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Red Hen Publications — Commentary Collection — Potterverse People Essay: Rita Skeeter, & Other Enemies
Potterverse People

Trying to make the Potterverse make sense since 2003!

It used to be pointed out to me that this particular essay read like another Hermione essay. But that it wanders off elsewhere having nothing to do with her.

I’m sorry. That misinterpretation is entirely my fault. But the fact is that this really isn’t an essay about Hermione Granger. It never has been. It is, exactly as it claims to be, an essay about some of the series’s enemies. Which is to say, enemies who are not Lord Voldemort. In fact, in two cases out of three, we can’t even be certain that the persons referred to even knowingly support Lord Voldemort, and the third isn’t necessarily a Death Eater, although he is certainly a hanger-on.

Although, actually, if you are looking for connections among the subjects of this piece, you’d be a lot more productively occupied in taking a closer look at Lucius Malfoy. He has had dealings with all of them.

Where the confusion alluded to in the intro above arises is that in two cases out of three, it was Hermione who finally dealt with the problem. And that was Rowling’s decision in the writing of the series.

Which, for the record, I think was rather a poor one. Rowling seems singularly unwilling to allow anyone but Harry and Hermione to actually do anything about any of the problems which stand in their paths. Ron may be permitted to step in in the heat of the moment and do something that matters. Neville finally got his chance to prove that, yes, he really was relevant after all. But it is usually only Harry and Hermione who are confronted with a problem and are permitted to deal with it.

Under those circumstances, even Albus merely retreats until the situation cools down, or his opponent has blotted his copybook and them returns to say “See, I told you so!”

The Weasley twins subversively cause all sorts of disorder and, if anything, make the underlying problem worse. But they never do anything that actually makes the opponent stop, either. In the end they just run away as well.

Flitwick goes passive-aggressive, Minerva carps and refuses to cooperate. Snape seems never to be put in a position where he could do anything without blowing his cover. So we will probably never know whether his average would have been any better than any of the rest of the ensemble’s.

It’s small wonder that the reader comes away with the impression that wizards are an incredibly ineffectual lot. Rowling never allowed them to be anything else.

And at that, Harry seems only to have “solved” the problem of Lord Voldemort (or, rather, the Elder wand did it for him). At a glance, Hermione’s track record seems to be at least twice as good as his. Unfortunately, by this time it is hard to believe that Rowling planned any of this consciously. For all of her allusions to some “Master Plan”, I’m inclined to think it crept in while she wasn’t paying attention. For there certainly never was a payoff for the situation that she spent the first half of the series setting up.

• • • •

Opponent #1, Rita Skeeter:

Coming out of Goblet of Fire it looked very much to me like Hermione Granger was headed for a very nasty comeuppance. And by that point she was certainly due for one.

She continued to be. In fact, overdue. She’d been right about so many things that she had started to believe that she’s right about everything. Her average was still higher than most, but it sure wasn’t perfect.

And yet, even when she ended up being tortured at Malfoy Manor it was more on the order of collateral damage. It was Harry who got the three of them captured that time. She wasn’t being hoist on her own petard.

In fact, she seems to have managed to dodge that particular bullet to the very end.

Although not by any exceptionally prudent action of her own. She’d just been allowed to Get Away with it.

And there is no rational reason WHY she should have been allowed to get away with it. She’d left a backtrail that a baby could follow.

Miss Granger never seems to have figured out that there is a big difference between being “right”, and being Right.

There is a huge difference between being right when you are figuring out the answer to a puzzle, and being right about deciding what to do about that answer. By any rational standard, Hermione made a considerable blunder in not taking Rita directly to Dumbledore when she caught her.

That’s where, in canon, the whole premise that actions suposedly have consequences began to come unstuck. And it seems to have spent the whole back half of the series continuing to unravel.

Which is one of the main reasons why so many fans ended up profoundly unsatisfied with the series by the end of it. Actions, even the hero and his friends’ actions, ought to have consequences.

Figuring out what was going on and finally catching Rita in the act was certainly clever. But Hermione didn’t think the situation all the way through. At that point, for all her cleverness, Hermione Granger was still a kid, and she thinks like a kid. She was still looking at each problem as an isolated element, she did not remember that it all connects.

• • • •

For one thing, upon any sort of closer consideration it seems very unlikely that Rita was really an independent agent, operating alone. She was a good deal more likely to be one of Lucius Malfoy’s hired hands.

Think about it.

Rita’s “secret” was demonstrably already known.

Pretty widely known, in fact.

By a whole troop of fourth years in Slytherin House!

And do you really think that Rita would have approached that particular bunch of kids and volunteered the information that she was an illegal unregistered Animagus, trusting to their charitable natures not to blow the whistle? I don’t think so! I don’t even think that she would claim that she had an operative/partner who was an Animagus that she would send into the school for them to contact, and count on them not adding up 2+2. It is much more likely that they were directed to approach her.

By someone who already knew that particular secret.

And finds it very useful.

It is possible that the kids, once primed, simply approached Rita with mischief in mind. But is Rita’s desire to create mischief on Dumbledore’s turf so great that she would just hand that lot as potentially damaging a piece of information as the fact that she is an unregistered Animagus? Again, I don’t think so. At least one of them already had that information. It was their bargaining chip. Or, rather, it was their spokesman’s bargaining chip.

And we were tipped off that she was already laying a groundwork to discredit Dumbledore before they approached her. Before she even showed up at Hogwarts, in fact. She started making slurs against his mental competence all the way back in her coverage of a meeting of the International Confederacy of Wizards. Before the school term ever started.

And we don’t know of any particular reason why she, or the Prophet would have had an axe to grind against Albus Dumbledore that early in the proceedings. The Ministry certainly didn’t.

But someone else certainly did.

By this time, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves; if Rita was working with the Slytherins — by arrangement — in book 4, and the tone of the insinuations that SHE planted over that year was the obvious foundation for the approach taken up by the Ministry the following summer to discredit both Harry and Dumbledore, and that over the following year Lucius Malfoy was waltzing in and out of the Ministry like he owned the place, doesn’t it occur to anyone that this is unlikely to have all been a coincidence? Isn’t it much more likely to have been an intrinsic part of a whole long-term plan?

Malfoy was already making inroads at the Ministry as early as year 3! He used Draco’s injury by an insulted hippogryff and his stance as a concerned parent as an excuse to spend any amount of time making himself a fixture around the place.

And we know that he and Rita were both at the World Cup. He was sitting in the Top Box, she was covering the event. He even handed her a major scoop with that Muggle-baiting stunt...

Rita was quite deliberately laying the groundwork for exactly that level of smear campaign over the course of GoF. She can hardly be held exempt from suspicion of complicity in the Ministry’s subsequent smear campaign simply because she didn’t have a recognizable axe of her own to grind. (And for that matter, who is to say she doesn’t? We just don’t know of one.)

Year 5’s smear campaign was already well underway by the middle of year 4, and it was flying in under Rita Skeeter’s byline. From Malfoy’s end of the operation, Rita’s part was to lay the groundwork of the media assault by turning public opinion gradually against Albus Dumbledore, while Malfoy (and Umbridge) chipped away at Fudge’s trust in Dumbledore. In aid of which Rita’s steady line of innuendos were of invaluable assistance. When Harry’s name came out of the Goblet they spread their net farther to encompass him as well.

We definitely know that this little conspiracy finally paid off at the end of GoF. It had probably not been without some effect over the course of PoA as well.

In fact, in retrospect we can see that it did. Looking back, it seems likely that the Ministry’s interest in Sirius Black, which went from blanketing his suspected location in Dementors to the flip-flop of putting only one lone Auror in charge of the hunt for him in the course of the rest of his duties, to the almost suspicious quickness of his exoneration as soon as he was safely dead, suggests that Albus probably did mention the possibility of Sirius’s innocence with Fudge during the summer that he was helping the setting up of the TriWizard tournament.

And while Fudge was willing enough to withdraw the dementors from Hogwarts (particularly after the close escape from a public relations nightmare they provoked when they attacked Harry Potter) he refused to altogether play ball. Sirius Black remained, at least officially, a wanted man.

• • • •

The big question is; who was Malfoy’s plan supposed to ultimately benefit?

Voldemort? Or Malfoy?

It’s difficult not to conclude that it was probably intended to benefit Malfoy himself.

From our vantage point, it all seems to have been “obviously” set up by Malfoy. He probably contacted Rita and set up her end of the mission as early as the World Cup. They are both known to have been there. But why? And why just then?

In HBP we finally learned that Malfoy had deployed the Riddle diary off his own bat. He had not been sent any message (from QuirrellMort) to do that on Voldemort’s behalf (which had always been an outside possibility, but, still, a possibility). Therefore, I think the smart money is on the likelihood that after Voldemort had attempted a return in PS/SS and failed, Malfoy thought that the way was clear for him to take command of what was left of Voldemort’s organization.

Unlike Voldemort, Malfoy does have overt political aspirations, and he does sincerely intend the advancement of pureblood supremacist interests. He might take the lead in a bit of Muggle-baiting, just for the fun of it, but under his leadership, any such violence would not be just to ramp up terror, it would have to serve a discernible purpose.

Which raises the question of why such a blatant public demonstration in such a place at such a time? What did he intend to acomplish by it? Did he set it up, and take the lead, in order to establish that *he* was to be regarded as their Leader going forward? With media coverage in order to send a heads-up to any outliers who didn’t attend the Cup?

And, knowing Malfoy, he would have been far less interested in overthrowing the government than he was in taking it over. Preferably from inside.

But he had overplayed his hand in Year 2, lost his gamble, and his place on the Board of Governors of Hogwarts, and needed to start over and establish a new power base.

Draco’s injury gave him an excuse to start haunting the Ministry, firing up any old contacts in the Dangerous Creatures Dept., or elsewhere, and, eventually, to start sending out feelers to Fudge’s staff and see whether anyone took the bait. Obviously Dolores Umbridge did.

There must have been either a considerable degree of mutual negotiation between Rita and the Slytherins to set up that little sweetheart deal, or — and far more likely — the whole thing was set up by a 3rd-party, offstage. The easiest explanation is that Rita was advised to hang around to be approached during one of her visits covering the Tournament. Eventually, one of the Slytherins approached Rita, informing her that he already knew her secret, knew something of the plan, and wanted in on the action. And in order for them to have done that, they had to have been instructed (or Draco at least was instructed) to cooperate with her by someone else. Whoever that was had tipped her off to expect them.

Or, I suppose, just as an outside possibility, Rita may have intended — and may even have managed — to Obliviate the lot of them after her stint covering the TriWizard Tournament was over. But I doubt it.

If that last is the case; she got pretty lucky, because we are talking about at least 8–10 kids who needed to be tracked down and neutralized before they did her any damage. She may have managed it. But we don’t know that for sure. Crabbe and Goyle may not be bright enough to figure out what the “bug” actually was, but Draco and Nott both are, and I suspect so are some, if not most of the others. Most of the Slyths we know of are still wild cards, not all of whose names we were ever given, such as the rest of Pansy’s gang of Slytherin girls, for example. Upon the whole, the reading of everyone remaining conveniently clueless simply doesn’t play particularly well.

Of course, Rita could have shown them a picture of the beetle — which I very much doubt is a species native to Britain — and told them that it was a recording device which would be connected with a dicta-quill. That way they could talk to it, without being seen talking to her.

I mean, it’s not like she could ask them questions while in her Animagus form, could she?

If the 3rd-party setup is the case, however; just what does Rita have on [Lucius Malfoy?] in return that has kept him from hanging her out to dry before this? He was already quite publicly outed as a DE back at the end of VWI, for all that his father got him off with an Imperius defense.

For that matter, are Rita’s Animagus ability and 5th estate credentials a valuable enough resource to him that he grudgingly helped to tide her over the enforced period of unemployment that Hermione demanded of her in Year 5? I am developing a strong suspicion that Rita and Lucius go back a long way. All the way to Hogwarts, in fact. And Rita was no Gryffindor. While Rita’s quick-quotes quill’s description of her as blonde, attractive and forty-three comes across as being just about as accurate as the rest of its statements, if it is correct that would put her only two or three years ahead of Lucius at Hogwarts, and if Lucius, either then or later, managed to discover her secret and has kept her dancing to his tune under threat of exposure ever since it would be in character. Blackmail and extortion seem to be Malfoy specialties.

Or it might simply be an arrangement of silence and patronage in return for cooperation.

• • • •

At any rate, it certainly looks like Hermione really didn’t have as big a bargaining chip as she thought she had.

Of course in a slightly different iteration of the Potterverse she could have demonstrated to us that she really was sharp and decided to offer Rita something she hadn’t already got. That is, if Hermione was willing to risk her neck on the gamble that, for all her unpleasantness, Rita is no Death Eater.

I’d like to believe as much myself, but I’m still not quite convinced. I suspected that Rita may at least be a supporter. From a pragmatic, rather than an ideological standpoint, probably. I don’t get the feeling that Rita gives two hoots for ideology.

And at that point of GoF, in the hands of some other author, it was entirely possible that Hermione could offer Rita something she would have wanted. Something like a story that would make parts of the Ministry look particularly bad. Something Rita may have already gotten an inkling of before Hermione caught her.

Something like a cause celebré over a gross miscarriage of justice dating from the time of the first defeat of Voldemort.

Something that only a handful of people and the Death Eaters actually know.

Something like the fact that Peter Pettigrew, Order of Merlin First Class (posthumous) faked his death and lived in hiding for over a dozen years in the Animagus form of a rat, and was now standing at Voldemort’s right hand.

While the Heir to the Anciient and Noble House of Black had been deliberately railroaded into Azkaban, without benefit of a trial. Which could probably be confirmed with a bit of investigation. If the Ministry would do that to someone from that level in wizarding society, just how safe was anybody?

And by that time a movement to exonerate Sirius Black might have been the sort of mass misdirection of public attention that Fudge might have leaped at. Particularly since the man who had actually ordered Black to be thrown into Azkaban without a trial was now so conveniently out of the picture and presumed dead.

And if she didn’t choose to print it, then we would have a good deal better idea whose side she was probably on.

But, obviously, Rowling didn’t choose to go there.

(Side note: do you think the fact that Rita did ultimately publish Harry Potter’s account of Voldemort’s return, complete with Peter Pettigrew’s contribution to it might have contributed to Sirius Black’s speedy exoneration at the end of that year?)

And, meanwhile back in the version where Rowling did choose to go; just because we didn’t watch it as it happened, can you confidently say that Lucius Malfoy wasn’t waltzing in and out of the Ministry all of year 3, building new alliances in the wake of the embarrassment of being tossed off the Hogwarts Board of Governors the previous year? Draco’s hippogryff injury had already given him an excuse to be there. From all of our subsequent information, this is most likely to have been the period in which he managed to flatter Dolores Umbridge into supporting him in his “divide and conquer” ploy to cut Fudge off from Dumbledore’s influence.

We still don’t really know Rita’s own political position or her own personal leanings regarding either pureblood supremacy or Voldemort’s return. At a guess, I would say that the fact that she was getting her personal interviews from the Slytherins suggests nothing good. At the very least, she was probably at Hogwarts with some of their family members and has kept in touch with them since, either socially or professionally. The probability that she is another alumnus of Slytherin House is pretty damned high.

Mind you, none of this means that Rita automatically supports Voldemort. But she is in pretty thick with people who do, and she is clever enough to know that their public lip service to the Ministry isn’t all it should be. She may not be a DE herself — and, given Tom Riddle’s apparently low opinion of females, I very much doubt that she is — but she will quite willingly work with, or for them.

• • • •

We have another, somewhat more disturbing, complication here as well.

Draco Malfoy also knows that Hermione caught Rita and kept her in a jar. He was eavesdropping outside the trio’s compartment on the Hogwarts Express and he heard her tell Harry and Ron all about it.

It was his barging in to taunt her over the fact that now he knew it too that led to him and his goons being hexed into unconsciousness at the end of Book 4. Nobody thought to Obliviate this piece of information. Lucius would have heard of it by dinner time. Draco’s sneering at Cedric’s memory may have crowded that little bombshell out of the Gryffindors’ heads. But it probably won’t have dropped out of his. And if he isn’t talking, it is because he has been clearly instructed by somebody not to talk about it.

Who, at that point, did Draco Malfoy listen to?

I was certain that that could not bode well for Hermione’s chances of remaining safely in the background while Harry drew all of the attention. Not even with Rita, to all appearances, knuckling under to Hermione’s demands — and Rita’d already demonstrated that she has a nasty, vindictive streak, certainly where Hermione is concerned.

We also don’t know just how much Rita actually saw or heard in the hospital wing. Hermione had already figured out how she was getting her information and was on the watch for her. But everyone got distracted by the shouting match between Dumbledore and Fudge and we don’t know just when Rita buzzed her way up to the window sill. We also don’t know whether Hermione was checking all of the windows in turn, or whether there was only the one window in the room where Harry was, either.

In the first case, Rita could have been listening for some time before Hermione got to that particular window and caught her.

In the later case, we could be in luck. Hermione was on alert, and may have caught her before she had a chance to hear too much. Otherwise, Rita had easily enough information to make all kinds of trouble for Dumbledore without needing to resort to the Prophet’s smear campaign. (Opposing the Ministry, harboring fugitives.)

And there Hermione is, taking the woman to London to turn her loose. During school holidays when she isn’t supposed to be using any magic herself? Oh, smart move!

I just can’t see how she was allowed to pull that off — other than by authorial fiat. Either Rita had already been warned what to do if caught, or she must have an unexpected streak of decency in her. It would have to be very well hidden.

In Rita Skeeter we have a witness who had very likely just seen that Sirius Black was alive, and an Animagus, what form of Animagus, and, moreover, has seen that Dumbledore was aiding and abetting him. She has even seen that Snape knows this, and is going along with it. She knows that Snape is probably in with Dumbledore’s plans up to his neck. She probably does not know that he is a double-agent. But she may now know about his Dark Mark. She has also seen that most of the Weasley family (and certainly Molly) is privy to this information. She heard Dumbledore send Sirius to stay with Remus Lupin, and heard Dumbledore tell him to spread the word to his supporters. She heard their names. It just gets better and better doesn’t it?

And Hermione didn’t tell Dumbledore any of this.

And the Death Eaters all let her get away with it.


Unless Rowling was a sloppier writer we’d like to think (and by that point in the series I suspect that Rowling was already dealing with a serious case of burnout), I was sure we hadn’t heard the last of this.

It was generally insisted upon by the Order that Sirius’s Animagus form was known some six weeks later. But I’m not sure that wasn’t just to keep him in the house where they could all keep an eye on him. He was effectively under house arrest all Year 5, after all.

But no. I was wrong. Evidently being Harry’s best friend (and part-time comic relief) means you never have to face up to the consequences of your less ethical actions. Even your enemies will give you a pass. To say nothing of your author.

What is more; by the end of OotP, Hermione had managed to do it again.

It took me some time after my first reading of Order of the Phoenix when I was so indignant that the 2nd shoe regarding Rita hadn’t dropped, that I didn’t at first realize that what had been dropped was another shoe from a different pair altogether. Rowling appeared to have established a pattern there. (Which later turned out to just be me connecting dots that were no more than spots before my eyes. *sigh* Them’s the risks when you specialize in theories.)

Enemy #2. Dolores Umbridge.

Well. So, as of DHs we finally knew. Madam Umbridge, indeed does claim to be “connected” to the DEs. (So much for Sirius Black’s contention that the world is not so easily divided — although he was at least literally correct.) We couldn’t be sure until she claimed to related to the Selden family, and followed that claim up with another; that you would have a hard time finding a pureblood family to which she was not related.

By that time we had already discovered that there was at least one DE by the name of Selden. I doubted that we were handed that discovery by accident.

In which, if one accepts the information posted on Pottermore (I generally don’t. It’s not in the books, and Pottermore is never going to be canon) we turn out to be wrong. Acto Rowling on Pottermore Dolores Umbridge is another literal halfblood with a Muggle mother. Acto the Pottermore bio, she also possesses an apparently Muggle brother. By which it must be assumed that the Mr Umbridge who was their father must be either a very low-powered wizard — given that the predisposition to be able to express magic generally activates if it is present at all — or that their mother is a carrier of the Squib factor which Dolores did not inherit, but her brother did. In any case, apparantly Umbridge is a legitimately wizarding name, and Dolores is thereby able to fly in under the radar.

However, while Dolores Umbridge and Alecto Carrow would make a fine pair of bookends, I still doubted that Madam Umbridge is a DE herself. After all, she had no need to be. The DE’s agenda already serves her interests without requiring anything from her but her cooperation. And that she will quite happily give them. Or, indeed, anticipate.

And, again, by this time we have a pretty good idea of what our Tom thinks of women. I suspect that Bellatrix and Alecto are only in the boys’ club because they refused to be left out. Even Narcissa wasn’t actually a DE, if Rowling is to be believed. And Narcissa is neck-deep in their dealings.

And yet, to state that Umbridge was “unconnected” was in fact not literally true by the time we caught up to her in DHs. By that time she’d been wearing one of Tom’s Horcruxes for nearly a year (the Diary had taken over Ginny in about 3 months) — and no one had noticed any difference!

Umbridge’s nerve broke after her abduction by the Centaurs, but nobody obliviated her. She is going to remember exactly who it was that spun her a banbury tale and led her off into the forest. And just what would you rate the chances of her not telling anyone this until after the end of book 7? I think it is a good thing that Hermione didn’t let herself be seen publicly once the Muggle-born registry was set up.

What still seems likely is that someone (and I am not talking about that fool Fudge) gave Umbridge a debriefing at some point between her escape from Hogwarts and the end of the term to find out what exactly went wrong on her end of that year’s mission, and made some promises. All of Voldemort’s supporters inside the Ministry hadn’t been unmasked. Or, rather, after the graveyard muster at the end of GoF they seem to have all retired their masks. We certainly never saw a DE in a mask after that point.

But whoever it was that debriefed Umbridge, it wasn’t Malfoy because he was off the gameboard by then. Indeed, in fandom, it is most generally understood to have been Yaxley.

That makes two years in a row that the cause of a botched or aborted mission has turned up with Granger’s signature across it. And could anyone really think that this wasn’t going to have repercussions down the line?

Yet it didn’t.

For that matter, how much did Lucius Malfoy ever learn about how it was Hermione who single-handedly unraveled the riddle of the Basilisk? This is information that the DEs could have been given via Peter Pettigrew. If anyone had thought to ask him. Fortunately, no one ever does.

And Hermione is so sure that everyone is gunning for Harry that I seriously doubted that she was watching her own back.

(After finally recognizing this, I distracted myself with the belated realization that we had a whole collection of ‘other shoes’ that might not drop for a while yet. Or, as it turned out, ever.)

Throughout OotP, we also saw that little Miss bossy-boots was spreading her wings and growing, at least outwardly, more confident than ever.

To the point that she was beginning to make the kind of mistakes that usually do have consequences, even if not yet ones that had come with a high ticket price to other people.

It was Hermione who decided that the Dumbledore’s Army should formalize their plans at the Hog’s Head, where they were overheard and ratted out before they even got it off the ground. (In HBP we learn that the Hog’s Head is a known low-ranking DE hangout, from way back.)

She silenced, instead of stunning an enemy in combat. That’s a mistake she won’t make again. That particular mistake only cost her directly, at least, no one else had to pay for it, although Harry could have certainly used more of her help in that adventure, and she was in no state to provide it.

It also raises the question of how come she hadn’t ever come across the concept of non-verbal magic. James Potter and his yearmates were demonstrably familiar with it by the end of their 5th year. Didn’t that stupid textbook of Umbridge’s mention it at all? Or the one that Moody had used? What about all of those supplementary texts in the DA’s training room provided by the Room of Requirement? It’s not exactly an obscure skill. Indeed it is a required skill for NEWT-Level Charms and Transfiguration as well as for DADA. She makes a practice of reading ahead, and indeed it was established that she was picking up NEWT-level magic in 5th year, how did she manage to miss it?

And she has repeatedly demonstrated that she has as nearly as big a blind spot regarding sentient non-human beings as Dolores Umbridge does.

A certain amount of slack ought to be cut for the fact that Hermione is Muggle-raised and hasn’t altogether yet grocked the concept that even if House Elves do communicate in a sort of pidgin-English they are not simply funny-looking humans. She obviously hasn’t a clue as to their motivations, and she doesn’t seem to be making even the slightest effort to acquire such a clue. This seemed awfully likely to turn around and bite her someday, but no, even in this regard she turns out to be bullet-proof.

And she damned well ought to have known better than to suggest to a herd of Centaurs that she assumed that they would offer even the slightest bit of help to human trespassers in their own forest. The Centaurs’ general opinion of humans is amply documented in all of her textbooks. And the Forbidden Forest is called that for a reason. (Plus; “I’ve never really liked horses,” ranks right up there along with “He deserved it!”, or, “I see no difference.” in a collection of insensitive-to-the-point-of-inadmissible statements)

Readers of this series have made a continuing practice of trying to see echoes and parallels drawn between characters of different generations. It’s a difficult habit to break. But Hermione Granger, by that point, was just plain no longer coming across as “Minerva McGonagall lite”.

In fact, the most prominent other character who we have watched deploying the same kind of ruthless methodology of deciding what other people are going to do, and coolly making it impossible for them to do anything else is Dolores Umbridge, herself. This is not a comfortable observation. If Dolores Umbridge scared Harry for life with her Kafka-inspired quill, Hermione appears to have done nothing less with the cursed sign-up sheet for Dumbledore’s Army. And Hermione scared a teenaged girl across the face.

And, throughout OotP, such methods on Hermione’s part began to give me increasingly serious cause for concern. It looked like it wasn’t just Harry who had entered into an unpleasant and rather disturbing stage of adolescence.

And, post-HBP, the verse just gets worse, and the end was not in sight.

So, yes, I agree that when one actually looks at what was going on in books 4 & 5 and who was responsible for much of the conflict, and who appears to have managed to put a stop to it, it IS easy to get the impression that this was another Hermione essay. But it isn’t. It’s an essay regarding enemies. In a lot of respects, Hermione seems to be her own wortst one.

And Hermione certainly wasn’t any help at all against the one that made his debut in HBP.

Speaking of which:

Enemy #3. Fenrir Greyback.

Werewolf Zero.

This time we can be sure that it was not Hermione who petrified him, when he had his go at Harry during the invasion of Hogwarts. She and Luna were off in the Hospital wing with Professor Flitwick, and stayed there. But the circumstances under which it happened were such that it seems impossible not to conclude that Greyback was captured during the “flight of the Prince”.

Not that it made a lot of difference, since all of the DEs swept up in that raid as well as the ones caught in the raid on the DoM the year earlier were out again by the middle of July and the opening of DHs. Weeks before the Ministry officially “fell”.

We were never given an explanation for that.

We never even heard of it having been reported in the Prophet.

But, as to the invasion of Hogwarts, from all the indications at present the person who petrified Greyback was Neville.

He was the only defender who was not already fully occupied at the time.

Right at the point that Harry made it down from the top of the Tower, after petrifying “Brutal-face”, Greyback broke away from another fight and tackled him. Someone then got Greyback before he could do Harry any lasting harm.

When Harry scrambled out from under Greyback’s body the situation was:

Ginny vs. Amycus Carrow. Harry hexed him, he broke away. Escaped.

Minerva vs. a DE — it is implied this was Alecto. Alecto also got away.

Tonks vs. “Big Blond” (aka Thorfin Rowle). Harry hexed him, he broke away. Escaped. I had thought at the time that this was probably the elder Goyle. He and Crabbe had been described as the largest DEs at the muster in Little Hangleton two years earlier. Crabbe had taken part in the raid on the DoM and was captured at that time and landed in Azkaban. But no, Rowling claims she doesn’t reread her own work once it’s published, so it turns out that this was Thorfin Rowle, whose name we only found out as a retrofit in the following book. We don’t know whether he was another one of the Azkaban escapees or not. Not all of them in the newspaper article when they escaped the first time were identified by name.

Ron vs. an unidentified Death Eater

Lupin vs. an unidentified Death Eater.

One Death Eater, Gibbon, down. Dead from one of Rowle’s AKs.

Bill Weasley: down. Unconscious.

And, Neville, down, but conscious, holding his stomach. (Neville had not been given any of Harry’s “liquid luck potion”, he had been hurt early in the battle, but not seriously. He had also been tossed across the hall by the alleged barrier charm on the staircase.)

Ginny, Minerva, Ron, Lupin and Tonks were all fully occupied, thank you. Greyback had broken away from his fight to attack Harry. Evidently, he had either been fighting Neville — who seems to have managed to defend himself well enough for Greyback to decide to have a go at someone else, or one of the other defenders had been fighting at 2-against-1 odds before Harry got down the staircase.

We hear nothing further regarding the fates of DEs 7 & 8, but it is probable that Ginny, Neville, Tonks and Minerva went to Ron and Lupin’s assistance and they were captured as well. They certainly didn’t make it out of the castle in the escape, or if they did, Harry didn’t see them, and he was between the castle and the main gate. Of the eight invaders, only the Carrows, and Rowle made it down to the front gates after Snape and Malfoy. So five of Draco’s eight “helpers” were either killed or captured.

I imagine that if everyone had not been so shocked over the death of Albus Dumbledore, or worried about the future of Bill Weasley there would have been a great deal more jubilation over Greyback’s capture.

• • • •

As presented in HBP, in Fenrir Greyback we apparently did not have simply one of the followers, but a bonafide ally of Lord Voldemort. Or at least so it had originally appeared. Rowling threw this issue into confusion by flip-flopping on us again. In DHs Greyback is no more than one of a frowsy group of “Snatchers”. Truant officers, effectively.

In HBP, back in Spinner’s End, Snape speaks of Greyback in a manner consistent with his being yet another known DE, who, in common with most of them, had gone underground after Voldemort’s defeat, believing him to be dead. Neither of the Black sisters challenged or contradicted this statement. Rowling appears unaware that her later depiction does not support this interpretation.

As HBP progressed and we learned more of Greyback’s history from Lupin, it appeared that he was not merely a random DE, but a considerable villain in his own right with a following of his own, who had chosen to ally himself with Voldemort.

And then, in DHs, in the chapter of the Prince’s Tale, in a scene which took place just before the Black sisters’ visit to Spinner’s End, Albus and Snape are shown discussing Voldemort having only just recently enlisted Greyback to his cause.

Say what?

And just where do Draco’s earlier “friend of my father” claims fit in this version?

This contradiction is yet another one of the cumulative list of reasons why I find myself flatly unable to accept very much of anything that we are told in DHs. It just doesn’t add up. It doesn’t reveal misdirections given us by partial information fed to us over the earlier books. It simply makes a hash of the whole story, as it had been told. Things like Dolores Umbridge being a Selden, yes, that will work, we had never been told anything to contradict it, but this? No. I just don’t buy it.

It is also clear in DHs that the whole gang of werewolves thread (which actually only materialized in HBP, and served no purpose to the story arc whatsoever) has been completely dropped from the storyline. We don’t even get the impression, let alone confirmation, that the rest of the Snatchers Greyback is leading are part of his band of werewolves.

Not that one can really blame Rowling for dropping it. It clearly wasn’t well-thought out enough to go prime time. It was ultimately just set dressing and local color.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the whole idea of introducing the Big Bad Wolf didn’t suddenly occur to her somewhere during the writing of OotP. She hadn’t any reasonable way of deploying it in that book (which was already getting long enough to be daunting) so she held it back, built it up, and threw it at us in HBP. Without thinking through any of the implications she had lumbered it with.

In other words, it’s yet another disposable plot device. Use once and discard. Not that she made any discernable use of it.

However, we’re stuck with him, so we might as well try to force some sense out of the mess. This is going to be a lot more solidly based on information we got in HBP than on anything we were given in DHs. To all intents and purposes, where the series is concerned, the werewolf thread only existed in HBP. It certainly never materialized to any purpose during DHs.

• • • •

The Death Eaters all had the luxury of going underground during Voldemort’s absence. Greyback, and his werewolves would not have had that option. There is no hiding from the moon regardless of who is calling the shots in the Ministry.

And Greyback remained active throughout the period of Voldemort’s absence.

Now that we finally met Greyback, we could at last believe we knew the reason for much of that apparently unjust prejudice against lycanthropes in the wizarding world. Remus Lupin, our representative example, is clearly NOT typical.

And the indications we had been given up to that point were that Fenrir Greyback (not his legal name I suspect, btw, that handle sounds every bit as bogus as “Lord Voldemort”) was yet another of Lucius Malfoy’s odd-job men. Even werewolves need cash, sometimes. And no one will hire them to earn it honestly. Malfoy’s specialties seem to be blackmail and extortion. Greyback is probably of no particular use regarding the former, but he could certainly be very helpful with the latter. A “family friend’, eh?

Lucius’s fellow Governors on the Hogwarts board supported him in his campaign to remove Dumbledore as Headmaster because Lucius had threatened to “curse their families”, eh? In the light of 20/20 hindsight I rather doubt that Lucius had threatened to curse them personally. And there are curses that are incurable.

Or, quite possibly, there is something more to it than that. Blackmail and extortion can go in more than one direction.

From everything we were told in HBP it seems likely that Fenrir Greyback somehow got roped in under Voldemort’s banner “last time”. We’ve been told more than once that Voldemort had werewolves at his command (although it is hard to come up with any effective manner in which he could have deployed them). And Greyback’s activities seem to have been fairly widely known last time, too. Which makes it hard to understand why he is still at liberty.

We don’t know how early their alleged association was formed, either. Our only information on that account was that Remus Lupin, who was born in March of 1960, was bitten before Hogwarts’s Autumn term of 1971. And that we have also since been told that Greyback bit Remus to get back at Remus’s father suggests that Voldemort may have had nothing to do with it at that point.

Or perhaps he had. The Death Eaters were known to be active by the mid-1960s even if their leader wasn’t yet unmentionable. The elder Mr Lupin may have offended more than just Greyback. And we’ve been told by Rowling that Remus is a halfblood. We do not know whether he is a literal one.

Or even that “Lupin” is actually his family name. Assumed names don’t appear to be that uncommon in wizarding Britain.

• • • •

But, apart from Remus Lupin, we never encountered another werewolf (aside from one new victim in St Mungo’s) until after Voldemort had already returned.

So where were they?

You can’t hide from the moon.

Particularly given that Fenrir Greyback allegedly holds it in the light of a holy mission to create as many werewolves like himself as he possibly can. To create them young, and to raise them away from normal human society and influence. To bring them up with an ingrained hatred of “normal” wizards.

Now, that’s strange.

Within our context, to date, of the Potterverse, that seemed truly strange.

Within the context of the Real World™, it’s not, particularly.

If I may digress; there is a phenomenon which has managed to attract some attention in our own, all-too-workaday world. It is not all that recent a phenomenon, either, but its move to the Internet does tend to signal a new phase.

It is abundantly evident that The World As It Is is not nearly enough to satisfy some of its tenants. The concept that there is nothing more to it than they can see is insupportable. They crave wonders, the unknown, the hidden, and the Dark. They hunger for mystery, and they long for Magic. And they are not all readers who are content to merely seek it by immersing themselves in speculative or imaginative fiction, or the fandom thereeof. Or even by adopting various neo-pagan religions which uphold the existence of, and offer the promise of potential control over other presences in the world around them.

They want there to be “Others”.

They want to BE those Others.

I am not making this up.

If you choose, you can find the websites of groups of people that claim to BE vampires. And, yes, they really do drink blood. Or try to. I gather that they have nightclubs as well. I think they got the idea out of Anne Rice, but I could be wrong. I do not know whether there are similar sources for would-be werewolves. Between the ‘Twilight’ phenomena and others, there may well be by now.

If I may repeat myself:

“It should be noted that some of the atavistic horror with which Muggles regard both of these maladies [vampirism and lycanthropy] has also in many cases been applied to the practice of Magic itself by normal wizards and witches. It is currently believed by some of the more prominent names in the field of Muggle Studies that this is largely because, among Muggles, it is only as a result of sustaining such infections that a Muggle is able to channel magical energies at all. Muggles have no experience of channeling the forces of magical energies by the noninvasive methods currently practiced by most wizards.” [JOdel: ‘A History of Magic’, Red Hen Publications, Potterverse essay collection]

The above statement was made in the very first posted version of the essay referenced above, all the way back in the spring of 2003. It has been repeated in every subsequent iteration of the collection since that date. Another postulation made in the same essay a little earlier, referring to the hypothetical development of Dark Arts-related dementias proposed:

“It should also be noted that long-term damage of this sort is commonly observed in the victims of certain Magical maladies such as vampirism and lycanthropy.” [snip] “The social stigma which has traditionally been applied to the victims of such maladies is largely in recognition of this degenerative process, gradually producing the symptoms of DA-related dementia which ultimately affect the vampire during all periods that he is conscious, and the werewolf even while in human form. [Note: This statement was made in 2003 and the last thing I expected to encounter in canon was an example of it!]”

At the end of HBP I was convinced that “Fenrir Greyback” had once been a Muggle.

The DE robes he was wearing didn’t fit him. Were they even his? (In DHs, it seems strongly implied that he is not, in fact, actually Death Eater. Tom wasn’t willing to extend his offer of an alliance as far as that.)

And at that point, we hadn’t seen him threaten anyone with a wand, either, had we? In fact when he was acting out his “big bad wolf” routine on top of the tower, Brutal-Face had no compunction about hexing him, and telling him to knock it off, and he didn’t even try to draw a wand in retaliation. I didn’t think he had one.

The possibility that he was a former Muggle, and that that may have accelerated the degenerative process of lycanthropy, since, as a Muggle, he is not naturally capable of channeling magical energies. Rowling states in ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ that both wizards and Muggles can contract lycanthropy. And as a Muggle he might have less resistance than a wizard to the distortions of perception which accompany the channeling of Dark, i.e., chaotic, magic.

I am absolutely confident that if such infections existed in our world, some of the people on those websites I refer to above would be lining up to catch them. And somewhere, there would be somebody, maybe more than one, who whether originally among that group or not, might, once having caught such an infection, very well decide it was his mission to spread it.

And most Muggles don’t know enough to come in out of the moonlight.

They are sitting ducks. Wizards, after all, know to stay indoors on the nights of a full moon.

• • • •

Well, not, apparently. In DHs Greyback is presented as really being a wizard. He is not, however a true DE (Ergo; the robes didn’t fit). He’s just a hanger-on. In Rowling’s worldview, Muggles might be comic villains, like the Dursleys, but are not permitted to be real ones.

One does see why Rowling suddenly felt she had to establish that, yes, he was a wizard. She wanted to bring him back onstage as a bogyman threat during the Malfoy Manor segment of the story, and he would had to be a wizard to be able to Apparate in order to be where the plot needed him to go. But it clanks. It really does.

I still think his being an ex-Muggle would have made for a more interesting character arc, and his presence at Malfoy Manor could have been explained in some other manner. He could have been there awaiting orders when the Snatchers brought them in.

Indeed, under the DEs’ reign he was nothing more than an itinerant Snatcher that the real DEs regarded with contempt. So much for promises kept.

Well, okay, the pay was probably not much, but at least he was getting paid. He was better off than under the previous Ministry’s reign. And it put him in the way of capturing children. Or at least, minors.

Although probably not during nights of the full moon. Sorry about that.

But if he actually had a band of followers of his own, as everyone was insisting all through HBP, he seems to have mislaid them. He is the only werewolf apart from Remus Lupin who was ever identified as such. Of course nothing of note in the whole 7th took place during the full moon, so how would we know? (Werewolves? Where werewolves?)

For there is still that pesky issue of his alleged followers. What happened to them?

• • • •

Back in HBP Greyback was said to be quite ambitious. He allegedly claimed that he intended to create as many of his followers as possible from young wizards. Or, in plain language; he wants to have wizards at his command. And he meant to have them. Young ones. Untrained young ones (since of course young ones cannot attend Hogwarts). Ones that he can control. Their magic is not a threat to him because they cannot effectively utilize it. To the wizarding community, the children that Greyback “turns” have been “ruined”, and are unrecoverable. They cannot be trained, they cannot find jobs, the wizarding world disowns them, and regardless of the need, it will not reclaim them.

And the more wizards he ruins, the fewer of them are out there to oppose him. Or his ally Lord Voldemort. I’m inclined to doubt that the DEs quite realize that, although their leader probably does.

And he does not oppose it.

It is small wonder that Lupin, a trained wizard, found it so hard to infiltrate the group.

The Muggle society of the Potterverse, however, has been guided into an even more “rational” and unimaginative model than that of our own world. Such a discovery as that magic not only exists, but that one can actually become a magical creature has a lot of potential to send someone poorly balanced to begin with right over the edge. In Fenrir Greyback, Rowling has conflated the “Wolfman” with the “Mad Scientist” attempting to produce a “master race”. I thought that making him an ex-Muggle would have been an extremely interesting twist. But, alas, no such thing. Rowling’s imagination did not stretch that far.

He is still completely deluded, of course. And dangerous with it. He needs to be confined (or disposed of) for the good of everybody. And his condition has clearly progressed to the point that he is no longer “safe” apart from on the nights of a full moon. He is a “dangerous creature” at all times.

And at the end of HBP his “pack” was now leaderless, since he had been captured.

Well, temporarily.

Maybe that’s what happened to them. He was absent long enough over HBP, off loitering about in Knockturn Alley to intimidate Borgin, followed by being clapped up in Azkaban for 5–7 weeks in the summer, that they chose a new leader and wanted no further part of him.

• • • •

But his being an ex-Muggle wouldn’t have explained an association with Lucius Malfoy. Rowling may have dropped that thread entirely, but that consideration may have been a factor of making sure we knew he was a wizard. I can think of few characters to whom we have been introduced over the course of the series who would be less likely to strike up a partnership with an infected Muggle than Lucius Malfoy.

But maybe it wasn’t exactly a partnership.

As I pointed out above: Lucius Malfoy was very publicly “outed” for his involvement with the Death Eaters. Everyone in the ww knows he was one, even if his father did manage to get him off with an Imperius defense. Everyone knows who he is.

Which means that unlike nearly all of the rest of the known DEs, he was not sent to Azkaban at the end of VWI.

From Snape’s comments in Spinner’s End, it sounds as though Greyback’s association was originally through Voldemort, not Malfoy. Indeed I would not be all that astonished to learn that the “family friend” threat to Borgin was a bit of play-acting on Draco’s part, put on to intimidate back when he was still all excited about having been assigned a real honest-to-ghod mission.

I mean, really, does Fenrir Greyback come across as anyone that Narcissa would ever invite to sit down at her dinner table? Even before we saw her opinion of him for ourselves in DHs?

Does Draco act like Greyback is old “uncle Fenrir,” his daddy’s friend, who he has known since he was a tot?

If he behaved according to his usual modus operandi, Voldemort probably gave Greyback permission to do his worst, provided occasional material support, and just possibly some minor degree of protection over the intervals between full moons. On the strength of that, Greyback started building his own little empire. However, Greyback and his werewolves would never have had access to sensitive information related to Tom’s plans.

For that matter they probably largely served as a distraction, since there is no way that one could have profitably deployed a bunch of irrational frenzied wolves which are as much a danger to your own side as they are to the opposition. The werewolves were strictly a terror weapon, to be turned loose when Voldemort hadn’t anything else planned. Their purpose was merely to keep the wizarding populace frightened.

But if you are that close to the edge, even limited support is support. And once Voldemort had disappeared, Greyback was stuck, with an indeterminate number of followers, few resources, and nowhere safe to turn.

Fenrir had gotten used to relying on the DEs and where were they now? Oh, that’s right. Azkaban.

With a couple of exceptions.

Like Avery. And Malfoy. Both of whom had managed to dodge the bullet. There might have been one or two others that Greyback knew about personally.

We don’t know anything about Avery’s circumstances, but Malfoy was known to not be hurting for funds.

Maybe Greyback felt he should look him up. And, for that matter maybe he should look up Avery, and just about anyone else whose identity he knew that had managed not to be swept up in the aftermath.

Charity is one of the cardinal virtues, after all.

And Malfoy has a small child, too.

Fenrir does so love children!

I rather suspect that the Greyback complication did not go over well with Abraxus Malfoy, but he agreed that whatever sent the creature away was probably well worth every knut of it.

But, yes indeed, blackmail and extortion can certainly go both ways.

Not so much “old family friend” as the wolf at the door.

And Lucius did, at least occasionally, find Greyback, or the threat of him, useful.