Let’s talk about Albus Dumbledore.
Most of what you can say about him is fairly obvious. We know he’s wise, highly (though vaguely) powerful, and at times, extremely cool. I centered a post around him once before, early on, with the angle of how frustrated an average student must get by the many dangers that occur in Hogwarts on Dumbledore’s watch. The post was largely facetious, but I found it amusing how the series’ recurring plot points, viewed in the right light, can be seen as evidence of one big pile of evidence of Dumbledore’s incompetence.
But after he takes down five opposing wizards in a matter of seconds and with seeming ease, Dumbledore is no laughing matter.
Sure, one of those wizards was Kingsley Shacklebolt, secretly an ally of Dumbledore who didn’t actually want to hurt or subdue him. But Dumbledore was still facing another trained Auror, the Minister of Magic, his Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and a recent graduate (and Head Boy) of his school. We don’t know exactly how skilled or powerful Fudge, Dawlish, Percy, or even Umbridge really are, but we can reasonably assume that none of them would have achieved their stations without quite a bit of ability. And even Kingsley had to appear to try to fight Dumbledore in order to stay undercover; he may have intentionally been a second slower on the draw, but it’s not like he could openly help Dumbledore.
Yet against all that: boom, flash, everyone unconscious, Dumbledore with time for a friendly chat before leaving. If he’d actually broken a sweat, he probably could have knocked them out long enough to make himself a sandwich, pack some phoenix snacks for Fawkes, and dust the former headmasters’ portraits before leaving.
The whole scene built up beautifully to that moment. Harry walks in ready to defiantly confess and accept his expulsion, but Dumbledore guides him through the interrogation with quick wit and subtle directions. Umbridge brings forward wave after wave of evidence, and Dumbledore calmly defeats them all, until he at last encounters the list of names, carelessly left behind in the haste to leave. And then he falls on the sword for Harry and takes the hit himself, rather cheerfully confessing as Fudge o-faces at his seeming triumph.
And then, there’s that moment: “I am afraid I am not going to come quietly at all, Cornelius.” Dumbledore has been such a passive character for much of the series; we’re told he’s so powerful and brilliant, but we’re actually shown relatively little of it. Finally, here he is, making a stand before our very eyes, fighting off forces who would unwittingly serve darkness by taking him into Azkaban.
Wise men do not go gentle into that good night, Dylan Thomas wrote. Dumbledore hexes that good night into submission.
I’m through 27 chapters, 623 pages. With about 200 pages to go to finish the book, I’ll again save the final chunk for the weekend so I can hopefully read it in one sitting. Other thoughts on this installment of Phoenix:
- Umbridge has been a surprisingly enjoyable villain for me, and she is obviously about to become Headmistress. But am I wrong to think Dumbledore made a large tactical error in creating a situation where she could become a Hogwarts professor in the first place? Umbridge was only appointed to the Defense Against the Dark Arts position because Dumbledore couldn’t find a suitable candidate; the rumor was that no one wanted the job because people thought the position was cursed. But we know he trusts Snape; why not give him that job, then hire someone to fill Potions — which should be much easier with it not having that “cursed” reputation? Thus no Umbridge, thus a year in which his students are actually learning Defense Against the Dark Arts (which he knows is extra important right now), and thus a much easier time in preparing for the coming war.
- What’s been interesting is to see how Umbridge is both tightening her grip on Hogwarts yet losing control at the same time. She won’t teach real Defense Against the Dark Arts, yet many students are secretly learning more of it than ever. She finally fires Trelawney, but Dumbledore had already outflanked her by finding Firenze to replace her. Firenze is an interesting character, very zen yet apparently a touch rebellious if he was willing to be exiled to teach at Hogwarts. Most importantly, he’s a centaur, the type of non-human Umbridge cannot abide; thus Rowling has planted the seeds of Umbridge’s downfall.
- What are the rules of the Room of Requirement? Could Harry have prevented its discovery by thinking about his need for a room that was not only perfect for training, but could not be discovered by anyone outside the D.A.? Or a room that would conceal any important papers from anyone outside the D.A.? But then what if Umbridge walked by, thinking of how she needed a room with incriminating evidence?
- I was glad to see Harry being more proactive in getting his story out, even if Hermione did all the real work. It was about time.
- Harry’s date with Cho was an exercise in delightfully awkward missteps. I was grinning so hard later when Hermione walked him through everything he did wrong.
- Another Ginny update: we got another hint into how cool she might be. Nothing as dramatic as her yelling at Harry earlier, but she does follow in Harry’s footsteps by impressively catching the Snitch in her first Quidditch match (though too late to win). The best result from this was when the Weasley twins wondered aloud how she got so good, when they’d never let her play with them; Hermione nonchalantly informs them that Ginny has been stealing their brooms since she was 6 and practicing, which impresses the twins. It’s a relatively small thing, but Ginny’s proficiency, and the Fred-and-George style in which she’s gained it, makes her that much cooler, and makes that much more of an impression on the reader.