This review is crossposted from Ashley‘s funtastic Harry Potter Medicinal Reread. Thanks to Ashley for assigning me these final chapters of Order of the Phoenix, some of my favorite chapters of the whole series.
Original review here.
The battle is over. The war is just beginning. Harry Potter has survived, but only to be thrown into grief once again.
I love so much about what JK Rowling gets right about children (and, you know, people in general), but one of the things I love most is that she lets children grieve.
So many people think children don’t really grieve, or their feelings of grief aren’t as real as those of adults, because children don’t or can’t understand what’s going on, or because some think children unable to experience that depth of feeling. I challenge anyone to meet or, hell, BE, a child in grief and still hold onto that belief. Children feel all the same feelings adults do when it comes to grieving, and usually find these feelings more confusing because A) they’ve never felt them before or B) the adults in their lives don’t feel comfortable talking about them.
Unfortunately, Harry Potter has become all too accustomed to grieving. But there’s a fortunate flip-side to this coin. The adults in Harry’s life don’t always shy away from sharing their own feelings or explaining things to Harry that he may not yet understand. Think back to Lupin and Sirius explaining away Harry’s upset when he discovers that his father might not have exhibited perfect qualities as a teenager (WHAT). They could have easily brushed Harry’s feelings aside. Instead, they laughed, remembering the boastful youth their friend once was, and gave Harry some means to understand.
Harry’s feelings of grief are complicated. He grieves his parents, of course, but it’s the grief of a child who never knew them, an empty hollow feeling, a sharp stab, I’d expect, when he sees his friends being so well-cared for by their own parents. And now Harry Potter must grieve for his godfather, another parental figure taken too soon, and before he’s really even gotten a chance to know him.
Because Sirius Black is dead.
CHAPTER 37: THE LOST PROPHECY
This chapter is a total info dump, a wrapping-up of all the loose threads, all the mysterious goings-on that had been happening all year (and then some), and it could be so very boring, so very, very boring, but this chapter here? It’s the moment I knew JK Rowling had me under her thrall and I would never, ever be able to escape it.
Harry arrives in Dumbledore’s office. He’s alone. He’s angry and confused and blaming himself for Sirius’s death. This is not uncommon. Children often think the deaths of those around them are their fault. They experience all sorts of magical thinking (and not fun Hogwarts magic)…”if I’d said this, if I’d done that, so-and-so would still be alive” etc.
I’d imagine Harry feels this sting all the more because so many things point to Sirius’s death being his fault (again, with some more magical thinking). Harry DIDN’T practice Occlumency, he had evidence (and was told repeatedly) that Voldemort could invade his mind, and he still rushed off to the Department of Mysteries, having warned only Snape that something was amiss (though, this is a step in the right direction, at least he’s finally telling an adult).
But Harry is a child. Only a monster would blame him for Sirius’s death.
Still, that doesn’t stop him from blaming himself:
“It was unbearable, he would not think about it, he could not stand it. … There was a terrible hollow inside him he did not want to feel or examine, a dark hole where Sirius had been, where Sirius had vanished. He did not want to have to be alone with that great, silent space, he could not stand it–”
Dumbledore arrives, startling Harry out of his guilt spiral for a brief moment. He lets Harry work out some of his anger, which will continue throughout much of this chapter. Harry rages at Dumbledore, he smashes his things, yet Dumbledore remains calm. He lets Harry say terrible things to him, because he knows Harry doesn’t mean any of it. Or if he does, he knows they are only things Harry would say while dwelling in the deepest pit of his grief.
And then Dumbledore takes the blame from him. He insists it was his fault for trying to keep Sirius under lock and key. That it was really only a matter of time before Sirius took a chance. It’s who he was. We have evidence of this from the beginning of this very book, when Sirius accompanied Harry to Kings Cross as Snuffles. Hell, we have evidence dating back to his adventures as a Marauder. Sirius has always taken chances. Unfortunately, this time, his penchant for recklessness and his feelings of impotence at being relegated to Order HQ for too long, accompanied by the thought that Harry might be in grave danger…his tragic end was just waiting to happen. It wasn’t Harry’s fault. It wasn’t even Dumbledore’s fault, however much he insists. The fault lies with Voldemort. It always does. (Well, and with JKR, who lives for our suffering).
Dumbledore’s real fault is that he never told Harry what Voldemort was seeking at the Department of Mysteries. If he had, Harry might never have gone there, meaning Sirius would never have had to follow.
And then Dumbledore tells Harry that the reason he’s been keeping him at arm’s length, the reason he entrusted the important Occlumency lessons to Snape instead of himself, is because he cares about Harry too much and did not want to give Voldemort that knowledge.
We also learn that Kreacher has not been loyal to the Order. Kreacher had been feeding information to Narcissa Malfoy. It was, in fact, because of Kreacher that Harry could not get ahold of Sirius after he had his vision. This is why you should always listen to Hermione.
Harry, thinking Dumbledore is blaming Sirius for his own death, starts raging again. He eventually directs his anger at Snape, the perfect scapegoat. It was Snape, after all, who teased Sirius about not putting himself in harm’s way. It was Snape who stopped teaching Harry Occlumency. It’s easy for Harry to blame Snape, not only because he already hates him, but because Harry must blame SOMEONE and why not the man who hated Sirius almost as much as he’d hated James Potter.
It is at this point that Dumbledore decides to tell Harry (and us, woohoo!) everything. Dumbledore, sweet Dumbledore, could not bring himself to tell Harry everything during Harry’s first year, the first time he faced Voldemort, because he loved him too much.
But now he has to tell him. It’s time.
We learn that Voldemort tried to kill Harry because of a prophecy made before he was even born. Once Voldemort knew about this prophecy, he set about to kill Harry. His plan, as we know, backfired, which is why he needed to lure Harry to the Department of Mysteries: so he could finally hear this entire prophecy from the source herself.
Because the source of this prophecy was one Sybil Trelawney, witnessed only by Dumbledore and (partially) by someone listening from the hall:
“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches … born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not … and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives … the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies …”
Part of this information was fed to Voldemort by this eavesdropper, but only the first bit, and though we now know who this person is, Dumbledore wisely keeps it from Harry for the time being.
(I love that this prophecy could have been about sweet Neville Longbottom. I’d like to think there’s a series of seven books in some alternate universe that swaps Harry’s name for Neville’s. I want to read it.)
Harry now knows that he must kill Voldemort or be killed himself, for “neither can live while the other survives.” That is some heavy shit for a 15-year-old. Which is why, Dumbledore tearfully explains, he didn’t make Harry prefect at the beginning of term. And THAT is why my heart is broken into a thousand trillion pieces, never to fully heal again.
CHAPTER 38: THE SECOND WAR BEGINS
The trio, along with Ginny, Neville, and Luna, are hanging out in the hospital wing, as many of them are still recovering from their adventures at the Department of Mysteries. They aren’t alone. Umbridge is there, as well, having been rescued by Dumbledore from the centaurs. She is supposedly in shock, though Ginny says she’s sulking. (Soon she will be gone completely, chased out of the castle by Peeves. Guess that’s the last we’ll see of her! Right? RIGHT?)
Harry still hasn’t told Ron or Hermione (or anyone) what the prophecy said. You know who he would’ve told? Sirius.
Harry starts to get bummed out around all those people, so he visits Hagrid. However, first he runs into Malfoy, who is pretty pissed that Harry sent his father to Azkaban. Malfoy and Harry draw wands and, Snape (OF COURSE) sees them. He takes points from Gryffindor, but Harry is soon rescued by McGonagall, as she’s returned to Hogwarts from St. Mungo’s.
Harry’s visit with Hagrid is a short one, as Hagrid tries to talk to him about Sirius. Harry is not having that, so he leaves quickly and instead goes to the lake. He’s relishing his alone time, really, because he feels separate from everyone, now that he knows he’ll either have to kill Voldemort or be killed by him.
Three days before the end of term, Ron and Hermione finally get out of the hospital wing and Harry’s depression grows, realizing he has to go back to Privet Drive. While packing to leave, Harry finds the gift Sirius had given him, the one he instructed Harry to use if he needed him. So, of course, because JKR likes to bathe daily in the tears of her fans, Harry unwraps the gift to discover an old, dirty mirror, with a note explaining that it’s a two-way mirror. All Harry has to do is say Sirius’s name and he’ll appear.
Harry tries it. And nothing happens. Harry gets very angry and, in his disappointment, shatters the mirror into shards when he throws it in his trunk. I guess we’ll never see that mirror again! Nope! It’s definitely not important in any way.
Harry is not completely deterred, however. He seeks out Nearly Headless Nick, to ask him if Sirius could have become a ghost. Nick is very kind, gently explaining that not many wizards choose that path, but it doesn’t lessen Harry’s hurt at losing the second chance of seeing Sirius again in the span of, what, ten minutes?
Harry mopes through the halls and runs into Luna, who is searching for her missing belongings, which have been hidden by her classmates throughout the year. Harry is angry on Luna’s behalf, but Luna can’t be bothered, insisting that, “They’ll come back. They always do in the end.”
Luna asks why Harry’s not at the feast and immediately understands that his answer of “just didn’t feel like it,” translates to him missing his godfather. Luna is familiar with this feeling, as she witnessed her mother’s death when she was only nine.
There’s just so much loss in this book. And so much of it is Harry’s. But he feels better after he talks to Luna, because sometimes the only thing you need when you’re hurting is to know that someone out there has been hurt just like you and survived it. (Also because, in a series chock-a-block full of magic, Luna is real actual caps lock MAGIC.)
Harry’s ride home is much like it always is. There’s an altercation with Malfoy and his cronies. Harry is dreading the Dursleys. Voldemort is a threat hanging over all of their heads, once again.
But, even though so much is so very not OK, we believe Harry will be. He has the DA to back him up when Malfoy attacks. People now believe that Voldemort is back. They believe in Harry. And the Dursleys, as dreadful as they are, don’t pack nearly the punch after all Harry has been through this year. And to make matters even better, he has a group of real, proper adults looking out for him. Lupin, Mad Eye, Tonks, and the Weasleys all show up to make sure the Dursleys know that if they don’t treat Harry properly, they’ll have the Order to answer to. It’s a small effort on their part, yet such an outpouring of love, and I like to think at least part of the effort is in honor of Sirius, who could not be there.