In this chapter, things really start heading downhill. Umbridge is appointed to be Hogwarts High Inquisitor — a name reminiscent of the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition. She begins harassing and demeaning the rest of the teaching staff immediately. These scenes where she stalks the classrooms of various professors are very entertaining but chilling as well. We can’t help but shudder as we watch someone like that gain power and immediately abuse it.
But we do learn some very juicy tidbits of canon for our timeline in the answers to the questions Umbridge asks.
“Nearly sixteen years,” Trelawney responds when asked how long she’s been the Divination teacher at Hogwarts. Why is this important? Because it helps fill in a lot of details about a very important event in the saga of Voldemort and Harry Potter.
Trelawney had come to the Hog’s Head to interview for a teaching post at Hogwarts all those years ago. In chapter 37, Dumbledore reveals to Harry that he had agreed to interview Trelawney simply out of respect for her famous ancestor but that he didn’t find any trace of her being a true Seer. That was when Trelawney blurted out the fateful prophecy which Snape overheard. This prophecy turns out to be the focus of this entire book, at least as far as Voldemort is concerned.
We also learn that McGonagall has been at Hogwarts for thirty-nine years. This part of book five is taking place in September of 1995 — the 9th of September to be exact — so she started teaching in 1956. Fans assumed when reading this that she had spent quite a few years working somewhere else before taking the position at Hogwarts, since Rowling had stated in an interview in at the time of Goblet of Fire that McGonagall was a “spritely seventy” years old, putting her birth year at 1925. However, the full story of McGonagall’s background appeared years later on Pottermore and in that we learned that she started teaching at Hogwarts just a few years after leaving the school. So Rowling’s answer in the interview was incorrect. At the time of Goblet of Fire, McGonagall was sixty years old, not seventy, and her birth year was 1935.
One last detail about this chapter: I have to say that I find the way wizards treat animals to be a little disturbing. In Transfiguration class, the fifth years try out their Vanishing spells on snails. Okay, they’re just snails, you might say. But then they move on to rats, and from the sound of things, their haphazard efforts actually leave some rat tails still wriggling with no rat attached. Are they really chopping live rats into pieces simply as a way to practice Vanishing magic? We know that things which are Vanished go into nothingness, according to McGonagall in Deathly Hallows, so I suppose that the rest of the rat isn’t feeling the pain, but still …
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