Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Isolation

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[Harry] kept listening, just in case there was some small clue, not recognized for what it really was by the Muggles – an unexplained disappearance, perhaps, or some strange accident ... but the baggage-handlers' strike was followed by news about the drought in the Southeast ("I hope he's listening next door!" bellowed Uncle Vernon. "Him with his sprinklers on at three in the morning!"), then a helicopter that had almost crashed in a field in Surrey, then a famous actress's divorce from her famous husband ("As if we're interested in their sordid affairs," sniffed Aunt Petunia, who had followed the case obsessively in every magazine she could lay her bony hands on). (1.18)

There are two things that we find striking about this early passage: first, how pathetic is it that Harry has to lie down underneath an open window in order to be allowed to listen to the news? No wonder he's so filled with rage by the end of the summer! Second, the Dursleys are incredible hypocrites: they're terrified of the world knowing they have a weird wizard nephew, so they are always trying to keep Harry hidden from the neighbors. And they love to spy on other people around them: "Him" next door, "with his sprinklers on at three in the morning" and the famous actress with her "sordid affairs." But it never once occurs to them that what is really shameful is the emotionally (and sometimes physically) abusive way they treat Harry. What must the people on their street think of the way they speak to Harry? That's really shocking.

Up and down [Harry] paced, consumed with anger and frustration, grinding his teeth and clenching his fists, casting angry looks out at the empty, star-strewn sky every time he passed the window. Dementors sent to get him, Mrs. Figg and Mundungus Fletcher tailing him in secret, then suspension from Hogwarts and a hearing at the Ministry of Magic – and still no one was telling him what was going on. (3.3)

This passage at the beginning of Chapter 3 basically sums up Harry's state of mind for most of Book 5: "consumed with anger and frustration" because "no one was telling him what was going on." What is it like to read a Harry Potter novel in which Harry Potter is always mad? How does his emotional state change your understanding (and enjoyment) of the character? How is the tone of Book 5 different from previous installments in the series?

Despite the fact that he was still sleeping badly, still having dreams about corridors and locked doors that made his scar prickle, Harry was managing to have fun for the first time all summer. As long as he was busy he was happy; when the action abated, however, whenever he dropped his guard or lay exhausted in bed watching blurred shadows move across the ceiling, the thought of the looming Ministry hearing returned to him. Fear jabbed at his insides like needles as he wondered what was going to happen to him if he was expelled. (6.211)

Again, we get a mini-lecture on the value of healthy activity to stop the brooding angst. As long as Harry has something to do, he's happy (or at least, happier). It's when he has too much time to think that he gets fearful about his Ministry hearing. This lesson repeats itself on a larger scale when Harry starts to participate in the D.A.: once he feels like he's helping people to prepare for the fight against Voldemort, his school year gets a hundred times better.

But the great black dog gave a joyful bark and gamboled around them, snapping at pigeons and chasing its own tail. Harry couldn't help laughing. Sirius had been trapped inside for a very long time. (10.24)

These few moments in the novel when we see Sirius free at last really brings home how trapped, bitter, and miserable his year at Number Twelve truly is. Why do you think J.K. Rowling chose to put Sirius in this position? How does Sirius's situation in Book 5 mirror Harry's? How does Rowling foreshadow Sirius's fate earlier in Book 5?

Dinner in the Great Hall that night was not a pleasant experience for Harry. The news about his shouting match with Umbridge had traveled exceptionally fast even by Hogwarts' standards. He heard whispers all around him as he sat eating between Ron and Hermione. The funny thing was that none of the whisperers seemed to mind him overhearing what they were saying about him. On the contrary, it was as though they were hoping he would get angry and start shouting again, so that they could hear his story firsthand. (13.1)

By shouting out in class, Harry makes a spectacle out of himself. So, all of his peers start to treat him like a spectacle, a show that they want to watch. He no longer seems like a person with real feelings to them; they have become totally distant from Harry. When does the rest of Hogwarts start to remember that Harry has emotions like the rest of them? What makes his classmates believe in him once more?

She turned away, leaving Professor Trelawney standing rooted to the spot, her chest heaving. Harry caught Ron's eye and knew that Ron was thinking exactly the same as he was: they both knew that Professor Trelawney was an old fraud, but on the other hand, they loathed Umbridge so much that they felt very much on Trelawney's side. (15.102)

Professor Trelawney is an old fraud. She makes a mockery of the whole idea of predicting the future, since all she really wants to do is tell people that they're going to die soon, generally in horrible ways. But she's harmless – she occasionally frightens impressionable students, but she doesn't do any damage. Now, Professor Umbridge, she is damaging. So, of course her sadistic persecution of poor, batty old Professor Trelawney is going to excite our sympathy – even if we don't think much of Trelawney herself.

"Oh no, Dumbledore, I am too tired tonight."

Something about Phineas's voice was familiar to Harry, where had he heard it before? But before he could think, the portraits on the surrounding walls broke into a storm of protest.

"Insubordination, sir!" roared a corpulent, red-nosed, wizard, brandishing his fists. "Dereliction of duty!"

"We are honor-bond to give service to the present Headmaster of Hogwarts!" cried a frail-looking old wizard whom Harry recognized as Dumbledore's predecessor, Armando Dippet. "Shame on you, Phineas!" (22.61-63)

So, we have a question about the portraits: obviously, Phineas Nigellus still has a very strong sense of himself. Even though all of the portraits of former Hogwarts Headmasters are supposed to help the current Head, he rebels and drags his feet rather than carrying a message as requested. Yet, we are also told that the portraits are less than fully realized ghosts. J.K. Rowling explains:

[The portraits] are all of dead people; they are not as fully realised as ghosts, as you have probably noticed. The place where you see them really talk is in Dumbledore’s office, primarily; the idea is that the previous headmasters and headmistresses leave behind a faint imprint of themselves. They leave their aura, almost, in the office and they can give some counsel to the present occupant, but it is not like being a ghost. They repeat catchphrases, almost. The portrait of Sirius’ mother is not a very 3D personality; she is not very fully realised. She repeats catchphrases that she had when she was alive. (source)

So, if they are just impressions of living people, how is it that Phineas Nigellus seems like such a prickly, well-rounded character – a character who is capable of feeling sorrow and confusion at the end of the novel, when he discovers that his great-great-grandson and the last of the Black family has died? Can you make a distinction between the portraits and the ghosts? What makes a portrait's character different from a living character in the novel?

[Harry] felt dirty, contaminated, as though he were carrying some deadly germ, unworthy to sit on the Underground train back from the hospital with innocent, clean people whose minds and bodies were free of the taint of Voldemort ... he had not merely seen the snake, he had been the snake, he knew it now ... (23.2)

We can totally understand why Harry would feel violated by his connection with Voldemort, his arch-nemesis who murdered his parents. But if you were Harry's friend, how would you feel about the possibility that Harry could be possessed by Voldemort at any time? Would you feel safe with Harry? Would you respond to Harry's link to Voldemort the way Dumbledore does, or would you respond the way that Ron and Hermione do?

"So that's it, is it?" he said loudly. "'Stay where you are?' That's all anyone could tell me after I got attacked by those dementors, too! Just stay put while the grown-ups sort it out, Harry! We won't bother telling you, though, because your tiny little brain might not be able to cope with it!" (23.30)

Clearly, Harry feels that he is being left out of decisions that have a huge effect on his own life. But later on, after the disaster with Sirius, Harry wishes that he didn't have to feel so much, that he didn't have to take so much responsibility. The problem with growing into an adult is that sometimes, you want the responsibility to make your own decisions. But other times, it would be lovely to sign over all responsibility to other people so that you can relax. Harry seems really eager to grow up in Book 5, but then he has to face the awful consequences of taking his own initiative – which is the bad side of being a grown-up.

"Trivial hurts, tiny human accidents," said Firenze, as his hooves thudded over the mossy floor. "These are of no more significance than the scurrying of ants to the wide universe, and are unaffected by planetary movements."

"Professor Trelawney —" began Parvati, in a hurt and indignant voice.

"— is a human," said Firenze simply. "And is therefore blinkered and fettered by the limitations of your kind." (27.45-47)

Firenze is pretty much the only magical creature we have met in the series so far who (a) does not totally hate humans, though most of his herd does, but who also (b) thinks that we are foolish and beneath centaur wisdom. The house-elves we've met in these novels really do look up to us, much as the fountain in front of the Ministry of Magic portrays. But the centaurs have a much different, more patronizing view. Why do you think Firenze has chosen to join Dumbledore? What characteristics do centaurs seem to have as a group? What kinds of belief systems do they adopt? How are their beliefs different from those of humans? How might their culture be incompatible with human culture? And how might it overlap – what do we share in common?

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