Two very important things happen in chapter 25 of Order of the Phoenix. I’m not talking about Harry’s disastrous date with Cho, which, let’s face it, is just horrible. I cringe as I read it and yes, I do recognize those kinds of awkward moments on dates when you just know things are going badly but can’t figure out how to fix it.
Harry’s bewilderment after Cho walks out is funny and sad — and oh so familiar:
It was raining hard now and she was nowhere to be seen. He simply did not understand what had happened; half an hour ago they had been getting along fine.
It won’t be until the next chapter when Hermione patiently explains to Harry what Cho was thinking that he starts to get in inkling of what happened. Here’s how part of that conversation goes:
‘Look – you upset Cho when you said you were going to meet me, so she tried to make you jealous. It was her way of trying to find out how much you liked her.’
‘Is that what she was doing?’ said Harry, as Ron dropped on to the bench opposite them and pulled every dish within reach towards him. ‘Well, wouldn’t it have been easier if she’d just asked me whether I liked her better than you?’
‘Girls don’t often ask questions like that,’ said Hermione.
‘Well, they should!’ said Harry forcefully. ‘Then I could’ve just told her I fancy her, and she wouldn’t have had to get herself all worked up again about Cedric dying!’
‘I’m not saying what she did was sensible,’ said Hermione, as Ginny joined them, just as muddy as Ron and looking equally disgruntled. ‘I’m just trying to make you see how she was feeling at the time.’
‘You should write a book,’ Ron told Hermione as he cut up his potatoes, ‘translating mad things girls do so boys can understand them.’
Maybe she could call it “Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches,” right?
Okay, back to chapter 25. The first important plot point is that Harry finally hits the bottom. Things have been getting worse and worse for months now, even with the success of the DA and a kiss from Cho. Already at the beginning of the last chapter, he knew that things were going to be bad. Rowling writes:
Harry did not want to leave Sirius all alone again with only Kreacher for company. In fact, for the first time in his life, he was not looking forward to returning to Hogwarts. Going back to school would mean placing himself once again under the tyranny of Dolores Umbridge, who had no doubt managed to force through another dozen decrees in their absence. Then there was no Quidditch to look forward to now that he had been banned; there was every likelihood that their burden of homework would increase as the exams drew even nearer; Dumbledore remained as remote as ever; in fact, if it had not been for the D.A., Harry felt he might have gone to Sirius and begged him to let him leave Hogwarts and remain in Grimmauld Place.
And things only get worse. He comes back to learn about ten escaped Death Eaters, to find Hagrid on probation and mysteriously sporting fresh injuries every day, to endure Occlumency lessons that start off badly and get worse and worse, to suffer from his scar hurting continually, to be unable to sleep without the incessant dreams of the corridor and black door, to piles and piles of homework, and to watch Ron and Ginny practicing Quidditch without him — and then it all culminates with that terrible date with Cho … yeah, this is it. Harry has finally hit the bottom.
Which brings us to the second important plot point in this chapter. If you hit the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up. Harry doesn’t realize it, but the interview in the Three Broomsticks with Luna and Rita Skeeter is that first step back up. On first read through, of course, we didn’t realize that what we were seeing was the beginning of things starting to improve. The scene comes across as odd and even confusing. But now that we’ve read the books and know what’s coming, that scene is delightful. Seeing Rita Skeeter in defeat is the first of the large and small victories to come. And we know that the interview he is about to give, telling the truth about what happened, is going to be the key event that turns the tide of public opinion, not only at Hogwarts but also in the entire Wizarding World, more in favor of him.
The seeds are planted. And in the next chapter we’ll start to see the rewards.
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