The Department of Mysteries
Chapter 34 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: The Department of Mysteries
Harry, Neville, and Luna quickly mount their Thestrals. Hermione, Ron, and Ginny have difficulty finding theirs until Luna dismounts and helps them. Harry asks his Thestral to take them to the Visitor's Entrance of the Ministry of Magic in London, and the Thestrals take off. Upon reaching the Ministry of Magic, Ron swears he will never fly on one again. The students cram into the phone box that is the Ministry's visitor entrance, and Ron dials the Ministry's number. They descend to the atrium and find the reception area deserted, with not even a watch-wizard on duty. Harry sees this as an indication that Voldemort has passed through the Atrium, with his usual casual disregard for human life, and this bolsters his belief that Sirius must be there. Harry and the others enter a lift (elevator) and descend to the lowest sub-level—the Department of Mysteries.
From his dreams, Harry recognizes the corridor and knows which door to enter. Within is a large circular chamber with twelve doors. Harry is unsure which one to go through, the more so as, once a door closes behind them, the room's walls rotate rapidly. When the doors come to a standstill again, they open the first one; but the room does not match Harry's dream. Instead, it contains a large tank with floating brains. Retreating, Hermione marks the door with her wand so they know they have already looked there. The next room is a large stone amphitheater. On a raised dais at the center is an ancient stone archway, a tattered veil fluttering in the entrance. Standing next to the veil, Harry feels a strange sensation that someone is on the other side. Hermione, frightened, calls Harry back to the circular room.
The next doorway refuses to open; Harry inserts Sirius' knife that will "open any door", but its blade melts away and door remains shut. At the next door, Harry recognizes the sparkling, shimmering light from his dreams. Inside is a bell jar containing a beautiful hummingbird that hatches from an egg, flutters to the top, falls back down into the egg, then hatches again. Passing through this room, they reach a huge chamber containing shelves loaded with glass orbs that Harry recognizes from his dream. Finding no trace of Sirius, Harry considers returning to Hogwarts when Ron spots an orb labeled "S.P.T. to A.P.W.B.D. Dark Lord and (?)Harry Potter". As Harry reaches for it, Hermione warns him it might be dangerous, but nothing happens when he grasps it. Despite the cold chamber, the orb feels warm in Harry's hand.
A voice from behind breaks the silence: "Very good, Potter. Now turn around, nice and slowly, and give that to me."
Harry is so consumed with rescuing his godfather that he has rushed into an unknown situation minus a plan, ignoring the risks to himself and his friends, and without confirming that Sirius was actually in danger. He rebuffs Hermione's warning that his dream could be a false vision, instead relying solely on his own intuition that is fueled by intense emotions and a desire to protect Sirius. When under duress, Harry often becomes impervious to others' advice and acts according to his emotions rather than logic, thinking linearly and single-mindedly, though his intentions are usually noble. His attempts to dissuade the others from accompanying him are futile, they refuse to remain behind, despite suspecting Harry is pursuing an unwise and potentially fatal course. Unfortunately, they are correct, and Harry's rash and predictable behavior has led him and the others directly into what may be a deadly trap. Connected with this, we note that it is Luna, not Harry, who dismounts to assist Ron, Hermione, and Ginny in climbing onto their Thestrals; it would seem Harry is too impatient to be off.
It is interesting to note the beautiful hummingbird that continually hatches from the egg and returns to it. Clearly, this is similar to a Phoenix, the mythical bird that continually dies by bursting into flames, then is resurrected from its own ashes. In this context, however, it is meant to be an indicator of one of the great Mysteries, the mystery of Time.
- Why was Ron worried about flying on the Thestrals?
- Why was the Department of Mysteries so easily accessible to Harry and the others?
- What are the 'Orbs'?
- Was Hermione right to be worried about Harry touching an Orb, even with one that had his name on it? What might have happened?
- Why does Harry experience a strange sensation standing next to the veiled archway? What might have happened if Harry had stepped through it?
- Why do Ron, Hermione, and the others insist on going with Harry, even though they believe it might be a trap? What does this say about their characters?
While it is never entirely made certain, Luna's reaction to the veil in the stone amphitheater, as well as Harry's, leads us to believe they are hearing voices belonging to those who have died. This room appears to physically embody a familiar Muggle figure of speech: when we say that someone has "passed through (or beyond) the Veil," it means that person has died. This room, and its physical Veil, would then be a figure of speech made real, or the reality behind it. This interpretation is reinforced later by Sirius' passing physically through this tattered curtain and vanishing, and by Luna's telling Harry, later in this book, that the voices he heard at the archway's entrance belonged to the dead, waiting there for Harry to join them.
While this has not been revealed yet, the orbs actually are recordings of prophecies, extracted from those who viewed the original prophecy in much the same way that memories can be extracted and placed in a pensieve. What Voldemort has been seeking, which was earlier identified as a "weapon," is in fact this prophecy. We will learn that he has only heard half of it, and believes the other half may have information he needs in order to defeat Harry and complete his conquest of the Wizarding World.
This being the Department of Mysteries, one might reasonably expect that eleven of the twelve doors off the circular room would each lead to an area devoted to the study of a Mystery, the twelfth one being the way back to the Atrium. This does seem to be the case; in turn we see the mysteries of Thought or Consciousness, Death, and (skipping the locked door) Time. It makes sense that Prophecies would be associated with the mystery of Time, as they do somewhat violate our understanding of Time as being unidirectional. Later, in another room, is a giant orrery, obviously devoted to the mystery of the Physical Universe; Dumbledore will tell Harry about a department whose door is always locked because of the great power of the mystery therein, namely the mystery of Love. It also makes sense for the various Mysteries to be interconnected. Later, we will see that, leaving the amphitheater, Harry will run through the brain room; it is obvious, in retrospect, that the mystery of Consciousness and the mystery of Death are linked. This, incidentally, is an illustration of the Doctrine of Signatures, the belief that function follows appearance: e.g. a plant that grows in the shape of a heart must have effects, assumed beneficial, on people's hearts. The Doctrine of Signatures was the core of a large part of medieval "magic"; we do not know if it plays any part in the Wizarding world, though it likely did in ancient times. Whether or not the Doctrine of Signatures was a consideration in the design of the Department of Mysteries, it is likely that the wizards studying the Mysteries would feel that it would be sensible to have the connections between the Mysteries echoed in the connections between the rooms devoted to them.
- The small glass orb that Harry takes off the shelf here, a recording of the prophecy which drives much of the series, will be destroyed in the next chapter. Dumbledore alluded to its existence in the first book, and will actually reveal it later in this book. This is the first of the two real prophecies that Professor Trelawney has made, according to Dumbledore two years earlier. We will revisit this prophecy and the events surrounding its revelation in the next book.
- Sirius will fall through the Veil in the next chapter, and Luna will speak with Harry about it later in the book. While the room of the Veil does not re-enter our story, the associated idea, of death being a "moving on" rather than a final end, permeates much of the story arc through all seven books. It is enunciated most clearly by Dumbledore in the final book.