*This post will contain Harry Potter spoilers. If you have not read Harry Potter and do not want to be spoiled, please refrain from reading on.*
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix may be the most difficult book in the Harry Potter series. From the very beginning the tone is immediately different. It’s darker and much more adult. Even Harry is changed, being described as having the “pinched, slightly unhealthy look of someone who has grown a lot in a short space of time.” The book is based on confusion, lack of communication, and misunderstanding as well as an element of distrust. Nearly all the book’s problems stem from those roots. There’s just so much that goes wrong in this book and it’s painful to read because I care so much. We can connect some of the dots, but often, especially on the first reading, we’re just as lost as Harry and for that we feel his injustices and confusion doubly. In retrospect, it’s just as frustrating, but for different reasons. It’s somehow worse to see it all coming and not be able to do anything to stop it.
I don’t blame Harry for his anger or his frustration. I can’t imagine how painful that fifth year was. He’s an outcast; the ministry is calling him a madman, many of his classmates think he’s crazy, and the one person he thought he could depend on through it all won’t even look at him. We find out why Dumbledore acts as he does and it is admirable, but it doesn’t excuse everything. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
We find Harry in the beginning scrounging for any news of the wizarding world at Privet Drive, lurking in bushes and picking through old muggle newspapers. Imagine getting hardly any information from the people you trust after all he went through at the end of his fourth year. Cedric dead. Knowing Voldemort is up to something but having absolutely nothing to go on. How maddening! And then he and Dudley are attacked by dementors and everything changes. A nice bit of comic relief gets added there. Harry explaining dementors to the Dursleys is a laugh, also all the owls.
Finally, we get out of Privet Drive and into 12 Grimmauld Place and a whole new set of questions and frustrations arise. He’s plagued by questions that no one can or will answer. Why is Dumbledore ignoring him? Why was he trapped at Privet Drive a month? What is the Order of the Phoenix doing? Why wasn’t he made a prefect? Why can no one else see the thestrals? Where is Hagrid? And on top of all that, there’s the misinformation and denial being spread by the ministry.
Cornelius Fudge is the biggest idiot in this book. His pride and fear of losing his position to Dumbledore ruins him and critically damages the wizarding community. He never was a great leader, but it becomes utterly excruciating to watch how poorly he handles things. His mismanagement of Voldemort’s return is infuriating and comes at a high cost. And when he finally sees Voldemort standing in the Ministry of Magic at the very end, it is so, so, so very satisfying.
And then there’s Umbridge. This book is difficult to read because of the many injustices committed against Harry, but mostly because of the actions of Dolores Umbridge. She is the worst kind of person: entitled, unable to sympathize, lacking basic empathy, racist, sadistic, and vindictive. She is a complete and total sociopath. The first time I read Harry’s detention scene, I felt ill. It’s not just painful for Harry, it’s physical and mental abuse. And Umbridge loves it. She loves utilizing her power. I mean she tries to feed Harry veritaserum, which is ILLEGAL.
Umbridge is a bad person and she’s always been that way. You can almost understand how Voldemort becomes what he was: orphaned as a child, abandoned, shunned by his father. While is actions and his tendency toward evil is inexcusable, you can at least see the root of it. Perhaps, if he had been shown a little more kindness in his life, if he had come from a less insane wizarding family, he might not have turned out so power hungry and violent. But Umbridge is just an awful person. She revels in hurting others and using her power to subjugate. I mean SHE is the one who sent the dementors after Harry that summer. SHE did it. They could have kissed him! She’s a mad woman and she’s intolerable to read and impossible to sympathize with and I think she gets exactly what she deserves when the centaur herd carries her off into the Forbidden Forest. It’s a shame they weren’t able to do more damage.
Though awful, Umbridge is necessary. She gives Harry a very real and present nemesis (besides the obvious Voldemort) at Hogwarts. She is the embodiment of the ministry’s nastiness, corruption, and lies. And Harry actively resists. It’s good for his character development to see him take up the mantle of leader, though it’s done slowly and with a lot of anger. Hermione pleads with him to teach them Defense Against the Dark Arts, which he resists at first. He has a lot of meltdowns throughout the book, but the following is one of the best:
“You don’t know what it’s like! You – neither of you – you’ve never had to face him, have you? You think it’s just memorizing a bunch of spells and throwing them at him, like you’re in class or something? The while time you’re sure you know there’s nothing between you and dying except your own – your own brain or guts or whatever- like you can think straight when you know you’re about a second from being murdered, or tortured, or watching your friends die – they’ve never taught us that in their classes, what it’s like to deal with things like that.”
I love that passage because it really exemplifies everything Harry’s been internalizing since Cedric died. He went through a pretty traumatic experience and no one, save perhaps Dumbledore, really understands what it’s been like for him. The whole matter is compounded by the fact that most of the wizarding community thinks he’s crazy and a liar. Harry says most of what saved his life was luck and that they don’t understand what it’s like, but it’s this understanding and his experiences that make him qualified not only to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, but also to lead.
Dumbledore’s Army is one of the saving graces of this book. It allows many characters that don’t normally come together from different houses to unite, foreshadowing of the Battle at Hogwarts as well as being a nice nod to the Sorting Hat’s song at the beginning of the book: “For our Hogwarts is in danger / From external, deadly foes / And we must unite inside her / Or we’ll crumble from within.” It also gives Harry something else to focus on besides his anger.
After the DA is taken away too, it’s only a matter of time before everything goes to hell. The flight to the Ministry and everything that takes place there is the culmination of all the lack of communication and misunderstanding rampant in this book. It comes down to this: Dumbledore treated Harry like a child in books one through four, when essentially he still was one. But in the fifth book, Harry loses a lot of that innocence. Yet, Dumbledore continues to try to protect him, which ultimately backfires in the worst way possible.
Dumbledore completely ignores Harry. He never looks at him or reaches out to him. The first time they make eye contact is after the attack on Mr. Weasley and Harry feels a surge of hatred and a desire to attack. Harry’s anguish is very real. He feels like he’s going completely mad, like he’s being possessed by Voldemort. Dumbledore has him take occlumency with Snape, but doesn’t explain it’s importance, how Voldemort could use Harry’s own mind against him. Some explanation could have ultimately prevented what happens. Dumbledore failed to tell Harry about the prophecy, failed to elaborate on his connection with Voldemort, failed to impress upon him the importance of blocking his mind. I mean, there’s a lot more that he still keeps from Harry even after the ordeal at the ministry (cough cough, he’s a horcrux). But essentially, he wanted to protect him from this terrible burden of being the hero, but ultimately it only results in death and destruction.
I see where Dumbledore’s coming from. He had to make a lot of difficult decisions. It’s a lot to ask of one boy. “Neither can live while the other survives.” In the end, it’s got to be him. He has to face Voldemort. Also he was trying to protect Harry and the Order. He wasn’t sure how much Voldemort was getting through to Harry’s mind and didn’t want to risk full possession. That’s fair. Dumbledore has good reasons, but in hindsight, we can see he made a wrong choice in keeping things from him.
The prophecy in and of itself is a fascinating device, not only because we learn that the other boy it could have pertained to was Neville Longbottom. Poor Neville. The scene in St. Mungo’s with his parents is heartbreaking. In a way, I feel like it’s almost worse to have your parents alive but so broken they are unable to recognize you. If Voldemort had gone after the Longbottoms, Neville could have been the “chosen one.” This book also allows us to see Neville in a more heroic light; he gets a lot out of DA lessons and fights admirably at the ministry. It’s setting up his ultimate bravery at the end of the series.
The end of this book is so incredibly painful. Harry refuses to see reason. He refuses to listen to Hermione. Voldemort is playing off Harry’s need to be the hero, to save everyone. And for Sirius he would have gone to any length.
Sirius is in a strange position in this book. He’s a little destructive, a little reckless. He wants to take risks and shames Harry for not wanting him to. I understand why Sirius has to die. It’s another loss for Harry, another reason to spur him toward his fate. But it’s painful. Harry yells at Dumbledore that he’s done. That he doesn’t care. But the problem is he does. As Dumbledore says, “You do care. You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.” Harry’s great gift is his love and compassion for others, and his anguish is so visceral and real, matched only by his grief.
The portrayal of Harry’s grief over the death of Sirius is so raw at the end, something that I had not noticed so much in past readings. Since the last time I read this book, I have lost someone important to me. Grief is less of an abstract notion. It’s very painful to watch Harry grasp at straws, hoping Sirius will come back somehow: finding the two-way mirror, hoping maybe he’s turned into a ghost. It culminates in his conversation with Luna. She says to Harry, “And anyway, it’s not like I’ll never see Mum again, is it? Oh come on. You heard them, just behind the veil, didn’t you? They were just lurking out of sight, that’s all.” It’s a heartbreaking and beautiful depiction of grief and death.
On a happier note, the book, while mostly being about death and duty and sacrifice and pain, there are some lighter moments, mainly revolving around romance and character building. Hermione and Ron’s love is SO REAL. He gets all huffy about her correspondence with Viktor Krum. Hermione kisses him on the cheek before his quidditch game. Ron got Hermione PERFUME for Christmas?!
Also while Harry’s relationship with Cho is important to show that he is capable of getting into knots over a girl, what is more important is Ginny’s development into an actual human being and not just a set piece in the background. Ginny starts dating Michael Corner, which enables her to talk to Harry not as a crush but as a person and a friend. (Also Ron losing it over Ginny dating is HILARIOUS.) She takes on the position of seeker after Harry gets banned from quidditch, and we find out she’s been breaking into the family broom shed and riding all her brother’s brooms since the age of six. She confronts Harry after the attack on her father and wants to assuage his fears about being possessed by Voldemort, since she herself is the only one he knows who has been possessed by him. Also Ginny is the one who goes to Fred and George about creating a diversion when she learns Harry wants to speak with Sirius. Rowling has been slowly but surely building Ginny into an actual character, someone who Harry can have an actual personal relationship with, whether romantic or no.
Also, Ron totally ships Ginny and Harry and it is so amusing. He tells Ginny after she breaks up with Michael that she hopes she’ll choose someone better next time, “casting Harry a furtive look.” But she’s ALL OVER DEAN THOMASSSS.
In the end, Harry is in a much better position than when he began the book. Yes, he lost Sirius, but he knows that he has people who have his back, not only his friends, but also Mad-Eye, Tonks, Remus, and the Weasleys. He may be the “chosen one,” but he’s not alone.
Other random thoughts I had reading:
- This line from Dean Thomas is great: “My parents are muggles mate. They don’t know nothing about no deaths at Hogwarts, because I’m not stupid enough of I tell them.”
- Percy is SUCH a prat.
- Weasley is Our King is SO MEAN (boo hiss Slytherins), but ultimately it ends up awesome.
- Malfoy is pretty awful in this book, compared to what happens later. I don’t blame Harry for beating the crap out of him.
- We first meet Bode at the Quidditch World Cup, when Mr. Weasley points him out as an Unspeakable.
- CHO. STOP. YOU’RE KILLING ME.
- Sacking Trelawney was sad, but hiring Firenze was AWESOME.
- God bless the Weasley twins.
- Harry really shouldn’t have looked at Snape’s worst memory. None of us should be judged though by how we were at age 15.
- The stress of the OWLs is TOO REAL. #anxiety
- Always confused about how Lily and James got together, but it makes sense that James becomes less of a conceited jerk.
- When they break all the prophecies in the Department of Mysteries, my heart hurts.
- Dumbledore fighting Voldemort is so epic. I love that he calls him Tom. His calm and power is so badass.
Wow. Okay. That was A LOT. But it is the longest book in the series and it’s a crucial book in terms of plot. It’s a rush toward the end from here.
Until next time!