"What do you mean, 'in there'? There isn't any 'in there,' it's just an archway, there's no room for anybody to be there. Harry, stop it, come away --"
-- Hermione Granger, angrier than the occasion warranted (OP34)
In the 34th chapter of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, we get to explore the wondrous Department of Mysteries. Anyone reading the books for the first time will tell you that by the time we get to this chapter, our curiosity is definitely piqued. Between Harry’s dreams and the odd references back in book four, we’ve definitely built up our curiosity about this part of the Ministry.
When the book first came out, fans theorized that Rowling probably wrote this chapter with the movies in mind, almost challenging them to recreate on film her wild and vivid descriptions. We were all a little disappointed when only the Hall of Prophecies and the Death Chamber made it into the film version. We wanted to see the Brain Room, the Planet Room, and particularly the Time Chamber with its huge bell jar where the Death Eater’s head was transfigured into that of a baby. The Department of Mysteries is a wild, weird, wonderful, oversized magical carnival fun house.
What I’d like to focus on in this discussion, however, is something a lot more subtle. I’d like to zero in on the reaction we get from Hermione to the archway and veil in the Death Chamber.
As always, we’re seeing this moment through the eyes of Harry. His reaction is actually mirrored by Luna. He is intrigued by the archway and then drawn to it. He’s not just curious, the way he is about everything else in the Department of Mysteries. Nothing else he’s seen can draw his focus away from the desperate mission at hand, rescuing Sirius from Voldemort. The archway and its gently moving veil is different. He is mesmerized by it. He forgets his mission and moves closer, listening.
Here’s how Rowling describes Harry’s reaction:
He had the strangest feeling that there was someone standing right behind the veil on the other side of the archway. Gripping his wand very tightly, he edged around the dais, but there was nobody there; all that could be seen was the other side of the tattered black veil.
Harry opened his trunk again and pushed the contents aside, looking for the Invisibility Cloak – but before he had found it, he straightened up suddenly, looking around him once more.
A funny prickling on the back of his neck had made Harry feel he was being watched, but the street appeared to be deserted, and no lights shone from any of the large square houses.
He bent over his trunk again, but almost immediately stood up once more, his hand clenched on his wand. He had sensed rather than heard it: someone or something was standing in the narrow gap between the garage and the fence behind him. Harry squinted at the black alleyway. If only it would move, then he’d know whether it was just a stray cat or — something else.
In Goblet of Fire chapter nine it happens again. Harry senses the presence of someone who is hidden nearby in the dark.Here’s how Rowling describes that scene:
But she broke off abruptly and looked over her shoulder. Harry and Ron looked quickly around too. It sounded as though someone was staggering toward their clearing. They waited, listening to the sounds of the uneven steps behind the dark trees. But the footsteps came to a sudden halt.
“Hello?” called Harry.
There was silence. Harry got to his feet and peered around the tree. It was too dark to see very far, but he could sense somebody standing just beyond the range of his vision.
“Who’s there?” he said.
Now again in book five Harry senses someone he can’t see, someone on the other side of the veil. Someone is there. And he hears them, too. He hears whispers, the voices of multiple people. Luna backs him up. She also hears the voices, and says “There are people in there.”
This is where Hermione becomes upset. She is, according to the chapter, “sounding much angrier that the occasion warranted.” Why is she becoming so agitated, so angry? What is frightening her?
The archway, we know, is a gateway of sorts into the realm of the dead. For those with Christian worldview, a worldview which Rowling brings to her writing, it’s a portal into heaven. The voices Harry and Luna hear are those of people who have died. Like seeing thestrals, hearing and sensing the dead seems to be a gift reserved for those who have lost someone. Notice that Neville is also entranced, as is Ginny, interestingly enough. Or perhaps it’s reserved for those who have some form of faith, some kind of belief in a higher power.
But consider the visceral negative reaction from Hermione, the pragmatist of the group. Hermione rejects Luna’s worldview based on faith in things not seen (Hebrews 11:1, KJV) as being fanciful, impractical, and illogical. Now, when faced with empirical evidence of that worldview being true, she becomes “much angrier that the occasion warranted.” Why? Because she is not in a place emotionally or intellectually to be able to accept the possibilities that the veil represents.
Hermione does have a more practical reason for panicking. She pulls Harry away because she senses deep in her being that this ancient artifact, like the Mirror of Erised, presents a great danger to those who have experienced great loss. The Mirror may have trapped someone into wasting away, staring into it, longing to see what they desperately want. The veil offers much more: a pathway to heal the loss by rejoining the departed ones. The lure of this solution — accepting death as the only way to heal the hurt — is dangerous indeed. The veil offers suicide as a solution. And Hermione fears that this solution would be a very hollow one indeed.
We see this concept played out with the Resurrection Stone as well — a desire to reunite with a lost loved one through magic does not work the way a person wishes. Very likely, had Harry stepped through that veil, he would not after all have found the answers to his emotional pain.
So Hermione, with Ron’s help, drags Harry, Luna, Neville, and Ginny away from the danger of archway and the veil, a danger that she alone could sense. They move on, exploring the Department of Mysteries. And an hour later, in the most desperate moments of the ensuing battle, Harry watches his godfather pass through that veil into death. The danger Hermione sensed is very real indeed.
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