These chapters are where things start spiraling out of control. Or, more accurately, start spiraling into the Ministry’s control. Umbridge gets more and more powerful and it’s just plain awful. That being said, a lot happens in these chapters, so let’s get to it.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: PERCY AND PADFOOT
We open with some beautiful morning imagery, and with Harry trying to write a letter to Sirius without actually saying anything he wants to say.
“Harry could now appreciate how hard it had been for Ron and Hermione to write him letters over the summer.”
Oh sure, NOW he gets it. Not enough to apologize for being rude to his friends, though. Ron was admittedly a bit of a git in Goblet of Fire with the whole accidental champion thing, but Hermione has been nothing but loyal and he should have known she wasn’t purposefully keeping things from him. But, moving on.
The letter Harry writes is pretty funny. I’ll never not laugh when the man once referred to as the Prisoner of Azkaban, once supposed to be a mass murderer, is referred to as “Snuffles”. Cleverly, Harry expresses his disdain for the new Dark Arts teacher by saying she’s “nearly as nice as your mum”. When he’s done, he heads to the Owlery to send Hedwig, the smartest owl to ever have existed, off to Sirius.
As soon as he sends off his letter, he runs into Cho, and awkwardness ensues. Though arguably less awkwardness than usual. Cho calls him brave for standing up to Umbridge, and Harry is ready to show off his scars “accidentally” when Filch runs in, accusing him of ordering Dungbombs. Cho stands up for him, and it wasn’t until Filch begrudgingly leaves that she asks him if he really was ordering Dungbombs.
After they bid each other adieu, Harry is quite pleased at himself because he wasn’t too much of an arse, and pleased with Cho for not hating him because he was still alive. Harry starts musing on what it would have been like if he had asked Cho to the dance before Cedric, and luckily he arrives at the Great Hall before he finishes the thought, because he was getting dangerously close to “glad he’s out of the way” territory and I don’t think Harry would have been too pleased with himself if he ended up thinking that.
Breakfast was eventful and informative. Ron, as the newest addition to the Gryffindor Quidditch team, adorably asks Harry to go out to the pitch with him a little early to help him practice. It’s an adorable boy-bonding moment, but Hermione, ever the voice of reason, points out that they are already behind on homework and should probably not spend any more time than necessary not doing it. Before the boys can protest, Hermione’s Daily Prophet arrives, bearing the following tidbits:
- The Weird Sisters’ bass player got married
- The Ministry of Magic knows Sirius is hiding in London
- Madame Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions is having a sale
- Sturgis Podmore was sentenced to six months in Azkaban for trespassing and attempted robbery after trying to force his way through a top-secret door at the Ministry of Magic
Not all of that is important, but you never know with Jo.
Ron reckons maybe he was framed, and though Harry isn’t so sure, Hermione is impressed with Ron for using his noodle for once.
Harry and Ron spend the rest of the day playing Quidditch, despite Hermione’s insistence that they’re not copying from her this year, and that procrastinating wasn’t going to help them pass their O.W.L.s.
Then it’s time for the official Quidditch practice. Poor Ron. First his brothers tease him, as a way to welcome him to the team, surely. But they might have changed their tune if they had known that Slytherin team would be watching their practice, flinging insults the entire time. Ron totally chokes and between his terrible playing and the twins accidentally giving Katie something to stop her nosebleed that ended up being a (super dangerous??) Blood Blisterpod, practice was just plain awful.
Ron and Harry spend the next day up to their eyeballs in homework, while Hermione is “chatting merrily” with Ginny. I don’t think I fully appreciated it the last time I read this series, but I love the little hints of Hermione and Ginny’s friendship. They have a lot in common – clever girls, talented, observant, caring, surrounded by idiot boys who don’t appreciate them as much as they should. I wish we knew more about their relationship. Even in this scene – what were they chatting about? Magical knitting techniques? How awesome Professor McGonagall is? I’m just so curious.
Well, we don’t find out, because when Hermione goes over to check on the boys, they’re interrupted by an owl bearing a letter from Percy. It is a long and insufferable letter. He had heard about Ron being appointed prefect and took the opportunity to try to get him to drink whatever kool-aid the Ministry has been mainlining him. We’ll do this in list form too, so my post is not as yawn-inducing as Percy’s letter. Percy’s main points:
- Percy thinks Ron should stay away from Harry (lest he be insane/violent)
- Dumbledore may not be in charge at Hogwarts much longer
- He calls Umbridge a “really delightful woman” proving once again he’s The Worst Weasley
- He thinks his parents owe HIM an apology and is glad to not be tainted by their “stigma”
Harry tries to make light of the situation, but Ron is furious and tears the paper into little bits. Taking pity on Ron and his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, and on Harry and his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year So Far, she offers to fix up their essays for them. They are awash with gratitude and it leads to this lovely moment:
“Hermione, you are honestly the most wonderful person I’ve ever met,” Ron said weaky, “and if I’m ever rude to you again–“
“-I’ll know you’re back to normal,” said Hermione.
While Hermione is telling Harry his essay is actually not bad, Harry spots Sirius in the fire. He has popped in to answer Harry’s letter. Some highlights:
- Umbridge hates half-breeds – werewolves, merpeople, you name it
- The Ministry doesn’t want the students “trained in combat”
- Related, the Ministry thinks Dumbledore is rounding up an army
- Fudge is paranoid and not fit to be in charge of anything
- Hagrid should be back soon. We don’t know where he went, just that Madame Maxine was with him.
Sirius wants to visit Hogsmeade but the kids tell him it’s too risky. Sirius then shames Harry for not being as big of a risk-taker as his father.
Before he starts getting childish, Sirius says one of my favorite quotes, which beautifully depicts one of the major themes of the series:
“Yes, but the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters.”
As people have mentioned in previous posts here, Umbridge not being a Death Eater, or “evil” by Voldemort standards, actually makes her more terrifying. She’s not out to take lives, just ruin them. And thanks to the Ministry, she has the power to do so. Which leads me to…
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: THE HOGWARTS HIGH INQUISITOR
As it turns out, the Ministry (not Dumbledore) appointed Umbridge as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and has been using her as a sort of mole, gathering evidence of all Hogwarts’ “failings”. Therefore, they made up a fake title for her, which would allow her to observe teachers and report back to the Ministry, with the obvious intention of unseating Dumbledore as headmaster. Ron, however, sees the bright side in all this nonsense, and can’t wait for Umbridge to inspect McGonagall’s class. Hopefully she turns her into a ferret.
In Potions, Snape has started grading homework assignments as though they were O.W.L.s, so they spend the lunch period explaining to us how grading works on the exams. I say “us” because I’d sooner believe in nargles than that Hermione hadn’t already memorized the grading system for these tests. I get that Ron or Harry wouldn’t have cared enough to ask, but there’s no way Hermione wouldn’t know something about school that Fred and George do. Unless she was assuming they’d work the way British Muggle exam gradings do, which I imagine don’t include “D for dreadful” or “T for troll” (though neither I nor Harry can tell if that last one is a real grade or not).
Next up is Divination, where Harry gets his chance to witness what an Umbridge inspection looks like. Much like Harry and Ron, I never really cared all that much about Professor Trelawney (though I suspect I liked her a bit more than they did, as she never predicted my death) but I was suddenly ready to don a TEAM TRELAWNEY t-shirt by the time Umbridge was done with her.
In Defense Against the Dark Arts class, Hermione tries to shake Umbridge and force her to do some actual teaching, but all this does is land Harry another detention. I like to think that Hermione was trying to get herself a detention so that she could report Umbridge’s horrifying punishment techniques to someone, since Harry wouldn’t let her on his behalf. (It’s possible I think this because it eventually happens, I don’t remember that particular detail from previous readings.)
Umbridge follows them to Transfiguration, where, as Ron predicted, McGonagall is deliciously Not Having It.
She sasses Umbridge halfway to Tuesday and Harry and McGonagall exchange secret smiles on the way out of class.
And I don’t usually like using two gifs so close to one another, but while looking for the previous one, I found this, and I CAN’T NOT.
In Care of Magical Creatures, Harry earns himself another detention, because he is having a really hard time bottling his anger up until Umbridge is out of earshot. Whether he’s being brave standing up for what he believes or stupid for not keeping his mouth shut is a matter of opinion. When Harry returns to the common room after his detention, he finds Hermione and Ron waiting for him with a balm for his hand and a solution for the Umbridge Problem.
Hermione says it’s time they took matters into their own hands and taught themselves Defense Against The Dark Arts. Ron protests that they have enough homework as it is, and Hermione insists this is more important than homework. That’s how you know she’s serious.
Hermione is also serious about who should teach them: Harry. Harry looks to Ron for a supportive incredulous look and his mildly horrified to find Ron agrees with Hermione. They insist he’s the only one with real life experience and could teach them what he knows. He tells them he’s not qualified, and they start proudly listing off his achievements over the past few years. This is what breaks Harry. He yells at them, tells them they have no idea what it’s like, that there’s no time to ponder whether a stunning or a disarming spell would be best in the situation. It’s all visceral reaction, and sometimes it’s not fighting, it’s surviving. And sometimes, like in Cedric’s case, there’s not even that.
Hermione is taken aback by Harry’s harsh frankness, but realizes his point is valid, and isn’t actually any different from her original point. In fact, he just proved even further that he should be the one teaching them. He would be able to tell them what it’s like to face Voldemort.
“It was the first time she had ever said Voldemort’s name, and it was this, more than anything else, that calmed Harry.”
It’s how he knew she was taking this as seriously as she said she was, that she understood the severity of the situation and was willing to take on the challenge, that she was willing to take his lead on the matter. Harry agrees to sleep on it and the Trio goes off to bed.