In The Order of the Phoenix, there's this conversation between Harry and Professor McGonagall at the end of the twelfth chapter.

"Didn't you listen to Dolores Umbridge's speech at the start-of-term feast, Potter?"
"Yeah," said Harry. "Yeah... she said... progress will be prohibited or... well, it meant that... that the Ministry of Magic is trying to interfere at Hogwarts."
Professor McGonagall eyed him for a moment, then sniffed, walked around her desk, and held open the door for him.
"Well, I'm glad you listen to Hermione Granger at any rate."

Did some of you notice that the professor is talking about Hermione, when she can't possibly know the talk between Harry, Ron, and Hermione at the feast? When they were talking about it, they were sitting at the Gryffindor table, weren't they? Professor McGonagall was sitting at the professor's table, which is far away from them and it's really impossible to hear student's conversations. Well, I wonder how she knows. The professors really couldn't be spying on students, could they?

  • 13
    Because she read the script.
    – Valorum
    Nov 17, 2016 at 0:02
  • 14
    Because Harry had no idea what Umbridge had said.
    – Adamant
    Nov 17, 2016 at 0:11
  • 50
    well, it meant that... that the Ministry of Magic is trying to interfere at Hogwarts. because she knew Harry would never understand this, and it's Hermione that most likely told him
    – user13267
    Nov 17, 2016 at 1:48
  • 12
    ...Magic? It could be magic. Or common sense, which is much rarer.
    – Jeff
    Nov 17, 2016 at 15:03
  • 16
    To paraphrase Dumbledore: "What happened in their conversation was a complete secret to McGonagall, so, naturally, she knows all the details."
    – 8bittree
    Nov 17, 2016 at 21:25

1 Answer 1


She doesn't know that it happened, but she can make an educated guess

The implication is that McGonagall (correctly) assumed that Harry hadn't actually understood the subtext of Umbridge's speech, and is regurgitating an analysis given to him by somebody else. Since Hermione is one of his best friends, as well as the sort of person who would have understood that subtext, it's a pretty safe bet that she's the one who told him; no espionage necessary

There are a few clues to this effect:

  • Harry is quoting Hermione more-or-less verbatim; McGonagall is likely to recognize the words of one her long-time students, even though Harry's the one saying them1
  • Harry's incredibly naive approach to dealing with Umbridge makes it clear that he either doesn't understand the gravity of her appointment (that is, the implications of the Ministry foisting a teacher upon Dumbledore, who otherwise acts largely autonomously to the government), or he just doesn't care. Either is as likely as the other, knowing Harry, which brings me to:

    • As a subpoint to this, it's worth pointing out that McGonagall subltly tests Harry's perceptions earlier in their conversation; by his reaction, Harry clearly doesn't really understand the danger posed by Umbridge:

      "Misbehavior in Dolores Umbridge's class could cost you much more than House points and a detention."

      "What do you - ?"

      "Potter, use your common sense," snapped Professor McGonagall, with an abrupt return to her usual manner. "You know where she comes from, you must know to whom she is reporting."

      Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Chapter 12: "Professor Umbridge"

  • He struggles to remember what Umbridge actually said (note the ellipses in his speech, indicating pauses for recollection and uncertainty), despite having heard it only the night before, but easily recalls the one-sentence summary. Clearly the speech didn't make much of an impression on him.

    • Recall also my sub-point above: there's an incongruity between Harry's responses in the two conversations. At first he has absolutely no idea what Umbridge's presence represents, but when prompted with a specific memory he suddenly does. Again, sure indication that he didn't puzzle it out on his own

Bear in mind that McGonagall has been teaching Harry and Hermione for four years by this point; she sees how they contribute in lessons, and how they perform on homework assignments and exams. It seems quite reasonable that she'd be able to guess this.

1 Credit where it's due; Valorum made this same point in a now-deleted answer

  • 4
    I've removed my answer since it says (basically) what you've said, just in fewer words.
    – Valorum
    Nov 17, 2016 at 13:44
  • 10
    @Valorum Fair enough, then I shall shamelessly steal your good ideas Nov 17, 2016 at 14:35
  • 3
    And again, a dashed-off answer to a fairly simple, intuitive question is upvoted to high heaven Nov 18, 2016 at 19:15
  • No wonder he had trouble reciting Umbridge’s speech—he was asleep through most of it! Nov 19, 2016 at 9:18

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