TRIGGER WARNING: CHILD ABUSE
In my first post, I wrote I wasn’t going to do the intro into my love for Harry Potter. I was saving it. For today. Because today is the first day of Order of the Phoenix and this is my favorite book. I know lots of people don’t like this book, who find it brooding and emo but it’s my favorite. Besides having the biggest, baddest, most impactful end battle of any of the books, this book also captures the teenage experience. Harry deals with his first crush and teenage rebellion. He makes choices that define not the boy he was, but the man he will become. He learns that evil comes in many faces and forms but so does bravery and loyalty.
It’s my favorite book because this is such a big year for Harry. Sure he’s capslocky but he’s angry, grieving, and struggling to understand why he’s singled out for so much tragedy. I’d be angry too, if it were me.
But it isn’t just about my favorite book. It’s about Harry being my favorite character. I’ve always identified with his experiences, always felt the two of us understood each other. To explain why I have to explain how I discovered the books.
I was a sophomore in high school when I read the first three books in secret. Only bad things would have happened if I’d been caught. It wasn’t because my family was those people who think magic is of the devil – it was because I was grounded. Being grounded meant a lot of things. It meant no TV or social activities; it meant not coming out of my room unless it was to use the bathroom, eat during an approved meal time, or do chores. Being grounded meant no smiling, no talking unless spoken to.
Being grounded meant making no noise and pretending I was not there.
I don’t remember what my offense was because when you grow up in a household of abuse, the offense doesn’t matter. Punishment is about control, not about behavior. I probably had mopped wrong. I was always getting in trouble for mopping wrong, for missing some spot that was so obvious to my mother’s partner when she railed at me for being stupid and lazy but I never could see. But it didn’t matter. I was a polite and respectful teenager who brought home As and obeyed curfew. Since I was basically a perfect teenager, using chores as an excuse would do.
I emptied out my room when I was grounded. All my possessions were boxed up and put in the attic. All my books were gone. When I finished the long list of chores assigned to me and the house was empty while my family out, I was meant to stay quietly in my room and stare at the walls. Except a friend of my sister’s had lent her a few books and insisted she read them. My sister wasn’t a reader, not the way I was, and they sat untouched in her room. And when I was alone, I would go into my sister’s room to sit on the worn brown carpet and read. Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets were read this way, in hidden moments over the weeks of my punishment when the house was empty and quiet.
Prisoner of Azkaban I read in my room. My sister lent me her borrowed copy when I realized I could keep it safely in my backpack. My room was stripped bare but backpacks were meant for school work and weren’t searched.
It’s known that every child secretly longs to be told he or she’s a wizard but it means something different for kids who grow up under the stairs. Even when you’re out of the cupboard, you’re still in it. A lot of Harry’s behavior resonate with me as a result of what the Dursleys did because they were too cruel and small-minded to accept what they didn’t understand. Harry avoids attention, deemphasizes his problems, and is sure that what he’s going through is too trivial for adult help. He’s in the cupboard under the stairs.
If that wasn’t enough for me to adopt Harry as my hero, we shared the pain of losing a parent. My dad died when I was six and the passing of a parent leaves this hole inside you. You see other people and know they don’t have that same hole but explaining it seems impossible. Maybe the Germans have a word for the heartache of missing what you never had but in English, there’s just the knowledge that it’s like having a piece missing. Some days you don’t think about that piece at all and some days it feels like that missing piece is going to swallow you up. It feels like being different every day for the rest of your life.
So yeah, Harry and I understand each other. And this series has meant more to me than anything else ever has and means more to me than any book series ever will.
Not all children grow up to be wizards but they can leave the cupboards and make friends, and do what’s right, and dream big. You can be a boy or a girl, who lived.
Now. Onto the book, shall we?
CHAPTER 1: DUDLEY DEMENTED
We begin in the end of long hot summer. The drought is an effective metaphor here because it’s full of waiting: waiting for summer to end, for the rain to come, for something to happen. As the book opens, Harry is waiting beneath the Dursleys open window in order to listen to the TV news. Vernon distrusts curiosity (probably because he knows anyone who has curiosity about something is smarter than he is) and he found it suspicious that Harry would show an interest in the news. So Harry wanders the town stealing newspapers and listening at windows to the television and we all remember that this was before the internet was really a major thing.
A loud noise like Apparation startles Harry and the Dursleys notice where he’s hiding. Vernon grabs Harry about the throat when he sees Harry has his wand out – because strangling your nephew isn’t nearly as noticeable as holding what appears to be a stick. After a truly epic burn (Harry tells his uncle the news is different every day and this is a moment that shows how much Harry is growing up because growing up means finding the courage to rebel) he leaves the yard.
He wanders, lonely and hurt by the lack of news in Ron and Hermione’s letters. After the trauma of the end of last term, it’s hard to know that big important things are happening elsewhere and the only thing Harry can do is wait with people who despise him. And Harry does that thing where he assumes what’s going with him isn’t important and no one will want to know the way his scar prickles and that he’s having recurring dreams of a long corridor.
Harry across Dudley on his way and they snark at each other with Dudley revealing he knows Harry is shouting about what happened in the graveyard in his sleep. And then there’s a Dementor. Harry hears Voldemort’s voice in his head but summons his Patronus by thinking of Ron and Hermione. It’s not just happy memories but love that becomes protection. Then the most surprising thing of all happens: batty Mrs. Figg belongs to the Wizarding World – she knows about wands and is acquainted with someone unfortunately named Mundungus Fletcher. She’s known who Harry really is the whole time. The whole time.
CHAPTER 2: A PECK OF OWLS
So Mrs. Figg is Squib who had her cat keep an eye on Harry when Mundungus Fletcher Disapparated to go buy stolen property and she was awful while babysitting Harry on purpose so the Dursleys would keep sending him. Mrs. Figg drops Harry and Dudley off at home where the following owls arrive:
- Harry is expelled from Hogwarts and his wand is to be destroyed. Also he must appear at a disciplinary feeling which is something like having to perform jury duty after discovering someone’s trying to frame you for murder.
- DON’T DO ANYTHING STUPID. JUST SIT RIGHT THERE AND WAIT. Love, Arthur Weasley
- Just kidding! You still have to come to the hearing but you’re not expelled. YET.
- DON’T DO ANYTHING STUPID. JUST SIT RIGHT THERE AND WAIT. Love, Sirius
Harry explains as best he can: the dementors, the Patronus, why Dudley is so upset. Aunt Petunia shocks everyone when she reveals she knows what a Dementor is. She also understands the risk when Harry tells them Voldemort is back. She knows he killed her sister and she is afraid. This is the first time Petunia snaps out of her obsession with appearances and you wish you could ask why, if there’s some part of her that still misses her sister, that she’s treated Lily’s son this way. No child deserves that — her nephew certainly didn’t.
The final owl of the night belongs to Petunia. It’s a howler with a simple message: REMEMBER MY LAST. At that, she stops Vernon from throwing a 15-year-old boy out of the house.
CHAPTER 3: THE ADVANCE GUARD
Harry writes to his friends but there’s no word days later. Uncle Vernon tells Harry the family is going out and what follows is absolutely child abuse: Harry is not to touch anything, eat anything, leave the room, and he’s going to be locked in. It’s always about control. Vernon doesn’t understand Harry and is frightened by his abilities so he controls him. It’s a terrible way to treat a child.
Not long after the Dursleys leave, there’s a crash and in comes the Order of the Phoenix. Mad Eye Moody, Lupin, a woman called Nymphadora Tonks with violet hair and a lively sense of humor, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and a few others. Tonks goes with Harry to help him pack, which she’s not much good at, and changes her hair color, which she is very good at, on account of being a Metamorphagus. Besides winning at Scrabble, Metamorphamagi can change their appearance at will.
At the appropriate signal, Harry Potter, with the Order of the Phoenix as guard, fly to Number 12, Grimmauld Place, London.