The Other Minister
Chapter 1 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The Other Minister
A portrait in the Muggle Prime Minister's office requests that he immediately meet with Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge. The Prime Minister is not pleased at the prospect, as every previous meeting has brought bad news, and the week had already been difficult, with a number of crises including a locked-room murder just a short distance from Parliament.
The Prime Minister first met Fudge shortly after his election several years ago when Fudge informed him about the Wizarding world and the Ministry of Magic, the wizard governing body in the UK. There have been other visits over the years, usually to discuss how the magical community was affecting Muggles. Soon, Fudge appears via the Floo Network. With each visit, Fudge had looked increasingly haggard and stressed, and the Prime Minister wonders what bad news Fudge, looking worse than ever, has brought this time. It has been a difficult week for Fudge, also, who reports that recent events, including a bridge collapse and a hurricane in the West Country, involved the Wizarding community. The hurricane, in fact, is an invention to cover an attack by giants.
According to Fudge, He Who Must Not Be Named has returned, and the past week's crises were perpetrated by him and his Death Eaters. Also, members of wizard families have been murdered and Dementors are roaming the countryside, attacking people ever since defecting as Azkaban prison guards. They are breeding, which is causing the bad weather. Fudge, who has resigned as Minister for Magic after mishandling the Voldemort affair, is there to introduce his successor, Rufus Scrimgeour.
Scrimgeour arrives through the fireplace and informs the Prime Minister that wizards will handle his security. The Prime Minister's new secretary, Kingsley Shacklebolt, an Auror, has actually been assigned to protect him. The Prime Minister is displeased that the Wizarding realm has leaked into the Muggle world, but Scrimgeour and Fudge assure him that they are doing all they can.
This marks the third time in the series that a book has opened somewhere other than with Harry Potter at the Dursleys'. The first was Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, before Harry actually reached the Dursleys'. The second was in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where we are presented with some of Voldemort's back story and his apparent return. The student might want to consider how much the story is enhanced by these departures from the main character's point of view.
A point worth mentioning is touched upon in the final three paragraphs of the chapter. Much earlier in the series, Hagrid, explaining to Harry why the Wizarding world had to remain hidden from Muggles, had said, "Blimey, Harry, everyone'd be wantin' magic solutions to their problems. Nah, we're best left alone." In this chapter, the Prime Minister echoes this belief, saying "But for heaven's sake — you're wizards! You can do magic! Surely you can sort out — well — anything!" This hope for someone else to come along and solve problems for them is all too recognizably human, and one of the strengths of this book is the accuracy and believability in these portrayals.
The meeting between the British Prime Minister and Ministry of Magic officials is a rare instance where wizard and Muggle domains overtly collide. For centuries, wizards have secretly coexisted alongside Muggles, remaining carefully hidden and separate. And while there have always been Muggles who are aware that wizards exists, and even some who have married into that society, what happens in one realm rarely affects the other. This changes when Voldemort's violent attacks begin to include Muggles. Whether or not this is deliberate is, as yet, unclear; Voldemort may intend for the violence to spill over into the Muggle realm as a brazen act to confuse and intimidate other wizards and to demonstrate just how far he can and will go to achieve power. He may also be intending to breach the long-standing divide between the two realms, bringing both under his rule. Whatever Voldemort's intent, the Prime Minister is powerless to protect his own people, and he has little choice but to accept the Wizarding world's help and to hope that Voldemort can be defeated, or at least contained to his own sphere.
It may be worth recalling Dumbledore’s warning to Fudge, at Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire's conclusion, that "history will remember you as the man who stepped aside, and allowed Voldemort a second chance to destroy the world we have tried to rebuild!" Clearly, this has now come to pass. When Voldemort was revealed to be alive, thus showing plainly that Fudge's ministry, by discrediting both Harry and Dumbledore, had been systematically lying to the Wizarding world, retribution by the general populace was swift. Despite Fudge's efforts to retain power, he has been ousted and replaced by someone who appears more dynamic and better prepared to fight Voldemort and the Death Eaters.
The Prime Minister recalls an earlier visit, where Fudge mentioned that he was required to inform the Muggle government that they were importing dangerous magical creatures into Britain for a Wizarding competition: three dragons and a Sphinx. This may confuse some readers, who remember that there were four dragon species at that competition; however, one was a Common Welsh Green and therefore a native species. It should also be noted that this conversation was quite likely before Harry's name had unexpectedly come out of the Goblet; the original plan might well have been to import three Dragons, and when a fourth was needed, a native variety was used so they would not have to notify the Muggle government again. It is interesting, perhaps, to note the mix of planning and improvisation that went into the Third Task maze, as we have seen that the challenges Harry faced in that task included one of Hagrid's Blast-Ended Skrewts, creatures that did not even exist, apparently, until the previous September, and here we see that the Sphinx that Harry encountered in the Maze had been planned well-prior to even the First Task in November.
Two points are mentioned in passing: the Death Eaters have allied with the Giants, and Dementors have abandoned Azkaban and are wandering throughout England, and breeding. We note that Dumbledore had warned Fudge that this would happen, which would seem prescient except that Harry had overheard Voldemort planning that earlier and presumably had reported it to Dumbledore.
We note that although the main point of this chapter is to acquaint the reader with the change of power, and so prepare them for the change of direction on the part of the Ministry, we actually hear nothing of how that change of power is effected. We suspect that this is because the book is intended for children who have, appropriately enough for their age, only a sketchy understanding of what government does and how it gets into power. The mature reader may be wondering how a vote for Minister was carried out, if in fact the process is at all democratic.
In yet another of the date confusions endemic to the series, Fudge reportedly says, when first meeting the Muggle Prime Minister, "I must say, you're taking it a lot better than your predecessor. He tried to throw me out of the window . . ." (italics in original). The internal timeline suggests that this book should cover approximately July 1996 to June 1997; if we accept this timeline, this chapter must occur in early to mid July 1996. At that time, the Muggle Prime Minister was John Major, which would make his predecessor Maggie Thatcher, definitely not a "he". Ms. Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, so Fudge would have had to introduce himself to her in 1979. If, as we assume from the same timeline, Voldemort murdered Harry's parents in 1981, that would mean that Fudge would have been in power before Voldemort's fall. However, the story states that Barty Crouch Sr. was being groomed for that position, and when his son went to Azkaban, after the fall of Voldemort, they tried to tap Dumbledore for that position, and only elected Fudge when Dumbledore refused. So Fudge could not have come into power before 1982 or so in our timeline, which would mean that he could not have introduced himself to Ms. Thatcher immediately after her election. One could try and fit the timeline to the tenure of Tony Blair, who took power in 1997, but there is little point: the story does not depend on any specific interaction with our world, and errors of this sort do not even distract the reader unless we let them. (It is also worth noting that Fudge could have visited Thatcher when he became Minister of Magic, and could have forgotten that Thatcher was a she, not a he – although this is extremely unlikely, as he would have had to deal with her repeatedly between his accession to power in about 1982 and Major's arrival in 1990, a period of some eight years. Additionally, would Thatcher have tried to throw the representative of the Wizarding world out the window, if she had been introduced to the previous Minister of Magic, Millicent Bagnold, when she first took office three years earlier?)
- Why does Fudge visit the Muggle prime minister?
- Who does Fudge introduce to the prime minister? Why?
- Why was Fudge forced to resign as Minister for Magic?
- Why might Voldemort's attacks have spilled over into the Muggle world?
- If Fudge was forced to resign, why is he working with Scrimgeour?
- Why did the Dementors defect to Voldemort's side?
- Why were members of the Bones and Vance families murdered?
- Does Scrimgeour's physical description - the lion's mane of hair and the tired, almost battle-worn face - represent his character? In other words, did the author intentionally describe him so that we imagined him as a tough, short-tempered man?
As expected, Scrimgeour's election will result in a new and more aggressive direction for the Ministry of Magic. As a result, Harry, who was denigrated in the Daily Prophet, will now be lionized, hailed as "the boy who lived" once again and as "the Chosen One". Having thus re-elevated him, the Ministry will attempt to tap his celebrity power for their own benefit. At Christmas, Scrimgeour will attempt to persuade Harry to occasionally be seen visiting the Ministry. As a bonus for his cooperation, Scrimgeour hints that Harry may be easily accepted into the Auror branch. Harry recognizes this as a bribe to help sway the general populace's opinion that Harry, the "Chosen One", supports the Ministry and its actions; he refuses, believing the Ministry is still doing a poor job. And though the Ministry's position on Voldemort may have swung from one extreme position to another, they are still evidently more interested in presenting a good public face, than building substance, under Scrimgeour's new leadership.
When Harry later discusses this incident with Dumbledore, we learn that Dumbledore had blocked Scrimgeour from proposing this same scheme to Harry earlier in the school year. Dumbledore knew Harry would never allow himself to be recruited as a Ministry pawn, and that he was still in a fragile mental state over his godfather Sirius Black's death. Dumbledore and Scrimgeour's altercation became loud enough that it was overheard and later leaked to the general public. Dumbledore reveals that this argument was actually the Ministry's second attempt to draft Harry. Prior to his ouster, Cornelius Fudge had made a very similar suggestion to Dumbledore, in an attempt to control the damage and retain his power, and had been similarly rebuffed.
Further to our comments above about the change of power in the Ministry, we note that another part of the reason for the obscurity surrounding the change of office holder is necessary for a later bit of plot. At the beginning of the next and final book, we learn that "the Ministry has fallen" to the Death Eaters, and that the Imperius-controlled Pius Thicknesse has been installed as Minister for Magic. Getting a specific candidate elected is problematic in most democratic regimes, so we can't assume Thicknesse was legitimately voted into power; we have to guess he was elevated in some other way. We never find out how that was actually done, so it's possible the author didn't want to commit to a specific method for the handover.