Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
At the outset of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the titular hero was still dealing with some serious PTSD from the previous installment’s ordeal, while looking for any signs of Voldemort’s emergence. The Ministry of Magic was so invested in denying the return of Voldemort that it mounted an elaborate campaign to smear and discredit Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter.
Harry’s two worlds collided when a pair of Dementors attacked him and his cousin in the Muggle world. To save them, Harry was forced to do magic in defiance of the restrictions on underage wizards. Besides prompting some shockingly frank talk with his aunt and uncle, it also had Harry facing expulsion from Hogwarts and possible prosecution.
Harry had a hearing before a Ministry kangaroo court, where Minister Fudge and his toady Dolores Umbridge did their best to railroad him. Dumbledore intervened and saved Harry, but began a book-long course of keeping a silent distance from Harry just when his protégé needed him the most.
Harry rejoined his friends at the family home of his godfather, Sirius, now the secret headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, a society dedicated to battling Voldemort. Most of the adult Weasleys were members, as were Sirius, Lupin, McGonagall, Snape and Moody. Harry met some other Order members, including Aurors Kingsley Shacklebolt and Tonks and the shifty Mundungus Fletcher. Harry spread bad attitude far and wide, but bonded with Sirius, chafing over Dumbledore’s insistence that he not leave the house. Also introduced was Black family house elf Kreacher, a demented little thing still mourning the loss of Sirius’s terrible mother.
Back at Hogwarts, Harry once again found himself a suspect outsider. Umbridge had forced her way into the vacant Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor position and used the Ministry’s resources to undermine Dumbledore and slowly seize power at the school. At the same time, Harry’s psychic link to Voldemort became more dangerous than ever, as Voldemort looked for something hidden within the Ministry’s Department of Mysteries.
But there was plenty of other stuff going on at Hogwarts. Perennial second banana Ron got the chance to step out of Harry’s shadow. Hermione deployed her intelligence in all sorts of new ways. Hormones and romance got a lot of attention, as Harry’s ill-fated attempt to date Cho Chang played out. After the previous book’s revelations, Neville continued to develop into something more substantive. And Harry met oddball Luna Lovegood, a spacey, ethereal conspiracy theorist prone to random bits of penetrating insight. She became an unlikely, but crucial, friend and ally.
Worse for Harry, Hagrid was M.I.A. for the first couple months of term. He finally returned from his mission for Dumbledore toting a bruising family secret. Umbridge worked her talons into the school, targeting various teachers. When a secret, and prohibited, Defense Against the Dark Arts club started by Hermione and Harry (so that Harry can coach other students on the topic) came to light, Dumbledore took the fall and fled the school. Umbridge set herself up as a brutal dictator. Snape attempted to tutor Harry in protecting his mind from magical invasion, but the duo’s enmity tripped them up and Harry’s invasion of a painful memory drove Snape into a rage that sank the project.
When Harry had a vision of Voldemort torturing a captive Sirius, he was unwilling to listen to anyone else’s well-founded doubts. He ran afoul of Umbridge in his attempted flight, but he and Hermione engineered some well-deserved comeuppance for her. They, Ron, Neville, Ginny and Luna flew off to the Ministry, where Harry learned Voldemort was interested in a prophecy involving the two of them. A group of Death-Eaters (including Lucious Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange) ambushed the teens and a gruesome battle ensued. The Order arrived to save the kids, but in the course of the fight a major character died.
Dumbledore and Voldemort both arrived for a fierce showdown. Voldemort fled, but not before the Ministry was faced with incontrovertible proof of his return. A shell-shocked Harry had a charged confrontation with a regret-laden Dumbledore, who revealed some crucial information with ominous implications for Harry’s future.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was an odd, massive beast (the longest book in the series). It featured some crucial turning points in the Harry Potter saga and revealed some key info. The bits involving the Order itself could be quite interesting and showed several characters (the Weasleys, Lupin) in quite a different light. J.K. Rowling did some rather interesting things with Sirius and the bond between him and Harry. The revelations of Harry’s destiny had major implications for the saga’s endgame. And the battle sequence in the Ministry was one of Rowling’s most harrowing, endangering several beloved characters in addition to the major death (and buckle in, since the death toll only grew from here).
Harry, now 15, was at turns surly, angry, moody, selfish, difficult, stubborn, unheedful and downright nasty. In other words, a rather realistic teenager. That identifiable and well-sketched portrait of a good kid going through a bad time added a lot to the narrative. And ultimately, that very human part of the story was more crucial to the climactic tragedy than the magic parts.
Other characters got some interesting moments. It was good to see Ron emerge from Harry’s shadow and Ginny became more of a full-blooded character. Twins Fred and George got some fun moments before exiting the school in grand fashion. Hermione remained one of the most fascinating creations of the series; seeing her understanding and maturity grow, even as her friends hadn’t quite caught up, was rather compelling. The usually perfect Dumbledore got a flaw or two. Even the typically awful Aunt Petunia had a moment of unexpected humanity. Flashbacks fleshing out James and Lily Potter, often no more than tragic cyphers, were especially welcome.
Some other elements weren’t quite as successful. The Ministry’s paranoid crusade landed rather bluntly. As a critique of ineffective, overbearing government, it was heavy-handed. Umbridge, especially, was far too over-the-top. While intended to be a broad and hissable villain, the complete lack of subtlety with which she was written became wearying. Especially troublesome was a punishment that forced Harry to mutilate himself (not the best choice for a book with a wide following of young readers for whom self-mutilation is a very real issue). It was a case where a more realistic approach would have made Umbridge a more effective villain. The concept of the sneering, taunting Slytherins gleefully and mindlessly allying themselves with whomever was trying to undermine the school at the moment also had grown more than threadbare. Draco, especially, was never more one-dimensional or pointless to the story. And while Rowling generally did a decent job of capturing the overblown drama of teen romantic problems, any interest in the description of the gymnastics Harry’s innards performed whenever Cho was nearby expired long before the doomed romance did.
Overall, though, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was a crucial step toward the grand finale, with a lot of variety and some key plot developments. It kept the momentum going quite nicely, even if it didn’t quite live up the lofty standards of Goblet of Fire.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
After a couple of epics that brought the threat of Voldemort to a full boil, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince told a “life in wartime” story. Bad things were happening around Harry Potter and the wizarding community. Disasters, murders, disappearances and any manner of foul deeds. Things were so bad even the Muggles were noticing. A forceful new Minister of Magic took over, but his relations with Harry and Dumbledore were no better than those of his predecessor.
Hogwarts attempted to conduct its normal school year against that backdrop of tension and fear. Harry’s nemesis, Professor Snape, finally ascended to the Defense Against the Dark Arts post he’d long coveted. To take his place as potions master, Dumbledore recruited retired colleague Horace Slughorn. Vain, materialistic and prone to “collecting” the favor of bright and promising students, Slughorn harbored a shameful memory crucial to the struggle against Voldemort.
Dumbledore and Harry took on a project to understand the history of Tom Riddle and how he transformed into the most dangerous wizard alive. But Harry and friends had plenty of other things to focus on. Sixth years embarked on ever more intensive courses of study. Harry was named captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Unlike so many past years, where Harry endured suspicion and hostility from his classmates, being declared “The Chosen One” made Harry something of a celebrity. Not that he enjoyed this status any more than he did being a pariah. The deck of romantic pairings among the teen casts got a thorough shuffle.
Harry discovered an old potions book, once belonging to the mysterious “Half-Blood Prince,” with tips that made Harry a hit with Slughorn. Harry rejected Hermione’s objections to the book. Meanwhile, nemesis Draco Malfoy had been assigned a fearsome task by Voldemort that took an apparent toll on him. Harry was obsessed with figuring out what Draco was up to, but found little support among his friends. Worse, Snape’s ever questionable loyalties seemed more elusive than ever and Harry learned a crucial piece of info about Snape’s role in his parents’ tragedy.
A series of dangerous incidents assailed the school and had its future in question. An ugly encounter with Draco illustrated the dark side of the Half-Blood Prince rather vividly for Harry. But on the upside, he succeeded in extracting the crucial memory from Slughorn. That sent Dumbledore and Harry in pursuit of pieces of Voldemort’s fractured soul, stored in powerful objects called Horcruxes. All had to be destroyed before Harry could defeat Voldemort.
Dumbledore and Harry undertook a perilous adventure to recover a potential Horcrux. When they arrived back at Hogwarts, it was to discover that Draco had succeeded in helping a band of Death Eaters invade the school. A violent clash led to the most devastating loss yet for Harry, as a treachery he’d long anticipated seemed to come to pass. In the end, Harry prepared to follow the trail of the Horcruxes, heartened that Ron and Hermione vowed to go with him.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was a more focused story than its predecessor in many ways. It was an effective portrait of people trying to carry on even as horrible things occurred around them. The teen romantic roundelay could get Sweet Valley High at times, but made for an effective contrast to the darkness at the door. Several familiar characters would be effected in a variety of ways.
The focus on the Harry/Dumbledore bond gave Half-Blood Prince some real emotional resonance. But almost as fascinating was Slughorn and Harry’s back-and-forth. Slughorn may be one of Rowling’s most intriguing creations. He wasn’t a bad person, but a weak one, though those weaknesses also made him very relatable.
Some characters got a bit more of the spotlight. Ginny emerged as the most formidable of the Weasleys. And Draco finally got some badly needed depth. After five books as a sneering symbol of elitist privilege, his dilemma was genuinely affecting. A final scene featuring Draco and Dumbledore was both suspenseful and moving. Snape remained a potent wild card, almost impossible for fans to pin down. Dumbledore, so often a distant authority figure, never felt more human than he did in this outing.
Harry himself spent the book once again coming off as a very realistic teen. He was convinced he was right and that others “just didn’t get it.” He wasn’t quite as moody or snappish as he’d been in Order of the Phoenix and he took some big strides toward maturity. He remained a complex and relatable pivot for the series.
Other favorites didn’t seem to have as much narrative purpose. Hermione and Ron remained prominent, alternately advising and chiding Harry. Their own bickering defined a lot of their story, as they were swept into the teen relationship drama. Hagrid also didn’t have a lot to do, though he was an inadvertent help to Harry’s pursuit of Slughorn. After their spotlight in Book 5, Neville and Luna managed a couple of good scenes but weren’t a big presence. Rowling brought back Fleur Delacour from Goblet of Fire, now engaged to Bill Weasley (to his mother and sister’s consternation). Fleur’s handful of chapters served as a shallow source of comic relief, before a late dramatic turn.
Rowling did a strong job with Dumbledore and Harry’s Horcrux hunt and the Death Eater invasion of Hogwarts, demonstrating her facility with action sequences. The latter was especially well handled, whipping up a frenzied atmosphere that carried a sense of real danger.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince avoided the trap of being nothing more than a set-up for the finale. While it positioned the pieces for the ultimate Harry Potter/Voldemort showdown, it was an effective, absorbing portrait of a community under siege and the coming of age of the saga’s hero.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
So, did J.K. Rowling stick the landing? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows may be the most anticipated book series finale in recent memory. It was packed with plots and characters.
After parting with the Dursleys for the final time, the Order of the Phoenix helped transport Harry Potter, Chosen One, to the Weasley homestead. The Death Eaters attacked en route, getting the tragedy going early. And be warned, the body count for this final installment was sky high, including several major and beloved characters.
Voldemort had been infiltrating all aspects of the wizard world. Pandemonium broke out at Bill and Fleur’s wedding when news that the Ministry had fallen arrived and Death Eaters followed. With Voldemort’s forces firmly in control of the Ministry, Harry, Ron and Hermione fled and planned their hunt for the remaining Horcruxes.
The trio first sheltered at Sirius’s house, where house elf Kreacher provided some key information. Harry, Ron and Hermione staged a brazen infiltration of the Ministry to retrieve a Horcrux that had fallen into the hands of old nemesis Dolores Umbridge. They got the Horcrux, but were forced to flee into the wilderness. The trio remained constantly on the move, just staying ahead of their pursuers.
The stress and paranoia of being on the run tolled on the trio’s bond. After a bad fight, Ron took off. Harry and Hermione visited his hometown, Godric’s Hollow, in search of more info (and so Harry could visit his parents’ graves). But an ambush awaited that they barely escaped. A scandalous, muck-raking book about Dumbledore shook Harry’s faith in his mentor. Ron made a timely return that saved Harry’s neck and helped them recover a weapon that would destroy Horcruxes.
A mysterious symbol that popped up in multiple places sent the trio to visit Luna’s conspiracy-obsessed father. He told them of the Deathly Hallows, three powerful objects that legend said let the bearer conquer death when united. But Lovegood’s desperation led to yet another disastrous situation that the teens only narrowly escaped.
Luck ran out and Harry, Ron and Hermione were captured by Death Eaters and taken to Malfoy Manner, where several familiar faces were also held prisoner. A showdown with Bellatrix Lestrange ensued and a desperate escape resulted in another tragic loss.
Harry, Ron and Hermione next staged a daring raid on Bellatrix’s vault at Gringotts Bank in search of another Horcrux. Harry also puzzled out the identity of the Deathly Hallows. As Voldemort became aware of Harry’s movements, the trio had no choice but to return to Hogwarts on the trail of one more Horcrux. There, they encountered many friends, eager to help.
When Voldemort learned Harry was at the school, the staff and students, the Order of the Phoenix and many other familiar faces united to face the invading army of Death Eaters. More tragic losses were on tap, but also some crucial answers for Harry about both Dumbledore and Snape, whose true allegiance was finally revealed. The battle was fierce, but Harry emerged with everything he needed for the epic final showdown with Voldemort.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was a dense finale. Rowling made a Herculean effort to wrap up her story, incorporating characters, plot points and objects from throughout the series. Things that seemed like throwaways from earlier books became crucial to Harry’s march to the final battle. Framing the last book as a quest story made a lot of sense, even if it did unfortunately keep Harry and friends from Hogwarts for much of the book. The Harry Potter saga was always about a quest for truth and justice as much as it was about Harry’s journey to adulthood. Taking him to key spots in his fictional world was a way for Rowling to flesh out some crucial parts of the story before the end.
A lot of the focus was on Harry, Ron and Hermione. Indeed, long stretches went with few other characters crossing their paths. But those interludes were spiked by some inventive, well-crafted action sequences that featured some of Rowling’s best ideas. She used the Deathly Hallows and the Horcrux hunt as broad thematic tents that helped her tie the entire story together. Even better, the story logic hung together really well and gave the reader respect for Rowling’s careful long-term plotting.
Seeing Harry, Ron and Hermione interface with adulthood, each in a different way, brought the story to its logical conclusion. Harry embraced his heroism and Ron stopped feeling like he was no more than Harry’s “plus one.” But in many ways, Hermione was the linchpin, her abilities, intelligence and resourcefulness key to the trio’s survival and success. Dumbledore and Snape, used more sparingly, still got some crucial spotlight chapters that filled in the blanks and brought their stories to a satisfying close.
Rowling did her best to incorporate as many characters from the previous six books as possible, sometimes in surprising ways. A few characters enjoyed no more than cameos or small roles in the action. But Rowling managed to give key moments to favorite supporting characters like Hagrid, Neville, Lupin, Luna, the Malfoys and various Weasleys.
The death toll in the book was staggering. In some ways that made sense; at its heart Deathly Hallows was a war story. Having everyone survive would have been disingenuous. But the body count and the number of beloved characters who didn’t make it out alive rattled a lot of fans on publication.
In the end, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows brought the saga to a strong, memorable finish.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on October 5, 2015.