The Harry Potter Reread isn’t very good with plants. You know, like, potted plants. Perhaps this indicates a certain lack of character. Or plants are just difficult creatures.
This week we’re going to spend too much time with Dolores Umbridge and take a trip to the woods. It’s chapters 13 and 14 of The Deathly Hallows—The Muggle-born Registration Commission and The Thief.
Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.
Chapter 13—The Muggle-born Registration Commission
Umbridge assumes that someone named Travers sent Mafalda (the woman Hermione is currently disguised as) to her. She’s meant to be the record keeper for the day’s proceedings in the Muggle-born Registration Commission. Umbridge suggests that Albert Runcorn (who Harry is disguised as) should be getting out on this floor, separating Harry and Hermione. He comes in contact with the new Minister of Magic, who asks what he’s there for. Harry tells him that he’s to have a word with Arthur Weasley, prompting the Minister to ask if Arthur’s had contact with an Undesirable. Harry says no, and Thicknesse says that he believes “blood traitors” are as bad as Mudbloods before bidding him good day. Once he’s gone, Harry puts on his Invisibility Cloak and sets off. As he walks, he feels more and more uneasy—they had not planned what they would do if they were separated on their mission. Thinking that Umbridge’s office has to be on his floor, he decides to search it just in case.
Harry enters an area where he finds workers assembling pamphlets on the dangers of Mudbloods. He’s fairly sure that Umbridge wrote the thing, and the talk amongst the workers seems to confirm it—one refers to her as “the old hag.” (Another encourages her to keep silent unless they’re heard.) Harry looks up and finds Moody’s old magical eye fixed to the door of Umbridge’s office, and also learns that Umbridge is Senior Undersecretary to the Minister and Head of the Muggle-born Registration Commission. Knowing that he will be noticed opening her door, even invisible, Harry sets off one of the Decoy Detonators to distract the office workers. Once inside, Harry finds an office just like the one that Umbridge had back at Hogwarts. Moody’s eye is in place so that Umbridge can spy on her workers. Finding everyone still looking at the detonator, Harry steals Moody’s eye back, then tries to call for the locket using Accio, which doesn’t work. He begins a search of Umbridge’s office, finding Arthur’s file when he goes through the file cabinets. It reads that Arthur is being tracked due to his pro-Muggle leanings, and that “Undesirable No. 1” is likely to contact his family. It’s clear that the “No. 1” is Harry, and further confirmed when he finds a poster of his face with those words on it. (Umbridge has also added a pink note to the corner that reads “To be punished.”)
In looking around the office, he spies a copy of Rita Skeeter’s book on Dumbledore. He flips to a page that shows a picture of a young Dumbledore laughing with his arm around a friend. Before he has time to check the caption, Pius Thicknesse enters the office and Harry has to scramble to throw the Cloak on. Harry slowly backs out of the office as Pius leaves a note for Umbridge on her desk. Harry decides that after failing to find the locket, his next move has to be to gather Ron and Hermione and leave without detection so they can try another day. Ron enters the lift right after he does, followed by a witch and Arthur Weasley (who obviously does not realize who they are). He glares at Harry and gives Ron advice for how to solve the rain problem in Yaxley’s office. Ron thanks him, almost making the mistake of calling him “dad.” The lift opens and Ron gets out. Harry makes to follow him, but is blocked by Percy Weasley entering. Percy doesn’t notice that his father is there until he looks up, then leaves as soon as the doors open again. Harry tries to exit again, but is blocked by Arthur, who takes him to task for what he’s done to Dirk Cresswell. Harry tells Arthur he’s being watched, but Arthur interprets that as a threat, thinking that Harry is Runcorn. He leaves, and Harry decides to put his Invisibility Cloak back on.
He heads to the courtrooms, thinking of how he’ll get Hermione out, and belatedly realizes that the corridor leading there is packed with dementors. They surround the Muggle-borns who are waiting to be questioned. Harry presses on, and a door opens as a man is dragged out by dementors, insisting he is a half-blood. Umbridge’s voice sounds, informing him that he’ll be subjected to the Dementor’s Kiss is he doesn’t stop struggling. Mary Cattermole is called next, and Harry follows her into the courtroom, which is different from the one he had his hearing in. There are more dementors in there, and Umbridge sits with Yaxley on one side and Hermione on the other. There is a cat Patronus at their feet to help fend off the effects of the dementors. Harry slinks around the room to get behind Hermione while Umbridge and Yaxley attack Cattermole, who begins to sob and talks of her family. Harry tells Hermione he’s behind her. Umbridge insists that the wand Mary Cattermole turned over was stolen from a true witch or wizard. When she asks Hermione for the questionnaire Mary filled out, Hermione makes a point of talking about her necklace. Umbridge claims it’s a family heirloom and the “S” on it stands for Selwyn, a pureblood family, then proceeds to call out Mary Cattermole’s ancestry.
Harry loses his temper at the thought of how Umbridge is using the locket to boost her pureblood cred, and stuns her and Yaxley without thinking. Hermione reminds him to help Mrs. Cattermole, as the dementors are now descending. Harry casts his Patronus and advises Hermione to get the locket. He tries to free Mrs. Cattermole (who thinks that he’s Runcorn, who submitted her name for questioning) while Hermione duplicates the locket to fool Umbridge. Then she frees Mary, and Harry tells her that she needs to grab her family and leave the country, run and hide. Hermione wants to know how they’re going to get past all the dementors outside, and Harry tells her to cast her Patronus. He tells everyone waiting outside the courtroom what he told Mary Cattermole. Once they get to the lift, Ron arrives, and Mary (thinking it’s her husband), throws herself into his arms and tell him what happened. Ron informs Harry that the Ministry knows there are intruders due to the hole in Umbridge’s office door, and that they probably don’t have more than five minutes to escape. Hermione begins to panic, but Harry insists that they’ll be fine if they move fast. He tells everyone without a wand to attach themselves to someone who has one, then separates the whole group between two lifts.
Once they arrive in the Atrium, they find it’s being sealed. Harry uses his authority as Runcorn to frighten one of the wizards into holding off, insisting that the group with him needs to leave before everything’s locked down. Unfortunately, before everyone is out, the real Reg Cattermole appears and then Yaxley shows up, demanding that the exits be sealed. Harry punches one of wizards who had been sealing the exits, claiming that he was helping the Mudbloods escape, while Ron takes Mrs. Cattermole into the fireplace and vanishes. Harry grabs Hermione and also leaves through the fireplace, finding Ron on the other end, trying to explain to Mary that he’s not actually Reg. Yaxley appears and Harry grabs Ron and Hermione and Apparates away—but something’s wrong and he can’t quite keep hold of them. They arrive at Grimmauld place, but there’s a scream and a flash, and then Hermione grabs him and everything goes dark again.
Thing that really hit me this time through? How smart the use of the term “undesirable” is here. Because it’s perfectly on point to have an evil regime use mild-sounding rhetoric to create a vocabulary of hate and otherness. By itself “undesirable” isn’t a horrible word. Moldy bread can be undesirable. Getting sick is undesirable. Failing a test is also undesirable. But applying that term to specific group of people and turning them into their own class, criminalizing them… it’s a tactic and has been used by many cultures throughout human history, a way of sweeping the cruelty of those in power under the rug. We’re not labeling them with scary, harsh terms like “threat” or “enemy.” They’re simply undesirable. Half a step a way from unlovable, right? They’re not worthy of your time or attention, but we should handle them. Like an infestation. Ants living under your floorboards aren’t enemies, right? They’re undesirable. Just like Muggle-borns.
Ugh, it’s chilling.
So, for all that the trio function like a well-oiled machine the majority of the time, I’m kind of baffled that they don’t have side-plans within their plan? Maybe not a detailed one, but they didn’t even have a let’s-meet-here-if-we-get-separated plan? It just seems like too big of a gap for them. They’re usually pretty good about communicating that way.
The creation of the pamphlets is sickening, made worse by the knowledge that most of the people creating them clearly don’t want to be there, or agree with anything that’s happening. There’s an atmosphere of fear around the entire Ministry, and you can’t help but wonder how many of these people have fixed themselves in a stupor, incapable of believing what they’re being asked to do. It’s typically your only option if you’re trying to survive in such a situation. You block it out, you look away. Particularly when you know that your boss is constantly spying on you.
Moody’s eye. The actual physical rage I feel on reading that is striking just like the first time. I agree with Harry’s later testament—taking it out of the door was stupid and endangered everyone’s lives. But if it were me, I can’t guarantee that I wouldn’t have done the same thing. Maybe I would have been able to remind myself what was at stake, but the idea of Umbridge taking that off of Alastor Moody’s body like a damned trophy is nauseating. Processing any emotion beyond fury is difficult. (The real answer is that Harry should have duplicated it, the way Hermione thinks to duplicate the locket. She’s the best.)
There’s this disgusting undercurrent of domination to Umbridge’s character, and I feel like that is the prime factor that makes her truly odious. Sticking a little note by Harry’s poster with the words “To be punished” because she clearly still thinks of him as a naughty little schoolboy, her desire to spy on her employees because no one should be trusted, her creation of these new Muggle-born laws—they all come down to this sick joy she obviously derives from having complete dominion over other people. And while it was easy enough to see when she was working at Hogwarts, seeing her in her element, when she finally has everything she always wanted, it’s just so much worse.
Harry gets a look at a picture inside Skeeter’s book, which is important for being his first glimpse of young Grindelwald. I have so many questions. There is so much I want to know about the two young men in that picture, right at that moment. Is Albus already in love with his friend? Does Grindelwald know? What are they laughing about together? (I have lots of Dumbledore/Grindelwald feelings, so sorry/not sorry? It’s gonna come up.)
Harry makes it back to the lift, and comes into contact with Arthur, and the first thing that occurs to me is that Arthur is probably very lucky that he’s actually speaking to Harry? I imagine that if he’d mouthed off like that to the real Runcorn, something terrible would have happened. So thanks heaven for small favors and all that. In my head, I’m screaming Arthur no, Arthur you cannot do that right now, Arthur go home to Molly and be safe. I mean, I know you have to fight the good fight, but still. Of course, Harry assumes that part of this is Arthur’s upset over seeing Percy, which you can’t blame him for. With everything that’s happening now, I find it incredible how long it takes Percy to reach out. Pride is a killer, y’all.
Despite how wrong everything goes, I have to say, I love this seat-of-their-pants escape here. I love how stupid it is, and the fact that it mostly works, and the fact that they get so many people out of the building. So even though it goes so wrong, they still mange to do some good? They mess up a lot of things too, but since they had to go in there and grab the locket either way, it’s nice that they manage to help out a few people in addition. But it still bugs the heck out of the me that they got so lucky with Harry being Runcorn. Lucky breaks happen all the time in real life, but when it’s in fiction, you’re less inclined to buy it.
Chapter 14—The Thief
When Harry next opens his eyes, he finds that they are lying on the forest floor. He briefly thinks it might be the Forbidden Forest, but quickly realizes that he’s wrong. Then he properly sets eyes on Ron and realizes that he’s badly injured, and the Polyjuice Potion is wearing off. Hermione informs him that Ron is Splinched, and works quickly to try and fix the wound. She tells Harry to grab Essence of Dittany from her bag, and asks him to unstopper the bottle since her hands are shaking. A few drops cauterizes the wound on Ron’s arm, making it seem a few days old. Hermione admits that there are spells that would fix him completely, but she doesn’t want to chance it in case she gets it wrong, seeing as he’s already lost a lot of blood. Harry asks Hermione what went wrong, and she tells him that Yaxley got hold of her when they Disapparated and wouldn’t let go. She shook him off when they arrived and Grimmauld Place and brought the three of them here instad, but that means their safe house is compromised. She apologizes, but Harry insists that it’s his fault for taking the eye from Umbridge’s office door.
Ron wakes, and Hermione informs them that she brought them to the wood where they held the Quidditch World Cup a few years back. Harry wonders if the Death Eaters will find them easily again, like last time, and Ron wonders if they shouldn’t leave. Harry decides they should stay since Ron is recovering, so Hermione begins to put up protective enchantments, and suggest Harry get out their tent. It turns out to be the same one that they used at the World Cup—the guy Arthur borrowed it from didn’t want it back. Hermione erects the tent and says that she did the best charms she could, and they should at least know if anyone’s coming. She almost mentions Voldemort by name, but Ron asks her not to, claiming that it feels like a jinx. When Harry brings up Dumbledore’s words on the subject, Ron points out that it hadn’t saved him, and Harry and Hermione decide not to argue while he’s hurt. They carry Ron inside the tent and he rests for a while as Hermione makes tea. Hermione and Ron begin to talk about how they hope the Cattermoles got away, and Hermione looks at Ron with such a loving expression that Harry feels he needs to remind her he’s still around. He asks after the locket.
Ron is very excited to learn they succeeded in their mission, so Hermione passes it to him. He asks if they’re sure it’s still Horcrux, but Hermione assumes it would looked damaged if someone had destroyed it. Harry reckons that they’ll have to open it before they can destroy it. They all try, but nothing happens. Ron claims he can feel something though, and Harry agrees, almost like a heartbeat. He says they’ll have to keep it safe until they can get rid of it, then puts it around his neck and decides they should take it in shifts keeping watch outside. He and Hermione go back and forth all day, but nothing shows up and the Sneakoscope they’ve brought along never budges. There’s no food for them aside from some mushrooms that Hermione collects that are practically inedible even after stewing. Harry sits outside, lost in unhappy thoughts, concerned now that they had the Horcrux and he no longer knew what to do. He can’t seem to direct himself away from bad thoughts, things that bring up sadness or a sense of helplessness.
He enters Voldemort’s mind again, and finds that the Dark Lord has Gregorovitch. He’s torturing the man, asking where something is. The old wand maker claims that the thing was stolen from him. Voldemort uses Legilimency to find the memory, and sees a young man with golden hair stealing it. Gregorovitch doesn’t know who the young man is, so Voldemort murders him. Hermione wakes Harry, standing over him. Hermione wants to have it out again, but Harry tries tells her what he saw. She advises him to go lie down. Harry goes inside and tells Ron instead, trying to parse it out. He knows the young man from Gregorovitch’s memory looks familiar, but can’t figure out why. Ron wonders if Voldemort is looking for something else to turn into a Horcrux. Harry can’t figure out why he wasn’t trying to get another wand from the wand maker. Thinking over the thief, Harry falls asleep.
Poor Ron. Straight out of the gate with a nasty injury. I do think it’s important that Rowling puts this here, though. The peril is real, right from the start, and they’ve got a long way to go. Hermione can’t even heal Ron properly for fear of causing more damage. (That one place where someone in the trio should have maybe spent a few days hanging around Madam Pomfrey and asking her questions. You don’t ever think about how important healing magic is going to be until you’re right in the middle of it, and you don’t have the skills.)
Harry has the thought that they’re not going back to the house, and that Kreacher is making them dinner that they’ll never eat and NO MY HEART I CANNOT. Not to poor Kreacher, who was finally happy and fulfilled again, nooooooooooooo!
I sort of love the fact that they’re using the same tent that they used during the Quidditch World Cup. It plays into a certain level of soothing that Rowling allows in the narrative; whenever we encounter something horrible, she usually counters it by offering up something familiar next. So the trio flee the wedding and are attacked, but then they get to head back to Grimmauld Place, which they already know. They botch the end of their mission at the Ministry and are forced to give up the house, but the tent is a familiar place that they spent good times in. So there’s a bit of a seesaw going on, a back-and-forth that makes everything feel a little more comfortable after everything that’s gone wrong.
They talk about the locket and wearing it, and wow, the effect is pretty much instant. I’m almost surprised that Harry doesn’t notice, but then, when you’re already so concerned and frightened and paranoid all the time by necessity, a little extra probably doesn’t set off any alarms. It’s entirely insidious. The idea that it has some kind of heartbeat, an effect that make it seems alive, is equally disturbing, more like something out of a horror story.
Harry is back in Voldemort’s head and finally sees Gregorovitch, and we get our first substantial clue about the Elder Wand being the thing that Voldemort is after. We also learn (though we don’t have all the information yet) that Grindelwald is the one who stole it, and the memory we get from Gregorovitch makes the guy seem straight-up like Peter Pan to me. The mischief, the laughter, falling out the window like a bird. We know he’s a pretty cruel guy as well, so I think the comparison is apt. Does that make Albus his Wendy? And Aberforth and Ariana are John and Michael? But it’s like a really messed up version of Peter Pan where Wendy didn’t really care enough about the welfare of her siblings, and loses little Michael as a result?
Wait, this really works for me. Including the suggestion that a grown-up Peter Pan has every chance of turning into a nasty, power-mad dictator. Who then must be stopped by Wendy. Oh wow, I LOVE this.
Outside of that, the chapter is mostly Harry beginning to fret, and the realization that with the first Horcrux in their hands, the trio are without a next step. It’s an interesting falter in the quest, the first of many. A harbinger of things to come.