By the time J. K. Rowling finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, our hero and his friends’ accomplishments in Hogwarts (and out) were well known. Their adventures, for all their dangers and thrills, should impress and bewilder readers especially for children’s stories. I don’t see many books for young readers where the characters have to resist creatures that can suck souls, grapple with the power of rumor, and or compete on broomsticks with cannon balls flying at them. Truly, these books are so in touch with our reality. The core isn’t the magic. It’s the characters, their motivations, and their very human interactions with each other and the world. I want to use Phoenix as the book to bring up Harry’s past trauma and the state of his mental health.
Though Jo doesn’t address it, there is strong evidence in Phoenix that Harry should be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the website of the National Institute of Mental Health, recurring symptoms include (1) flashbacks (reliving the trauma effecting the victim physically) and (2) bad dreams which can come about as the result of (3) a sudden, unexpected death of a loved one. All of which Harry experiences in significant portions in Phoenix.
(1) Harry experiences pains in his scar approximately thirty-four (34) times in the book. Thirty-four times the reader sees Harry effected physically by trauma: his connection to Lord Voldemort. In fact, during his ‘warging’ into Nagini, Jo describes Harry feeling “as though a white-hot poker was being applied to his forehead. [. . .] He clutched his head in his hands; the pain was blinding him” (463). That pain is so blinding, he vomits because of it. This is just one of the thirty-four instances in which Harry’s burning scar effects him.
(2) And talk of bad dreams? Harry spends his summer months locked in nightmares of the duel in the graveyard, reliving the death of Cedric, seeing remnants of his parents, and watching the resurrection of the Dark Lord. Dudley mocks him for it: “‘Talking in your sleep. Moaning. [. . .] Don’t kill Cedric! Don’t kill Cedric! [. . .] Dad! Help me, Dad! He’s going to kill me, Dad! Boo-hoo! [. . .] Mum, come and help me!” (15). Of course, the agonizing mystery of what the plain black door at the end of the corridor would qualify as bad dreams too.
Add the inscrutable distance of Dumbledore in Harry’s dire straits, the torment of Professor Umbridge, and the discovery that his father was not all he dreamed he would be, Phoenix has no lack of anxiety for the fifteen-year-old.
(3) However, if Cedric’s death wasn’t enough in the “sudden” and “tragic” description from the NIMH, the novel concludes with the death of Sirius Black:
[Dumbledore] “Harry, suffering like this proves you are still a man! This pain is part of being human –”
“THEN — I — DON’T — WANT — TO — BE — HUMAN!” Harry roared. “I DON’T CARE. [. . .] I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON’T CARE ANYMORE –”
If Harry doesn’t have PTSD before Phoenix, he certainly has it now. Sirius’ death is, perhaps, the worst thing to happen to Harry that he can remember. Yes, I would say worse than what happened in the graveyard of Little Hangleton. He was the last closest link to his parents, his father’s best-friend, a father-surrogate outside his relations to the Weasleys. The NIMH explains that (4) “older children and teens may feel guilty for not preventing injury or deaths.” We know in Goblet of Fire this is certainly the case for Harry:
“It wasn’t your fault, Harry,” Mrs. Weasley whispered.
“I told him to take the cup with me,” said Harry. Now the burning feeling was in his throat too. He wished Ron would look away. [. . .] He had no memory of ever being hugged like this, as though by a mother. The full weight of everything he had seen that night seemed to fall in upon him as Mrs. Weasley held him to her. His mother’s face, his father’s voice, the sight of Cedric, dead on the ground all started spinning in his head until he hardly could bear it, until he was screwing up his face against the howl of misery fighting to get out of him.
“It was as though he had been through too much to take in any more” (716). I think this line sums up what I’m trying to get across in this article. Truly, it’s a wonder Harry remains sane after all this time. Why wasn’t this subject brought up in the story that took place nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts? How did a teenage boy go through the horrors of war and beyond without showing signs of lingering trauma or inflictions on his mind? Signs I have demonstrated were evident to be present and confirmed by the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s not possible they could have magically vanished when his scar no longer pained him. Where is that story? A story for readers who, now grown, might want to read their favorite childhood hero work through trauma. Don’t you think we might need that as we ourselves make sense of the world we live in and the responsibilities after leaving Hogwarts?
***This post is part of my Perusing Potter – a series of exploring the known and not-so-known aspects of the Harry Potter Series***