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How Dolores Umbridge made our skin crawl

She’s evil, sadistic, condescending and cruel. Stephen King once described her as ‘the greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter’, and that man knows a thing or two about horrifying characters.

Umbridge with a smug smile
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Dolores Jane Umbridge was the witch we all love to hate, or maybe just hate. Here’s how this professor made our skin crawl...

Interrupting Dumbledore

There we were, with the rest of the Great Hall in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, enjoying Professor Dumbledore’s start-of-term notices, when suddenly... ‘Hem, hem.’

What’s this? Who is this, daring to interrupt the headmaster? It made Professor McGonagall’s mouth go as thin as Harry had ever seen it and we knew then that this woman was trouble.

No magic allowed

At the start of the first Defence Against the Dark Arts class with Umbridge, no one knew what to expect. By the end, we had a pretty clear idea. From her first patronising, ‘I should like you, please, to reply “Good afternoon, Professor Umbridge”. One more time, please. Good afternoon, class!’ to ‘Your hand is not up, Miss Granger!’ this class was nothing but awkward – and the beginning of more bad things to come for Harry.

Professor Umbridge's office at Hogwarts.
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Insulting centaurs

As J.K. Rowling acknowledges, ‘Dolores has what amounts to a phobia of beings that are not quite, or wholly, human.’ When the centaurs challenged her control, her scream of ‘Filthy half-breeds!’ and ‘Beasts! Uncontrolled animals!’ was offensive in the extreme.

Humiliating Professor Trelawney

Umbridge’s arrival in the shadowy Divination room halted Professor Trelawney mid-waft, and put us in the new position of being on Trelawney’s side as Umbridge rudely questioned her. Not content with making the students’ lives a misery, Umbridge took callous pleasure in bullying the easy-to-target teacher.

Professor Umbridge’s toadlike smile widened.
‘Of course,’ she said sweetly, making yet another note. ‘Well, if you could just predict something for me, then?’
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The degradation of Professor Trelawney continued until she was reduced to a sherry-bottle-clutching mess in the Entrance Hall, which was when...

Umbridge sneers at Professor Trelawney in the Hogwarts courtyard.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The High Inquisitor attempted to make Trelawney homeless

This was so sad to read, as Trelawney pleaded: ‘I’ve b – been here sixteen years! H – Hogwarts is m – my h – home!’ and Umbridge took grim pleasure in her desperation. Well actually, Dolores, it’s not your castle and you do not have the authority to evict teachers – which Dumbledore explained to her quite magnificently, and we punched the air in delight.

Trying to take on Professor McGonagall

Don’t challenge McGonagall. Don’t ever challenge Professor McGonagall. Especially not when you are a simpering, cowardly, nasty madwoman and she is, well, Professor Minerva McGonagall. Ron set up this clash rather wonderfully, when he exclaimed ‘Oh, I can’t wait to see McGonagall inspected’ ... ‘Umbridge won’t know what’s hit her.’

Naturally, McGonagall doesn’t let us down, cutting Dolores to the quick and taking absolutely none of her nonsense.

‘I wonder,’ said Professor McGonagall in cold fury, turning on Professor Umbridge, ‘how you expect to gain an idea of my usual teaching methods if you continue to interrupt me? You see, I do not generally permit people to talk when I am talking.’
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Professor McGonagall in cold fury? Gulp. Take that Dolores, you have been owned.

An Umbridge character illustration.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

‘Hem, hem...’

That little throat-clearing cough: the first time it was curious, the second time it was an irritation and every other time it was an annoyance and suggested more madness from Dolores was coming.

Professor Umbridge gave her most pronounced cough yet.

‘May I offer you a cough drop, Dolores?’ Professor McGonagall asked curtly, without looking at Professor Umbridge.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

This excellent retort from Professor McGonagall signified what everyone else was thinking: ‘Please stop that noise, it’s infuriating.’

Scarring Harry Potter for life

‘Oh, you won’t need ink,’ said Professor Umbridge, with the merest suggestion of a laugh in her voice.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter’s parents were murdered, his only family kept him in a cupboard under the stairs, he was pursued by a villain so evil the wizarding community couldn’t bear to utter his name, and now he was being forced to inscribe lines into his flesh with a quill?

This was Professor Umbridge at her very darkest: inflicting searing physical pain on her student, someone meant to be in her care... but instead she tortured him, with a smile stretched on her face. It’s distressing to read and positively unbearable to watch.

In the film Order of the Phoenix, actress Imelda Staunton is flawless in this scene; those eyes and that expression of utter freakish mania will stay with us forever. Stephen King was right. Dolores Jane Umbridge truly is a monster.

Umbridge giving Harry detention
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix