I finished reading Order of the Phoenix on the heels of the Goblet of Fire + recorded two podcast episodes in the meanwhile so a lot of my thoughts were at the forefront of my mind both while reading as well as while chatting with my co-participants.

Here are some of the thoughts I had while reading the fifth book:

  • Reading the first few chapters through the lens of Harry’s depression/PTSD makes me so sympathetic to Harry’s POV; so much more than I was when I first read the book when I was closer to Harry’s age and chalked his anger and frustration to teenage angst. WHY is nobody telling him what’s going on?! How is that a good way to treat anybody especially someone who’s just been through two traumatic events? Hermione figures that Harry will be furious without any news and both she and Ron try to convince Dumbledore to let him know something but nope.
  • Mrs Figg also mentions how she kept her identity and knowledge a secret because he was too young to know and it was on Dumbledore’s orders. Again, so infuriating! Why not give Harry some measure of joy or a safe space in his abusive childhood? The adults seem to have really failed him.
  • When Harry encounters the Dementors, he’s unable to conjure a happy memory because he’s just so miserable, and the only thing that works is the thought of Ron and Hermione. Would depressed people never be able to conjure Patronuses at all or would it just impact what kind of Patronuses/memories they need?
  • As soon as Vernon Dursley discovers that Voldemort is back and what that means for his family, he’s quick to want to chuck Harry out. There has been absolutely no room in this house for any sort of relationship with his nephew. Petunia takes no opportunity to treat Harry even halfway decently, despite him being her sister’s son. It presumably takes Dudley a brush with the Dementors to see himself as he really is and he’s the only one who seems to be able to develop a measure of decency.
  • This is the book you meet Tonks who’s described as cheerful, clumsy, short colourful (ever-changing) hair, prefers untidiness to too much cleanliness, is a fighter not a house tidier (hasn’t got a hold of householdy spells), prefers being called Tonks. This reminds me of what Elizabeth and Flourish discussed in Fansplaining – there’s so much potential to explore gender norms and gender roles through Tonks but it’s all left at the barest, most superficial level in this book
  • Reading this book made me wonder – do I feel more sympathetic towards Harry now that I have my own concrete experience with depression and rage?
  • In this book, The Daily Prophet makes Harry a target, painting him out to be delusional and attention-seeking with his claims of Voldemort’s return. The government and the media are targeting Harry, Dumbledore and anyone else sympathetic to them. And they’re not even the fascists! But they’re totally making the fascists’ job easier. It reminds me of the media/government in the US/UK today and in India since quite a while where the media especially is a tool of the state to push a certain narrative and anybody who challenges this narrative is supposed to be deranged. Percy falls for this narrative too and is so easily manipulated by the media and the government or anybody in positions and systems of power. Just like all the people in India who think questioning the government is now anti-national.
  • Reading Sirius through the lens of depression makes his situation so much more tragic too. He’s trapped in a house he thought he escaped. He has to constantly relive multiple traumas – his experience of the last twelve years in Azkaban which is compounded by his new imprisonment in a place with nothing but terrible childhood memories.
  • None of the Order members takes Molly’s concerns about giving information to Harry seriously. Even if they don’t agree with her, it is a conversation that could have happened where they actually tried to understand her perspective without everyone ganging up on her. Does anyone care what she has to say? Is her voice equally important? Would they do this to any of the other members?
  • Arthur’s enthusiasm about Muggles seems so patronising now. Like “Oh look who would have thought these dim Muggles would have achieved so much? All without magic no less!” Very paternalistic, super imperialistic.
  • Okay so the government is not only using the media but also the criminal justice system against a 14-year-old boy because they don’t want to believe that his scary story about Voldemort is true??? They convened a full criminal trial for a magical misdemeanour! Which wasn’t even his fault! AND they tried to sabotage him by changing the time/place and not informing Dumbledore of the change who is his best bet of getting off and not being expelled from Hogwarts. Seriously, this rampant corruption definitely helped Voldemort and the Death Eaters.
  • The statue – the Fountain of Magical Bretheren at the Ministry of Magic – Harry observes it enough to realise the wizard looks foolish, the witch looks vapid, and centaurs and goblins would never stare so adoringly at the former two – only the house elf’s gaze makes sense. However, it doesn’t go beyond that though even by the end of the series. Harry has identified the hypocrisies in the system but then just accepted them and found a place for himself within the system without thinking of how he’d change it.
  • Hermione talks to Lupin about house elf rights comparing it to werewolf segregation and how wizards think they’re superior to everyone. She does recognise the underlying wizard supremacy which is the backbone of the magical world, yet doesn’t seem to recognise she’s been conditioned to leave her Muggle culture behind.
  • I can absolutely recognise and understand Sirius’s depression now – especially after the impact the lockdown + global events has had on my mental health.
  • Is The Quibbler the only alternative to The Daily Prophet? I don’t remember what happens with it later but it currently reads like The Onion minus the satire – hardly propping up the role of media in a democracy. Well, later they do publish a no-holds-barred interview with Harry which changes many people’s minds about the mass-breakout in Azkaban and the possibility that Harry has been telling the truth all along – so I suppose there’s something to be said about the role of an editor/media owner who isn’t controlled by market/government forces or public opinion.
  • I also immediately want to be friends with Luna – she has the exact amount of weirdness I value. I’d totally wear a butterbeer cork necklace! And radish earrings! Don’t hate, Parvati and Lavender!
  • Tonks’ physical changes have been largely hair and sometimes face related. Not doing much with the potential. What are the extent of her powers? Can she change gender?
  • The Sorting Hat song this year is a lament that it has to sort students into houses at all which, it worries, ends up dividing them rather than uniting them – something these dark times desperately call for. Why can’t this tradition change though?! Maybe short term it’s impossible to mend fences especially since Harry and Ron refuse to even consider being friends with Slytherins. However, Dumbledore or someone else at the school can surely try to create a new system even in the short term for those who have already been Sorted? There was such an effort taken to make sure people mingle across schools in Goblet of Fire but not so much across Houses except in classes or competitive events. In my school, each classroom was divided into Houses but we still did everything together as a class. In this school, the House system seems designed to segregate which might have suited them originally but systems can change to accommodate new needs, no?
  • Umbridge’s speech at the beginning of the school year seems to have a similar effect to Professor Binns’s history lessons – a comparison which Harry makes too. It’s so couched in dull language and tones that it almost seems designed to encourage people not to pay attention and consequently not think about what’s being said or, more importantly, not analyse or question it. Hermione and the teachers are the only ones who bother to read between Umbridge’s dull words. In her classroom too, she’s designed the curriculum deliberately to make sure the students are as disempowered as possible. They learn what is told – learn what to think not how to think. No practice necessary or allowed. Along with the media and the criminal justice system, the government is also meddling with education in a way to create citizens who follow blindly. No wonder the magical world is ripe for a fascist authoritarian takeover! As India was and other parts of the world continue to be.
  • The role of the media cannot be underestimated. It turns even those Harry considered friends against him – Seamus, Lavender. The fact that Harry refuses to communicate due to his anger and PTSD doesn’t help but that would have been fine had the entire government system not made him a target.
  • In terms of internalised misogyny with Harry Potter, something they brought up in an episode of Woke Doctor Who, I’m seeing it in the way Umbridge is depicted. I can almost see how and why the narrative positions her as more of a villain than Voldemort – something which countless fans, including myself, have picked up on and ended up hating Umbridge more than Voldemort. The way in which she is described is so intimate and hateful – everything she owns, does, dresses up in is abhorrent according to the characters. All her aggressively feminine things are awful – the kittens, the bows, the fluffy pink cardigans. And this was even before they discover how awful she is. She is called toad-like and ugly and that’s how we know she’s bad – ugly people are evil apparently. Voldemort’s villainy isn’t outlined in such intimate detail, the way he’s described and his crimes are described is in an almost awestruck “Look how talented he is at being bad” whereas with Umbridge it’s like “She’s mediocre but horrible.”
  • And she is a truly awful person. She’s a horrible adult to the children in her care, she takes sadistic pleasure in depriving them of things they want, and she is abusive in her punishment with the blood quill. She’s so seemingly concerned with doing things in a Ministry-approved way but that’s obviously only applicable for those beneath her – she’s allowed to use torture as punishment and set Dementors on Harry to solve an inconvenient problem. I wish Harry had gone to one of the other professors with details of her punishment. It might have saved other students from undergoing it. None of the other students seem to have said anything either. I suppose it’s how abuse works – you think you’re alone and you’re gaslit into believing you deserve it or that it’s not so serious.
  • Umbridge hates half-humans and calls Lupin a dangerous half-breed; she has signed legislation against merpeople, werewolves, half-giants. She’s deeply prejudiced and her laws have made it difficult for Lupin to get a job.
  • It’s ridiculous that Umbridge is High Inquistor who has near-complete control of Hogwarts thanks to the obvious corruption and government control of the school. BUT Hogwarts would definitely benefit from some sort of quality and safety checks + assessing teachers and whether or not they’re good at their jobs. Snape should have been fired AGES ago. And as lovely as Hagrid is, he is a terrible teacher.
  • Hermione leaving out knitting for house elves to trick them into freeing themselves. No consent or communication with them. On the other hand, with Dumbledore’s Army, it’s a more well-thought out plan (though there’s the issue with consent there too – she didn’t tell anybody about the jinxed list of names). She seems to treat schoolmates with more respect than house elves.
  • I love that young people are organising to rebel against the tyrannical rule within their school. It begins small with less serious consequences but this is the same group that continues the rebellion in book seven when Voldemort and the Death Eaters control the school.
  • Different forms of depression and mental health crises in the book – Harry’s rage, Sirius’s recklessness, Winky’s alcoholism, Cho Chang bursting into tears everywhere. When Harry thinks he’s being possessed by Voldemort and avoids everyone, he doesn’t remember that Ginny has undergone that trauma. We don’t really see how Ginny coped with it and its aftermath and whether and what kind of lifelong impact it has had on her. Neville showcases another way of dealing with the depression brought on by his parents condition and navigating a world which doesn’t make any accommodations for his needs.
  • In the DA, Harry is a much better teacher than many Hogwarts have had. He’s taken bits and pieces of different pedagogical methods + what would work for him and his friends and created an activity-based classroom directly against Umbridge’s theoretical methods
  • Hermione is brilliant and innovative. She comes up with fake Galleons which will grow hot and change the numbers to signify new date and meeting times for the DA in a way that nobody else can figure out  what’s going on. But the only reason she had to come up with this was because “it would look suspicious if people from different houses were seen crossing the Great Hall to talk to each other too often.” ??? What is this nonsense segregation!
  • Gendered insults? Women and girls are ugly – Petunia’s horsy teeth, Pansy’s pug face; men and boys are fat and dumb – Dudley, Crabbe, Goyle. So is the most grievous insult to women against their looks but only men can worry about their intelligence? Some more internalised misogyny here.
  • Arthur and one of the Healers at St Mungo’s experiment with Muggle remedies – stitches – an idea which infuriates Molly and leaves the Weasleys aghast. At least Hermione stands up for it in the case of Muggle injuries. Surely would have use in other magical injuries too? Another of the casual slights against Muggle knowledge. The magical world could also do with therapy!! Even if it wouldn’t work for Frank and Alice Longbottom, what about Neville?!
  • This whole book can be read through the lens of disability actually. We see St Mungo’s for the first time and the different kinds of magical illnesses – both physical and mental. We see Lockhart and Alice Longbottom in greater detail. Surely the magical community could learn from Muggle psychological treatments?
  • You really can’t blame Sirius for being grumpy and sullen when he faces being left alone without anything to do again – especially as someone whose mental health fell off a cliff in the pandemic lockdown and I didn’t have half the trauma he does
  • The Knight Bus is terribly uncomfortable even in the day time – chairs fall over every time it starts or stops! Lots of noise and chaos. And if you pay a tip – like Tonks does – you can get to your stop earlier!!! What sort of transportation service is this!?
  • Harry’s teaching method works so well for Neville who really improves beyond expectations – especially once the Death Eaters who tortured his parents into insanity escape prison. Another facet of depression/mental trauma – working to your limit as a way to control your feelings?
  • You’d think Harry would understand Cho – even if not the romantic bits but at least the traumatised ones where she doesn’t feel like she can speak to anyone besides Harry; nobody else would understand?
  • Harry’s interview in The Quibbler about the real version of what happened when Cedric died brings mixed messages from readers – some continue to think he’s mad; a few are convinced by his version of events because they explain the holes in the Ministry’s version. I wonder whether people in the real world are as reasonable or even willing to engage with another POV – especially if it comes from a source they don’t usually turn to for news. I’m asking this question of myself too.
  • The unity and joy it brings in Hogwarts among students and teachers who are thrilled that Harry has done something unexpected like this and brought the truth forward reminds me of the feeling on the left-wing parts of the internet when something happens which goes our way. It’s fleeting and often followed by worse things but you take joy where you can find it.
  • Trelawney’s depression at being questioned about her teaching and then fired manifests in her being completely distracted and drunk with cooking sherry. More mental health disasters in the school! Why can’t they hire a counselor?!
  • Umbridge gets so much obvious enjoyment at making other people miserable; again the intimacy with which we see her vileness being described is so different from how Voldemort is described.
  • There are accessibility accommodations for Firenze who can’t climb into the tower where Divination classrooms are usually held. Why aren’t other kind of physical and mental accommodations made in this school?!
  • On centaur-human relations – Firenze’s herd banishes him and attacks him when he agrees to teach in Hogwarts. It’s such an insult to take on such a role according to the other centaurs – which just seems like such a bunch of conservative nonsense. Firenze as the radical progressive centaur who is open to working with humans and doesn’t guard his knowledge jealously. I do kind of understand the centaurs’ thinkin because humans have treated centaurs terribly so it’s a complex situation.
  • I’d forgotten what Firenze’s class was like – imitates a forest where he teaches them his cultural knowledge and experiences and practices and traditions. The students find this really unusual because they’ve never experienced anything of the kind and are used to gazing at magic and the magical world through a human-centric lens which Firenze challenges and expands. How amazing would it be to have more of this?!
  • Umbridge as headmistress of Hogwarts is basically a fascist takeover of the school. She tries to drug Harry with truth potion without consent, has the Floo Network monitored, has given a special selection of students indeterminate powers over their peers, all letters are read, increasingly authoritarian rules passed, no questioning or dissent allowed.
  • This obviously leads to rebellion – the Headmasters’ office refuses to let her in – the very architecture of the school turning against her; Fred and George embark on a journey of chaos and mayhem joined by the teachers, other students and Peeves once the twins depart.
  • James and Sirius were the epitome of wealthy arrogant boys bullying anyone without their privilege of wealth, Quidditch skills, good looks, and magical talents. Snape is poor and unsociable and unpopular and into the Dark Arts and makes for such an easy target. No wonder Harry was so upset by the memory.
  • Fan perspectives can have such an everlasting perspective which changes the way you engage with the text – I can’t unsee Sirius/Lupin as a couple now. It makes so much sense!
  • Filch is ecstatic at the thought of whipping students and hanging then by their ankles. What a truly awful person. WHY is he employed by the school? Honestly, some sort of assessment of Hogwarts would probably do everyone some good
  • Relatedly, there’s such a limited, quite unflattering depiction of Squibs in the series. There’s Filch and there’s Mrs Figg, I want to imagine a thriving population of Squibs living their best lives.
  • Witch, Please pointed out that centaurs are coded as indigenous people. Reading it that way, they’re angry that Firenze has betrayed their race which prefers being separate to the wizards and keep their secrets and knowledge to themselves. Firenze is revealing these to outsiders in Hogwarts. They are angry enough to kill him and anybody who supports him in a super fundamentalist way. But was this born out of decades and centuries of oppression? So now it’s a violent cycle which impacts everybody? You certainly see that in Kreacher’s case who was ignored and dismissed and treated beneath everybody’s notice and this caused him to look for more understanding and affection elsewhere which ultimately led to Sirius’s death. Dumbledore does point out that wizards are reaping the results of their actions against Other Magical People throughout history. Now even the Dementors have gone to join Voldemort.
  • The news article announcing Voldemort’s return with Fudge’s statement and the wizarding government’s steps and measures being taken to inform and protect the community – so many parallels with the pandemic and the UK and Indian and US government’s inept handling of it despite evidence. Voldemort as a metaphor for the plague or as someone on Twitter joked, Voldemort as a metaphor for the climate crisis.