The Aurors are supposed to be the elite. The creme de la creme. The best of the best. The Ministry's finest fighting forces. Their answer to MI5. Professor McGonagall outlines the high grades which were required and the rigorous recruitment process that's involved.

"Well, I thought of, maybe, being an Auror," Harry mumbled.
"You'd need top grades for that," said Professor McGonagall, extracting a small, dark leaflet from under the mass on her desk and opening it. "They ask for a minimum of five N.E.W.T.s, and nothing under 'Exceeds Expectations' grade, I see. Then you would be required to undergo a stringent series of character and aptitude tests at the Auror office. It's a difficult career path, Potter, they only take the best. In fact, I don't think anybody has been taken on in the last three years."
(Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 29, Careers Advice).

One of the elite wizards who made the grade was Dawlish. He excelled academically and became an Auror - but was still taken down by Dumbledore when they fought in the Headmaster's study at Hogwarts...

"Don't be silly, Dawlish," said Dumbledore kindly. "I'm sure you are an excellent Auror - I seem to remember that you achieved 'Outstanding' in all your N.E.W.T.s - but if you attempt to - er - bring me in by force, I will have to hurt you."
(Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 27, The Centaur and the Sneak).

...and again a few months later...

"[Scrimgeour] has even attempted to have me followed. Amusing, really. He set Dawlish to tail me. It wasn't kind. I have already been forced to jinx Dawlish once; I did it again with the greatest regret."
(Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 17, A Sluggish Memory).

Now there's no shame in getting owned twice by Albus Dumbledore. He was probably the most powerful wizard in history. Even Lord Voldemort couldn't overpower him. Yet, by the time of Deathly Hallows, Dawlish is being defeated by far less intimidating adversaries than Albus Dumbledore. He's Confunded by the Order of the Phoenix and made to lay a false trail of information to the Death Eaters.

"Dawlish, the Auror, let slip that Potter will not be moved until the thirtieth, the night before the boy turns seventeen."
Snape was smiling.
"My source told me that there are plans to lay a false trail; this must be it. No doubt a Confundus Charm has been placed upon Dawlish. It would not be the first time, he is known to be susceptible."
(Deathly Hallows, Chapter 1, The Dark Lord Ascending).

Now Dawlish is getting hoodwinked by a simple Confundus Charm. Even more embarrassingly, this situation is known to have happened before. Dawlish is starting to sound less like an elite spy, and more like a liability. Note that, at this point, Dawlish is definitely still working in the Auror's office.

And that's not all. Next we hear that Dawlish has been overcome in a fight with an unarmed wizard.

"I've got to say, Dirk, I'm surprised to run into you. Pleased, but surprised. Word was you'd been caught."
"I was," said Dirk. "I was halfway to Azkaban when I made a break for it, Stunned Dawlish and nicked his broom. It was easier than you'd think; I don't think he's quite right at the moment. Might be Confunded. If so, I'd like to shake the hand of the witch or wizard who did it, probably saved my life."
(Deathly Hallows, Chapter 15, The Goblin's Revenge).

Clearly Dawlish is struggling to do his job at this point. He's still feeling the after-effects of the Confundus Charm and consequently is confused, disorientated and weak. Hardly qualities you want from a crack Auror. Here he's only delegated a very simple task: prisoner transport. This is routine work, especially for someone as intelligent and accomplished as Dawlish. Yet he is overcome by an unarmed prisoner, Stunned and left for dead at the side of the road. This is an utter humiliation.

It wasn't an isolated incident, either. He also gets his butt handed to him by Neville's Gran.

"Thing was," he faced them, and Harry was astonished to see that he was grinning, "they bit off a bit more than they could chew with Gran. Little old witch living alone, they probably thought they didn't need to send anyone particularly powerful. Anyway," Neville laughed, "Dawlish is still in St Mungo's and Gran's on the run."
(Deathly Hallows, Chapter 29, The Lost Diadem).

Now I don't know what kind of supervision, discipline and oversight the Ministry of Magic operated in relation to their staff. But surely Dawlish should have been removed as an Auror after all his missteps? Or at least given some kind of leave of absence? He gets beaten on five separate occasions, sometimes in the most humiliating of circumstances. Where an employee is underperforming so badly over such a prolonged period of time that would seem to represent a failure to intervene on the part of the management. Dawlish was surely doing badly enough to be fired, or at least demoted or removed from active duty.

Why was he permitted to remain an Auror given his woeful incompetence?

  • 149
    Let me know if I should be asking this on Workplace.SE. Jul 13, 2017 at 17:40
  • 25
    Some one has to be the worst of the best....
    – Skooba
    Jul 13, 2017 at 17:45
  • 61
    No surprise the @TheDarkLord is keeping tabs on which aurors are easiest to overpower. :-)
    – RichS
    Jul 13, 2017 at 17:54
  • 8
    "He's still feeling the after-effects of the Confundus Charm and consequently is confused, disorientated and weak" - why do you say 'after-effects'? What reason is there to think that, as Dirk says, he isn't actually confunded, not formerly confunded? Also, why would a ministry run by death eaters remove a poor performer from the department tasked with eliminating dark wizards? Seems like they would want the Auror office undercut as much as possible no?
    – NKCampbell
    Jul 13, 2017 at 18:02
  • 8
    Whatever gave you the idea that the Ministry cares about competence in its staff? It was in very short supply at the top of the organisation.
    – alexwlchan
    Jul 13, 2017 at 20:49

4 Answers 4


When there was no battle for power over the Ministry, he was only defeated by Dumbledore.

During the first three instances, Dawlish was up against Dumbledore. As you say in your question, there's no shame in being defeated by Dumbledore. The Ministry likely wouldn't consider failing while up against Dumbledore as a reason for demoting him, and almost certainly not as a reason to fire him.

At the time when he was Confunded, there was a battle for control over the Ministry.

When he was Confunded, both the Ministry and Death Eaters had higher priorities than Dawlish.

“Yaxley waited, but Voldemort did not speak, so he went on, ‘Dawlish, the Auror, let slip that Potter will not be moved until the thirtieth, the night before the boy turns seventeen.’

Snape was smiling.

‘My source told me that there are plans to lay a false trail; this must be it. No doubt a Confundus Charm has been placed upon Dawlish. It would not be the first time, he is known to be susceptible.”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 1 (The Dark Lord Ascending)

This exchange about Dawlish takes place at a meeting of the Death Eaters and the Dark Lord where they're plotting their takeover of the Ministry. They've made some progress, but certainly don't have full control over the Ministry, as they are impatiently anticipating when it will fall.

“Well, Yaxley?’ Voldemort called down the table, the firelight glinting strangely in his red eyes. ‘Will the Ministry have fallen by next Saturday?”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 1 (The Dark Lord Ascending)

They’re still trying to turn enough of the Ministry employees to gain control, but they haven’t yet.

“It is a start,’ said Voldemort. ‘But Thicknesse is only one man. Scrimgeour must be surrounded by our people before I act. One failed attempt on the Minister’s life will set me back a long way.”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 1 (The Dark Lord Ascending)

They were making progress, but the Ministry was still a bit away from being theirs.

“As long as our friend Thicknesse is not discovered before he has converted the rest,’ said Voldemort. ‘At any rate, it remains unlikely that the Ministry will be mine before next Saturday. If we cannot touch the boy at his destination, then it must be done while he travels.”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 1 (The Dark Lord Ascending)

At that point, the Death Eaters' priorities are gaining control over as many people within the Ministry as possible and taking it over. They might even consider it useful to have an Auror who is known for being easily Confunded. Another thing to remember is the information about Dawlish being susceptible to being Confunded comes from Snape, who may not be telling the truth since he's actually a double agent. (However, the later incident proves that Dawlish does get Confunded so Snape could have been telling the truth here.)

“He will not do either,’ said Snape. ‘The Order is eschewing any form of transport that is controlled or regulated by the Ministry; they mistrust everything to do with the place.”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 1 (The Dark Lord Ascending)

Again, Snape is a double agent so could have been lying, but we know that the Order of the Phoenix already believed that the Ministry had fallen into the hands of the Dark Lord. Their side certainly wouldn't want to have good Aurors in the ranks of the Ministry for him to control and use against them. The Dark Lord was still trying to gain control over the Ministry, so he and the Death Eaters were more concerned about infiltration than staffing issues at that time.

At his last two defeats he was working with the Death Eaters, who needed fighters.

The Death Eaters would also have no interest in firing him entirely, as even doing lesser work for the Death Eaters is still useful when in the midst of a war. In addition, it's not like they're in a position to fire anyone, as they need everyone on their side that they could get. It would have made more sense to keep him as a lesser soldier than to outright fire him.

In addition, the Death Eaters may have Confunded him and seem to have demoted him.

Dawlish was still working as an Auror under the Death-Eater-controlled Ministry, but it seems clear that they're not trusting him with difficult jobs. They sent him after an unarmed wizard, and later an old lady. The Death Eaters would need people to do this sort of thing as well and presumably would (rightfully) consider it a waste of time to send their best people on simple jobs like those. A less capable wizard would do. In addition, Dawlish was at less than full strength due to being Confunded on at least one of those times. Possibly even both times, since he may not have been willingly working with the Death Eaters without some kind of mind control. Like Pius Thicknesse, he may have been influenced into it. The Death Eaters would have taken anyone they could make fight for them, even less than competent ones. They just wouldn't consider them top and trusted Death Eaters - which they aren't doing with Dawlish. By this time, Dawlish seems to be demoted, or presumed less capable, as the Death Eaters were using him to go after an unarmed wizard and later a grandmother.

  • 7
    Bellatrix helped the Dark Lord? Seems appropriate... Jul 15, 2017 at 23:04
  • Pretty sure it was Dirk Cresswell that they sent him with. Nov 6, 2020 at 20:57

JKR doesn't consider him to be incompetent:

"Dawlish had to be good. He had to be good because he became an Auror. There's no denying that. But he has his weaknesses and Dumbledore knew how to exploit them. Let's face it. Anyone, anyone going up to Dumbledore pre-trying on the Horcrux, pre-maiming his hand, anyone is gonna be in trouble going up against Dumbledore. Even Voldemort didn't want to do it. So there's no dishonor to Dawlish."

Given the quotes in the question re: confunding and that we see Dawlish engaged in capturing Muggle-borns, it isn't unreasonable to presume that he is under the charm during the entire scope of book 7.

Additionally, from the same source, JKR indicates that he is mentally and physically affected by the things that happen to him:

By the time Augusta Longbottom got to him, he had been-- several people had attacked Dawlish. I mean, I think he was a bit punch-drunk by that point, you know. He had become a favorite punch-bag of the Order of the Phoenix by then. So I don't think he was firing on all cylinders. But I really saw Mrs. Longbottom as a powerful witch.

So - he isn't incompetent. He is likely continually under mind control and thus there is no reason for the Death Eater Ministry regime to remove him when he is serving their purposes, and he is over-exerted to the point of being 'punch-drunk' - which in one definition is stated as "stupefied by or as if by a series of heavy blows to the head."

  • Great find with the quotes! But you don't answer the question as to why the Ministry didn't let him go. Jul 13, 2017 at 18:43
  • Thanks! However, on the contrary, I think it does, in the first sentence/link - in other words, my answer to your question is a refutation of the premise if that makes sense. I did make a slight modification to my last paragraph
    – NKCampbell
    Jul 13, 2017 at 18:52
  • He may not be incompetent if he wasn't fully with it. But being "punch-drunk" meant that he couldn't effectively do his job, which is grounds for dismissal in any workplace. Jul 13, 2017 at 18:57
  • 10
    Sort of - but, the Ministry at the time isn't really a normal workplace. It's a front for and the "legitimate" arm of Death Eater politics and policing. If he is Confunded, he's doing their work and is no threat so why get rid of him. If he is actively working against the ministry and that is known, then he wouldn't just get fired, he'd get toasted with green light. JKR says he was a solid guy and gives lots of indications in the books that he was confunded. He then is a mindless mook for the bad guys who gets increasingly knocked around.
    – NKCampbell
    Jul 13, 2017 at 19:04
  • 1
    @TheDarkLord It would be illegal to fire him for this reason in the UK. He has suffered a workplace accident (getting Confunded) and his work is hindered because of that. Before taking any action, the employer must look for ways to support the employee (for example by changing their duties at job) and give them a reasonable time to recover. If there is no medical record that they have been Confunded, and they are just "unable to do the job properly", the employer must give the employee chance to improve (for example by training them), and give a warning before they are dismissed.
    – user65188
    Jul 15, 2017 at 23:01

I think your first quote sums it up perfectly...

Then you would be required to undergo a stringent series of character and aptitude tests at the Auror office. It's a difficult career path, Potter, they only take the best. In fact, I don't think anybody has been taken on in the last three years."

To me this implies a vast labor shortage. They went from a time of relative peace to fighting an enemy that wished to remain hidden and work from the shadows. The second known rise of Voldemort takes only a few years (Harry's Year 4 to Year 6) with no new blood to replenish the ranks it is likely that Auror ranks would be aging out at a rapid pace.

The need for new Aurors is also coming during war time. Even if you had the grades and skills to pass the aptitude test, the selection committee (or however it is done) would probably be very hard on character assessment. Who knows if you are Death Eater, some other Voldemort sympathizer, or possibly under an Imperius Curse to infiltrate the office!

Dawlish may have been shown to a bit incompetent at times, but he was at least a trusted veteran. The Aurors likely had little option to keep putting him out there and hoping he didn't muck up the operation.

Although it does seem like he might have been demoted... He goes from being tasked with attempting to bring in Dumbledore, to only tailing Dumbledore, to prisoner transport, and finally to arresting little ol' grannies... Maybe if the trend continued he would be polishing wands in the Ministry basement...


It seems to be more of a running joke than his actual incompetence, much like what's her face's nose at Hogwarts. JK likes her running jokes. But that's a meta analysis.

From the books perspective, Dumbledore jinxed him twice. That's no matter. Dumbledore is the period's greatest duelist, who defeated Voldemort multiple times. And he has the Elder wand. He's nigh unstoppable, except, as Voldy and Draco pointed out, by matters of the heart.

Then he was Confounded by someone in the Order, it sounds like. Remember several of the Order are fantastic duelists. Snape himself is a member of the Order, loyal throughout to Dumbledore. Barty, when he taught at Hogwarts, would also lie through omission about Confoundus charms being used.

Then she specifically puts in that he's suffering deteriorating effects from repeated Confoundus charms.

Neville's gran was also a fantastic duelist, by the way, and sharp as a tack. Combined with Dawlish's deteriorating condition, it sounds like she overpowered him easily.

Finally, people make mistakes. People make big mistakes sometimes. The magnitude of a screw up when you're at that level is even higher. And sometimes someone can do everything in their power to succeed and still fail. Dawlish achieved the academic excellence required to become an Auror, then he didn't screw up badly enough, in other's eyes, to be removed. And, in fact, only Dumbledore knows that he was jinxed twice. Dawlish and the minister do not even realize they've been jinxed the first time, only that they fell down and Dumbledore escaped.

To answer your question, it doesn't sound like he's messed up badly enough to warrant removal. And you, who must not be named, had full control of the Ministry, which means that you did not think that he screwed up badly enough either.

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