Out of the Fire
Chapter 32 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Out of the Fire
Harry is frantic about Sirius, and rushes to the infirmary to see the only member of the Order of the Phoenix that he can think of: Professor McGonagall. Madam Pomfrey says that Professor McGonagall has been transferred to St. Mungo's Hospital. Harry is unsure what to do; Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Hagrid are now gone. He runs to find Ron and Hermione. Convinced his vision is real, Harry wants to go immediately to the Ministry of Magic in London to save Sirius. Hermione warns him that the vision could be false, and suggests that Harry seems to "have a bit of a — a — saving-people thing". She suggests using Umbridge's fireplace to contact Grimmauld Place to see if Sirius is there.
Ron volunteers to distract Umbridge, while Ginny and Luna Lovegood stand guard outside as Harry and Hermione, under Harry's Invisibility Cloak, sneak into the empty office. Harry contacts Grimmauld Place, and Kreacher, the Black family House Elf, answers. He claims Sirius has gone and did not tell him where, but adds gleefully that he will never return. Harry is suddenly yanked from the fireplace, and Umbridge demands to know who he is contacting. Ron, Luna, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville are being held by Umbridge's Inquisitorial Squad.
When Harry refuses to answer, Umbridge has Malfoy fetch Snape. Harry suddenly remembers that Snape is an Order member. When he arrives, Umbridge orders him to use Veritaserum on Harry, but Snape claims she has used up his entire stock, and it takes a month to brew more. Harry desperately yells, "He's got Padfoot at the place where it's hidden." Umbridge asks what this means, and Snape coldly replies he has no idea what Potter is blathering about, and leaves.
Umbridge prepares to cast the Cruciatus curse on Harry to extract information. In passing, she admits having sent the Dementors to his home last summer. As she is about to curse him, Hermione, "crying", blurts out that Harry was contacting Professor Dumbledore about a weapon the students were building for him. They were letting him know it is ready. Umbridge demands to see it.
Hermione warns Harry that Sirius may not actually be in danger, and believes Harry is being lured into a trap. Though Harry believes she is being overly cautious, she knows he often acts rashly and without considering the possible consequences. Hermione, mentioning Harry's "saving-people thing", is verbalizing a personality trait he has which has been obvious to readers throughout, but not to him. She has previously criticized him for rushing in to be the "hero" whenever he believes friends are in danger, just as he did during the Second Task of the Triwizard Tournament the previous year, when he attempted to "rescue" all the hostages, even though Ron, Hermione, Cho, and Gabrielle, who were tethered underwater, were never in any danger. This trait, she believes, has made Harry dangerously predictable. Unwilling to hear these harsh truths, he responds with a good deal of aggression towards Hermione. But Hermione is consistently presented as the only one among Harry's friends who is not only willing to follow him, but counterbalance him when necessary. Interestingly, Harry suggests at one point that only he and Ron go to London, implying he still largely undervalues Hermione's devotion and places more stock in Ron's soldierly steadfastness.
Kreacher tells Harry that Sirius is gone from Grimmauld Place, but the loyal (though not to Sirius) Black family House-elf is an unreliable source. It should be noted that Kreacher has chosen his words carefully, possibly coached by someone: while he does say his master has gone out, he never explicitly states that Sirius is at the Department of Mysteries.
Once again, Neville has been dragged into a situation simply because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. One might wonder if the author has something against Neville, as he always seems to be getting himself into trouble that is not of his own making, sometimes dragging others with him.
Umbridge's personality is observed again in how she treats Snape. When her demand for Veritaserum is met with the simple fact that it will take a month to brew more, Umbridge, in what might be best described as a fit of pique, puts Snape on probation. If we assume that Snape is loyal to the Order, and that he is either concealing a stock of Veritaserum, or overstating the preparation time, then Umbridge's rage might be valid, but placing a teacher on probation for failure to perform physically impossible extracurricular activities is unwarranted and laughable.
The byplay concerning the Veritaserum confirms that our and Harry's earlier suspicions about Umbridge spiking his tea were correct. It now seems likely that, when Umbridge had added what she thought was Veritaserum to Harry's tea before interviewing him, she had never used this potion before. Clearly unaware of how it works, she failed to recognize that Harry was never showing Veritaserum's effects as he answered her questions. We will not speculate on why Harry, who had previously seen Veritaserum in action, failed to mimic its characteristic signs. Umbridge had also apparently used the entire vial in the process, when even a tiny amount would have caused Harry to reveal everything he knew.
Further, the incident should provide some proof to Harry that Snape's loyalty is now to the Order, rather than to Voldemort. Even though Harry never drank the tea, he should now be able to guess that Snape may have given Umbridge something other than Veritaserum. Harry fails to realize that Snape could have used this incident to betray the Order without falling under suspicion: he could have provided Umbridge with true Veritaserum, and then simply stood by as Harry betrayed Sirius to her, claiming later that he had not known why she wanted it. His providing fake Veritaserum to Umbridge certainly indicates more loyalty to the Order than Harry currently believes he has. However, it is hard to see failure to do something as a proof; and Harry cannot be certain that the Veritaserum in the tea was in fact harmless. We note that this is not the first time that Snape has had an easy and apparently blameless way to betray Dumbledore. Snape similarly could have failed to correctly mix the Wolfsbane potion that was keeping Professor Lupin from harming students at the school. While Snape did reveal that Lupin was a werewolf at the end of that year, we note that at any time during the year he could have disposed of Lupin, possibly permanently, by making a simple mistake in the brewing of the complex Wolfsbane potion, and he did not.
Snape's dismissing Harry's plea concerning "Padfoot" (Sirius), however, leaves Harry uncertain whether or not Snape will warn the Order. Having previously witnessed Snape and Sirius at wands' point with each other, Harry has reason to fear that, given the opportunity to save Sirius, Snape may simply choose to do nothing. Hermione likely shares this belief, which is why she concocts her own risky plan to subdue Umbridge.
- What does Harry do after having a vision? Who does he go to for help?
- Why does Hermione want Harry to use the fireplace to contact Sirius at Grimmauld Place?
- Who does Harry talk to at Grimmauld Place and what does Harry learn? Is the source reliable? Why or why not?
- What does Hermione tell Umbridge after she and Harry are caught? Why does Hermione tell her this?
- Does Harry really have a "saving-people-thing", as Hermione says?
- Why didn't Harry think to ask Snape, who is an Order of the Phoenix member, for help?
Although Snape appears to coldly disregard Harry's plea about Padfoot, he is carefully maintaining his cover as Dumbledore's double agent. According to Dumbledore later, Snape had immediately checked on Sirius' safety, then alerted the Order of the Phoenix when Harry and Hermione did not return from the Forbidden Forest. Harry, informed of this, believes that Snape deliberately waited too long before summoning help. Although Snape does sound the alarm, it can be debated whether he acted quickly enough and if that affected the resulting consequences. Even assuming Snape is loyal to the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore, he was in an interesting position here. Assuming that what he is able to read from Harry's mind is all he knows of the matter, Snape may now believe that Sirius is being tortured by Voldemort. Deliberately waiting to warn Phoenix headquarters could have allowed his hated nemesis (Sirius) to possibly be killed by Voldemort without him (Snape) technically betraying the Order. However, Snape claims that he had checked on Sirius, though we have only his word for this, and he could have altered his story in light of circumstances. If Snape was still unaware whether or not Sirius was actually in danger, the temptation to delay warning the Order would certainly have been present. On the other hand, there is no indication that Snape did anything to endanger Sirius. Although Dumbledore later defends Snape's actions and reiterates his continued trust in him, Harry, and readers, will continue to doubt Snape's loyalty.
Harry's predictable behavior will be used against him again in the final book when he is recognized by means of his signature Expelliarmus spell. However, he will deliberately exploit this predictability in his final confrontation with Lord Voldemort.
Kreacher's response to Harry may have been dictated in part or in full by Voldemort, acting through the Malfoy family. Interestingly, we will find out later that Voldemort has had direct dealings with Kreacher before, and will have believed that Kreacher died; if Voldemort had known that "the Black family house elf" that was talking to Narcissa was, in fact, the same elf that he had utilized before, he might have been more worried about his Locket Horcrux. Discounting other types of magic as much as he does, however, it is hardly surprising that he dismissed the possibility that the two Black family house elves were both Kreacher.
As mentioned, Kreacher's words are carefully chosen. Kreacher knows that the ultimate plan is to lure Harry to the Department of Mysteries and then send Sirius after him, thus disposing of Sirius who is, in his mind, a blood traitor and unfit to be his Master. So Kreacher is speaking truthfully when he says that Sirius will never return from the Department of Mysteries, and very carefully avoids saying that he is at Grimmauld Place when Harry asks. "Nobody here but Kreacher," is shading the truth; Kreacher is the only one in the kitchen, certainly. The only outright lie that Kreacher makes is when he says, "Master has gone out," and even that could be simply shading the truth if Kreacher mentally adds "of the kitchen." But Kreacher does know that Sirius is upstairs tending to Buckbeak, who Kreacher injured.
Despite his carefully chosen words, though, Kreacher is deliberately misleading Harry at Voldemort's indirect request. In our interactions with Dobby, we have seen that deceptions like this will produce agitation in a House-elf if he is acting against instructions. That Kreacher seems quite cool about this aligns with what Dumbledore later tell Harry: "You are not his master, he could lie to you without even needing to punish himself." We suspect that the careful wording was selected to prevent distress in Kreacher because the instruction did not come from his master, but merely from a Black family member. It is unlikely that Voldemort would have worried about this; the instructions would have come from Narcissa (Black) Malfoy, and the careful wording would have been hers.
While we wonder at Neville's inclusion in the group, he will be of some use in the upcoming battle in the Ministry. While his contribution there will be limited, we will see that it acts as something of a "baptism of fire", resulting in his being much more effective in later battles and in the guerrilla fighting at Hogwarts in the final book.
This chapter seems to be entirely local to the action in this book. Although we do see a perhaps surprising consistency of character in Severus Snape, there is very little else occurring in this chapter that is either initiated in an earlier book, or has effects beyond this one.