The Harry Potter Reread wonders what will happen when everyone starts getting all geared up for the Newt Scamander movies and people are talking Potter everywhere all over again. It’ll be the fandom’s own Force Awakens or what-have-you.
This week we’re going to view a creepy statue in a government building and get defended by Albus Dumbledore in court. It’s chapters 7 and 8 of The Order of the Phoenix—The Ministry of Magic and The Hearing.
Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.
Chapter 7—The Ministry of Magic
Harry wakes up at 5:30 in the morning and decides there’s nothing for it, heading down to the kitchen. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Sirius, Lupin, and Tonks are all up and waiting. Tonks had a late night doing an Order shift, and is talking to Lupin about someone named Scrimgeour who is beginning to ask her and Kingsley questions (ostensibly he knows they’re up to something outside the Ministry or is asking about Sirius). They all tell Harry that Amelia Bones (Susan Bones’ aunt) will be hearing Harry’s case and that she’s a fair judge. Harry barely touches his breakfast of toast and heads into work with Mr. Weasley. They have to go the non-magic way because they can’t Apparate, and Mr. Weasley thinks it would looks better for Harry to use non-magic means considering his trial. They head onto the Tube, where Arthur is dead chuffed (as usual) to see all the Muggles milling about their business.
They get off the Tube and walk until they reach a less pristine area and step into a disused phone booth—the visitor’s entrance. Arthur dials a number and gets an operator who asks their business. The booth dispenses a badge for Harry with the name and purpose for being at the Ministry on it. Then the booth descends downward until they are standing in the Ministry’s main hall, a gorgeous place full of fine wood. There’s a fountain at the center featuring a wizard, witch, centaur, goblin, and house-elf. The three non-humans are staring up adoringly at the humans; the proceeds in the fountain go to St. Mungo’s Hospital. Harry has his wand checked at the security desk, then follows Arthur in. They get on an elevator with Bob who has an odd chicken in a box that appears to be the result of illegal experimental breeding on magical creatures. Many people get on and off the elevator as they go, and so do some purple paper airplanes carrying interoffice memos. (According to Arthur, they used to use owls and it was messy.)
They eventually arrive at Level 2 where Arthur’s office and Harry’s trial will take place. They pass by the Auror Office, where Kingsley proceeds to speak to Arthur like he doesn’t know him all that well, gruffly demanding a report of flying Muggle vehicles in case Sirius is using his old motorbike. This is clearly an act they do to keep up appearances that they aren’t working together for the Order. They head to Arthur’s office, which is smaller than a broom closet and has no window. Arthur’s associate, Perkins, arrives soon after in a flurry of apology. He says that he tried to notify Arthur (Mr. Weasley assumes he’s talking about a memo dealing with wizards that are backing up Muggle toilets) that Harry’s hearing was just moved up and down to a completely different floor. Harry is already five minutes late. Arthur rushes Harry down to the bottom of the Ministry—they get out on the level containing the Department of Mysteries, then have to take another staircase to Courtroom Ten. Harry isn’t allowed to be accompanied inside, so he’s shoved through the door with a wish for good luck.
This is our first mention of Rufus Scrimgeour, who is currently head of the Auror Office, and will become the Minister of Magic after Cornelius Fudge is driven out. He’s a sharp guy, and clearly knows something is going on in his department, hence his questions to Kingsley and Tonks. No one’s really good at reassuring Harry about his hearing on the other hand, which is just great. Though Sirius drolly offers to kill someone if the charges don’t get excused and SIRIUS, YOU’RE NOT HELPING. (That particular line really strikes me as something he’d say to an adult James, though.)
We get to see Arthur’s still-horrendous grasp on Muggle fashion as he takes Harry to work the long way (pinstripe trousers with a bomber jacket, sure, why not?). He continues to beam at Muggles and praise their ingenuity, even if their ticket machines don’t work all the time. It occurs to me that this exploratory aspect to Arthur is really where Fred and George get their entrepreneurial spirit from. You have to wonder, though—how is a guy who is this fascinated by Muggles never tempted to spend more time around them? It must be an even bigger taboo in the wizarding world than we see outright, which plays with the suggestion that Arthur has never been promoted for enjoying his job; if he went out of his way to spend time with Muggles he’d probably wind up totally ostracized or fired. (This makes Sirius’ contact with Muggle culture—the motorbikes, the music—ostensibly a much bigger deal, coming from a family that is even more against such things.)
The visitor’s entrance to the Ministry is a fun little bit, but I find it odd that they’re the only ones using it in the morning in a big city like London. I’m sure there are other visiting entrances for other areas and most wizards Apparate, but even so. It also misses out on the chance of showing us a bunch of confused people standing in a line outside of a broken phone booth. Way better visual.
They get into the Ministry Atrium and it’s appropriately flash and full of pomp, but that Fountain of Magical Brethren. So gross. As pieces of magical propaganda go, just icky in every possible way. It’s telling that while the wizard and witch are both the focus of the “awe” being proffered by the centaur, goblin, house-elf, the witch is still described as being “grouped around” the central wizard figure, letting us know that sexism is also implicit in the system being revered here. If the centaurs cared about this sort of thing, I’m sure they’d be the first to smash the thing to pieces. Actually, the goblins probably would too. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d actually lodged complaints about it at some point that just got lost in the Ministry shuffle.
Harry gets his wand checked (sort of like a weapon’s check, which makes sense given what wands can do), then he gets into the elevator and gets a brief tour of the Ministry floors and departments. There’s a Douglas Adams-esque flare to this particular bit, with areas like the “Ludicrous Patents Office,” but most of these names, no matter how funny they sound, are more serious than they appear to be. For example, the Office of Misinformation is in contact with Britain’s Prime Minister in the case of major events that cannot be written off easily by the Muggle public. They inform the Prime Minister of how to sell the event to the public in a manner that makes sense. Related to them is the Muggle-Worthy Excuse Office, which basically does the same thing on a smaller scale. And to be honest, that sounds like the best job ever. You literally get paid to bullsh*t people all day, to invent weird excuses for things. Like being in the Men in Black and talking about “light reflecting off of Venus” or whatever goofiness they spin to masses of people.
The paper airplane memos do a good job of showing just how challenged the wizarding community is in terms of logical thinking because Arthur tells Harry that they switched from owls to this system in the time that he’s worked there. So… in the past few decades. And that’s pretty unbelievable considering how obvious that memo charm should be. I mean, kids should be passing notes like that in school. (Though I do wonder what they did with all those poor office owls when they were suddenly fired from their day jobs.)
The Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures is mentioned, but several offices that they have or used to have are off the list when they hit the floor. We hear about a Goblin Liaison Office, but the Centaurs used to have one too—they just never visited it. Apparently, if you say a Ministry worker has been “sent to the Centaur office” it’s a joke that they’re about to get sacked. There’s an office to relocate House-elves, and there used to be Werewolf Support Services, but they were also unused due to werewolves being reticent to visit the Ministry openly. There’s also a badly kept Werewolf Registry office, and a Werewolf Capture Unit. And all of that existing in the same building is enough to make me queasy.
The ability to have windows with real light underground is maybe the greatest wizarding invention of all. Can you imagine how many more people would love their office if everyone felt as though they had a window and saw sunlight on a daily basis? And how weird it must be to realize that one of the window crew is going through a breakup because it’s been raining outside your fake window for a solid week?
We get to poor Arthur’s closet of an office (with no fake windows), and hear about his family photo (that Percy has exited), and also get an important mention of The Quibbler (which will obviously be relevant later in introducing a certain special student). In fact, this whole trip to the Ministry is clever because it’s mainly here to serve as a set up to the book’s finale. Here’s the Ministry, you’ve seen it, now remember it because we’re coming back here.
And then we get the nasty little time switch on Harry’s hearing, making it abundantly clear (if it wasn’t already) that the Ministry is setting him up for a spill. We’re off to the elevator again, and we get our first glimpse of the Department of Mysteries before descending into the bowels of the building….
Chapter 8—The Hearing
Harry recognizes the courtroom immediately; it’s the one he saw in the Pensieve last year where Barty Crouch Jr. and the Lestranges were sentenced to Azkaban. Harry is berated for arriving late—his excuses are pushed aside. The trial is being overseen by 50 members of the Wizengamut, but the three in charge of the hearing are Cornelius Fudge, Amelia Bones, and Dolores Umbridge. Dumbledore show up to defend Harry, but he won’t make eye contact with him. Fudge reads the charges, and Amelia Bones gets briefly distracted by how impressive it is that Harry can produce a corporeal Patronus. Fudge insists they get back to business, and Harry tell them his side of the tale, that Dementors were present. Fudge laughs this off as fairy tale, but Dumbledore insists on producing a witness—Arabella Figg.
The Ministry doesn’t have record of her living near Harry (the way they would for other magic folk) because she’s a Squib. Fudge questions whether Squibs can even see dementors; Mrs. Figg assures him they can. At first, her description seems too vague to help, but then she describes the feeling that the dementors create, and seeing Harry produce his Patronus. Amelia Bones seems convinced on this front, but Fudge is insisting that Harry made the dementors up. Dumbledore says that they have just seen witness who claims otherwise, and she can be requestioned if they like. He then points out the dementors must have under orders to attack Harry, suggesting that someone else has control of them (meaning Voldemort, clearly). Fudge dismisses this, so Dumbledore says that means that someone at the Ministry must have set them on Harry, which causes Dolores Umbridge to question Dumbledore’s apparent accusations. Dumbledore claims that he isn’t trying to tell the Ministry what to do, just assuming that they’ll take the right course of action in investigating the matter.
When Fudge insists that Harry is known to break rules, like he did when he performed the hover charm at the Dursleys in his second year. When Harry insists that was a house-elf, Fudge takes that as confirmation. But Dumbledore points out that the house-elf in question now work at Hogwarts and could also give testimony. When Fudge insists that Harry is known for using magic inappropriately at school, Dumbledore tells him that the court has no jurisdiction where Hogwarts is concerned. Fudge insists that laws can be changed, and Albus points out that they already have been because Harry is enduring a full trial for a minor infraction. The Wizengamot discuss and the majority decide that the charges should be dropped. Dumbledore leaves without ever looking Harry in the eye.
Harry knows this courtroom from Dumbledore’s memories, and using it makes the intention here very clear—it’s a witch hunt. (Hur, get it?) Fudge has no intention of getting Harry a fair trial. Suddenly we realize why it was genius for Arabella Figg to be stationed near Harry—her status as a Squib means that no one knows she’s there, working for the Order to protect him. So they can’t know she’s been nearby at Dumbledore’s request all this time, and they can’t know she was going to be called to testify.
We meet Amelia Bones here, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and Susan Bones’ aunt. Madam Bones’ family were practically wiped out in the First War against Voldemort; her parents were murdered by the Dark Lord and her brother was a member of the Order of Phoenix. He and his family were wiped out by Death Eaters. She must have had at least one other sibling who is a parent to Susan. But the most important thing we really need to know about Amelia Bones is a she’s great at her job, completely fair-minded and WEARS A FREAKING MONOCLE. BOW DOWN TO HER GRACE.
Fudge goes out of his way to make sure that this functions nothing like an actual hearing, helpfully tamped down by Madam Bones doing her damn job despite his whining and grousing. But we begin to see where this book is heading in the appearance of Dolores Umbridge, who clearly takes Fudge’s side in this matter and is particularly interested in maintaining Ministry appearances. We have that awkward “people look gross to indicate they’re evil” thing going on again here, but knowing that the appearance of Umbridge is based on a real person Rowling knew in her life gives it an interesting twist at least.
Dealing with Arabella’s testimony, it strikes me that there is a very strong connection with how the wizarding world treats Squibs and how our world treats people with disabilities. Fudge immediately asks if Squibs are even capable of seeing dementors, indicating that he (a) knows nothing about Squibs whatsoever and doesn’t care to, and (b) assumes that they can do none of the things that magical people can do because of their lack of magical ability. Squibs aren’t registered the way other magical folk are by the Ministry, indicating that the government and wizarding culture at large deem them of no value, which is often true of people’s disability prejudices as well. So that’s another nice thing to tack onto “stuff the wizarding world sucks at.”
You have to hand it to Dumbledore, he basically shuts this whole thing down in five seconds. He’s lucky because Amelia Bones is in charge here, and also because the Wizengamot probably aren’t willing to snap Harry freaking Potter’s wand in twain when there’s a credible witness in the case, but you need someone with Albus’ simple, non-confrontational rhetoric. Oh, I’m just saying that because you guys are so great at what you do, you’ll look into this. It’s passive aggressiveness at its finest. Mind you, I hate that quality in most people, but I really have to respect its use here.
Fudge makes it clear where this is going when he tells Dumbledore that laws can be changed, which Albus concedes with this very trial. This is a marked shift in the Ministry’s usual stand-back-and-look-the-other-way approach. They are planning on clamping down. They are planning to strike out. Things are going to get ugly from here.
And Dumbledore still can’t be bothered to look Harry in the face, but the kid didn’t get expelled (again!) so we’ll call it a win for now.