Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
As Harry quickly realizes, in order to effectively practice Occlumency, which is the closing off of one’s mind to external penetration, a Wizard must free his or her mind of all distractions. Before Harry’s lessons, Snape empties his thoughts into Dumbledore’s Pensieve—a device designed to collect and hold an individual’s thoughts and memories—so he doesn’t unintentionally reveal anything private to Harry. Unfortunately, Harry is not allowed the same luxury. Instead, Snape demands that he concentrate, forcing his mind clear without outside help. With so much going on in his young life, this becomes impossible for Harry, and Occlumency ultimately serves as a symbol of Harry’s youth. Because Harry is so entrenched in the trappings of adolescence, he lacks the dedication and work ethic to truly empty his mind, especially when none of the authority figures in his life are willing to explain exactly why it is so important for Harry to learn this skill. Ultimately, Harry’s inability to effectively practice Occlumency leads to a false vision of Sirius being tortured at the Ministry, which later becomes the impetus for a disastrous trek to row ninety-seven.
Dolores Umbridge’s Educational Decrees suggest the corruption that goes hand in hand with unchecked power. With the authority of the Ministry behind her, Umbridge takes to posting Educational Decrees on the bulletin boards at Hogwarts. Drunk with newfound power, Umbridge uses the Decrees to award herself even more authority over the faculty and students. Often, the Decrees are meaningless or vindictive, and they are almost always designed to meet Umbridge’s immediate needs, regardless of the school’s priorities. When Umbridge decides to ban all student organizations, societies, teams, groups, and clubs, she promptly grants the Slytherin Quidditch team permission to reform. However, she inexplicably waits before allowing the Gryffindor team to reform, presumably because she is so irritated by Harry and his friends. Every time something happens to thwart her authority or the authority of the Ministry, such as Harry’s Quibbler interview, she invents a decree, such as banning all copies of the Quibbler from Hogwarts, to stop it.
Much like the SAT exams, the O.W.L. exams are very important to a young Wizard’s occupational and educational future and are designed to be representative of his or her emerging magical skills. However, the O.W.L. exams ultimately suggest the vast difference between success in the classroom and success in the real world. Harry Potter perfectly embodies this difference. Harry is already a powerful and influential wizard, capable of teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts on his own, but he is just a mediocre student. In this sense, the O.W.L. exams seem almost silly. Harry has faced Voldemort and escaped many times, and he has saved Hogwarts more than once—yet he is still terribly worried about passing his O.W.L.s. The near-disastrous consequences of Umbridge’s pitiful Defense Against the Dark Arts course, in which she refuses to teach her students any practical skills, shows that real-life experience is often far more important than book learning.