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In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, at the end of the climax in the Ministry, Dumbledore tells the shocked Cornelius Fudge:

"Cornelius, I am ready to fight your men - and win again!" said Dumbledore in a thunderous voice. "But a few minutes ago you saw proof, with your own eyes, that I have been telling you the truth for a year. Lord Voldemort has returned, you have been chasing the wrong man for twelve months, and it is time you listened to sense!"

Who is the "wrong man" that Dumbledore is accusing the ministry of chasing for twelve months?

The first name that comes to mind is Sirius Black... but the Ministry has been on his case for much longer than twelve months (it's almost three years since the start of Prisoner of Azkaban at this point). So who else is the Ministry (wrongly) devoted on hunting down? Or did Dumbledore forget how long the Ministry has been looking for Sirius?

Note: Twelve months prior to this incident, which would have been June 20, 1994, is around the time Harry Potter returned to Hogwarts with Cedric's body at the end of the Third Task. Did the Ministry even start chasing anyone at that time?

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    I think it was either Black or Potter. Most likely Black though, even though there was a major smear-campaign against Potter, it makes sense that a lot of the suspicions of Voldemort's return were redirected towards Black. The timing isn't important and definitely not meant to be an accurate '1 whole year'.
    – Möoz
    Mar 14 at 21:24
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    By chasing, he mean figuratively. The MoM were after Harry and his reputation ever since he came back from the maze claiming that You-Know-Who was back and he was the one who killed Cedric Diggory (only to be reborn as The Batman :p jk).
    – Shreedhar
    Mar 14 at 22:07
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    @Möoz Surely it means Black. Before Voldemort's return, and given that the Ministry wasn't aware of his innocence, it made sense for them to be chasing him. But "for the last twelve months", when Voldemort himself is back, chasing even a presumed Death Eater is looking the wrong way.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 16 at 6:00
  • See my answer below. Do you have an edition of the book that actually says "man" in the quote?
    – Alex
    Mar 31 at 0:59

3 Answers 3

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Earlier in the book, Dumbledore tells Harry about how Fudge is jealous and wary of Dumbledore, and how Fudge feels that Dumbledore (a more powerful and popular wizard) threatens Fudge's position as Minister. Fudge believes Dumbledore's (and Harry's) assertions of Voldemort's return to be fabrications in order to engineer the replacement of Fudge by coup.

This is why Umbridge is sent to Hogwarts - to assert Ministry control and undermine Dumbledore.

While Harry is also targeted by Fudge, it seems Fudge considers him to be a pawn of Dumbledore's.

The statement:

you have been chasing the wrong man for twelve months

Means that instead of listening to Dumbledore and acting against Voldemort, Fudge has been wrongly persecuting Dumbledore, who has:

been telling you the truth for a year.

Just to provide a little more support for this interpretation - this speech is also made right after Fudge was about to order the Aurors to "Seize him!" - with him very obviously being Dumbledore at this point:

"Dumbledore!" gasped Fudge, beside himself with amazement. "You - here - I - I -"

He looked wildly around at the Aurors he had brought with him and it could not have been clearer that he was in half a mind to cry, "Seize him!"

"Cornelius, I am ready ...

UK Bloomsbury paperback edition, 2004, p 721


"Chasing" Potter might fit, but it doesn't account for how Fudge is threatened by Dumbledore nor his actions against Dumbledore.

Similarly, chasing Black (who is believed to be a Death Eater) doesn't account for the persecution of Dumbledore, nor does it account for the denial of the return of Voldemort.

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  • Whilst this fits with my interpretation, I suspect there might be other interpretations that pop-up. Mar 14 at 22:54
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    Maybe, I've seen the comments too the question, and this is the best fit.
    – HorusKol
    Mar 14 at 22:56
  • It can't possibly be Harry; he's only 15 at the time of the OOTP... quite far from a "man" even by British wizarding standards of 17. This gets a +1 for good reasoning, even though I think it is not the correct answer.
    – TylerH
    Mar 16 at 15:48
  • Frankly, this answer never occurred to me, and I was surprised to see how popular this opinion is, from the votes. The logic and timing kinda make sense, but it still doesn't sit so well with me, because (1) to me, it's doesn't fit well with Dumbledore's character to talk about himself like that, and (2) it's strange to describe the persecution of Dumbledore at the start of those twelve months as "chasing". Nevertheless, I would have accepted this answer, except that another answer gives a good explanation of why it can refer to Sirius Black.
    – Zayn
    Mar 24 at 21:39
  • See my answer below. Do you have an edition of the book that actually says "man" in the quote?
    – Alex
    Mar 31 at 0:59
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I disagree with HorusKol's answer. The only answer that makes sense to me is Sirius Black.

What does it mean to be "chasing the wrong man"? It means that while the Ministry's attention should have been on dealing with Voldemort, they were chasing someone else in the same way that they should have chased Voldemort - blaming someone else for the things that Voldemort was doing in that year.

  • Dumbledore was treated as a politically dangerous figure trying to build his own power base against Fudge, and later as a fugitive from justice, but never as a mass-murdering psycho out to destroy the wizarding world, the way they should have been dealing with Voldemort. Yes, the Ministry was expending time and attention on him, but they never put him in the same category as Voldemort or his Death Eaters.

  • Who got blamed by the media when Bellatrix et al escaped from Azkaban? Sirius Black. Instead of realising that Voldemort was rebuilding his power base, the Ministry preferred to focus all their attention on Sirius Black, and to blame him for everything vaguely evil and Death-Eatery that occurred.

And yes, the Ministry had been chasing Sirius Black for much longer than twelve months. But, given that they didn't know about his innocence, it made sense for them to be focusing their attention on him during PoA (when even Harry and Dumbledore didn't know about his innocence) and GoF: he was (apparently) the most dangerous criminal around at that time. After the return of Voldemort, it made no sense from any point of view to continue focusing on Sirius: even assuming he was a Death Eater, he'd be then only the second most dangerous Dark Wizard on the loose, and targeting Voldemort would most likely find him too.

What the Ministry should have done, if they'd accepted the return of Voldemort but still seen no evidence of Black's innocence, was to keep chasing Black for two years until Voldemort's return and then turned all their resources on dealing with Voldemort. Instead, they continued chasing the wrong man for a further twelve months, until he was dead and his case was a moot point.

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  • I think this is the correct answer given the various references throughout the book to direct accusations against Sirius Black. While Dumbledore was certainly under scrutiny, the Ministry never made any moves to directly arrest or accuse him of anything until late in the book when Fudge attempted to take him into custody with Shacklebolt, et al in the Headmaster's Office at the end of the book.
    – TylerH
    Mar 16 at 15:51
  • Even if the Ministry accepted that Voldemort was back, they wouldn't have necessarily accepted Black's innocence and would have continued after him as well as search for and try to thwart Voldemort. I think you're taking the use of "chasing" too literally, but I'll admit it isn't an invalid interpretation.
    – HorusKol
    Mar 16 at 20:37
  • I disagree that JK/Dumbledore was referring to Black. This is one of those lines I've just kind of read past. I never considered before that it could be referring to anyone other than Dumbledore. Whilst Black's public persona remained fearsome and, from a PR standpoint, the Ministry was determined to capture him we see from Arthur’s conversation with Kingsley in the Ministry that they don't really have any leads and aren't devoting any resources other than Kingsley to looking. Black's image was used to explain events like the Azkaban breakout. But they were hardly chasing him. Mar 18 at 8:14
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    @TheDarkLord They weren't "chasing" Dumbledore for twelve months either, only since his dramatic evasion of arrest (at most a few months earlier?) Plus, it doesn't seem very Dumbledorey to speak about himself in that way: under your interpretation, he's essentially saying "you were chasing me instead of Voldemort", which doesn't ring true to his modest persona and way of speaking IMHO.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 18 at 8:18
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    I think this answer makes the most sense. A running theme throughout the book is the Ministry's continued wrong chasing of Sirius; in the very same chapter, we see Bellatrix say: "... The Dark Lord, reveal himself to the Aurors, when at the moment they are wasting their time on my dear cousin?" This answer explains why Sirius officially became the wrong person twelve months ago, which is what I was confused about.
    – Zayn
    Mar 24 at 21:34
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He is referring to multiple people

The question and the existing answers seem to be based on the premise that the passage in question states "the wrong man". However, in the versions that I have, that is not what the passage states. Both in my physical book, as well as Kindle electronic version, the passage instead states "the wrong men".

Image of page from physical book which shows the word as "men"

Image of page from electronic book which shows the word as "men"

Dumbledore thus does not refer to any particular individual; rather, he refers to Fudge's general operations over the last year in which he targeted many people including Dumbledore, Harry, Sirius, and others who peddled the narrative of Voldemort's return. Indeed, almost immediately thereafter, Dumbledore mentions someone else that Fudge has been targeting:

“You will tell your Aurors to stop searching for my Care of Magical Creatures teacher so that he can return to work.

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    my UK Bloomsbury paperback from 2004 say "man" - p 721
    – HorusKol
    Mar 31 at 1:14
  • @HorusKol Interesting — that would be an odd thing to change between editions. Are you able to upload an image of it?
    – Alex
    Mar 31 at 1:14
  • It wouldn't be the first time a small change like that has happened between reprints - Lewis Carroll and Tolkien were particularly plagued by "corrections", and Pratchett had some big fights with his American publishers over their shenanigans. I can't seem to attach images to comments, and don't have a ready place to put one to link to, I'm afraid.
    – HorusKol
    Mar 31 at 1:29
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    It's also "man" in my wife's copy - p898 - oddly, this also claims to be a Bloomsbury 2004, but it's a different cover and form factor and came in a collectors box with all seven books.
    – HorusKol
    Mar 31 at 1:35
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    Alex and @HorusKol, I've gone ahead and asked about this discrepancy. Let's figure out what's going on here ...
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 31 at 12:59

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