The Eye of the Snake
Chapter 21 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: The Eye of the Snake
The next morning, Hermione pleads with Hagrid to only teach something safe, but he only responds that nobody in his right mind would rather study Knarls than Chimeras. Hermione assures Harry and Ron that Hagrid must be joking about Chimeras. Hagrid still refuses to explain his injuries. His return to the staff table in the Great Hall receives a mixed reception: Fred, George, and Lee Jordan rush to greet him while Parvati Patil and Lavender seem dismayed. Harry understands; Professor Grubbly-Plank's "interesting" lessons do not include the risk of getting one's head torn off.
In class, Hagrid leads students into the Forest. Within are the same scaly, horse-like creatures sporting leathery wings that Harry saw pulling the carriages. The only students in the class who can see the strange beasts are Harry, Neville, and a stringy Slytherin. The creatures, Hagrid explains, are Thestrals, and are only visible to people who have seen death. Now Harry understands: he sees them because he witnessed Cedric Diggory's murder during the Triwizard Tournament the previous year.
Professor Umbridge arrives to inspect Hagrid's teaching, but her watching, constant interrupting, and generally treating Hagrid as subhuman unnerves him, and he delivers what may be his worst lesson. The Slytherins doing their best to interfere further unnerves Hagrid. Umbridge departs, saying that he can expect his evaluation in ten days.
Banned from Quidditch, Harry has little to look forward to except Dumbledore's Army, which will be suspended over Christmas break. The prospect of an idle and tedious Christmas break vexes Harry until Ron remembers something: Harry is invited to the Burrow for Christmas.
Entering the Room of Requirement, Harry finds Dobby has decorated it extravagantly. Harry removes most decorations, but mistletoe is still hanging when the students arrive. Harry has them practice the Impediment jinx and Stunning. At class end, Harry praises everyone's performance and promises they will start the big stuff in the new year. Cho Chang, lingering behind, says she still misses Cedric and wonders if he had known what Harry is teaching, would he still be alive? Harry says he did know it, otherwise he would never have finished the Triwizard Tournament's Third Task. Cho compliments Harry as being a good teacher, and maneuvering him under the mistletoe, kisses him.
Returning to the common room, Harry tells Ron and Hermione what happened, saying it would be nicer if Cho were not always crying. Hermione explains all the emotional turmoil Cho is undergoing, though Ron thinks that is impossible. "One person couldn't feel all that at once, they'd explode." Hermione retorts that just because he has the emotional range of a teaspoon does not mean everyone does. Hermione tells Harry, ". . . it could have been worse," when he describes his efforts to comfort Cho. When Ron notices Hermione is writing to Viktor Krum, he lapses into disgruntled silence; very little else is said until everyone is in bed. While falling asleep, Harry thinks that Hogwarts should teach boys how to understand girls.
Harry dreams he is a snake slithering down a long hallway. A man hiding under a silvery cloak draws his wand as Harry attacks him with his venomous fangs. Harry awakens screaming and with his scar searing, and is convinced this dream was real and that the attacked man was Mr. Weasley. Neville summons Professor McGonagall who escorts Harry and Ron to Dumbledore's office.
Harry and Cho's relationship is starting off badly. Although Cho likes Harry, she is still grieving Cedric Diggory's death while coping with other problems. Harry, dealing with his own difficulties and lacking romantic experience, is simply unequipped to handle Cho's fragile emotional state, despite Hermione's advice. He is uncertain if it is wise to continue seeing her.
The reader can see that Ron is also having relationship difficulties: he is clearly jealous of Hermione's ongoing friendship with Viktor Krum. Hermione has been aware of Ron's feelings for at least a year now, and the flaming row between Ron and Hermione following the Yule Ball the previous year will have made Ron's feelings obvious to the reader as well. The reader may find it odd that Ron is unaware of his own feelings, but this is a fairly common, if somewhat extended, pattern that some boys fall into, and the author does a very good job of describing Ron's confusion and his lack of awareness of his own feelings.
Meanwhile, Harry's dreams are becoming more real and intense. Not only is he convinced that what he saw was actually happening, requiring that he act quickly to save Mr. Weasley, but he sees it from the point-of-view of the attacking snake, and feels the emotion as it unfolds, leaving him extremely disturbed.
Hagrid, meanwhile, deliberately ignored Hermione's advice to only teach "safe" Ministry-approved lessons, though it probably matters little what lessons he does teach or how well or how badly he teaches them. Clearly Umbridge is a racist intent on eliminating him solely based on his half-Giant heritage. Hagrid, though, is hurting his own cause. Whether this is childish obstinacy, failure to comprehend his precarious situation, or resignation to a hopeless fate, remains unclear. Not all students would be unhappy if he left, however. Slytherins, of course, would favor his dismissal purely from spite, but others also fear his lessons, which often feature dangerous creatures and sometimes result in minor injuries.
It has been noted that Harry should have been able to see the Thestrals when riding in the horseless carriage to the train at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; after all, he had just seen Cedric Diggory killed. There are actually several answers, including one in the context of the books, and one in the context of the author's plans. Rowling states that immediately after Harry witnessed Cedric Diggory's death, he was still in shock and had not completely internalized what had happened. Cedric's death is not entirely real to him yet, and only after much brooding over the summer does he finally accept that Cedric is dead. Only when he fully believes that he has witnessed death, is he able to see the Thestrals. Readers have asked, did he not see death earlier, such as when Lord Voldemort killed his parents? The answer is no, he did not. Being a baby, he was unable to comprehend that night's tragic events. Also, his father was actually killed in another part of the house, while his mother's death probably happened beyond his view while he was in the crib. While it could be argued that Harry saw Voldemort die by his own rebounding killing curse, Voldemort is not really dead, nor would baby Harry understand what he saw. Harry also did not see Professor Quirrell die in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. He lost consciousness before Quirrell actually died. The author has also stated that having the Thestrals visible to Harry just before the book's end would have left a rather uncomfortable puzzle for the readers: what are these creatures, are they Dark? So she said she made the conscious decision to leave them invisible until the next book.
The above is a paraphrase of the author's own comments on the matter. However, critics can argue that this was actually one of several inconsistencies throughout the books. Rowling may have simply made a literary mistake regarding Harry being unable to see the Thestrals at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and she devised an explanation to fit the facts once the error was apparent.
- Why does Hermione urge Hagrid to teach something "safe" in his class? Would her advice make any difference?
- How does Hagrid react when Umbridge arrives to inspect his class?
- What does Dobby do to the Room of Requirement? What is Harry's reaction? Why?
- What are the horse-like creatures? Who can see them and why?
- What is Ron's reaction to Hermione writing a letter to Viktor Krum? Why?
- Why does Cho cry so much? What does Hermione think of Harry's efforts to comfort Cho?
- We are told that Harry does not return to Gryffindor tower until half an hour after the DA meeting has ended. What takes him so long?
- Why are some students less enthused than others about Hagrid's return to Hogwarts?
- How has the nature of Harry's dream changed, and why is he convinced this one is real?
Harry's dream about the hallway is much more realistic than the previous ones he experienced. He soon becomes convinced that Voldemort is possessing him. Dumbledore will seem unsurprised when Harry recounts the night's events, and he initially offers little explanation about what might be happening, leaving Harry more confused, upset, and angry at Dumbledore than ever. Eventually, we learn that Harry's viewing of the world through the eyes of another is an artifact of the linkage between Voldemort and the soul shard left in Harry by Voldemort's murder attempt. This episode is also when Voldemort learns that the linkage exists. With it, he will shortly try to influence Harry's actions. The attempt will be sporadic and ineffective until after Voldemort's discussion with Rookwood, which Harry will also see as a dream. Voldemort then starts systematically using this link to coerce Harry to retrieve something for him.
It is actually the concern that Voldemort may be already using the mental link between himself and Harry, that has been preventing Dumbledore from speaking to Harry so far this year. It is uncertain exactly when Dumbledore determined that the link existed or what its nature was, but by the time Voldemort became corporeal once more, Dumbledore was convinced of the existence of the link. Dumbledore reveals at the end of this book that, to protect Harry or to prevent Voldemort gaining more information, he was attempting to block Voldemort from learning that his and Harry's relationship was anything more than a typical Headmaster-to-student relationship.
As mentioned, we quite clearly see Umbridge's bias against Hagrid, and that it is typical prejudice: Umbridge arrives at Hagrid's class with preconceptions, and discovers exactly what she expects to while "examining" him. We will later learn that she is prejudiced against all non-human races, having authored anti-werewolf legislation; her dislike for Hagrid, based on nothing more substantial than his ancestry, will be only one aspect of her dislike of not-fully-human wizards. This prejudice will result in Hagrid shortly being put on probation, and, near the end of the year, Umbridge will employ several Aurors to help sack Hagrid. In the meanwhile, she will repeatedly examine his classes, deliberately causing his already-weak confidence to crumble even further.
Apart from the ongoing plot lines of Harry's, Hermione's, and Ron's emotional attachments, there is very little in this chapter that connects to events outside this book.