After the hearing, Mr. Weasley and Harry return to number
twelve, where the Order has prepared a celebratory feast. Sirius
is courteous, but he does not seem terribly happy that Harry will
be returning to Hogwarts. Hermione suspects that Sirius secretly
wanted Harry to live with him at number twelve.
A day before the young wizards are scheduled to return
to school, booklists arrive from Hogwarts. Ron and Hermione have both
been selected as Gryffindor prefects for the coming year. The entire
house is shocked that Harry did not receive the same honor. Mrs.
Weasley is delighted with Ron’s achievement and buys him a new broom.
Later, Harry becomes increasingly enraged that Dumbledore overlooked
him for the prefect position, mentally recounting the many times
he has proven himself a better wizard than Ron.
Later, Moody pulls out a photograph of the old
Order and shows Harry the former members, explaining the cause of
death for each one who had died. Harry sees Neville’s parents and
eventually his own. Harry gets upset at the sight of his mother
and father. He retreats upstairs, irritated with Moody for showing
him the photograph.
Harry has a troubling night’s sleep, dreaming of Mrs.
Weasley crying and Ron and Hermione wearing crowns. He wakes up
to Ron telling him they’re going to be late for the train to Hogwarts.
A guard must accompany Harry. When no one can locate Sturgis Podmore
to have him assume his position in the guard, Sirius fills in, transforming
himself into a black dog named Padfoot, in direct defiance of Dumbledore’s
orders to stay inside . Before boarding the train, Harry, Ron, Hermione,
the twins and Ginny are warned by the Order not to send any letters
that mention the Order. Ron and Hermione sit in the prefect cabin,
and Ginny and Harry run into Neville. The three of them unhappily
share a compartment with Luna “Loony” Lovegood, who is reading the
wizard tabloid The Quibbler, which her father edits.
Eventually, Ron and Hermione join them. Ron tells Harry that Draco
Malfoy is now a Slytherin prefect. Malfoy opens their compartment
door and threatens Harry, deliberately mentioning dogs, but only
Harry and Hermione notice the reference to Sirius. The train arrives
at Hogwarts, and the students shuffle out. Harry expects to see
Hagrid directing the first-years but instead sees Professor Grubbly-Plank.
As Harry approaches the usually horseless carriages that bring the
students up the castle, he realizes that they are being pulled by
emaciated, winged, horse-like creatures. Harry asks Ron about the
horse creatures, but Ron doesn’t see them. Luna tells Harry that
she can see them, too, and has been able to since her first year
As the first-years arrive, the Sorting Hat, which is responsible
for sorting all first-years into one of four houses, bursts into
song, warning the students against becoming too internally divisive. Nearly
Headless Nick, resident ghost, explains that the Hat gives warnings
only when it feels Hogwarts is in danger. After supper, Dumbledore
announces that Professor Grubbly-Plank will be teaching Hagrid’s
class, Care of Magical Creatures, and that Professor Umbridge, the
toadlike woman from Harry’s trial, is the new Defense Against the
Dark Arts teacher. Professor Umbridge interrupts Dumbledore to deliver
a long, boring speech of introduction, and Harry confirms his dislike
for her. Very few students actually listen to the speech, but Hermione
infers that the Ministry will be interfering in Hogwarts business
this year. As Harry walks back to the dorms, he notices students
pointing, staring, and whispering in his wake.
Taking a turn beneath the Sorting Hat is an essential
part of the student experience at Hogwarts. The Hat not only places
a student into one of four Houses but also makes a serious and irreversible
judgment about his or her character. As the Hat explains in its
song, the school’s four founding wizards, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff,
Ravenclaw, and Slytherin, each had different intentions for the
future of Hogwarts, taking into their Houses only those students
who matched their particular set of criteria. Slytherin accepts
only ambitious purebloods (“cunning folk use any means / To achieve
their ends”); Ravenclaw selects the most intelligent candidates
(those who possess “wit and learning”); Gryffindor the bravest (“daring,
nerve, and chivalry”); and Hufflepuff the rest (“just and loyal”).
This year, the Hat’s song concludes by condemning the House system,
which the Hat feels is far too divisive. In times of danger, Hogwarts
students must concentrate on developing oneness and strength, not perfecting
The Sorting Hat’s decision is not always black and white.
Both Ron and Harry are contenders for Slytherin—Ron is a pureblood, and
on Harry’s first day at Hogwarts, detailed in Book I, the Hat notes
that Harry would do very well in Slytherin, but Harry, mumbling
under his breath, manages to convince the Hat to place him in Gryffindor.
Meanwhile, Hermione seems like the ideal candidate for Ravenclaw,
with her stunning intelligence and uncompromising study habits.
Still, the Hat places all three friends in Gryffindor, which speaks
well to their inherent bravery. Time and time again, Ron, Hermione,
and Harry prove they are courageous and strong. Neville Longbottom,
who initially seems like an unlikely candidate for Gryffindor, has
also proved his worth, displaying unexpected bravery and loyalty.
The Hat’s decisions often seem mysterious, but so far, they’ve turned
out to be exactly right, a fact that makes the eerie song it sings
this time even more ominous.
Most of the inter-House competition is healthy and fair,
but the rivarlry between Gryffindor and Slytherin frequently crosses
the line into blatant hatred. Their deeply rooted rivalry shines
through clearly in their Quidditch matches, which seem to take on
more weight than any other match-up. Even the two Houses’ position
at the top of the Hogwarts crest (facing each other, poised for
battle) seems to suggest a certain innate rivalry. Likewise,
Harry, Ron, and Hermione, the main Gryffindor representatives, are
clearly more offended by Draco Malfoy and his goons, the main Slytherin
representatives, than by any other group of students. Harry’s least
favorite professor is Snape, Head of House for Slytherin, and he
clearly respects and enjoys Professor McGonagall, Head of House
for Gryffindor, more than any other faculty member besides Dumbledore.
While general competition can be healthy and productive for students,
this kind of specific, one-on-one battle breeds danger and discontent.
The internal splintering happening at Hogwarts helps Voldemort in
that it breeds tension and malcontent among students and faculty, weakening
their defenses against Dark imposters. As Nearly Headless Nick explains,
the Sorting Hat warns students about the dangers of the House system
only when it feels the school is in danger. The House system is
not the only thing that encourages distrust among the students.
All summer, the Daily Prophet has been printing
unfair and untruthful stories about Harry and Dumbledore, portraying
them as foolish and arrogant. Many of the students at Hogwarts regularly
read the Prophet and believe what it says, and they
treat Harry with distrust and apprehension. His peers and classmates
regularly gossip together in the hallways, pointing and whispering
about Harry. Like any normal fifteen-year-old boy, Harry is embarrassed
and disappointed by all the unwanted attention. That Harry’s classmates
do not believe Harry or even Dumbledore, their trusted Headmaster,
is disheartening. Already, Hogwarts is displaying strong signs of