Chapter 31 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: O.W.L.s
Ron's elation over his performance and Gryffindor's victory lasts well into the next day. Harry and Hermione let him enjoy it before telling him they missed the match because Hagrid dragged them away to see Grawp. Ron is incredulous that Hagrid brought back a Giant and reluctant to help care for one, much less teach it English. "He's lost his mind!" Hermione concurs, but says they promised to help Hagrid.
The Fifth Year Ordinary Wizarding Level examinations begin, and Harry is relieved that many questions cover familiar information. In the first week, he performs creditably in Charms, Transfiguration, Herbology, and Defence Against the Dark Arts. Harry receives an extra credit for producing a Patronus when requested. Professor Umbridge, who is observing, seems pleased, but Harry hardly cares. After her Ancient Runes exam, Hermione reports that someone put another Niffler into Umbridge's office; it will be another excuse to sack Hagrid.
The following Monday, Harry does reasonably well in the Potions exam as Snape is absent. Tuesday is Care of Magical Creatures, and Wednesday morning is Astronomy. Both Harry and Ron fail Divination miserably on Wednesday. During the evening Astronomy practical exam, Harry spies Umbridge and a group heading for Hagrid's hut. A battle breaks out and Stunning spells are cast at Hagrid, though his massive body deflects them. Professor McGonagall runs to Hagrid's aid, but Stunning spells knock her down. Hagrid escapes, and McGonagall is rushed to the hospital wing.
Later in the common room, Hermione comments that the Nifflers in Umbridge's office will be used as a pretext for sacking Hagrid. Lee Jordan admits that he put them there, but Hermione, perhaps to mitigate his guilt, claims that Umbridge would have sacked him anyway, out of hatred for what she calls "half-breeds".
One thing that is mentioned in the text, but never explained, is that Umbridge seems pleased that Harry, the target of her ire from well before her first day of teaching, is able to produce a Patronus. (The exact words in the book are There was a nasty smile playing about her mouth.) We can only speculate at this, as Harry does not choose to examine the incident further. It is possible that Umbridge is pleased because it will give her a second chance (she believes) to attack Harry in the following year. She might be simply acknowledging that Harry can produce a corporeal Patronus; after all, to her mind he is a "dangerous criminal who has to be kept down", as evidenced in the Ministry hearing a year earlier relating to his creating a Patronus, and conveniently forgetting that he had been acquitted. Possibly she believes that it reflects well on her "skills" as an instructor. This last actually is the one drawback, had Harry thought of it at the time, of Dumbledore's Army: by providing competent teaching of Defence Against the Dark Arts, Harry at least partly manages to mask Umbridge's incompetence. One must wonder how any students from Slytherin house in Harry's year made sufficiently high OWL grades to study advanced Defence Against the Dark Arts, being taught only by Umbridge in their critical fifth year - we do hear that Crabbe and Goyle have to repeat OWL-level Defence Against the Dark Arts in their sixth year.
Ron's opinion regarding how wise it is to attempt to civilize Grawp clearly echoes Harry and Hermione's sentiment. Because Hagrid is absent, Ron alone is able to verbalize the entire Trio's doubts, and does so with his usual outspokenness. And unlike Harry and Hermione, who personally witnessed the lonely Hagrid's nearly impossible attempt to civilize his only relative, Ron's opinion is far less affected by his emotions. The author points up Hermione's unhappiness over them having promised to assume this task, in the event that Hagrid gets sacked. Hagrid is sacked, most dramatically, and the Trio is now responsible for visiting Grawp occasionally, despite the Forbidden Forest being off-limits to them, and against the Centaurs' wishes. Hagrid's request puts the students in danger, but his need to protect his half-brother has perhaps blinded him to just how perilous his request is.
We note, by the way, that Hagrid makes a point of returning to his hut to recover Fang, his aging boarhound who has been Stunned, before making his escape. This illustrates a point about his character: Hagrid will take himself into danger to rescue less-able creatures (and people, presumably) who have entrusted themselves, or been entrusted, to his care. This seems to conflict somewhat with his asking the Trio to enter the Forbidden Forest to attempt the civilization of Grawp. This apparent contradiction is caused, we would guess, by Hagrid's perception of the Forbidden Forest: as so few of the woodland creatures would challenge a half-Giant with a large crossbow, clearly there is nothing in there that is any threat, and Hagrid generalizes this to mean "any threat to anyone," even a young student like Harry. This partial cognitive disconnect is very common in real people, but occurs seldom in fictional characters, who are written generally to be internally consistent to an impossible extent. This creation of realistically flawed characters is one of the strengths of this series.
Harry, meanwhile, soon has more pressing problems as he experiences a vision that Voldemort is torturing Sirius at the Ministry of Magic. It is interesting to note that Harry accepts this vision instantly at face value, despite obvious reasons it is unlikely to be actually happening. Harry's immediate acceptance of this vision as truth is probably the result of several earlier and similar dreams he has experienced. The murder of Frank Bryce early in the previous book, the vision of Voldemort's cursing Wormtail later in that same book, the vision of the snake attacking Mr. Weasley at Christmas, and the vision of Voldemort receiving a report from Rookwood in the spring of this year, have all proven, on inspection, to be accurate portrayals of things happening around Voldemort. This experience of veracity, coupled with urgency engendered by the belief that Sirius is being tortured even then, prevent Harry from examining this vision too closely.
- What is Ron's reaction when Harry and Hermione tell him about Grawp?
- What does Harry witness during his Astronomy exam? What happens to McGonagall?
- What does Harry "see" during his History of Magic O.W.L. exam?
- Based on the descriptions of Harry's performance in his exams, what grade do you think he may have received in each one?
- Umbridge seems pleased when Harry conjures a Patronus in his Defence Against the Dark Arts OWL. Why? This is not something that she has taught; why does she not wonder where he had learned it?
- Sirius gave Harry a package that Harry could use to reach him, Sirius had said so. Why has Harry forgotten this?
- Is the dream a hoax, a trap, or is it real?
- There are several pieces of evidence that might lead Harry to doubt the veracity of this latest "dream" or "vision". Why does Harry not think these through?
- How could Voldemort and Sirius have managed to enter the Ministry unnoticed?
- Filch reported that Umbridge had promised to banish Peeves if she became Headmaster. Why is he still there to wreak havoc for Fred and George?
We note above that there is some question whether Umbridge's teaching, Ministry-approved though it must be, would be sufficient to allow a student with only that level of education to pass the OWL exams. Umbridge does seem to be of the opinion that no practical spellcasting is required in the classroom, so for students not in Dumbledore's Army, including all of Slytherin house, the first time they are actually casting the practical Defence spells may be in the exam. A rather competent wizard much interested in the Dark Arts, such as Draco Malfoy, should still be able to pass the OWL exam to at least an Acceptable level. It is possible that, finding so few wizards and witches in Slytherin house with decent Defence Against the Dark Arts OWLs, the next instructor in that course, Professor Snape, with his pro-Slytherin bias, may choose to allow those with merely Acceptable in that course to continue to NEWT-level. We never hear what OWL level Snape requires for NEWT-level studies.
Following his dream, Harry will be in a panic over Sirius, positive he is in danger, but it seems there is no one he can to turn to. Umbridge is in complete control, Dumbledore and Hagrid are now gone, Harry will shortly find that Professor McGonagall has gone to St. Mungo's, and there seems little that Ron and Hermione can do. However, Harry is overlooking the one person left who can help him: Professor Snape, also an Order member. He has also forgotten (deliberately) the package Sirius gave him at Christmas, which Sirius had said would be a way to reach him at any time.
We will shortly find that Harry's dream has been created by Voldemort, as a means of luring Harry into the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry. Voldemort has been seeking an object which the Order of the Phoenix had earlier referred to as a "weapon," a Prophecy, which is contained in one of the small glass orbs that Harry sees in his vision. These orbs are charmed such that only those to whom they refer can safely touch them; Voldemort knows that only he and Harry can retrieve the prophecy from the shelf where it lies, and has determined to trick Harry into doing it for him.
As mentioned in the Analysis section, above, there are major problems with the vision presented to Harry, not least of which is the question of how Sirius, a wanted fugitive, and Voldemort, an instantly-recognizable symbol of evil, could have gotten deep into the bowels of the Ministry in broad daylight on a working day. We can only assume that Harry's overriding sense of urgency, engendered by the belief that Sirius is then being tortured, would prevent him from giving the vision even a moment's scrutiny.
During the chaotic events, the Trio will quite forget their promise to visit Grawp. However, the time involved will be very short: the Astronomy exam, we see here, is Wednesday night, which is when Hagrid is sacked; the History of Magic exam, Friday afternoon, is when Harry has his dream, and they will visit the Ministry this same evening. That visit will culminate with a battle, which will result in Dumbledore's reappearance and the Ministry admitting that Voldemort has returned. One of Dumbledore's demands is that the Ministry stop chasing his groundskeeper, meaning that Hagrid is free to return to Hogwarts only two days after having been driven away.
- Ron's Keeping is particularly consistent here: lackluster until a lucky save grants him confidence. We will see this pattern continued in the next book as well, and actually in a greater way in the final book, where it extends to his dealings with Hermione.
- Grawp, hunting for the absent Hagrid, will save Harry and Hermione from the Centaurs shortly. Hagrid will be successful in civilizing him, as we will see when he attends Dumbledore's funeral.
- Harry's Potions exam results will not be good enough to get him into NEWT-level Potions under Snape, but prove sufficient for advancement under Snape's replacement, Professor Slughorn. This fact, and Harry's being unaware that Snape has been replaced as Potions teacher, are critical to events in the sixth book, as they are key to Harry's being given the Half-Blood Prince's Potions text.