Red Hen Publications

Red Hen Publications — Commentary Collection: The Minister for Magic
The Potterverse Essays

Trying to make the Potterverse make sense since 2003!

We are told the Wizengamot is a body of 50 witches and wizards representing a population that Rowling claims is about 3,000. The wizarding public is represented by the Wizengamot, through as yet undetermined procedures. Much of fanon has postulated that it is composed of hereditary seats held by the Heads of prominent families, the Heads of key Ministry Departments, and recipients of the Order of Merlin. Which all seems as good a guess as any.

When one reflects that a nation with a population the size of that of the United States of America is represented by 100 Senators, or that the 3.9+ million residents of the City of Los Angeles are governed by a Mayor, and Council of 15, the British wizarding world’s degree of individual representation in their over-government doesn’t look half bad.

In fact, if Rowling is to be believed, there are probably no more wizards in the entire world than there are people in the modern city of Chester. And those in the British isles would be able to muster a town no larger than modern Padstow in Cornwall, if that. A full House of Commons would hardly be reasonable for such a small population. Not to mention that the Wizengamot they already have is hardly a House of Lords.

Consequently, the Minister of Magic is (probably) elected by the Wizengamot, is answerable to it, draws his support from the factions represented in it, and subjects all proposed laws to its approval.

So anyone who wants a shot at the office of Minister has to have the backing of a majority of the members of the Wizengamot.

And, up to the opening of OotP, Albus Dumbledore was the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot.

This may have been a largely ceremonial office, or he may have been running the whole show. Or anything whatsoever in between. We have no way of knowing.

But, as soon as the breech with the Ministry was settled at the end of OotP, he immediately put on his “authority” hat again. Just like (we are invited to believe) he had worn it all through VoldWar I. And found that it didn’t fit so well as it had before.

After making a total berk of himself over the previous year, Fudge’s chances of a continued term in office were already toast. But his replacement, Rufus Scrimgeour, was far less willing to play ball at Albus Dumbledore’s prompting than Fudge had once been, back in the day. The breech between the Headmaster and the Ministry may have been bridged, but it was certainly not healed.

One seriously has to wonder whether replacing Fudge, with whom Albus was more or less willing to work, with Scrimgeour — with whom he evidently couldn’t, might not have been someone else’s clever idea. That replacement was almost certainly stage-managed from outside the Wizengamot itself. Particularly when you consider the outrageous ultimatum that Voldemort publicly handed Fudge. Between that and the internal calls for Fudge’s replacement after the Prophet outed the Ministry’s policy of denial, there wasn’t any way that Fudge could be retained, but the available choice of replacement, and the manner of forcing the Wizengamot’s hand was... suggestive.

Not that Scrimgeour was being proposed or supported by Lord Voldemort or his followers. For, despite his lack of effectiveness, Scrimgeour does appear to have been honestly committing to resisting Lord Voldemort and all his works. I simply think that Scrimgeour was handed a pair of shoes that he was unable to fill, and he was too proud to accept direction. Not, given the track record, that accepting direction from Albus Dumbledore was likely to have been any better. But Scrimgeour made a sufficiently visible place-holder at a point that one was deemed needed.

In the meantime, Albus had also lost some of his oldest support on the Wizengamot when Griselda Marchbanks and Tiberius Ogden resigned in protest over his ouster the year earlier. We do not know who replaced them, either. Or who suggested those replacements.

Which may be a hint of something rather new. Back when Fudge took office, there was still a faction who would have liked to see Dumbledore take the position of Minister, himself. One wasn’t hearing much from this particular claque by the opening of HBP.

But even if that lot were still around, they could go on wanting. Dumbledore wasn’t so deluded that thought he could run the Wizengamot, AND the International Confederacy of Wizards (oh, yeah, he heads that too), AND the Ministry, AND personally oversee the training of Harry Potter all at the same time. Pick any three.

We may not ever know just when Albus Dumbledore became Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, but I think we can safely assume he had a seat well before he became Headmaster (some time between ’57 and about ’63). He’d already turned the post of Minister for Magic down three times by then, and I doubt that the Wizengamot has ever tried to appoint anyone but one of their own.

Albus never did dare to take that job. Or think that he ought to take it, anyway.

But that’s okay, there were plenty of other people who would be happy to take it.

Case in point: Bartemius Crouch Sr.

• • • •

We have no idea what Dumbledore thought of Crouch’s candidacy for the position.

Nor do we know whether there had formally been a change in Minister pending at any time between 1981 and 1983, or indeed, between 1981 and 1990 for Crouch to be pinning his hopes upon. Millicent Bagnole had only taken office in 1980, so it isn’t like she was a lame-duck Minister coming to the close of her term of office. Admittedly, we do not know for certain whether the MfM serves for a set term of years, or whether once appointed you can just hold the position until you seriously blot your copybook with the Wizengamot, or simply get tired of all the agro. If the questions in the third round of the WOMBAT tests posted on Rowling’s official website are to be taken as a suggestion, a term of around 10 years appears to be typical, but we have no way of telling how far we can trust much of anything that only showed up in the WOMBATs, which were never really canon.

Barty may have been vying for the post off his own bat in the manner of attempting a palace coup. And at a guess; Barty Crouch, from what his enemies have to say about him, anyway, would probably not have been Albus Dumbledore’s first choice for Minister. But Albus had worked with the man, and if he had had any expectation of being able to apply his own influence upon policy, would probably have done so again.

The LiveJournalist known as Pharnabazus, in his splendid examination and analysis of the operation of the interdependent patronage networks upon which wizarding society depends offers us a rather different reading of the elder Mr Crouch’s character from the readers’ usual first impression. One which gave my own attention to such details a bit of a jump-start and led me to a conclusion that threw many of my earlier assumptions into question.

Throughout GoF we never, not even once, heard the slightest account, not a single word, about Bartemius Crouch Sr that was given us by someone who honestly admired the man. And there certainly was such a person in evidence, someone who was not in the least reticent about Mr Crouch’s sterling qualities. But we completely dismissed Percy Weasley’s sincere regard for Crouch and instead took all of our reading of his character from “Mad-Eye Moody” and Sirius Black.

Now, just how clever was that? I swear, that’s downright embarrassing.

The false Mad-Eye Moody assures us that Crouch was more ruthless than he ever was. Sirius Black tells us that Crouch was obsessed with catching just “one more Dark wizard”.

And yet Crouch clearly accepted Lucius Malfoy’s (and Avery’s) Imperius defense, and we sat there and watched him cut a deal with Karkaroff when the real Moody would have thrown away the key. This picture of “ruthless warrior for the Light” is further compromised by Barty Crouch Jr’s “confession”, and frankly, there are so many points of issue in that confession that don’t match up to what we actually saw going on in the book that I don’t believe a word of it. Can we at least agree that Barty Crouch Jr had a strong interest in seeing to it that his father was depicted in the worst possible light?

And as for Sirius Black; we already have ample demonstration of Sirius Black’s unreliability where it comes to reading the character of others. We were consistently led to underestimate Pettigrew, which is usually a dangerous mistake, and I think that we may have been led to misread Crouch as well.

Not that the issue was likely to recur in the final outplay of the story. By the end of GoF the story had moved well beyond Barty Crouch Sr’s place in it.

But, what is more, Sirius admits that he only put together his picture of the Decline and Fall of Barty Crouch Sr after he escaped from Azkaban, and I really doubt that Crouch was still a household word by then.

Consequently what Sirius was patching together would have predominantly been the rumors and innuendos which had been circulating in Azkaban since his son’s assumed death, or those which had been dredged up more recently (under whose direction I wonder?) that got hashed over in the Prophet in the course of reporting the revival of the TriWizard Tournament under his leadership, or, later, of Crouch Sr’s absence from work and his suspected illness. Sirius’s personal satisfaction at the tale he has pieced together shines through his “wise counselor” narrative like a beacon. Can we also agree that Sirius Black has no reason to admire the man who consigned him to life with the Dementors without a trial?

• • • •

However, when you look past what is said about the man’s character by his enemies, and concentrate on his known actions, you get a picture of a pragmatic politician, just as corrupt, but probably not any more so than any other we’ve been shown in the Potterverse to date. Moreover, a politician with a willingness to make any kind of deal that might forestall another Dark rising.

The wizarding world is a very small community. Crouch would have been able to gauge who it would be safe to cut a deal with, because he would know exactly who had the most to lose. In fact, by all indications, until the year that Professor Quirrell came back from his travels on the continent twitching and stammering, the greater wizarding world appears to have taken no appreciable harm from the fact that Igor Karkaroff and Lucius Malfoy were walking free in it.

Pharnabazus suggests that in return for a tacit promise of his future good behavior, as well as a promise to keep his associates under restraint, Barty Crouch Sr accepted Lucius Malfoy’s Imperius defense and basically agreed to leave him alone so long as he behaved himself, and stayed out of politics. He quite possibly also initially had either agreed to drop the prosecution of Malfoy’s sister-in-law, her husband, and her brother-in-law or arranged for their release.

This reading, supported by Pharnabazus’s full line of reasoning plays very well.

However, Pharnabazus’s interpretation was posted quite a few years ago, and we had been given a bit more information to play with since then.

At that point in the series we did not know that Lucius’s father Abraxus Malfoy was still alive at the time of Voldemort’s first defeat. It also fails to take the personalities of fanatics into account. Most notably the personalities of Bellatrix Lestrange and her associates.

Since, we didn’t know that Lucius’s father was probably still around at the end of VoldWar I, we did not consider that the Malfoy that Crouch Sr cut his deal with was a good deal more likely to have been Abraxus, rather than Lucius.

Abraxus Malfoy survived long enough for his grandson to be claiming to remember him. So that puts his death somewhere in the ’80s, at the earliest. I am rather more inclined to believe that he did not die until 1991–’92. His grandson Draco’s first year at Hogwarts.

Being finally off his father’s leash might also explain why we were suddenly tripping over Lucius every time we turned around, from the summer of ’92 until he was forcibly taken off the game board at the end of Year 5, four years later.

It makes a LOT more sense for it to have been Abe and Barty who were the deal makers. For one thing, we have no clear reason to believe that Abraxus was actually a DE himself, however much he may have approved of the public perception of what Voldemort claimed to stand for (like the elder Blacks, he took the word of the kids who were already inside the organization).

The elder Malfoy and Crouch could have been at Hogwarts together. Before Riddle, I suspect; or, just as possibly, right afterwards, in the interregnum before there was a DE organization to consider. There was no Malfoy in the Slug Club with Riddle that we know of, nor a Crouch. Although as one of Sluggy’s acquaintances, Abraxus is likely to have been somewhat older than Riddle.

We do not know for certain how old Crouch Sr was either, although if he is represented by the “1s” notation appended to Charis Black and Caspar Crouch’s marriage line as shown on the Black family tapestry sketch, then his mother was born in 1919, suggesting a birth year for him around the early 1940s, making him much younger than a Malfoy who might be an associate of Horace Slughorn’s, but quite old enough to have passed through Hogwarts and into the Ministry before the DEs had shown up above the horizon.

But, given the entangled family connections among purebloods there is every reason to suspect that the Crouches and the Malfoys might also have been connected to some degree in some manner apart from Hogwarts attendance. Possibly very closely connected. And Abraxus Malfoy may have also been younger than Riddle, although Slughorn implies that he was at least somewhat elderly at the time of his death.

In any case, there was at least a long-enough standing association between the Malfoy and Crouch families, for their House Elves to have known one another — which was already established in canon before Crouch banished Winky from his home. It is even possible that the late Madam Crouch was originally a Malfoy (she was blonde in any case, although that in itself doesn’t prove anything). Or, for that matter, that Lucius’s mother may have been a Crouch. Obliging your brother-in-law (or father-in-law) by accepting an Imperius defense for a family member is the kind of thing that would be expected of a Ministry official in the ww.

And Abraxus may have had leverage to bear on Crouch. He could have known about young Barty Jr’s involvement in the movement. He would have used it, too, if Lucius knew, and told him.

He wouldn’t have been the only one to know of it, either. That was all but certainly the information that enabled the Lestranges to “talk their way out of Azkaban” as well.

But the Malfoys may not have known that — although the Lestranges, certainly did. Barty Sr simply may have trusted Abraxus’s promise to keep his own son under control and out of further trouble.

Ergo: the chronology goes; Abe and Barty cut a deal, Lucius is put on a short leash by his father and behaves himself. From Abraxus’s PoV, Lucius’s in-laws, the Black/Lestrange connection, may have been perceived to be a potential threat to the family’s continuing peace of mind, but they were not his problem.

Or were they?

• • • •

Which brings us once again, to the Longbottom affair.

Over the three-year summer between Year 4 and Year 5 it became a widely held theory in some (generally younger) circles of fandom that Neville Longbottom was suffering from the effects of a botched or overly-strong memory charm placed on him at the time of his parents’ torture at the hands of Death Eaters. According to this theory he also was believed to “know something” about Voldemort.

I did not agree with this reading of the matter then, and we certainly don’t hear much about it now. I didn’t think that this theory was necessary to the story as it stood, and with the passage of time it became progressively less likely that anything Neville might have overheard as a toddler would be of any use regarding Voldemort’s present threat.

But at that time it was never clear whether the Longbottom affair was actually a key event to something that we needed to discover, or if it was merely another piece of set-dressing to heighten the “drama”. Indications now are that it was probably the latter.

In an early reading of the matter, I postulated that the whole Longbottom affair may well have been a deliberate kamikaze operation undertaken for the express purpose of discrediting Barty Crouch Sr who was getting dangerously close to becoming the next Minister for Magic.

At that point, such a deliberate sacrifice on the part of the Pensieve Four still looked like a possibility. With the prospect of a ww under Crouch’s leadership, and given his public reputation, the remaining Death Eaters might have seen no hope of their managing to go underground and put their Voldemort years behind them.

Even if his most zealous followers’ hopes were in vain, and Voldemort had indeed been permanently destroyed, Crouch had to be stopped, or they, collectively or individually, had no future to speak of.

The Pensieve Four may even have known perfectly well that the Longbottoms’ had no critical information as to the whereabouts of Lord Voldemort.

Well, that was a very early reading of the situation. By the end of OotP that reading was no longer satisfactory.

It became particularly unsatisfactory after Rowling stated on her official website that the Lestranges had been “sent” after the Longbottoms.

And then never gave us any indication of why, or by whom. And still hasn’t.

• • • •

We had several possibilities there:

One of these is to run with Bellatrix’s statement, made at her sentencing — in which it is made clear that she doesn’t believe Voldemort is dead — and to wonder whether Albus’s statement that his followers do not know about his Horcruxes may have been somewhat more wide of the mark than typical, and that she may be quite aware of exactly why he isn’t dead. (This becomes even more likely given that she was put in charge of protecting the Cup.)

Another is to run with Rowling’s statement on the official site that the Lestranges were “sent” after the Longbottoms.

My main premise here is that somewhere along the line, someone — we do not know who — may have regarded Bella & Co as just too much of a potential loose cannon. As one of the younger crop of Death Eaters, and a personal favorite of the Dark Lord (who she claims trained her in the Dark Arts himself) Bellatrix may not have seen as much action during VoldWar I as she thinks she ought to have, and is still itching to prove herself. She would also have felt cheated of her inevitable glory in the Dark Lord’s service. In short, she was a totally loose cannon that any Death Eater who wanted to keep his head down and make his peace with the Ministry could not afford. She had to be neutralized, and quickly, before she rocked the boat, went looking for the Dark Lord and managed to bring him back.

From this starting point we have three almost equally plausible scenarios which might explain the Longbottom affair.

  1. The first is that it all played out exactly as it appears. Bellatrix and her companions, young (late 20s), rash, and self-deluded, independently managed to convince themselves that the Longbottoms, a pair of popular Aurors, who Voldemort may have expressed some interest in over the last years of his rise, might have information leading to Voldemort’s current whereabouts, and staged the attack unprompted by anyone outside their own little circle. Thereby causing a complete public embarrassment for all their families, and jeopardizing the whole Malfoy/Crouch agreement.
  2. This reading works perfectly well inside of actual canon, but like I say, Rowling stated on her official site that the Lestranges were “sent” to attack the Longbottoms.

    At that point most of us were still inclined to take Rowling at her word.

  3. A second possibility is that somebody, i.e., somebody else as yet unidentified, quickly realized that these particular loose cannons were all too likely to actively go off looking for Voldemort, and that there was a chance that they might find him. Consequently, they needed to be neutralized before they made any progress in that direction. Consequently, the Lestranges were judiciously fed disinformation leading them to the Longbottoms.
  4. Or, Lucius Malfoy orchestrated the affair himself, behind his father’s back, to serve his own purposes. We get every indication that Lucius and Bellatrix had always been rivals. They hate each other’s guts, and you get no impression that this is a recent development. In this scenario Lucius doesn’t even need to have known of young Barty’s involvement in the DE organization.

• • • •

When you stop to consider the matter, looking at the issue from another direction: Lucius has a wife and family. From this point of view, the Lestranges are doubly “inconvenient”.

I really would not bet much on the chances that Lucius was unaware of the fact that with Bellatrix and any hypothetical children of hers solidly out of the running, and fully expecting Sirius Black to die in Azkaban, his own wife and infant son would ultimately become the collateral heirs to whatever remained of the Black fortunes.

The Blacks are an ancient family, but their name is clearly soon to be extinct, and their line also is dwindling to a close. The last living male heir is bunged up in Azkaban, and he won’t be coming home again. Among the female heirs, Bellatrix and Narcissa have the strongest claim upon the family’s remaining holdings.

Lucius is not a complete fool, but he judges other people’s motives by his own. It is also altogether possible that he was fairly certain that although Crouch might make deals, he would just as soon throw Lucius, and his entire “network” into Azkaban and loose the key. Lucius may have feared that if Bellatrix got seriously out of line Crouch might well use that as an excuse to break any agreement that had been struck with his father. For that matter, Lucius may have believed that if Crouch climbed to the top of the Ministry ladder, he might feel that he could afford to dispense with earlier agreements. And Crouch was only one step from the top, and he was ambitious.

Of course one also has to stop and consider the Black fortune itself — including all of the nasty knickknacks — that was not altogether inconsiderable. In this particular equation. Lucius may have largely disregarded any complication presented by the Crouch agreement. If Lucius was behind the incident, his objective could have been solely to eliminate Bellatrix from the line of inheritance.

Mind you, the last thing that Lucius wanted would be to see Crouch completely discredited. Should Crouch be so thoroughly discredited that he would be forced to resign in disgrace, his successor would not be aware of any agreements at all, and Lucius was depending on that agreement to ensure his return to a quiet life without further interference from the Ministry. The best of all possible worlds would be to shed his more dangerous encumbrances while engineering a situation which would leave Crouch exactly where he was for as long as possible. With no backtrail leading to himself.

In which case, he may have miscalculated.

• • • •

Crouch was badly stung in the operation. Barty Jr managed to get himself roped into Bella’s schemes, which, if he had earlier managed to convince his father of his innocence, would explain his father’s bug-eyed fury at his getting publicly caught out. And would, incidentally have painted the Lestranges as oathbreakers. But Abraxus conspicuously kept to his end of their bargain, and Lucius kept his head down.

And so the mater rested, for some time. We do not know how long.

• • • •

We do not know for how long, because we have no direct information whatsoever as to just when Barty Sr was shifted from the Head of the DMLE to the Head of the Department of International Magical cooperation.

It could have been that Crouch was swept up in a general personnel rotation attendant upon Fudge’s installation as Minister, possibly as late as 1990. Or his removal could have been at some other point before we met him. A recent possibility that has arisen is that he may have been shifted due to an altercation between Crouch and Fudge during the course of Harry’s first year at Hogwarts.

In any event, someone authorized a series of raids upon the homes of suspected Dark wizards over the course of that year. Whether this was on the authority of Amelia Bones, who would have been unaware of any gentlemen’s bargains which Crouch might have made, off the record, Fudge upon a hint of possible future increased Dark Arts activity which had been confided to him by Albus Dumbledore, or by Crouch himself is uncertain.

Amelia Bones took Crouch’s place as the head of the DMLE before the opening of GoF. There is a good deal of reason to suppose that Amelia Bones’s appointment to the head of the DMLE was of comparatively recent date. As Pharnabazus points out, we only began hearing of Ministry raids on suspected Dark Wizards’ homes, at the beginning of CoS. He concludes that these raids were made on her authority. He may well be right.

However, if these raids were authorized by the Minister, it is likely that Crouch, who had been in his position since before the end of the war might have raised objections to being left out of the loop. Any altercation between the two would have given the Wizengamot — which Crouch tended to make actively uncomfortable with his unvarying wartime mindset — the excuse they needed to remove him from his office and send him to an internal Coventry where he would be giving grief to wizards in foreign parts instead. To a man of Fudge’s caliber, Crouch, even somewhat discredited, was far too close and far too ambitious for comfort. If Crouch was not reassigned in a general rotation about the time of Fudge’s appointment, he would have probably been shunted to the sidelines fairly soon after Fudge took office.

If Abraxus Malfoy died in an outbreak of dragon pox in early 1992, from that point, all deals were off.

In any case; Lucius (or whoever was behind the business) would have been confident that it would take very little effort on his part to goad Bellatrix into an act of supreme folly and get her out of his way.

One would think that any Auror of the day would probably have had as much information as Frank Longbottom did. So any Auror would have served the purpose insofar as extraction of information goes. (Oh, well, yes, the Lestranges DID probably get at least some information from the Longbottoms — on other subjects of interest — and may have passed it on before they were captured.)

Which raises the question of why target the Longbottoms?

The simplest reading is that the Longbottoms were specifically targeted because of their popularity, or more likely because Voldemort had shown an interest in the family during the last phase of his rise. We did have it from Rowling, posted on her original site that the Lestranges were not aware of the Prophesy.

Actually, Voldemort would have taken great care that most of his followers were not aware of that Prophecy. But as Aurors and members of Dumbledore’s Order (which was NOT a secret society in VoldWar I) the Longbottoms might have been desirable targets in any case. Unless we can assume a purely personal grudge upon the part of the Lestranges against the Longbottoms — which is always a possibility in such a tight-knit society as the wizarding world.

In any case, Neville may very well have had a few more mysteries about him, but obsolete information on the former whereabouts of VaporMort is not one of them.

• • • •

Well, on this particular subject of why the Longbottoms, my fellow-traveler, the theorist known as Swythyv raised a question (in an e-mail) that seems worth exploring. Much of this reasoning is also explored in the essay of “The Longbottom Affair”, in the ‘Missed Opportunities’ sub-collection.

The chief question is; how did Albus know that VaporMort was lurking in Albania?

For the purpose of building a comprehensive backstory, “Because JKR says so” just doesn’t quite cut it, does it?

Admittedly, by the time the series ended, given the numbers of witches and wizards who seemed to be determined to go there, it was beginning to sound like going to Albania is very much along the same lines as holidaying on the Rivera. But that certainly doesn’t explain why Tom decided to hole up there for the entire period that he was without a body. For that matter, his whole modus operandi in flitting off to Albania to haunt a forest comes across as decidedly counter-productive, given that he seems to have floated off there and then been determined to just wait it out until someone came and offered him a ride back. (Which all puts me rather in mind of; “...and their pants fell down, and they all ran off to Bare-Bottomland!”)

Surely it would have been easier for him to take possession of the body of someone who had been administered the Dementor’s Kiss, and sneak off under another identity without making such a nonsensical fuss about it.

And how is Albus supposed to have figured out where he went? Rowling has a really bad record of keeping track of who knew what, when, but this is a particularly long stretch. And yet Albus seems to have had no hesitation in stating at the end of CoS that Tom was off haunting a forest in Albania.

For the record, I am pretty sure that Albus had been keeping that forest monitored by some procedure well in advance of PS/SS, or how else would he have known he was going to need to set up something like the Philosopher’s Stone scam by the time QuirrellMort set foot in Britain?

Albus didn’t know anything about the hunt for the Ravenclaw diadem, after all. Helena Ravenclaw never made a confidante out of him. And even though Tom may have spent anything up to a decade in Albania searching for the diadem, it doesn’t explain why he should have been drawn back there when his own curse backfired on him.

And where might such a clue to his whereabouts have come from?

Well, Swythyv raised the possibility that the Albanian connection may have come up during one of Crouch’s questioning sessions with one of the apprehended DEs. I immediately skipped ahead and started taking a closer look at Igor Karkaroff.

Karkaroff is one of the DEs who is about of an age with Tom Riddle himself, and along with possibly Doholof and maybe a couple of others, he also seems to have originally been from eastern Europe. That is the general catchment area for Durmstrang, after all. There is every likelihood that he first took up with Tom during the period that Tom was off playing Indiana Riddle in the forests of Albania, searching for the fabled lost treasure of Ravenclaw. Especially if my suspicion that Albania has a lively wizarding tourist trade is on target. If it is a popular destination for wizards from Britain, it is likely to be even more so among the wizards of eastern Europe.

Information that Tom had spent several years in a particular foreign country could be enough to at least suggest that he might have gone back there. For that matter, given the amount of time he spent there, it might suggest that he had acquired some property there. Which I certainly think is likely.

Albus does have a quick imagination, and a fair degree of intuition as well. We may not know the method he used, but I think he did manage to get some form of monitoring set up in the vicinity of the area that Tom had formerly been so familiar with. And whatever the method was, it registered something.

Wizards don’t seem to have an extradition policy. Karkaroff was arrested and sentenced in Britain. Nor does he seem to have made much of a fuss over that to his own government so long as Tom was still alive and kicking.

But the minute his Dark mark disappeared, Igor was clamoring to make a plea bargain. The hearing that we witnessed was a fairly large one, even if it wasn’t exactly a matter of public record. It was probably made before the whole Wizengamot and much of the DMLE. Although not the press.

But, even though Crouch agreed to let Karkaroff out of Azkaban, you might well imagine that he would have hauled him over the coals more than once, grilling him about the entire period of his association with Riddle before he turned him loose to leave Britain. And he probably would not have been doing it alone.

Under normal circumstances, you would expect a high-ranking Auror like Moody to have taken a part in the proceedings. But Moody had been the one to have arrested Karkaroff, and Crouch was probably not quite tactless enough to have involved him in the procedures attendant to his release. Frank Longbottom seems to have been a well-known and high-profile Auror. Crouch might have considered him a very reasonable second choice.

And even though I doubt that Crouch was any more fond of Albus than Albus was of him, he at least would have been confident that Albus was just as opposed to Lord Voldemort as he was. And, for that matter, we do not know for certain whether the Ministry-employed Order members were particularly forthcoming about their involvement with Albus’s little band of vigilantes during VoldWar I, either. Crouch may not have realized that the Longbottoms might be leaking information to Albus. And, indeed, they may not have been. But, again, they might. Albus has to have learned it somewhere.

In any case, it would have been easy enough for young Barty to find out who had taken part in questioning Karkaroff before he was released.

And, unlike Karkaroff, Longbottom was still in Britain.

• • • •

I do contend that even if Rowling hadn’t given us the statement that the Longbottoms were targeted by a 3rd party, somebody’s real purpose for that whole exercise was almost certainly to get shut of a potential embarrassment to his own best advantage. But to someone who knew of Barty Jr’s loyalties, discrediting Crouch is still a real possibility.

By goading the Lestranges to publicly commit the sort of atrocity which would get the whole wizarding world — now slipping into complacency after Voldemort’s defeat — up in arms, he would be setting a stage in which Barty Jr, who, if nothing else, was a superb actor, could be trusted to enact the unjustly accused (possibly) innocent victim to as wide an audience as possible, in an attempt to save his own skin. The Pensieve Four would thereby place Crouch’s father into a no-win situation, and whichever action Crouch Sr decided to take the matter, he was going to end up looking bad.

But yet, on yet a third hand, just any Auror of the day was not necessarily yet another distant Black family connection, either. As Frank Longbottom seems to be. In fact, he also appears to be in the succession for the Black family holdings, although his claim was not as strong as Bellatrix’s and Narcissa’s. (And, for that matter, on the strength of the dodgy family tapestry sketch, the same can be said of Harry Potter, and the Crouches.)

Whatever the backstory of the Longbottom affair might have been, (or whichever possibility you prefer) the Lestranges could hardly have gone into it with their eyes completely shut. They had to have been aware of the probable cost to themselves. They had Crouch Sr’s track record to work from and they had narrowly “talked their way out of Azkaban” once already, and this stunt was bound to cancel out any bargaining chip that they had used to do it. If they were caught, they were not going to be let off a second time.

It is uncertain whether Crouch Jr realized exactly what he was agreeing to let himself in for. But he was young enough for the grand gesture of martyrdom to have its own appeal. Particularly if he could bring down his hated father by embracing it.

Or else they all really were arrogant enough to believe that they simply wouldn’t get caught.

We also know nothing of the circumstances of their capture. They could have been apprehended just as they were on the point of departing for Albania, themselves.

We have already been told that Sirius Black was not the only suspect to be imprisoned without trial. However, the amount of publicity attached to the Longbottom affair, and the fact that the attack was carried out after the war was officially over guaranteed that Crouch Sr wasn’t going to be able to get away with that particular maneuver this time. They were all assured of at least some form of a trial.

The possibility that the Lestranges and Crouch Jr deliberately put themselves into Azkaban seems to be supported by Bellatrix Lestrange’s grandiose statement at their sentencing. However, now that we’ve met the lady a few times more, it appears just as likely that she was merely making a grand empty gesture in the face of the inevitable.

And even if Barty Jr did understand when he agreed to it that he was engaged on what would turn out to be a suicide mission, the full horror of what this entailed was not clear to him until he was actually in the custody of the Dementors. Several months’ influence of the Dementors, followed by a decade under Imperius as his father’s prisoner were quite enough to turn his mind altogether. It is no wonder that he sincerely loathed any of his former fellows who hadn’t the nerve to go to Azkaban for their Dark Lord’s sake; with a particularly rich store of resentment reserved for Lucius Malfoy, that he was willing to take out on the man’s son.

I’ll admit that I do find that suggestive.

The news that Crouch Jr was still alive and in his father’s custody was a piece of genuine buried treasure in Bertha Jorkins’s damaged memory. Not that her more up-to-date, surface information regarding the revival of the TriWizard Tournament and the hiring of Alastor Moody as the new DADA teacher at Hogwarts was at all to be despised either. Pettigrew had been able to fill his Master in on nearly everything else of importance that had been going down in the British wizarding world from the night at Godric’s Hollow, right up to the evening that he made his escape from Hogwarts. (Although he doesn’t seem to have mentioned the Diary.) Peter had been keeping a whisker in the spy game from his refuge with the Weasleys over the entire period, and he heard pretty much everything that was floating around in public domain, as well as whatever spin that the Ministry had put on it, but he did not know of these more recent events. Between the two of them, Jorkins’s and Pettigrew’s information was invaluable in bringing Tom up to speed.

Therefore, Voldemort was well aware that the Lestranges and young Crouch had gone to Azkaban and that they had tried to get whatever information the Aurors of the time may have had as to his whereabouts. The news of Barty’s escape and imprisonment by his father spoke loudly in favor of his continued loyalty, since that loyalty had remained uncompromised by his having made any kind of peace with either his father or with the Ministry.

Consequently, the Pensieve Four’s suicide mission had succeeded in its covert objective, if there was any such covert objective. Crouch was soon being viewed with grave misgivings by the cooler heads at the Ministry, and in the Wizengamot, and his chances of becoming the next Minister for Magic gradually faded from the realm of the possible. At some point, probably around the time Cornelius Fudge took office, or soon after, he was shunted sideways into the Department of International Magical Cooperation, where his unwavering fixation over the hunt for Dark wizards could be a source of less potential embarrassment, or potential damage to the Ministry’s reputation.

• • • •

In point of fact, I now suspect that Crouch’s “fixation” was no greater than it ever had been, but was merely the spin that the Prophet put on it (assisted by the formidable Rita, no doubt). The perceptions of the Wizengamot, and of the wizarding world in general had become so accustomed to a world without He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, that Barty Crouch’s “constant vigilance” must have made them all highly uncomfortable. One recalls that Alastor Moody also “retired” right about the same time we first were introduced to Barty Crouch Sr, as the Head of International Magical Cooperation.

One now wonders whether Moody’s retirement was altogether voluntary, either. It should be noted that no new candidates had been accepted into the Auror training program after 1991, when Nymphadora Tonks began her training under Moody. And that he retired immediately after she and her cohort passed their final qualifications suggests that the Wizengamot saw little need to recruit new Aurors. By 1994 Fudge would have consolidated his position as Minister.

As to the timing of Crouch’s transfer; At this point it is still somewhat uncertain. Bertha Jorkins, according to Percy Weasley had been in “our Department” at the time her memory had been damaged, which would indicate that Crouch had already been removed from his position as the Head of the DMLE. But we do not know how long poor Bertha had been getting underfoot in Bagman’s office before her eventual disappearance.

Her transfer into Bagman’s office has all the earmarks of a bit of spite on Crouch’s part. He despised Bagman and had probably never been convinced by his bluff, “unwitting tool” story. For the record, neither am I, although unlike Crouch, I do admit it’s certainly possible.

• • • •

Meanwhile, we were left with the default impression (possibly completely erroneous) that the removal of Crouch Sr from the running back in 1982–’83 had thrown the position of Minister for Magic wide open for the taking. We went through the whole “3-year summer” with the impression that the office was pretty much up for grabs by whichever faction was able to insert their own candidate. We were also left with the impression that the first two names that had been being spoken of regarding it were those of Dumbledore, who didn’t want it, and Crouch who was no longer being considered.

In point of fact, there seems to have been no uncertainly regarding the office in 1982–’83 at all. It is altogether possible that Crouch’s whole power grab was an attempt at a “palace coup” that failed. Which would further raise the likelihood that he had eventually been removed from his position at the head of the DMLE in order to keep him from being in a position to make further mischief. We have certainly heard no suggestion that the Death Eaters still in circulation at the time had a viable candidate of their own, and we know nothing whatsoever about the background of Millicent Bagnole.

Millicent Bagnole!? Who the hell is Millicent Bagnole?

Millicent Bagnole was the previous Minister for Magic. The one before Fudge. The one who seems (according to the WOMBAT information on Rowling’s now long-departed first official website) to have taken office just before the end of VoldWar I. She certainly held the office back in the late 1980s. It says so right there in Order of the Phoenix.

We still have no idea who held the position during most of the war.

• • • •

Which, at long last, brings us to Cornelius Fudge.

On my first reading of the series, like many other readers by the end of GoF I was absolutely convinced that Fudge had been the Death Eaters’ candidate, for he had certainly been their tool.

But, even before the release of Order of the Phoenix three years later, I was no longer so solidly convinced of this. For, while it is no mystery to any reader as to just whose pocket Fudge had been living in lately, or whose purposes his official actions or policies were serving, there were clues scattered throughout the series up to that point which suggest that this had by no means always been the case. It even began to seem quite believable that Fudge might be neither “ever-so-evil” nor even simply “ever-so-stupid”. It could believably have been that he really was merely “ever-so-weak-and-unlucky”. Just how much do we really know of the man?

Fudge states, in the course of the PoA eavesdropping scene at the Three Broomsticks, that he was a Junior Minister in the Dept. of Magical Catastrophes on the day that Sirius Black was arrested, the day after Voldemort’s fall, and that Fudge was one of the first people on the scene to witness the arrest. We don’t know how long afterward the Crouch/Lestrange trial took place, but I would imagine that it took place by the start of the following year.

There had certainly been no question of Fudge becoming Minister for Magic at that point. Even if the sitting Minister had been making any noises about retiring — which she wasn’t, Bagnole had only taken office a year or so earlier — Crouch had seemed enough of a sure thing as the next choice for the top spot that discrediting him might have left a fine window of opportunity for anyone who was poised to use it, but Fudge was far too junior a player at that point for it to have been him.

At the time of the Longbottom affair Fudge was largely unknown to the greater wizarding public. Inside the Ministry, his position was high enough for quite a few people to have some idea of who he was, but not high enough for many to really “know” him.

What is more; Fudge didn’t even become Minister for Magic until Harry was nearly ready to start Hogwarts.

TThat’s right. Not until 1990. Or, more accurately, “five years ago” from the vantage point of the beginning of the autumn term of Harry’s 5th year.

Admittedly, that little nugget of information was tucked into an article in the Quibbler, but the date that the current Minister for Magic took office is the kind of matter of public record that even the Quibbler is unlikely to have got wrong. And this information throws a number of people’s previous speculations about Fudge right out the window.

Rereading the Three Broomsticks eavesdropping scene in PoA, something else struck me.

Cornelius Fudge speaks with a remarkable degree of authority about James and Lily’s private lives and friendships. Things which do not make much sense coming from a casual observer. How would he know that?

I do rather think that unless Rowling was simply putting words into Fudge’s mouth because someone needed to say them and he happened to be there, or the private lives of the poor, tragic, young Potters was tabloid news for long enough that “everyone” knew these details — which doesn’t seem to be the case, since it is apparently NOT widely known that they were in hiding under the Fidelius Charm and that Black was supposed to have been their Secret Keeper — and Fudge admits that he was dropping classified information when he speaks of it — we may have been overlooking a fairly important clue. But I am unwilling to stake any specific amount on what it’s being a clue about. Possibly of nothing more than that we’re dealing with an author who has a weakness for cutting corners and indulging herself with episodes of “because I say so.”

Or that the Dept of Magical Catastrophes had made a fairly intensive investigation of the events that took place in Godric’s Hollow, which Fudge, reasonably highly-placed in the management of that Dept would have had access to, and enough interest in his own Department’s doings to have thoroughly made himself familiar with.

The fact that at that point in time just about everyone in the British WW had an intense interest in those events, of course had nothing to do with it.

Fudge had no doubt been eating out on the strength of such “inside information” for months afterward.

• • • •

One possibility is that even though Fudge seems unlikely to have been a member of Dumbledore’s Order, he might well have been a lot more deeply in Dumbledore’s councils during VoldWar I, or since then, than we’ve otherwise been led to understand. If this is the case, that description of Dumbledore’s “suddenly looking at Fudge as if he had not seen him before” in response to Fudge having deliberately brought a Dementor into the castle in GoF may have a lot more context than a surface reading would give us. It is possible that Dumbledore has just realized that he just made another of his huge mistakes.

Albus hasn’t been paying attention to Fudge; this inattention has unwittingly lost him an ally to subversion and he may be seeing ghosts of the past. In particular the ghost of a young man by the name of Peter Pettigrew. Dumbledore certainly adjusts his thinking without hesitation after realizing this, for by the time Fudge storms off in a huff Dumbledore is clearly convinced that Fudge is not to be trusted and is no longer surprised by any of Fudge’s obstructionism.

But what now appears most likely to me is that back in the days that he was blamelessly fulfilling the peter principle in the Department of Magical Catastrophes, Cornelius Fudge was probably a fairly effective gatherer of information (he is certainly an incorrigible gossip). Much of the data regarding the Potters is likely to have been collected in the investigation of the damage to the House in Godric’s Hollow, which his Department would reasonably have been called in to conduct. And he has forgotten little of that data in the ensuing 12 years. Although he had probably refreshed his memory by rereading all of the case files since Sirius’s escape from Azkaban. I am growing inclined to think that a younger Cornelius Fudge was probably a passably honest civil servant, and a staunch supporter of the Ministry of the day, without the slightest suspicion of Death Eater associations to taint his reputation.

In those days, along with much of the rest of the wizarding public, he would have also been a great admirer of Albus Dumbledore. And for that matter, he has probably been dining out on his association with the Headmaster ever since he took office. But Fudge is not an intrinsically clever man, nor one of strong character. And he has a fatal flaw. He loves — truly loves — to be regarded as important.

It was not a hunger for Power, in the Slytherin style, that opened the way to the subversion of Cornelius Fudge. It is an abiding thirst for Glory, a characteristically Gryffindor weakness. Over the first four books Fudge has demonstrated at every appearance that he clearly delights in basking in the importance of being the Minister for Magic. He loves to address the public, to give speeches to the masses, statements to the press. He revels in being in the public eye and to be seen rubbing shoulders with the wealthy and influential. But until Dolores Umbridge started playing the Fisherman’s Wife in year 5, he shows remarkably little eagerness for actually exercising the power to do what a Minister does — which is to impose legislation upon his constituency.

No, this he did not do until he was called upon to do so in support of one of his (comparatively few) personal allies — at which point he responded with blind faith in her reading of the situation. And I think that by the end of GoF, those few allies had become his handlers and controllers. And, to a large extent his wardens.

• • • •

As to Fudge’s steps leading downward;

In the first book we are told only that Fudge is a bumbler, deeply dependent upon Dumbledore’s guidance, requesting his help at every turn. This becomes somewhat more understandable once we realize that he is rather young for his job, and it was his first year in office. And as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, Dumbledore may effectively be his boss. Possibly even his patron.

The possibility that Albus, knowing that Voldemort’s supporters were only an owl away, and that he could hardly ban Quirrell from the Owlery, may have dropped a hint that there was a slight chance of an increase in Dark Arts activity in the near future, also leads one to wonder whether many of the owls which Dumbledore received from Fudge over the year may have been related to the sudden upsurge in raids on the homes of suspected Dark wizards, undertaken on Fudge’s authority.

In Chamber of Secrets, Fudge’s instincts were still to blindly support Dumbledore. When first pressed, he even ineffectively attempts to oppose Malfoy, although he soon knuckles under to Malfoy’s pressure.

He was still playing pig-in-the-middle at the opening of PoA. He approved Lupin’s hiring, he brushed the Aunt Marge imbroglio under the rug. But he still surrounded the school with Dementors and he is beginning to act with more confidence in his own authority each time he comes on stage. Something or someone was clearly bolstering his self-esteem throughout this period. And I think that particular someone’s name was probably Dolores Umbridge.

And she had help. Lucius Malfoy had suffered a major setback at the end of CoS when he was removed from the Hogwarts Board of Governors. From every indication at our disposal, I seriously doubt that the reason for his removal was made public. (And why the hell not?) From all subsequent indications, he seems to have been improving the shining hour since that point by making inroads inside the Ministry itself, using his son’s injury by an enraged hippogryff as a pretext to camp out at the Ministry and get a handle on Fudge. And, perhaps more to the point, Fudge’s personal staff.

Crouch, who is no longer heading the DMLE by that time is not in a position to object to this breech of his old agreement with the Malfoys, since he himself is no longer in a position to protect Malfoy and his “clients” from Ministry raids. And besides, he can hardly fault a father for attempting to personally see to it that a dangerous beast which has injured his child is disposed of.

I think that this was the real turning point in Fudge’s alliances, and I will go so far as to suggest that the main event that brought it about is that, behind the scenes, probably at some point during Year 3, Lucius Malfoy had managed to enlist the support of Fudge’s chief assistant, Dolores Umbridge. Who has a great deal less general good-will than her boss, and is certainly far more ruthless.

I also very much suspect that Madam Umbridge has always cordially disliked Albus Dumbledore, loathed his values, and deplored his influence upon Minister Fudge. To be given tacit permission to take an active hand in lessening that influence would have been a goal right up her alley.

It was also during year 3 that Fudge was being encouraged to spend a great deal of his time in the company of Dementors “for his protection”. This will hardly have had a beneficial effect upon his judgment, either.

Sirius Black’s escape from Azkaban seems to have offered Malfoy a very nice window of opportunity. Just about every time we saw Fudge in PoA he had a Dementor or two in tow. I suspect that this was at Malfoy’s urging, presenting the rationale that as a man who was on the scene at Black’s capture, Fudge stood second in risk only to Harry Potter, and that as the guards of Azkaban prison the Dementors were the very best “protection” that a man in Fudge’s dangerous position would be able to find.

You cannot be around Dementors for any length of time without them having an effect on you. Even if they are not actively feeding on your emotions. By the end of the book Fudge’s judgment had to have become compromised by their continued presence. Nor do we know how long it took after Sirius’s escape from Hogwarts before Fudge dared to dispense with this “protection”, although he had better sense than to bring one to the World Cup. (At which point unmistakable Death Eater activity broke out and the Dark Mark was sent up over the campgrounds. Re-call the guards...)

By the fourth book Fudge is popping out with “Lucius Malfoy says” on just about every conceivable occasion, summoning Dementors and bringing them into the castle, and by the end of the book is vigorously opposing Dumbledore directly.

At which point Albus finally woke up and realized that the horse had disappeared over the horizon and the barn doors were standing wide open and undefended.

As to the other events of Goblet of Fire; I also rather suspect that Lucius Malfoy has a seat on the Board of the Daily Prophet, and it seems clear that Rita Skeeter’s nasty smear campaign painting Dumbledore as a senile old dingbat, and her gradual recalibrating of the public attention drawn to Harry Potter from Tragic Hero to “disturbed adolescent” over the course of year four was at Malfoy’s direction. Despite every opportunity to know better, I rather suspect that Fudge has always tended to believe whatever he reads in the Prophet.

I think it is abundantly clear, in hindsight, that Fudge had been well and truly got at, and that this probably had taken place fairly recently. Because — as he says himself at the end of Book 4, he had actively supported Dumbledore, and most of Dumbledore’s more controversial decisions right down the line, right up to that very point.

But for the past year and more, between Malfoy and Umbridge, they had Fudge surrounded, while Albus was taking him for granted. The silly little man never had a chance. And once Harry spilled the beans about a return of the Dark Lord, over Year 5 Malfoy and Umbridge, between them, were keeping Fudge on a very short leash.

This subversion was accomplished quite deliberately, and quite recently, and throughout the events of OotP, it is abundantly clear that Fudge was dancing to Dolores’s tune every bit as eagerly as to Malfoy’s. If not more.

• • • •

Madam Umbridge is not an intelligent woman and she may be a crude plotter, but she is very quick to react to any new information that threatens her agenda (although she usually acts ineffectively and in excess of the actual requirements). Although we were given no clear indication that she knowingly supported Voldemort prior to DHs, the final book revealed that she may be related to at least one DE, and possibly several of them (I gather that Pottermore indicates not, but I do not regard Pottermore as even remotely canon). What was always evident, however, is that she was every bit as ready as the hardest-line Death Eater to use whatever methods appear to be the quickest means to bring about her goals. And the legality or ethics of those methods is immaterial to her.

Until DHs, (and more to the point, Pottermore) we did not even know whether Madam Umbridge was, herself, a pureblood witch — although we had been led to draw such a conclusion from her associations. But she could also have been one of those well-established halfbloods who the pureblood faction are so conspicuously gracious as to consider “useful”. They will have used this particular line of flattery before. Patronage is a very powerful tool. Particularly in a society such as that which runs the wizarding world.

What is unquestionable is that Madam Umbridge is not at all as clever as she thinks she is. Particularly once she starts dealing with people who are intellectually a few cuts above Fudge.

Her fixation on part-humans seemed odd, however. And appeared to be both a weakness, and a very curious one. We have no clear understanding as yet as to just how widespread this view — at her level of intensity — is within the WW, or whether this is a view particular to a specific faction within it. My own gut-level response was that it might have been a preoccupation of halfbloods who are grasping at the straw of their humanity as their own particular badge of superiority. (Although the existence of the likes of Fenrir Greyback at least explains the public’s horror of werewolves.) In the wake of DHs it is clear that Rowling has disappointed us by rendering it into merely another overwrought example of how bigotry is not nice, and only stupid people believe in it.

We did know that this was a view that is at least to some degree shared, but not whether Umbridge’s iteration of this obsession was an exaggerated form of this particular prejudice limited to herself, or whether there is an actual political faction which upholds such views and attempts to dictate Ministry policy accordingly. There were certainly enough people willing to go along with it once the DEs took control of the Ministry and gave Umbridge her own Department to run. How many of them were just “following orders”, we cannot say. But she blinkered herself with her prejudices even more thoroughly than does Professor Snape.

We also saw in OotP that once she was in an actual position of power, rather than merely as a trusted assistant who must answer to someone else for her actions, she was out of her depth and over the ensuing months managed to lose her head altogether. By the end of the book she had become a caricature of herself. (As happened again in DHs. Albus was certainly correct in that there are some people who simply cannot be trusted with power over others.)

If we can believe even a quarter of the Quibbler’s aspersions regarding Fudge’s dealings with the Goblins, it is beginning to look to me as if it may well have been Umbridge’s crowd who originally put Fudge into office.

With little or no opposition from either Malfoy (who hasn’t a seat on the Wizengamot) & Co., who saw little to object to, and much that they might ultimately be able to work with, or Dumbledore, who saw a decent record in the Magical Catastrophes Department, and an affable, if admittedly lightweight character with a fair amount of personal good-will, who would, most important of all, be easily impressed, and willing to take direction. Fudge’s own background seems compatible with that of the more open-minded of the pureblood faction, at least as far as it applies to fully human wizards, even if his background is probably not up to the standards of the Blacks. I suspect very few of the current pureblood faction are up to the standards of the Blacks. His having been proposed for the position of Minister may even have originally been a sop to wizarding unity.

And Malfoy’s faction evidently saw no reason to attempt to displace him, when subverting him was just as easily accomplished.

And, if Fudge turned out to be something that fell through the cracks while Dumbledore was occupied with Harry and Sirius Black, at least Dumbledore realizes this by the end of Goblet of Fire.

• • • •

It was no surprise to me that the main conflict throughout Order of the Phoenix was not between Harry and Voldemort, but between Dumbledore and the Ministry. That situation was one that it appeared to be absolutely essential to reconcile before we were ever likely to see any possible progress on the flashier half of the problem represented by Lord Voldemort. Unfortunately, I expected that once it was reconciled, the situation we got would be an improvement.

No such luck. But at least Albus and his supporters were no longer effectively outlaws leading double lives.

The Ministry and Dumbledore were scarcely working together through HBP, but at least they were both on the same page over the need to address the problem of Lord Voldemort.

One question left unanswered is; If subverting Fudge was so easily accomplished, why did it take the Death Eaters so long to get around to it? He was in office for nearly three years before Malfoy put any determined efforts into it.

For that matter, if all it needed was to get one official in a key position under Imperius to take over the whole Ministry, why did it take the DEs two whole years to accomplish that?

And why didn’t they do that in the first war?

• • • •

We heard very little (and that little primarily from Draco) regarding Lucius Malfoy prior to CoS. At which point we learned that there had been a series of raids of suspected Dark wizard’s homes. From then, until the end of OotP, even when he wasn’t directly under our noses, Lucius Malfoy had been hovering about on the edges throughout every single book and there was simply no avoiding him. Well, now it seems we know why. As of the opening of CoS, the Ministry is being a nuisance, the Dark Lord and his own father are out of the reckoning. The way seems to be clear for him to make his own bid for power, and he was putting his ducks in a row to do it.

Although once the Dark Mark went up over the World Cup campgrounds, he must have realized that his timing couldn’t have been worse. But by then he was too committed to his own power grab to withdraw from it, and he knew that Voldemort would probably just co-opt any useful efforts he managed to set under way, and consider it his due.

If he was lucky, that is. He also has the loss of the Diary hanging over his head.

So he had just best soldier on and hope that he will be lucky.

As for Fudge; clearly he knew nothing of Voldemort’s impending return. How could he if his loyalty to Albus was only recently undermined by Malfoy? He does not bear the Dark Mark. He didn’t even know what it was. And I do not think that Malfoy ever filled him in on just what their “mutual” objectives really were. It was Malfoy that Fudge had chosen to follow, not Voldemort.

As to the scene in the Hospital wing at the end of GoF, we’re limited by Harry’s reading of the situation, but the announcement of Voldemort’s return seems to have genuinely stunned and appalled Fudge.

But the “strange smile” that Harry notes once Fudge realizes that Dumbledore is serious about Voldemort’s return was highly disturbing. That was clearly the point at which Rita Skeeter’s groundwork and Umbridge’s undermining of Albus paid off. And by the end of the confrontation Fudge is actively and consciously opposing Dumbledore with everything he’s got. After that point Fudge only let his defenses down briefly in one last futile plea to get Dumbledore to say that it really wasn’t so. And that single last plea makes the situation just all the more disturbing.

I think that it is pretty clear to the reader that at that point Fudge had solidly thrown in his lot with Malfoy.

Whether or not he believed he had no other choice is uncertain. Whether he suddenly realized that it might actually be possible to profit from supporting Voldemort, is even less certain, as well as far less likely. But he has probably always believed that he could profit from supporting Malfoy.

And he had clearly chosen to cut himself loose from Dumbledore.

With prejudice.

• • • •

Rowling stated in the World Book Day interview in March of 2004 that there was to be a new Minister of Magic before the end of the series. And most of us were sure this would come as a relief.

Our relief was short-lived.

Bringing us to Rufus Scrimegeour, former Head of Aurors, whom Albus Dumbledore flatly refused to work with from the get-go.

It is almost enough to force one to wonder if Dumbledore’s determination to have Voldemort’s return publicly acknowledged was a tactical blunder. Voldemort seemed to be willing to keep his head down and do nothing to rock the boat so long as the Ministry was prepared to deny that he was out there. But I daresay that wasn’t a situation which we could have trusted to last much longer than it did. I suspect it may have been a tactical blunder for the progress of the books that it lasted as long as it did, too. But that is an issue for another day and another essay.

I will have to admit that over the course of HBP I found myself becoming ever more disturbed by the prospect of Rufus Scrimgeour.

More so than turned out to be warranted. But still.

I also still think that, properly handled, there wasn’t a single function that the puppet Minister, Pius Thickness served in the series that Rufus Scrimgeour couldn’t have performed. And done it better.

The fact is that the very circumstances of Scrimgeour’s appointment were already highly suspect. The Wizengamot’s hand was clearly forced. And by the time the appointment had to be made, they didn’t have a particularly broad field of choices did they? Someone had already made sure of that.

And over the previous year while the Ministry was doing a fine imitation of an ostrich, you have to wonder just how much the middle-management and 2nd-rankers in the organization had been watching their own backs.

Well, we know who was jerking Fudge’s strings. If Malfoy had managed to survive the raid on the DoM without being captured, he might even have been permitted to go on doing it.

But we sure didn’t know whether anyone was tugging on Scrimgeour’s strings. Or who that anyone might have been. And I, for one, would certainly not have counted the possibility out.

Rowling doesn’t seem to have thought of that. Which was a pity. We might have had a more believable story otherwise.

None of Scrimgeour’s policies or actions since he took office seem to have really helped much, did they? A whole year of “new leadership” and the whole situation had only got worse. When you come right down to it, Scrimgeour’s decisions were of even less practical use than Fudge’s policy of official denial.

In Fudge we have a rather silly, pompous, affable little man who clearly treats his staff extremely well, and trusts them implicitly. Percy Weasley, who worships competence and order idolized Crouch Sr, but he seems to have managed to sincerely like and respect Fudge as well. *sigh* We really ought to take more notice of Percy’s opinions. Young as he is, he is turning out to be not so very bad a judge of character that he cannot recognize good character even if it’s weak. (Although he can certainly be deceived by female manipulations. Molly is a bully, not a manipulator.) And he is properly appreciative of any sort of kindness.

Rufus Scrimgeour was none of the above. His character was neither strong, nor good, for all that he could manage an illusion of strength. This was also a man who demonstrated that he would ruthlessly use his own staff’s personal lives to further his own ends. Without compunction or regard for their circumstances, or their feelings. I do not think that Percy particularly respected Scrimgeour. He had already been handed good reason not to. And there was certainly no kindness there.

But Harry was wrong again when he hastily categorized Rufus Scrimgeour as “just like Barty Crouch”. Scrimgeour wasn’t half as effective as Barty Crouch. And I definitely don’t think that he was the first pick for his job.

We don’t know exactly what the hierarchy is in the MoM. But everybody’s favorite candidate, Amelia Bones would have headed the short list for MfM after Fudge’s ouster. In fact, she would have been far higher up the short list than Scrimgeour. She was head of the whole DMLE, He was just the Chief Auror or some such.

So, what if Amelia was already the designated new MfM?

I’m pretty sure she was. Unofficially.

Well, she was murdered almost immediately after Fudge refused Voldemort’s ultimatum to step aside in his favor, wasn’t she? Before he even officially resigned.

And Malfoy would have been in a position and very well able to report that Amelia looked like turning into a problem all the way back the previous summer, after she cast her vote at Harry’s disciplinary hearing. I rather think she was on Voldemort’s short list as well.

But Tom was prepared to keep his head down and not rouse any suspicions for as long as the Ministry would oblige him by refusing to admit that he was back. You’ll notice that poor Amelia didn’t survive a month after they finally admitted he was back. And it was rumored that he had killed her personally.

She had only been killed the previous week when Scrimgeour had his interview with the Muggle PM. And Scrimgeour had only just been drafted into the job. He was the Brand New MfM when he made that visit to Downing St.

He’d only had the position for a couple of days.

Indeed; that had been one hell of a busy week. Voldemort abruptly surfaced to demand that Fudge step aside in his favor, which was an outrageous enough demand for even Fudge to grow a backbone and refuse.

This was followed by two highly publicized murders, a very public collapse of a Muggle bridge and a Giant attack in the West Country. Fudge resigns in disgrace and the Wizengamot is caught on the hop, having to scramble to find a replacement. Of an unripe crop, Scrimgeour as head of the Aurors division looks like the best pick available. That could have been deliberate. Particularly if high-ranking open supporters of Albus Dumbledore had been culled over the previous year.

Practically the first thing Scrimgeour does is to have a meeting that escalates into an altercation with Dumbledore. There was no hint of a blasted hand in the opening of the article reporting the disagreement, and one would think that someone would have mentioned that, if Albus’s misadventure with the Ring had happened by that time. A day or two after quarreling with Dumbledore, Rufus sets up a meeting with the Muggle Prime Minister.

And for that matter, the whole situation with Scrimgeour just looks odd to me.

Scrimgeour seems to have parachuted into the MfM’s office with no trusted staff of his own to support him. I have worked in Civil Service myself for long enough for that alone to look Damned Odd. The Chief of the Auror’s division was high-ranking enough that he certainly ought to have a staff of his own. One he could depend upon. Was it suggested to him that he not take them with him? Or had he already alienated all of them?

Was it not only Albus who couldn’t work with the man?

In fact, Scrimgeour was drafted into the top job and it was a sufficiently large leap in position that he not only inherited Fudge’s staff, but Fudge himself was actually kept on as an advisor. I will hazard that that would NOT have been the case if it had been Amelia who was suddenly the new MfM. The Wizengamot may not have been giving Scrimgeour a full vote of confidence here.

And the tone of the whole action over HBP, and the (steadily eroding) relationship between Dumbledore and the Ministry would probably have been very different if Amelia Bones had been Minister.

• • • •

But to my eye, that whole set-up in the Minister’s office was suspiciously off-kilter.

Fudge had to resign. There was no way that he could have been kept on as Minister.

But the Wizengamot owes him. It was their directives that he had followed over the preceding year. They were willing to authorize all of those frivolous and pernicious educational decrees interfering with the operation of Hogwarts that he brought to them on Madam Umbridge’s say-so. They wanted Dumbledore discredited, and Fudge served as their point man.

And we do not know whose doing on the Wizengamot it was to replace Fudge, with whom Albus was still, despite it all, probably willing to work, with Scrimgeour with whom he wouldn’t.

Over year 6 I wouldn’t have counted on the Ministry employees who are also members of the Order being able to continue to do double-duty unimpeded, either.

I certainly wouldn’t have counted on Harry getting the enthusiastic support of the Ministry over the course of Book 7. Even if Scringeour had been still in place.

In the event, that last was one of the very few issues upon which Rowling actually managed to surprise me in DHs. And it was a straightforward case of; “fool me twice, shame on me.” After having resoundingly had it proved that he had not been crying wolf all through year 5, I was sure that when Harry gave his account of what happened on top of the Astronomy tower he would be believed.

Well, surprise, surprise. Even before the Ministry fell, the Prophet was raking up the whole smear campaign from Year 4.

The Death Eaters found Fudge ridiculously easy to manipulate, but even they had to realize that no one was going to find him credible for the time being. Push him out, but leave him in the game. In the meantime, have a back-up plan to tide them over. I thought that Scrimgeour may have been their back-up plan. And he could have been utilized far better than he was. I find myself wondering whether Rowling just got tired of him.

The odd vibes we seemed to get from Scrimgeour could have been from simple insecurity. He had the high office. But he didn’t seem to have any friends. And the way he was conducting himself in that office, he wasn’t going to make any.

We also didn’t know how many of Dumbledore’s opponents/Voldemort’s supporters were in the current Wizengamot, which had made that particular appointment.

I thought that once Scrimgeour put a foot wrong, he would be out on his ear, and Fudge might be back. By then people would remember that he had defied Voldemort’s demand to step aside.

And Scrimgeour would put a foot wrong. He was a hollow man. Even if he hadn’t been turned into an Imperiused DE puppet (which I thought was very likely). If Barty Crouch was fixated on catching just one more Dark wizard, Scrimgeour was fixated upon appearing to be trying to catch Dark wizards, more than he ever was on actually catching Dark wizards.

I am going have to say that by the end of HBP the Wizengamot, and indeed the whole Ministry clearly appeared to have already been badly compromised. We’d now lost Albus, his friends Ogden and Marchbanks may not have been able to reclaim their Wizengamot seats. And we’d lost Amelia Bones as well.

And we were never told who took any of their places.

I really was not at all astonished when Imperius turned out to be a problem in the Minister for Magic’s office before the end of Harry’s minority. Fudge seemed as likely a victim as Scrimgeour, and Dolores is amoral enough to cast it. We don’t know whether she is any good at it. But she seemed confident enough of being able to cast an effective Cruciatus to threaten Harry with it.

(And maybe, this time, I thought that Percy might finally prove himself on the side of the angels by figuring the situation out. I wasn’t completely off with that guess. But Rowling doesn’t seem to have considered it worth her while to go much of anywhere with it.)

So instead, we suddenly got lumbered with Pius Thicknesse, who was more hopeless than even Percy was willing to tolerate. We really didn’t need him. And I still rather think his introduction was a mistake.