August passes, and the mysterious observers outside Grimmauld Place just keep on observing. When September arrives, there are more of them than ever.
Harry Apparates onto the front stoop of the house – and just barely manages to catch his balance before his Invisibility Cloak slips off.
Inside the house, a miraculous change has taken place; it's spick and span, and everything, including Kreacher, glows with health and cleanliness. The house-elf has apparently had a dramatic change of spirits since Harry gave him Regulus's locket.
According to the Daily Prophet that Harry brought back from the outside world, Severus Snape has been made headmaster of Hogwarts. To make matters worse, he's brought in two Death Eater siblings, Alecto and Amycus Carrow, to teach Muggle Studies and Defense Against the Dark Arts. (It's a wonder they're still teaching Muggle Studies, under the current Voldemort-led administration.)
As Ron and Harry concernedly discuss the changes at Hogwarts, Kreacher serves up delicious French onion soup; apparently Hermione was right about just treating house-elves more humanely all along.
Hermione, who dashed out a moment ago, returns, lugging with her a huge framed picture, which she proceeds to stuff into her Mary Poppins bag. It's the talking portrait of Phineas Nigellus, Sirius's ancestor and a former Hogwarts headmaster – she doesn't want him to betray them to Snape. Good thinking.
Apparently Harry was out watching the Ministry of Magic entrance all day, which they've been doing all summer, trying to figure out how to get in on the sly. Harry thinks tomorrow is the day to break into the Ministry and try and reclaim the Horcrux locket from Dolores Umbridge.
As they discuss their plans, Harry has another Voldemort-connected scar-ache. He dashes off to the bathroom.
Another vision: Voldemort is in Germany, looking for Gregorovitch the wandmaker. When a woman living in Gregorovitch's old house can't tell him anything, he kills her, and possibly her young children.
Hermione and Ron find Harry and he tells them about the vision; Hermione freaks out again and tells him that he should be using Occlumency (magically shutting his mind). He admits that he intends to use the visions so he can know what Voldemort is up to.
Harry doesn't want to talk about it anymore, so they spend the rest of the evening planning their invasion of the Ministry.
The next morning, they position themselves outside the Ministry and waylay a witch and wizard who work there; Hermione uses Polyjuice Potion to become the witch, Mafalda Hopkirk, while Ron adopts the disguise of the wizard, Reg Cattermole.
Harry waits for them to go out and find him someone to become – when they do, he transforms into a tall, rather menacing guy. Perfect.
The three enter the Ministry through its rather unorthodox entrance (flushing themselves down some public toilets), and find themselves in a very different-looking place. The golden fountain representing harmony in the wizarding world is gone, and has been replaced by a horrible statue that depicts the superiority of wizards over everyone else. Engraved on it is the motto "Magic is Might."
Ron has a run-in with Yaxley, a Death Eater who's the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
Yaxley, thinking that Ron is actually Reg Cattermole, mocks him for having a Mudblood wife, who's apparently up for trial today. Yaxley wants Cattermole to clean up a small rainstorm in his office (a routine problem, apparently), and says that if he doesn't, his wife will be in even more trouble.
The trio splits up – Ron goes to sort out Yaxley's office, while Hermione and Harry continue on in the elevator. The elevator doors open at level one, and reveal the familiar, toadlike form of Dolores Umbridge.