The Prime Minister of Muggles (non-wizards) sits in his office contemplating the terrible events of his week. He hears a cough and turns around to see one of the portraits on his wall speaking, requesting an immediate meeting with the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge. Despite the Prime Minister’s protests, Fudge appears in the fireplace moments later. After awkwardly commiserating over the week’s disasters, the Prime Minister silently recalls the other times Fudge has come to visit, glumly remembering how Fudge always bears bad news. The two Ministers first met immediately after the Prime Minister had taken office, again when Sirius Black escaped from the wizard’s prison at Azkaban, once more when there was trouble at the Quidditch World Cup, and then to share news of a mass breakout at Azkaban.
This time, Fudge breathlessly explains that the evil wizard Lord Voldemort has returned and is singularly responsible for all the atrocities Muggles have endured this week. The Prime Minister is devastated and accuses Fudge of being an irresponsible Minister. Fudge admits he was fired three days ago. Suddenly, the portrait announces the arrival of the new Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour, who climbs out from the fireplace. Scrimgeour uses his wand to lock the office doors and draw the curtains before revealing that the Prime Minister’s excellent new secretary, Kingsley Shacklebolt, is actually a highly trained Auror, sent by the Ministry of Magic to protect the Prime Minister. Scrimgeour then explains that Herbert Chorley is acting strangely because he has been struck with a poorly performed Imperius Curse. Chorley is currently being treated by a team of Healers from St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.
Two shadowy, hooded figures pop out of thin air on the banks of a dark, dirty river. The first figure, Narcissa, runs off and is pursued by the second, Bellatrix (or Bella). Bella desperately implores Narcissa to stop. When Bella finally catches hold of Narcissa’s cloak, she begs her not to betray Voldemort. Narcissa draws her wand, and Bella expresses shock that Narcissa would threaten her own sister. They continue, finally arriving at Severus Snape’s house. Snape is a professor of Potions at the Hogwarts School, Head of the House of Slytherin, and a supposedly reformed Death Eater. Snape is also a member of the Order of the Phoenix, a group dedicated to the destruction of Voldemort. Bellatrix bitterly explains to Snape that she doesn’t trust him, because he continues to swear allegiance to Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, and has not yet managed to kill Harry Potter.
Snape explains that he is working undercover at Hogwarts and cannot compromise his cover. Irritated, Snape alludes to Bellatrix’s inability to kill Potter last year when they fought face to face at the Ministry of Magic, when Harry and Voldemort were both attempting to gain access to an ancient prophecy concerning their relationship. In response, Bella blames Lucius Malfoy for Harry’s survival at the Ministry. Lucius is Narcissa’s husband and the father of Draco Malfoy, a schoolmate of Harry’s. Narcissa is livid that Bellatrix would suggest that her husband failed in his duties. Snape reminds the sisters that Harry is not an exceptional wizard and only continues to survive through a combination of sheer luck and a group of talented friends. Narcissa, sobbing, tells Snape that she believes her only son, the sixteen-year-old Draco, will have to perform the unnamed task. Narcissa believes this is payment for Lucius’s failure to retrieve the prophecy from the Ministry. Narcissa falls to the floor, sobbing and moaning. Finally, Snape agrees to help Draco. Narcissa requests that he make the Unbreakable Vow, promising to watch over Draco as he performs this task, protect him from harm, and, if necessary, carry out the deed himself. Snape agrees.
Although the Wizarding world and the Muggle world are generally kept entirely separate from each other, Chapter 1 sees the boundaries once again starting to collapse, with Voldemort’s evil actions affecting non-wizards as much as wizards. Suddenly, Muggles seem particularly powerless, wholly unable to fight back with any force or vigor and unable to explain the mysterious disasters with any degree of clarity. Voldemort’s powers are strong enough to require a joint effort from both Ministers, but while Scrimgeour has sent an Auror to look after the Muggle Minister, and has offered magical treatment to Muggles who have been harmed by Voldemort, the Prime Minister can do very little to protect his own people. Despite the Muggle Minister’s apprehension, the Ministry of Magic is clearly doing its best to protect Muggles from Voldemort’s wrath. Without that help, they would be defenseless in the face of extreme evil.
When Bellatrix and Narcissa approach Snape for help, we discover Snape’s apparent allegiance, which remains hidden to Harry. Unlike in the rest of the series, where we discover information as Harry does, piecing together the puzzle in tandem, at the start of Chapter 2, readers are instantly made privy to information that Harry only suspects to be true. Consequently, Rowling deliberately colors, very early on in the narrative, the ways in which readers interpret the events that follow. While Harry spends nearly a year attempting to prove Snape’s allegiance to Voldemort and Draco Malfoy’s ill intentions, readers already know that both Snape and Malfoy are up to no good. We are instantly made supporters of Harry’s quest and empathize when he is dismissed by Ron, Hermione, and members of the Order of the Phoenix as being unnecessarily suspicious of Snape. No matter how many people tell Harry is he crazy, readers know that his fears are justified, and it only makes us support him with more vigor. Rowling knowingly positions Harry as likable, well-intentioned, occasionally flawed, and perpetually misunderstood. Aside from having access to magic, Harry is never described as being superhuman in any way, and he is thus easy to relate to.
The exchange between Narcissa and Snape is the reader’s first clue that Draco Malfoy, although immensely unlikable, is not an entirely unsympathetic character. Like Harry, he is grappling with the loss of his father at the hands of Lord Voldemort. Draco knows that if he does not successfully complete Voldemort’s bidding, he and his family will be killed immediately. Obviously, Narcissa also understands that Voldemort does not actually think that Draco is capable of fulfilling the task set before him, and her fears that this is all simply punishment for Lucius Malfoy’s failures are confirmed by Snape. The Malfoys, despite pledging allegiance to Voldemort, are as threatened by him as any of his dissenters, and they are actually no better off than supporters of Dumbledore. Clearly, Voldemort trusts no one and feels no sense of obligation to any of his followers, whom he regards as disposable. Narcissa cares for her family so strongly that she is willing to defy Voldemort’s orders to help save them. Snape, in taking the Unbreakable Vow, assures readers that he is, in fact, dedicated to supporting Lord Voldemort in whatever task he has set himself to. In doing so, Snape effectively defies the Order of the Phoenix. Still, it is important to remember that Snape has a long history of working as a double agent, swearing loyalty to Dumbledore while pretending to support Voldemort, and funneling information about Voldemort’s plans back to Dumbledore and the Order. Despite agreeing to an Unbreakable Vow, there is still a very small possibility that Snape might, in fact, be following Dumbledore’s orders, especially considering how Dumbledore’s plans are always self-sacrificing and designed for the greater good.