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Cannonball Read #24 : Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

02/16/2010

I started and finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix before my daughter got past chapter 3. This is my favorite, but then I’m a sucker for an underdog story.

We start out this installment of Harry’s story with Harry and his rotten cousin, Dudley, getting attacked by dementors. After conjuring a Patronus, a corporeal patronus, and saving their lives, Harry gets in trouble for using magic outside the school. Nevermind that they are both still alive due to his actions, Harry must appear before the Ministry of Magic to defend his actions or be expelled from Hogwarts. The series wouldn’t go very far if he were expelled, but this scene shows us that the Ministry of Magic is wallowing in denial of Lord Voldemort’s return. They’ve become reactionary, narrowminded, and quash any differing opinions.

The Ministry also believes that Dumbledore is plotting against it, so they appoint a ministry insider, Dolores Umbridge, to the faculty at Hogwarts; and she soon becomes drunk with power. Issuing decree after decree to try to restrict any anti-ministry sentiment, Umbridge moves right into position as a foil for the students. Umbridge has the Defense of the Dark Arts position, but she only gives reading assignments, and no practical work. The students will be taking exams later in the year, and they all start worrying about the lack of practice in Umbridge’s class. Hermione comes up with the idea that Harry should begin instructing his friends in what he’s learned so far in fighting Voldemort. After some convincing, Harry agrees.

The students hold their study club in the Room of Requirement, an enchanted room in the school that appears only to one in need. The room meets the groups purpose with many books, cushions, and other things to make the classes go well. The scenes where the students are learning magic from Harry are particularly fun. Another moment that is exciting and thrilling is when Fred and George, Ron’s brothers, decide to rebel against Umbridge out in the open. They decide to quit school and go out with a bang by defying Umbridge to her face in a confrontation in the Great Hall setting off fireworks and planting a swamp in a corridor on their way out.

Another part of this storyline is that Voldemort seems to have access to Harry’s thoughts, and vice versa. Harry keeps having visions of Voldemort attempting to get into a room at the Ministry of Magic. When Dumbledore finds out about this, he instructs Harry to have Occlumency lessons with Professor Snape, to the chagrin of both Harry and Snape. By accessing a magical device for storing memories called a Pensieve, Harry sees some of Snape’s memories and learns how his father had bullied Snape when they were at Hogwarts together.

Harry’s lessons with Snape are unsuccessful, so much so, that Voldemort is able to plant the idea in Harry’s mind that his godfather, Sirius, is in danger at the ministry. Harry and some of his Defense of the Dark Arts friends run off to try to save Sirius. It turns out that this was a ruse, and Sirius is not in danger. The battle at the Ministry moves the plot line ahead quickly. We find out that the reason Voldemort wants to kill Harry is that there was a prophecy that said, “either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.” So now we know where the series is going. Unfortunately, though Sirius had not been in danger, he does wind up dying in the end of this novel, leaving Harry feeling very alone.

Watching Harry and his friends battle Umbridge gives us an exciting plot where we can root for the students and receive immediate gratification, rather than having to wait for the Voldemort storyline to be revealed slowly. Anyone can sympathize with students fighting against an uncaring administration or teacher, and we can raise our fist and shout when Umbridge gets hers, but we have to wait longer for the Voldemort vs. Harry battle.

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