As August wears on, the house itself remains unseen, but watchers in cloaks continue to loiter outside number twelve Grimmauld Place. During this time, Kreacher transforms himself into an extremely productive and helpful house-elf, cleaning, cooking, and keeping himself washed.
From the newspapers, Harry and his friends learn that Snape has been confirmed as headmaster of Hogwarts, and that two new professors have joined the staff. These siblings, the Amycus and Alecto Carrow, are both Death Eaters.
Hermione remembers that the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black that hangs in the house allows the Phineas within the painting to move between the painting in number twelve Grimmauld Place and the painting of him that hangs in the headmaster’s office at Hogwarts (Phineas is a former headmaster). Hermione takes the picture down and puts it in her bag so that it won’t be able to spy on them and report their secrets to Snape.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione begin stalking Ministry of Magic employees, using the Invisibility Cloak to study the patterns of movement in and out of the Ministry so they can try to infiltrate it and look for the locket in Umbridge’s office. Earlier than the others expect, Harry announces that they are as ready as they’re going to be, and they should try to break in the next day.
At dinner that night, Harry’s scar burns, and he has to excuse himself to go have a vision of Voldemort in the privacy of the bathroom. Through Voldemort’s eyes, he sees Voldemort knock on a door—somewhere in Europe where the houses have decorated gables—and ask for Gregorovitch. On being told by the woman who answers that she doesn’t know where Gregorovitch is, Voldemort kills the woman in front of her young children—and perhaps kills the children as well; the vision is unclear.
Hermione yells at Harry for allowing Voldemort to get into his head again. Harry tells his friends that Voldemort must be looking for Gregorovitch for answers about how Harry’s wand defeated Voldemort, because Harry knows it was no ability of his own that let him fight Voldemort off during the chase.
The next day, the three friends break into the Ministry of Magic by bringing Polyjuice Potion with them, waylaying employees before they enter the building, incapacitating them, taking hair samples, then using the potion mixed with the hair samples to impersonate the employees. Hermione assumes the identity of Mafalda Hopkirk, an assistant, whom they stun. Ron steals the identity of a man named Cattermole, a lowly support services employee who for some reason wants very much to go to work that day, even after Hermione makes him vomit uncontrollably by giving him an enchanted pastille to eat. Harry becomes a wizard named Runcorn, a senior member of the Ministry whom the Death Eaters at the Ministry respect and most normal people seem to fear.
Following the procedures they’ve learned in the days before, they use magic portals in public restrooms to teleport into the Ministry. Almost as soon as they arrive and get into the elevator, the Death Eater Yaxley sends Ron (disguised as Cattermole) on a maintenance job, telling him to make the enchanted rain in Yaxley’s office stop. Yaxley threatens Ron/Cattermole, alluding to the fact that Cattermole’s wife has been accused of being a Mudblood and has her hearing that very day.
Harry and Hermione continue on in the elevator to Level One, where they see Dolores Umbridge. Umbridge commandeers Hermione (disguised as Mafalda) to take notes at Umbridge’s Muggle-Born Registration Commission.
The new Minister of Magic, Pius Thicknesse, greets Harry (disguised as Runcorn). Harry says that he’s looking for Arthur Weasley, then, when he’s alone, he puts on the Invisibility Cloak and heads toward Umbridge’s office.
Outside Umbridge’s office is a room where employees are producing pamphlets warning of the dangers to wizarding society posed by Mudbloods. On the door to Umbridge’s office, Mad-Eye Moody’s magic eye looks out at the employees, watching them. Harry distracts these people with a Decoy Detonator and enters the office.
Once inside, Harry removes Moody’s eye and puts it in his pocket. As he searches the office, he comes upon Arthur Weasley’s file and notes that Weasley is being watched. He sees his own photograph on a poster above the words “Undesirable Number One,” on which Umbridge has written “to punish.” He sees a copy of the new Rita Skeeter book about Dumbledore. The locket is nowhere to be found.
Pius Thicknesse enters the office, and Harry, having failed to find what he’s searching for, sneaks past him out the door and goes back to the elevator. He encounters Ron, who is still working on Yaxley’s rain problem. He also encounters Arthur Weasley and tells him that he’s being watched, which makes Weasley think Runcorn is threatening him.
Harry proceeds to the room where Umbridge is conducting her hearings of suspected Mudbloods. Dementors guard the suspects. Hermione is there taking notes, as well as Yaxley, and Umbridge is just beginning to interview Mary Cattermole, whom she accuses of having obtained her wand by theft. Mary Cattermole tries to flatter Umbridge by complimenting a locket that Umbridge is wearing, which Harry recognizes as the Horcrux. Umbridge makes up a lie about the letters on the locket standing for members of her pureblood ancestry. Harry, enraged, casts spells to Stun Umbridge and Yaxley, then Hermione takes the locket, replaces it magically with a decoy, and the two lead Mary Cattermole and the other prisoners toward safety. They meet up with Ron and, urging the prisoners to escape and go into hiding, they join hands and Disapparate together.
The sequence where Harry and friends break into the Ministry of Magic gives us our clearest and most detailed picture yet of how the wizarding world has changed now that Voldemort is pulling the strings. The many things we see the Ministry doing in these chapters are all systematically modeled after Nazi Germany. Obviously, there is the separation of society based on racial heritage, with Mudbloods classified as inferior and branded as a threat to society, as the Jews were under the Nazis. We also see the organized use of science, government institutions, and new laws in order to create a veneer of legitimacy for evil. Wizard scientists have published “proof” that Mudbloods are inferior, the Ministry has departments for listing and tracking Mudbloods, and everyone is required to register and give proof of his or her heritage. Wives are separated from husbands and imprisoned. Acts of violence, terror, and intimidation are practiced without fear of reprisal by people in official positions—such as Yaxley intimidating Cattermole or Runcorn intimidating Arthur Weasley. By controlling the Ministry, Voldemort creates an atmosphere of fear that keeps ordinary people afraid to act decently, so that decency has become an act of great courage.
These chapters also revolve around Dolores Umbridge, the memorable villain of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Umbridge is the type of villain who thrives in an institutional setting. Being at the head of a committee and supervising a team of employees suit her quite as well as being headmistress of Hogwarts. In contrast to an outspoken villain like Bellatrix Lestrange, Umbridge thrives on hypocrisy and the abuse of rules and regulations. Her pursuit of Mary Cattermole under the pretense of the legal fiction that any Mudblood who has a wand must have stolen it is perfectly typical of Umbridge’s behavior. It’s a palpable lie, since Mudbloods were buying wands and attending Hogwarts for years before Voldemort took over, but Umbridge is so consistent in her pursuit of this lie that you start to think she actually believes it. Her absolute consistency, and the seeming arbitrariness of the lies she insists on, make her such a fascinating and repulsive character.