Back to Hogwarts – Part the Fifth
Welcome back to Hogwarts, readers! A lot has changed since my last piece, both in my life and in the world. I have seen a lot of comparisons to the HP universe and current events and with those parallels in mind, it feels good to be reading and writing about this world again. If our heroes can face the most evil wizard in the world and come out on top, surely we will all be OK too, as long as we keep in mind the lessons we learn from Hogwarts and keep fighting for what’s right. I’m making a small change in the way I’m doing things. Due to the facts that the last 3 books are 800+ pages and that I have doubled the number of kids I have, I am splitting my coverage of the books into halves. Like it or not, now I know how the filmmakers felt when they realized they had to split Deathly Hallows into two movies.
When we catch up with Harry, he has become an official Angry Young Man, as is only befitting both someone his age and someone who has been put through what he has. I have to side with Harry on this issue, much as it pains me to question Dumbledore’s judgment. Of course, it makes sense for the headmaster to distance himself from Harry. Given what we later learn about Voldemort’s powers, it’s far too dangerous to have Harry knowing even the tiniest bit of info that Dumbledore knows. But I don’t see the harm in telling Harry about this decision. What advantage does it give Voldemort if he finds out that Harry is being kept away from Dumbledore? None that I can see. All it does is breed resentment and pain for our hero. I haven’t reached the end of the book or beyond yet, but if my memory serves, I believe Dumbledore does eventually admit to this being a mistake.
In the aftermath of the dementor attack in Privet Drive, a couple of things occur to me. First among them is that Vernon Dursley is a COMPLETE MONSTER for wanting to kick Harry out. I don’t care who you are or whether you believe the kid is a legit part of your family or not. If you find out a kid who lives with you is in danger and your reaction is to throw him out for self-preservation, you are a human piece of garbage who deserves the worst of what’s coming to you. This is where he becomes an irredeemable character, in my opinion. Meanwhile, in a far less severe, but still notable offense, why didn’t Harry suggest Dudley have some chocolate? He’s the only person who knows what happened and how to make Dudley feel better, not to mention knowing what it feels like to suffer that kind of attack. I get that Harry’s angry, but this seems like an oversight. Harry’s not supposed to be an asshole.
Reading about Harry’s evacuation to Grimmaud Place brought up some major feels. As I read over their plan to have his escape guarded by a large contingent of the Order, I felt I had read this scene before somewhere else. It dawned on me that this plan was parallel to the instance of traveling in this manner in Deathly Hallows. Not to jump ahead, but we all know how that ended. That foreknowledge made reading this scene a bit tougher. It’s easy to imagine the success of this mission giving the Order the confidence to go ahead with the one that comes later and ends far less successfully.
Grimmaud Place marks the introduction of a new safe place in the magical world where Harry spends a significant amount of time and a couple of important things happen there that didn’t totally jump out at me until now. Upon first reading, the explanation of the Black family tree seemed fairly straightforward, just explaining how characters are connected to each other and providing some motivation for Sirius to have cut ties with his family. However, when revisiting this information, the fact that there are familial ties between Order of the Phoenix members and Death Eaters is telling in and of itself. It serves to illustrate to readers that, though we may disagree with our enemies, they are not so different from us. It’s a more subtle instance of this than that of the split of Percy from the Weasley family. Percy is at a distance, but he’s still reachable. There’s no coming back for the members of the Black family tree who have allied themselves with Voldemort. But in both instances, all family members came from the same place and diverged somewhere along the way.
The other important thing we gain from the scenes at Grimmaud Place is a view of Mrs. Weasley as a three-dimensional character. Prior to these scenes, she has served as more of a tool to get things done in the Weasley house. There are a lot of kids and that’s a lot of dishes and laundry and shopping. Mr. Weasley is always at work, so of course they must have a mother, but she always sort of bustles about cheerily and we don’t know much about her. When we see her reduced to tears as she tries in vain to get rid of the boggart, we understand how events are affecting her. It’s one of those moments of clarity we all have growing up, the realization that an adult in our lives exists not just in relation to us, but as their own person. It’s very powerfully done here and drives home the stakes of the situation the Order is facing, given how much we love Mrs. Weasley and how much it hurts us to see her in pain.
When we get to Hogwarts, we’re immediately confronted with a shifted dynamic in the wizarding world. Prior to this point, Harry is surrounded by witches and wizards who all side with him, so the realization that there are those who do not, even those he considers friends, is quite jarring. Navigating the world with the knowledge that others think differently than you do is one of those things you learn (or don’t) as you grow up that you don’t really realize as it’s happening. Having Harry face opposition even from Dean and Seamus is a subtle way of including this particular growing pain and kudos to Rowling for including it. This lesson also exhibits itself in a stronger, more painful way in Percy’s letter to Ron. It’s one thing to find out that people you’ve known for years disagree with you on things that are important to you. It’s quite another to have the dissenting party be your brother and further to have him insult your loved ones while trying to convince you to support a viewpoint that you find to be fundamentally wrong.
It’s nice for Harry, then, that he gains a new friend this year in Luna Lovegood. They share a kinship over their similar experiences with tragedy that allows them both to bond with another person in a way neither of them has been able to do so with anyone else. Here, Rowling works in another hallmark of growing up: making a friend whose friendship fits into your life in a different way than all your other friends. It teaches readers that, as they grow up and their life experiences vary from those of their peers, it’s helpful to seek out friendships with people whose experiences you can understand; a new kind of friendship based on more than just getting along well with other people who share something more than an age-grouping.
It’s not just relationships that are different at Hogwarts, but the way the school itself runs that’s changed. Obviously, Umbridge commits many offenses throughout the book, but her choice of detention punishment is the first and most obvious sign of danger. It smacks of child abuse and the mental conditioning Harry undergoes that makes him not want to speak up about it makes it infinitely more reprehensible. Of course, he might have been more inclined to say something if he thought anyone would listen, but with Dumbledore pushing him away, there’s no chance of that. We can only hope it serves as an example of something children should speak up about if they experience something that makes them feel as Harry does. As Umbridge’s reign continues, she provides more examples to readers of the danger of this type of person. Her appointment as High Inquisitor illustrates the danger of putting someone with hateful viewpoints in power, a particularly poignant message at this exact moment in history. And when we finally get around to Educational Decree Number 24 (outlawing students meeting in groups larger than 3), it really drives home how scary this situation is and explains the importance of certain freedoms better than any dry history lesson can.
Eventually, despite dissenting classmates and gaslighting teachers, some Hogwarts students are compelled to action. Harry’s humility about being named the leader of this group serves to show what a good person this character is. It would have been just as easy to have him naturally accept leadership, his reluctance makes him all the more suited to the job. As we learn the names of those who decide to join Dumbledore’s Army, it becomes apparent how wide-ranging and well thought out this universe is. These are not random red-shirts Rowling throws in just to give Harry support. Every single person who attends the first meeting at the Hog’s Head has a reason to do so. Every single name that appears on the sign-in sheet for the first meeting is one we have seen before, someone we know at least a little something about, whether we realize it or not. Using the Room of Requirement as a meeting place is another great example of use of something that was well-placed earlier in the series. It’s unclear whether it first appeared in Sorceror’s Stone with the intention of being used again here or if, while writing Order of the Phoenix, Rowling decided to call back to the first book. Either way, it’s an example of masterful writing. It also teaches readers to examine the resources they already have on hand and how they might be used in a new way. The D.A. could be easily dismissed by its opposition as a non-threat, as just a bunch of kids with no resources, no way to fight back. Their resourcefulness in organizing proves they are not to be underestimated and gives readers an example of underdog success.
I have to leave off here, before we get into the real danger of this book, before the struggles between the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix really heat up. Come back next month and we’ll see what new insights we can find about Umbridge’s tyranny and the ways the D.A. finds to fight back. See you then!