Chapter 8 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: The Hearing
Upon entering the room where the hearing is being held, Harry recognizes this as the same courtroom the Death Eaters were tried in — the place he had seen in Dumbledore's Pensieve during his previous year at Hogwarts. Cornelius Fudge is presiding over the Wizengamot (wizard high court); Harry is mildly 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. He is further angered when Dumbledore implies that Voldemort himself ordered the attack on Harry, reasserting that the Dementors remain under Ministry control. A few court members aid Fudge, notably Dolores Umbridge, who obviously remains convinced Harry is guilty. Dumbledore 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.
That Harry would be subjected to a full hearing before the entire Wizengamot for a simple matter involving underage magic indicates that someone in the bureaucracy, almost certainly Fudge, is trying to eliminate 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, this scheme failed. The attempt to prevent Harry from giving a complete explanation about the events at Privet Drive makes it seem certain that Fudge was trying to force the Wizengamot to rule against him. More than anything that has gone before, this shows that Fudge will do whatever is necessary to invalidate Dumbledore's and Harry's claims concerning Voldemort, including ousting Harry from the wizard world. 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 minds of the Wizengamot that Harry is likewise guilty of equally serious crimes. 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 abandoned.
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 (and perhaps 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.
- Can Squibs really see Dementors? If not, how and why could Mrs. Figg provide such convincing testimony?
- Why would Fudge want Harry to be found guilty, even if he is not?
- Why would Dumbledore avoid looking at or talking to Harry?
- Why would Harry's hearing be held in the same courtroom where Death Eaters were tried and convicted?
- Why would the full Wizengamot 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?
- 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?
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 the night before the hearing without visiting Harry. Here, Dumbledore arrives, defends Harry successfully, then departs quickly and without a word to Harry, not even making eye contact. 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, uninformed of the rationale behind the behaviour, will be confused and resentful, and will retaliate (though perhaps being unaware that it is retaliation) 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.
- Fudge refers back to two other instances of Harry's using unauthorized magic: an illegal Hover Charm three years before, which Dumbledore counters by naming the perpetrator, Dobby, mentioning that he is available to testify; and the inflation of Aunt Marge, against which Dumbledore thanks Fudge for having personally pardoned Harry.
- The room in which Harry is tried is one of the courtrooms that Harry had seen in Dumbledore's Pensieve the previous year. Harry will visit them again in the final book when he needs to retrieve Hermione from her masquerade with the Muggle-Born Registration Commission.