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J.K.Rwling >> Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix (page 17)


As the dial whirred smoothly back into place, a cool female voice sounded inside the telephone box, not from the receiver in Mr Weasley's hand, but as loudly and plainly as though an invisible woman were standing right beside them.

"Welcome to the Ministry of Magic. Please state your name and business."

"Er ..." said Mr Weasley, clearly uncertain whether or not he should talk into the receiver. He compromised by holding the mouthpiece to his ear, "Arthur Weasley, Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office, here to escort Harry Potter, who has been asked to attend a disciplinary hearing ..."

"Thank you," said the cool female voice. "Visitor, please take the badge and attach it to the front of your robes."

There was a click and a rattle, and Harry saw something slide out of the metal chute where returned coins usually appeared. He picked it up: it was a square silver badge with Harry Potter, Disciplinary Hearing on it. He pinned it to the front of his T-shirt as the female voice spoke again.

"Visitor to the Ministry, you are required to submit to a search and present your wand for registration at the security desk, which is located at the far end of the Atrium."

The floor of the telephone box shuddered. They were sinking slowly into the ground. Harry watched apprehensively as the pavement seemed to rise up past the glass windows of the telephone box until darkness closed over their heads. Then he could see nothing at all; he could hear only a dull grinding noise as the telephone box made its way down through the earth. After about a minute, though it felt much longer to Harry, a chink of golden light illuminated his feet and, widening, rose up his body, until it hit him in the face and he had to blink to stop his eyes watering.

"The Ministry of Magic wishes you a pleasant day," said the woman's voice.

The door of the telephone box sprang open and Mr Weasley stepped out of it, followed by Harry, whose mouth had fallen open.

They were standing at one end of a very long and splendid hall with a highly polished, dark wood floor. The peacock blue ceiling was inlaid with gleaming golden symbols that kept moving and changing like some enormous heavenly noticeboard. The walls on each side were panelled in shiny dark wood and had many gilded fireplaces set into them. Every few seconds a witch or wizard would emerge from one of the left-hand fireplaces with a soft whoosh. On the right-hand side, short queues were forming before each fireplace, waiting to depart.

Halfway down the hall was a fountain. A group of golden statues, larger than life-size, stood in the middle of a circular pool. Tallest of them all was a noble-looking wizard with his wand pointing straight up in the air. Grouped around him were a beautiful witch, a centaur, a goblin and a house-elf. The last three were all looking adoringly up at the witch and wizard. Glittering jets of water were flying from the ends of their wands, the point of the centaur's arrow, the tip of the goblins hat and each of the house-elf's ears, so that the tinkling hiss of falling water was added to the pops and cracks of the Apparators and the clatter of footsteps as hundreds of witches and wizards, most of whom were wearing glum, early-morning looks, strode towards a set of golden gates at the far end of the hall.

"This way," said Mr Weasley.

They joined the throng, wending their way between the Ministry workers, some of whom were carrying tottering piles of parchment, others battered briefcases; still others were reading the Daily Prophet while they walked. As they passed the fountain Harry saw silver Sickles and bronze Knuts glinting up at him from the bottom of the pool. A small smudged sign beside it read:

ALL PROCEEDS FROM THE FOUNTAIN OF MAGICAL BRETHREN WILL BE GIVEN TO ST MUNGO'S HOSPITAL FOR MAGICAL MALADIES AND INJURIES.

If I'm not expelled from Hogwarts, I'll put in ten Galleons, Harry found himself thinking desperately.

"Over here, Harry," said Mr Weasley, and they stepped out of the stream of Ministry employees heading for the golden gates. Seated at a desk to the left, beneath a sign saying Security, a badly-shaven wizard in peacock blue robes looked up as they approached and put down his Daily Prophet.

"I'm escorting a visitor," said Mr Weasley, gesturing towards Harry.

"Step over here," said the wizard in a bored voice.

Harry walked closer to him and the wizard held up a long golden rod, thin and flexible as a car aerial, and passed it up and down Harry's front and back.

"Wand," grunted the security wizard at Harry, putting down the golden instrument and holding out his hand.

Harry produced his wand. The wizard dropped it on to a strange brass instrument, which looked something like a set of scales with only one dish. It began to vibrate. A narrow strip of parchment came speeding out of a slit in the base. The wizard tore this off and read the writing on it.

"Eleven inches, phoenix-feather core, been in use four years. That correct?"

"Yes," said Harry nervously.

"I keep this," said the wizard, impaling the slip of parchment on a small brass spike. "You get this back," he added, thrusting the wand at Harry.

"Thank you."

"Hang on ..." said the wizard slowly.

His eyes had darted from the silver visitors badge on Harry's chest to his forehead.

"Thank you, Eric," said Mr Weasley firmly, and grasping Harry by the shoulder he steered him away from the desk and back into the stream of wizards and witches walking through the golden gates.

Jostled slightly by the crowd, Harry followed Mr Weasley through the gates into the smaller hall beyond, where at least twenty lifts stood behind wrought golden grilles. Harry and Mr Weasley joined the crowd around one of them. Nearby, stood a big bearded wizard holding a large cardboard box which was emitting rasping noises.

"All right, Arthur?" said the wizard, nodding at Mr Weasley.

"What've you got there, Bob?" asked Mr Weasley, looking at the box.

"We're not sure," said the wizard seriously. 'We thought it was a bog-standard chicken until it started breathing fire. Looks like a serious breach of the Ban on Experimental Breeding to me."

With a great jangling and clattering a lift descended in front of them; the golden grille slid back and Harry and Mr Weasley stepped into the lift with the rest of the crowd and Harry found himself jammed against the back wall. Several witches and wizards were looking at him curiously; he stared at his feet to avoid catching anyone's eye, flattening his fringe as he did so. The grilles slid shut with a crash and the lift ascended slowly, chains rattling, while the same cool female voice Harry had heard in the telephone box rang out again.

"Level Seven, Department of Magical Games and Sports, incorporating the British and Irish Quidditch League Headquarters, Official Gobstones Club and Ludicrous Patents Office."

The lift doors opened. Harry glimpsed an untidy-looking corridor, with various posters of Quidditch teams tacked lopsidedly on the walls. One of the wizards in the lift, who was carrying an armful of broomsticks, extricated himself with difficulty and disappeared down the corridor. The doors closed, the lift juddered upwards again and the woman's voice announced:

"Level Six, Department of Magical Transportation, incorporating the Floo Network Authority, Broom Regulatory Control, Portkey Office and Apparation Test Centre."

Once again the lift doors opened and four or five witches and wizards got out; at the same time, several paper aeroplanes swooped into the lift. Harry stared up at them as they flapped idly around above his head; they were a pale violet colour and he could see Ministry of Magic stamped along the edge of their wings.

"Just inter-departmental memos," Mr Weasley muttered to him. "We used to use owls, but the mess was unbelievable ... droppings all over the desks ..."

As they clattered upwards again the memos flapped around the lamp swaying from the lift's ceiling.

"Level Five, Department of International Magical Co-operation, incorporating the International Magical Trading Standards Body, the International Magical Office of Law and the International Confederation of Wizards, British Seats."

When the doors opened, two of the memos zoomed out with a few more of the witches and wizards, but several more memos zoomed in, so that the light from the lamp flickered and flashed overhead as they darted around it.

"Level Four, Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, incorporating Beast, Being and Spirit Divisions, Goblin Liaison Office and Pest Advisory Bureau."

"S'cuse," said the wizard carrying the fire-breathing chicken and he left the lift pursued by a little flock of memos. The doors clanged shut yet again.

"Level Three, Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes, including the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad, Obliviator Headquarters and Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee."

Everybody left the lift on this floor except Mr Weasley, Harry and a witch who was reading an extremely long piece of parchment that was trailing on the floor. The remaining memos continued to soar around the lamp as the lift juddered upwards again, then the doors opened and the voice made its announcement.

"Level Two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, including the Improper Use of Magic Office, Auror Headquarters and Wizengamot Administration Services."

"This is us, Harry," said Mr Weasley, and they followed the witch out of the lift into a corridor lined with doors. "My office is on the other side of the floor."

"Mr Weasley" said Harry, as they passed a window through which sunlight was streaming, "aren't we still underground?"

"Yes, we are," said Mr Weasley. "Those are enchanted windows. Magical Maintenance decide what weather we'll get every day. We had two months of hurricanes last time they were angling for a pay rise ... Just round here, Harry."

They turned a corner, walked through a pair of heavy oak doors and emerged in a cluttered open area divided into cubicles, which was buzzing with talk and laughter. Memos were zooming in and out of cubicles like miniature rockets. A lopsided sign on the nearest cubicle read: Auror Headquarters.

Harry looked surreptitiously through the doorways as they passed. The Aurors had covered their cubicle walls with everything from pictures of wanted wizards and photographs of their families, to posters of their favourite Quidditch teams and articles from the Daily Prophet. A scarlet-robed man with a ponytail longer than Bill's was sitting with his boots up on his desk, dictating a report to his quill. A little further along, a witch with a patch over one eye was talking over the top of her cubicle wall to Kingsley Shacklebolt.

"Morning, Weasley," said Kingsley carelessly, as they drew nearer. "I've been wanting a word with you, have you got a second?"

"Yes, if it really is a second," said Mr Weasley, "I'm in rather a hurry."

They were talking as though they hardly knew each other and when Harry opened his mouth to say hello to Kingsley, Mr Weasley stood on his foot. They followed Kingsley along the row and into the very last cubicle.

Harry received a slight shock; blinking down at him from every direction was Sirius's face. Newspaper cuttings and old photographs - even the one of Sirius being best man at the Potters' wedding -papered the walls. The only Sirius-free space was a map of the world in which little red pins were glowing like jewels.

"Here," said Kingsley brusquely to Mr Weasley, shoving a sheaf of parchment into his hand. "I need as much information as possible on flying Muggle vehicles sighted in the last twelve months. We've received information that Black might still be using his old motorcycle."

Kingsley tipped Harry an enormous wink and added, in a whisper, "Give him the magazine, he might find it interesting." Then he said in normal tones, "And don't take too long, Weasley, the delay on that firelegs report held our investigation up for a month."

"If you had read my report you would know that the term is firearms," said Mr Weasley coolly. "And I'm afraid you'll have to wait for information on motorcycles; we're extremely busy at the moment." He dropped his voice and said, "If you can get away before seven, Molly's making meatballs."

He beckoned to Harry and led him out of Kingsley's cubicle, through a second set of oak doors, into another passage, turned left, marched along another corridor, turned right into a dimly lit and distinctly shabby corridor, and finally reached a dead end, where a door on the left stood ajar, revealing a broom cupboard, and a door on the right bore a tarnished brass plaque reading: Misuse of Muggle Artefacts.

Mr Weasley's dingy office seemed to be slightly smaller than the broom cupboard. Two desks had been crammed inside it and there was barely space to move around them because of all the overflowing filing cabinets lining the walls, on top of which were tottering piles of files. The little wall space available bore witness to Mr Weasley's obsessions: several posters of cars, including one of a dismantled engine; two illustrations of postboxes he seemed to have cut out of Muggle children's books; and a diagram showing how to wire a plug.

Sitting on top of Mr Weasley's overflowing in-tray was an old toaster that was hiccoughing in a disconsolate way and a pair of empty leather gloves that were twiddling their thumbs. A photograph of the Weasley family stood beside the in-tray. Harry noticed that Percy appeared to have walked out of it.

Title: Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix
Author: J.K.Rwling
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