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O.W.L.s

- Chapter 31

“Is that them? Is that the examiners?”
-- Hermione Granger (OP31)

OP31: O.W.L.s

Harry and Hermione tell Ron about Grawp, the fifth years take their O.W.L.s, Hagrid is sacked, McGonagall is stunned, and Harry dreams that Sirius is being tortured.

Calendar and Dates

The chapter starts from the day after Gryffindor's Quidditch Victory (Sunday, May 31), then goes through probably a week of studying for O.W.L.s and then almost two weeks of exams.  We do know that Harry's last exam day, on which the next few chapters take place, is Thursday of his second week of exams - probably June 17.

Interesting facts and notes

'I'm not,' said Harry quickly, and looked down at his Transfiguration notes, attempting to straighten his face. The truth was that Ron had just reminded Harry forcibly of another Gryffindor Quidditch player who had once sat rumpling his hair under this very tree. 'I'm just glad we won, that's all.'

'Yes,' said Hermione irritably, turning a page of Intermediate Transfiguration and glaring at a series of diagrams showing an owl turning into a pair of opera glasses.

Here again we see that Transfiguration class is where the students are taught the "scientific" approach to magic. In actual practice, of course, the science would be better described as "magic by association," so an owl is transfigured into a pair of opera glasses because it's prominent eyes are visually similar to the opera glasses' lenses.

opera glasses

The castle grounds were gleaming in the sunlight as though freshly painted; the cloudless sky smiled at itself in the smoothly sparkling lake; the satin green lawns rippled occasionally in a gentle breeze. June had arrived, but to the fifth-years this meant only one thing: their OWLs were upon them at last.

This kind of flowery prose wouldn't be considered good writing, except for the fact that it's a bit of wordplay, showing how the castle and grounds appear to the students longing to be enjoying the beautiful weather and surroundings when instead they're forced to study for exams. You can almost hear the lilting strains of "Morning" from the Peer Gynt Suite by Grieg playing, but then the scratch of the record being stopped with the last phrase: "...but to the fifth-years this meant only one thing:" [SCRATCH] "their OWLs were upon them at last."

Their teachers were no longer setting them homework; lessons were devoted to revising those topics the teachers thought most likely to come up in the exams. The purposeful, feverish atmosphere drove nearly everything but the OWLs from Harry's mind, though he did wonder occasionally during Potions lessons whether Lupin had ever told Snape that he must continue giving Harry Occlumency tuition. If he had, then Snape had ignored Lupin as thoroughly as he was now ignoring Harry.

Harry was deeply thankful that Professor Sprout ushered them into greenhouse three at that point, forcing Ernie to abandon his recital.

'I don't think it's true,' said Neville quietly from behind them. 'Because Griselda Marchbanks is a friend of my gran's, and she's never mentioned the Malfoys.'
'What's she like, Neville?' asked Hermione at once. 'Is she strict?'
'Bit like Gran, really,' said Neville in a subdued voice.

'Knowing her won't hurt your chances, though, will it?' Ron told him encouragingly.
'Oh, I don't think it will make any difference,' said Neville, still more miserably. 'Gran's always telling Professor Marchbanks I'm not as good as my dad… well… you saw what she's like at St Mungo's.
Neville looked fixedly at the floor. Harry, Ron and Hermione glanced at each other, but didn't know what to say. It was the first time Neville had acknowledged that they had met at the wizarding hospital.

Once breakfast was over, the fifth- and seventh-years milled around in the Entrance Hall

These major exams taken together with both the 5th years (O.W.L.s) and 7th years (N.E.W.T.s) sitting them in the Great Hall at the same time. Presumably they are taking the same subject concurrently where possible.

while the other students went off to lessons; then, at half past nine, they were called forwards class by class to re-enter the Great Hall, which had been rearranged exactly as Harry had seen it in the Pensieve when his father, Sirius and Snape had been taking their OWLs; the four house tables had been removed and replaced instead with many tables for one, all facing the staff-table end of the Hall where Professor McGonagall stood facing them. When they were all seated and quiet, she said, 'You may begin,' and turned over an enormous hour-glass on the desk beside her, on which there were also spare quills, ink bottles and rolls of parchment.

a) Give the incantation and b) describe the wand movement required to make objects fly.
Harry had a fleeting memory of a club soaring high into the air and landing loudly on the thick skull of a troll…

Hermione's name was called. Trembling, she left the chamber with Anthony Goldstein, Gregory Goyle and Daphne Greengrass. 

Daphne's name appears on the class list which Rowling refers to as the "original forty" but nowhere else in canon except here.

Ten minutes later, Professor Flitwick called, 'Parkinson, Pansy - Patil, Padma - Patil, Parvati - Potter, Harry.'

Here we see that Sally-Anne Perks is skipped, prompting speculation among fans that she left Hogwarts before fifth year for some reason. It's likely that the actual reason is that Rowling made a mistake when writing this passage.

'I heard, from my dear friend Tiberius Ogden, that you can produce a Patronus? For a bonus point… ?'
Harry raised his wand, looked directly at Umbridge and imagined her being sacked.
'Expecto patronum!'

'I mistranslated ehwaz,' said Hermione furiously. 'It means partnership, not defence; I mixed it up with eihwaz.'

According to runesecrets.comehwaz is a "[r]une of harmonious teamwork and trust. Rune of pairs of entities working together for a common goal."

That website also defines eihwaz as the “[r]une of the mysteries of life and death.

And what's more, someone's put another Niffler in Umbridge's office. I don't know how they got it through that new door, but I just walked past there and Umbridge is shrieking her head off - by the sound of it, it tried to take a chunk out of her leg -'

'Such a lovely, sweet-tempered girl,' said Ron, very quietly, prodding his queen forward to beat up one of Harry's knights.

Another subtle play on words: describing Hermione ironically as somewhat dangerous just as "his queen" beat up a knight. It's probably too much to read into things that Hermione is Ron's queen, but hey, we're fans. We love to make connections and read into things.

Sure enough, he found the written paper difficult, though he thought he might have got full marks on the question about Polyjuice Potion; he could describe its effects accurately, having taken it illegally in his second year.

When they reached the top of the Astronomy Tower at eleven o'clock, they found a perfect night for stargazing, cloudless and still. The grounds were bathed in silvery moonlight and there was a slight chill in the air.

Of course, any amatuer astronomer can tell you that a night sky bathed in moonlight is NOT a good night for stargazing since all but the brightest stars will be washed out. It would be difficult to spot the moons of Jupiter, for example, since they are fainter than can be seen with the naked eye.

Harry put his eye back to his telescope and refocused it, now examining Venus.

Even assuming that the planet Venus would still be above the horizon after 11pm, there would be no reason to use a telescope to view it. Venus would appear as a very bright object very near the horizon and a telescope would only serve to reveal it's phase (similar to the phases of the moon). Perhaps the phase of Venus would be important for some spell or other just like the phase of the moon is important. On the whole, a telescope would be a little use for most of this exercise, except spotting the positions of the moons of some of the planets.

Harry stared fixedly at the first question. It was several seconds before it occurred to him that he had not taken in a word of it; there was a wasp buzzing distractingly against one of the high windows. Slowly, tortuously, he at last began to write an answer.

An insect buzzing against a window? I can't help but wonder if it's really Rita Skeeter spying again.

He was walking along the cool, dark corridor to the Department of Mysteries again, 

Harry holding a lit-up wand.

Once again he was in the cathedral-sized room full of shelves and glass spheres… 

Exceptional character moments

Hermione's frantic study methods

Harry and Ron wanting to buy various bogus potions and mixtures which would supposedly help them remember things better for exams, and Hermione the Prefect confiscating it all.

Harry casting his corporeal Patronus during his DADA practical while looking straight at Umbridge and imagining her being fired.

Memorable lines

He might as well have tried to see moving pictures in the desktop as the stubbornly blank crystal ball; he lost his head completely during tea-leaf reading, saying it looked to him as though Professor Marchbanks would shortly be meeting a round, dark, soggy stranger, and rounded off the whole fiasco by mixing up the life and head lines on her palm and informing her that she ought to have died the previous Tuesday.

[Ron] made Harry feel rather better by telling him how he told the examiner in detail about the ugly man with a wart on his nose in his crystal ball, only to look up and realize he had been describing his examiner's reflection.

'But I daresay the Ministry of Magic will track him down soon enough.'
'I doubt it,' shouted tiny Professor Marchbanks, 'not if Dumbledore doesn't want to be found! I should know… examined him personally in Transfiguration and Charms when he did NEWTs… did things with a wand I'd never seen before.'

'Such a lovely, sweet-tempered girl,' said Ron, very quietly, prodding his queen forward to beat up one of Harry's knights.

Characters Introduced

OP 31 — O.W.L.s
Author
Publication
Abbreviation OP31: O.W.L.s
Canonicity Primary Canon

Commentary

Related images:

Harry holding a lit-up wand.

Pensieve (Comments)

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