There is so much happening in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—the fifth installment of the Harry Potter saga—that it can be a little overwhelming. As the story begins, the Wizarding World is still reeling from the revelation that Lord Voldemort has returned, and that his presence is tantamount to a declaration of war upon any who will not bow to him. Amid this, the initial structure of the saga—one chapter for each year the heroes attend Hogwarts—begin to crumble under the weight of circumstance. How much does it really make sense to stay in school when the rest of the world is about to descend into war, villainy and madness? Well, we are about to find out.
For the moment, Hogwarts is the safest place for Harry and his friends to be, but not for long. Soon, we see the introduction of the odious Dolores Umbridge, a martinet and quisling who displaces Albus Dumbledore as headmaster. She gains power by upholding the dangerous fiction that Voldemort has not returned; Harry Potter is merely a liar, and so is anybody who agrees with him. She seems to enjoy being in charge purely because of the opportunity it affords to dispense punishment. As we watch Hogwarts descend into authoritarian cruelty, we cheer the efforts of the students themselves to prepare for the coming battle with Voldemort. If the adults of their world can’t be trusted to help them, then they will have to help themselves. And their first test comes when Harry, Hermione, Ron and an unexpectedly heroic Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood confront Voldemort and his minions at the Ministry of Magic headquarters. It is a clash made all the more noteworthy because our heroes know from the outset how overmatched they are, but they fight anyway. The battle’s conclusion ends with a moment known by all Harry Potter fans for its suddenness, finality and heartbreaking implications for Harry. It is the true climax of the film, and a crucial moment for the saga. But all of this is made far richer by a moment of truth from the midpoint of the story.
Back when Harry is struggling to understand why his schooling still matters (a question underscored with rebellious enthusiasm by the Weasley twins as they execute the most spectacular dropout in Hogwarts history), Dumbledore and Snape know what’s coming, and that Harry still isn’t ready for it. Dumbledore orders Snape to train Harry in Occulomency, the art of shielding one’s thoughts and memories. Harry and Voldemort share a unique mental communion, and if Harry isn’t careful, Voldemort will know what Harry is thinking as Harry is thinking it. It’s a curious thing to see Harry under Snape’s wing, despite their mutual animosity. The two will never truly see eye to eye, but during Occulomency lessons, we finally see why.
During one of the lessons, Snape lets his guard down for just a moment, and Harry sees an old memory from when Snape and Harry’s parents were Harry’s age, and students at Hogwarts during a quieter, simpler time. Snape is a lonely, awkward, introvert who suffers under the arrogant bullying of Harry’s father, James. It’s the Hogwarts version of jocks vs. nerds; the handsome, athletic BMOC picking on the friendless weird kid. There is no defending it. James is to Snape what Draco is to Harry. And we see why Snape sees Harry as he does. Snape looks down on everybody, sure, but with Harry, it’s a reaction to an old wound to his pride that will never heal. The irony is that Harry and Snape have more in common than either would care to admit. They have both been outsiders who had to prove their worth in a world bent on keeping them down. Maybe that’s why Snape recognizes that personal feelings aside, Harry’s got to be protected, and Voldemort’s got to be stopped. Snape’s not a bad guy. He just feels like one. And he’s content to let the world think that. He’s used to it. Has been for a while, actually. Harry’s father saw to that.
And Harry knows it, too. Seeing how his father treated Snape tells Harry a lot about his folks and about Snape, but it tells him even more about himself. He loves and misses his parents, and he has long yearned to see how each are present within him. But now, when the world is darkening, he must find out who Harry Potter is before undergoing his greatest tests. The heroes he has come to rely on are not everything they are cracked up to be. Sadly, they never are. That is why it is best that we never meet them. All Harry can do now is look to his own sense of right and wrong and become his own young man…his own kind of hero.