"Oh, I don't think any of us believe the dementors were there by coincidence."
-- Albus Dumbledore (OP8)
Harry attends his hearing, Cornelius Fudge continues to disbelieve him about Lord Voldemort’s return, and Albus Dumbledore arrives to assist Harry. Mrs. Figg testifies and Harry is cleared of all charges.
Calendar and Dates
The action takes place on 12 August 1995, which in the wizarding world was a Thursday.
Interesting facts and notes
In this chapter, we have our second experience of the wizarding criminal justice system, the first having been through Dumbledore's Pensieve in GF30. Instead of just flashes of the high points of the ending of various trials, this time we experience an entire hearing, and it does not bode well for the fate of civil rights in the wizarding world.
We also learn a number of small details, such as the full names (including middle names) of various members of the court and of those speaking before it.
The walls were bare; there were no windows and no doors apart from a plain black one set at the very end of the corridor.
The large dungeon he had entered was horribly familiar. He had not only seen it before, he had been here before. This was the place he had visited inside Dumbledore's Pensieve, the place where he had watched the Lestranges sentenced to life imprisonment in Azkaban.
Harry "visited" this room in GF30. At the time, he had no way of knowing how important the people he was seeing sentenced to Azkaban would be in his life. Barty Crouch Jr would try to kill Harry not long after the Pensieve incident, and Bellatrix Lestrange would murder her cousin Sirius Black. Now here in this grim place Harry faces the entire Wizengamot on trumped-up charges. This courtroom is a forbidding place indeed, and the last time Harry saw it, he saw Dementors escorting some of the prisoners.
A cold male voice rang across the courtroom. "You're late."
"An owl was sent to you this morning. Take your seat."
That this is an obvious attempt to miscarry justice by sending a last minute owl is only more apparent when we hear in a few moments that Albus Dumbledore was intentionally misinformed as the the time as well:
"Dumbledore. Yes. You - er - got our - er - message that the time and -er - place of the hearing had been changed, then?"
"I must have missed it," said Dumbledore cheerfully. "However, due to a lucky mistake I arrived at the Ministry three hours early, so no harm done."
When he sat gingerly on the edge of the chair the chains clinked threateningly, but did not bind him.
We saw these chains binding Igor Karkaroff in GF30. For Harry, as with Ludo Bagman in that chapter, the chains do not close. Are they controlled from the judge's bench, or do they perhaps only bind a person who has already been convicted or who is deemed to be dangerous?
Percy's eyes, behind his horn-rimmed glasses, were fixed on his parchment, a quill poised in his hand.
Is Percy Weasley really in cahoots with Cornelius Fudge here? He doesn't seem to dare to look at either Albus Dumbledore or Harry. The possibility exists that Percy is actually working as a spy for Dumbledore -- although if that's the case, it seems harsh that the Headmaster would ask Percy to cause so much pain to his parents. The fact that Dumbledore seemed to know that the time and place of the hearing had changed suggests that he might have been tipped off, and Percy could be the source of that information. Although this is possible, it appears far more likely that Percy is actually being as arrogant and pig-headed as he seems. Percy's estrangement from his family is one plot detail which was not resolved at the end of the fifth (or sixth) book (but is resolved by the end of the seventh book).
Harry James Potter, resident at number four, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey.
What an unpleasant title for those who hold the keys to justice in the Wizarding World. This term harkens to terms like Inquisitor, the title Dolores Umbridge takes upon herself a few chapters from now. Both these terms sound negative and call up memories of the Spanish Inquisition and other horrors. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition to be making laws - even in the Wizengamot.
Cornelius Oswald Fudge, Minister for Magic
Fudge is called the Minister "OF" Magic in the US editions of the books; Minister for Magic is the correct UK term. His middle name, Oswald, resonates negatively for Americans, because it is the surname of the assassin who killed President John F. Kennedy in 1963. It is also the first name of the leader of the British Union of Fascists and Member of Parliament, Oswald Mosley.
Amelia Susan Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement
Amelia Bones, we learn later, is the aunt of Susan Bones, a Hufflepuff in Harry's year. It would appear that Susan is named after her famous aunt. As Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Bones seems to be acting as Chief Justice of the Wizarding World, although this may be because Albus Dumbledore has been asked to step down. Even so, it is clear that Fudge, as Minister for Magic, is running this particular show.
Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister
Here we are introduced to one of the most delightfully despicable characters in children's literature, Dolores Umbridge. The description of this horrible woman, soon contrasted with her ridiculous girlish voice, is at once bizarre, cloying, and downright chilling.
Court Scribe, Percy Ignatius Weasley
We learn Percy Weasley's middle name here. Ignatius, derived from Latin, means "fiery." One might guess that Molly and Arthur named him this because of his fiery red hair, although his personality matches the term as well.
Furthermore, Rowling is known to use saints' names for a number of her characters. Percy's middle name might also be a reference to St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).
St. Ignatius of Loyola's feast day happens to be 31 July, Harry's birthday.
A powerful emotion had risen in Harry's chest at the sight of Dumbledore, a fortified, hopeful feeling rather like that which phoenix song gave him.
Once again, Dumbledore is closely associated with the symbol of resurrection represented by the phoenix. Throughout the books, the phoenix and its song represent new life, sacrifical love, hope, and protection. When the phoenix song fills the air in the graveyard, Harry's parents appear, ready to offer love and support to him. In direct contrast to that song are the horrible sounds of his parents' death he hears when the Dementors fill the air with their putrid, cold breath. Dumbledore strides into a courtroom which is unfairly biased against Harry, a courtroom which would have sentenced him to virtual death, a courtroom in which Harry has even seen Dementors in the Pensieve, and saves the day. The power of these themes in the saga cannot be overstated.
a squashy chintz armchair appeared out of nowhere
This nifty bit of conjuration magic is a repeat from the third book, when Dumbledore "draws up a chair" for Trelawney to join the Christmas feast. Dumbledore, the lover of warm socks and sherbet lemons, creates soft, comfortable furniture. When McGonagall conjures up several chairs in Dumbledore's office (OP22), she comes up with straight-backed, wooden ones.
"We have no record of any witch or wizard living in Little Whinging, other than Harry Potter," said Madam Bones at once. "That situation has always been closely monitored, given...given past events."
It cannot be assumed from this comment that all witches and wizards are registered and monitored by the Ministry. Harry Potter is certainly watched closely, of course, and perhaps this is why he finds himself so easily on the receiving end of owls from Mafalda Hopkirk, and why Fred, George, and others get away with using the occasional spell out of school. This may also explain why Dumbledore chose a Squib for the task of watching over Harry as he grew up. The Ministry would not have to be informed of Dumbledore's arrangements.
Even Bagman wouldn't have bet...
The fate of Ludo Bagman is another plot thread which is not tied up in this book. It is clear from the tense of the verb in this sentence that Bagman is no longer at the Ministry betting on things, but we have no idea where he ended up. But, worry not, Ludo shows up again writing for the Daily Prophet with betting tips for the Quidditch World Cup of 2014 (QWC).
"Oh, I don't think any of us believe the Dementors were there by coincidence," said Dumbledore lightly.
The witch sitting to the right of Fudge, with her face in shadow, moved slightly but everyone else was quite still and silent.
"But naturally, you would not care how many times you heard from a witness, if the alternative was a serious miscarriage of justice," said Dumbledore.
Like Barty Crouch Sr many years before, Fudge doesn't really care about serious miscarriages of justice at all. He is using the power of his position to forward his own goals at the expense of justice. Sirius Black was Crouch's victim; Harry is almost Fudge's.
"...he blew up his aunt, for God's sake!"
Cornelius Fudge uses the name of God as simply an expression here, but it is evident that there is in fact religion in the world of the Harry Potter books. Of course, the simple mention of the name of God in a slang expression doesn't suggest any real form of religion in the Wizarding World itself. The reference is interesting, nonetheless, since in most other cases, we hear wizards say things like "Merlin's Beard" instead of the slang expressions of our own world.
"Oho!" said Fudge. "Not our business what he does at school, eh? You think so?"
Exceptional character moments
Dumbledore's defense of Harry is great fun, especially when he turns the tables on Fudge, who has just lost his temper talking about Harry blowing up his aunt: "And you very kindly did not press charges on that occasion. accepting, I presume, that even the best wizards cannot always control their emotions."
"Interrogators: Cornelius Oswald Fudge, Minister for Magic; Amelia Susan Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister. Court Scribe, Percy Ignatius Weasley –"
"Witness for the defence, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore," said a quiet voice from behind Harry, who turned his head so fast he cricked his neck.
"Oh, I don't think any of us believe the Dementors were there by coincidence."
"....you certainly seem to be making many changes, Cornelius. Why, in the few short weeks since I was asked to leave the Wizengamot, it has already become the practice to hold a full criminal trial to deal with a simple matter of underage magic!"
Words and phrases
From the Web
Writing by J K Rowling on WizardingWorld (Pottermore):
Harry Potter Wiki: Wizengamot
Pharnabazus on LiveJournal: Expecto Patronus: or How the Wizarding World Really Works (Appendix)
WizardingWorld (Pottermore) feature: What are the differences between Muggle and wizarding world law?