This is my favorite of J. K. Rowling’s Potter series. This is the book where Harry and friends stop being children having adventures at boarding school and the story line changes to the battle between good and evil with all the required loneliness, fortitude, uncertainty, sacrifice and loss.
Harry starts as always stuck with the Dursleys desperate for news of what the newly returned Voldemort is doing. He and his cousin Dudley are attacked by Dementors on their way home one night, and, when Harry chases them off with a Patronus, he is notified of expulsion from Hogwarts for having practiced magic underage. Mad Eye Moody and several other wizards and witches soon come to escort Harry to a hidden house in London that he soon discovers belongs to his fugitive Godfather Sirius who has made it the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. Arthur Weasley escorts Harry to his hearing at the Ministry of Magic where his acquittal, much to Minister Fudge’s discomfiture, is obtained adroitly by Dumbledore, who yet inexplicably refuses to speak to Harry. Harry learns from Sirius the Order believes Voldemort is searching for a weapon but won’t tell Harry more. Harry is having dreams about walking in the Ministry at night. Letters arrive for Ron and Hermione informing them they have been appointed prefects (everyone had expected Harry to be prefect). Harry is disappointed but glad for Ron.
Harry returns to Hogwarts with Ron Hermione and Ginny only to find Dumbledore similarly uncommunicative, a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, the hideous and saccharine Undersecretary from the Ministry, Dolores Umbridge ensconced and Hagrid inexplicably missing. Umbridge quickly begins to take control of the Hogwarts – Fudge refuses to believe Voldemort has returned and believes further that Dumbledore using a demented Harry is making a bid to depose him. Umbridge immediately begins persecution of Harry including a sadistic detention for his insisting on Voldemort’s return and banning him, Fred and George from Quidditch. The Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons are “reading only” so Hermione in frustration sets up a class of interested students in the hidden Room of Requirements with Harry as the teacher and the students begin to learn to fight. Added to this is the stress of the upcoming Ordinary Wizarding Level exams. Hagrid returns having tried unsuccessfully to recruit the Giants for Dumbledore. Umbridge, ever more powerful tries to fire Hagrid and Professor Trelawney. Bellatrix Lestrange, Sirius’ cousin and the Death Eater who, with her husband, who tortured Neville’s parents into insanity, escapes from Azkaban.
About Christmastime, Harry has a dream of Arthur Weasley sitting in a corridor in the Ministry attacked by a snake. Dumbledore alerts the order and a wounded Arthur is rescued just in time. The children all go to Sirius’ House for Christmas. Harry is becoming furious at Dumbledore for not communicating with him and Sirius likewise is tremendously frustrated that, still wanted by the ministry, he cannot leave the house and help the order. The Order decide that Harry should have Occlumency lessons to prevent Voldemort from accessing his mind any further.
Back at Hogwarts, Harry and his Dumbledore’s Army class are discovered, Dumbledore takes credit to protect the students from expulsion and then escapes. Fred and George leave school after having terrorized Umbridge one last time. Hagrid reveals he has brought his half brother, Grawp, back from the Giants and asks Harry and friends to look after him if he is fired. Harry sees a hidden memory in Snape’s pensieve in which Harry’s father cruelly torments the hapless Snape and Snape refuses to teach him Occlumency further. The students take their Owls, Umbridge now a virtual dictator at the school. Harry then has a vision in which he sees Sirius being tortured in the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry. Unable to reach Sirius (Sirius evil House elf, Kreacher, suborned by Voldemort tells Harry Sirius is “out”) Harry, after Hermione tricks Umbridge into the hostile hands of the centaurs, tips a seemingly indifferent Snape as to what is going on and then gathers the core members of Dumbledore’s Army and goes to rescue Sirius.
At the Department of Mysteries, Harry finds a prophecy about him made years before by Professor Trelawney. Only he can remove it and once he does, Lucius Malfoy, Bellatrix and several Death Eaters beset the children. They fight surprisingly well, but just as the Death Eaters are about to prevail, Sirius and other Order Members arrive to rescue them. The prophecy is broken, Lucius Malfoy incapacitated and the Death Eaters driven back but then Bellatrix kills her cousin Sirius. Harry chases her and applies the cruciatus curse when suddenly they are joined by Voldemort who prepares to kill Harry. In the nick of time, Dumbledore comes and battles Voldemort. Voldemort, seemingly defeated, instead possesses Harry. In a titanic battle of will and ultimately the power of compassion, Harry drives Voldemort out just as Fudge and the Aurors arrive. Fudge admits that Voldemort is indeed back and Dumbledore is returned to Hogwarts where he explains why he ignored Harry – to dissuade Voldemort from possessing Harry to reach Dumbledore. He explains that according to the prophecy either Harry or Voldemort must die for the other to live. Edgy and dark, occasionally overdone (as with Umbridge’s petty nastiness) but with moments of true wonder, this book is my favorite of the series.