I’m enjoying my re-read of Order of the Phoenix so much … It’s not really that I’m surprised very often. After all, I’ve read the book so often that each sentence feels as familiar as a my favorite pair of slippers. It’s just that even after all these times reading the book, I still get that same pleasure from spending time with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, as well as so many other characters.
Fred and George feature in this chapter, number 28. Their amazing fireworks escapade is funny in itself. But Rowling is at the top of her game describing the actions and reactions of Umbridge, Filch, and the rest of the Hogwarts staff. Take this back and forth for example which comes after Umbridge tries to Stun one of the fireworks only to see it explode:
A jet of red light shot out of the end of her wand and hit one of the rockets. Instead of freezing in midair, it exploded with such force that it blasted a hole in a painting of a soppy-looking witch in the middle of a meadow; she ran for it just in time, reappearing seconds later squashed into the next painting, where a couple of wizards playing cards stood up hastily to make room for her.
‘Don’t Stun them, Filch!’ shouted Umbridge angrily, for all the world as though it had been his incantation.
‘Right you are, Headmistress!’ wheezed Filch, who as a Squib could no more have Stunned the fireworks than swallowed them. He dashed to a nearby cupboard, pulled out a broom and began swatting at the fireworks in midair; within seconds the head of the broom was ablaze.
The situation deteriorates quickly, ending with this delightful passage:
‘Dear, dear,’ said Professor McGonagall sardonically, as one of the dragons soared around her classroom, emitting loud bangs and exhaling flame. ‘Miss Brown, would you mind running along to the Headmistress and informing her that we have an escaped firework in our classroom?’
The upshot of it all was that Professor Umbridge spent her first afternoon as Headmistress running all over the school answering the summonses of the other teachers, none of whom seemed able to rid their rooms of the fireworks without her. When the final bell rang and they were heading back to Gryffindor Tower with their bags, Harry saw, with immense satisfaction, a dishevelled and soot-blackened Umbridge tottering sweaty-faced from Professor Flitwick’s classroom.
‘Thank you so much, Professor!’ said Professor Flitwick in his squeaky little voice. ‘I could have got rid of the sparklers myself, of course, but I wasn’t sure whether or not I had the authority.’
Beaming, he closed his classroom door in her snarling face.
In the midst of all this ruckus, Hermione says something very interesting … well, interesting to people like me who created the Harry Potter timeline. Here’s what she says:
Hermione returned to the table where Harry and Ron were sitting staring at their schoolbags as though hoping their homework would spring out and start doing itself.
‘Oh, why don’t we have a night off?’ said Hermione brightly, as a silver-tailed Weasley rocket zoomed past the window. ‘After all, the Easter holidays start on Friday, we’ll have plenty of time then.’
You probably noticed what I’m talking about in that passage. Hermione says that the Easter holidays start on Friday. That should allow us to pinpoint the exact dates of the events of this chapter. Except unlike Christmas on December 25 or the Hogwarts Express trip on September the first, Easter moves around on the calendar quite a bit. So when would the Easter holidays actually begin?
And there’s more to that question. I’m an American and a product of US schools. We have a week off in the spring aptly called “Spring Break” which isn’t tied to Easter at all. Some parts of the country have their Spring Break in March, others in April, but it’s pretty much always the same time every year, say, the second week of whichever month. I assume that there is a standard break for students in Britain as well, but when is it and how long does it last? Since at least in the Potter books it’s connected to Easter, does that mean that the Easter holidays move around on the calendar?
I talked with my British editors about this question and discovered a few important details. First of all, the break is two weeks long, not one as is common in the US. Second, the dates are different every year to coincide with Easter. Given that, I asked them to let me know the dates of the Easter holidays in each of the years in which the books take place.
They didn’t know the dates for all the years between 1992 and 1998, but they could give me some of them. As it turns out, the Easter holidays in 1996, which would be the break Hermione is talking about, was from the fifth through the 19th of April. So that means that the “Monday in April” when the DA was discovered must have been April 1st. The fireworks extravaganza happened on Tuesday the 2nd, and Harry sees Snape’s worst memory in the Pensieve on Wednesday April the 3rd. What a blessed relief it must have been to begin that two week break on Friday the fifth!
In the Harry Potter Lexicon Minute podcast you’ll hear the voices of our editors sharing some of the many little things which delight us about the Wizarding World. In each podcast, just a couple of minutes in length, we’ll talk about anything from cool trivia and interesting canon passages to the latest Wizarding World news. We hope you’ll join us! And we’d love to hear from you as well. Feel free to use the comment section on the blogpost for each podcast to post your thoughts.
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Music: "Winter Chimes" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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