The governing body of the wizarding world in the Harry Potter series, the Ministry of Magic does just what its name suggests: it attends to all matters of rule, law, and regulation for wizards, witches, magic, and associated objects and phenomena in Britain.
What is fascinating about the Ministry of Magic is how aptly named its various departments and bureaus are. J.K. Rowling captured both the bureaucratic mentality of officialdom and government, and the fantastic nature of the work that this organization does.
The Ministry is underground in London, with its levels arranged so that higher numbers are further down, though interestingly the Atrium and reception area are on the eight floor, and the other departments and offices are not positioned in any particular order, except that the Minister of Magic is on Level 1.
The entrance to the Atrium is via a main elevator (lift in the Harry Potter series because of the difference between American and British English) disguised as a telephone box. Given the iconic telephone box from Dr. Who, it is possible that J.K. Rowling was predisposed to choose this disguise. In any event, a would-be visitor enters the booth and dials “62442”, which spells “m-a-g-i-c” on a telephone dial or keypad, and then gets an operator.
From the Atrium visitors or employees can make their way around the Ministry within the limits of their access rights, and of course which stage of the Harry Potter series is in question since various offices and bureaus come and go throughout the story.
The major departments are as follows:
• Department of Magical Law Enforcement
• Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes
• Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures
• Department of International Magical Cooperation
• Department of Magical Transportation
• Department of Magical Games and Sports
• Department of Mysteries
Each department of course has its own offices, bureaus, divisions, or other groups that perform various functions. The names in some cases are similar to real government agencies, ministries, or departments around the world. The U.S. has a Department of Transportation, Japan has a Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the U.S. has its Department of State, and Britain has its Home Ministry. Rowling clearly had real-world governments in mind.
But the Ministry of Magic serves the wizarding community, and so has departments with no real-world equivalent. All of the departments have the word “magical” in them except the Department of Mysteries, which already sounds sufficiently magical not to require further emphasis.
Never mentioned in the series is what if any governing body exists for wizards and witches in other countries. Presumably there are some, otherwise the Department of International Magical Cooperation would have little to do. It’s also not clear, nor important in the books, how the rules and regulations for the wizarding community vary from nation to nation. The most we hear about such matters comes from Fleur Delacourt when she talks about how education at Beauxbattons compares to Hogwarts.
Also absent is any information about how the various employees of the Ministry of Magic get their positions there, where the funds to operate the ministry come from, and how its officials represent the interests of the wizarding community. With no elected officials, the Ministry of Magic is feudal in this sense, and seems to rely on the enlightened nature of its leaders to bring about success. This of course fails miserably.
But the Ministry of Magic has above all else the Department of Mysteries, which would be my first choice for a place to work. Many in the wizarding community aspire to work at the ministry in one capacity of another, and the research going on in the Time Chamber, Hall of Prophecies, Death Chamber, Brain Room, and Planet Room must be utterly fascinating. Then too, there is the name by which those researchers are known: the Unmentionables.
Harry Potter’s world owes much of its credibility and familiarity to the existence of the Ministry of Magic. Few fantasy series include such detailed accounts of governing bodies, political leaders, judicial proceedings, or petty politics. The Ministry of Magic is a distinctive if at times disconcerting feature of J.K. Rowling’s work, and during good times would be a wonderful place to have a job.