The Beetle at Bay
Chapter 25 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: The Beetle at Bay
Voldemort's joy is explained the next morning when the Daily Prophet reports a mass breakout from Azkaban Prison. Ten Death Eaters, including Antonin Dolohov, Augustus Rookwood, and Bellatrix Lestrange have escaped. Hermione suspects that the Dementors defected to Voldemort's side and abetted the escapees. The Prophet, echoing Ministry rhetoric, suggests the Death Eaters have regrouped around Sirius Black. The Prophet also reports that a Ministry employee named Bode died while in St. Mungo's Hospital, apparently strangled by a dangerous potted plant. Ron remembers seeing Bode in the same ward as Lockhart and wonders how someone could mistakenly send a Devil's Snare plant. Hermione suspects he was murdered. Harry remembers meeting Bode at the Ministry just before his hearing. Ron says he worked in the Department of Mysteries. Looking at the front page again, Hermione says something cryptic about sending a letter, and dashes off.
As Harry and Ron head to class, they run into Hagrid, who sheepishly admits that he is on probation. Harry wonders just how much more bad news he can stand.
School gossip now centers around the Azkaban breakout. Many Wizarding families are nearly as fearful of Death Eaters as they are of Voldemort. Susan Bones, who has lost an uncle, an aunt, and several cousins to Death Eaters, receives nearly as much attention as Harry. She wonders aloud to Harry how he stands it. Meanwhile, Professor Umbridge posts a new Decree banning all Hogwarts teachers from having anything but class-related conversations with students. While teachers are unable to discuss the breakout with students, they are obviously talking about it among themselves, and where Umbridge is unable to hear.
Umbridge continues evaluating Professor Trelawney and Hagrid, leading students to speculate that she intends to sack them. Hagrid forbids Harry, Ron, and Hermione from visiting him after dark, fearing it will get them and him into trouble. With Umbridge taking away everything Harry cares about at Hogwarts, only Dumbledore's Army is left. Harry redoubles his teaching efforts, and is mildly surprised that the group has been spurred on by the breakout. Even Zacharias Smith is working harder. Most affected, though, is Neville. Rather than becoming fearful, the news that his parents' torturers have escaped compels him to work even harder; only Hermione masters the Shield Charm faster.
Unfortunately, Harry's Occlumency lessons are not proceeding nearly as well. He is still unable to block Snape's probes. His scar is prickling almost continually, and he has small flashes of Voldemort's emotions. He dates this increased sensitivity to when Snape's lessons started, leaving Ron wondering if Snape is making it easier for Voldemort by deliberately hindering Harry. Hermione reminds him that Dumbledore trusts Snape, and if Dumbledore is untrustworthy, who can they trust?
Valentine's Day weekend arrives. Hermione receives an owl message, then tells Harry to meet her at the Three Broomsticks at noon, and rushes off. In Hogsmeade, Cho suggests that she and Harry go to Madam Puddifoot's Tearoom. The tearoom is filled with snogging couples, embarrassing Harry. He mentions he has to meet Hermione at the Three Broomsticks, but Cho, misunderstanding, departs in tears, despite Harry's humorous attempts to explain the situation.
Harry arrives early at the Three Broomsticks and finds Hagrid sitting at the bar, looking battered, bruised, and unusually morose. Brushing off inquiries about his injuries, he leaves after making some general comments about families. Hermione is sitting with Luna Lovegood and Rita Skeeter, the disreputable tabloid journalist who wrote sensationalistic and false articles about Harry and other students during the Triwizard Tournament. Hermione wants Rita to write an honest interview about Harry, not a slanted one that makes him appear mad. Luna's father will publish the interview in his paper, The Quibbler.
Harry continues to be baffled about girls and is taken aback when Cho Chang becomes upset and insulted over his plans to meet Hermione while on a date with her. His attempt to humorously explain that Hermione is only a platonic friend, and that Rita Skeeter's articles about their "romance" (in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) were false, backfires and only makes matters worse. Harry, inexperienced in romance and female psychology, is simply unequipped to handle Cho's fragile emotional state, and her lingering grief over Cedric's recent death further strains their budding romance.
Umbridge's decree banning teachers and students from conversing with one another except on academic matters is a desperate (and ridiculous) act showing how quickly she is losing her authority and credibility with staff and students, not that she had much to begin with. The more she attempts to exert her power on the school, the more everyone becomes united against her, effectively diminishing her power.
Neville Longbottom, meanwhile, has finally broken free from the fog that has clouded his mind since early childhood. Under Harry's influence and Neville's determination to avenge his parents, his magical power, which many thought he lacked, is quickly emerging, although he still struggles to control it.
Rita Skeeter, who has fallen on hard times, has little choice but to comply with Hermione's demands that she write a truthful story about Harry and Voldemort. Readers will recall in the previous book that Hermione discovered that Rita was an unregistered Animagus. Her beetle form allowed her to eavesdrop on unsuspecting subjects. Any Animagi who fail to register with the Ministry of Magic are committing a serious crime. Hermione controls Rita by threatening to expose her; that is how she prevented Rita from writing further damaging stories about Harry. Hermione's actions may seem out-of-character here, but she never hesitates to break rules or use somewhat unethical means if it serves an altruistic purpose, in this case, providing the public with the truth and rehabilitating Harry's reputation.
The Daily Prophet has published the Ministry story about the Death Eaters escaping from Azkaban, but have been unable to provide a plausible explanation as to why the Dementors failed to prevent this break-out. It is likely this large and unfilled hole in the Ministry's story is what inspired Hermione to contact Rita. And though Hermione detests Rita and her methods, she realizes Rita is a capable journalist, and, needing a professionally written story, uses her.
Readers should not be surprised at Hermione's guess that the Dementors have defected to Voldemort. At the end of the previous year, in Harry's hearing, Voldemort had said that getting the Dementors and Giants as allies was part of his plan. Dumbledore had also said as much shortly afterwards, when speaking to Fudge.
We note that most events in this chapter occur on Saturday, February 14th. Evidence elsewhere in the series puts this in the year 1996. In actual fact, February 14, 1996, was a Wednesday. We present this fact as a reminder that the story is largely not connected to any particular calendar, and does not suffer thereby. The plot of the story at this point made it useful to have Valentine's Day occur on a Hogsmeade weekend, so the calendar was bent to fit. Critical readers should consider, based on events in this and later chapters, how this selection of dates improves the story.
- Why does Hermione blackmail Rita Skeeter? What does Hermione threaten to do if Rita fails to comply?
- Why does Cho become upset with Harry on their date in Hogsmeade? Is she overreacting or did Harry behave inappropriately?
- Why might Umbridge be focusing so much attention on Hagrid and Trelawney during her teacher evaluations?
- How is it believed the Death Eaters escaped from Azkaban?
- Why is this chapter titled "The Beetle at Bay"?
- Could Hagrid have avoided being placed on probation by following Hermione's advice? Explain why or why not.
- What might have caused Neville Longbottom's inability to use magic properly? How has Harry's teaching changed him?
- Why is Umbridge attempting to restrict discussions between teachers and students? What effect is this Decree actually going to have?
- Why would Animagi be required to be registered with the Ministry of Magic? What happens if they don't?
- Why have there been so few Animagi?
We will find out in a later chapter that someone, we believe Lucius Malfoy, had placed Bode under the Imperius curse, forcing him to try and retrieve the Prophecy for Voldemort. The end result was Bode's insanity, and it would have become necessary to eliminate Bode if it appeared he was regaining his speech, as he would probably have answered honestly when interrogated about why he had done it. When we saw Bode at St. Mungo's, his healer had been optimistic that he was making progress and would soon be able to speak again. While we never know if Bode's death was murder, given the healer's optimism it seems extremely likely.
We note that it will be Rookwood, mentioned in this chapter as having escaped from Azkaban, who will tell Voldemort that attempts based on the Imperius curse, like the one placed on Bode, are doomed to fail. Rookwood, a one-time Ministry employee in the Department of Mysteries, knows the nature of the protective spells placed on the prophecies, and knows that anyone who tries to retrieve a prophecy from the shelves will be jinxed just as Bode was.
Umbridge will find or generate enough "malfeasance" to fire both Trelawney and Hagrid, but in neither case will she achieve quite the result she intended. Trelawney, though fired, will remain resident in Hogwarts at Dumbledore's request, and will be replaced by a teacher competent enough to avoid examination, but personally hateful to Umbridge. Hagrid's firing will require multiple Aurors, injure McGonagall, and badly disrupt the Astronomy O.W.L. exam Harry is taking.
The rift between Harry and Cho in Madam Puddifoot's will be papered over when Harry's interview is published in a few days, but this will be their final date. While both Harry and Cho continue to meet during Dumbledore's Army sessions, there is little mention of any contact outside those meetings. The published interview will also result in Umbridge canceling all further Hogsmeade weekends. Before that ban is rescinded, Harry and Cho will have ended their romance.
Hagrid's musing about "family", and about his and Harry's similarities, is largely triggered by his struggles to civilize his Giant half-brother, Grawp, coupled with awareness that he may shortly be fired and forced to leave Hogwarts. While we haven't yet met him, Grawp came back with Hagrid; it was his struggles to bring Grawp with him that delayed his return for so long. Grawp is also the source of all the various injuries that Hagrid seems to be receiving, and about which he says so little. Hagrid's comments about family are mostly due to his awareness that Grawp is now all the family he has. Hagrid will later secure Harry and Hermione's promise to continue trying to tame Grawp, by "just visitin' now and again", should Hagrid be fired.
Harry's interview will appear in The Quibbler very quickly. As a result, Harry suddenly starts receiving huge amounts of mail, much of which notes the "holes in the official Ministry story". Hermione has not been alone in noticing that pieces of their story failed to add up.
- The potted plant which apparently strangled Bode to death was almost certainly given to Bode by persons unknown, and unwittingly left in his care by the healer, while the Trio were watching during their hospital visit. The article will mention that it was a Devil's Snare, which the Trio had encountered, and fought successfully, four years earlier.
- The defection of the Dementors from Azkaban has been known to be part of Voldemort's plan since the end of the previous year, and Dumbledore had also mentioned it to Fudge. It will be mentioned again next year, when Fudge explains that the unseasonably cold, foggy weather is because the released Dementors are breeding.