Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix review

This node contains spoilers from the book. You have been warned.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix begins with Harry lying in the flowerbed of number four, Privet Drive, waiting for the evening news to come on. "Watching the news!" Uncle Vernon said scathingly to Aunt Petunia. "I'd like to know what he's really up to. As if a normal boy cares what's on the news." Well, as Harry's inner voice tells us, he's waiting for news of anything... unusual, anything that might hint at what Lord Voldemort is up to. But nothing tonight.

Later that night, we find Harry and Dudley arguing in an alley in Little Whinging when two Dementors attack, forcing Harry to produce a Patronus to save Dudley's life from the Dementor's kiss. In quick succession, Harry finds out that Mrs. Figg (his cat-loving neighbour) is a Squib, he has been expelled from school, his expulsion is cancelled and a hearing scheduled for him to explain why he did magic out of school, and his Aunt Petunia gets a Howler that prevents Uncle Vernon from throwing Harry out of the house.

And that's just the first two chapters. Harry is soon sprung to the Order of the Phoenix headquarters to meet up with the Weasleys and Hermione (Hermione's presence there is never fully addressed; why is she not at home with her Muggle parents?). The order of the Phoenix was the organization Dumbledore started the last time Voldemort rose, to stand against him. Since Voldemort's return, the organization has been resurrected. Its current members include Remus Lupin, Arthur and Molly Weasley, Mad-Eye Moody, Tonks, Sirius Black and more. (Harry tries to join but is denied as he's too young yet.) The Weasley children (Ron, Fred, George and Ginny), Harry, Hermione, Mrs. Weasley and a terrible unhappy Sirius take to cleaning out the Headquarters, the Black family house (if you wish to make a joke about the house belonging to the Blackest of all wizards, feel free). They are thwarted and hindered by Kreatcher, the Black's house elf, who is ten types of mad.

Then, to add to Harry's wonderful summer, Hermione and Ron are made Griffindor prefects, much to Fred and George's consternation.

Now, a word about the new characters in this book, most of whom are fleshed out nicely and don't overwhelm the ones we already know.

(in a vague order of appearance)

Tonks: Nymphadora Tonks is a metamorphagus, which means she can change her appearance at will. She's an Auror, one of the youngest of the Order, and is terribly clumsy. She's also related to Sirius (her mother, Sirius's cousin Andromeda Black, married Ted Tonks, a muggle).

Kingsley Shacklebolt: The Auror in charge of finding Sirius Black, also a member of the Order. He has been feeding the Ministry false information on Sirius's location (at the beginning of the book, they had been told Sirius was in Tibet). He plays only a minor role. He has been described as a bald black man with a slow deep voice (I imagined he sounds a bit like James Earl Jones, but then I've been in love with James Earl Jones's voice since I first watched Star Wars at age three.)

Mad-Eye Moody: The real deal, live and in the flesh. His mannerisms are quite similar to the fake Mad-Eye in GoF, so I won't go into them here.

Luna Lovegood: A fourth-year Ravenclaw, Luna (also known as Loony) is an eccentric student who Harry et al. first meet on the train to Hogwarts. Luna, as one of the only people who either believes Harry or who doesn't care if he's an attention-seeking nut, figures in to the actions in the book. Her father is the editor of the Quibbler, a tabloid-like magazine that Hermione calls rubbish. Her mother died when Luna was nine, which is why Luna is able to see the Thestrals.

Thestrals: As seen in Fantastic Beasts, Thestrals are "invisible" winged horses that pull the so-called horseless carriages from the train station in Hogsmeade to the school. Only those who have "seen death" can see a Thestral. The horses are bred by Hagrid, live in the Forbidden Forest, and are drawn by the smell of raw meat and blood. The horses can fly faster than anything Harry has ever seen.

Delores Jane Umbridge: Senior Under-secretary to the Minister and the new Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor. She resembles a giant frog and has a high girly voice which is soon irritating all. I love her name, only because I take a large amount of umbrage at her presence. Harry finds out the hard way that her methods of detention are a bit... disturbing.

    "You haven't given me any ink," he said.
    "Oh, you won't need ink," said Professor Umbridge, with the merest suggestion of a laugh in her voice.
    Harry placed the point of the quill on the paper and wrote: I must not tell lies.
    He let out a gasp of pain. The words had appeared on the parchment in what appeared to be shining red ink. At the same time, the words had appeared on the back of Harry's right hand, cut into the skin as through traced there by a scalpel.

There are other new characters, but their appearances are part of the "plot", so I will leave this list be for now. Back to the review.

DADA classes this year, under Professor Umbridge, will cover only theory after the Ministry interference. Hermione is not only worried about the OWL practical exams, but about the minor problem of Voldemort's rise and self-defence. She and Ron ask Harry if he'll consider teaching them (and others) in the practical aspects of DADA. It takes a while to convince him, but Harry finally agrees to teach such a class. The group gathers at the Hog's Head in Hogsmeade to discuss such a group, overheard by several others in the process, and manages to get itself banned by Umbridge before it can have its first real meeting. Undaunted, Hermione (and Dobby) make things happen, and the group meets in secret to learn all kinds of fun ways to protect one's wizarding self. They call the group Dumbledore's Army, or the DA, a play off the fact that the Minister thinks Dumbledore wants to take over by force.

So far in the book, in a series in increasingly bizarre declarations, passed down from the Ministry, Professor Umbridge makes herself High Inquisitor at Hogwarts, reviews all teachers to see who she can sack, bans student groups that haven't got her permission, bans the teachers from talking with students about anything not in their subject area, and others.

Here I must pause and say a few things about the Quidditch games. After Oliver Wood graduated, the Griffindor team of course needed a new Keeper. During GoF, there was no need for one, so we enter fifth year lacking a Keeper. There are tryouts, which Harry misses due to detention. In keeping with family tradition, Ron gets on the team as Keeper. He doesn't suck, but he's not the best at playing under pressure, even Harry admits it, but he's got potential. However, at the first Quidditch match against Slytherin, Harry, Fred and George go and get themselves banned for life from Quidditch, which effectively tosses Griffindor's chances of winning the house cup down the drain (or does it?). I'll not say who joins the team to take Harry's place, but I will say that it completes the family set.

Harry is having dreams, strange dreams, and they get worse as the book progresses. He finds himself in a hall, moving toward a door, finally dreaming he gets through the door and into the rooms behind, but he still has no idea what he's going for. Then, his dreams change, and he dreams of an attack on Mr. Weasley which, we find, occurred exactly as Harry dreamed it. Harry et al. stay in London over the holiday, meeting up with an old friend during a trip to St. Mungo's, then get patted on the head and sent back to school to continue with more of the same.

Dumbledore, showing the first hint of worry about Harry in the book, has asked Snape to give Harry lessons on how to block his mind from those who may wish to read it (like Voldemort). The insight into the characters of Snape and Harry through these lessons is great. However, the enmity between the two does not lessen. In fact, there is a sequence where Harry views Snape's worst memory, a charming incident of schoolyard bullying that James and Sirius pulled on Snape after a test. It's the first sign that Harry's had that his father wasn't the saint everyone has said he was (everyone but Snape, that is). Let me just say that Snape was ... less than pleased that Harry had seen his childhood humiliation, and promptly ends the little mind-reading lessons.

Finally, we near the end of what I can in good conscience put up in my review. Through circumstances I will not fully explain, Dumbledore takes leave of the school (blowing a hole through a crowd of Aurors to do so) and Umbridge takes over. The students (ok, Fred and George) declare warfare on her and Filtch, her only ally at the school, and the school descends into chaos (in the halls, of course). Hermione arranges Harry to have an interview with someone we've met before, to tell his side of the story to the media. The fifth-year students continue to hurtle toward OWLs, and minor breakdowns break out all over. An addition to the staff appears (someone we met in the Forbidden Forest in the Philosopher's Stone) and Hagrid shows Harry and Hermione exactly what it is he's been keeping under wraps in the Forest. Confusion abounds.

OWLs arrive. Harry, having decided he wants to be an Auror if he lives through school, tackles his OWLs with a vengeance and does quite well until his History of Magic exam, when he falls asleep and dreams that Voldemort has someone trapped, torturing them, about to kill them...

Believing this another real-time dream, Harry raises hell and high water to save this person, thwarted by Umbridge and her little minions (having grown to include the Slytherins). However, some of his friends join to help him save the day, right?

Needless to say, while some good is accomplished, and Voldemort reveals himself (unintentionally) to the Ministry, there is a death, there is destruction, and Harry learns that he can't save everyone and that his actions can have enormous repercussions.

After all the chaos calms down, Dumbledore tells Harry exactly why Voldemort tried to kill him all those years ago, and he explains why he hadn't told Harry so before that day.


Noder's comments: This book is indeed darker than the previous ones (as the world in which it is set descends into chaos and war). The book doesn't drag, as the Goblet of Fire did (don't get me wrong, GoF was good); there is a sense of urgency that has up-to-now been absent.

This one also focused more on the Big Bad, rather than inter-school rivalries. For all that the Sorting Hat branched out at the beginning of the year to warn the kids to work together and not let their houses separate them, there is very little play on that angle, and the Slytherins are portrayed as sniveling little turncoats in their help of Umbridge. I suspect that Ms. Rowling will be dealing with this particular issue next time, but it seemed a bit of a dangling thread in this one.

Also not touched upon is exactly what it is that Snape does for Dumbledore. A major plot turn at the end of GoF, we only hear in this one that Snape is "in the Order." Again, probably next time.

Probably the character with the most amount of development in this book was Neville Longbottom. Neville is drawn in to most of the situations in the book, and there is a surprising twist at the end, where we find out that Harry and Neville have more in common than they thought.

Indeed, one can see why kids the world over stayed up until midnight to get the book. When do we get the next one?

P.S.: Albus Dumbledore's middle name is Brian.

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