The Missing Halloweens – Part 2: “Order of the Phoenix”
In this series of essays, we are exploring the pattern of key events happening on Halloween and what would have happened on Halloween in the later books if the pattern had been upheld. For context, please read “The Missing Halloweens – Part 1: A Pattern Established.”
For Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, we have an invaluable tool to aid us: the outline of the book from Jo’s drafting process. This was provided to us in Harry Potter: A History of Magic, the companion book to the exhibition at the New-York Historical Society. The outline can be found on pages 242–244. As an aside, this book is perhaps the most valuable instrument we have in exploring the genesis of Harry Potter by Jo – I can’t recommend it enough.
In the outline, Jo helpfully provides a column with the months in which things take place. By this point in the drafting process, Halloween had already been expunged from the story, but we are nevertheless provided many clues as to what the story’s Halloween incident would have been.
The first instinct would be the creation of Dumbledore’s Army – per the outline, the DA is “recruiting” in the last October chapter and has its “first meeting” in the first November chapter. Certainly, the organization is significant enough to lend itself to the book’s title (that is, before the name swap of the Order and the DA). And the preceding three books all saw their namesakes first appear on Halloween.
However, there is no mystery there and no red herrings to deploy. The DA may be of paramount importance to Harry’s (and the reader’s) emotional state when facing off with Umbridge, but it’s a fairly straightforward story line. (This will be a common thread to consider in the latter books: The plots that are significant in the story are not necessarily the same as the key mystery driving events in the book.)
The Hall of Prophecy is the mysterious location at the forefront of Order of the Phoenix and the answer to the key question of what Voldemort is after. It contains the “weapon” that the Order falsely hints at, which Harry wonders about throughout the book. But the thesis of the book is actually “What is with Harry’s dreams of a corridor?”
For evidence that this is the crucial question, consider how the book was published. This question is given top billing in the book’s blurb (at least in the US editions):
There is a door at the end of a silent corridor. And it’s haunting Harry Potter’s dreams. Why else would he be waking in the middle of the night, screaming in terror?
It’s worth noting that this is the only passage that is identical in the blurbs for the hardcover and the paperback. After this initial paragraph, the two blurbs diverge. Though they hit a lot of similar beats and key phrases, no other sentence is identical in the two blurbs. But the importance of the dreams of a silent corridor ensured the blurb’s opening remained intact.
Harry’s First Dream
So this brings us to our first candidate for the Halloween event: Harry’s first dream about the corridor of the Department of Mysteries. In the finished novel, Harry’s dreams are present from the summer onwards: They are mentioned as early as the ninth page of the book.
He had nothing to look forward to but another restless, disturbed night, because even when he escaped nightmares about Cedric he had unsettling dreams about long dark corridors, all finishing in dead ends and locked doors.” (OotP 9)
But it was not always the plan for the dreams to rear their cryptic heads in the very first chapter. In the outline, we can see they were originally supposed to commence in “Chapter 13: Plots + Resistance.” Under the “Prophecy” column, Jo writes, “Harry sees Hall of P 1st time.” And this chapter would have been the last one taking place in October.
There is even an element of misdirection: The notes also say the Hall of Prophecy in Harry’s dream is “not sinister – beautiful.” The trend was usually something appearing sinister that wasn’t, so it’s not quite fitting the pattern, but it’s close. So in many ways, Harry’s first dream of the Department of Mysteries fits for the Halloween event.
However, this doesn’t feel like enough of an event to me. Halloweens were known for something big and bold happening: trolls in the dungeon, Petrified cats, slashed portraits, the Goblet of Fire picking a fourth champion! While I would never underestimate Jo’s ability to get us invested, I can’t see a dream of a beautiful corridor landing with the same bang.
The first dream seems more like Hagrid removing the Sorcerer’s Stone, Lucius planting the diary, Sirius breaking out of Azkaban, and Moody being attacked by Crouch, Jr. – the beginnings of the mystery but not the event that makes everyone sit up and pay attention. Rather, we have an event that did make everyone from Voldemort to the reader take notice: “The Eye of the Snake.”
The Eye of the Snake
Harry’s dreams seem like just that – dreams – until he is suddenly dreaming himself into Nagini’s perspective, sees her attack Mr. Weasley in real time, and alerts Voldemort to the mental connection between them. That seems like a Halloween event to me!
In the finished novel, the attack takes place in mid-December. However, in the book’s outline, this was meant to take place in November. In “Chapter 15: The Dirtiest Tackle,” the main plot begins with “Quidditch v. Malfoy” (what would become Chapter 19: “The Lion and the Serpent”). But instead of veering into “Hagrid’s Tale,” which would have happened far earlier in the book, Harry “can’t sleep – restless – Umbridge – Malfoy – Cho – finally falls asleep – sees Nag. attack Mr. Weasley.” Jo further elaborates under the “Prophecy” column: “Nagini attacks Mr. Weasley / Vol sees Harry walking + shouting, realizes may be connection.”
If Nagini attacking Mr. Weasley could be moved around between November and December, there is no reason it couldn’t have originated on Halloween. The ensuing events at St. Mungo’s would still have happened in December near Christmas, as evidenced in Chapter 18 of the outline – it appears Mr. Weasley would have spent a much longer time in the hospital before the big family visit.
Consider, too, that Arthur was originally supposed to die from the attack until Jo changed her mind while writing Order of the Phoenix.
Umm, Mr. Weasley. So, he was the person who got a reprieve. When I sketched out the books, Mr. Weasley was due to die in Book 5.
Knowing how brutal Jo is with emotional blows at Christmas, I wouldn’t be surprised if the original plan was for Mr. Weasley to be attacked on Halloween, visited at St. Mungo’s during the holidays, and die on Christmas.
The other major fallout from “The Eye of the Snake” was that it provided the impetus for Harry’s Occlumency lessons with Snape. However, that was a change later on in the drafting process: Originally, the two were unrelated. In the outline provided, “Snape + Harry 1st lesson” takes place in October in “Chapter 11: [closed mind].” That is four chapters before the attack.
In fact, originally, the Occlumency lessons would have been an ongoing story line for most of the school year: October through April. It even had its own column in the outline to keep track of. And this is one of the more important changes Jo made in the revision process, I think. It just beggars belief that the powder keg would not have blown up sooner, considering how Harry and Snape clash in those lessons – I think the three months they lasted in the finished novel are much more believable, even considering the aborted story lines about Harry skiving off the lessons.
And what of the other key ingredient – a false suspect? In this case, the false suspect is Harry himself. “He had not merely seen the snake, he had been the snake, he knew it now….” (OotP 492). The red herring is presented with all the certainty it always is in these situations:
I’m the weapon, Harry thought […] I’m the one Voldemort’s trying to use, that’s why they’ve got guards around me everywhere I go, it’s not for my protection, it’s for other people’s, only it’s not working, they can’t have someone on me all the time at Hogwarts. … I did attack Mr. Weasley last night, it was me, Voldemort made me do it and he could be inside me, listening to my thoughts right now….” (OotP 493)
So there is our Halloween event: It leaves Mr. Weasley bleeding out in a hospital, the mystery is that Harry’s dreams are clearly not ordinary dreams, and Harry-possessed-by-Voldemort is the fake suspect for the crime. If Jo had upheld the Halloween pattern from the earlier books, the vision of Nagini attacking Arthur would have definitely taken place on Halloween.