All fifth-years at Hogwarts must take O.W.L.s, or Ordinary Wizard Level exams. The faculty piles on homework in preparation. Ron, Harry, and Hermione report to their first session of Professor Umbridge’s Defense Against the Dark Arts class. Professor Umbridge has written her course aims on the blackboard, and Hermione points out that she’s listed nothing about using the defensive spells, only studying them. Professor Umbridge explains that the Ministry does not want underage wizards practicing spells that are dangerous and unnecessary. Harry explodes, explaining that they must be prepared to fight Voldemort. Professor Umbridge insists that Voldemort has not returned and gives Harry detention every night for a week. Harry is sent to see Professor McGonagall, who tells Harry to be mindful of who Umbridge is and to whom she is reporting.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione leave dinner early to escape whispering students. In the Gryffindor common room, Hermione catches Fred and George testing their joke products on first-years, and threatens to write Mrs. Weasley. Before bed, Hermione sets out small knit hats for the House Elves, who are freed when they find clothing of their own. As usual, Hermione seems more concerned with freeing elves than with whether or not they want to be freed.
Gryffindor Quidditch captain Angelina Johnson reprimands Harry for having to miss Keeper tryouts because of his detention. After dinner, Harry reports to Umbridge’s office, and Umbridge assigns him the task of writing “I must not tell lies” over and over again on a piece of parchment. She gives him a special quill to use, and the words appear on the parchment in blood. The phrase also appears on the back of Harry’s hand, cut into his skin. As Harry stares at the cut, the skin heals over again, slightly redder but still smooth. The process is extremely painful, but Harry does not want to show weakness and does not complain or ask questions. Umbridge finally lets Harry leave. It is past midnight, and he has not had time to complete any of his homework.
Harry does not tell Ron or Hermione about what happened at his detention. On his way back to the dorms after his third night with Umbridge, Harry runs into Ron, who has been secretly practicing for Keeper tryouts. Harry is delighted. Ron sees the back of Harry’s hand, and Harry finally tells him the truth about detention. Ron suggests that he tell Dumbledore, but Harry refuses. At his final detention on Friday, Harry strains to watch Ron’s Keeper tryout from the window. Umbridge grabs his hand to check his progress. As she touches him, Harry’s scar burns tremendously, and he experiences a peculiar sensation in his midriff. When Harry returns to the dorm, he learns that Ron made the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Harry tells Hermione about detention and the pain in his scar. Like Ron, she suggests he consult Dumbledore. Harry refuses but mentions that he may ask Sirius for help. Hermione quickly reminds him of the Order’s warning about letters.
Although Dolores Umbridge is highly unlikable from the very start of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, in these chapters she proves just how evil she can be. Instead of assigning a traditional detention and forcing Harry to write regular lines, Umbridge has Harry carve “I must not tell lies” into the back of his hand, a cruel and unfair punishment. Both Ron and Hermione suggest that Harry complain about his detention to Dumbledore, but Harry refuses. He is still upset with Dumbledore, but he also doesn’t want to show any signs of weakness, particularly in front of Umbridge. That Harry neither complains nor tattles again confirms why he was placed in Gryffindor, not Slytherin: he bravely endures Umbridge’s petty torture, without a word of complaint.
Umbridge is the first Hogwarts instructor to deny students their right to a proper education. The students of Hogwarts rely heavily on their teachers for edification and instruction, and while they may grow frustrated with their homework and lessons, they are nonetheless grateful for the opportunity to learn. Given the importance of the upcoming O.W.L. exams, the pressure to learn and excel is higher than ever. Umbridge’s insistence that the students simply read their textbooks in silence, with their wands put away, indicates her lack of ability as an instructor and her desire to keep her students from actually learning how to use a Defense spell, which, presumably, mirrors the Ministry of Magic’s desire. Once again, adults are denying children information under the guise of keeping the children “safe.” In reality, Umbridge’s refusal to teach her students how to defend themselves again the Dark Arts makes them considerably more vulnerable.
Harry’s outburst in Umbridge’s class is understandable, given the circumstances of her lesson, but it is also rash and hot-headed. Throughout Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry wholeheartedly embraces his role as the troubled teenager, picking fights with Umbridge and constantly snapping at his best friends. Harry is still upset at not being chosen as a Gryffindor prefect and displays very little tolerance for Ron and Hermione’s normal quibbling. In Book IV, Harry witnessed Lord Voldemort’s ugly return to full power, which involved loads of blood, severed limbs, and the grisly murder of a classmate, Cedric Diggory, and these events seem to have wounded Harry in deep and personal ways. He is no longer the calm and affable young man from the first four books. Instead, he is irritable and rash, no longer able to quietly accept torment, whether it’s from his boorish cousin, Dudley, or his new professor. Because of Harry’s behavior he must miss Keeper tryouts, and he manages to fall very far behind on his schoolwork. Harry’s ever-brewing anger and impatience will later lead him to make a series of poor, ill-conceived decisions with deadly consequences.