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The Ups and Downs of Harry’s Fifth Year

Claire

Claire

Claire is a student with a focus on English literature and a bit of Linguistics and Anthropology on the side. Harry Potter remains her first and probably most intense obsession, followed by cute animals and caffeine.
Claire

Presented by “Harry Potter and the Reread Project”

When we left the Golden Trio in my last Harry Potter Reread post, Hermione had just suggested forming a secret study group in response to Umbridge and the Ministry of Magic refusing to teach them actual defensive magic. Despite Harry’s original lack of enthusiasm about the idea, Dumbledore’s Army takes center stage in the third of five parts of Order of the Phoenix, giving us not only the joy of Harry as a teacher but his first awkward romantic encounter as well as more nastiness stemming from Umbridge, more Weasley family drama and more angst on Harry’s part.

More Toady Evilness

As I pointed out at the end of my last Reread post, the second part of Order of the Phoenix largely lays the foundations for the rest of the book, making it a bit less interesting. To a certain extent, the same is true of the third part as well: many of the chapters are focused on the everyday and school life of the characters, their classes, the seemingly unsurmountable mountain of homework, and Quidditch practices.

At the same time, there’s a growing sense of insecurity, surveillance and mystery as Umbridge’s power grows while Voldemort remains mostly out of the picture. One way this is achieved is through making Umbridge almost omnipresent. During this part of the book, her inspections of other teachers become more frequent, leading to some hilarious exchanges (for example with McGonagall), as well as the deeply uncomfortable inspection of Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures lesson. During this, Umbridge consistently treats Hagrid as if he was too stupid to understand her by speaking extremely slowly and loudly to him and accompanying her words by gestures. She also immediately shows up on Hagrid’s doorstep when he returns to Hogwarts despite it being the middle of the night to interrogate him about where he was.

This sense of omnipresence becomes even stronger when Umbridge puts a ban on all student organisations that she hasn’t personally approved almost immediately after the first meeting of Dumbledore’s Army. She also attacks Hedwig to read Harry’s letters, hurting the owl and almost catching Sirius when he essentially uses floo powder to facetime Harry.

It’s something that makes Umbridge an incredibly effective villain: she’s always either keeping up with or one step ahead of the protagonists in ways that they don’t anticipate. This is also the case when Umbridge provides the Educational Decree that gives her the absolute authority over the punishment of students who break school rules, meaning that she can issue a lifelong Quidditch ban against Harry and the Weasley twins after he and George get into a physical fight with Malfoy.

Umbridge is also an effective villain because she absolutely undermines the idea of Hogwarts as a sanctuary. Her very presence shows that Hogwarts isn’t save from outside influence. The fact that she can also abuse Harry to the point of leaving actual lasting scars without anyone doing anything about it is even scarier as it shows that the teachers inside Hogwarts are also quite powerless to protect the students. And after she has banned Harry from Quidditch, it gets to the point where he barely wants to return to Hogwarts—a point that Harry never reached in any of the previous books, no matter what was going on.

Conflicting Conflicts

Additionally, Umbridge monitoring Harry’s communication specifically further isolates him from the Order in general and Sirius, the only Order member actually willing to give Harry any information in the first place, specifically. That in combination with the Daily Prophet’s silence and Dumbledore absolutely keeping his distance from Harry means that both the main characters and the readers don’t know what is going on outside of the school.

It’s an interesting contrast to the first fifth of the book that took place in Privet Drive and at Grimmauld Place. During this part, the threat that Voldemort presented to Wizarding society and the effects of his return were a lot more palpable. There is still a basic awareness of the threat that Voldemort presents but it’s something that Harry and his friends are far less preoccupied with than in the first part of the book.

Essentially, Order of the Phoenix contains two main conflicts—the fight against Voldemort and his Death Eaters and the Ministry and Umbridge trying to gain power in Hogwarts—alongside the everyday and school life of the characters. During roughly the first half of the book, the latter becomes the focus of the story, giving both the readers and the characters a sort of respite before plunging them back into the fight against Voldemort.

An Antifascist Study Group

Speaking of the fight against Voldemort, it’s only been during this reread that it really sunk in how gutsy and at the same time kind of sad it is that the DA was formed. After all, most of the characters are between 15 and 17; they should not have to teach each other how to defend themselves against the members of a fascist organization. They especially should not have to risk their school education to do so.

art by hatepotion

Of course one could argue that Dumbledore’s Army is just a study group meant to resist Umbridge and counteract the Ministry’s bad teaching priorities. This is, after all, part of how the characters justify Dumbledore’s Army to themselves. But already during the formation meeting of the group in the Hog’s Head, Hermione explicitly said that the group wasn’t about fighting Umbridge but about preparing to defend themselves against Voldemort.

I also only now realized that while Harry was the teacher, it was Hermione who was ultimately organizing and running the DA. Not only was it her idea in the first place, she was also the one who found people who were interested in learning, organized the first meeting, found a non-suspicious way for the members to communicate with one another and made sure, though in a fairly unethical way, that no one could go and tell Umbridge about the DA. Not to get too into feminist analysis here, but I do think that it mirrors real-life division of labor along gender lines very well. Except that Hermione gets recognition and praise for her organizational work.

Moving into Focus

The DA also allows the narrative to push more secondary characters into the spotlight, especially Neville. Harry first focuses on him because he’s struggling the most, but starts to regularly note his achievements and growing ability. Order of the Phoenix also incorporates what we learned about Neville’s parents (that they were tortured so badly they are mentally disabled) in Goblet of Fire, first by having Neville try to attack Draco Malfoy after he makes a comment about St. Mungo’s having a ward for people with lasting mental damage from spells and then by actually introducing his parents.

Two other secondary characters who become more important in Order of the Phoenix are Ginny and Cho.

art by hazyplanet

Unfortunately, I haven’t done the math but from my fairly subjective impression, Ginny gets more lines and becomes more present with each book: first through occasionally joining conversations when the Trio and often the twins are hanging out with each other in the common room in Prisoner of Azkaban, then having to reject accompanying Harry to the Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire, forcing him to ask Padma, and then through actually resolving major plot points, for example when she makes it clear to Harry that he can’t be possessed by Voldemort.

It’s actually a quite clever way of making side characters become more prominent, but it also means that a lot of Ginny’s character development after Chamber of Secrets happens completely off-stage. While Hermione nicely explains some of it to Harry when he asks how Ginny gained the ability to speak around him after starting to date other people, it feels unsatisfactory, especially because we never see her deal with being possessed by Voldemort.

It’s also annoying because Neville’s character development, for example, is done so much better. It’s simultaneously marginal enough to not dominate the story in any way but not so marginal that it’s completely unexpected. Yes, Ginny becoming more prominent is noticeable, but only if you specifically pay attention to it the way I did. If you don’t, it feels a lot like Ginny showed up in Chamber of Secrets as a shy eleven-year-old who was possessed by the Dark Lord, then disappeared for two books and reemerged as a a sassy, sporty, fairly popular fourteen-year-old in Prisoner of Azkaban.

Awkward Teenage Love Stories

Interestingly enough, Cho’s growing prominence happened in a similar way: She first appeared in Prisoner of Azkaban as Ravenclaw’s seeker playing against Harry, then becomes Cedric’s girlfriend that Harry’s crushing on in Goblet of Fire and then becomes Harry’s actual love interest in Order of the Phoenix.

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It’s a very typical teenager-y romance subplot, perfectly capturing the deep awkwardness of being fifteen, in love and completely overwhelmed. Harry hasn’t actually thought about how Cho might be feeling or how confusing and terrible the situation is for her. He also genuinely doesn’t believe she could be interested in him, even though Hermione tries to subtly encourage him, and has no idea what he’s doing—he doesn’t even seem to realize that Cho is leaning in for a kiss. At this point of the novel, it’s a bit cringe-worthy but at the same time kind of funny, heartwarming and very relateable even years after my own first awkward teenage experiences.

Additionally, the romance subplots gives us readers one of the most fun and lighthearted scenes of the book, namely Ron, Harry and Hermione talking about Harry and Cho in the Common Room. It’s one of the scenes that best shows the Trio’s friendship and affection, the way they make fun of and are exasperated by one another but also genuinely like and support each other.

The main part of the Cho subplot also takes part immediately before Harry’s vision of Arthur Weasley getting attacked by Nagini at the ministry. It’s one of the most major plot points of the novel and also the moment where the entire book turns. The focus shifts from the events at Hogwarts and Umbridge back to Voldemort and the Order. It’s a thematic shift that’s accompanied by a physical shift as well, as the main characters return to the Order’s Headquarter for Christmas. Juxtaposing it with the funny awkwardness of Harry’s first kiss is a perfect way of making sure that the book does not become too dark.

Snake Bites, Magical Medicine and Ableism

Speaking of Arthur Weasley being bitten by Nagini, I love the fact that this finally allows the readers and characters to visit St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. We only ever got glimpses of magical illnesses and health care at Hogwarts but St. Mungo’s opens up a bigger window into this area of the Wizarding society. Of course, it doesn’t answer all questions. I’m still curious how exactly Muggle and Wizarding medicine can be combined or how wizards treat cancer, but it’s more than we knew before and that’s something I’m always happy about.

Additionally, some of the magical injuries JKR includes in the description of the hospital are just hilarious. There is, for example, a woman who occasionally lets out a high-pitched whistle and has steam pouring out of her mouth in a weird imitation of a human tea kettle and a man whose daughter has wings sprouting from her back and is flapping around his head.

Of course the visits to St. Mungo’s also reveal one of the more disturbing aspects of the Harry Potter world, namely that wizards and witches with lasting spell damage are essentially institutionalized in a specific ward in the Hospital. It’s a depiction that resembles the treatment of many mentally ill people, especially those deemed scary or dangerous, in the real world.

Another similarity to the way mentally ill and disabled people are treated in real life is their constant infantilization, especially by people that are meant to take care of them. Both the healer responsible for Gilderoy Lockhart, the Longbottoms and other patients and Neville’s grandmother behave in this way towards these people, talking to them as if they were little children or even a nuisance.

This made me think about how entirely possible it is to read this as simply a depiction of real life ableism that is meant to again deconstruct the idea that the Wizarding World is inherently so much better than the Muggle world. After all, this is a constant theme running through the books: bigotry exists everywhere and we must take a stand against it to change society for the better. However, unlike in other cases, like the house elves, JKR doesn’t make the characters take an explicit stand against this treatment of mentally ill people.

Gigantic Mistakes

Speaking of real-life bigotry brings me to the giants, a group of people that JKR also uses to mirror the prejudices of the real world. Giants are strongly discriminated against, to the point where they have also been the victims of ethnic cleansing like “giant hunts” that decimated their numbers and forced them to move to mountain enclaves. Literally none of them are able to live in normal Wizarding society anymore, something that is difficult even for half-giants like Hagrid.

JKR’s portrayal of bigotry against them is one the one hand fairly good as she is using it to show how being ostracized can push people towards radical right wing organizations that promise them inclusion and privileges. What JKR doesn’t reflect on in the books is the way these right wing movements often simultaneously present a serious threat to these people despite using them to push their own agenda, but to be fair, I’m not entirely sure how to incorporate it into the series either.

Another thing that JKR does well is show how authoritarian conservative characters like Umbridge tend to be deeply bigoted against not just one minority. Umbridge hates werewolves and pushed legislation that makes it impossible for most of them to find work as a result of Remus Lupin being outed as a werewolf by Snape. As mentioned already, she also treats Hagrid as if he was too stupid to understand normal human speech because he is a half-giant, a fact that she is very aware of thanks to Rita Skeeter. Her conservatism isn’t limited to ensuring that Hogwarts does not become too independent of the Ministry, it also includes her trying to keep marginalised “half-breeds” on the fringes or out of Wizarding society.

arty by meabhd

On the other hand, JKR makes a fundamental mistake in her portrayal of both the giants and the werewolves. In both cases, these groups are analogies for real world minorites—JKR even explicitly confirmed that werewolves are supposed to mirror people with AIDS—and the way they are treated is supposed to show the irrationality and wrongness of prejudices, especially through making members of each group some of the kindest, most helpful and most beloved characters of the book. But at the same time, JKR’s werewolves and giants are both hyper-violent and actually dangerous to both Wizarding and Muggle society. Werewolves like Greyback specifically target the children of people who cross them, for example, and all werewolves do become uncontrollable, deadly creatures if they don’t regularly take their potion. Giants are not just extremely brutal, they are also too stupid to stop being brutal, something that brings them even closer to complete extinction because they can’t stop fighting against one another.

This brutality is why many witches and wizards fear werewolves and giants, something that is supposed to be seen as irrational, an assessment I can’t entirely agree with. If both giants and werewolves were actually quite harmless, it would be accurate to describe being afraid of them living among “normal” humans as outrageously dumb and prejudiced. But making them actually dangerous, especially so dangerous that they can’t stop killing each other like the giants, essentially vindicates these prejudices.

I’m aware that JKR is mostly using stock fantasy creatures and their classical features. Neither giants nor werewolves are new creatures, they feature widely in fantasy, and they usually are anything but harmless. But the fact that something is a fantasy stable doesn’t mean it doesn’t have problems and can just be copied without making adjustments. Another example of this are goblin characters which are often filled to the brim with antisemitic stereotypes, specifically greediness, untrustworthiness and the classical hooked nose. Taking these classic fantasy creatures and changing them around—making werewolves actually quite harmless when transformed or all giants gentle but terribly clumsy—would have been far more subversive. It also would have significantly strengthened JKR’s anti-bigotry message.

Harry Potter Defense Squad Part II

I already expressed annoyance at how significant parts of the fandom see Harry as whiny or annoying in Order of the Phoenix despite the fact that he is a deeply traumatized fifteen-year-old who went through a whole bunch of terrible stuff that no one should have to go through. Additionally, Harry has absolutely legitimate reasons to be angry: he spends much of his summer isolated and completely in the dark about a war that deeply affects him only to learn that he is simultaneously under surveillance.

After he returns to Hogwarts, his anger takes a backseat as he tries to just live his life, but it does make a return when Hermione first suggests that he teach others Defense against the Dark Arts. He is confused why they’d even ask him in the first place which makes Ron and Hermione list his achievements. When he reacts defensively and tries to point out how much help and luck was involved in all of these situations, they start smirking, making Harry feel like they aren’t taking him or the situation seriously. This makes him lash out and yell at them:

You don’t know what it’s like! You – neither of you – you’ve never had to face him, have you? You think it’s just memorising a bunch of spells and throwing them at him, like you’re in class or something? The whole time you’re sure you know there’s nothing between you and dying except your own – your own brain or guts – or whatever – like you can think straight when you know you’re about a nanosecond from being murdered, or tortured, or watching your friends die- they’ve never taught us that in their classes, what it’s like to deal with thinks like that – and you two sit there acting like I’m a clever little boy to be standing here, alive”

It’s a gut wrenching, massively emotional scene and one of the first time Harry actually expresses just how scary and traumatic fighting Voldemort in the graveyard actually was for him. While it’s not pretty and certainly uncomfortable for Ron and Hermione, it’s also super understandable that it makes Harry angry that they just sit there, smirking at him and listing his achievements, ignoring him trying to explain that a lot of it had more to do with luck than with his own skill or cleverness. It becomes even more understandable when you take into account that he spends a lot of his time being treated as a liar by many of his fellow students and even one of his teachers who also uses this as an excuse to physically abuse him. Harry consistently feels like people aren’t taking his experience of being almost murdered by Voldemort as seriously as they should, largely because people genuinely aren’t, and his best friends seemingly doing the same thing is deeply painful.

art by davinciblr

Of course Ron and Hermione recognize that they were wrong, apologize and the Trio makes up. Harry spends some comparably angst-free and even happy weeks, training the DA and kissing Cho until he witnesses Arthur being attacked. It’s another really scary moment for Harry as he first fears that people aren’t taking him seriously while Arthur, one of his father figures, is bleeding out and dying somewhere and then receives absolutely no explanation for what just happened. Even worse, the person he mainly sees as a mentor figure still essentially ignores him.

When Harry then also feels like attacking Dumbledore in the one moment when Dumbledore isn’t ignoring him, things get even more confusing for him. He already feels like it was him that attacked Arthur Weasley and is worried about what this means, so this only makes him more worried that Voldemort might be possessing him.

The only person he does share this fear with, Sirius, tries to reassure him but it only makes Harry feel dismissed and ignored. This is when he overhears Moody suggest that he might be possessed, something that seems like the most logical explanation for the situation. Because he’s immediately convinced that this is true and worried he might hurt his friends and almost-family, he isolates himself. And because Ron has the emotional range of a tea spoon, he tries to give Harry space instead of talking to him which makes Harry feel like his friends believe that he is possessed, making him resentful and isolating himself further. When he considers running away, Dumbledore orders him to stay at Grimmauld Place but gives no further advice or explanation.

Harry’s reaction is probably a bit immature: he automatically assumes the worst possible scenario is true without fact-checking it at all. But Harry is also a panicked 15 year-old. He’s already looking for an explanation of what just happened to him and not getting one and struggling to separate what he saw happening from himself when he hears Moody say that he might be possessed. It’s the only explanation he’s being given which makes it even less surprising that he immediately latches onto it.

Let’s also not forget that Harry is an abuse victim who is used to anything that goes wrong being blamed on him and being held responsible for things that have nothing to do with him. Even people who aren’t his abusers did blame him for pretty terrible things happening to him, like becoming a champion in the Triwizard Tournament. It would have been out of character for him to not assume that he’s somehow partially to blame for what happened to Arthur.

Order of the Phoenix is an incredibly intense book for Harry specifically because bad things constantly happen to him. Essentially every time it seems as if thinks are going well, something else terrible happens. When he finally gets out of Privet Drive, the threat of expulsion from Hogwarts hangs over his head. When he isn’t expelled and can return to Hogwarts, Umbridge is there, trying to make his life specifically hell. When he has managed to make it through detention with her and formed the DA, he gets banned from Quidditch. When he realises that Cho returns his feelings, he witnesses one of his father-figures getting attacked, almost dies, something that he feels responsible for and that leads people to suspect he might be possessed by Voldemort.

And of course, things will continue to only get even worse.


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  • Mims Dahn

    You definitively should do a feminist analysis of DA and Hermione. It is interesting how, if I remember correctly, she is very humble with her skills in D.A.D.A., saying she is not so good in it (as Harry). It seems to kind of mirror real world where women carry the bulk of organizational/administrative work and the men get the center stage/perform. It is interesting how she always is excusing herself from D.A.D.A. (how prestigious D.A.D.A seems) and the way it intersects in DA.

    The only hiccup I have is that Hermione did not find a way to ensure nobody squealed to the authorities about DA. The hex on the paper didn’t prevent Henrietta from revealing DA, it just marked her as the one who “betrayed” DA with a mark that only Hermione would immediately recognize as such because of her own secrecy (she had not even told Harry or Ron what it would signify). To add another layer to how ineffectual it was: Hermione would need to be in Marietta’s physical presence to learn that DA had been betrayed and additionally Marietta’s forehead had to be in sight. The hex did not alert Hermione of Marietta’s betrayal nor give her any room to do any damage control (such as destroy evidence etc). It is, if I remember correctly, Dobby who warns them of it.

    So it does not prevent her from “betraying” DA, nor does it warn DA of the betrayal and last but not least it does not stop her from revealing more information. Marietta’s trauma of being maimed and a memory charm hexed by Shacklebolt did. If she have had another disposition her reaction to the maiming would not needed have prevented her from revealing more (imagine if it had been Zacharias Smith?). The maiming would in all likelihood cement anybody in their decision to reveal the information and motivate them to reveal more.. Marietta did not get the opportunity to it because of Shacklebolt. But now maimed (by the DA), her information in ways confirmed by her maiming, the DA caught and her mother’s job on the line, Marietta would be ever more motivated to “betray” the DA.

    It was plenty unethical (especially since even an utilitarian perspective do justify it) but naught much else. Hermione not really find a way to prevent anybody from revealing information about the DA. It did not prevent Marietta and it would not have prevented someone with a less strong reaction to being maimed. And what if it was a forced confession instead of a coerced? Or someone, like it is with Cho in the movie, is fooled or forced into drinking veritaserum? So it wasn’t really that.

    It was however a very effective punishment for squealing on DA and I think perhaps that was in truth its intention (as if the hex was in place during signing the Educational Decree Number 24 would not have been a reality). Because if it was to prevent exposure then Ms Granger cannot be so bright as she is purported to be and in everything else also is shown to be.

    Loved the attention you gave Ginny! It kind of confirmed my theory that there might be something there, but you had to do a close reading to see it. It is fun to learn it was mirrored by Cho. How to build Harry romance interests .

    And much love to the attention you are giving to the Giants and Werewolves. I think JKR is with them touching on some of Dragon Age’s internal problem with persecution of mages. If you portray them as dangerous and have the majority/society persecute them some with “just” excuses you will conjure real world bigotry such as ethnic stereotypes about PoC being dangerous. Discriminatory actions against them becomes “just” differential treatment because they are so “dangerous” or more “dangerous” than the majority. And when there is only one “good” werewolf in the stories, who also becomes dangerous to the protagonists because of carelessness, JKR does not subvert this. Instead an element of tokenism sneaks into Lupin’s representation/character that further undermines a subversion.

    I am sorry this was so long, but there was just so much great stuff in your article! Like always your analysis and defense of Harry’s mental state is so on point and so important. Harry is a child with a little support network and in OotP he is isolated from much of it (because of Umbridge/Ministry) and feels rejected too. Nobody has during the summer given him much opportunity to heal and process Cedric’s death and as you point out his 5th year is a hell and not the relief/safe haven he’s expecting Hogwarts to be.

    Tl;dr: This was awesome!

    • Claire

      Don’t apologise! I love long comments because they so often spawn interesting discussions. And thank you for the praise!

      To be honest, I plan to do a more thorough look at gender & Harry Potter either in the final summary post(s) of this reread series or after the end of it. (Btw, our The Fandomentalist podcasts recently took a look at Harry Potter and mothers so if you’re interested in gender issues and HP, check it out!)

      You’re definitely right that Hermione being worse than Harry at DADA specifically mirrors ideas about gender as well – she’s a woman and DADA is essentially a martial art, so of course the male character is better at it.

      You’re also right that Hermione hexing the parchment that the DA members signed didn’t prevent Marietta from ratting them out. I worded that badly. I also agree that permanently maiming her low key increases the likelihood of her telling even more about the DA (though Marietta is so scared that more pimples will appear that she keeps her mouth shut after the initial confession) and that it does nothing to warn the DA that they were betrayed. It’s definitely more revenge than anything, something that fits with Hermione’s vengeful and vicious streak.

      The hex being in place when everyone signed the parchment wouldn’t have prevented Educational Decree Number 24, though. For one, it was already in place – Hermione talks about how they’d know who squealed immediately after she learns of the Decree. More importantly, however, is the fact that it was a petty criminal who got in trouble with the ministry who initially told Umbridge about the formation at of the DA because he overheard their initial meeting at the Hog’s Head as is later revealed. The hex on the parchment didn’t affect him because he didn’t sign it.

      And the hex definitely tells the DA members who exactly it was that betrayed them. Yes, they’d have to run into the person first, but the pimples spelling out “sneak” cover the nose and cheeks, not the forehead. Until someone covers the entire lower half of their face up to the eyes, the pustules are impossible to hide, thus telling all DA members who run into this person who is responsible while not telling all other students what happened.

      Your comment also got me thinking whether it would even be possible to make it impossible for the DA members to betray the DA without their knowledge. The only way to make someone stop talking about something is an Unbreakable Vow or maybe a pretty powerful memory charm. The first only works if the other person consents, the second isn’t really an option in this case. But I definitely agree that Hermione’s actions here seem mainly motivated by spite and are really not okay.

      I wanted to pay closer attention to Ginny and especially to her character development ever since reading the comments on my Chamber of Secrets post, to be honest. I’m glad you loved that part!

      I don’t know Dragon Age ’cause I’m just not much of gamer so I unfortunately can’t say how apt your comparison is. I definitely agree that JKR’s treatment of Remus as well as Hagrid seems tokenistic – they’re the good exception but the rule that giants and werewolves are bad is actually quite true. And because of that, the analogy to real life racial discrimination just falls incredibly flat.

      Rereading OotP specifically made me realise how terrible a lot of the stuff that Harry goes through actually is and it’s made me very passionate about explaining, even justifying, his behaviour. I low key just want to wrap him in a bunch of blankets and make him drink hot chocolate.

      Thanks so much for the praise and I as always love your insights!

      • Mims Dahn

        You’re welcome. I am always happy when there is someone who wants to listen. And your reread project has helpes me immensely in seeing and understanding. And it is very important because you are very convincing in your analysis of Harry’s mental health (your piece succeeded in convincing familiy menbers to stop victim blaming Harry for being a “whiny” kid in GoF and OotP. : – )

        The problem with “Sneak” is that Hermione did not share the secret, not Even with a select few DA members. So for the sneak to work for anybody but Hermione you would need an individual inclined to be suspicious (Harry) or for the DA member to be aware of their exposure and then come into contact with Marietta. Because I don’t think Cho’s (the person she has most closet contact to) immediate reaction to seeing Sneak on Marietta’s face is that she had betrayed DA. (snitch is a much better word). But perhaps concern for her initially. A running theme, I felt during my last read, was how little “real” a new war was to Harry’s classmates and how Painfully real it was for Harry. So I don’t think every DA member is qualified to make the deduction (is why you don’t run spy games with kids).

        I absolutely did misremember about where it was though. It would be very difficult to conceal (but the key element is that it would be, after Decree 24, the confessor/betrayer who would be concealed: why a.) you would want to control the information and b.) the situation, which you cannot when your source suddenly is maimed. (A solution if Umbridge had wanted to play it differently is to have Marietta sequestered away for being injuried).

        I worded my point about the Decree badly. I tried to use it as support for the hex having purely punitive intentions because it changed the scales (exposure could suddenly mean expulsion) and in those changed circumstances a preventive hex would make more sense for Hermione’s in story intelligence (more rational so to speak) and it works better with an imagery of contractual magic (their signature upon the paper has significance). Your point about it not affecting Abertofth supports it, i think?

        You’re absolutely right in that it would be difficult to completely ensure DA from betrayal, but you could have given yourself perhaps a heads up to do damage control. Hermione could have started with some more trist. The only other solution would be to reform DA with only the most invested members after the Decree.

        • Claire

          I’m glad to hear both of that but especially that this helped you convince people that Harry isn’t just being whiny. Making that point was really important to me.

          I don’t think you’d need to be especially suspicious to see the word “sneak” written across Marietta’s face and conclude that she was the one who ratted out the DA. After all, there is no way the DA would be exposed without them learning about it within a short time frame – it’s unlikely that Umbridge would have used a DA member as a spy within the group the way Pettigrew spied on the Order for Voldemort, as there really isn’t any point to it. It wouldn’t accomplish anything for Umbridge. Immediately detaining as many members of the DA as possible as soon as she has defininte proof of the organization’s existence is the far more logical course of action which also means that the DA’s member immediately know they’ve been betrayed.

          Additionally, even if the war isn’t nearly as much of a real threat for many of Harry’s classmates as it is for Harry, the DA members are aware of the fact that Umbridge is trying to prove the existence of the DA and punish the students involved with it. Educational Decree 24 causes quite a bit of panic among them, but more importantly, the introduction of the Inquisitorial Squad means Umbridge increases her attempts to find the DA which makes all of the students more suspicious. The war outside of Hogwarts might not be that big of a threat as it is to many of them, but the students in the DA are very much aware of how dangerous Umbridge is and are very careful, especially on their ways to and from meetings. Even if they don’t know what will happen when someone betrays the DA, in the climate of persecution the word “sneak” – which essentially means the same thing as snitch – appearing on the face of one of the DA’s members will arouse their suspicion, especially because there’s no reason Umbridge wouldn’t also immediately act on her knowledge.

          I definitely agree that especially after the Decree, magic that would have prevented the members of the DA revealing its’ existence would make far more sense but again, I’m not entirely sure how that would have worked. An Unbreakable Vow can’t be imposed without the knowledge and willing participation of the other party and would be kind of excessive in these circumstances. And it doesn’t seem like there is any magic that prevents people from speaking about a thing except memory alteration which would be counterproductive in the situation of the DA. Marking the person who snitched makes sense in this context, but you’re right that it could have been done a lot better – Hermione and the DA aren’t alerted to Marietta’s actions until Dobby shows up to alert them and maiming definitely only makes a person more likely to talk. And considering that the pustules that spell out sneak turn into permanent scars, the hex definitely has mostly punitive functions rather than preventive.

          JKR very explicitly said that werewolves were meant to represent stigmatized illnesses, specifically HIV: http://metro.co.uk/2016/09/09/jk-rowling-says-remus-lupins-condition-as-a-werewolf-is-a-metaphor-for-hiv-and-aids-6118903/ I have a whole bunch of problems with that, especially because myths surrounding the prevalence of people knowingly/willingly infecting others with HIV and the way stigmatization of it demonstrably leads to less people getting tested and treated and thus to the disease speeading more. Making most of the characters that are supposed to be a metaphor for HIV positive people evil, violent, morally depraved and spreading their illness as punishment buys into and replicates the stereotypes surrounding HIV more than subverting them.

          I think the giants are far more of an analogy for real-life racism than the werewolves, even though that definitely also mirrors real-life racial prejudice (as you described with the registry for Roma people). You’re born a giant much in the way you’re born into a specific ethnicity or race, people can be half-giant and half-human, just like humans can be biracial, and the anti-giant purges that almost exterminated them and drove them from society mirror real-life pogroms motivated by ethnic or racial hatred. Obviously it isn’t the same thing as real-life racism but I do think it’s fairly obvious that that’s what it’s based on, even if it isn’t actively consciously meant to be an allegory for it. And that’s what makes giants and werewolves being extremely violent and dangerous a mistake in world building with uncomfortable implications. I think your last point – that it works as a way for people within an oppressive class to work out their own oppressive sentiments and feel justified with them – is a very interesting and probably true one!

          • Mims Dahn

            We are probably not going to agree on Sneak’s suitability to alert other DA members of possible detection. The crux of the matter is that no DA members know there is s hex or a detection system in place. They don’t know that “Sneak” means snitching on DA and “Sneak” is a bad Word for it. It is not a synonym to snitching at all or Even connotes it. Definotions of “sneak” are:

            1
            : a person who acts in a stealthy, furtive, or shifty manner
            2
            a : a stealthy or furtive move
            b : an unobserved departure or escape

            Everyone in DA is actually behaving Sneaky by virtuell of DA’s existence AS a secret group. All members qualify for it. So it needs context to function optimally, which Hermione could have given to s select few. Because there are to many possible interpretations of it. It could being sneaky in general or to whom they are being sneaky to. Could be Slytherins etc. The second hiccup is that yes they are experiencing presecutions but they also live in a violent society where people hex and hurt their fellow students all to often. And the DA is built up by Friends and people who they have positive bias to. They are your Friends who you are inclined to think the best of. So it isn’t really suited to arouse suspicions effectively (because it is your friend in DA you are most likely to be in contact with and they are the ones most inclined to think the best of you. Then people in your school year).

            I think also we disagree on what is the rational and most optimal course of action for Umbridge in the situation. Umbridge cannot use Marietta for infiltration purposes (it is the one thing Hermione’s hex effectively prevented. Maidens&Muse helped me see that in her post) and considering what we see of Marietta she would have made a bad spy (she does not have a cool head). So the most logical step is to secure her information and then the source of information. The first step is to isolate Marietta from people who could convince her to retract (her DA Friends: Cho) and from agents who would intimidate or tamper or in other ways burn your source/information. (especially in a world with memory charms). Umbridge doesn’t. She is a zealot and becomes impatient and rushes Into the next logical step which is detainment. It is a reoccuring problem for Umbridge. Her impatience (is what I percieve it as) gets the better of her and will so again at the end of the book.

            The most effective option, that I don’t obviously know is possible but just seems so, would be for Sneak to be spelled out on the DA document instead on Marietta and for Hermione (or Harry as he also had the Marauder’s Map) to always carry it concealed much like the Map is. And a warning system to have been thought out (judging by the coins Hetmione would probably have Been able to think something up. I do think it is possible for DA to be exposed without their knowledge simply because it is the case in real world (or was it for resistace groups in my country. Confusion was the name of the game and it was always a race to find out who had been turned and who/what compromised. Norwegian resistace groups suffered through a wave of it in 1941/1942. Just a little time could mean that you could destroy/disappear incriminating evidence such as radios or if necessary: escape to Sweden).

            Personally I feel the hex as purely punitive and preventive in a limited partial way works in a watsonian perspective. Hermione is vindictive and her experience with Pettigrew seems to have (low-key) informed her actions. So her(limited) experience of a Mole being the biggest threat to this type of organization and its timing (before ED24) shapes her actions. It intersects with the students innovervendt and unprepardness for war. My point is more that we should see what Hermione actually did and give her credit for that. Not what she didn’t do (and if this was that was ubcharacteristically stupid of her), but probably could have done had she realised the need for it. (Not realising is about Hermione being 15 years old and ledd exposed than Harry to it).

            You are absolutely right about it working best for the giants. Your link made me cringe though. Rowling really messed up there and you perfectly summed up its inherent problem. It validates and replicates the oppressive stereotypes.

          • Claire

            That’s the thing, though, “sneak” doesn’t mean just “a person who acts in a stealthy, furtive or shifty manner”, it’s also a colloquial British term for someone who secretly informs an adult or a person of authority of someone else’s misdeeds according to the Cambridge English Dictionary (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/sneak), Google (https://www.google.co.uk/search?client=ubuntu&channel=fs&q=sneak&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&gfe_rd=cr&ei=2ZLfWOKOBK6n8wfHq4GABA) and Wiktionary (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/sneak). The characters, who all grew up in Great Britain and for the majority of whom British English is the native language, will undoubtedly know about this colloquial meaning of sneak, just as the native English speaking audience of Harry Potter will. The term is definitely suitable to mark a traitor despite all of the other DA members also acting in a sneaky manner. It’s explicitly about going to an authority figure, a connotation that snitch doesn’t have, so in the context of the DA and especially because the members agreed to keep this a secret from Umbridge even before Educational Decree 24, “this person told Umbridge about the DA” is the most logical conclusion to the word “sneak” appearing on another member’s face for all DA
            members.

            And the thing is, Umbridge does isolate Marietta from other people after she has told her about the DA. Marietta tells Umbridge that the DA is meeting in the Room of Requirement while said meeting takes place and is sequestered away by her until Umbridge needs to present her as a witness in Dumbledore’s office – Marietta can’t have gone back to her Common Room because there’s no way Umbridge could have brought her to Dumbledore’s office within a few minutes, as she did during Harry’s interrogation. Umbridge must have also alerted Fudge to her discovery of the DA for him to already be in Dumbledore’s office with Percy and two aurors when Harry is brought there. She goes to the Room of Requirement afterwards to detain as many members of the DA as possible not because she’s a zealot, but because it’s the next logical step and the only course of action that guarantees that she’ll get her hands on as many members as possible after Marietta refuses to say more because of the pustules. (I mean, she also is a zealot, but she isn’t stupid.)

            I do think you’re absolutely right that it would have been better from a Watsonian perspective if the hex had worked in a way that also alerted the DA of their exposure so they could destroy evidence, like the parchment. Of course, from a Doylist one, it’s clear that the DA needs to be exposed and the list with the members and the name to be found because Dumbledore needs to take the fall and disappear from Hogwarts for the plot to progress the way it does. Like I said earlier, my phrasing in the original post is wrong – Hermione didn’t find a way to prevent the exposure of the DA. She did find a comparably effective way to immediately mark and punish the mole in a way that prevented further spying on the DA that is also in line with her vindictive streak.

          • Mims Dahn

            Oxford dictionary not sufficient then. But that is super interesting.
            It doesn’t change t the other points but it does bring the probability of deducing its true meaning. It does not make it the most logical conclusion to “Sneak” appearing on a DA member’s face, though the likelihood of its deduction is increased (with Sneak also meaning that you’re absolutely right it is very suitable). It is not the logical conclusion because the DA members don’t know there is a hex in place or that revealing DA would carry immediate magical punishment. They don’t even know it’s Hermione’s hex. It is the paranoid conclusion (hence why I said you needed an individual inclined to it). The DA does not exist in a vacuum. There are many other possible causes and sources for the hex of various convinceability for various characters. Especially since Sneak, despite me being wrong, has all those meanings also. So even if the DA member who understand Sneak to any of the groups prefects. This is again not an argument for it never working but that it is unsuitable as a preventive measure. Hermione could have made it more effective if she a.) had either trusted some DA members, preferably members who would give representation from all three houses b.) told everyone in a way of mutual assured destruction (which probably would be counterproductive to a good teaching environment).

            The thing with Umbridge is that she does it almost perfect and there isn’t anything irrational in her actions. They just show that she isn’t very cautious but very self-assured (borderline conceited) and very eager. She isolates Marietta from the DA members but considering her purpose at Hogwarts and what she saw DA as (Dumbledore’s anti-ministry army. Evidence for Dumbledore’s ambition to challenge the ministry) she should have isolated Marietta from Dumbledore and the rest of the staff until she had acquired a full confession from Marietta which she could not retract or be made to retract from by say a memory charm. Umbridge didn’t do that, and to illustrate her disregard for student’s stafety and her own conceitedness in herself and the Ministry she brings Marietta to a confrontation with Dumbledore. The problem with Umbridge and her approach to the Reveal is that she does not secure Marietta (because she brings her to the confrontation) or a full, reliable confession from Marietta before rushing into detaining the DA. Instead she leaps into it and is not able to ensure the expulsion of the DA and leaves herself and the Ministry vulnerable to Dumbledore and the Order. She does it because she is very zealous person (and I did not mean zealot in any other way). She isn’t behaving irrationally or necessarily illogically for it is almost impossible to only do what is logical (and Dumbledore is the priority target) but she isn’t doing optimally. Especially if she had worked actively for their exposure post ED24, which the pressure from Marietta’s mother and the timing of the confession seemS suggestive of (but absolutely isn’t conclusive of, just theorizing. )And it is in the ways Umbridge falls short you can clearly see personal characteristics like being conceited, uncaring of others (Marietta) and zealous/action prone. She is a risk taker to her own detriment.

            I think from a Doylist perspective you are absolutely right about why the discovery needed to happen. But I think the way it happened was to keep the DA members in Hogwarts. Marietta’s confession needed to be incomplete and unreliable for the DA members (and Harry most of all( not to be expelled and for Dumbledore to be able to take the fall for them. It could not have happened say during the Christmas break (which I think would have been best for Marietta and most beneficial to the Ministry).

            It was just a nitpick really. Hope I didn’t make it sound out of proportions. It just that it is kind of important if you are to look at the DA as a resistance group. That there were no effective systems of prevention or warning is not only on Hermione (there were many other members in DA and considering the resources the Order was willing to invest in them/Harry it’s queer that it was not even brought up and for only Hermione to have thought if in secret) but the hex was and it would not be consistent with the story or Hermione’s character for it to be about more than than punishment and moles.

    • Maidens&Mules

      Hermione hexing the parchment didn’t prevent the DA from being betrayed, but it did prevent the DA from being betrayed anonymously. Short of outright annihilation, anonymous betrayal is probably the worst thing that can happen to an organization like the DA that needs to operate in secrecy. In order for an organization to operate in secrecy, its members need to be able to trust each other. If the organization is betrayed anonymously, it destroys group cohesion and makes it difficult, if not impossible for the group to recover from the betrayal. By hexing the parchment so that anyone who betrays the DA will be physically marked for it, the other members of the group will know who the traitor was and will be able to continue to trust one another, so there’s a chance that the DA could re-form even if someone did betray them.

      • Mims Dahn

        You’re absolutely right that the hex had benefits. It just did not work as a prevention of betrayal or an effective warning to DA of the betrayal. It would be an effective preventive measure for another organization operating in another environment. Like it would be very effective preventive measure for the Order against members being turned Into a Mole (like Peter Pettigrew). But they are not so effective for a clandenstine teaching operation.

        The problem is that the Educationsl Decree 24. It makes exposure for DA mean expulsion and would mean that DA could not be able to reform within its precepts, because they would be expelled. Or in the very least it would mean that the members would be put under surveillance and prevented (as is the case in OotP) from continuing its Educational activities (which only happens because of Order intervention). ED24 made the DA, unike The Order, an 100% illegal organization at the time and unlike most Order members the DA members would have Little refuge (they are essentially trapped in Hogwarts, under Ministry control).

        So we agree in parts. It just is that the ED24 changes the consequences so much for exposure that it could mean that DA members would not be recouverable (or within its original intentions full exposure after ED24 would mean annhilation, which is prevented by external factors: the Order). But you are absolutely right that the hex has great rationality and purposes. Imo it points to the hex being placed before ED24. But I don’t again believe it would Even prevent with certainity DA from being betrayed anonymously. Again someone who knew what the mark meant (or someone of a suspicious disposition: Harry) needed to come in contact with the “betrayer” for them to be recognised as it. It’s the name of the game that the people like Umbridge would try to control her new asset (to testify etc). All she had to do if she wanted more time and Marietta to not be revelead as her asset was to “disappear” her and fabricate a story for her disappearance (she was taken out of school by her parents was attacked by the Inquisitorial Squad and is hospitalized). What Hermione had prevented is not someone from betraying DA anonymously, but them from (continuing) as a Mole in DA. Marietta cannot become Umbridge agent in DA because of the maiming. That is a cool thing in itself (think of how it would have helped the Order from the Pettigrews of the world).

  • The Oncoming Hurricane

    Excellent stuff.

    The thing about the D.A. being about fighting Voldemort while convincing themselves it’s about resisting Umbridge is really effective foreshadowing for the role it plays in Deathly Hallows, and doubles as a hint that at heart they’re one and the same. You have the the 6 leaders, as established by the end of Order and the brief revival at the end of HBP, being split in two. The original leaders and founders; have to go up against Umbridge herself as she’s quite happily become a tool of the Regime, meanwhile, off-page the surrogate leaders reunite the group as the de facto Resistance against Voldemort’s surrogates at Hogwarts. I do also love that naming the group ‘Dumbledore’s Army’ because ‘that’s the Ministry’s worst fear, isn’t it?’ comes back to bite Dumbledore specifically in the arse, and that even with Harry’s rage at Dumbledore for his treatment, he still feels guilt over this. He is a cinnamon roll and I appreciate him more and more now. But again, him losing his job over it is redeemed in Deathly Hallows by the revival proving true his and later Harry’s statements in Chamber of Secrets and Half-Blood Prince that ‘he will never be gone unless none who remain are loyal to him’. JKR has her flaws as a writer but this hits so many beats perfectly that it’s some really great craft.

    It’s also interesting that it’s Ginny who proposes the title, immediately after Cho suggests ‘Defence Association’ – it foreshadows her future role and arguably (and I know this has it’s own problems, even as lowkey shipper of the two), her suitability for Harry as a romantic interest as she’s aligned with his goals and his ideas. It’s also an implicit parallel, though a less than savoury one – Cho’s friendship with and misplaced trust in Marietta is what brings the D.A. down and therefore why she’s unsuitable for Harry, but Ginny’s idea is what actually saves Harry from expulsion, and why she is suitable. Again, it’s not exactly the best parallel in terms of implication, but it is interesting. It’s also why I reject the idea that it comes out of nowhere – Harry arguably gets the feelings for her (or at least the seed of them) from Ginny dragging him out of his self pity with her proving he can’t have been possessed. He either needs to be out of his relationship with Cho for that to grow; or; when she essentially tells him to speak to Sirius at Umbridge’s fire (‘you start thinking anything’s possible if you have enough nerve’) is the actual catalyst for that.

    As for Ron and his emotional range of a teaspoon, I feel inclined to step in here with a bit of a defense. When I was growing up, it was Ron out of the Trio who I most identified with; the most socially awkward, the most likely to slip up and say the wrong thing, arguably one with an inferiority complex/most insecure, the most likely to not understand what his friends needed at any given time. I was also recently diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and you referencing that set me to wondering if there’s ever been any fandom discussion about Ron having it or something similar, which would honestly make a lot of sense?

    And finally, regarding JK’s dropping of the ball on analogies for oppressed minorities: combining Umbridge with the werewolf stuff has another unfortunate implication in DH: apparently Lupin is the only intelligent werewolf around, given Umbridge is still around under the new regime, you might think some of them would realise Lupin was in fact right and started working against Voldemort, or at least had a point that Voldemort had just as much if not more contempt for them than the rest of wizarding society and just gone off on their own. But apparently none do?

    • Claire

      Thanks a lot!

      That’s a really good point and a narrative parallel I had never really noticed so far. Umbridge joining Voldemort’s regime to round up Muggleborns also further shows how easily conservatives can link themselves to fascist and discriminatory systems and how easily these ideologies can align. I definitely agree that in the end, fighting Voldemort and fighting people like Umbridge is the same or at the very least very similar and that the first won’t achieve anything without the latter.

      Dumbledore’s Army ultimately occupies a super interesting narrative space from OotP onwards. I’ve been trying to translate it into a real life thing for a bit – they definitely mirror antifascist groups but at least in OotP, their focus is on defensive action rather than on actively attacking the Death Eaters. I’d argue that that stays the same in HBP and DH: they are primarily reacting to threats they see rather than going and actively attacking Death Eaters. Of course in OotP and HBP they aren’t really in a position like that, but as far as I remember, Neville, Ginny and the rest of the DA also take are reacting, defending themselves and protecting others in DH rather than attacking the Death Eaters and their lackies in Hogwarts. The Order, on the other hand, is a lot more proactive, at least in OotP and HBP (of course they’re pushed into a more defensive position in DH when they seem to be losing the war). It’s an interesting balance because it makes it seem like these 15-17 year olds aren’t actually resistance child soldiers but just defending themselves, something they at least partially chose themselves by founding, becoming members of and reviving Dumbledore’s Army. (Of course, Harry and Hermione to a lesser degree as a Muggleborn never had a choice and in DH, Neville, Luna and Ginny also don’t really have a choice as the Death Eaters are actively targeting them, but in OotP, they do.)

      That’s a really good point! I’d also argue that OotP shows Harry’s growing awareness and appreciation of Ginny. There are multiple moments in OotP where you feel like Harry is really seeing Ginny for the first time, sort of “Oh, I didn’t know she could be like that”. Her not accepting the way he isolates himself over Christmas is definitely an example, but I’d agree that her suggesting the name of the DA is definitely the first and there are other moments later on in the books, for example her helping him talk to Sirius.

      The parallels with Cho that you point to are definitely interesting! There’s also the fact that both are described as being very pretty, are quite popular among the boys, play Quidditch and as seekers have a similar build. And I’d agree that there’s a sort of parallel with why Ginny is suitable for Harry and Cho isn’t but I’d argue that it’s not necessarily Cho being friends with and trusting Marietta that makes her unsuitable, but her defending Marietta after she has betrayed the DA. Ginny’s loyalty is completely with the DA, the Order and Harry while the implication is that Cho’s is loyal to the wrong things and thus not a good fit for Harry. That of course has its’ own bunch of unfortunate implications.

      Me saying Ron has the emotional range of a tea spoon isn’t meant to be a negative judgment of him at all and I’m sorry if you read it that way! I was trying to jokingly paraphrase one of my favorite quotes from OotP. I think Ron being the worst out of the Trio at reading other people’s emotions is probably tied up with his own inferiority complex a lot. I was a fairly self-centered, even selfish teenage girl but I really struggled with a sense of self-hatred and low self-esteem and the feeling of always being the least popular and I can definitely see these things mirrored in Ron. I never looked into headcanons and theories about Ron having Autism or Aspergers or generally being neuroatypical but that’s simply because I’m neurotypical so it wasn’t on my radar. If that’s how you read him, I think that’s a totally valid interpretation! (And judging on a quick Google search, you’re not alone.)

      You’re absolutely right about what Umbridge being a werewolf – persecutor and an important member of Voldemort’s regime means once DH rolls around. There’s the implication that as long as werewolves get to be murderous and blood thirsty, they don’t actually care about their living situations – hence they continue to support Voldemort despite him giving power to someone who would drastically worsen their living situations. Or, like you said, they’re just too stupid to realise. It’s really uncomfortable.

  • Priscilla

    I love this book. Despite being so dark, it’s still my favorite in the series. The characters are one of the biggest reasons for that, as the characters are one of my biggest reasons for loving Harry Potter and OotP makes room for a lot of side characters to grow.

    I really like Neville’s development and the scene at St Mungo’s is heartbreaking. Good point that the characters don’t question the treatment of mentally ill people. I never noticed that before, because the scene is so emotionally heavy, but you’re right.

    I like Cho’s gradual introduction, I’m just disappointed with how she’s treated by the narrative once her role as Harry’s first love interest is done. Ginny is one of those characters everybody seems to love and I’m lukewarm at best. Her development from shy girl to Cool Girl is a bit too sudden to my taste, but nothing compared to how out-of-nowhere are Harry’s feelings for her in the sixth book (hers were at least hinted at from the very beginning). But we’ll discuss this when we get there 😛

    I’ve always felt Umbridge was an effective villain and could never articulate exactly why, but I think you put it in words. She’s more effective to me than Voldemort, tbh.

    Good point on the giants and werewolves. The biggest problem with most metaphors to racism and oppression in fiction is that many of the oppressed groups are at least a bit dangerous – look at the X-men, for example. They represent an actual threat in some level, whereas this isn’t true to real life marginalized groups. So the metaphor always falls short.

    • Claire

      I definitely agree! It’s not just that OotP gives space to a whole bunch of side characters, it’s also that Ron and Harry specifically get so much character development in it that also really makes me like it. (Both of which is also something I plan to talk about in my two future posts, so stay tuned *wink*)

      Neville moving more and more into focus in from GoF onwards is very nicely done as it lies the necessary foundation for his role as the resistance leader in DH. Despite all the problems with the portrayal of his family, it also provides a really interesting and touching motivation for him, especially when the Lestranges escape Azkaban.

      Cho is generally a really likeable character who unfairly gets the short end of the stick so much in OotP. She’s really nice and caring but also quite strong; she’s not scared to express her opinion and she’s dealing with a lot of really emotionally heavy stuff quite well. She deserved a lot better than she got, in my opinion, but I think her treatment shows a lot of JKR’s hangups surrounding feminine girls.

      I’m genuinely not sure how I feel about Ginny at the moment, just like I’m not actually sure how I feel about Luna Lovegood. Neither one of them bothers me but I also don’t especially love either one of them. I definitely agree that her development can seem sudden – like I said, if you don’t specifically pay attention to it, you really don’t see it. And even then, it’s weird how much more assertive she is in OotP than in GoF. I’m not sure if I’d agree that Harry’s feelings for her are even more sudden. @TheOncomingHurricane:disqus made some very good points and I haven’t read HBP in ages, though, so I’ll see how I feel about it once I get back into it.

      Thanks a lot! I’ve been wondering about Umbridge’s effectiveness as a villain for a while. Part of it seems tied up with her being an evil teacher and the fact that for many of HP’s young audience, that’s a lot more tangible than a fascist mass murderer and his followers as well as her incredible effectiveness and her essentially invading Hogwarts and making it a deeply unsafe space. But in my opinion, it also reflects a real life political trend of (ultra-)conservatives having similar goals as fascists but having a greater ability to actually reach these goals than actual fascists as they are able to navigate the political system far better and are seen as more acceptable. Take a look at Pence, for example. I would argue that he isn’t a fascist or a neonazi, but many of his policies do mirror those of fascists (especially with regards to a hatred for science and the persecution of LGBT people) but he is far more successful at implementing them because he’s an acceptable establishment-conservative. Or the British Tories and their rolling back of the benefit state that have plunged millions of people, especially disabled ones, into poverty. Rolling back/abolishing the welfare state because a nation’s people working is good for that nation and out of hatred for the “asocial” and “scroungers” is another part of fascist policies (despite the economic policies of fascism often being quite contradictory.) Theresa May’s desire to bring immigration down as much as possible is another position that mirrors that of white supremacists and extreme right wing politicians but again, because she’s a conservative she’s in a position where she can enact these policies while people like Nigel Farage often aren’t. Umbridge is a greater political threat to equality and justice within the Wizarding society than Voldemort simply because she’s in a position where she can enact unjust and unequal policies based on her prejudices with less opposition than Voldemort. I wonder how much of this is intentional on JKR’s part.

      I definitely agree with your point about racism metaphors! I think I saw a post on Tumblr expressing the same sentiment, also using the X-Men as an example once. And that got me thinking about how it’s handled in the Harry Potter series. It’s a real shame because if JKR had handled it differently, it would have been so much more subversive.

      • Priscilla

        I like Neville’s arc. Despite the problematic issues you mentioned, what happened to his family also casts a new light on the character. Neville at first doesn’t look like your standard Gryffindor, but when you get to know him you understand how brave he is and how much he endured.

        I like Cho and it’s upsetting that all this emotional weight she’s dealing with sometimes is treated as annoying by the narrative. And yes, JKR has a serious problem with feminine girls. It probably deserves a piece of its own.

        I don’t dislike Ginny, but I feel after some point in the series the narrative really demands me to like her? She’s cool and assertive and all the boys want her and she’s great at magic and quidditch. It’s almost Mary Sue-ish, when she would have so many other interesting sides to explore.

        It’s been a while since the last time I read HBP too, but every time I re-read it I have this impression that Harry’s romantic and sexual interest for Ginny is sudden. I can buy this on Ginny’s end because we know she had a childhood crush on Harry, and since she’s a side character those feelings could very well have always stayed there. But I feel before HBP Harry never mentions any shade of romantic or sexual interest for her and then in HBP he’s super determined to get into her pants and he’s jealous and everything. I could never buy it as genuine because JKR is usually very good with foreshadowing and this wasn’t very foreshadowed for something so important.

        Really, really, REALLY good analysis on ultra conservatives and fascists. I think you capture the essence of their effectiveness, both fictional and in real life. This is a really interesting subject and also deserves a piece of its own (although it would be a very political one).

        • Claire

          I definitely agree! Neville’s arc is an example of secondary character growth done well, in my opinion.

          Don’t worry, I plan to write extensively about Harry Potter and gender at the end of the reread 😉

          I think the term Mary Sue works best when it’s reserved for the context of fanwork to denote the self-insertion of the writer into an already established universe, but I know what you mean. Ginny seems a lot like the archetypal Cool Girl that Amy Dunne decries in Gone Girl: funny, assertive, popular among the boys, likes and is good at the sport her boyfriend likes and generally absolutely stands behind her man. I wonder if the feeling that we have to like her as an audience and that she doesn’t have any flaws is because she’s only ever seen through Harry’s PoV. And because Harry likes her so much and doesn’t see any flaws, she’s described in this super positive ways that makes it seem as if there’s no reason to dislike her.

          I think there are multiple moments in OotP where you have Harry being surprised and amazed by Ginny, for example when she convinces him that he isn’t possessed, when she turns out to be an amazing Quidditch player and when she helps him break into Umbridge’s office at the end of OotP. But I don’t know if they’re a sufficient foundation for his feelings in HBP – they’re definitely not romantic or sexual interest, but I do feel like they can be the first hints of a crush. I’m holding back my judgment until I’ve reread HBP.

          Thanks so much! I only realized that I’d gone off on a massive tangent after I’d already written all of it, tbh, so my internal reaction was just “oh well”. I definitely think it’d be interesting to take a look at this in the broader context of fiction but I’m not sure if there are anymore good examples apart from Umbridge. Maybe the military dude in Captain America: Civil War who pushes the Sokovia accords through? And Senator Nadeer in Agents of SHIELD.

          • Priscilla

            I also wondered if this impression that Ginny is flawless comes from the fact we only see her through Harry’s POV. But it doesn’t happen with other characters and it happens even before Harry falls in love for her, so I’m still not a big fan of how it was written.

            I know a lot of people use Mary Sue only in the context of fan works, but I use it for original fiction too because I need a word that covers what “Mary Sue” covers. You know, a character that is too good or too idealized, almost to the point of implausibility; whatever flaws they possess, if any, are not actual flaws (such as characters whose only flaw is being “clumsy” or something like that), rendering the character flat. And so on. Think of what became of D&D’s version of Tyrion, if you follow Game of Thrones. I don’t think Ginny is that bad, but she has some Sue-ish traits. The Cool Girl from Gone Girl is a great point, I think it captures what I feel about her.

            I agree that Harry’s amazement at Ginny can be the hint of a crush, but I think they evolve to something else too fast in HBP. Ginny is hardly the only character that amazes Harry, so I miss a “step two” between his feelings in OotP and his feelings in HBP. His feelings towards Cho didn’t feel this sudden, although they were more immature too. I still would need to re-read HBP, but every time I read I got this impression.

            Yes, I’m having trouble thinking of other Umbridge-like characters, but I’m sure they exist. The interesting thing about Umbridge is that nobody is surprised that she’s working for Voldy’s government in DH, but she had a fair amount of influence and power during Fudge’s government too, proving that she presents a more palatable version of Voldy’s wizard supremacist ideals. It’s easy to spot a Voldy, but a lot of people let an Umbridge get away with her awfulness. This is a fascinating subject.

          • ultimate_weirdo

            Honestly if I was to say one problem with Ginny is there’s also a lot of tell and not a lot of show. As mentioned in the article a lot of her ‘development’ is off page. This is even true in HBP where you’d think it would do better for her but… not really. Like we hear tell of her preforming strong magic like her Bat Bogey Hex… but just hear the ghost story afterwards when they’re on the train rather than have Harry witness it. We hear of her standing up for Luna…. and also get told of her doing this after the fact rather than actually getting to see it.

            Heck even with Quidditch tryouts we got this boring line from what I remember about out she’d ‘outflown the competition and scored 17 goals to boot’ rather than Rowling actually writing out an actual scene of her showing off her skills.

            Also it seems like Rowling did really strange things like have people ‘roar with laughter’ at her jokes when most of her jokes either sucked (‘Phlegm’… really?) or at best would have resulted in a small smile rather than side splitting laughter. It was very… ham-fisted? I guess?

            Luna saying how nice Ginny was during her Quidditch commentary wasn’t exactly the most subtle way to go about it either.

            /Show/ us how Ginny is wonderful Rowling, don’t have other characters rave about how wonderful she is.

            It all seemed a rather desperate attempt to make her seem ‘worthy’ of Harry, which I find strange. I mean the kid’s been through a lot and I do want him to be happy but he’s kind of terrible as a boyfriend prospect it seems to me.

          • Priscilla

            Yes, good observation on Ginny’s skills being more told than shown and some characters reacting disproportionately to her.

            I also wonder if JKR wrote Ginny this way to make her “worthy” of being the Chosen One’s love interest, because those annoying aspects of her characterization become more present in later books, when she assumes this role.

          • Claire

            I get where you’re coming from with regards to using Mary Sue for characters who are part of the original work as well as for fan characters, but I feel like Cool Girl or Cool Guy might be more fitting for that. Idk. I really like that when you reserve the term Mary Sue for fanworks it becomes clear that the character is not just too good to be true but also a self-insert who outshines the original cast of characters. Obviously, self-inserts happen in original fiction, too (Luke Skywalker, for example, or maybe Hermione) but the latter – the outshining of the established characters – can’t because the characters are being established in that work.

            (I feel like we’ve already had another chat about the term, btw, but then more about it’s misogynistic connotations. ^^)

            I’m honestly just going to not make any further statements about Ginny because I don’t feel like I can – I get where your impression of her and Harry’s crush on her is coming from but I don’t feel like I can confirm or deny it right now because it’s been so long since I’ve read HBP.

            Yeah, you’re definitely right! I think it’s kind of a general theme in the Harry Potter series that many of the people who aren’t Voldemort or outright Voldemort supporters are still bad people in different ways – Umbridge, Fudge and Snape come to mind. Obviously, the quality of JKR’s execution varies but if you divorce it from authorial intention it’s a recognisable theme.

          • Priscilla

            I think ‘Mary Sue’ is a fascinating term, because it’s widely used in fandom, but each person has a different definition for it (and yes, I use ‘Mary Sue’ for characters of all genders). Sadly this also includes sexist definitions, like when every capable female character is deemed a Mary Sue. But that’s another discussion…

            I don’t mind self-inserts because they’re not necessarily disrupting the narrative, which is why I prefer the term ‘wish fullfilment’. A wish fullfilment character doesn’t have to be a self insert, but it’s there just so the author can fullfil a fantasy, whatever it is, often at the expense of characterization or plot. They’re more obvious in fanfiction, perhaps because we have the canon story for comparison, but sometimes characters in original fiction give me this wish-fullfilment vibe too. Maybe the author doesn’t realize when they have a pet character? Most Mary Sues, canon or not, feel a bit like Author’s Pets to me.

            I think characters in original fiction can outshine other characters in a way that doesn’t feel earned by that character or makes sense for the story. I see this happening a lot in anime: you have an ensemble cast with similar powers, the protagonist is not necessarily the most powerful among them or is explicitly said not to be, but they’re always the one to defeat the main villain. Of course you can have stories where the protagonist is the one to take down the villain and it will make sense for the story – Harry Potter is a good example of that – but there has to be a discernible reason why this character can do what nobody else can. Otherwise it feels like Protagonist Powers.

            The term ‘Cool Girl’ applies nicely to my complaints about Ginny, but not necessarily fits all Mary Sues. I feel not all of them are designed to be ‘cool’, you know? Regarding Ginny and Harry’s relationship, I considered my impressions when I read HBP, but I would still need to read it again. Truth be told, I should probably re-read the whole series, especially DH, the only one I only read once.

  • Maidens&Mules

    Good points about fantastic racism. JKR does quite well at depicting the effects of prejudice on individual characters, such as Lupin and Hagrid. She does less well when she tries to write about entire societies that suffer prejudice.

    There are certainly parallels to be drawn between the treatment of werewolves in the WW and the treatment of HIV/AIDS victims in the not so distant past (and to some extent in the present) in our own world. The main difference is that HIV/AIDS doesn’t cause its sufferers to lose their minds once a month and behave in ways that will spread the virus, so the fear of werewolves is somewhat more well founded than the fear of HIV/AIDS victims. It’s a vicious circle: society fears werewolves, which prevents them from getting the help they need and drives them into the arms of people like Greyback. This in turn makes people fear werewolves more and so it goes, round and round. I do think it would have worked better if JKR had made it clear that Greyback is the exception rather than the rule of werewolves.

    The depiction of giants, on the other hand, is just bad. It starts out well enough: Hagrid and Madame Maxime are both half giant and they’re normal (though abnormally large) human beings. Plus, giants can breed with humans, which implies that they are humans. However, that is not how they are depicted. At best, they’re shown as noble savages (those few are the exception and they are, of course, a credit to their race); at worst, they’re depicted as being a race that combines stupidity and violence in equal measures and is uncomfortably close to racist attitudes towards certain groups in our own society.

    • Claire

      Yes, JKR does really well when it comes to showing how Remus and Hagrid are deeply negatively impacted by the prejudices against werewolves and giants. I especially love how she thematizes the economic insecurity that comes with being a marginalized person, specifically with Remus Lupin, and the way that both Remus and Hagrid are grateful to Dumbledore to the point of dependency though I do think that the latter wasn’t entirely intentional.

      JKR wrote in a behind-the-scenes book that her werewolves were inspired by the way people with HIV/AIDS were stigmatized (http://metro.co.uk/2016/09/09/jk-rowling-says-remus-lupins-condition-as-a-werewolf-is-a-metaphor-for-hiv-and-aids-6118903/). I have lots of opinions about that and about the way her understanding of the stigma surrounding HIV ignores the homophobia that was linked to that stigma that led to thousands of dead gay men because the Reagan government didn’t think it was important to act on the growing epidemic and about the way her portrayal of werewolves as infecting others, specifically children, as punishment is based on stereotypes about HIV positive gay men but I feel like that goes beyond the scope of this.

      I definintely agree though that her portrayal of werewolves as losing their minds once a month is unfortunate. If JKR’s werewolves had kept their wits about them even without the Wolfsbane potion, it would have been so much better but unfortunately she kind of needed Lupin to lose it so Pettigrew could escape in PoA (though that probably could have been achieved even without Remus turning into a werewolf without taking the potion). You’re also definintely right about it being a vicious circle!

      Yeah, the whole thing about giants being able to breed with humans but essentially being really stupid and occasionally deeply non-human (according to the HP wiki, some giants have “bestial features” which is kind of yikes). The fact that they are really violent to the point of bringing themselves close to extermination is something that makes me really uncomfortable, considering that what happened to them – humans almost killing all of them and chasing the rest of them out of their societies – mirrors ethnic cleansings so much.

      It’s just a mess and when you then also take the house elves into account, it gets even more messy.

  • Cynical Classicist

    Now the GRRM Reaper does his giants much better. They can certainly be dangerous but they’re vegetarians and basically another tribe of Wildlings.

    • Claire

      Yeah, definitely! Obviously JKR couldn’t have simply copied that but taking some inspiration from the ASoIaF giants and classical fantasy giants and mixing them or generally making all giants more like Hagrid would have gone a long way to make it more bearable.

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