill Harry as an infant, he chooses him over Neville for his heritage, he chooses to use Harry’s blood to revive himself. It’s ultimate hubris, a very classic form of tragedy.

But the other side to this is marking Neville as a much more important player than we were previously led to believe. The fact that Neville also meets all of the prophecy criteria means something. Voldemort selects Harry, essentially builds himself a nemesis, but the fact that there were two possibilities to start cannot be overlooked. It means that Neville is tied up in all of this whether he’d like to be or not. The fact that he’s been shoving his way in to Harry’s inner circle is all the proof you really need. He knows he needs to be here, even if no one else does. And Neville’s understanding in that regard will come to be one of Harry’s most valuable assets going forward.

Chapter 38—The Second War Begins

Summary

The Daily Prophet runs an article on the front page detailing the return of Voldemort (and the abandonment of Azkaban by the dementors), with a statement from Fudge. Hermione notes that they are far more complimentary toward Harry now, reading the article aloud as they all recover in the hospital wing. Luna’s father sold his interview with Harry to the paper, and they’ve rerun it. Hermione is taking a variety of potions to heal from the curse that hit her, but she’s bored and asking about what’s going on in school. Ginny tells her that Flitwick cleared up Fred and George’s swamp, but left a patch and roped it off as a kind of memorial. Dumbledore retrieved Umbridge from the forest, and she’s in a daze in the hospital wing with them, only showing signs of cognizance when Ron makes clopping hoof noises. Harry gets up and tells everyone he’s going to visit Hagrid, not exactly keen to tell them about the full prophecy.

Harry isn’t actually sure that he wants company, but on his way out to the grounds he comes across Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle. Draco is furious because Harry’s words have landed his father in Azkaban. He means to start a fight, but Harry has his wand out first. Snape catches him and stops him, planning to take ten points from Gryffindor, but there are no points to take away. In that moment Professor McGonagall arrives back from St. Mungo’s, looking well. She awards everyone who participated in the Department of Mysteries battle fifty points, then takes away the ten Snape wanted, and tells Malfoy and Harry to scram. Harry heads to Hagrid’s cabin and sits down to have a glass of juice, but the instant Hagrid brings up Sirius, Harry bolts. He sits on the edge of the lake, feeling separate from everyone, thinking about the prophecy and how it ends. Then he thinks about Sirius. He doesn’t leave until the sun sets.

The end of the year feast comes, Umbridge has been chased off the grounds, Ron and Hermione are better, and Harry tells them to go off without him so he can pack. The truth is that he doesn’t want to go to the feast. When he goes through his trunk, he finds Sirius’ Christmas present and finally unwraps it; it turns out to be a two-way mirror that Sirius and James used to use when they were in separate detentions. Harry tries to call Sirius with it and receives no reply. He throw it back into his trunk, breaking it. A thought occurs to him and he rushes through the castle seeking a ghost. He comes upon Nearly Headless Nick and asks about how people come back. Nick explains that most people don’t do what he did, chose this shade of their former life. He cannot tell Harry what lies beyond, but he’s sure Sirius isn’t coming back as a ghost. As Harry walks back to the common room more depressed than ever, he comes across Luna. She’s hanging up signs to get her things back—students take and hide them during the year. Harry finally feels a different emotion, pity. She mentions that Ginny told her Sirius was his godfather and apologizes for his loss. Harry asks who she lost, and she explains that her mother died when she was nine, after a spell that she experimented with went wrong. She decides to head down to the feast, and the conversation leaves Harry feeling a little lighter.

During the train ride home, Malfoy and his cronies try to attack Harry on the train, but do it next to a compartment of D.A. members and get hexed horribly for their trouble. Harry spends most of the ride playing chess with Ron. Cho walks by, and Hermione mentions that she’s dating someone else, which doesn’t bother Harry in the slightest. It turns out that she’s dating Michael Corner; Ginny dumped him when he got all sulky about Gryffindor beating Ravenclaw at Quidditch. Ron is happy to hear this news until Ginny tell him that she’s currently dating Dean Thomas. They arrive back at King’s Cross, and Harry finds Moody, Tonks, and Lupin waiting for him. Arthur and Molly are also there, and the twins too, decked out in dragon skin jackets. Molly asks how Harry is, and he lies that he’s fine. Lupin tells him that they’re here to have a chat with his aunt and uncle. Harry isn’t sure it’s a good idea, but the whole lot of them walk straight up to the Dursleys and tells them that if Harry is mistreated or prevented from contacting them this summer, they will hear about it and come to the house. The Dursleys are mortified, and have no choice but to let Harry lead the way out of the station.

Commentary

I’d like to place a content warning for this section: there will be a brief discussion of rape (not at all graphic) as it pertains to Umbridge and the centaurs. Just to make sure no one is caught off-guard.

One of my favorite bits from this chapter is about Ron’s wounds:

There were still deep welts on his forearms where the brain’s tentacles has wrapped around him. According to Madam Pomfrey, thoughts could leave deeper scarring than almost anything else, though since she started applying copious amounts of Dr. Ubbly’s Oblivious Unction, there seemed to be some improvement.

So Ron was literally attacked by thoughts. I want so much more information on that. What did he learn? Was it horrible? Did he return from the Ministry spouting strange factoids?

So there’s a bit about Umbridge in the hospital wing. The narrative states that she hasn’t spoken since Dumbledore retrieved her from the forest. She appears undamaged aside from some twigs and leaves in her hair, and she isn’t doing much talking. The only time she shows signs of life is when Ron makes horse noises, and she looks around, startled, and then settles and says she likely imagined it. One of the fan theories was that the centaurs essentially gang-raped her. This plays into a great deal of Greek myth, where that’s essentially what centaurs spend their time doing. Rowling knew her classics, so there’s no doubt that the implication could easily be that.

So I’m gonna talk some history and stuff here…

Here’s my thought. Could Rowling have put that little nudge in the narrative as a sort of wink to people who knew their mythology? Absolutely. Do I actually think that the centaurs raped Dolores Umbridge? No, I don’t. And I say this due to how centaurs myths are commonly lumped in with other myths in ancient Greek culture, then comparing that to how Rowling handles the centaurs in her narrative.

Yes, centaurs were depicted in Greek myth as scary half-men half-beasts who raped women a lot. There were other groups that the Greeks tended to depict in a similarly unflattering fashion, and they show up in a lot of artwork together under the banner of peoples who the Greeks conquered/successfully beat back in myths and history; centaurs, Amazons, Scythians, and Persians are some of the usual suspects. All of these groups were thought of as barbarians to the Greeks, and defeating them was a badge of superiority. It proved how mighty the Greeks were next to other “lesser” peoples.

And then we have that Ministry fountain. And it features a house-elf, a goblin, a centaur, and a witch, all looking up deferentially at a wizard. All considered inferior (particularly the non-human subjects) to wizard magic and might. Just like the classical art that depicted centaurs and Amazons and any culture that the Greeks fought against and won. Conquerers get to write the history books. And I’d wager that the same Greek myths about centaurs exist in the Potterverse, and that they were subject to the same bias we have in our universe (though they are real rather than fiction). So, the idea of centaurs being actual rapists in Potter canon? Yeah, I’m gonna write that one off. It smacks too much of “things the magic community wanted Muggles and wizards to believe to further imply that they were better and more civilized than any other magic species.” Does that make sense to everyone?

Harry runs into Draco on his way out, and the way that we just sort of casually find out that Lucius is in prison really strikes me. I mean, it makes sense, but you’re suddenly reminded that the world believes Harry now. And that means they believe everything he said. Which means that all the Death Eaters are exposed. No surprise that Draco can’t handle having his family shoved out into the spotlight for this; their status has always been so contingent on their continued ability to keep their name out of the fight.

Yay to McGonagall’s stellar return. (Snape can’t even summon up the gall to be rude because he’s so impressed. You know he is.) Double yay to Ginny dumping Michael for being a whiny baby, and then moving straight on to Dean. (Girl knows what she wants. Respect.) Triple yay to the D.A. members coming to Harry’s defense when he’s about to get jumped. (That’s what friends are for?)

Harry’s back-and-forth here brings us full-circle with this book—at the start, Harry was desperate for the reassurance of his friends and family; now he simply wants to be away from them. Even Hagrid can’t help (and he’s doing his very best to have a conversation that will help, even if Harry can’t manage it in return). But Harry starts healing in ways that he’s not anticipating; he runs into Luna, and feeling something for her plights returns him to himself, in a manner of speaking. It makes sense; Harry’s power is love, and it’s a surge of sympathy for a friend that starts shipping away at the ice. (People stealing Luna’s possessions always breaks my heart, but her ability to be so serene about the outcome is a teaching moment that I don’t feel up to as a person even now. So people are jerks, but Luna has a zen that practically no adults have achieved. She’s a star.)

At the end of the book, Harry gets what needs… though he never asks for it. After thoroughly botching last summer, the important people in his life take matters into their own hands. Harry doesn’t need to talk to them about Sirius individually, or be told that everything is going to be alright. He needs to feel secure. He needs to know how many people love him, and that they will fight for him. The final talk with the Dursleys at King’s Cross is the metaphorical equivalent to encircling him, banding around him and refusing to let go. It’s a great way to help someone battling depression. Don’t push them, just be there. And for the first time, Harry gets to walk out of the station with his head high, and not feel terrified about what the summer might bring.

Final Thoughts

I’m trying to remember how I felt when I finished reading this book the first time. I want to say that I was kind of with Harry; Sirius was so near and dear to my heart that I set this book down with this itching, horrified sensation in the pit of my stomach. I was numb, but also sobbing. That death hit me so close that it nearly felt like the real thing. My best friend actually went into mourning—she was depressed for days afterward.

This time around, I was being far more analytical than the first time, so it didn’t land in quite the same way. My overall feeling by the end this time around was–whoa, this book was busy. Too busy. I don’t really feel like I read a book, I feel like I read a lot of rising action all in one go. And I think that may be why people are so hard on the last three books. Because they all feel that way, like part of a very long whole instead of separate adventures the way the first four were.

On the other hand, we learn so much that I don’t feel I could do without. And this is where the strength of Rowling’s world just shines through. No, the world building isn’t perfect, yes, it sometimes goes on for a bit too long, but I’d rather have all this information than not have it. I care too much about these people. I’m interested to move on to book six because I actually have good memories of that one, as the calm before the mega-storm. We’ll see how it fares this time around.

But first… the movie.

Emily Asher-Perrin is gonna miss Sirius for the rest of this reread. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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