The Twelve Doors of the Department of Mysteries

by Angela Goff

In OotP we are twice taken into the Ministry of Magic, first witnessing Harry’s hearing, then the rescue mission gone awry. During these times we are given glimpses into this top secret world even most wizards know little about. While each floor of the MoM could be a book in itself, my focus at this point is the floor we explored the most thoroughly through OotP – the Department of Mysteries.

When Harry and his friends arrive in the central chamber behind the black door, he realizes to his horror that there is not just one door to walk through, as he had deduced from his many dreams. There are, in fact, twelve doors in the DoM, each interconnected to the others, that revolve when all twelve doors are shut, landing the rooms in different locations each time, like numbers on a roulette table.

So there are twelve rooms in the DoM, each studying a different topic considered a great mystery to the minds of wizardkind. The circumstances that keep the characters whizzing in and out of these rooms are so intense that it would appear we know as little about the DoM as we did before Harry and his friends first entered it; after all, we were more concerned – at least at first – with how they were going to survive, and to what degree of injury. But I maintain that a closer look reveals we were given much more information about the DoM than first meets the eye.

So what do we know? Well, for one thing, we know what is being studied in six of the twelve available rooms.

Room #1: The Death Chamber

We know the identity of this particular chamber because Dumbledore mentions it by name while telling Fudge where to find the captured Death Eaters (pg. 817).** This chamber, of course, is none other than the great pit of a room with descending rows of stone benches, at the bottom of which is the raised dais upon which the mysterious archway stands – the archway with the black veil that anyone can walk a full 360 degrees around, but through which Sirius fell, never to return. By this we know that one of the twelve rooms in the DoM is set aside to study Death.

Room #2: The Time Room

JKR names this one as the Time Room – with capital letters – on pg. 795, so we must assume this is its proper name. Here the Time-Turners are kept, as well as the bell jar housing the constantly reincarnating hummingbird, and where the Death Eater met such a bizarre age-reducing fate. It would seem that the DoM is gravely interested in how Time works: how to reverse, speed up or alter it, the results of their study already being somewhat known to readers because of Hermione’s exploits with the Time-Turner in PoA.

Room #3: Space

This is the one room mentioned in the book through which we as readers are never directly taken. We only know of this room because Luna, Ginny, and Ron became separated from the others and, in an effort to elude their attackers, took refuge in another room through which Harry had not led them initially. Luna later describes the room to Harry, saying:

“Four of them chased us into a dark room full of planets, it was a very odd place, some of the time we were just floating in the dark.” (pg. 795)

We find out a few lines later that Luna even blew up the replica of the planet Pluto to stave off their attackers. Thus we know that there is a (now somewhat ruined) large replica of the solar system in one of the rooms, presumably to study the nature of Space.

Room #4: Memory

This room had all the earmarks of a college biology class: rows of desks in a circle around a great big tank, the smell of formaldehyde (or the wizard equivalent), and a flock of aquatic…brains?

This room was probably the most baffling, until Ron made the foolish, curse-induced decision to summon one of the brains. From his resulting injuries (thought-burns, which Madam Pomfrey says can “leave deeper scarring than almost anything else,” pg. 847), we can surmise the reason these brains are being studied is so the Unspeakables can learn more about the nature of Memory. I imagine studying Memory would allow Obliviators to perform better memory charms, and perhaps even allow St. Mungo’s healers to restore memory-damaged patients (like Lockhart) to full capacity.

Room #5: The Hall of Prophecy

We are well acquainted with this room by now. We know it is “high as a church and full of nothing but towering shelves covered in small, dusty, glass orbs” (pg. 777). JKR names it as The Hall of Prophecy at least twice in Chapter 35 (Beyond the Veil), first doing so on pg. 791. An appropriate name, indeed, for a room housing nothing but thousands of spun-glass orbs containing prophecies about thousands of past or future incidents. This is the room that Harry dreamed about so often during his fifth year, and that ultimately made the pivotal moment in Book 5. Whether or not there are other prophecies there with Harry’s name on it, remains to be seen.

Room #6: The Locked Room (Love?)

Here we are again, back at one of those points that have been scrutinized almost to death. This is the door that, through experience and by being told (pp. 843-844), Harry knows is always locked. Not only that, but according to Dumbledore:

“It contains a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than forces of nature. It is also, perhaps, the most mysterious of the many subjects for study that reside there. It is the power held within that room that you possess in such quantities and which Voldemort has not at all. That power took you to save Sirius tonight. That power also saved you from possession by Voldemort, because he could not bear to reside in a body so full of the force he detests. In the end, it mattered not that you could not close your mind. It was your heart that saved you.”

Read that several times and only one option becomes readily apparent for this door – Love. Of course, a case might also be made for something like Truth or Wisdom, but Dumbledore’s mention of Harry’s heart, I think, clinches the matter. A closer look at that horrific moment with Voldemort (pg. 816), in fact, shows that it was only when Harry embraced death as a way to rejoin those he loved that Voldemort fled. A love that embraces substitutionary death (that is, dying in the place of someone else) is a love that transcends anything else this world has to offer. It was that sacrifice of Sirius’ – now the second person in Harry’s life to die for him – that expands his love to the point of wanting to die, if that means he could be reunited with his godfather.

Rooms #7-12…And what of the others?

As for the remaining six rooms, we can only guess what is in them, and whether or not they will play a role in the remaining two books. I think the six topics studied in those rooms are likely from one of three general categories:

1. Aspects of human experience (Fear, Pain, and Hate)

2. Intangible aspects of existence (Truth, Wisdom, etc.)

3. Things directly related to magic (Alchemy, or even the essence of Magic itself)

I can’t venture much of a guess, though, to be honest. How would you magically study Truth or Wisdom? Nor can I imagine the MoM housing quantities of Fear or Pain – there are dementors and horrible curses, after all, “to be going on with,” as they say. Besides, why would Voldemort bother with dementors and the Unforgivable Curses if something worse and more powerful was up for grabs in the DoM?

One could also make a case for a room devoted to History, but it would be rather Muggle-ish for them to do something so academic. Besides, history is already covered in the DoM through the room devoted to Memory – memory being a personal record of past events. If one can learn all he needs to know about the History of Magic from wheezy Professor Binns, then the DoM would be more interested in man’s interpretation of history through their personal experiences – thus a room devoted to Memory.

Then again, perhaps there is something in the idea of the DoM studying the essence of Magic, or Alchemy, or some other aspect of the magical world that isn’t as intuitively obvious to us right now. Hopefully, JKR will let us know before the series is over. If not, perhaps she will eventually publish her notes on all this remarkable plot-weaving, so we can have the full picture. One can only hope.

**All pages from OotP, American edition