When people ask you what your favorite Harry Potter book is, chances are, you have an answer on hand. Mine will always be Order of the Phoenix.
I remember reading every single Harry Potter book. But when it comes to the specific details — where I was sitting when Cedric died, what time of night it was when Harry found out Sirius Black was his godfather — I cannot draw up much. That is until I think about Order of the Phoenix.
The fifth book in the Potter series remains my all-time favorite. Not because it has the best quotes or plot lines, but because it was the first time a book caused me to have such a strong visceral reaction.
It would happen multiple more times in my life — the loathing I felt reading The Life of Pi, the aching sadness that came with She’s Come Undone — but at 12 years old I was not exactly well-read enough to know that a book could cause someone to throw it across a room.
The previous five books were where I retreated when I needed the perfect combination of excitement and calm. But Order of the Phoenix is one I dreaded rereading for quite some time. Who wants to see their favorite character breaking down under the weight of the life that was laid out for him before his birth? Who would want to relieve the reminders of Cedric and Sirius’ deaths, the first of many to come?
I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix from cover to cover in the same way I did all the others. But everything about this reading experience sticks out. Where I was — huddled in the back of a car on a long trip, sitting at the table, stretching out on the bed, arms aching because holding up the weight of 870 pages was a workout. How I felt — annoyed because all I wanted to do was read, but was away from the comfort of my home where I read every other book until now.
Regardless of where I was and how I was feeling, nothing could shake the desire to get back to Hogwarts. But something happened in book five. Hogwarts was infiltrated. Darkness, death, and destruction loomed over the school. And a shift was happening in the story, in Harry. A grave reality was permeating the school in the wake of Cedric’s death.
Much to my preteen liking, Order of the Phoenix was not all darkness and gloom and doom. It reaffirmed and strengthened the bond that the students of Hogwarts had. And, perhaps more importantly, it put agency in their hands. They formed an army! Held secret lessons! Dragged a headmistress into the woods to be attacked! They were badasses.
With the Dark Lord rising, Death Eaters making moves, and the disappearance of the headmaster, it’s odd to think that the students of Hogwarts would be concerned with their O.W.L.S. or sitting through sessions of career path training. But just as time keeps moving forward, so do the lessons.
Moments in the classroom, in the halls, on the Quidditch pitch are where I felt the sense of camaraderie. Everyone facing the same potions final or charms exam. Then there was Dolores Umbridge, the worst woman you will ever have the displeasure of meeting. She makes the Dursleys seem like a nice place to summer vacation.
When I say I had a visceral reaction to reading this book, one of my impulses — throwing the book across the bed into a wall — arrived as Umbridge entered yet ANOTHER room with her signature throat clearing noise, “hem, hem.” To this day, and likely forever, I still cannot stomach her in print or on screen.
With Umbridge ruining the lives of everyone, Order of the Phoenix gave the teaching authority of Defense Against the Dark Arts to Harry. Offering him a chance to show those around him that even though Hermione is the brightest in their year, he has had some success with magic, too. It was a moment where the person I rallied behind for many, many pages finally had the support of his peers in a place of authority.
And this moment strikingly reflects the journey of his father, mentors, godfather, and chosen family perfectly. Remus, Sirius, the Longbottoms, the Potters, the Weasleys, they all were in the Order of the Phoenix. They raised an army, fought to make things right in a time of darkness. It gave Harry a sense of belonging and rising up to his name outside of being the Chosen One.
The kids are taking action, banding together with one another to make the world a better place. The history and future of the organizations (both the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore’s Army) opened up the grassroots movements of the Wizarding World, another layer that adds to the passion and strength of banding together no matter how small in numbers you may be.
For all the backstory and inspirational calls to action in the book, the final chapters did something that rattled my mind — everything was not okay, and it wasn’t okay to admit that.
The action in the Ministry sweeps you up quickly and leaves you floating in a daze until Voldemort makes his exit and you come crashing down in Dumbledore’s office.
And this is, for me, where the best bit of storytelling comes in.
Order of the Phoenix is about analyzing what you thought you knew about the adults in your life – the ones you’ve met and the ones who have left you behind. The scenes where Harry tackles the stature of his father, and later Dumbledore, are two of my favorite in the series.
There is a deeply gutting reality to seeing the glass shatter on the images he held of both James Potter and Albus Dumbledore. During his occlumency lessons with Snape, James Potter becomes the tormentor, the arrogant bully of Hogwarts. Not the hero the Wizarding World makes him out to be. Sirius tries to pass off Harry’s distaste by mentioning that James was, well, only 15. Harry rebuts that he is 15 now. Is that the image he is meant to mold?
At the conclusion of the battle with Voldemort, Harry has just witnessed the power of Dumbledore’s magic. But who cares? Sirius is still dead. Voldemort is still back. And Harry is just a pawn in the game of other wizards. He is broken, exhausted, and out of fight. It’s crushing to read him rebel against Dumbledore, who I always wish would just yell at Harry.
But he doesn’t. And that moment cemented something in me – was I supposed to hate a person I thought could be a hero? At 12, that was a lot to handle. For 15-year-old Harry, it was a lot, too.
There is a darkness to Order of the Phoenix that takes a back seat in Half-Blood Prince. There is a slight reprieve before the entire story reaches its climax in book seven. And I think I needed that after Order of the Phoenix. I like to think Harry needed that as well.
So when the people ask me, “After all this time?” I will respond with certainty, “Always.”
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