Sneakier and Sneakier: Informers, Traitors, Double-Agents, and Spies in HP5
by Robbie Fischer
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the plot very definitely thickens. Partly concealed from Harry’s point of view, a complex web of conflicting interests spawn “sneaks” and rat-finks of all sizes and shapes. Some of them are exposed for everyone to see. Some, I think, are only hinted at, for us to speculate about. Assuming that J. K. Rowling doesn’t put anything in her books without a good reason, we may be finding out more about those “secret sneaks” in later books.
Marietta Edgecombe wears the pimply badge of Sneakdom in the most obvious colors. We know all about her betrayal of Dumbledore’s Army. Fortunately, the situation was saved by a counter-betrayal, as Ministry Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt sabotaged Marietta’s testimony, right under Cornelius Fudge’s nose. The questions that remain from this scene include: Will Marietta’s complexion clear up before the next year at Hogwarts starts? Will the D. A. continue and grow in size and importance? Or has it served its purpose and run its race? And now that everyone knows Voldemort is back and that Harry and Dumbledore have been telling the truth all along, will the Ministry (Fudge in particular) warm toward Dumbledore? Or will they continue making trouble for the wizard school?
I don’t think the answers to these last couple questions are as simple as they seem, based on the scene in the Ministry when Fudge sees Voldemort dueling with Dumbledore. After a whole year of believing that Dumbledore is his enemy and that Harry is crackers, these habits of thought may take some breaking. Probably more to the point, Fudge and his followers have shown how much they love power, and that there is no fundamental liberty they will not trample upon in order to keep power. Will the Pin-Striped Tiger change his stripes? Not easily, I dare say.
Another kind of betrayal is seen in Percy Weasley, who makes his priorities known when he throws over his whole family in favor of the Ministry of Magic. He has said choice things that won’t be easy to take back–things about Dumbledore, about the Order of the Phoenix, and about Harry. Will Percy find it in himself to eat humble pie? Can he ever be trusted again? Or could he have sold himself irredeemably to the cause of Self and Power?
Just a bit more subtle is the Filch-Mrs. Norris-Umbridge dynamic in Order of the Phoenix. Apparently Filch and Umbridge had a unique understanding between them. Each was, in short, the other’s only ally, and one hand washes the other. Umbridge agreed to reinstitute corporal punishment, and Filch became her devoted stooge. They both played informant on each other, with Mrs. Norris the cat running between them as a courier. Sort of like how Mr. Tibbles reported to Mrs. Figg in Little Whinging, Mrs. Norris kept Filch informed of when Harry was stirring in the corridors.
It seems that Umbridge tipped Filch that she expected Harry to place an owl-order for dungbombs, so that when Mrs. Norris alerted Filch that Harry was headed toward the owlery, Filch would come running, confiscate whatever Harry was sending, and bring it to Umbridge. In return for her information, Filch informed Umbridge when Mrs. Norris saw him and McGonagall heading toward Dumbledore’s office in the middle of night. This explains the significance of Mrs. Norris catching sight of Harry and running away (no accidents, remember!). And, it explains how, according to Fawkes’ signal, “she” knew Harry and the Weasleys were out of bed, which seems connected to Hermione’s news that Umbridge was furious about the Weasleys and Harry getting out from under her guard.
In spite of Sirius’ wise comment that “the world is not divided into good people and death eaters,” there remain some questions about Umbridge: what she knew and when, and how she knew it. Okay, her brand of evil, vile as it is, could be merely the private evil of a small, small person; and it would not be at all relieved by not being a Death Eater. But, couldn’t she be a Death Eater after all? How else would she know some of the things she knows? Okay, she frisked Hedwig and found Sirius’ note saying, “Same time, same place.” How did she know it was from Sirius? How did she know what time he meant, and that the “same place” was the Gryffindor common room fire? Another question: the night of Harry’s vision of the snake attacking Mr. Weasley, how did she know to be on the alert for him and the Weasleys leaving school? Why did their escape irritate her so much? Was she getting information from Lucius Malfoy via the Ministry or from Draco? Or was she, perhaps, in league with the Death Eaters after all?
The Hog’s Head is full of sneaks, probably more than we necessarily know about. Mundungus, in drag as the veiled witch, informed the Order about what the kids were planning. Willy Widdershins, bandaged after his exploding-toilet-related injuries and quaffing goblet after goblet of Firewhisky, informed Umbridge about the same. And, I personally think the barman is Aberforth Dumbledore, who may have been directly in touch with Albus about what went on in his establishment. But, is that all there is to it? Maybe not. Willy had already gotten a slap on the hands for the exploding toilets; he had already cut some kind of deal, apparently. Ordinarily such deals are made in exchange for ready information. Could it be that in this deal, he was set free on purpose to gather information? Was he sent on purpose to overhear what Harry and Co. were planning in the Hog’s Head, as Mundungus was? If not, how could his information about the DA be related to his plea bargain on the exploding toilet charge? But, if so, how did Umbridge and Widdershins know when and where the students were going to gather?
Another question that almost seems too ridiculous to bother with is this: what side is Mundungus really on? Could the fact that he was banned from the Hog’s Head “twenty years ago” be related to the account of an unnamed spy eavesdropping on Dumbledore and Trelawney in the Hog’s Head sixteen years ago? Could the difference in the figures be only the result of Sirius speaking imprecisely? Could it be that being a rogue and a crook is merely the best possible cover for someone who REALLY shouldn’t be trusted? But, then again, would Dumbledore trust anyone who had once betrayed his side to the Dark Lord? As he does, evidently, trust Mundungus. Who was that eavesdropper, then? I think we will find out later. Wormtail, maybe?
Once again, J. K. Rowling does not often tell us things without having a reason for doing so. Ponder, if you will, the dumpy, mustached wizard and the frizzy-haired witch in the second row of benches at Harry’s hearing before the Wizengamot. They whisper together in a way that seems distinctly scornful of Harry’s defense. I expect we will get to know them better in a later book. But, I also wonder if there isn’t evidence–thin and shaky, to be sure–that they are in league with You Know Who. Soon after Harry gets back to Grimmauld Place, as the Weasleys begin celebrating his acquittal, he has one of those Blazing Scar moments that tells him that Voldemort is quite upset.
Could it be that Voldemort is angry about Harry getting off? Could it be that some person or persons on the Wizengamot itself have conveyed the news to him? Of course, the fact that Lucius Malfoy knew the verdict immediately after the trial provides an alternate explanation… unless Lucius would still be in conference with Fudge. And if Umbridge, for all that she sicced dementors on Harry, isn’t a Death Eater herself, could Wizard Mustache and Witch Frizz be closet Death Eaters? We’ll know something about them, by and by. Be sure of that.
Another eyebrow-raising question: where was Security Wizard Eric Munch, he of the wand-weighing machine and the golden frisking device, when the Death Eaters and Harry’s friends were in the Ministry of Magic? He who caught Sturgis Podmore at 1 a.m. should certainly have been on duty at the much earlier hour when twelve bad guys (including escapees from Azkaban) and six minors were dueling for all they were worth, one floor down. How was he subdued or lured away? Or was he, perhaps, not there on purpose? (I begin to sound like The Quibbler.)
Rat-finks and more rat-finks. The Inquisitorial Squad must naturally be mentioned. I think Draco and his pals were in tight with Umbridge long before they started wearing their little silver pins. When she was auditing Care of Magical Creatures class, she seemed to know exactly whose opinion she wanted to hear: the Slytherins’. More telling still is the fact that she just happened to have a new Educational Decree in her handbag the very day Draco baited Harry and George into beating him up while Crabbe, having successfully diverted Madam Hooch’s attention long enough to let this happen, stood by and chuckled with satisfaction. The whole incident reeks of “set-up.” And again, in a later Care of Magical Creatures class, Draco pushes exactly the right buttons to achieve the effect both he and Umbridge seem to have looked for: Harry loses his cool and earns another detention, and Malfoy and Umbridge share the same smile of satisfaction. Based on clues like this, I think the Inquisitorial Squad functioned long before it had an official charter, name, and pin. At least, JKR has dropped clues as to how it developed and flowered.
And speaking of the Inquisitorial Squad, I love the little joke the twins played on Montague. Remember that vanishing cabinet from Chamber of Secrets, when Nearly Headless Nick goaded Peeves into smashing it on the floor above Filch’s office in order to create a diversion for Harry? I don’t know if this is the same one–it sounded as if the one in Book 2 was pretty well destroyed, and maybe magical objects like that cannot be magically repaired without losing their charm. I have a feeling that is the case. No doubt there are more than one vanishing cabinet in the world, and I imagine (though we have not seen it through Harry’s eyes) that “vanishing cabinet” means the sort of cabinet in which a person is placed, whereupon he or she vanishes into who-knows-where. Sleight-of-hand artists use that sort of gimmick quite often; it should surprise no one to see the genuine article at Hogwarts. And, it couldn’t happen to a better victim than a member of the Inquisitorial Squad!
The dementors have deserted their post at Azkaban. What will the ministry do now with its prisoners? And now that a dozen Death Eaters have been exposed and the Dark Lord’s return has been officially announced, how will that change the state of affairs in the wizarding world? Is it time for open war? And if so, how can business-as-usual go on at Hogwarts, while sympathizers with both sides–and the big, confused middle–are mixed together? What about non-Death Eater prisoners in Azkaban, like Sturgis Podmore? (Though, I suppose his six-month sentence must have run out in March or thereabouts.) And can the Order of the Phoenix go public, or do they still need to keep their activities and membership hush-hush? If the latter, is it to protect them from Death Eaters, or from the Ministry and wizarding public opinion?
Another great Sneak deserves mention: Rita Skeeter. Has she seen the light now? Or will she be gunning for revenge after her year of exile? Will the fact that her disinterested interview with Harry was her most successful work, alter her views about journalism?
An undeserving mention goes to the house-elves at Hogwarts, who were coerced by their magical enslavement into revealing the secrets of the DA to Umbridge. Dobby emerges as quite a hero, for double-dealing on her, risking severe punishment (even if it is self-inflicted) in breaking her command not to warn Harry. On the other hand, Kreacher the house-elf comes over as a black traitor of the first water, no pun intended. What will happen to him? Understandable as his behavior is, in a sad way, how can he be trusted whether he leaves Grimmauld Place or stays? Can Number 12 still be the Headquarters of the Order? Can it still be Harry’s home away from home? And would he want it, after all–especially if he inherits Kreacher with it?
Harry is so right to be angry, angry, angry. His fifth year at Hogwarts is pimpled with more Sneaks, Spies, Traitors, and Double-Dealers than the spots on Marietta’s face. Besides that, he has to bear with disillusionment about his father, bitterness against Snape, Sirius’ death, the Quidditch ban (I’m observing no particular order). He is hampered by the malice of Umbridge, the power-mongering tyranny of the Ministry, the slander of the Daily Prophet, the distrust of his fellow students, and Dumbledore’s, I beg your pardon, STUPID mistake of not telling Harry what he is so very ready, so desperately needs, and so obviously deserves to know. What Dumbledore said about Volemort excelling in placing divisions among people is so true. Because no less damaging than all the direct and deliberate betrayals are those done in innocence and openness of heart, unintentionally, by Harry’s friends. And, in the last analysis, Harry is betrayed by his own good nature. What could be more horrible to contemplate?
Maybe Harry’s fifth year should be called the Year of the Sneak.
Robbie Fischer, Hagrid lookalike