Prof. Abditus Questor
Book 5: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
PLOT SUMMARY: Harry, feeling neglected and resentful at Privet Drive with no news of Voldemort or the Order of the Phoenix, is attacked by a pair of Dementors, which he drives off with his Patronus. Then he is taken to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix at No. 12, Grimmauld Place. On his return to Hogwarts, he finds that Dolores Umbridge is Dark Arts instructor but teaches only theory, without practice. She eventually takes over the running of Hogwarts. So Harry begins secretly to instruct a group of students called "Dumbledore's Army" in practical self-defense. Harry has a vision that he is inside a snake biting Arthur Weasley, who ends in St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, where Harry and the Weasleys visit over Christmas. Prof. Snape is supposed to teach Harry Occulmency, to prevent Voldemort from invading his mind. But the lessons go badly until Harry accidentally gets access to Snape's memories of his father' boorish behavior as a young man; Snape refuses to continue the lessons. Hermione gets an interview with Harry published, which alerts people to the facts of Voldemort's return. Hagrid returns from a trip unsuccessfully to enlist the giants on Dumbledore's side, but he brings back with him his half-brother, the giant Grawp. Harry has another vision that Voldemort is torturing Sirius in the Department of Mysteries, but it is an illusion planted by Voldemort to trick Harry into coming there, so he can be forced to retrieve a prophecy concerning himself and Voldemort that the latter wants to know. Harry goes and is trapped by the Death Eaters. A band of the Order of the Phoenix, including Sirius, come to rescue him, but Sirius is killed by his cousin, Bellatrix Lestrange. After Dumbledore gets Harry back to Hogwarts, he explains that the prophecy means that either Harry or Voldemort must kill the other. But that is not predetermination; rather it is a consequence of Voldemort's having identified Harry as the one of whom the ambiguous prophecy spoke, thus forcing Harry to respond or be killed himself.
QUEST: Harry's general quest in this book is to go through his Dark Night of the Soul and particularly to learn what secret weapon Voldemort wants (the prophecy) and why Voldemort has been trying to kill him.
COMMENT: The fifth book's title, Order of the Phoenix, includes an allusion to the theme of the book and to Harry Potter's developing character. Most obviously that title is the name of a group organized by Dumbledore to oppose Voldemort during his first rampages before Harry's birth—and revived to continue the effort after Voldemort's return. But the phoenix is a magical bird that, at the end of its life, bursts into flames reducing its body to ashes from which a new phoenix arises. It is thus an archetypal symbol the "order" of whose life is destruction to ashes followed by resurrection. Those events are two essential stages in the mystic quest for Self-perfection.
The destruction-to-ashes experience is fearful for anyone who passes through it. But it is inescapable. In the Gospels, it is the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and the crucifixion on Golgotha before the Resurrection. In John Bunyan's allegory, Pilgrim's Progress, the hero, named Christian, must pass through the Slough of Despond, a swamp in which the pilgrim is trapped by his sins and remorse. Saint John of the Cross wrote a poem and later a commentary on it entitled Dark Night of the Soul, about the pain experienced by everyone on the path to spiritual enlightenment and divine union. This fifth book in the Harry Potter cycle deals with Harry's destruction to ashes, Way of the Cross, passage through the Slough of Despond, or Dark Night of the Soul. It is the darkest of all the books in the cycle. But that darkness is essential for Harry's eventual triumph and liberation. We all have to go through it. It is best to do so with confidence that eventually all shall be well (as the last line of book 7 affirms).
The ashes or Dark Night theme is introduced in the very first few words of book five, setting the time of year when the story begins: "The hottest day of the summer was drawing to a close." That time, between early July and early September, is known as the "dog days," a time of hot, sultry weather and metaphorically "a period of stagnation or inactivity." The term "dog days" refers to a belief that the hot, stagnate condition of that time was caused by the rising of the Dog Star, Sirius (from Greek seirios, meaning “the scorcher”), in conjunction with the sun. Thus the opening of book five can be seen as indirectly alluding to Harry's godfather, Sirius Black, and the phrase "drawing to a close" is an anticipation of Sirius's death near the end of the book, an event that was for Harry the deepest and darkest experience in his Dark Night of the Soul.
Following those opening words, Harry faces repeated Dark Night experiences, culminating in the greatest: his second loss of a father (in this case, his godfather, Sirius Black), but the first such loss that he was conscious of and partly responsible for. An exhaustive list of those Dark Night experiences would be very long, but the following sample is indicative of those he endures.
During his summer with his relatives on Privet Drive, Harry is frustrated by the lack of information (from either news reports or the Order) about what the re-embodied Voldemort is up to or how the Order is combating him. Harry is driven by an impulse to know and to act; but he can do neither. Instead he resents his friends, Hermione and Ron, who he assumes are "having fun" at the Weasleys' while he languishes at the Durseleys'. The injustice he feels at being thus sidelined makes him want "to yell with fury."
One day, as Harry is returning to No. 4 Privet Drive with his cousin, Dudley, who has been taunting him, they are attacked by a pair of Dementors that Harry drives off with his Patronus. He then gets Dudley, who is confused and terrified, home, only to have his aunt and uncle blame him for Dudley's condition and to receive a notice from the Ministry of Magic that, because he had performed an illegal magical act in the presence of a muggle, he is to be expelled from Hogwarts, his wand destroyed, and he is to have a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry.
No. 12, Grimmauld Place, the house of the Black family and now the headquarters of the Order, where Harry is taken for safety, is indeed a "grim old" place where Harry explodes bitterly at Hermione and Ron in unjust resentment over his summer isolation, and Sirius is resentful over his confinement, necessary because he is still a wanted man. Grimmauld Place is a site correlating with the Dark Night theme of the book. Ironically, Harry will inherit it from Sirius after his godfather dies.
The Ministry of Magic refuses to accept the fact that Voldemort has returned (which would require drastic action by them). So they suppress news and plant stories in the wizard press implying that Harry is deluded and vainglorious. Also, although Dumbledore appears at Harry's disciplinary hearing and gets him cleared of all charges, the headmaster has no personal contact with Harry, which intensifies Harry's feelings of abandonment.
At Hogwarts, Dolores Umbridge becomes an even greater persecutor of Harry than Severus Snape. Because Harry will not retract what he has said about seeing Voldemort return, she forces him to write “I must not tell lies” with a magic pen that causes the words to be cut into the back of his hand as he writes. She becomes "High Inquisitor" at Hogwarts, bans Harry from playing Quidditch for the rest of his life, and confiscates his broom.
Harry's mind has become linked to Voldemort's, so Harry experiences the evil joy Voldemort feels when his plans work and his fierce anger when they do not. In dreams or visions, Harry also sees things through Voldemort's eyes and fears he is being possessed by the evil wizard. We later learn that the actual cause of the connection between the two has been cause by Voldemort's unintentionally putting a fragment of his soul into Harry, thus establishing a link between them.
Dumbledore has assigned Snape to teach Harry Occlumency (the ability to prevent another person to access one's mind to prevent Voldemort's penetrating Harry's consciousness), but the lessons are a dismal failure because of Harry's emotional response to Snape. Eventually, Harry accidentally accesses one of Snape's memories of Harry's father, James, which shows the teen-aged James to have been a show-off and an egotistical bully (failings he grew out of as a man). However, Harry, who has had a falsely perfect image of his father, is profoundly disillusioned.
Umbridge learns about "Dumbledore's Army" of Hogwarts students whom Harry is instructing in practical magical self-defense; so she raids the group during one of its practice sessions. At the subsequent hearing, Dumbledore absolves the students of responsibility by claiming (untruthfully) that he organized the group. To escape being sent to Azkaban for supposedly plotting against the Ministry for Magic, Dumbledore magically leaves Hogwarts. Umbridge is made Head Mistress.
Harry has another dream-vision of Voldemort torturing Sirius in the Department of Mysteries and insists on going there to rescue his godfather, accompanied by Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Neville, and Luna. But the vision is false, implanted in Harry's mind by Voldemort to trick Harry into rashly coming into the hands of his Death Eaters so they can force him to retrieve the Department of Mysteries prophecy about Voldemort and Harry, of which Voldemort has heard only part. The students are all rescued by the arrival of members of the Order of the Phoenix, but in the resulting battle, Sirius is killed. That is Harry's darkest experience of the Dark Night.
The prophecy is accidentally destroyed without anyone's having heard it, but back at Hogwarts, Dumbledore (who heard it originally made) tells Harry what it said: “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches . . . born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies . . . and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not . . . and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives . . . the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies. . .” Harry now knows that he must eventually face Voldemort in mortal combat, without assurance of the outcome.
Although the Dark Night experience on the spiritual path is universal and cannot be avoided, our own behavior can influence its depth and extent. The third of the Three Truths of the White Lotus makes that clear: "We are each our own absolute law-giver, the dispenser of glory or gloom to ourselves; the decreer of our life, our reward, our punishment." So Harry, headstrong and obstinate, is responsible for his own Dark Night, at least partly, although also partly as a result of his age. Phineas Nigellus is one of the Hogwarts past Head Masters, who still speak through their portraits; he lectures Harry in exasperation: “Young people are so infernally convinced that they are absolutely right about everything. Has it not occurred to you, my poor puffed-up popinjay, that there might be an excellent reason why the Headmaster of Hogwarts is not confiding every tiny detail of his plans to you? Have you ever paused, while feeling hard-done-by, to note that following Dumbledore’s orders has never yet led you into harm? No. No, like all young people, you are quite sure that you alone feel and think, you alone recognise danger, you alone are the only one clever enough to realise what the Dark Lord may be planning—.” Harry is partly the victim of his teen-aged ignorance and instability, just as his father, James, was. Like James, Harry has to grow up and become a man.
All of us have Dark Night experiences. They are unavoidable. One cannot become enlightened without passing through the darkness. But our response to the darkness is ours to make. Harry makes mistakes and misjudgements. He can be too self-confident and thus not sufficiently careful. At the end of the book, when Harry is packing to return to Privet Drive, he finds a package Sirius gave him when they last parted, and he opens it for the first time. It is a two-way mirror, whose mate Sirius had. Harry and Sirius could have used it at any time to communicate. And if Harry had used it before relying on the false vision Voldemort planted in his mind and rushing off to the Department of Mysteries to rescue his godfather, he would have learned that Sirius was safe at Grimmauld Place. The great Dark Night that resulted from Harry's rashness and carelessness need never have happened. Harry realizes that and throws the mirror into his trunk, shattering it, just as his impetuousness shattered other possibilities.
Harry's mistakes are not, however, a matter of will or intention or motive, but of ignorance and lack of skill in doing what is best. They are partly a result of his age and inexperience. He must endure the physical consequences of ignorance and lack of skill, but he is not morally culpable for such mistakes. As the Master K.H. writes (Mahatma Letters, no. 92, p. 295): "motive is everything for us." As we will see in the last two books, Harry gets through his Dark Night and enters the light. Although still making mistakes, he learns from his mistakes and eventually grows into full and responsible adulthood. That is all that is required of any of us.