Quite frankly, by the time Rowling finally decided to throw another “Battle of Hogwarts” at us. I didn’t believe one word of it. It was just too cheesy.
And, you will also notice that she didn’t actually show us any of it, either. Just the preparations and the aftermath. Any part of it that she actually made an effort to follow took place either around the edges, in the background, or during Tom’s totally arbitrary time-out. One might as well have been waiting for an actual dance number to materialize in ‘Moulin Rouge’.
I’d say she didn't have a clue of what a wizarding battle looks like, didn't want to write one anyhow, but had talked herself into being convinced that she had to have one, anyway. So she faked it.
Because it was totally fake.
• • • •
I also continue to maintain that Rowling’s whole premise of a “wizarding war” was completely bogus from the get-go. That much was always obvious.
How does any government conduct a war without an army? It’s possible, obviously. People (terrorists, mostly) manage to do it every day of the week. And Fudge does admit that the Ministry regards Riddle and his followers as a bunch of terrorists. But the people who typically do that kind of thing use distinctly non-military methods, like car bombs or suicide bombers and hijacked airplanes, not troops arrayed on battlefields in a fine, Napoleonic panoply. By the end of the first chapter of HBP it was clear that the only plausible model for the conduct of this “war” was indeed something more on the order of Al Queda or the IRA than that it could be anything modeled — however remotely — on the history of the 3rd Reich. And you simply do not fight the IRA by lining up on one side of a meadow in front of a boarding school.
(Whoever it was who first made the quote that; “The Battle of Hasings was won upon the playing fields of Eton.” certainly didn’t mean it literally.)
The whole premise of this “war”, and particularly the final battle, was incredibly stupid once examined. Yes, certainly, evacuate the younger children and get them out of harm’s way. That is a reasonable enough action to take. But then hunker down for a siege; don’t throw open the doors and go racing out to engage the enemy. A castle is a fortified structure designed specifically for defense. Post someone on the towers to watch and see when you are being attacked, and from which direction, and don’t let yourself get taken by surprise. And watch the tunnels that the DEs know about from your end, too.
And for all that Voldemort was supposed to have an “army” of DEs (which comes down to about 3–5 dozen), and an “army” of Inferi (maybe 50–70? Not that it matters, he never recalled them from Horcrux guard duty — not even after he found out that the Horcrux in that cave was gone), plus an undetermined number of Giants (which turned out to be all of 2) and werewolves (also an undetermined number, but because it wasn’t even full moon, they weren’t there, apart from Greyback, so who cares?) and Dementors (also undetermined numbers, but certainly more than he started with).
As it turns out, all the DEs also called in their Imperiused puppets, which means that when it came right down to it, he also had the Ministry of Magic. Admittedly, we did not have any reason before Book 7 to expect that.
Of course the MoM has never been stated as having any kind of an army whatsoever, either. Not even an “army” of Aurors or Hit wizards. So what Voldemort’s forces were actually fielding was an “army” of office schlubs.
I had, honestly, very much suspected that the much anticipated “Battle of Hogwarts” of a hundred thousand fanfics simply wasn’t likely to happen. Or not the way it’s usually been depicted.
And I still think that if I’d been right we might have had a more interesting wrap-up.
• • • •
However; until HBP came out it seemed like just about every fan author or theorist who heard the phrase “wizarding war” immediately flashed on every WWII image from any movie or TV show that they’d ever seen and started orchestrating the Battle of Hogwarts. I wouldn’t be surprised if the date of the defeat of the ever-so-obscure “Dark wizard Grindelwald” in 1945 (which at the end of the series makes as little sense as anything else Rowling threw at us in DHs) didn’t add its own subliminal kick to the whole phenomenon.
Although by the time OotP came out, I already suspected that everyone who blindly followed that particular scenario was probably barking at the moon.
Of course at that point I also wouldn’t have been surprised if the Death Eaters got closed down before Voldemort did, too. Although by the end of that book it didn’t seem to be happening very quickly or very publicly. Obviously the other shoe on that issue hadn’t fallen yet. But I would no longer have been so surprised if Rowling had chosen to confound expectations and simply turned out not to go anywhere near any “Battle of Hogwarts”.
Of course, to that point, I’d also held off from making a lot of actual predictions on the subject, and the ones I had stuck my neck out with were the kind that were as likely to be wrong as not. So I wasn’t too surprised to end up with egg on my face over this one.
But I still don’t put a lot of credibility in the Battle of Hogwarts. Even though we got one.
• • • •
By the eve of the publication of ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ I had come to the conclusion that there was a good deal less to the “Threat of Voldemort” than first appeared. And this conclusion was solidly supported by the official Riddle backstory which we were given over the course of HBP. And I suspected that there probably had always been far less to the threat than public perception had always made it out to be. For all that the speaking of Voldemort’s (bogus!) title seems to drive everyone into a gibbering panic.
A threat was definitely still there, of course, and it was very real. But it had been and was still being exaggerated by public perception. We’d had it pointed out to us from the onset of the series that the fear of a name gives extra power to the name’s holder. And yet we were never given any indication that Rowling had adopted the concept of any literal “power of true names” into her underpinnings of how magic works in the Potterverse to justify it.
So this whole booga-booga-mystic power of true names just plain wasn’t necessarily something that could be depended upon. And the threat that Voldemort actually represented was nothing like the fanon version that we had become accustomed to over the previous nine years. Speaking Voldemort’s name had no effect in canon whatsoever for the whole first 6 books. Apart from freaking out people who had been brought up to regard that name as unmentionable.
Indeed when she finally did belatedly throw in some consequences for speaking the Dark Lord’s name, it turned out to be an obviously a cobbled together retrofit, purely for the purpose of enabling Harry to get himself captured at the point that it was necessary to the plot for him to get inside Malfoy Manor. It was transparently contrived and totally hack-handed. And I, for one, wasn’t accepting it. It was just too shoddy.
The real problem with Voldemort, as it had been presented in canon up to the opening of DHs (where Rowling evidently decided to throw the existing series out the window and write some other book instead) is that you can’t easily GET RID of him. He’s deathless. You can’t just off him, or wait for him to die, and move on.
• • • •
Think about it. Take the meta view. Here we were, six books into a series of seven. Voldemort is definitely going to last out to the climax of the 7th Book. But the only book remaining gives us too short a turn-around cycle to plausibly create and disperse the cliché “army of Death Eaters” that the standard Battle of Hogwarts scenario requires. And most of us really didn’t think that Rowling was so irresponsible as to leave an “army” of underground DEs still roaming around at liberty, itching to cause trouble, even if the ww wasn’t quite an earthly paradise by the time we bid good-by to it on the final page. (And if she was following the example set by Elizabeth Goudge, whose work she had mentioned in interviews more than once, it would have been.) Or, at least not if she was throwing her plot together according to traditional expectations.
Although, upon second thought, considering that at the end of HBP Voldemort’s “army” of human followers was down to about three dozen, she just might have left them dangling like the loose ends they all too obviously were. If, as I say, she decided to confound expectations.
Instead, what she did was to throw us a fake battle, and leave the Potterverse overrun with unaffiliated Dementors who answer to nobody. Really smooth, Ms Rowling.
Looked at impartially, the whole Death Eater “organization” was really in a stronger position, however rusty and in disarray, at the end of Book 4 than it was at the end of Book 5. And certainly than it was by the end of Book 6.
Voldemort made no lasting headway over the entire course of Book 5. And at the end of it he had lost the one major advantage that he had at the beginning of that period (the suppressed knowledge of his return). He had also lost a good 20%-25% of his manpower. The only things he got out of Year 5 are the probability that this was the period during which he had managed to reconnect with Greyback, and his treaty with the Giants.
By the end of the 6th book he had lost another handful of followers, one killed, three captured, four (counting Snape) publicly identified. (None of them any of the Azkaban escapees, so that brings the total number of unsuspected undercover followers unmasked up to about ten.)
Harry only saw 3 of the 8 invaders escape. The three who got away had all been seen and at least two of them identified by name, so they’ve now been outed if they weren’t before. His spy at Hogwarts’s cover is blown, and his “dread ally” Fenrir Greyback, the pack leader of his “army” of werewolves, has also been captured. In addition, he has written off the Malfoys out of spite, which may have been a bit premature.
Despite Remus Lupin’s curiously inflated statement about the Order having been outnumbered 20 to 1 “last time” that statement, on the face of it, it doesn’t hold water.
If you count all of Voldemort’s total forces, it might about pass muster, but all of his “forces” are not Death Eaters. Consider: Harry Potter saw just about EVERY Death Eater who was alive and at liberty on June 24, 1995 show up for the general muster in the cemetery at Little Hangleton.
There were about 40 of them. And Voldemort clearly didn’t expect there to be significantly more.
There were also the famous 3 no-shows, and, at that point, another 10 still in Azkaban. That’s all the Death Eaters there were. Faced off against what, six weeks later were estimated to be a couple of dozen Order members. That looks far more like the 5:2 odds that took down the Prewett brothers than any 20 to 1, and it’s a far more plausible estimate. And, for all of the fears expressed by various Order members, I really doubt Tom signed up many (or any) new recruits over Year 5. Or year 6, either. Apart from, perhaps, Stan Shunpike.
I wasn’t even altogether convinced he actually signed up Draco Malfoy. The kid couldn’t Apparate yet, and Tom didn’t intend for him to live long enough to get a license, so there wasn’t much point in installing the universal summoning device on his arm, and in his case Old Lord V was more likely to get better response by the use of the carrot as well as the stick. The mission of killing Dumbledore was probably supposed to be both payback for his father’s “failure” and the price of his induction into the circle. Plus, having assigned him such a pack of loose cannons and incompetents for “backup” I am inclined to agree with Albus that I don’t think Voldemort ever intended the boy to succeed. The whole invasion component of that mission was more likely a double-cross wherein Malfoy would throw open the gates to his own executioners. It was only Snape’s Unbreakable Vow that saved his skin. Voldemort wasn’t quite willing to dispense with Snape yet.
• • • •
At the end of fifth year, half of the Azkaban escapees had been recaptured, and Tom had had about 6, of his “outside” operators unmasked (Crabbe, Goyle, Malfoy, Nott, McNair and Avery), and his return was now public knowledge. Hardly an advance in the long run.
Well, yes, the Dementors had already left Azkaban, and these new inmates would probably be out again before the end of the series, but while escapees can conduct or take part in raids, they are not typically able to move about freely or openly in society, and they certainly cannot engage in espionage inside the Ministry, or manage the suborning of Ministry personnel the way they did over Year 5 & 6.
(And I flatly do not believe that they simply waltzed into Ministry positions as heads of departments between the beginning of August and the end of September as Rowling tried to claim in DHs. That is a level of writing which is too lazy to be allowed.)
Admittedly, Voldemort may have had other supporters, but, by the end of HBP how many of those would be willing to stick their necks out now that they knew the odds? Probably no more than could be bullied into participating.
And, we are supposed to assume, any number of Imperioed puppets. I suspected that with the exception of the Goblins, who might still go either way, Voldemort was going to be limited to doing whatever he did with the forces that he had at that moment. Which was quite bad enough. After all, he did have the Dementors.
Indeed, at the end of HBP he could probably have handed all of his current allies over to the Dementors, lock, stock, and barrel, and carried on with only them, and it would still be hard enough to stop him.
• • • •
Or so I thought at the time. Clearly I was reckoning without the (frankly unbelievable) fall of the Ministry and Voldemort’s puppet government. But, as I say, that element was so badly and implausibly handled that I flatly don’t buy it, even if Rowling does try to tell us that’s what happened.
Plus, too many of the bits of information we were handed in the aftermath of the raid on the Department of Mysteries in OotP strongly suggested that a return to that location was a top contender for the impending climax of the final “fall of Voldemort”.
I was beginning to believe that the phrase “wizard war” was chiming an awfully lot in harmony with Mark Twain’s famous phrase regarding “two nations divided by a common language”. Clearly what wizarding characters mean by “war” or “army” isn’t what we or any Potterverse Muggle would recognize as such. Which implies that Harry was probably just as much at sea as we were, causing our view through the Harry filter to be even more than usually distorted.
Item: for all the bilge that Sirius Black may spout about Voldemort’s “army”, the wizarding world has no armies. Whatever Sirius meant by the term, is almost certainly not what we would mean by the term. We already know that Voldemort probably never had more than 5-6 dozen actual Death Eaters. He managed to get some Giants on his side, but there are something like just under 100 of them left on the whole planet, and in the event only a couple even showed up to oblige with the heavy lifting. We never heard any solid details regarding the Dementors, or how many of them there are. But it still scarcely amounts to an “army”.
Nor do we know how many werewolves constitute an “army”. And most werewolves are only really dangerous a during a couple of nights a month, and at that point they are just as dangerous to their allies as they are to any opponents. Which renders any supposed value of an army of werewolves dubious to say the least. A werewolf under the influence can’t tell the difference between friend and foe; all they register is a human target. And, in fact, the only werewolf we know of who took part in the attack was Greyback. Just like Lupin was the only one who took part in the defense.
Nor do we know what actual number constitutes his “army” of Inferi.
Although we know where he kept it.
And we could have shut that whole complication down before he ever got a chance to use it, if Harry would have just pulled his head out long enough to give someone enough information that could have made it possible to re-locate that cave and go in and clear it out.
(Not that it turned out to matter. The Inferi were just another in the list of disposable plot devices. Even Tom seems to have had no further use for them once he dumped them in that sea cave. Nor did anyone else, least of all Rowling.)
And when you stop to consider the matter, regardless of what Sirius Black had to say about it, that “last time” that everyone is so emphatic about; that whole supposedly catastrophic “war” against Tom Riddle, manifestly took place with hardly a blip on the Muggle radar. War? No, I don’t think so. Raids and skirmishes, ambushes and snipers, Imperioed suicide bombers, yes, that fits. Not formal “battles”.
The problem is that when JKR says “war” we all too often immediately think “military” where we ought to be thinking “gang”. This isn’t the Allies and the Axis, it’s the Crips and the Bloods. Complete with the equivalent of drive-by shootings, and a harried, overextended police force expected to put a stop to it.
• • • •
In the event that the reader may not yet have encountered it in any of the other places where it is lurking elsewhere in this collection, I will include here a brief review of my own interpretation of the actual progress of VoldWar I.
It still seems to me that we have been consistently misdirected as to the progression and conduct of VoldWar I throughout the series. I do not know whether this was intentional on Rowling’s part, or whether she changed her mind mid-way, hadn’t ever really thought it through, or was just putting on airs to be interesting. But in any case, at the end of the series it comes across as cheating.
In the wake of DHs I am forced to conclude that she was using the whole concept of a previous war merely as set-dressing and had never really taken the trouble to work out a plausible scenario for any of it. If such a thing ever existed at all, it still exists only in outline.
Example: we were consistently led to believe that Voldemort and his “message” had been gaining public support up to the point that, acto Sirius Black, he “revealed himself” and his “true goals”.
After getting the official Riddle backstory in HBP we can now see that there had never been a time that Voldemort or his “message” ever enjoyed any kind of open public support! The MoM had been trying to capture him since the mid 1960s — which would have either been right about when they first heard of him, or when they started signing their work with the Dark mark.
If people ever believed he had public support, it must have been because they were deceived into believing so. It is enough to make one suspect that Confundus was as much a part of his arsenal as Imperius. Maybe he used it on his author.
Since so far as we’ve ever been shown, the British ww only has one daily newspaper, one monthly tabloid, and a handful of magazines (and not a large enough population to really support much more than that), just where was Voldemort’s message supposed to be being proclaimed? Where was Reggie Black finding those published speeches he was making clipping scrapbooks from? Nothing we’ve seen of the Ministry suggests that they would have any problem about leaning on the Prophet if it didn’t like what they were publishing. And where was Riddle making these speeches that supposedly were being quoted in the newspapers? He was a terrorist leader that the Ministry was trying to capture.
Unless, of course, Fudge is supposed to have been lying to the Muggle Prime Minister. But there is a very real limit to how many of your walking exposition machines can be revealed to be lying before the whole readership concludes that the one who is lying to them is the author.
• • • •
None of this story holds together. By the end of HBP I flatly no longer believed it. Maybe these alleged speeches were printed on broadsheets or handbills and distributed secretly overnight. That’s the only possibility that still works. And then the Minisry would have been trying to find who produced them (and distributed them at Hogwarts, since at that point Regulus Black was still in school).
Even prior to HBP, I had quite honestly begun to wonder just how much of the story we had been getting concerning VoldWar I was all smoke and mirrors. Either that, or Voldemort must have masked his true objectives under some other sort of form of opposition to the Ministry, complete with some sanitized “public” message that would appeal to at least some of the public. But that message could hardly have been the straightforward one of pureblood supremacy which was attributed to him by the time the series opened.
C’mon, we know that the majority of the wizarding public (close to 75%) doesn’t really have that much of an issue with Muggle-borns — and if they have an issue with Muggles, it isn’t the be-all and end-all of their existence — so any alleged initial public “message” was almost certainly NOT the one that has been represented to us to date. What we have been told has to be the sum of what everyone has figured out or pieced together since then. Or, in short, we have been given the revisionist version. Most of the wizarding public were probably never aware of what we are aware of now, certainly not at the time it was going on. And as it stands it just doesn’t make sense.
And no, post-HBP it is clear that there was never any such initial public “message”. Tom Riddle was an outlaw from the get-go, he was always a violent terrorist leader, and his only message was “I’m going to raise unmitigated hell, because I can, and you can’t stop me”.
And while some of the nastier extremists inside the pureblood isolationist, or supremacist, factions might have muttered that he had the “right idea” — mostly because they could not wrap their tiny minds around the concept that despite the private recountings of his alleged high-flown sentiments regarding blood purity, which were filtering down the grapevine, they were in danger from him too — nobody but his own followers truly supported him. And those followers numbered in the dozens, not the hundreds.
For that matter, looked at objectively, the probability is that the public wouldn’t have even known what his actual statements even were.
He wasn’t making public appearances on the wizarding wireless or holding political rallies. After first surfacing at some point in the early 1960s, drawing the Ministry’s attention within a couple of years, and openly carrying on for a few years in a manner which gave “Death Eaters” and “Lord Voldemort” a measure of “brand recognition”, he pulled some stunt, about 1970, that rendered him, personally, utterly unmentionable.
Everyone was getting their information either from the Ministry-authorized version printed in the Daily Prophet, those hypothetical subversive broadsheets, or the word-of-mouth testimony of what he stood for as filtered by the people whose families he had already signed up.
He wasn’t even out there leading his own troops on their raids. He lets other people take the physical risks. If you weren’t a follower you had practically zilch likelihood of ever coming face-to-face with him. Unless he decided to target you personally. He wasn’t a public figure, he was the never-seen bogyman under the bed.
• • • •
And the public perception (quite possibly produced by the Ministry’s ever more draconian measures established to try to oppose an unseen enemy) was such that Voldemort was rapidly gaining power, and the Ministry was certainly getting no closer to stopping him, the likelihood is that, in all actuality, he was fighting a steadily loosing battle, and his organization was hemorrhaging resources merely trying to hold its ground.
• • • •
Well, that was last time. He doesn’t have the advantage of any kind of carefully constructed set-up now. Indeed, the reports we heard of his followers’ activities over the course of HBP appeared to be completely random, sporadic violence for violence’s sake. Much of his organization’s resources will have been dissipated or reapportioned over the period of his absence. And by the opening of HBP, one of the followers generally assumed to be in possession of the broadest scope of resources (Malfoy) had now been unmasked and taken off the board. All Voldemort had left to deploy was his reputation. And fear. He definitely has that on his side.
And also, last time he didn’t have the Dementors.
Still, at the end of HBP his “organization” now numbered some 3 dozen Death Eaters, an undisclosed number of suddenly leaderless werewolves, a clutch of animated corpses, the Dementors, and potentially up to 80–95 Giants.
Which, apart from the Dementors all sounded pretty marginal to me.
• • • •
Besides, if you try to look at it rationally, you can tell that while Voldemort unquestionably wanted to see Albus Dumbledore dead, and that settling the score with Harry Potter was continuing to be his top priority, there was no rational reason in the world why he would still want to take possession of the school. Regardless of how much he may have once been attached to the place. If he needs a stronghold, he would be far better off to appropriate Azkaban. The Dementors would even help him do it.
If he needed to capture a location for the sake of its inherent resources then the odds-on favorite would be the Ministry of Magic, or, rather, the Department of Mysteries itself. We caught a glimpse of rather a lot of potentially useful resources during the course of that raid on the DoM. Even if the collection of Time-Turners did get smashed.
And, in fact, regarding the school, once the Ministry fell and he had one of his own followers inserted into the school as Headmaster, he appears to have taken no further interest in the place. Not even for the sake of taking charge of Gryffindor's Sword, which was now sitting right there in the Headmaster's office for anyone to waltz off with.
But, going into HBP, I was convinced that if there was to be a Death Eater attack on Hogwarts at all (and I still tended to sniff at the idea) it would be because the DEs were after an individual, not because they had any interest in the school itself. And that kind of attack is more likely to succeed by guile than by force.
And insofar as motivation goes, I turned out to be absolutely right.
By that time it had also occurred to me that at some point, it might make a great deal of sense for Voldemort to send the *Giants* to attack Hogwarts.
As a diversion.
That ploy didn’t come off in HBP, so I was much less confident that the idea still played. (Particularly if the school remained closed for a term.) But it hadn’t been completely counted out.
A Giant attack on Hogwarts had really looked quite likely at the end of OotP. And while I doubted that it would happen in the way I had outlined it then, there was still an outside chance that it might happen in some form.
My supposition was that even if I was right, and Voldemort doesn’t really give squat about maintaining wizarding Secrecy, not even he was going to march 80+ Giants into the heart of London to attack the Ministry. Or not yet.
Out in the boonies at Hogwarts, however, in an all-warding enclave, away from any Muggle observers, the Giants could be a valuable playing card. Any damage the Giants manage to produce at the school or in Hogsmeade village would be fine by him, and he didn’t really care about their casualty rate. He might have thrown them at the school just for the hell of it. But he hadn’t so many resources at his disposal not to make use of the ones he had. And he had to have had some plan in mind to have sent McNair to the Giants as an envoy in the first place.
Given that Giants are largely magic-resistant it would take a lot of coordination and personnel to get any situation they were involved in under control, and any coordination and personnel dispatched to deal with a Giant attack on Hogwarts is likely to be coordination and personnel which will then not be available to the Ministry when it counted, and he would make his strike (probably by stealth) at their own Headquarters.
And any damage the Giants did to the school might make it even easier for the action of Book 7 to continue to move beyond the walls of Hogwarts itself.
I also thought it might at least make it easier for Harry to keep his date for the scheduled final confrontation with the Dark Lord. I was not altogether convinced that the Dark Lord was going to be able to come to him, and I was still half-way expecting the final showdown to take place in the Department of Mysteries. The US cover art did rather suggest that amphitheater in the Chamber of the Veil.
But even if the DEs only managed to barricade themselves in the DoM it would put Voldemort in a better position, resource-wise than he was at the end of HBP. And I think he still had Rookwood to advise him once he was there. I don’t recall us catching sight of Rookwood during the raid in OotP. (And one really has to ask why not? He was the one who used to work there.)
But it really seemed to be fairly clear that Books 6 & 7 (which Rowling was still lying in her teeth and claiming were two halves of the same story — which they are absolutely not) would be the story of Voldemort’s Last Stand, not the story of an extended military campaign. And I suspected that there was still a real possibility that for much of the last half of Book 7 to have the DEs largely out of the picture, and Voldemort’s active support whittled down to only himself, a few last followers (Bellatrix, Pettigrew and — he thinks — Snape most likely) —
— and the Dementors.
And the wizarding world would still not have the nerve to face him.