Chapter 17 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Educational Decree Number Twenty-Four
In the common room on Monday, a large notice has been posted announcing Educational Decree Number Twenty Four, outlawing all unapproved student organizations. All current student groups have been disbanded and must request approval from Professor Umbridge to reform. Harry thinks someone must have informed Umbridge about their meeting. Ron suggests Zacharias Smith or Michael Corner, but Hermione says she secretly enchanted the parchment everyone signed to reveal any snitches.
At breakfast, Fred, George, Ginny, Neville, and Dean approach Harry, who assures them the defence class is still meeting. Angelina Johnson, meanwhile, is dismayed over the decree banning Quidditch teams, and she has to request permission to reform the Gryffindor team. She begs Harry not to upset Umbridge again.
During History of Magic class, Hedwig appears on the windowsill carrying a message, but her wing has been injured. Harry takes her to Professor Grubbly-Plank in the staff room, who says Hedwig was attacked but can be healed. Sirius' message is extremely short: "Tonight, same time, same place." Professor McGonagall, who is also in the staff room, reminds Harry that all communication channels may be monitored.
Before Potions class, Draco Malfoy makes a rude comment about people with mental infirmities staying at St. Mungo's. Neville, enraged, tries to fight him but is restrained by Harry and Ron. Snape arrives, and seeing the scuffle, promptly penalizes Gryffindor ten House points. Harry, keeping his promise to Dumbledore, says nothing to Ron about Death Eaters having tortured Neville's parents to insanity. Professor Umbridge is present and taking notes. In response to her question, Snape says he has applied repeatedly for the Defence Against the Dark Arts post, and was always refused. Umbridge asks why, and Snape suggests she ask Dumbledore. Straining to hear Umbridge and Snape's conversation causes Harry to ruin his potion.
Angelina announces there is no Quidditch practice, as she is still waiting for permission to reform the team, though the other Houses have been approved. Meanwhile, Fred and George demonstrate their latest Skiving Snackbox product: Puking Pastilles, which induce projectile vomiting.
Late that night, Sirius' head appears in the common room fireplace. He has heard about Harry's defensive magic group from Mundungus Fletcher, who was in the Hog's Head during the meeting, disguised as the heavily-veiled witch. Sirius passes on Mrs. Weasley's message that Ron is forbidden to get involved, and her advice that Harry and Hermione abandon it. On his own part, however, Sirius encourages them to continue. Looking sideways in the flames, Sirius vanishes as a hand suddenly appears in the fire, grabbing at where his head just was. Harry, Ron, and Hermione run; looking back, Harry recognizes the hand in the fireplace as Umbridge's.
Umbridge clearly has many ways to obtain information. She enthusiastically goes overboard doling out new rules and regulations (i.e. banning all student organizations to prevent the student Defence Against the Dark Arts group from meeting) to cement her ever-growing authority. Rather than this discouraging Harry, who is increasingly depressed over Hagrid's absence, no Quidditch, and only sporadic communication with Sirius, he becomes even more determined to start the defensive arts class and combat Umbridge's dictatorial reign. Umbridge has become a tyrannical symbol of oppression that Harry and the other students rebel against, helping unite the Houses as the Sorting Hat pleaded, and as Dumbledore had stressed the year before. It is hardly surprising that only Slytherin House is missing; we already see how heavily biased Umbridge is in their favour, resulting in Slytherin feeling far less pinched than the other Houses and staff. This oppression will prompt many students to rally around and support Harry, though many likely will remain skeptical that he actually witnessed Voldemort's resurrection.
Harry now knows that the Floo network is under surveillance by the Ministry of Magic. He will need to find another means to communicate with his godfather. It is unknown whether or not Umbridge actually intercepted Hedwig, only that she was injured when something nearly caught her. However, it is a safe assumption Umbridge was probably involved. If the Floo network is being monitored, as it evidently is, the limited information Hedwig was carrying ("Tonight, same time, same place") would not reveal Sirius' whereabouts, nor would it pinpoint the specific meeting time or method. In fact, it would not even reveal that it was Black that Harry was meeting, unless the monitoring had started before Sirius' previous visit on the first weekend in the year, unless the Ministry is now aware that Sirius is an Animagus and what form he takes. The latter is possible: Peter Pettigrew (Wormtail) has probably informed Lucius Malfoy that Sirius is an Animagus and what form he assumes; Malfoy apparently reported Sirius' presence in London to the Ministry, though there is no official record that Black is an Animagus, he being unregistered. However, even the limited amount of information in the message would alert Umbridge that Harry was meeting some unknown person, which would cause an increase in vigilance on the possible communications methods. The scheduled time "tonight" would also help narrow the physical location, as students are forbidden to leave the school or its grounds without permission, particularly at night, so Umbridge could have heightened the surveillance on the Floo network as being among the few available contact avenues.
Snape tells Umbridge that he has been teaching at Hogwarts for fourteen years. As Harry is now fifteen, Snape would have begun teaching at Hogwarts in September of the year Harry turned one-year-old, and would have been on the job for only two months when Harry's parents were killed and Voldemort initially disappeared. This indication of timing may prove important in later books.
- Why has Umbridge disbanded all student groups and organizations? What does Harry decide to do?
- Why does Neville attack Malfoy in Potions class? What does Harry know about it?
- Who or what might have caused the injury to Hedwig's wing?
- How did Sirius know about Harry's secret defensive magic group?
- How was Umbridge able to locate Sirius?
- Why has Slytherin been given permission to reform their Quidditch team, when Gryffindor has not?
- Why would Harry ignore McGonagall's warning about the Floo Network and other communication methods being monitored? How risky was this?
- Harry has suspected that both Snape and Umbridge are Death Eaters. What about their interaction with each other either supports or discredits that belief?
- How can Hermione be so certain that no one in the defensive magic group tipped off Umbridge about their meeting? Is she right?
- Why does Molly Weasley oppose the defensive magic group while Sirius supports it?
Though Ron immediately suspects that a student revealed their meeting, Hermione is confident none did, because of the charm on the parchment; however, Ron and Harry, and perhaps the reader, may think Hermione made a mistake in casting the spell. Ron's immediate seizing on Michael Corner as the most likely candidate is an intriguing bit of misdirection; the reader can see plainly that Ron is here influenced by Corner's recently-revealed interest in Ginny Weasley, and discounting this accusation adds weight to the suggestion that it is actually Zacharias Smith who is the source of the leak. The student who will eventually reveal the existence of the group remains hidden at this point.
That Sirius found out about the Defence Association, without Harry or the others telling him, should cause us to suspect that more than one eavesdropper was in the Hog's Head. We will discover that Willy Widdershins was also among the four customers in the Hog's Head, and though it may not have been his intention to eavesdrop, he was quick enough to use this collected information to barter with the Ministry. Widdershins had been charged with making Muggle toilets regurgitate, and we will find out later that he had sold the information to the Ministry, possibly by communicating directly with Umbridge, in exchange for reduced or dropped charges.
Umbridge later reveals to Harry that all school fireplaces except her own are being monitored. It is likely this monitoring that detects Sirius communicating with Harry, rather than the possibly-intercepted message Hedwig had been carrying, which contained insufficient information other than the general meeting time ("tonight"). That Umbridge has the fireplaces monitored may indicate there is a far greater connection continuing between her and the Ministry than was suspected.
The fireplace monitoring, coupled with Harry's need to communicate with Sirius, will require him to break into Umbridge's office later in the story. He will need to do this on two separate occasions: his first attempt will be successful, the second time results in his getting caught by Umbridge. That may have been her intent when she told Harry about the fireplace, knowing it would probably entice him into using hers to contact Sirius or, perhaps, Dumbledore, who at that point would be a fugitive.
As mentioned in the Analysis section above, Umbridge's unceasing attempts to subjugate the school may be the single greatest reason for the anti-Umbridge sentiment within Hogwarts. In this chapter, we see Umbridge's early attempts to cement her powers by unilaterally increasing them, resulting in almost immediate rebellion. Older readers have likely personally experienced a pattern of increasing oppression resulting in growing rebellion, but for younger readers, this may be their first exposure to this behaviour. It is to the author's credit that she is able to portray this familiar sequence of events, in this and succeeding chapters, so convincingly, without losing the older audience's interest.
As mentioned above, Snape would have begun teaching at Hogwarts in September of the year that Harry turned one-year-old, and would have been only two months on the job when Harry's parents' died and Voldemort disappeared. Revelations in the series' last book strongly suggest that Snape had uncovered Voldemort's plan to kill Harry and his parents shortly before that, and then become a double agent, working for Dumbledore. It was about at the same time that Snape became Potions Master for Hogwarts, probably as part of the "anything" that Dumbledore required of him.
- Puking Pastilles, here demonstrated for the first time, will be used by the Trio in the final book to incapacitate Ministry employees. Harry, Ron, and Hermione will then use the identities of these incapacitated employees to break into the Ministry.
- Harry had learned about Neville's parents' fate in the previous book, and will meet them in person later in this book. Neville's being triggered by Draco's taunt in this book is unnecessary to the story but adds significantly to its coherence.