The Ministry of Magic
Chapter 7 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: The Ministry of Magic
Harry wakes early in the morning, too nervous to eat breakfast. He and Mr. Weasley depart for the Ministry of Magic, commuting in a "thoroughly non-magical fashion," as Mr. Weasley believes this will make a better impression. Upon arriving, Mr. Weasley and Harry cram into a broken telephone booth and are transported underground. They enter a huge, brightly lit atrium with a large fountain at its center (a wizard and witch surrounded by various magical creatures wearing servile expressions).
Harry passes through the security screening, then follows Mr. Weasley into a lift (elevator). Harry notices that underground windows in the hallway have sunlight streaming through them. Mr. Weasley explains that they are controlled by Magical Maintenance, who, among other Ministry maintenance tasks, determine the apparent weather effect. Passing the Auror offices, Harry sees they are plastered with Sirius Black photos, along with others. Kingsley Shacklebolt approaches, acting as though he and Mr. Weasley are on poor terms.
Shortly after they reach Mr. Weasley's noticeably tiny office, Perkins, a co-worker, runs in. The hearing's time and place have been changed, making Harry late. The new location is in the basement, but because the lift does not descend that far, Harry and Mr. Weasley race down the stairs. Just outside the courtroom, Mr. Weasley stops; Harry must face the hearing alone.
This is Harry's first visit to the Ministry of Magic. Until now, he has had relatively little exposure to the adult Wizarding society, having only been to Hogwarts, and a few trips to Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade village, all while being supervised. The Ministry is the hub of the Wizarding community in the U.K., and it governs nearly all its activities. Unfortunately, Harry's first visit here is an unpleasant one.
The Fountain of Magical Brethren in the Ministry atrium is particularly noteworthy, as it represents that the Ministry's power is wielded only by wizards, with all other magical beings under their domain. Harry notes that the syrupy, subservient expressions seem out of place on all the sculpted magical races except the House-elf.
The relative size of Arthur Weasley's office also quite plainly shows us the Ministry's opinion of the usefulness of his division. Arthur, as we learned earlier, is in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts division. Here we find that he effectively is that division, having one dithering assistant, and working out of an office overfilled with files, which had been converted from a broom closet. Apparently he is also brought in to assist on sweeps for Dark Magic artifacts, as mentioned in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which would indicate that the Ministry's need of his abilities as a wizard outweigh their desire to have his job actually fulfilled. It is something of a revelation to us that Lucius Malfoy's opinion of Arthur's chosen work is to a large extent shared by the Ministry.
The hearing's sudden time and location switch is an obvious ploy by certain Ministry officials to prevent Harry from testifying and to convict him in absentia. Whether or not Harry violated the law, the Ministry seems intent on preventing his making further claims that Voldemort has returned, and will use any means to censure and exile him from the Wizarding world. Whether Voldemort's Death Eaters are behind this, or it is merely corrupt and/or inept Ministry officials who refuse to believe that Voldemort has returned or prefer that the general population remain ignorant to real events, is still unclear. The author here, in her portrayal of the Ministry and allusion to its motives, is reinforcing what we have already been told. Hermione has told Harry that the Daily Prophet is making both Harry and Dumbledore into laughing stocks so they can "spin" their warnings about Voldemort's return into oblivion. This has little impact on readers because it does not happen directly to the viewpoint character (Harry); this is a deliberate violation of the "show, don't tell" rule of writing. The author has chosen to delay full understanding of the Ministry's treatment of Harry and Dumbledore, initially revealed when Harry arrived at Headquarters three chapters earlier. With the hearing's sudden rescheduling, we are actually shown that there may be some ill-feeling against Harry, and that some machinations within the Ministry may be underway to permanently rid them of him.
The byplay between Kingsley Shacklebolt and Arthur Weasley is also used to highlight something that we have only been told. Hermione, Ron, and the Twins had previously told us that Percy had moved to London and cut contact with his family because association with Dumbledore, or with those who publicly agree with him like Arthur, are at risk of losing their Ministry jobs. In this chapter we see that Shacklebolt and Arthur are pretending to an interdepartmental friction, specifically to hide their friendship. This is clearly intended to preserve Shacklebolt's status within the Ministry, as an Auror sympathetic to Dumbledore could not be allowed to retain his job in the current Ministry climate.
- Why would the time and location for Harry's hearing have been changed so suddenly?
- Why might Mr. Weasley be prevented from attending the hearing?
- How might the Fountain of Magical Brethren represent both an accurate and inaccurate picture of the Wizarding world?
- Why does Harry think the House-elf's expression in the statue is the only accurate one?
- What is the significance of holding a full hearing for using underage magic in this particular courtroom (Courtroom 10)?
- This is Harry's first visit to the Ministry of Magic. We know of its bureaucracy, of course, and now of its refusal to face facts (the Ministry denies Voldemort's existence), but entering the ministry we - and Harry - see some of the corruption within. What insight does this provide for us into the Ministry of Magic? Can we really trust them anymore? Could we ever? Explain.
Whether the Ministry's ongoing denigration of Harry and Dumbledore is being driven by Voldemort, or simply by the Ministry following Fudge's orders as he attempts to retain his power, is never completely resolved. Fudge's struggle to stay in control, though, would likely explain why Harry and Dumbledore are constantly discredited. After Fudge is ousted in favour of Rufus Scrimgeour, Harry is suddenly elevated to the position of "Chosen One", the one wizard who could defeat Voldemort; this would suggest strongly that the current anti-Harry campaign is purely Fudge-inspired.
Harry learns here where the Ministry's Visitor's Entrance is located and how to access the main Atrium. This information, plus the general Ministry layout that he observes during this visit, will prove vital at the book's end when Harry urgently attempts to rescue Sirius Black there. Information on the Ministry layout will be useful also in the final book, as the Trio infiltrate the Ministry in search of a Horcrux.
The Fountain of Magical Brethren depicts, with almost uncanny realism, how the Ministry expects non-human Magical races to regard Wizards. Though never officially stated, Ministry policy has always treated most Magical races as second-class citizens, while others are nearly disenfranchised. This fountain will be destroyed at this book's end; Harry will again need to re-enter the Ministry in the final book, at which time we shall see the replacement. That statue, showing a Wizarding family seated upon thrones made of writhing, tormented Muggles, will echo the now Death Eater-controlled Ministry's new policy. Clearly the statuary in the Ministry is being used by the author as a way of highlighting the guiding policy of the Ministry at each visit. We do not see the form this statue takes when Scrimgeour is Minister for Magic, possibly because the militant stand of the Ministry in his time is quite plain from other parts of the story.
- We heard of "Unspeakables" as Ministry employees working in the Department of Mysteries in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; in this chapter we hear more of them. The Department of Mysteries will play a large part later in this book.
- The physical layout of the Ministry, and the use of the visitor's entrance, both of which Harry learns in this chapter, will be useful to him at the climax of this book, and the layout also will be useful in the later infiltration of the Ministry by the Trio in the final book.