Revisiting Harry Potter: Crying early and often

You guys. This book. How can everyone be so brave and good, and everything go so terribly wrong for them all the time? All through this readalong I’ve been excited to get to the final segment of Order of the Phoenix because, in my opinion, there is no finer set-piece throughout the entire series (and there are a lot of good set-pieces!) than the sequence in the Ministry. It is so fucking tense. Actually, this entire section of the book is fairly intense. Which is why this post is in a state of near-total incoherence and book quotes. Sorry. But, I don’t know what else could have been expected.

Like this? It is both scary and awesome.

Harry could see the tiny outline of Fang, attempting to defend Hagrid, leaping at the wizards surrounding him until a Stunning Spell caught him and he fell to the ground. Hagrid gave a howl of fury, lifted the culprit bodily from the ground, and threw him: The man flew what looked like ten feet and did not get up again.

RAWR. HAGRID. Really, as much as I hate the overarching Hagrid plotline in this book, it nevertheless shows everything that is good about Hagrid. How he is so loyal to his brother, even though it sucks for him, and how he is tough and scary in defense of the people he loves, and also at the end how good and kind and gentle and supportive he is with Harry over losing Sirius. Y’all, real talk, before the seventh book came out, I made a list of four people who absolutely must not die, and three of the four died, but the fourth was Hagrid, and if I’d had to choose only one of the people on my list to survive I’d have chosen Hagrid.

Exceptionally wonderfully, this section of the book brings up Harry’s “saving-people-thing”. Hermione, our emotional insight machine and frequent authorial voice, makes us all take a beat and address the fact that Harry, whom we love and admire for his heroism, is sometimes being heroic because he is very, very damaged.

“You…This isn’t a criticism, Harry! But you do…sort of…I mean — don’t you think you’ve got a bit of a — a — saving-people-thing?” she said.

What’s fantastic about this is that the books have never made you think about this — Harry’s been the archetypal hero, struggling along trying to do the right thing whenever he can — but once Hermione says it, you immediately recognize it as true. He exactly has a saving-people-thing. He lost his parents, he doesn’t want to lose anyone else — the kid’s got a saving-people thing. Everything Hermione says is right, and in this book, for the first time, it’s not serving Harry well. His saving-people thing is, cruelly, the reason Sirius dies. WHY, J.K. Rowling? WHY?

Anyway, this reread may have the record for how early on I started crying. Ordinarily I start crying when Harry’s facing the Death Eaters and he’s all alone, and Neville comes running down the aisle, all beat up and screaming that he’s still there to fight with Harry. (No lie, just writing that made me start crying.) But this time I started crying way sooner, viz., when:

“We were all in the D.A. together,” said Neville quietly. “It was all supposed to be about fighting You-Know-Who, wasn’t it? And this is the first chance we’ve had to do something real — or was that all just a game or something?”

Dammit Neville.

And look, I know y’all are maybe going to be angry at Harry for taking everyone to the Ministry and putting them in danger, but he had to — I mean, he had to, forget having a saving-people-thing, which he does, he had to go. He couldn’t not go. And once he’s there, and everything’s awful, I think he does a really good job of handling his shit. He figures out the leverage he has, and then he figures out a plan for getting them past all the Death Eaters, and he just does a really really good job with a shit hand of cards. I don’t care what you say, I AM PROUD OF HIM.

Oh how many tears did I cry? Many tears, friends.

But some part of him realized, even as he fought to break free from Lupin, that Sirius had never kept him waiting before…Sirius had risked everything, always, to see Harry, to help him…If Sirius was not reappearing out of that archway when Harry was yelling for him as though his life depended on it, the only possible explanation was that he could not come back.

GODDAMMIT. I don’t care about Ron! I wish Mr. Weasley had died and Sirius had lived and I do not care what you say! Ron has like sixteen thousand family members, and Harry has only exactly one. He needs his one family member, dammit! I wish Mr. Weasley had died! I wish it to infinity! I don’t care! I don’t care! I don’t care!

In case you couldn’t tell, I am writing this post approximately two seconds after finishing the book, and I haven’t yet cycled all the way through the stages of grief over Sirius’s death. I cried all the way through Dumbledore telling Harry how it was his fault what happened (and like, yes, Snape had to pretend not to take Harry seriously, but don’t you feel like any other person, i.e., anyone with a scrap of mercy for Harry’s feelings, would have figured out a way to indicate to Harry that he was going to take care of it? The kid is fifteen years old and you’re talking about the death of his only family member), and I cried when Harry found the mirror and when he talked to Nearly Headless Nick and then I cried extra when he talked to Luna, and I cried when the members of the Order came and threatened the Dursleys for him. Oh Harry.

My favorite moment of the fifth movie: When Sirius has come to save Harry at the Ministry, and Harry’s saying he wants to stay and fight, and Sirius says, “You’ve done beautifully. Now let me take it from here.” Totally destroys me. I don’t love those movies, but each of them has moments that make them worthwhile — and weirdly, it’s usually moments they haven’t pulled from the books.

The moral of the fifth Harry Potter book is: Good intentions will lead you to misery and awfulness. Excuse me while I throw away a handful of snotty Kleenex and proceed onward to the sixth book, wherein good intentions frequently produce good outcomes.

Thanks as ever to Alice for hosting this readalong!