This year’s been one bumpy ride after another! What with Umbridge, Dementors, Voldemort, bad dreams, and Ron’s performance anxieties, Harry’s just about at his breaking point. So when he sees the light on in Hagrid’s hut, he’s relieved not only because his friend is back, but also for the return of a crucial touchstone in Harry’s life.
And let’s face it: Hagrid’s a crucial touchstone in our lives as well. It’s not just Harry that was swept away into a world of magic and wonder when Hagrid came calling – we were taken along for the ride. When Hagrid was sent to Azkaban, we were just as afraid. Throughout the first half of this book, whenever anyone asked “Where’s Hagrid?”, the lack of answer ate at us just as much as it did Harry.
Harry needs this oasis in this crazy-hostile year, but so do we.
(Especially after Ron’s performance anxieties.)
Order of the Phoenix, as I mentioned before, was the first book whose release I waited for. This was when I stayed up for hours and binge read the entire thing all at once so that I could hop online and talk about it with all my friends who were doing the same thing.
It’s an entirely different kind of experience, reading it along with your friends, as opposed to picking it up after the fact. Not to discount the latter, of course; that was how I enjoyed the first four. But something about the fact that it was brand new and that there would be so much longer to wait for the next one only enhanced it. The scary parts were scarier, not knowing anything about what was going to come next. The frustrating annoyance of Umbridge was all the more uncomfortable. And let’s not forget, we were coming right off the heels of Goblet of Fire, where people died. Anyone could be in danger at any time! Nobody knew!
We paid for the whole seat, but we only needed the edge.
CHAPTER 20: HAGRID’S TALE
There’s just something about the way that Harry, Ron, and Hermione practically sprint across the snow to go visit Hagrid as soon as he gets back that absolutely gets me. Not only that, but Hagrid isn’t even surprised. Have any other students gravitated towards Hagrid in his pseudo-exile from the Wizarding World? Has he really had any other visitors aside from Dumbledore?
Hagrid appears to have come home directly from his poorly-hidden1 adventures with the giants because he’s beaten all to hell. He slaps some raw meat on a black eye, (which is a remedy I’ve only seen in fiction, actually – has anyone actually ever done this themselves? RE-READ PROJECT I ASK YOU), and gives the minimum required protest for plausible deniability before submitting to the Trio’s questions.
(It’s interesting to note that both here and slightly later, Hagrid kind of refuses to mention time frames aside from the initial trip over the summer. He says it’s about two months, but it’s pretty much December by now.)
Through Hagrid’s storytelling, we find out the following things about giants:
- They’re up in the mountains.
- They’re something of an endangered species by now.
- They’re massive dicks.
When Hagrid and Madame Maxime found the surviving clan in Europe, they had to deal with clan infighting and language barriers – nothing, of course, that couldn’t be overcome by all the sweet gifts that Dumbledore made them.
I’ll skip my usual questions of how they carried a branch of Everlasting Flame without setting fire to their camping equipment because, let’s face it, the answer will be “magic”. But the language barrier became a problem because they didn’t clarify that “indestructible goblin-made helmet” means that the helmet is indestructible, not the person wearing it.
One beheading later, Hagrid and Madame Maxime ended up fighting their way out of the giant’s camp. The new leader of the giants really didn’t want anything to do with Dumbledore or his envoys.
Of course, at one point they found some other giants that might have been swayed–
But Hermione said, “What do you mean ‘at one point,’ Hagrid?”
Hagrid looked at her sadly.
“Golgomath’s lot raided the caves. The ones tha’ survived didn’ wan’ no more ter do with us after that.”
Which leaves them running for their lives from Death Eaters, Death Eater sympathizing giants, and one or two painful truths about Hagrid’s larger side of the family.
We also find out that Hagrid had asked around after his mother – the giantess Fridwulfa, as we were told last year – but to no avail: she had died a long time ago.
What absolutely kills me is that, had they not been interrupted, Harry and Hermione would have gotten the whole story out of Hagrid right then and there because he is in a chatty mood and those two really can tag-team an interrogation when they’re in the swing of things3. But instead, Umbridge shows up and ruins everything.
(This is the alternate title of the book, actually. “Umbridge Shows Up And Ruins Everything”. I can only imagine that J.K. wanted to use this title but her editor made her change it to something a bit more mysterious.)
“Er – I don’ want ter be rude,” said Hagrid, staring at her, “but who the ruddy hell are you?”
(I love that line.)
Umbridge completely ruins the mood of the evening by poking around, asking about things and stuff and being a complete jerk to Hagrid. When she finally leaves, everyone’s so anxious that nobody thinks to go back to where Hagrid has been since then and ask why he was more battered than Colonel Sanders’ finest.
No, now the Trio’s worried (correctly) that Hagrid’s “Dangerous only means more interesting!” attitude towards teaching his class will get him in trouble with Umbridge, who still has yet to inspect Care of Magical Creatures. And he won’t hear anything against what he’s got planned, because it’s going to be awesome.
But this chapter ends on two statements by Hermione that are, in two completely different ways, so quintessentially her. Normally they’d have nothing to do with each other because Hermione’s wish to have a “properly-taught” class has always warred with her personal love of Hagrid – but if you can count on one thing, it’s Umbridge’s way of twisting everything she comes in contact with, no matter how incidental:
“Then I’ll go back again tomorrow,” said Hermione determinedly. “I’ll plan his lessons for him if I have to. I don’t care if she throws out Trelawney but she’s not taking Hagrid!”
CHAPTER 21: THE EYE OF THE SNAKE
I’m going to give Ron the benefit of the doubt and assume that he doesn’t only use his prefect status to stop things that personally annoy him. There’s no proof, of course – it’s just something I want desperately to believe. With Dumbledore going out of his way to not show favoritism to Harry this year, there has to be some reason that Ron was chosen as a prefect instead of Seamus or Dean. (I’m not including Neville in this list, because while Dumbledore is not unaware of Neville’s true strength of character, he’d have a much harder time enforcing his authority with Malfoy and friends undermining him at every turn.) Seamus doesn’t blow everything up outside of movie continuity, and Dean’s relatively responsible that we’ve seen. So either Ron’s actually decent at his position, or Dumbledore’s a giant hypocrite.
I have to believe the former. Dumbledore may be ill-advised on some things, but he hasn’t let me down where it counts. Not yet.
Anyway, this chapter opens up on Ron once again only using his prefect status to try to stop something that personally annoys him. Given that the subject of his annoyance is Fred and George, nobody is surprised at the results.
Hermione’s attempts to change Hagrid’s lesson plans for his own good are met with similar results, and it is with great apprehension that the Trio approaches their first Care of Magical Creatures class with Hagrid back – and with Umbridge inspecting.
Umbridge is the worst. Hermione’s not the only one on the verge of violence during Hagrid’s lesson with every interruption, exaggerated insult, and mocking note that Umbridge makes over the course of the lesson. A lesson that not even Hermione can find fault with, moreover – Hagrid had brought the class to see Hogwarts’ own herd of thestrals.
How much do I love the concept of thestrals? So much. I love the fact that they’re basically invisible nightmare pegasii that eat meat, look practically skeletal, and only appear to people who have seen death. I love that despite this, they’re relatively docile, even friendly creatures that enjoy helping out and have a fantastic sense of direction. I love the fact that Dumbledore rides them to the Ministry when he has an appointment and probably freaks out everyone there who has no idea what’s going on. I love that they’ve been pulling the school carriages for years, and that nobody has ever questioned this4.
It’s validation that Harry hasn’t been going crazy. It’s a subtle realization that there’s more going on with Luna Lovegood than anyone had previously considered at this time (it’s a real shame that it takes Harry until the end of the book to see this). It’s a chance for Hagrid to talk confidently and knowledgeably about something that shows off his strengths and oh damn that’s right, Umbridge is still there—
“Are you aware,” Umbridge said loudly, interrupting him, “that the Ministry of Magic has classified thestrals as ‘dangerous’?”
I can’t even talk about all the horrible things Umbridge does during Hagrid’s class. It’s no real surprise that she turns to the Slytherjerkfaces to drive in each insult just that much harder. To Malfoy and friends, this is probably Christmas.
Speaking of Christmas – and moving to a much happier note before my headache returns – the castle is bustling with decorations and plans for the holidays, and the D.A. meetings are no exception.
“Mistletoe,” said Luna dreamily, pointing at a large clump of white berries placed almost over Harry’s head. He jumped out from under it. “Good thinking,” said Luna very seriously. “It’s often infested with nargles.”
Luna is such a treasure. It’s almost hard reading these parts of the book, when Harry still thinks she’s weird, because after his epiphany about her towards the end, she quickly becomes one of his favorite people and the two of them just understand each other. She’ll probably never be as close of a friend as Ron or Hermione, but she doesn’t have to be. She’s just Luna and the two of them are bros for life.
The holiday D.A. meeting is mostly just a review before everyone goes home (as well as a short discussion of replacements for the Quidditch team ever since Umbridge Happened), so it gets disbanded a bit early. And then Cho lingers a bit to talk awkwardly with Harry… mostly about Cedric, how he died, how Harry reminded her of Cedric. You know, the really romantic pre-holiday kind of conversation.
Not to be outdone, Harry moves in for the kill:
“Mistletoe,” said Cho quietly, pointing at the ceiling over his head.
“Yeah,” said Harry. His mouth was very dry. “It’s probably full of nargles, though.”
One of the best little moments amongst the Trio happens when Harry makes his way back to the Gryffindor common room. Ron keeps getting more and more invested in the story, while Hermione happens to have been expecting it all along. Harry shares the news with Ron and Hermione as well as us, the narrative having conveniently moved on during the moment itself to give them some much-needed privacy.
The whole thing is a bit weird to Harry, though, and it’s Hermione that has to explain that no, Cho wasn’t crying because of the kiss itself, but rather all the weird teenage feelings and thoughts she was having at the time.
A slightly stunned silence greeted the end of this speech, then Ron said, “One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode.”
“Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have,” said Hermione nastily, picking up her quill again.
Hermione fills up her Sass-O-Meter a bit more as the romance conversation winds down for the evening – yes, she’s writing to Viktor Krum, no, Ron, you can’t see what she’s writing. But the emotional whiplash doesn’t end just yet, for Harry dreams of the forbidden corridor once again…
…and wakes up just as his dream-self, in the form of a snake, violently attacks Arthur Weasley.
And it doesn’t seem to be just a dream this time.
- Let’s face it, people. Hagrid can’t keep a secret to save his life. Dumbledore pretty much FLAT OUT SAID IT in front of Harry. This was no great deduction worthy of the Hogwarts Speculation Club.
- It has recently come to my attention that there are some people who have not yet experienced the glorious cheese that is Krull. To those people, I say: You are in for a wonderful 80s fantasy treat. Shame it’s been pulled from Netflix, though.
- Only Harry and Ron became Aurors, but I would bet a whole herd of hippogriffs that they had Hermione with them when it came time to play Good Cop/Bad Cop. And that’s not even counting all the times that Ron brought his work home with him because, let’s face it, why ruin a study system that worked so well for six years?
- J.K. never ceases to amaze me with her depth of worldbuilding. Here you have a perfect example of BOTH A: the fact that people who are familiar with magic will just accept the presence of magic and B: a lot of what people call magic is just knowing one extra fact that the rest don’t. And then she makes them not mutually exclusive to the setting, and it works.