The Hearing

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Chapter 8 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: The Hearing← Chapter 7 | Chapter 9 →

Synopsis[edit]

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Upon entering, Harry recognizes this as the same courtroom the Death Eaters were tried in — the place he had entered in Dumbledore's Pensieve during his previous year at Hogwarts. Cornelius Fudge is presiding over the Wizengamot (wizard high court); Harry is surprised that Percy Weasley is the scribe. Dumbledore suddenly sweeps in, to several court members' evident discomfiture, and announces himself as witness for the defence. Fudge begins the questioning, giving Harry little time to answer completely.

Frustrated, Harry exclaims, "I did it because of the Dementors!" The Wizengamot seem stunned. Amelia Bones questions him further about the Dementors' presence. Dumbledore steps in, noting that they have a witness, Arabella Figg. Summoned, she seems particularly batty and frightened and begins her testimony as though she has memorized it. There is doubt as to whether Squibs can see dementors, but Mrs. Figg describes them accurately.

After Mrs. Figg is excused, Fudge struggles to regain the courtroom's flow, insisting Harry's actions have little to do with the Dementors' presence. A few court members aid Fudge, notably Dolores Umbridge, who obviously remains convinced Harry is guilty. Dumbledore quickly asserts that Harry has broken no laws if he was protecting himself and Dudley from a life-threatening danger, as is noted in the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery. Fudge quickly brings up other instances where Harry has broken the Decree, but Dumbledore nullifies each one in turn. The council votes, and Harry is cleared of all charges, much to Fudge's dismay. Harry turns to thank Dumbledore, only to find the Headmaster already leaving the courtroom.

Analysis[edit]

That Harry would be subjected to a full hearing before the entire Wizengamot for a simple matter involving underage magic indicates that sinister forces are at work against him. Abruptly changing the hearing's time and location without prior notification is yet another despicable tactic by the Ministry of Magic to discredit Harry and also to prevent Dumbledore from testifying, though, fortunately, their scheme failed. By attempting to prevent Harry from giving a complete explanation about the events at Privet Drive, it seems certain that some Ministry officials had already conspired to rule against him, showing they will do whatever is necessary to invalidate Dumbledore's and Harry's claims concerning Voldemort, including ousting Harry from the wizard world and demoting Dumbledore from his many prestigious Wizarding posts. That the hearing was relocated to the same courtroom where Death Eaters were previously tried and convicted is significant—an obvious ploy to implant the impression in the Wizengamots' minds that Harry is likewise guilty. Dumbledore's intervention saves Harry, though his abrupt departure without speaking to him is puzzling, as well as upsetting to Harry, who has already been feeling neglected by him.

Mrs. Figg's testimony was also crucial, though, as she is a Squib, the Wizengamot probably suspected it was unlikely she actually saw the Dementors and had been coached prior to testifying. Mrs. Figg had, however, identified the Dementors while talking to Harry, before he mentioned them, and prior to Mundungus Fletcher's return. Against this, the author stated in a post-publication interview that Mrs. Figg was unable to see Dementors. Presumably, Mrs. Figg, though perhaps unable to see Dementors, had been coached about their effects, and could have known that Dementors were present by recognizing their emotional effects on her (as on Dudley). Dumbledore, as we saw at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, suspected both the Dementors and the Giants would rally to Voldemort, and may have briefed Mrs. Figg on their effects. Also, having grown up in the Wizarding world, she may have had some prior knowledge regarding their appearance and behavior.

Questions[edit]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Review[edit]

  1. Can Squibs really see dementors? If not, how and why could Mrs. Figg provide such convincing testimony?
  2. Why would Fudge want Harry to be voted guilty, even if he is not?

Further Study[edit]

  1. Why would Dumbledore avoid looking at or talking to Harry?
  2. Why would Harry's hearing be held in the same courtroom that Death Eaters were tried and convicted in?
  3. Why would the full Wizangamot be present for a hearing on a simple case of underage magic? How could Fudge have arranged to convene the entire Wizengamot for such a simple case?
  4. Compare Dolores Umbridge's and Fudge's behavior to Amelia Bones'. Is either side behaving fairly? If so, which? How? What could Rowling's underlying message about justice be here?

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

Harry has been upset by Dumbledore's failure to contact him throughout the summer or while he was at Headquarters. He was particularly dismayed when Dumbledore left Headquarters without visiting with him. Here, Dumbledore arrives, defends Harry successfully, then departs quickly and without a word to Harry or even making eye contact. Harry, confused, feels nearly abandoned by Dumbledore, and this will result in Harry withholding things from Dumbledore that occur throughout the year and that directly affect them both. This, it will turn out, is Dumbledore's deliberate policy during this year. Knowing that Harry occasionally perceives what is happening inside Voldemort's mind, Dumbledore concludes that, if and when Voldemort learns the connection exists, he will use it against Harry and his associates. Dumbledore attempts to shield Harry and himself by maintaining a relationship no greater than Headmaster to student. Harry, resentful that this abrupt change was made unilaterally, will unconsciously retaliate by withholding important information.

We see a curious, but possibly intentional, oddity of the Wizarding justice system here. Rather than having prosecuting and defending representatives before a neutral party, the defending party in the dispute is questioned directly by the nominal head of the Wizengamot, and the Wizengamot members then confer and vote on the innocence or guilt of the defending party. This tallies with the view of the Wizengamot that Dumbledore's Pensieve previously allowed us to see. This can lead to abuses of justice, as the prosecution is generally going to be better prepared for trial than the defence, particularly if the defendant has just been released from Azkaban, and as the prosecutor will be a member of the same group as the judges. Most committees seem to be reflections of one powerful individual, who pulls the other committee members along with his or her views by main force; Harry's great fortune in this case seems to be that while Fudge is apparently the official head of the Wizengamot, the actual leader seems to be Amelia Bones, who, perhaps inspired by Dumbledore's presence, is more interested in justice than in toeing the Ministry party line.

We should note that this simplification of the justice system seems to make the courtroom drama better suited to a children's book. Very few children of this book's targeted age group will be fully aware of the normal judicial system's structure, and this adversarial form of court is better suited to their understanding. Additionally, Harry's victory over such a court is all the sweeter, as the deck is so clearly stacked against him.

It should be noted, perhaps, that the source of the Dementors in this instance will be a surprise. It will turn out that it was Umbridge herself who sent the Dementors, because "somebody had to do something." No further explanation is ever granted the reader, as to why something had to be done, or why Dementors could be considered as a means of doing it. As mentioned in the Analysis, Dumbledore likely coached Mrs. Figg on the possibility of Dementors, but it was almost certain that he would have expected Voldemort to send them, not someone associated with the Ministry.