Chapter 23 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Christmas on the Closed Ward
Harry, consumed with fear that Voldemort is possessing him, worries he will attack Order members, and thinks Voldemort may be able to see into Order headquarters. To protect everyone, Harry decides to leave Grimmauld Place and Hogwarts, and return to the Dursleys. As he drags out his trunk, Phineas Nigellus' portrait delivers Dumbledore's message: "Stay where you are." Upset by the message's brevity, and exhausted, Harry falls asleep and again dreams about the black door, yearning to open it. Ron's voice announcing dinner awakens him.
Depressed, confused, and convinced everyone is avoiding him, Harry isolates himself. Concerned, Hermione arrives at Grimmauld Place, hauls Harry from Buckbeak's room, and scolds him for his behavior. Ginny reminds Harry that she knows what it is like to be possessed by Voldemort and describes her experiences, finally convincing Harry he has not been possessed.
Sirius' joy that everyone is staying for the Christmas holidays seems infectious as everyone helps decorate the house. Sirius and Lupin give Harry books on jinxes and counter-jinxes that will be useful for teaching Dumbledore's Army. Fred and George tell Ron and Harry to wait awhile before going downstairs; Mrs. Weasley is in tears because Percy returned his Christmas gift, unopened, and without a note.
Hermione has a quilt for Kreacher's Christmas present, saying it should brighten up his sleeping space in the kitchen. Under an old-fashioned boiler (US: furnace), Harry sees what looks like a nest. Scattered in the corners are discarded Black family items, including a portrait of Bellatrix Lestrange. No one has seen Kreacher since Harry and the others arrived. A House-elf is forbidden to leave without permission, though Harry points out that Dobby did that three years before. Sirius is briefly disconcerted by this, but brushes it off.
After lunch, the family, plus Mad-Eye Moody and Lupin go to visit Mr. Weasley at St. Mungo's. When Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny head to the cafeteria, they run into Gilderoy Lockhart, who still suffers severe memory loss. The Healer assumes they are there to see Gilderoy. While in his ward, they notice another patient, Broderick Bode, who received a potted plant as a Christmas gift. They also run into Neville and his grandmother, who are visiting Neville's parents, Frank and Alice, who, Harry knows, were once Aurors and former Order of the Phoenix members. Both were tortured into insanity with the Cruciatus curse by Sirius' Death Eater cousin, Bellatrix Lestrange. They are permanently hospitalized at St. Mungo's. Neville is embarrassed that his classmates now know about his parents, the more so when his mother shambles over and grandly gives him a gum wrapper. Mrs. Longbottom says that Neville should be proud of how his parents defended themselves. After Neville and his grandmother depart, Harry admits to the others that he knew about the Longbottoms, but that Dumbledore had asked him to say nothing.
Harry's belief he is being possessed by Voldemort results in his usual response when faced with a stressful situation: a childish need to run away. This time he convinces himself it will protect his friends. Harry is also angry, particularly at Dumbledore for ignoring him again. Believing everyone is avoiding him, he becomes increasingly paranoid until Hermione scolds him for his immature behavior. Ginny, who actually was possessed by Voldemort, is able to describe her own experience to him, finally convincing Harry that he retains his own mind. And though Harry has been assured he has not been possessed, it seems strange that Dumbledore provided him such sketchy information. And even though Dumbledore prevented Harry from leaving Grimmauld Place, he did so in a rather abrupt and distant manner that only fuels Harry's confusion and anger, making him feel like he is being treated as a small child again.
The trip to St. Mungo's Hospital proves insightful for Harry and shows a significant step in his maturity. Even though he has endured much sorrow over his lost parents, he is becoming acutely aware that others, such as Neville Longbottom, have also suffered terribly under Voldemort's reign of terror. Harry has protected Neville's secret, as Dumbledore requested, to respect Neville's privacy, but knowing about the Longbottom family does not prepare him for seeing them in person. Though the Longbottoms are still alive, Harry only now fully realizes that they are as lost to Neville as James and Lily Potter are to him. This must also serve as a painful reminder to the Weasley children how vulnerable their own family is, particularly after their father's near-fatal attack. Percy Weasley's estrangement from his family is hardly helping matters, and his returning his mother's Christmas gift seems especially cruel.
Hermione, meanwhile, continues her quest for House-elves rights, and gives Kreacher a Christmas present, though her kind gesture is probably unappreciated by him. His sleeping space is revealing in that it shows he remains staunchly loyal to the Black family.
The reader may be concerned regarding about why Kreacher seems to be missing and what he might be up to. Readers may also believe that Sirius is paying insufficient attention to this matter. We can only surmise that Kreacher serves as an extremely unwelcome reminder of Sirius' childhood, and Sirius is simply pleased to not be bumping into him in his travels around the house.
- Why does Harry fear he is being possessed? Who convinces him otherwise?
- Why does Harry feel he should leave Hogwarts?
- What does Percy Weasley do that upsets Mrs. Weasley? Why does he do this?
- What happened to Frank and Alice Longbottom?
- Why is Neville embarrassed when he runs into Harry and the Weasley children? What does his grandmother have to say?
- Why did Harry never tell anyone, not even Neville, what he knew about the Longbottoms?
- Harry unexpectedly runs into Gilderoy Lockhart, Broderick Bode, Neville, his grandmother, and his parents while at St. Mungo's Hospital. Briefly describe each person's significance to the story.
- Why has Kreacher saved the Black family objects that Sirius had tossed out?
- Why does Hermione give Kreacher a Christmas gift? What is his likely reaction?
Dumbledore's failure to explain his instructions to Harry is probably an ongoing attempt to prevent Voldemort from recognizing that his relationship with Harry is more than he shares with other students. Dumbledore, by now, seems to be certain that there is some mental connection between Harry and Voldemort, and while he does not know the specifics of it, he is concerned that it may be used to gain awareness of Harry's vulnerabilities. In this particular instance, it is exacerbated by Phineas Nigellus and his general disdain for everyone who is not a Black. Phineas' snide comments about students knowing their place and not questioning the Headmaster only makes Harry angrier.
Kreacher's absence is because he is off visiting Narcissa Malfoy, the last available Black family member that he respects. Kreacher has no respect for Sirius or the other occupants of the house which he is forced to serve, so what he has done is interpreted Sirius' forceful command "Get OUT!", uttered when the Weasley children and Harry arrived at Grimmauld Place, as an order to leave the house. It is never explained why he fails to respond to Sirius' later summons; he certainly appears rapidly enough when Harry summons him in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, even before Harry has won Kreacher over. (The earlier summons, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was managed by Professor Dumbledore. We can assume that it was achieved by methods other than Kreacher's nonexistent loyalty to Dumbledore.)
It is true that Dobby had left his masters' (the Malfoys) house to warn Harry about the coming school year, some three years previously, and he apparently did so repeatedly to convince Harry to return home, but he had a significant reason for doing so. While it is unlikely that he would have directly disobeyed orders, it is possible that, given the importance of his mission, Dobby would be able to convince himself that any dismissal would serve as permission to leave the house, much as Kreacher has done here.
At St. Mungo's, a wizard portrait believes that Ron is inflicted with Spattergroit. Ron's response, that he merely has freckles, leads us to believe that this may be a fictional ailment that, as medicine advanced, proved to be like "the vapours" in the Muggle world. It will turn out later that there actually is such a disease, and that it is contagious, but thankfully very rare, though Ron does not have it. This particular disease will be a minor plot point in the final book.
Harry has not yet realized that Broderick Bode is an Unspeakable, an employee of the Ministry who works in the Department of Mysteries. He will recognize the name when Bode's death is mentioned in the Daily Prophet. Bode's continuing inability to speak is because he touched the Prophecy orb, while under the Imperius curse, to try and retrieve it for Voldemort. We will learn that even under the curse, Bode had been difficult to control, apparently being unwilling to retrieve the prophecy even under compulsion. It will also be revealed that the prophecy orbs are charmed such that if anyone not directly concerned in a prophecy touches the orb, he will be left unable to speak. This is what has happened to Bode, and it is obvious that he, and the other people who work with the prophecies, are aware of this jinx, which is why it was difficult to force him to retrieve the orb. The potted plant someone sent Bode is actually a Devil's Snare, which will later strangle him. One wonders why neither the Healer, nor the Trio who experienced this plant's effects four years earlier, recognize it. The Trio's experience was in near darkness, so they can be forgiven for failing to identify it, but Healers must study advanced Herbology, and they should know the plant's characteristics.
- The potted plant given to Bode by persons unknown, and unwittingly left in his care by the healer, will turn out to be a Devil's Snare, which the Trio had encountered, and fought successfully, four years earlier. It will strangle Bode to death shortly.
- We once again meet Gilderoy Lockhart who, despite having lost his memory three years earlier, is still the same self-centered limelight-hunter he had been then. His major occupation, then as now, seems to be dealing with his fan mail.
- Harry had heard about Neville's parents the previous year, and in this chapter we meet them in person. It is because we have met them that we understand both Neville's zeal in his work with Dumbledore's Army later in this book, and his setting up the underground resistance movement at Hogwarts in the final book. We note that it is news of Bellatrix Lestrange's escape from Azkaban that is given credit for Neville's increased diligence. As noted above, Bellatrix was one of the Death Eaters who tortured Neville's parents.
- It is Ginny's previous experience with being possessed, three years earlier, that convinces Harry that he has not been possessed by Voldemort. The explanation for Harry perceiving Voldemort's thoughts will not come until the final book.
- The affliction Spattergroit, here played for comedy, will turn out to be a real, if rare, affliction. It will be used as a way of concealing Ron's absence from the family home in the final book.