The Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 16-17: For Every Overreaction, an Equal and Opposite Overreaction

Apologies, everyone. Um, I’m an idiot and I forgot to click ‘publish’ when I finished writing this on Wednesday afternoon. In all fairness, I was very distracted by my Harry Potter movie marathon and my brain must have been on vacation in Hogsmeade or something. It was only when I went to see why Matt’s post had not gone live yet that I thought, hey, no one’s commented on my post! And then I was like, oh. Whoops. Also, the second half of this post contains a temper tantrum, just so you know ahead of time.

I love how both of these chapters act as a sort of fulcrum for this book. Up until now, no one at Hogwarts (except perhaps for Dumbledore — and we’re not hearing much from him these days) understood the full import of what Umbridge’s presence means for not just the students at Hogwarts, but as a reflection of what’s going on in the outside world. She’s not here just to do a little interfering. Her presence is a symptom of a larger disease — something is deeply wrong within the Ministry itself (as if worrying about Voldemort and Death Eaters wasn’t bad enough).

c16--in-the-hogs-head250CHAPTER 16: IN THE HOG’S HEAD

Sometimes I like to stop and think about the story and Harry’s world from outside of Harry’s perspective. We’re so closed up in Harry’s head most of the time, it’s nice to stop and imagine what the story must look like from other characters’ points of view. To look at the famous Harry Potter from the outside, just as everyone else in his life does (even Ron and Hermione). This chapter is the perfect chance for it, as Jo gives us an easy in, through the amazement of Harry’s friends and acquaintances in The Hog’s Head.

And man, Harry’s life is weird and amazing and frightening and seriously cool.

Hermione waits two weeks to ask Harry about teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons, and it probably took an immense amount of self-control for her to wait even that long. She was smart to do so, however. Harry, like all people with true talent or inclination, finds himself drawn to the idea almost against his will, thinking about spells and counter-curses in his free time, and planning possible lessons. Also, he wants to stick it to Umbridge real bad.

Harry privately doesn’t think anyone except Ron and Hermione will want to learn from him, on account of him being a nutter and all, but Hermione persuades him to meet with a few people at the first Hogsmeade weekend. She makes sure to plan the meeting outside of school grounds because they just know Umbridge won’t be happy about it, even though it’s technically not against any school rules, what they’re doing (Hermione double and triple-checked, of course). She also made sure to verify with Professor Flitwick that there wouldn’t be an issue with her choice of venue, The Hog’s Head (of previous Hagrid-buying-dragon-from-Voldemort fame). He says it’s fine, although he strongly advises her to bring her own glass.

Hermione, showing her inexperience despite her vast intelligence, has chosen The Hog’s Head as their meeting place because she figures they will be less likely to be noticed off the beaten path. I find this adorable. As we’ll learn in the very next chapter, thanks to Sirius, the choice of isolated venue actually makes it more likely for them to be noticed, and overheard. Meeting at the Three Broomsticks would have disguised their actions as normal student behavior, and the noise of the always-busy pub would have muffled their conversation to would-be eavesdroppers. But we must forgive Hermione, because she’s new at this bending the rules thing. (She gets much, much better by book seven.)

When they arrive, “a few students” ends up being the following: Neville; Dean Thomas; Lavender Brown; Parvati and Padma Patil; Cho; Cho’s friend Marietta Edgecombe; Luna; Gryffindor Chasers Katie Bell, Alicia Spinnet, and Angelina Johnson; Colin and Dennis Creevey; Ernie MacMillan; Justin Finch-Fletchley; Hannah Abbott; Susan Bones (niece of Madam Bones, of the Wizengamot, whom Harry met over the summer); 4th years Anthony Goldstein, Michael Corner, and Terry Boot; Ginny, Hufflepuff Zacharias Smith; Fred; George; and Lee Jordan. Says Harry, to Hermione:

“A couple of people? A couple of people?

Harry is actually pretty angry with Hermione for not preparing him, and tries to figure out what she told them. She placates him by speaking first. She’s really nervous and unsure of herself at first, which: again, adorable. She gets to her feet and bravely tells the group that not only does she think they need to learn Defense Against the Dark Arts for the sake of learning and to pass their O.W.L.’s, but straight up that Lord Voldemort is back and they need to be prepared. People freak out, but quiet-like, because clearly they expected to hear something of the kind, even if the actual hearing of it is still a shock (this leads Harry to further believe there are ulterior motives for so many people being there).

Zacharias Smith, like the wart that he is, quickly steers the conversation away from where Hermione was taking it, to demanding proof that old Voldy is back. He plainly doesn’t really believe Harry, but was curious enough to come anyway. Hermione tries in vain to get everything back on track, but Harry stops her.

“It had just dawned on him why there were so many people there. He thought Hermione should have seen this coming. Some of these people — maybe even most of them — had turned up in the hopes of hearing Harry’s story firsthand.”

Harry plainly tells anyone who’s just there to hear him talk about Voldemort murdering Cedric Diggory to clear the fuck out, but all this does is make them more curious. (They instinctively sense if he was lying about it, he’d be a lot more talkative and showboaty.) Hermione again tries to talk logistics of the meetings. All the while she’s doing this, Harry feels like a sideshow freak put on display. He doesn’t get that these people want to believe him, they’re just afraid to, and he mistakes their fearful curiosity for scorn. That is, until they start listing out all the things they’ve heard about him.

The list of amazing and/or noteworthy things Harry has done by this point in the series could fill several pages (I know this because I made said list back when the books were all first released). Harry’s companions manage to bring up a lot of the major ones they’ve heard through rumor and second or third-hand knowledge:

  1. Last year, he was the only person to throw off Imperius curse completely.
  2. He can produce a corporeal Patronus (this from Susan Bones, whose aunt got it directly from Harry).
  3. According to Viktor Krum (this from Hermione), Harry can do all sorts of stuff fully grown wizards can’t, including things Krum couldn’t do in his 7th year at Durmstrang.
  4. Dean says he was told that Harry killed a basilisk in their second year with the sword in Dumbledore’s office.
  5. And Neville, bless him, pipes in about ‘the philological stone’ Harry won out from under Voldemort’s nose their first year.
  6. Somebody else brings up how he fought off the pack of Dementors third year.
  7. Harry’s favorite, though, and the one that breaks him, is when Cho compliments him about how great he was during all the tasks in the Triwizard Tournament.

Everyone in the room is deeply impressed with Harry. One of these rumors being true is cool enough, but put them all in proximity to one another, and have them still all be true? It works them up into a frenzy. From there everyone just shouts out rumors of Harry’s accomplishments until it’s all he can do to affirm, and then explode that it’s not like that, that he nearly always had help.

I really love this scene, for a lot of different reasons, but mostly because of the way it grounds The Fearsome Legend of the Famous Harry Potter in a logical world of cause and effect. Of course things like these wouldn’t be kept fully secret, not when the paintings on the walls can literally talk. But also, as much as Harry’s success is attributed to his talents and proclivities, he’s also right. From the outside all of Harry’s accomplishments look even more impressive than they really are because nobody on the outside can see just how much he had to struggle to accomplish them, or how many people assisted him along the way.

The only accomplishment in that list that is truly Harry’s alone is the first — his natural, hyper-emotional state and fierce sense of self and independence, which allows him to resist the Imperius curse — is his and his alone. The rest? Numbers two and six, regarding the Dementors, have the handprint (pawprint?) of Remus J. Lupin on them as well as Harry’s natural talent for that sort of magic (the same that allows him to resist the Imperius curse). Harry had massive help from Ron and Hermione on the Philosopher’s Stone, even if the final battle was his alone. To kill the Basilisk he pulled from his own bravery, but bravery would have been nothing without the Sorting Hat and Fawkes, provided to him by Hogwarts and Dumbledore, respectively. As for Krum’s assertion, well, Harry can do things other wizards can’t at his age because he’s had experiences other wizards will never have. Other wizards never had to face a crossroads where learning how to do a Patronus was the difference between living and dying, just to use one example.

After informing them she’ll contact them with the first meeting time (making sure it interrupts no one’s Quidditch practice, of course), Hermione stuns the whole group when she tells them they think the reason the Ministry (read: Fudge) is refusing to let them learn actual defensive magic is that they’re afraid Dumbledore is building up an army. She also makes them all sign a piece of paper as a promise to keep quiet about what they’re doing (some sign rather reluctantly, but Hermione insists — smartly, it turns out). They’re officially a group now, even if one without a place to meet.

And, just to remind us these are teenagers, Jo ends the chapter with some hormones. First, Ron finds out Ginny is dating one of the 4th year boys she brought to the meeting:

“Which one was Michael Corner?” Ron demanded furiously.
“The dark one,” said Hermione.
“I didn’t like him,” said Ron at once.

Then Hermione points out that Cho just couldn’t take her eyes off Harry. Harry floats home like so:

“Harry had never before appreciated just how beautiful the village of Hogsmeade was.”

Other thoughts:

  • “Harry’s detentions with Umbridge were finally over (he doubted whether the words now etched into the back of his hand would ever fade entirely).” Fuck you, Umbridge, you putrid cow.
  • We’re half-way through the book at this point, and it’s only September in the school year. And I just LOVE IT. This book has so much book.
  • “He didn’t only want to be your pen-pal.” Ron is jealous.
  • Harry is worried about Sirius’s mental health, shut up by himself with just Kreacher and Buckbeak for company.
  • Harry and Ron now completely overloaded with homework, even with his Umbridge detentions over, Quidditch and prefect duties. Bring on the O.W.L.s!
  • Classic Hermione, picking up on the weirdness of someone tipping Filch off to Harry supposedly sending Dungbombs. They haven’t yet realized the extent to which Umbridge wishes to control everyone and everything in Hogwarts.
  • Once again, details that mean almost nothing to us yet are present in the text. The Hog’s Head smells of something like goats, which is a hint that its proprietor is one Aberforth Dumbledore, who we learned was convicted of “using inappropriate charms on a goat.”
  • Ron wants to try Firewhiskey, but Hermione has to remind him he’s a prefect, and prefects never have any fun.
  • Neville talking about the Philological Stone is PRICELESS.
  • I like Harry’s realization about Ginny not crushing on him anymore: “So that’s why she talks to me now? She never used to talk in front of me.”

– – –

ed dec num 24CHAPTER 17: EDUCATIONAL DECREE NUMBER TWENTY-FOUR

So I had written out this whole, like 1,000 word post on this chapter, and I did click save! I did! And somehow it didn’t get saved anyway, WORDPRESS.

AND IT WAS REALLY GOOD AND IT HAD LOTS OF DEEP THOUGHTS ABOUT CONSEQUENCES AND FEAR AND UMBRIDGE AND IT TOOK ME TWO AND A HALF HOURS TO WRITE. So now I’m going to throw a TEMPER TANTRUM and not re-write it because the thought of doing that makes me want to PUNCH MYSELF IN THE FACE.

So here’s some stuff that happens in this chapter:

  • Harry is in a good mood because of the meeting at the Hog’s Head, because everyone was praising him (Cho was praising him), but mostly it’s just a nice feeling that a bunch of people don’t think he’s “a lying weirdo”.
  • So of course it’s time for a bubble burster. And her name is Dolores Jane Umbridge.
  • Fuck you, WordPress.
  • Umbridge has passed an educational decree as High Inquisitor that disbands all student groups of any type, and which states that any group meeting will need to be acknowledged and approved by her in order to be legal. This has the effect of making their newly formed DADA study group illegal, but also Quidditch. Fuck you, Umbridge.
  • Harry immediately understands that this is in response to their meeting. Ron thinks someone from the group told, but it turns out that Hermione cursed the parchment and if anyone would have snitched, they would definitely know about it. Hermione is an evil genius.
  • The whole DA tries to turn up at breakfast and Hermione has to shoo them away.
  • WordPress can eat some shit.
  • Hedwig turns up in History of Magic, injured and ruffled, someone clearly having intercepted the letter she bears. He takes her to Professor Grubbly-Plank, and runs into McGonagall as well, who warns him communications are being monitored. He tells Ron and Hermione and they worry that Sirius will be caught in the fire that night, even though his message is cryptic.
  • His message: “Today, same time, same place.”
  • Umbridge inspects Snape and Trelawney in this chapter. I love the way Jo involves the teachers and the classes in the actual main plot of the book, with the inspections, and the feeling of insurrection it inspires in teachers and students alike. The camaraderie that comes from facing a common enemy is really satisfying to read about.
  • I will boil down what I said in my first post, which is essentially that Fudge and Umbridge, in addition to being assholes, actually do more to help Voldemort out than if they’d accepted he was back. The discord and chaos they sow in the wizarding community is nothing but a boon to Old Voldy.
  • WordPress can suck an elf.
  • Sirius’s head meets them in the fire of the Gryffindor Common Room, tells them Dung was the witch in the Hog’s head, that they should have chosen a better spot, that Umbridge probably had someone in there as well. The Three Broomsticks would have been noisier and harder to be overheard in. Sirius also makes sure to let Harry know he’s proud of his godson for making trouble, and that Mrs. Weasley is furious.
  • Their conversation is interrupted by Umbridge’s ugly, beringed fingers groping for Sirius’s head. Any further conversations with Sirius will be virtually impossible.
  • WordPress smells like fart cheese.

Fuck yeah, Dumbledore’s Army. You can’t get here soon enough.

Other stuff:

  • How have we not discovered the sliding staircase into the girl’s dormitory before this?
  • It’s a mark of how much Harry really loves Quidditch that he actually tries hard for the first time not to lose his temper with Umbridge so she might be more willing to reinstate the Gryffindor team.
  • Have I told you guys about my weird and inexplicable love for Professor Grubbly-Plank? Because it’s a thing.
  • Neville tries to attack Malfoy after his comment about St. Mungos, and Harry only one who knows why.
  • More nice character moments: Hermione not appreciating how genius Fred and George really are with all their Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes products, because she, like most people, doesn’t think these skills “worthwhile.” I like this detail about her because it shows that even smart, kind social-justice loving Hermione has her prejudices.
  • “Snape and Umbridge, the two teachers he hated most. It was hard to decide which one he wanted to triumph over the other.” Definitely Snape.
  • We get the first official confirmation from Snape’s own lips that he has applied every year for the DADA job and been turned down.
  • I don’t think anyone’s mentioned it yet, so let me. Like many of Jo’s names, ‘Dolores Umbridge’ is a clever reference in and of itself. ‘Dolores’ comes from the Spanish Mary of Sorrows, but I’d bet real money that Jo meant this one to come from the Latin root, dolor, meaning pain and grief. Both of these things Umbridge brings to the world in spades. ‘Umbridge’ is a play on the word “umbrage,” meaning a feeling of being offended by what someone has said or done. That one pretty much speaks for itself.
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11 thoughts on “The Order of the Phoenix, Chapters 16-17: For Every Overreaction, an Equal and Opposite Overreaction

  1. Kevin O'Shea says:

    Professor Grubbly-Plank doesn’t get nearly as much love as she should, simply because she’s Not-Hagrid. And that’s both in-universe and out. I just think she’s fascinating, and we know so little about her.

    • Ashley says:

      I think we already talked about this a bit during book four, but I think . . . she’s actually a much better teacher than Hagrid. And she has the coolest name ever.

      It’s not that Hagrid couldn’t BE a good teacher, but he lets his own shit get in the way too often, good or bad.

      • Kevin O'Shea says:

        He’s the kind of teacher, I think, that’s really good with the subject matters he really likes a lot, but struggles a bit if he doesn’t think it’s worth it.

        • Ashley says:

          Yeah, I’d buy that. But also, I’m talking about his emotional shit as well. Letting parent and student opinions affect his lesson plans. They spent months learning about FLOBBERWORMS, Hagrid! FLOBBERWORMS.

          • Kevin O'Shea says:

            I think a lot of people don’t really think about the fact that his life was pretty much ruined forever when he was -thirteen-, and he never really recovered from that. He never learned how to be an adult aside from physical labor. Even though it’s been fifty years, he’s still stunted developmentally, and it really shows.

            Dumbledore has a lot of faith in him, but Dumbledore’s also a big fan of “Sink or swim, [Name], and I’ll go over here to wait for when you’ll make it out alive, I believe so much in you that I don’t need to actually show you how to do it yourself”. I mean, nothing against Dumbledore but he’s never been that much a “small picture” guy, you know?

          • Ashley says:

            No, I get it. And I realize that Hagrid’s behavior is a direct outcome of his past, and even afterwards living his life hiding that giant (ha) secret, always fearing it would come out and what would happen if it did. It definitely makes sense that he acts the way he does when bad things happen to him on a personal level, but it’s still frustrating for me to read about sometimes.

            And honest;y, good on Dumbledore for giving him the chance. I like to think that once Hagrid got used to being a teacher and realized he wasn’t going to be fired every five seconds, and that yes some people are always going to dislike him, he turned out to be a good teacher for real.

          • Kevin O'Shea says:

            That’s why, as much as I recognize his oversights, I’ll never seriously criticize Dumbledore. He believes in the best of people, always, and is very seldom proven wrong about it.

  2. I didn’t know that about the name Dolores. Neat!

    “Neville tries to attack Malfoy after his comment about St. Mungos…” I am so not emotionally prepared for the St. Mungo’s chapter.

  3. Dan says:

    I think Chapter 16 is my favorite in the entire book. Not just the part where we learn that Hermione is clandestinely pulling the strings in Harry and Ginny’s future relationship, but the meeting in general. I’ve been saying since my very first post on this blog that JKR is showing us that victory comes from cooperation. Harry has done insane shit for four years because he’s had help. The Ol’ Noseless One will be defeated through unity.

  4. Jennie says:

    I love that JKR makes us side with Snape for a moment. That’s how odious Umbridge is.

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