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Why did so many people refuse to accept that Voldemort was back?
It didn't seem plausible that people at the school couldn't believe Voldemort was back because Harry has been fighting him since he was a 1 year old, and then years 11-17.
Dumbledore even stated at the end of book 1 in the infirmary with Harry that it's top secret what happened so of course everyone at the school knows.
So why did so many people at the school and (elsewhere) have such a hard time accepting Voldemort was back?

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Mostly because they didn't want to believe that Voldemort was back.

Voldemort's original rise to power was a very dark time for the Wizarding world, full of fear, mistrust, death and a large amount of loss. It's not unsurprising that people would prefer not to believe that similar events were about to unfold all over again, and therefore choose to trust the Ministry of Magic when they said that wasn't the case.

If you look at what happened when Voldemort originally fell from power after attempting to kill Harry, the initial celebration was huge. Everybody was immensely relieved, to the point where they were willing to openly interact with the Muggle world. Harry, being no more than a baby, had become The Boy Who Lived.

Ten years later Harry thwarts Voldemort's plans again. He's still The Boy Who Lived, and now it's obviously not just pure luck that's keeping him alive. At the end of Goblet of Fire, on the other hand, he comes back from the Triwizard tournament clutching a fellow students corpse and saying that Voldemort has returned; he's gone up against Voldemort and, for the very first time, he's lost.

So you have a very powerful dark wizard, believed at one point by many to be nearly unstoppable, who has returned. Your hero, Harry Potter, has failed to stop him from regaining his body and full use of his powers. Burying your head in the sand may not help you and certainly won't change anything, but it's far easier than accepting what's coming.

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    Or you could even think: Harry killed the boy in an accident and now is making up this tale about Voldemort. – n611x007 Jun 10 '13 at 16:32
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    I imagine someone like Churchill popping up in 1961 with the corpse of his wife after they've gone to the remote lake to a party saying 'Hitler is back and has killed my wife!' (Quite sorry for this bizarre example, no harm intended.) – n611x007 Jun 10 '13 at 16:34
  • @n611x007 Sure..if he wanted to ignore reality. But at the same time I wouldn't put it past him to do something like that, either. – Pryftan Jul 30 '18 at 1:08
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I agree with Anthony on this, but there are some other points as well.

1) Harry is a teenager, and as we all know, most adults take what teenagers say with a grain of truth. Put yourself in the position of some of the people who mattered, would you believe some 14-15 year old crying wolf? Would you gear for war over the conjectures of a Quiddich player?

2) Harry has a bit of a reputation as a troublemaker. Though he's a protagonist in our point of view, it seems that every bump that happens at Hogswarts, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are involved, and usually blamed. We only know the difference because we're seeing it from their point of view.

3) The Deatheaters and other supporters of Voldemort have infiltrated some rather astudious positions. It's easy to assume that some are running interference.

4) Same Deatheaters were also 'exonerated' on trial during the last go with Voldemort, citing that they reformed. The real baddies are locked up in Azkaban, but people like Lucius Malfoy are rich and influencial, and it seems that people have a short memory of supposed traitors and evil supporters.

5) If you think back to the American Revolution, you will remember that there were three types of Americans; British Loyalists, American Rebels, and those who sat on the fence. Those fence-sitters will do anything to keep the status quo. Look at Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of the 30's working to keep 'peace in our time' by making treaties for Hitler to occupy the Saarsland, Austria, and parts of the Czech Republic. It only stands to reason that the magical world would have the same sort of people.

6) Press. Seriously. Until Voldemort started having people murdered left and right, there was nothing in the press, which was one of the main forms of information distribution was newspaper for the magical world. No news is good news...

7) Harry did have supporters, but people like Aurors (sp?) and groups like the Order of the Phoenix were the minority. Remember, a good many wizards and witches had ideological leanings towards the seperation of the magic and the muggle, which was Voldemort's camp. Some might have even agreed intellectually on the domination part, too.

8) Never underestimate the power of self-denial. Remember the story of the frog and the slowly-boiling pot?

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  • When has Harry ever cried wolf though...? – Pryftan Jul 30 '18 at 1:10
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Fudge!

As Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge's greatest fear was losing power. Fudge believed that Dumbledore was his primary political opponent, and that Dumbledore was actively seeking to oust him as Minister. Fudge believes that Dumbledore is using the threat of Voldemort's return to undermine Fudge's administration and replace him as Minister. To this end, Fudge's policy, and by extension the Ministry's policy is to actively discredit Dumbledore in the public eye. When Dumbledore says that Voldemort is an imminent threat Fudge uses the power of the Ministry and the press to paint Dumbledore as a crackpot old fool and even a traitor.

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There are a number of reasons, and I also have to believe with the answers above:

  • Cornelius Fudge and other Ministry officials: The Ministry of Magic never wanted to believe Voldemort was back, and because of their influence on the Wizarding World, nobody wanted to anger the M.O.M. because of its power. Also, Fudge believed Dumbledore wanted to get the job of Minister of Magic, so he opposed whatever Dumbledore thought right.

  • Harry's little influence: Harry was little more than 14-15 when he announced Voldemort's return, and of course, the M.O.M. and the Wizarding World had no reason or motive to trust Harry.

  • What Everyone Wanted to Believe: Half the Wizarding World had witnessed the First Wizarding World, and none of them wanted to repeat it, and the thought of Voldemort's return would only spark more rebellion, fighting etc.

  • Sitting on the Fence: The people who neither were on Voldemort's side or the Ministry's side (or Harry's side) would follow the side with the most followers, which, evidentially, was the Ministry.

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It's mostly because they did not WANT to believe he was back. Let's say it's about 14 years after World War Two ended, and then somebody says that Hitler is alive and rising back to power, do you think anybody would believe or WANT to believe that?

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  • Seems like this was more or less covered in existing answers. Do you have anything else to add? – Gallifreyan Mar 6 '17 at 5:10
  • Let's say it's about 14 years after World War Two ended, and then somebody says that Hitler is alive and rising back to power, do you think anybody would believe or WANT to believe that? Actually yes I do. Because people do and have. They still believe he escaped - whilst ignoring reality and having no understanding of Hitler whatever. Doesn't mean your point isn't valid though it's just a bad analogy. – Pryftan Jul 30 '18 at 1:12

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