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The battle at the DoM - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
The battle at the DoM
First, a link to amuse Melbourne friends. A Melbourne fan of the HP filk group Harry and the Potters went around the city getting people to hold up a sign saying "I love Harry and the Potters." Just a goof.

I've been re-reading the battle at the Department of Mysteries in OotP (making sure I have everything straight in my head as I go into the build-up in Shifts--yes, I'm only in February there, but time moves quickly in the second half of OotP, and arranging matters like why Tonks and Bella go after each other right away and what Mad-Eye and Kingsley are doing in the kitchen may need some time), and I realized something: I really like this battle.

I was never in the I-hate-the-DoM-battle crowd, but on first reading, I was more or less skimming, not paying a lot of attention, because--quite frankly--I'd been reading all night and my eyes were starting to glaze over. I still don't think Sirius's death was particularly well done (it didn't really hit me until, of all things, Phineas Nigellus's reaction), but on the whole, this was a terrific sequence.

Up until this point, each of Harry's confrontations has been forced in one degree or the other. In PS/SS, he genuinely believed that he had to get to the Stone because Dumbledore's absence would leave it clear for stealing. In CoS, Ginny would have died if he hadn't gone, and Lockhart was useless. In PoA, Sirius dragged Ron into the Whomping Willow, setting off the events of the last evening. And in GoF, first he was unwillingly put into the tournament and then the cup was turned into a portkey to drag him to the graveyard. All of this is natural enough to the character, who'd just as soon be playing Quidditch as saving the world, but who simply feels accutely that he's responsible for the latter if it happens to come into his path.

But all the world-saving has a consequence: Harry begins to believe that the world is always in need of saving and if it's not currently in his path, it will be soon. By OotP, he's on the alert. We see it in the first chapter, where his news-scrounging is so striking a behavior. He's ripe for exactly the kind of trick that Voldemort plays on him, and so is the reader--after all, it's the end of the school year, stuff always happens then (both in our perception and in Harry's). It would be easy to blame his failure to trust Snape on his enmity with Snape, but in fact, Harry forgets that Snape is in the Order. Further, I believe that if McGonagall hadn't been injured, he'd have forgotten to go to her as well. Why?

Because it's in his path, and what he expects is that it will be left to him. An alternative doesn't even occur to him.

This year, for the first time, Harry takes the initiative. And manages to screw up royally.

Now, for all the talk about how it would be more "realistic" if Draco were better recognized as a character, or if the good guys were more morally gray, or whatever the topic du jour is, I can't think of anything more realistic than the fact that Harry screws up in this particular manner.

That said, he screws up well, and doesn't compromise his status as a viable hero.

On a re-read, with the sequence of future events in mind, it's obvious that Harry's mistake is in his initial premises, not in his skill or his spirit. Operating on false information, he still successfully leads an escape from the school (taking advice given by Luna--the thestrals--which shows a willingness to consider new ideas in crisis situations, even if they're not from Ron and Hermione). He gets everyone into the DoM and finds the door, then allows Hermione, in particular, to take the lead in solving the logic puzzle of how to choose a door in the revolving room (delegating authority to an appropriately skilled person), but does not give up leadership in doing so. He has a brief lapse when he starts to realize that he might be wrong and won't quite admit it, but when the Death Eaters arrive and he is forced to understand, he doesn't waste time then and there trying to defend his decisions. Instead, he shifts immediately into rescue mode--his job is to get the others out of there safely. It's bad luck that they are separated and therefore can't just all make their way to the lift, but that can't be laid at Harry's feet. He does what he can to organize his retreat and protect his friends, up to and including grabbing the prophecy and running for the death room with all of the Death Eaters in pursuit, just to get them away from the others.

And still, he fails.

He's simply outmanned and dealing with people who have none of the compunctions he has about battle, and he's totally inexperienced in all-out skirmishes. He's surrounded, and has to be rescued by adults. Granted, the very ones who could and should have prevented it from happening in the first place, but honestly, as an adult--I think it's the sort of mistake we do make, forgetting that when we were kids ourselves, we assumed the world depended on us and had to be prodded repeatedly to seek adult help.

The reason I like that Harry lost isn't because I think he deserved it, or even because there was no way he could reasonably escape. If the group hadn't gotten separated, they almost certainly could have made it out, possibly with the prophecy intact. But that wouldn't have rung true to the rest of the book. Everyone in OotP is failing spectacularly--the Order, the Ministry, the Death Eaters, Voldemort. No one is getting anything done. Harry has already broken the lethargy (with Voldemort's, er, help) by going to the DoM; for him to win on top of it would succeed less in making Harry look like a hero than in making everyone else look totally incompetent (a fate which wasn't entirely avoided in the book--what in the hell was the Order doing all year, fanfic theories aside?--but certainly would have been made more pronounced if a fifteen-year-old on his first test run succeeded where they failed).
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Comments
malabud From: malabud Date: January 8th, 2005 07:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is a very interesting analysis, Fern, and I find myself agreeing with you. ('Course, that's not so unusual.)

An argument could be made that had Harry and company just left well enough alone in PS/SS, the Stone would have been safe, but Harry couldn't have known that. However, in the next three books, Harry was pretty much forced into taking action. He was the only one who could get into the Chamber, Dumbledore himself pushed Harry and Hermione into using the time-turner, and the end of the Tri-Wizard Tournament was entirely unexpected. Thus, a habit of saving people became part of Harry's personality by virtue of repetition. That he does it is not something to fault or even necessarily discourage (and I think Hermione went about it in entirely the wrong way when trying to get him to reconsider going to save Sirius). It just needs to be redirected and refocused on appropriate situations.

Above all, the adults around Harry need to stop re-enforcing his lack of faith in them! There are very valid reasons Harry does not stop to think, "Oh, I must fetch a responsible adult," when a bad situation arises.

I find it very interesting that OotP, despite its lofty name, is a book full of failures.

what in the hell was the Order doing all year, fanfic theories aside?

That is an excellent question, one I hope JKR answers in HBP. Personally, I like your interpretation.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 8th, 2005 09:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
That he does it is not something to fault or even necessarily discourage (and I think Hermione went about it in entirely the wrong way when trying to get him to reconsider going to save Sirius). It just needs to be redirected and refocused on appropriate situations.

I have a feeling we're going to see a self-doubting Harry because of this, and he's going to need the reinforcement that his "saving-people thing" isn't a death sentence. I'm hoping that Ginny at some point reminds him that if it weren't for his saving-people-thing, she'd be dead in the Chamber of Secrets, so, if he doesn't mind, she's not going jump on the this-needs-to-be-cured bandwagon, thank you very much.
malabud From: malabud Date: January 8th, 2005 10:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
You know, that would be a perfect Ginny comment, quite fitting with her personality. And, which is better, it would get Harry out his funk. (Can you tell I'm a closet H/G shipper? It's inevitable, so why fight it?) I would pay to see such a scene in HBP. Actually, thinking about it, I will pay, since I'm going to buy the book. :)
rosetapestry From: rosetapestry Date: January 9th, 2005 01:17 am (UTC) (Link)
"Above all, the adults around Harry need to stop re-enforcing his lack of faith in them! There are very valid reasons Harry does not stop to think, "Oh, I must fetch a responsible adult," when a bad situation arises."

Excellent point - even if he had remembered Snape, the anger Snape had for Sirius wouldn't have made him seem likely to play hero for him, and the last time Harry went to McGonagall for help, she told him she didn't believe him, wasn't going to help, and he should mind his own business(SS 267-8) [although arguably, that might have been good advice in this situation as well as that one]. Add that on top of the Dursleys' unfair treatment and Dumbledore's practice of revealing only what seems absolutely necessary until after it's too late for the information to be of use (and his general avoidance of Harry in OotP), and it's easy to see why Harry immediately thought he was on his own this time.
vanilla_neko From: vanilla_neko Date: January 8th, 2005 08:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Just wanted to say thank you... this post got me back into the fandom...

Amd it was a very very interesting post indeed. Thank you again!
empressov From: empressov Date: January 8th, 2005 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
This year, for the first time, Harry takes the initiative. And manages to screw up royally.
.....
That said, he screws up well, and doesn't compromise his status as a viable hero.


I agree with this and what you've written and the above makes me wonder what the next book will bring in this sequence of climactic plot devices. I've already believed, and do so even more now after reading this, that book 6 will bring us yet another spectacular failure of Harry's but this time with him failing to come to someone's rescue in favour of making a wiser (purportedly or according to his advisors) and safer choice. I think we're going to see him lose someone because of his own inaction but, as you say above, he'll still not tarnish himself as the hero because his action may have been well-advised or the logically sound choice.



fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 8th, 2005 09:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think he may come close to a failure, but I believe OotP will be the psychological low-point of the series. For a book 7 victory to be feasible, book 6 will have to show these people getting their acts together.
iczer6 From: iczer6 Date: January 8th, 2005 08:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
That said, he screws up well, and doesn't compromise his status as a viable hero.

Well said. I've always wondered why people complain about that fight. While I think it can be confusing the fact is that Harry and Co. got throughtly trounced. If Dumbledore hadn't shown up I'm pretty sure they'd be dead. Though I do wonder why we didn't see any use of the AK curse...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 8th, 2005 09:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Though I do wonder why we didn't see any use of the AK curse...

One of them starts to use it and is stopped. On the whole though, I think it requires a lot of power. We don't see it used in the middle of a busy battle. So far, we've seen it used against James Potter opening his door (thinking he's safe), Lily Potter in the most active scene, trying to defend Harry (and at this point, it backfires), the Riddle family (Muggles), some spiders (not that hard to kill), and Cedric (entirely out of the blue). In all cases--except the one that failed--the killer had the upper hand and was able to concentrate. So much of magic appears to be mind power. I expect that when the other person is giving as good as he's getting, the AK is impractical.
mozartopia From: mozartopia Date: January 8th, 2005 09:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
This was a fantastic analysis, and I enjoyed reaching your conclusion.

On the factual side, however, I'm not so sure that Harry forgets that Snape is in the Order. Rather, remembering that he is, Harry approaches Snape for help, but fails to recognise that his lack of response is a particular way of dealing with the crisis (putting up a front before Umbridge and his Slytherins, then contacting the Order in private). Harry mistakes Snape's behaviour for rejection or lack of concern--or perhaps just does not trust Snape to help--and then assumes that he must save Sirius on his own. His error here, it seems, is in character judgment, unsurprising given that he was raised without adults or peers to gauge character against.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 8th, 2005 09:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Actually, that one, I took right out of the book. Right when Umbridge captures them:

He had just realized something; he could not believe he had been so stupid as to forget it. He had thought that all the members of the Order, all those who could help him save Sirius, were gone--but he had been wrong. There was still a member of the Order of the Phoenix at Hogwarts--Snape.
mozartopia From: mozartopia Date: January 8th, 2005 09:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
But immediately after he thinks this, doesn't he make the attempt to tell Snape what's going on? And then doesn't he fail to recognise that Snape may be putting up a front before Umbridge, and that he actually will help?

Admittedly, by the time Umbridge drags Harry and Hermione to the forest, he's probably forgotten that he said anything to Snape or that Snape might actually be doing something about it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 8th, 2005 09:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
It was the forgetting in the lead-up that I was referring to. By then, he had already set things in motion, and I don't think he'd have trusted anyone to do it other than himself. The ball was rolling.
mozartopia From: mozartopia Date: January 9th, 2005 02:00 am (UTC) (Link)
You're right, of course. :)
chocolatepot From: chocolatepot Date: January 9th, 2005 02:22 am (UTC) (Link)
Now I get what you're saying.
cs_luis From: cs_luis Date: January 9th, 2005 02:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Here via the Snitch -

This is a fascinating analysis. One of my very favorite things about OotP was the fact that everyone is on their very worst behavior all year, everyone is miserable, and everyone keeps screwing things up - heroes and villains. The psychological realism was gratifying.

Also, good point about Harry taking the initiative this time - I hadn't noticed that before. :-)
pary_scorn From: pary_scorn Date: January 9th, 2005 02:41 am (UTC) (Link)
I love this interpretation! It's interesting to think that not only did Harry fail, but that it was neccessary in comparison to the incompetance that the adults had been displaying the whole book. Also, I love how you showed that just because Harry was defeated didn't mean that it wasn't before he showed massive amounts of skill as a leader/hero. Fantastic essay!!
sprite6 From: sprite6 Date: January 9th, 2005 02:59 am (UTC) (Link)
I rather like the battle at the DoM myself, although the Death Eaters seem remarkably restrained. I don't understand why they never threw the Killing Curse at the other five kids, or at the order. Even Bellatrix hits Sirius with a red beam, not a green one.

I like what you say about Harry's failure fitting the tone of the book. It is appropriate, because he has to learn his limitations, and what's more, for six teenagers to face the likes of Bellatrix Lestrange and survive is no mean feat. Any more than that would be wildly unrealistic.

But I disgree with your opinion on McGonagall. I firmly believe McGonagall had to be gotten out of the way for Harry to go off on his own. He doesn't love her, but he respects her, and he felt really alone once he knew she was gone. The shock he felt when he learned she was gone was telling, I think; he counted on her. This in spite of the fact that he went to her in PS/SS and she didn't listen.

It is true that he forgot Snape was a member of the Order, but this makes more sense to me. He's never trusted Snape, both because of his own experiences with him, and because Sirius didn't trust him. McGonagall's loyalty to the Order and Dumbledore has never been in question, though. If he can't have Dumbledore, McGonagall is the next best thing.

s8219 From: s8219 Date: January 9th, 2005 03:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

Here from daily_snitch

I've often loved your posts I've seen linked to, and this is no exception. I do think we will be seeing a lot of self doubt from Harry in the future, and maybe he'll be so morose that the CAPSLOCK OF RAGE will die down a bit.

Anyways, what I really wanted to do was give you the heads up that I'm friending you. I think you look extremely interesting and fun. Hope you don't mind!
leni_jess From: leni_jess Date: January 10th, 2005 06:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for this acute analysis of that scene - an analysis that embraces OotP as a whole (a litany of failure all round, yes! so why should anyone expect Harry to do better?) and the development of the series.

I think Harry's going to go cross-eyed in Book 6 deciding between 'safe to act' and 'necessary to act', but it would be a great relief if he'd give up the capslocks and try to work with the one person who's demonstrated some competence both in planning and in response to emergency in OotP - Snape (who is going to be excessively hard to catch, I imagine). But if Harry can't grow up in that regard (especially now Dumbledore's gone into paternal angst mode), I can't see how anything except Death Eater incompetence can save the wizarding world.
ixchelmala From: ixchelmala Date: January 11th, 2005 11:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Being more a theorist than a fanfic writer, I love and wish there was more analysis like yours here.

That being said, I'm now rethinking about all that goes on there and well it seems, along with the action, as there is much to be had, and the clues, there is Harry and your succinct summation of his makings of being a leader. I hope this is a taste of what is to come and that Harry learn (as well as the grown-ups) from the bits that they screwed up.
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