The Muggle-Born Registration Commission
Chapter 13 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: The Muggle-Born Registration Commission
Dolores Umbridge assumes that Hermione, as she appears to be Mafalda Hopkirk, was sent by Travers to record the hearings. She tells the Minister that with Mafalda recording, they can start right away. A Ministry employee's wife is also being interrogated. Harry watches as Hermione descends in the elevator with Umbridge. When Thicknesse asks what brings "Albert" to the first floor, Harry claims he needs to speak with Arthur Weasley.
Alone now, Harry dons the Invisibility Cloak and searches for Umbridge's office. Despite meticulously planning, the Trio apparently failed to consider they might become separated once inside the Ministry. Now Hermione is stuck in court proceedings while Ron attempts to stop it raining in Yaxley's office. Harry stumbles into an open area where employees are assembling anti-"Mudblood" pamphlets. Harry spots Moody's magical eye affixed to a door. Below, brass plaques read, Dolores Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister and Head of the Muggle-born Registration Commission.
To create a diversion, Harry sets a Decoy Detonator free. It explodes, emitting a large, black smoke cloud. During the confusion, Harry enters Umbridge's office, finding it decorated exactly like her Hogwarts office, with the horribly cute kitten plates on the wall and lace doilies on the desks. Peering through the small telescope on the door, he sees everyone is gathered around the Decoy Detonator's remains. He removes Moody's eye, and pockets it, then tries unsuccessfully to Summon the Locket.
A file on Arthur Weasley notes him as a pure-blood likely to be contacted by "Undesirable Number One", Harry himself. Mr. Weasley is also being Tracked. Harry also finds Rita Skeeter's book, The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore. Inside is a photo of two teenagers, but before Harry can read the caption, Pius Thicknesse enters and leaves Umbridge a note. It seems unlikely the Locket is here and Harry returns, unseen, to the lift. He must now find Ron and collect Hermione from the courtroom. Luckily, Ron steps in on the second floor. The lift stops again and Mr. Weasley gets on. On the next floor, Ron exits, but Harry is blocked by Percy Weasley getting on, but realizing his father is there, gets out on the next floor. Mr. Weasley blocks Harry, claiming Runcorn planted information about Dirk Cresswell. When Harry warns Mr. Weasley that he is being Tracked, he believes it is a threat.
Covered with the Invisibility Cloak, Harry heads for the courtrooms to extract Hermione while Ron works on Yaxley's office. Harry recognizes an unnatural chill. Dementors are guarding Muggle-born witches and wizards waiting to be interrogated. Mary Cattermole is called. Inside the courtroom, two Dementors are kept at bay by a cat Patronus, and Umbridge, Hermione (as Mafalda), and Yaxley, are interrogating Cattermole, demanding to know whose wand she stole. Seeing the Locket around Umbridge's neck, Hermione compliments her about it. Umbridge claims the S initial is for Selwyn, an old Wizarding family she is honoured to be related to. This proves too much for Harry, who Stuns Umbridge, and, before he can react, Yaxley. Harry releases the chains binding Mary, while Hermione creates a duplicate Locket to replace the real one. Escorted by Harry and Hermione's Patronuses, the three exit the courtrooms. Gathering the other Muggle-borns, Harry says the new official position is to disguise themselves and leave the country or at least avoid the Ministry.
At the lifts, Ron warns them that the Ministry knows they are there and is closing off the fireplaces. They must hurry to escape. Harry sends the Muggle-borns through the remaining open fireplaces. Amidst the confusion, Yaxley appears, ordering workers to seal all fireplaces. As Ron escapes with Mary Cattermole, Yaxley fires a curse at Harry as he exits with Hermione. Back in the lavatory, Yaxley appears in the cubicle behind Harry. Grabbing Hermione and Ron, Harry Disapparates. He briefly sees Grimmauld Place's front door, then hears a bang, and they are Apparating away.
Once inside the Ministry, the Trio sees how extensively Voldemort's corruption and perversion has spread, and the extreme measures being implemented to separate the "racially impure" from "pure-blooded" wizard society. Anyone not directly serving Voldemort is controlled through his minions, mostly with threats and violence. It appears there is little resistance, and as Voldemort gains more power, many wizards fear for themselves or their loved ones who could be branded as traitors or "undesirables" and be incarcerated. There are still many in the general Wizarding population who are simply ignorant to what is happening, while others are fearful and/or uncertain what to believe or who to trust. Voldemort has deliberately crafted this confusion by quietly and insidiously seizing control of the Ministry and other key institutions while spreading anti-Muggle propaganda. He remains unseen—though his return has now been public knowledge for a year: remaining concealed allows rumour to do his work, spreading fear and doubt, while never providing the public a specific target to rally against. We will see later that Voldemort is reported as being in several places simultaneously. Meanwhile, the thoroughly corrupt and reprehensible Dolores Umbridge revels in her position as Head of the Muggle-born Registration Committee. Bloated with power, she has dedicated herself to purging "impurities" from the Wizarding world, much as she did while at Hogwarts, and readily abuses her authority to persecute those deemed unworthy. From what can be seen at the hearing Umbridge is presiding over, it appears that all Muggle-borns are being rounded up, probably to be sent to a Wizard-style concentration camp for deportation, or worse, extermination. "Blood traitors," shielded to some extent by their Blood status, are nonetheless being watched more closely as well.
The Trio successfully retrieved the Locket Horcrux, but their lacking a back-up plan in the event they became separated while inside the Ministry is surprising. Randomly selecting individuals to impersonate without knowing their identities or rank, or considering that they may be called upon to perform their Ministry duties, was also a careless and risky move. Hermione, especially, appears to have been rather lax in failing to anticipate this, considering her usual diligent attention to details and analyzing all likely scenarios. The Trio also was extremely lucky that Umbridge had the Locket with her on that particular day, an event that seems to have taken both Harry and Hermione somewhat by surprise. At this point, we can see that the mission's objectives were almost bizarrely ill-defined; while they had intended to try and learn where Umbridge might actually keep the Locket, there was no plan to deal with the possibility that it might be outside the Ministry, and so there was, for instance, no attempt to locate Umbridge's residence and then search for the Locket there. It also seems that this information could have been gathered by one person alone using the Invisibility Cloak rather than all three entering the Ministry in their Polyjuice Potion disguises. If that was the plan, it is curious then that Harry never searched for Umbridge's home address while he was in her office. Being that they still lacked vital information as to the Locket's whereabouts when they infiltrated the Ministry, it is also questionable as to why they put their plan into action on that particular day, though Harry seemed propelled more by an urgent need to act, rather than strategic timing. It is also unclear how the Trio positively identified the "toad woman" as being Dolores Umbridge before investing so much time and effort into planning their assault, though, fortunately, their hunch was correct.
Indeed, Hermione's entire plan seems unworthy, opting for a dangerously elaborate and overly complicated scheme when a simpler strategy may have been safer and more effective, and could have protected their secure hiding place. Rather than infiltrating the highly-secure Ministry, the Trio might have been able to intercept Umbridge (perhaps using the Imperius Curse) before she entered or just after she left the Ministry. Also, once determining that Umbridge wears the Locket to work, one person alone could have slipped into her office under the Invisibility Cloak, stun her, perform a memory charm, and then removed and replaced the real Locket with a substitute, just as Hermione did. Like the Trio's reluctance to use extreme defensive tactics against their enemies, their unsophisticated plan and their rather erratic performance reflects their general inexperience and still growing maturity: they may still be unready to be full-fledged Order of the Phoenix members. And though it is unlikely the Order would ever have allowed the Trio to undertake such a dangerous mission, Dumbledore apparently felt only they could accomplish this. However misbegotten, chaotic, and nearly disastrous the Ministry caper may have been, it was ultimately successful and fortuitously resulted in many innocent victims being rescued. It also shows that the Trio works well together and can quickly and calmly adapt to changing circumstances.
Retrieving Mad Eye Moody's magical eye from Umbridge's door was also a risky and impetuous decision by Harry, but his emotions overruled his logic, and he was simply unable to leave any part of Moody in Umbridge's possession. This also provides a necessary closure for Harry, allowing him to later bury at least a small portion of Mad Eye. One gathers that the eye's loss from the outer side of Umbridge's door will not hinder her spying on her subordinates; the eye, staring fixedly, seems to only provide camouflage for the small telescope inside the office door.
Harry glimpsing Dumbledore's image in what he momentarily believed was a mirror in Umbridge's office may be a subtle reference to the familiar-looking blue eye he has been seeing in the mirror-shard, though it is unknown yet whose eye this actually is. The original magic mirror, before it was broken, was described as about the size of a small book. It is probably the combination of its size, plus Harry's half-belief that the eye in the mirror-shard is Dumbledore's, that leads him to briefly mistake the book for a mirror.
Rowling's description that Umbridge's over-cute kitten decor appears just as it did at Hogwarts may be a subtle clue that, despite Umbridge's traumatic experience with the Centaurs, readers can expect to see the same vile woman as in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
As a side note: While Umbridge is not a Death Eater, her high position within the Ministry may occasionally place her in close contact with Voldemort. Readers can only imagine his reaction had he noticed either the real or the fake Locket Horcrux dangling round her neck, particularly if she claimed it as a legacy of her family. Despite being a "pure-blood" advocate and staunchly loyal to the Ministry (and thus indirectly, if unknowingly) to the Dark Lord), her life would probably be forfeit. Voldemort, who would know that the substitute Locket she currently possesses is a fake, could likely trace this to Harry by connecting it to the Ministry raid. Much information could be extracted by Voldemort from Umbridge's memory that would lead him to Mundungus Fletcher, and, from there, to Grimmauld Place where the Locket was stolen, and thus to Harry. Voldemort could then surmise that Harry is hunting his other Horcruxes and that the real Locket Horcrux (and possibly the others) may have been destroyed, in addition to the Diary Horcrux. As this would jeopardize Harry's mission, we can only hope that Voldemort will leave the Ministry's daily operation to his minions.
- Why did Harry remove Mad-Eye Moody's magical eye from Umbridge's office? Did this help or endanger the Trio's mission?
- How will Harry's taking the Eye affect Umbridge's job?
- Why is Arthur Weasley being tracked? Why or why not might he have suspected this before Harry told him?
- Why does Umbridge wear the Locket?
- Why did the Trio fail to have a back-up plan in the event they became separated while inside the Ministry? What alternative plan(s) could they have had?
- Hermione's scheme to infiltrate the Ministry seems ill-planned. Devise your own method to find and retrieve the Locket.
- If Umbridge had not worn the Locket on that particular day, what would the Trio have done? Would they likely have had another chance to infiltrate the Ministry of Magic using the same plan? Explain.
- Does Dolores Umbridge know what the Locket really is? Give reasons both for and against this.
- How were Voldemort and his Death Eaters able to gain control of the Ministry of Magic, Hogwarts, and other Wizarding institutions so quickly and easily? Why has there been so little resistance?
- Why does Voldemort remain unseen to the general public, even though it is widely known that he is alive and controls the Ministry and other institutions?
- What might happen to Muggle-born wizards after being rounded up by the Ministry? How does this compare to historical events in mid-20th century Europe?
Over the next several chapters, the Locket Horcrux begins to affect each Trio member as they take turns wearing it around their necks; it preys on them physically, mentally, and emotionally. When Ron puts his ear to the Locket, he is able to detect something akin to a "heartbeat" pulsing within it, indicating that it may share some of Voldemort's life force. The Horcrux may actually be somewhat sentient, as when Harry is trying to retrieve Gryffindor's Sword to destroy the Locket, the Horcrux, sensing danger, defends itself by attempting to strangle him. Also, once opened, it presents a shadow play designed to turn Ron, who is then holding the Sword, against Harry and Hermione, in the hopes of saving itself. Unlike the Trio, Dolores Umbridge seems unaffected by wearing the Locket, possibly because the Locket senses she poses no threat to its existence, and she may be more closely aligned to its Dark nature.
The Trio's foray into the Ministry of Magic, while ultimately successful, was nearly disastrous because they failed to consider all scenarios and lacked a back-up plan to handle even the simplest and most likely event: that they would be called upon to perform the duties of the Ministry employees they were impersonating and would thereby be separated. A far more sensible plan would be to first identify who they could best impersonate, then observe their duties and habits. In a later chapter, they will infiltrate another high-security Wizarding institution, Gringotts Bank. While that mission will be successful, it also nearly ends in disaster, and they once again fail to have an alternate plan. They have to quickly improvise an alternate escape route when things go awry.
The two youths whose photo Harry briefly glimpsed in Rita Skeeter's book are the teen-aged Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald. Harry will see the photo again in a later chapter and read not only the caption but the associated chapter of Skeeter's muck-raking book. As a result, Harry's already-shaken faith in Dumbledore will be eroded even further.