Year 6 at Hogwarts
by Russell Greeley
What I’d like to do here is look a little at what it is in the students that makes year 6 different. I appreciate the comments from those in the UK about the school system there. As an American I don’t know the system at all — except for what I have read in Harry Potter and on MuggleNet. Others have written about what the curriculum will be like in Year 6. And some have speculated on what courses Harry and the others will take this year. Yards of parchment have been written on possible romantic relationships to come. But what does a student at Hogwarts feel like, simply because he or she is 16 years old?
The Earlier Years
Let’s start by taking a look back at the first five books. Part of the genius of J.K. Rowling is how she depicts the characters as being so typical of whatever age they happen to be.
When Harry started in Hogwarts at age 11, he was just like other kids that age. In the U.S. it would be sixth grade. He made a few friends, and their shared experiences created a bond. It was all new to him, but his friends helped him get through and he helped them get through. He also got a lot of help from adults, but he didn’t seem to notice. By fifth year, Harry realized how small the first years were. He never noticed that as a first year himself. There’s a lot a kid doesn’t notice at age 11. You see flashes of greatness at that age, but mainly they’re children.
In year 2 (seventh grade in the U.S.), Harry and his classmates really start to learn and build on what they know. They are comfortable in their school. Look at the difference between Harry (and his friends) and the first years like Colin and Ginny. Harry inside himself looks and feels the same, but if you pull back a little and watch him from the outside, you see him starting to grow up a little bit. He’s still not ready for Hogsmeade, but he’s getting there. He and his classmates also notice the incompetence of some teachers. This is typical of that age, but not of younger kids.
In year 3 (eighth grade in the U.S.), the students think they know more than they really do. As the saying goes, they know what they know, but they don’t know what they don’t know. (This trait reappears more strongly in year 5.) Boys and girls start to be different. Hermione is intent on learning to the point of going to extremes. It’s grotesque to turn the clock back simply in order to take more classes, but a witch sometimes might have a right to be grotesque. Meanwhile, Ron and Harry are all-boy and ready for some action. Youngsters that age swing between ”Why dont you treat me like an adult?” and “Help me, I’m just a kid!” Enter Fred and George from year 5 (see a few paragraphs below for year 5) with the Marauder’s Map, and it’s almost dangerous.
Now look at book 4. In the U.S., Harry would have been a freshman. Fleur was right, he was a little boy then — compared to what would come in the next few years. It is nothing short of brutal for someone that young to compete in a Tri-Wizard Tournament. Harry’s outstanding performance in the tournament is all the more amazing when you compare his lack of sophistication with the maturity of the other three champions. Cheating was rampant, and many people helped Harry, but unlike the other champions he started with so little and had to learn everything on the way to doing the tasks.
There’s quite a range regarding when and how boy-girl relations develop. But to generalize, at age 14 girls start to be comfortable with the difference between themselves and boys, while boys havent quite discovered the benefits of complementary sexes yet. Ah, the entertaining stories about the Yule Ball at Hogwarts in book 4!
Moving on to book 5, Harry became a sophomore (U.S. school system), and it showed up all over the place. Sophomores know everything except how ignorant they are and what damage that ignorance can cause. If you read the comic strip Zits, you see what its like to be fifteen. Besides that, Harry was an angry adolescent. He was full of emotions and hormones. The Sorting Hat’s and Dumbledore’s calls for unity fall on deaf ears at the start of year 5. Speaking of hormones, notice how Harry continues to fumble around terribly in dealing with girls — even though he dearly wants to do better.
As he kept hinting out in his mind, Harry thought he knew it all because he had been through so much. It was easy for Voldemort to manipulate him because on the inside he was out of control. He also didn’t trust adults yet — refused to cooperate with Snape in Occlumency lessons, ran an alternative DADA class, and was reluctant to share with Dumbledore about his dreams or headaches. J.K. Rowling did a marvelous job of bringing all this out by setting year 5 in the midst of the antics of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, the Ministry of Magic, the Daily Prophet, and Umbridge.
In MuggleNet’s Chamber of Secrets Forums there has been a lot of discussion about some of the elements in book 5. We start to see that maybe Harry didn’t have it together as well as he thought he did. Looking at everything through Harry’s eyes can color (if you’ll excuse the expression) what we see in the book. It often takes a re-reading or two to sort it out — and we’re talking re-reading the petite book 5 here!
Whats It Like in Year 6?
Now we come to year 6. What makes a 16-year-old tick? Of course, as with any human person, it’s a mystery. But there are some common threads in kids that age which allow us to know a little bit about how someone sixteen tends to behave and think. And those common threads will help us follow the coming story as it unfolds.
Sixth year at Hogwarts is the year before the graduation year. In the U.S. school system it corresponds to the junior year of high school. If you’re old enough to have been through it, look back on those memories, because I believe the way you were then is a lot like the way were going to find Harry and his classmates in book 6.
This is the year in school where a little maturity begins to set in. Raw emotions start to become disciplined. We saw in book 5 the beginning of a broader network of friends. If the students at Hogwarts are typical, those relationships will deepen in year 6. They will no longer be a group who simply goes to school together, they will become a class. Just as in earlier years the shared experiences of the trio cemented their relationships with each other, so also the shared book 5 experience in the Department of Mysteries will bond the DA together. And even across house lines, to varying degrees, the whole group of sixth years will probably show a more explicit loyalty toward one another.
In book 5 Hermione (who is 16 through most of her fifth year) was able to organize the DA — compare that to the disaster she made of organizing S.P.E.W. in book 4. In launching the DA she brought along the group to the point where Harry moved from outcast to leader. In book 6, we can expect some more leadership characteristics to appear in Harry. If it’s generally true of students at that age, then to some degree we should also see those same traits in Ron and Neville, among others.
Bonds That Last
Year 6 (or junior year) is a time when some friendships start to form outside the class group. Older students and younger students become persons to whom one can relate. Here I’m not talking just about ships, but I believe more generally that new friends and working partners will also start to come from outside the circle of the class. Shared interests and experiences become more important than one’s age. The main point is that the maturity we hope for in Harry and the others will simply be part of the normal growing up that takes place in year 6.
Maturing has it’s romantic dimension. In earlier books, the dominant feeling we saw inside Harry was confusion whenever he talked to a girl — sometimes even his friend Hermione. We have observed it too from the outside in other students. In year 6 we can expect the dust to settle as the boys and girls learn how to get along and really to enjoy each other’s company. On the other hand, don’t expect J.K. Rowling to titillate us with the throbbing, steamy erotic fantasies of a mass-market pulp romance.
The maturing process will begin in earnest during year 6, and it will continue into year 7. Think of Fred and George in book 5, and we get a glimpse of what might happen inside the trio and their classmates in book 7. For all those years up to book 5, we hadn’t looked at the twins as much of an example of maturity, but suddenly it happened. Of course, Arthur and Molly are the last to notice.
Students in year 6 begin to realize that the faculty and staff are no longer the enemy. The trust and confidence that the teachers and staff have shown (those that showed trust and confidence, anyway) bear fruit in that the students will start to trust those teachers and will cooperate more. Often for example, with teachers as role models, students that age will volunteer for service work at school and in the community. Many schools — in the U.S. at least — encourage and organize various service projects for students in their last two years. And the students have nothing but praise for their experiences. It can shape their attitudes for life. I don’t know how this will unfold at Hogwarts with all those wizards and witches, but at least we can look for a new altruism to emerge.
Year 6 is a natural time for Dumbledore to start mentoring Harry. And look for closer ties in general between teachers and students this year. N.E.W.T. level courses will give students the opportunity to be mentored. For natural mentoring pairs, think of Neville and Madam Sprout, Hermione and Professor McGonagall, and, oh yes, perhaps Draco and Snape. I don’t know who at Hogwarts will mentor Ron (Could it be Hagrid?), but perhaps some among you will have an idea of good mentoring partners for Ron and for other students. Maybe Ron will bond with Percy — just kidding!
Looking to the Future
During sixth year, students have to face their future. Up to this point, school seems to be forever. The teachers are now nudging them to look at life beyond Hogwarts. The teachers had asked future-oriented questions in year 5, but in year 6 students discover that decisions have consequences. This naturally creates a maturing experience. The urgency gives a young person the focus that he or she did not have or need before. As a kid becomes of age, he or she has to face realities and responsibilities. A good school will do its part to provide needed guidance. This process is something that begins in year 6 but takes place more intensely in year 7.
In talking about book 6, J.K. Rowling said we’ll find out what James and Lily did in their careers. It’s the perfect time for her to tell us. It will give Harry the answer to a question he first confronted from his Aunt Marge, and the answer will come at just the time he needs it.
Around year 6 (or junior year in the U.S.) a student often goes on a retreat or similar reflective encounter. The dynamics of the experience usually include presentations by peers and adults, followed by discussions or activities. Retreats at that age are usually life-shaping events in the life of the young person. The student will honestly face him- or herself and share trustingly at a depth that would have been impossible a year earlier. I don’t know if or how that will happen at Hogwarts, but it’s an important part of a Muggle’s experiences at that age.
Even though there will be a war going on and Voldemort will be gaining in power and strength, my bet is that Year 6 at Hogwarts will be an interesting and a very good year.
Russell Greeley (aka “Chas” in the forums) is a pen name for a Catholic priest responsible for a well-known evangelization and fund-raising organization. He asked that we use his alias so as not to distract readers from the point of his editorial. However, his profession is very commendable and relevant, and we thank him for his contribution. He is an excellent example of the wide and varied audience touched in a positive way by Harry Potter.