This is truly a case of “You had to be there.”
When I read this chapter for the first time, the day after the book was released, I distinctly recall feeling a little bit surprised by Harry’s reaction to Lucius Malfoy. I knew there was no love lost between them, of course. However, the fact that Lucius Malfoy would be skulking around the Ministry and taking meetings with Fudge seemed perfectly normal. Of course a slimy guy like that would be trying to get in tight with the Minister for Magic.
Here’s how Rowling describes it:
They had just reached the ninth-level corridor and Cornelius Fudge was standing a few feet away from them, talking quietly to a tall man with sleek blond hair and a pointed, pale face.
The second man turned at the sound of their footsteps. He, too, broke off in mid-conversation, his cold grey eyes narrowed and fixed upon Harry’s face.
‘Well, well, well… Patronus Potter,’ said Lucius Malfoy coolly.
Harry felt winded, as though he had just walked into something solid. He had last seen those cold grey eyes through slits in a Death Eaters hood, and last heard that man’s voice jeering in a dark graveyard while Lord Voldemort tortured him.
All that is true, of course, but for fans reading this in June of 2003, it had all happened several years ago. A lot of discussion, a lot of re-reading, a ton of fan fiction, and the filmed versions of the first two books had come out since. In other words, for most fans the last they had seen of Lucius Malfoy was in the film of Chamber of Secrets, as Jason Isaacs’ long white wig whisked out of sight after his characters had accidentally freed Dobby.
I supposed it’s impossible to explain for those who weren’t reading the books at the time how the three years between books four and five affected fans — how it affected the whole world. Between July of 2000, when Goblet of Fire was published, and June of 2003, when Order of the Phoenix debuted, Harry Potter became a world-wide phenomenon. The characters of Harry, Ron, and Hermione now looked in everyone’s minds like Dan, Rupert, and Emma. There were trading cards and action figures and jewelry boxes and who knows what else. The first Harry Potter convention, Nimbus 2003, was held in Orlando. The internet became the new way for people to communicate and online fandom was essentially invented by Harry Potter fans.
So much had happened and so much had changed since fans had read those last few chapters of Goblet of Fire that the next paragraph they read in Order of the Phoenix just seemed odd. Rowling described Harry’s reaction to Lucius this way:
Harry could not believe that Lucius Malfoy dared look him in the face; he could not believe that he was here, in the Ministry of Magic, or that Cornelius Fudge was talking to him, when Harry had told Fudge mere weeks ago that Malfoy was a Death Eater.
“Mere weeks ago”? It’s true, the graveyard in Little Hangleton had only been a couple of weeks ago in the story timeline. Fans had to come to a screeching mental halt and try to remember how they had felt three years before, when Cedric Diggory had been murdered, when the Priori Incantatem effect had given Harry just the edge he needed to escape the graveyard, when Fudge and Dumbledore had parted ways, and the “old crowd” was being summoned.
I would never want to lose the experience of reading the books as they were released, but sometimes I wonder what it would be like now to be able to read through the series for the first time without having to wait between books, so just experience it as one long saga.
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