“So you came back, didn’t you?” said Harry urgently.
“People can come back, right? As ghosts. They don’t have to disappear completely.”
At the end of Chapter 38, Harry skips the Great Feast in order to spend his evening desperately searching the halls of Hogwarts for one of the school’s many resident ghosts. When Harry finally locates former Gryffindor member Nearly Headless Nick, Nick does not seem particularly surprised to see Harry. Often, students who have just dealt with the death of a close friend or family member seek out the spirits of Hogwarts, demanding more information on death and the afterlife. Harry is presently mourning the tragic death of his godfather, Sirius Black, and is incapable of accepting the idea that he may never be able to seek counsel from Sirius again. Harry is a bright and brave wizard, but his inability to accept the finality of Sirius’s end speaks volumes about the tenderness of his heart. As Dumbledore explains when he is telling Harry about Trelawney’s prophecy, it is the strength and conviction of Harry’s heart that sets him apart from the evil Lord Voldemort. While the strength of his heart causes Harry much pain, it is ultimately his greatest asset.
Nick responds to Harry’s inquiry by assuring Harry that Sirius is, indeed, gone. While some Wizards choose to continue walking the Earth, most decide to move on, and Nick quietly laments his own choice to remain at Hogwarts. Even after his encounter with Nearly Headless Nick, Harry is still not convinced that Sirius has left him forever. He runs into Luna Lovegood, who is the only person Harry doesn’t mind talking to about Sirius. Luna reveals to Harry that her mother died and explains that the voices she and Harry heard coming from behind the black curtain at the Ministry of Magic (the same curtain Sirius fell through to his death, and the same curtain Harry was inexplicably drawn to) are the voices of ghosts. Harry is skeptical but once again filled with hope that he might meet Sirius again.
“So,” said Harry, dredging up the words from what felt like a deep well of despair inside him, “so does that mean that . . . that one of us has got to kill the other one . . . in the end?”
In Chapter 37, Dumbledore finally explains the meaning of the prophecy to Harry. Although Harry dropped the glass sphere containing the prophecy during his battle against Death Eaters at the Ministry of Magic, Dumbledore was present when Professor Sybill Trelawney made the prediction. Professor Trelawney was interviewing for the Divination position at Hogwarts, and Dumbledore was skeptical about her powers. But since she was the great-great-granddaughter of a celebrated Seer, he agreed to meet her at the Hog’s Head pub in Hogsmeade. Professor Trelawney’s prophecy about Harry may be the only truthful prediction she has ever made. While most of the information contained in the prophecy is not especially new to Harry, the idea that he must either kill Voldemort or be killed by him is extremely upsetting. These words cast a huge shadow of death over Harry’s young life—the prophecy essentially promises that some form of murder is inevitable for Harry.
For a young man whose life has been based on saving as many lives as possible, the grimness of this statement is horrifying. In fact, the news is so upsetting that Harry chooses not to tell Ron and Hermione about it and doesn’t feel much like participating in the end-of-year festivities at Hogwarts. Because of Sirius’s murder and the revelation of the prophecy, Book V closes on a note of general despair. Harry is glad that his friends have emerged from the battle mostly unscathed, and he is happy to see so many Death Eaters returned to Azkaban, but he remains in mourning, lamenting both the death of his godfather and the truth about his relationship with Lord Voldemort.
“Wizards much older and cleverer than you have devised our new program of study. You will be learning about defensive spells in a secure, risk-free way . . . ”
In Chapter 12, Harry, Ron, and Hermione attend their first Defense Against the Dark Arts class of their fifth year, taught by Ministry of Magic employee Dolores Umbridge. Traditionally, Defense Against the Dark Arts has been a contentious subject at Hogwarts, but not because Dumbledore or other faculty members have ever questioned its practicality. Rather, Defense Against the Dark Arts has seen a steady stream of corrupt or misleading instructors, and Hogwarts students’ education in Defense has been undeniably disjointed thus far. Dolores Umbridge, in conjunction with her boss, Cornelius Fudge, has decided that the best way for her students to learn about Defense Against the Dark Arts is to quietly sit in class, wands tucked away, and read the textbook to themselves. She refuses to allow her students to acquire any practical knowledge whatsoever and does not teach them any Defensive spells.
In response to Umbridge’s refusal to teach, Hermione suggests that Harry lead a student-run Defense Against the Dark Arts course. Harry is dubious at first but ultimately agrees, knowing firsthand how useful knowing proper Defense spells can be. All interested students sign their names to a piece of parchment and agree to meet in secret. Soon after, Umbridge posts an Educational Decree banning all student groups from meeting, but it doesn’t stop the group (now known as the D.A., or Dumbledore’s Army) from continuing to meet and practice. Dumbledore, unlike Umbridge, understands that educating oneself is a time-consuming and complicated process that involves practice and lots of trial and error. Even though Harry and his friends are already swamped with schoolwork and suffering the pressure of their O.W.L. exams, they still realize the seriousness of arming themselves against the Dark Arts, taking a proactive and dangerous stance against Umbridge’s irrationality.
Again Harry noticed people putting their heads together to whisper as he passed; he gritted his teeth and tried to act as though he neither noticed nor cared.
When Harry arrives back at Hogwarts after a summer spent in relative seclusion, he finds that many of his classmates are whispering frantically behind his back and stealing nervous glances at him as he walks down the hallway. This quote, from Chapter 11, illustrates just how difficult it has become for Harry to live up to his enormous, ever-growing reputation. Whenever Harry meets or is introduced to a new Wizard, he must contend with their preconceived notions about his abilities, integrity, and honesty. Even Wizards who firmly believe Harry’s stories about Voldemort and are impressed by his courage and strength seem to expect Harry to do something spectacular in person in order to prove his accomplishments. Most of the time, Harry just wishes that he could be treated like a regular student, without all of the added attention and pressure.
Unsurprisingly, Harry is often singled out at Hogwarts, whether for his scar, his Quidditch skills, his friendship with Dumbledore, or his awe-inspiring stories about meeting Voldemort face to face. To make matters worse, Harry was receiving this treatment even before the Daily Prophet began a ruthless smear campaign against him. For nearly all of Harry’s life, he has been the subject of ridicule and disdain—first by his Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon, and wretched cousin Dudley, and now by his peers. As Harry expresses over and over again, Hogwarts is the only place he has ever really felt at home, and he is disappointed to have to contend with the same kind of bad treatment at what was once a safe haven of sorts. He continually wishes that he could just be treated as a normal Wizard, the same as everyone else.
“Well, they’re writing about you as though you’re this deluded, attention-seeking person who thinks he’s a great tragic hero or something,” said Hermione, very fast, as though it would be less unpleasant for Harry to hear these facts quickly.
Although Harry has been receiving and reading the Daily Prophet all summer, he has not been reading the paper very thoroughly, only poring over the headlines in order to see if Voldemort has struck again. Consequently, Harry is shocked and upset to learn that the Prophet has been subtly painting him as a fool for months. As Hermione points out in Chapter 4, the Daily Prophet has been remarkably sneaky in the presentation of its snide remarks about Harry, trying to portray both Harry and Dumbledore as fools, but without ever explicitly writing anything negative about their convictions. Umbridge and Fudge both admit that the Daily Prophet has long been under the control of the Ministry of Magic, who are wrongly convinced that Lord Voldemort has not returned to power—therefore, it is no surprise that the Prophet has been so resolute in its slander of Harry. For most Wizards, the Daily Prophet is the sole source of Wizarding news and the only publication, aside from the much-discredited Quibbler, that Rowling mentions in the novels. The paper’s disingenuous and obvious agenda speaks volumes, and the Prophet serves as a metaphor for the corrupt media services that continue to operate around the world right now.