Harry’s Safety Zone
“Gringotts is the safest place in the world fer anything yeh want ter keep safe — ‘cept maybe Hogwarts.”
Before the end of his first year at Hogwarts, he’s attacked in plain sight on the Quidditch pitch, in the Dark Forest the moment Lord Voldemort finds a second alone with the kid, and again in the Sorcerer’s Chamber. In the 70s it had been a huge thing for the Potters and Longbottoms to have defied Lord Voldemort three times and lived. Harry made three in less than a year as soon as he moved to this so-called safe place.
Hogwarts doesn’t get any safer when Umbridge moves in. McGonagall warning him about how dangerous she is would have been comical if it hadn’t been for the circumstances. Clearly she;s the naïve one. Black’s statement about the world not being divided into good people and Death Eaters may have been true, but he wasn’t taking into account by that point Harry had spent hours alone with her — an experience none of the Order members had — but Black refused to take this into account. In a way, Harry was almost telling him without telling him. It was a cry for help but Black missed it, refused to read between the lines. For all their struggles to keep Harry from being expelled, he would have been better off away from the school, in hiding, living under an assumed name with Lupin as his tutor.
Take Number Four Privet Drive. What’s the sense of strengthening Lily’s protection spell if he’s starved to death or his skull is bashed in by one of Petunia’s flying frying pans? Her methods may not be as fancy as Lord Voldemort’s, but they’ll kill him just as dead. The cloaked and undercover guardians would be better off watching him from inside the house than outside.
Hogsmeade, on the other hand, is supposedly unsafe. But consider the events of Oct. 31. The first Hogsmeade weekend of the year, Black, who, as a former student would have known about them, attempted to break into the tower where Harry lives. First thing Nov. 1 the school staff should have rethought their strategy. Keep in mind they not only believe Black is still the bad guy and Scabbers is still a rat, but also that Harry is still the target. It would appear that Black knew not only that it was Hogsmeade weekend and the campus would be relatively deserted, but also that Harry would still be there alone and NOT hanging out with his friends. I’ve heard people describe his trips to Hogsmeade as reckless and dangerous but I would argue that he was safer there particularly because he wasn’t supposed to be.
At some point, Dumbledore, through all his spying, clearly figured out what was going on and came to the same conclusion without saying anything to anyone about it. When is uncertain, but obviously by February Snape must have reported what Malfoy saw and Dumbledore chose to do nothing. Apparently he thought Harry would relax too much if he made it official and that keeping it illegal would ensure Harry would keep the cloak over his head. Knowledge, however, is power, and to keep Harry ignorant is to send him in blind. By the end of OotP Dumbledore finally realized this and admitted to himself that he cant protect Harry all of the time and keeping him in the dark was unwise.
Ultimately, Harry is the target and will always be the one portkeyed to the cemetery, attacked in the forest, jinxed on the Quidditch pitch, and lured to the DoM. Preparing Harry for all of this involves a lot more than giving him an Invisibility Cloak, room to explore, and Occlumency lessons. It means telling him what the BLEEP is going on. It means sitting him down, looking him in the eye, and having the tough conversations. Something parents and guardians so frequently have no stomach for.
It seems common to interpret OotP as a story about teen angst but I think Harry does a pretty good job of keeping his jealousy of Ron and feelings for Cho from taking over. The real angst comes with things Lord Voldemort and Umbridge related which is hardly typical teen angst but real, true suffering. It’s really shameful the things that Dumbledore left him on his own to figure out and I think the real moral lesson of the book was not directed at kids. Instead, with adults from Dumbledore and Molly Weasley overprotecting him, to Black and McGonagall telling Harry about Umbridge rather than asking, the adults in this book are portrayed as harming Harry more than helping. Dumbledore’s frequently overlooked statement about the young never having been old but the old too often forgetting what it was like to be young, brings it all together nicely. Its not the responsibility of kids to anticipate things their experience cant have warned them about, but rather of adults to remember and, without implying that theyre stupid, warn them about things they cant possibly have seen coming.
Still, if the adults in the story were perfect it wouldn’t be much of a story. A tale of a perfectly safe wizard named Harry Potter who answers to John Smith and is taught by a werewolf wouldn’t hold our interest for nearly so long, so a little dramatic irony is required.