Chapter 26 of Order of the Phoenix is completely packed. I mean it, this chapter is like a rich tapestry. I’ll just wander through the text, pointing out things here and there.
It starts with Hermione’s delightful explanation for Harry of Cho’s behavior during their disastrous date, which includes Hermione adding this gem: “And it might have been a good idea to mention how ugly you think I am, too.” and Harry’s clueless response “But I don’t think you’re ugly.”
Next we’re treated to a conversation about the importance of Quidditch, during which the tables are turned and Harry lets Hermione know how little she understands about sports. Hermione concedes the point, but says “At least my happiness doesn’t depend on Ron’s goalkeeping ability.”
The match on Saturday is a disaster. Ron misses fourteen goals and everyone is miserable — except presumably Hermione. Fred and George remark that they don’t understand how Ginny became so good at Quidditch, and Hermione informs them that their little sister has been sneaking out their brooms from the shed at home and practicing ever since she was six years old. The twins are suitably impressed.
This is a telling moment, not just for the humor in Hermione’s words but also in our understanding of who Ginny is. All through this chapter we see a different side of the youngest Weasley sibling. Ginny is coming into her own in Order of the Phoenix — we saw that already when she lied effortlessly about who was throwing dungbombs in Grimmauld Place and in the way she confronted Harry after Christmas reminding him that she was the only one who had actually been possessed by Voldemort. Now in this chapter we clearly see a girl who is self-confident and strong, someone who talks with Harry as an equal. The seeds are being planted for the romance that blooms in the next book. This version of Ginny never made it to into the films, unfortunately, prompting some fans to wonder why Harry and Ginny end up together.
Then comes that wonderful Sunday morning when the Quibbler’s interview with Harry has been published and a slew of owls bring letters to Harry at breakfast. Notice that Harry gets an excellent sarcastic dig in without getting himself in trouble. He’s starting to understand how to deal with Umbridge. Here’s how he handles her quizzing him about all the mail:
“What is going on here?” said a falsely sweet, girlish voice.
Harry looked up with his hands full of envelopes. Professor Umbridge was standing behind Fred and Luna, her bulging toad’s eyes scanning the mess of owls and letters on the table in front of Harry. Behind her he saw many of the students watching them avidly.
“Why have you got all these letters, Mr. Potter?” she asked slowly.
Harry hesitated, but he did not see how he could keep what he had done quiet; it was surely only a matter of time before a copy of The Quibbler came to Umbridge’s attention.
“People have written to me because I gave an interview,” said Harry. “About what happened to me last June.”
“An interview?” repeated Umbridge, her voice thinner and higher than ever. “What do you mean?”
“I mean a reporter asked me questions and I answered them,” said Harry.
He’s not defiantly yelling at her or telling her off. He’s simply answering her question, but with just the right level of snark. This is the moment I think when things turn around, when we see the first crack showing in Umbridge’s armor. Her attempt to ban the Quibbler backfires spectacularly and Harry is suddenly being believed, even held up as a hero.
Things start to improve as well in the other two main events of this chapter. Harry actually fights back against Snape in Occlumency lessons, protecting himself with a Shield Charm and catching a glimpse of Snape’s sad childhood. And finally, when Umbridge makes what she thinks will be the ultimate show of power — sacking Trelawney — Dumbledore deftly sidesteps her and not only keeps Trelawney living at Hogwarts castle but also selects her replacement: Firenze the centaur.
Rowling’s control of her plot is perfect. She has her readers down a very dark path. She has led us to feel that there is no hope, that Umbridge is unstoppable. She’s spent many chapters getting us to this point and now she’s going to spend many more delicious chapters taking us back up. This is that moment, when the tide turns, when things start looking up.
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