The Sorting Hat's New Song
Chapter 11 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: The Sorting Hat's New Song
As Harry, Ron, Ginny, Hermione, Neville, and Luna ride toward the castle, Harry cannot keep his mind off the disturbing black horse creatures. Soon, though, the conversation turns toward Hagrid’s mysterious absence. Harry, Ron, and Hermione scan the Great Hall upon entering, unable to find him. They conclude he is still on his Order of the Phoenix mission.
A short, stout, curly-haired woman with a "pallid, toadlike face and prominent, pouchy eyes" is seated at the staff table. Harry immediately recognizes Dolores Umbridge, the particularly nasty interrogator at his Ministry hearing. Before they can discuss this further, Professor McGonagall brings out the Sorting Hat as the first years arrive.
This time, however, the Sorting Hat sings a different type of song. It tells about the four Hogwarts founders (Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin) and their friendship. When Hogwarts was new, the school was unified because each founder hand-picked students for his or her House. Slytherin, however, eventually only wanted pure-bloods students to be admitted to the school. The resulting dissent caused Slytherin to eventually leave Hogwarts. From then on, the Sorting Hat sings, the Houses have been divided. The Hat then warns that Hogwarts is "in danger from external, deadly foes," and urges unity from within. Hermione wonders aloud if the Hat has ever given warnings like that before, and Nearly Headless Nick tells her it is not the first warning the Sorting Hat has delivered.
Professor Dumbledore delivers his customary speech and introduces Dolores Umbridge as the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. Surprisingly, she rises to give her own speech, and addresses the students as if all are young children, speaking in a mind-numbingly dull fashion. Only Hermione, Dumbledore, and a few other teachers are able to remain attentive. Umbridge finally finishes, and Harry asks why Hermione seemed so interested in a load of waffle. Hermione explains that the Ministry intends to meddle with Hogwarts. When students are dismissed, Hermione reminds Ron that they have to lead the first-year students to the Common room. Harry, unencumbered by first-years, takes a short-cut and, thanks to Neville, who, for once, is able to remember the password ("Mimbulus Mimbletonia"), is in his dormitory before Ron reaches the Common room.
In the dormitory, Seamus complains his mother was reluctant to allow him to return to Hogwarts due to Dumbledore and Harry. She believes the Daily Prophet's claims that Lord Voldemort having returned is a lie. As Seamus and Harry launch into an argument, Neville sides with Harry, while Dean tries to remain neutral. Ron appears and ends the dispute by threatening to use his prefect power. In bed, Harry reflects on the strange looks he had received all day, certain few believe him. He consolingly thinks to himself, "They’ll know we’re right in the end."
This chapter mainly highlights several main themes in the series: friendship and loyalty. The Sorting Hat's new song warns about a gathering storm, though to date Voldemort's activities have remained relatively unnoticed, making claims about his return easy to ignore. The song also highlights strength through unity. This is shown throughout the series by Harry's relationship with his friends and the strength he derives from them, though this is tested as more people doubt Harry's assertion that Voldemort is alive. The Sorting Hat pleas for the four Hogwarts Houses, who have maintained (mostly) friendly rivalries, to unite under a single cause.
Dumbledore has also foreseen the need for greater unity among all wizards, locally and internationally, which is why he was instrumental in reviving the Triwizard Tournament, believing that the friendships and alliances forged with the other schools (Durmstrang and Beauxbatons) will prove crucial in the future. Ironically, the Hogwarts Houses are more divided than ever, as students take sides over Harry's claims regarding Voldemort.
Professor Umbridge's disrespectful display towards the other teachers, as shown by her arrogant interruption and inappropriate speech, and to the students through her condescending manner, hints at an underlying tyrannical nature. That nature was glimpsed during Harry's trial when she was particularly partial to convicting Harry, despite flimsy evidence. That she was personally appointed by Cornelius Fudge as the new Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor at Hogwarts, usurping Dumbledore's authority to make his own selection, indicates the Ministry has a hidden agenda. Whether or not this is tied to Voldemort is unknown yet, but either way, it hardly bodes well for Harry or for Hogwarts.
This chapter marks one of only three times that Harry actually hears the Sorting Hat's song. At every other Sorting throughout the series, something prevents him from being present for the new song.
- Why was Dolores Umbridge selected as the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher? Who chose her?
- Why don't Seamus and his mother believe Harry and Dumbledore?
- How might the Sorting Hat detect danger?
- What can be guessed about Dolores Umbridge's character based on her appearance and speech?
- Why does Harry refuse to tell Seamus and others what happened in the graveyard the night Cedric died?
- What does Dolores Umbridge's appointment as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher reveal about the power of the Ministry of Magic?
Dumbledore tolerating Umbridge's interruption and her rambling speech criticizing his leadership indicates that a serious power shift is underway at Hogwarts. Dumbledore's authority as Headmaster and his political clout within the Ministry appear to have diminished. Umbridge and her Ministry agenda are being forced upon Dumbledore, and he is currently powerless to prevent this interference at Hogwarts. This foreshadows Umbridge's rising empowerment while Dumbledore's authority and Hogwarts' welfare as a whole is eroded. One does rather wonder about Dumbledore's apparent equanimity regarding all this. Is he that certain Voldemort will reveal himself, vindicating him soon enough so that he is able to complete his work? He may also be considering that Umbridge's inappropriate actions will eventually lead to her own undoing.
Seamus Finnigan's behavior reflects many students' animosity and disbelief, even those in Gryffindor, that Harry will endure in the coming year. This attitude is largely inspired by the Daily Prophet's attacks on Harry, and will cause many friends to turn against him and also one another. Ron and Hermione always believe in and remain loyal to Harry, but curiously Neville, who is becoming increasingly important to the plot, also never loses faith in him. Luna Lovegood, strange as she may now seem, will reveal a remarkably uncluttered world view, and will also remain true to Harry.
Perhaps most interestingly, among those with wavering loyalties, many will eventually migrate to Harry's side not only due to Umbridge's despicable behavior as she further discredits Harry and Dumbledore, but also because she increasingly restricts their activities and privileges. Her actions often seem motivated by the bizarre and paranoid belief that Dumbledore, who previously declined the Minister of Magic position, nonetheless is building a private army to seize the Ministry. This belief, originally voiced by Fudge, will result in the Defence Against the Dark Arts course being so diluted that it becomes utterly ineffectual. The Ministry's sole reason for interfering at Hogwarts may be an attempt to prevent this nonexistent army's formation by effectively banning any real offensive and defensive magic instruction that could be used against the Ministry. In this case, Umbridge's further actions, having herself appointed Hogwarts High Inquisitor and arranging for the promulgation of Educational Decrees to continually increase her own power, might be termed private enterprise. In any event, it is largely disgust with Umbridge's non-teaching that provides the catalyst for Harry's secret self-defence instruction group, which will call themselves Dumbledore's Army, in a sarcastic nod to the Ministry's unfounded belief.
Harry is correct that everyone will soon know that he and Dumbledore are telling the truth. For now, though, Voldemort remains hidden, creating doubt and confusion as he quietly builds his power base and slowly infiltrates key Wizarding institutions. Once his control is secure, we can assume he will reveal his presence. Until then, Harry must bear many schoolmates' doubts and disdain.