In Chapter 23, Harry figures out that he’s not possessed (thanks to Ginny) and have an unforgettable trip to St. Mungo’s (thanks to Neville). Let’s go!
You remember a few chapters back when I said it was so nice to have a feeling of optimism and happiness? It was nice while it lasted, wasn’t it. Now not only does Harry need to worry about Mr. Weasley recovering and everything else going on at Hogwarts, he has to worry that he’s being possessed by Voldemort. He’s literally worried that Voldemort’s face is going to pop out of the back of his head the way Quirrell’s did.
He also remembers back when he arrived at Grimmauld Place, what Sirius had said Voldemort was after. A weapon. Something he didn’t have last time. What if the weapon is Harry? What if Voldemort is using Harry to destroy the Order from the inside out? It would explain why Harry was being guarded all the time.
Mrs. Weasley sees that something is wrong, because of course she does. She’s the best fictional mom ever. Once they get back to Headquarters, she sends him upstairs to go rest, which suits Harry just fine because he really doesn’t want to talk to everyone. He’s afraid to go to sleep though, because what if it happens again? What if he attacks someone else? What if Voldemort is looking through his eyes and now knows where their Headquarters is? What if Voldemort can reach through Harry’s brain and read his thoughts about everything he has learned so far about the Order?
There was only one thing for it: He would have to leave Grimmauld Place straightaway. He would spend Christmas at Hogwarts withouth the others, which would keep them safe over the holidays at least . . . But no, that wouldn’t do, there were still plenty of people at Hogwarts to maim and injure, what if it was Seamus, Dean, or Neville next time? He stopped his pacing and stood staring at Phineas Nigellus’s empty frame. A leaden sensation was settling in the pit of his stomach. He had no alternative: He was going to have to return to Privet Drive, cut himself off from other wizaards entirely . . .
Okay, I see why he might feel this way, but this is really the absolute worst thing he could do. I also think it’s telling that he’s worried about attacking his classmates, but not particularly worried about attacking the Dursleys. In any case, he would be completely open for any sort of attack or plan that the Death Eaters could come up with. Yes, I know that he is protected as long as he is at the Dursleys’ house because of his mother’s sacrifice, but we don’t know how that magic works yet, and Harry certainly doesn’t. Besides, he leaves the Dursleys’ house all the time, which was how the dementors were able to attack him last time. No, Privett Drive is not safe at all.
Luckily, Phineas Nigellus returns to his picture frame and sneers at Harry for running away, saying that Gryffindors are supposed to be brave, and yet Harry is planning to make a break for it. He also has a message from Dumbledore: Stay where you are. That’s it. The whole message. Harry is, rightfully I think, irritated by this.
“So that’s it, is it?” he said loudly. “Stay there? 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 anything, though, because your tiny little brain might not be able to cope with it!”
A lot of people didn’t like Order of the Phoenix because they thought Harry was too angry, in an out-of-character sort of way, but to me, he’s not angry enough. I would be furious if I was going through all of this stuff and everyone around me wanted to just keep me in the dark about everything. Harry lashes out, but he has every reason to. Dumbledore really screwed up in this book, the way he handled all of this.
Phineas is not helping either. He is snide and sarcastic and doesn’t try to make Harry feel any better, instead berating him for questioning Dumbledore in the first place. After he leaves, Harry throws his stuff down and decides to stay. He feels a million miles away from kissing Cho under the mistletoe. As he lays there, he drifts off to sleep and has another dream of the corridor with the big black door, but Ron wakes him up to tell him dinner is ready. Harry doesn’t answer and instead falls back to sleep, waking up early in the morning. Ron is in the other bed, asleep, but Harry can see that Phineas has returned to his frame and is probably keeping an eye on him for Dumbledore. It makes him want to leave again.
Once everyone else wakes up, the house is full of good humor and cheer. Sirius is singing Christmas carols, everyone is decorating the pace. Everyone except for Harry, who is hiding in Buckbeak’s room. He hears someone arrive, but assumes it’s just another Order member reporting in. He does not expect Hermione to come in, especially since she was supposed to be skiing with her parents. She gets Harry to come out of hiding and return to his room, where Ron and Ginny are waiting.
She also gets right to the point, which is another reason why I adore her so much. Hermione cares about her friends, but will not put up with their crap. Harry tries to tell her that he’s fine, but she doesn’t let him lie about this. Harry claims that no one would look at him, but Ginny says that that he won’t look at them.
“‘We wanted to talk to you, Harry,” said Ginny, “but as you’ve been hiding ever since we got back –”
“I didn’t want anyone to talk to me,” said Harry, who was feeling more and more nettled.
“Well, that was a bit stupid of you,” said Ginny angrily, “seeing as you don’t know anyone but me who’s been possessed by You-Know-Who, and I can tell you how it feels.”
Harry remained quite still as the impact of these words hit him. Then he turned on the spot to face her.
“I forgot,” he said.
“Lucky you,” said Ginny coolly.
Oh yeah, she went there. I’ve always wondered how Ginny coped with the aftermath of the events in Chamber of Secrets. She was only 11 years old and, while obviously she was able to move on, this shows that it wasn’t easy and she still feels the effects. I wonder if seeing Harry go through this has brought a lot of those memories back to the surface for her.
Ginny starts questioning him, mainly asking if there are long periods of time where he doesn’t know what he was doing, basically big black holes in his memory. Harry says no, and Ginny says that You-Know-Who can’t be possessing him then. When she went through it, she lost hours at a time and would find herself in places and not know how she got there. Which sounds pretty damn scary, if you ask me. Harry isn’t experiencing that though.
Hermione pipes in and says that there is no way that Voldemort could have transported Harry out of Hogwarts (will the boys ever read Hogwarts: A History, just to make her happy?), and Ron confirms that Harry never left his bed. It’s enough to set Harry’s mind at ease. He’s not a weapon. His friends are safe.
Christmas at Grimmauld Place is a wonderful thing. I especially love that all the house-elf heads down the hallway are now wearing Santa hats and beards. That is festive and macabre at the same time! It’s not all joyous celebrating though. Mrs. Weasley is upset because Percy sent back her Christmas gift, which is a really mean thing to do. You’re fighting with your family, Perce, I get it. But let your mother give you the sweater she knitted for you. That’s just low.
Hermione has even gotten a present for Kreacher, a patchwork quilt. They leave it at his little den by the boiler and see all the little objects that Kreacher has hidden away, saved from the purge. They all realize that they haven’t seen Kreacher in a while. Sirius says that he couldn’t have left the house, but Harry reminds them all that Dobby was able to back when he still worked for the Malfoys, even though he had to punish himself to do it. Sirius promises to look for him later.
They go back to St. Mungo’s to visit Mr. Weasley that afternoon. Mr. Weasley is doing well, but seems a bit sheepish about something. Mrs. Weasley questions why his bandages were changed early.
“Well — now don’t get upset, Molly, but Augustus Pye had an idea . . . He’s the Trainee Healer, you know, lovely young chap and very interested in . . . um . . . complementary medicine . . . I mean, some of these old Muggle remedies . . . well, they’re called stitches, Molly, and they work very well on — on Muggle wounds –“
Mrs. Weasley is not happy with this at all, and all the kids decide to get a cup of tea before she explodes. They head for the tea room, passing the Spell Damage ward and see a familiar face. Gilderoy Lockhart. He offers to give them all autographs, so he hasn’t changed much. Still doesn’t have his memory back though, or at least, not all of it. He vaguely remembers being famous, but not really why. A nurse comes to take him back to his room and his very happy to see that he has visitors. She asks them to come back to the closed ward with them. It’s a long-term resident ward for permanent spell damage.
The nurse bustles around the room, handing out Christmas presents to the other patients when a curtained off area opens to reveal Neville and his grandmother leaving. Harry suddenly realizes who else is in the closed ward: Neville’s parents. Ron, Hermione and Ginny don’t know the truth about Neville’s parents though. They are surprised to see them. Neville’s grandmother is a very forceful woman who introduces herself to them all and knows who they all are from what Neville has told her. She is very surprised that Neville has never told his friends about his family.
“Well, it’s nothing to be ashamed of!” said Mrs. Longbottom angrily. “You should be proud, Neville, proud! They didn’t give their health and their sanity so their only son would be ashamed of them, you know!”
“I’m not ashamed,” said Neville very faintly, still looking anywhere but at Harry and the others. Ron was now standing on tiptoe to look over at the inhabitants of the two beds.
“Well, you’ve got a funny way of showing it!” said Mrs. Longbottom. “My son and his wife,” she said, turning haughtily to Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny, “were tortured into insanity by You-Know-Who’s followers.”
Hermione, Ginny and Ron are obviously shocked and horrified by this news. Mrs. Longbottom was clearly proud of her family, saying that they were Aurors, very gifted, and highly respected. She is interrupted by Alice, Neville’s mother, in what is one of the most tragic scenes of this whole series. Alice reaches towards Neville and hands him an empty gum wrapper. Mrs. Longbottom thanks her with false cheer and then tells Neville to throw it away, since apparently his mother gives him gum wrappers every time he visits. Harry sees Neville put the wrapper in his pocket. I’m sure that Neville has never thrown those gum wrappers away, not a single one.
After the Longbottoms leave, Hermione is close to tears. They didn’t know about any of this. Harry confirms that he knew, that Dumbledore had made him promise not to tell, since it was Neville’s story. He also tells them that it was what Bellatrix Lestrange got sent to Azkaban for, which horrifies Hermione, since that was who Kreacher had a photo of in his den. Maybe Kreacher isn’t such a sweet little lost soul, Hermione. Maybe he’s actually evil like the rest of the Black family had been before Sirius turned up. Either way, they have a lot to think about.
See you next time for Chapter 24.