What If There Weren’t a Parting of the Ways?
The consequences of our actions are always so complicated, so diverse, that predicting the future is a very difficult business indeed. . . .” (PoA 426)
So Dumbledore tells us, but we can’t resist engaging in hypotheticals. That’s the very foundation of alternative universe (AU) fan fiction, and engaging in the thought exercise helps show us the consequences of certain events. Recently, on the Alohomora! discussion forums, a very interesting question was posed.
My question was a ‘what if’ question in regard to Cornelius Fudge and the Ministry. What if they had believed Harry and Dumbledore at the end of GOF and had taken action right away? Would Voldemort have been stopped? Or was his takeover inevitable? Obviously, the entire series would have changed drastically, but I’m curious just how ‘bad’ Fudge made things. Would we still have gotten Umbridge in OOTP? (Maybe under the guise that the Ministry wants someone at Hogwarts to ‘protect’ the students and staff?) Would the Ministry still have fallen in DH? Would Fudge still have been replaced by Scrimgeour?” – NoNeedtoCallMeSirProfessor
This struck me as a very interesting question because it’s not immediately obvious what major events would change if Fudge believed Dumbledore. At first glance, many things happened seemingly independent of Fudge: namely, Dumbledore being damaged by the curse on the Ringcrux and then dying around the summer of 1997, which was the most significant event of Vold War II up until the Battle of Hogwarts.
However, Dumbledore’s quote illustrates that the consequences of our actions are complicated and diverse.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The single most dramatic change in our AU stems from one crucial bit of instruction Dumbledore gives Fudge (in fact, his very first recommendation): to remove the Dementors from Azkaban.
If the Dementors were removed from Azkaban in 1995, the entire course of the next few books would change drastically. If Fudge had obeyed Dumbledore’s primary request, the Dementors would no longer be guarding Azkaban at the time they defected to Voldemort, so the ten Death Eaters would not break out of Azkaban in January 1996. And that would produce a seismic shift in how the books play out.
To quote Sirius, “He’s certainly not going to try and take on the Ministry of Magic with only a dozen Death Eaters” (OotP 93). Without the breakout, Voldemort’s ranks would look very different. Instead of having Bellatrix, the Lestrange brothers, Dolohov, and Rookwood at his disposal, Voldemort would be working with the likes of Lucius Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, and Avery. Between the lack of manpower and the lack of Rookwood’s intelligence, Voldemort would spend much more time and effort trying to get to the prophecy. Or maybe he would invest his energies into breaking the Death Eaters out of Azkaban, but it would be a difficult and protracted process.
If the Battle of the Department of Mysteries (Battle of DoM) didn’t go the way it originally did, Sirius may have still been alive after Harry’s fifth year.
On the flip side, not all the changes would have been good. Without the Ministry interfering at Hogwarts as much, Harry would never have had to form Dumbledore’s Army. He wouldn’t have several dozen allies at Hogwarts, ready to fight when called upon. Harry would never have become close friends with Luna if the Battle of DoM didn’t include her. Harry and Neville also wouldn’t become as close without the Battle of DoM. Without Bellatrix breaking out of Azkaban, Neville would not have come out of his shell and become a badass the way he did (though I choose to believe Neville was always fated to become a badass eventually).
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The major beats of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince seem to not be as reliant on Fudge’s cooperation (or lack thereof). However, the timing of everything changes based on some small things.
I lay out the case in my book The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore on page 105 that Dumbledore seized the opportunity of being kicked out of Hogwarts by Umbridge to begin the Horcrux hunt. It provides him with two months of uninterrupted time focusing on the Horcruxes and culminates in Dumbledore finding the Ringcrux shortly thereafter, setting the ticking clock on Dumbledore’s exit from the stage.
If Fudge believed Dumbledore, then the Dumbledore/Umbridge power struggle would have played out very differently, and Dumbledore probably would not have embarked on his Horcrux hunt unfettered by headmasterly responsibilities. Perhaps he would not have found the Ringcrux quite as soon as he did in the real timeline. This would have given Dumbledore additional time in which to prepare Harry for the war ahead.
But if the Battle of DoM did not happen the way it did, Lucius Malfoy would not have been disgraced and Draco would not have become the focus of Voldemort’s vindictive plot to have him kill Dumbledore. On the one hand, Lucius would probably have drawn Voldemort’s ire eventually, probably leading to a similar course of events, but on the other hand, the coincidence of Draco succeeding at getting Death Eaters into the school just as Dumbledore’s clock was running out may not have happened in the AU.
Perhaps Dumbledore would have got through to Draco as was beginning to happen atop the Astronomy Tower before the Death Eaters stormed in. But if not, there is another key moment that probably would not have happened the way it did: Draco would not have disarmed Dumbledore and would not have become master of the Elder Wand.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Some major story beats in Books 5 and 6 remain consistent if Fudge had believed Dumbledore even though there are already very significant changes. But the events of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows are almost completely unknowable because of how different this AU is.
It’s almost guaranteed that the Battle of the Seven Potters would not have taken place because Dumbledore would probably still be alive and Voldemort wouldn’t be nearly as powerful come Harry’s 17th birthday. Without the Battle of the Seven Potters, Moody wouldn’t be dead. If my theory is correct that Moody was the one Dumbledore confided all his plans to, then the trio would have a much easier time after Dumbledore’s death with Moody to advise them.
If Voldemort had been delayed in amassing his army of Death Eaters, he probably would not have taken over the Ministry quite as quickly and would have been unable to start his reign of terror when he did. It probably would have happened eventually since toppling the wizarding government would have been a major objective for him once Dumbledore died, but it probably would have happened much later.
But again, it’s not all better if Fudge had believed Dumbledore. One wonders how all the Horcruxes would have been destroyed in this new timeline.
- How would Harry know where to look for Hufflepuff’s cup if the trio weren’t captured and tortured by Bellatrix?
- How would Harry find out all the information about Ravenclaw’s diadem if he weren’t close friends with Luna and there were no DA?
- How would Nagini’s death have played out if we had a very different Neville on our hands – one who’s not as close with Harry (so was never assigned the task of beheading her) and one who’s perhaps not such a badass as to defy Voldemort?
And those are just the “known unknowns.” We don’t know how Sirius and Moody would have factored into the war had they lived. We don’t know what would have become of Draco and the Malfoys without the Department of Mysteries fiasco. Bellatrix’s role would probably be very different. Deathly Hallows would have been a completely different book if Fudge had heeded Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
The Chess Match
Some years ago, I wrote “The Three-Book-Long Chess Match,” illustrating how the major beats of Vold War II are foreshadowed in the chess match of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – six major beats in total. I think this is a helpful framework for examining the magnitude of this hypothetical change. As we see, the first three steps of the six end up completely different, and as any chess player will tell you, if the first half of the game is totally different, it’s unlikely the second half isn’t also wildly different.
Step 1: Bellatrix kills Sirius (white queen takes a black knight). As discussed, this event is completely changed if Fudge listens to Dumbledore, thereby leaving Harry’s team with an extra knight (which can make quite the difference in chess).
Step 2: The DA causes Fudge to be sacked as Minister (a black castle takes a white bishop). If you recall, Fudge was represented by a white bishop – someone with his own authority but whose actions were very much in service of Voldemort’s side. This move is also changed if Fudge listens to Dumbledore – essentially, that removes a bishop from Voldemort’s team at the game’s beginning, removing a significant advantage.
Step 3: Draco nearly kills people twice but is foiled by Dumbledore (a black knight saves a black castle and a black bishop twice in the nick of time). As discussed above, Draco may no longer be set on the warpath by Voldemort in the same way; Ron and Katie both could have avoided a lot of unpleasantness.
Steps 4, 5, and 6 are, at first glance, unchanged: Dumbledore hunts Horcruxes and dies so Harry can defeat Voldemort. However, just like in chess, a different move early in the game changes the course of the game completely in ways almost impossible to foresee at the beginning. This is a perfect metaphor for this hypothetical: If Fudge had believed Dumbledore in Goblet of Fire, everything would have been completely different.