When Dolores Umbridge effectively orchestrates a Ministry-led coup of Hogwarts to become Headmistress in Order of the Phoenix the Head's office bars her from entering.

"The Fat Friar told me-" he dropped his voice conspiratorially, so that Harry, Ron and Hermione had to lean closer to him to hear "-that Umbridge tried to get back into his office last night after they'd searched the castle and grounds for him. Couldn't get past the gargoyle. The Head's office has sealed itself against her." Ernie smirked. "Apparently, she had a right little tantrum."

Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 28, Snape's Worst Memory

Later, when Harry is sent back to Dumbledore's office, Phineas Nigellus has a more interesting way of phrasing it:

"And what brings you here in the early hours of the morning?" said Phineas eventually. "This office is supposed to be barred to all but the rightful Headmaster..."

Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 27, The Lost Prophecy

The gargoyle clearly has the authority to keep illegitimate wannabe Heads from entering the office. However, it isn't made clear here who exactly gets to determine which witch/wizard is the legitimate (or "rightful") Head. It clearly isn't connected to the Ministry of Magic or Umbridge would've got in. Does the gargoyle get to decide? Is it the Head which is legitimately appointed by the governors? (I don't think the governors are mentioned in relation to Umbridge since she was appointed by Ministry decree). Does the new Head have to have the blessing of their predecessor before the office will recognise a new incumbent?

I'm not sure whether there's a canon answer or not but if not informed speculation will suffice. :)

  • 3
    I mean, I would guess probably the gargoyle...
    – CHEESE
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 20:21
  • Well, HP is full of plot holes, it doesn't make sense to explore every one of them, just enjoy the story.
    – Sulthan
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 21:37
  • 5
    @sulthan - Exploring plot-holes is kind of the whole raison d'être for SFF:SE...
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 22:16
  • 2
    I like this question. If only because Umbridge... ugh. Unfortunately, the simplest solution seems the most likely -- Dumbledore had a convenient method of setting a password and controlling access to his office. He simply left the proverbial door locked. Hogwarts already has spells tied to the death of a Headmaster (their portrait appearing being one) so no explanation needed there. Unfortunately, it seems sort of unlikely the Gargoyle has freedom to choose or it'd be hard to imagine it recognizing Snape as 'rightful' Headmaster. (Though, the Fat Lady could be disagreeable, she'd always open).
    – Captain P
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 0:22
  • Other bits of the school seem to have a degree of autonomy and agency. The Room of Requirement seems to decide who it's going to help, for instance. It helped the DA when they needed a practice room, but wouldn't help Umbridge and Filch when they needed to catch the DA. So maybe the headmaster's office gets to decide in the same way. Commented Mar 6 at 12:51

1 Answer 1


There are a couple of options here.

Firstly, it's by no means certain that Umbridge knows the password to gain access to the office. It may have simply been blocked to her because she doesn't have the access code, nor will anyone who knows it (such as Snape or McGonagall) tell her, because, let's be honest here, it's pretty funny not to tell her. She may have simply been yelling at a locked door, demanding that it open for her.

Secondly, and here we're assuming Umbridge knows what the password is, it's very likely that the room was barred to her because Dumbledore had blocked it to her. The Official Harry Potter Glossary (that used to feature on the Bloomsbury.com website) notes that he can deactivate the password at a whim. Presumably this feature also works as the metaphorical sock-on-the-doorhandle when Dumbledore is entertaining guests.

Fizzing Whizzbee: Password to gain entry into Dumbledore's rooms at Hogwarts via a moving stone staircase like a spiral escalator. Dumbledore can override the password when he doesn't want it to work.

It's not especially clear who wrote this glossary (e.g. whether it was JKR or someone else) but as it adds to the canon, we can reasonably assume that she was aware of it.

Note also that after Dumbledore


his office becomes available to Professor Snape so there must be some kind of transfer mechanism at work.

  • That quote is definitely a good piece of evidence. However, it doesn't actually say that this is what kept Umbridge out of the office.
    – wyvern
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 20:24
  • @sumelic - Agreed. I think it's more likely that a) She didn't know the password and b) If and when she finally guessed it, that he'd blocked it from working anyway.
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 20:36
  • 1
    @Richard, if all that was keeping Umbridge was knowledge of the password then that'd imply that the office is barred to 'everyone who doesn't know the password' (as normal), rather than to "all but the rightful Headmaster". Presumably, as a teacher, Umbridge would've known the password anyway. I've always assumed that the barring was the castle's way of acknowledging that she's basically stolen the Head-ship. Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 20:44
  • @TheDarkLord - You're assuming Dumbledore gives the password to all of his staff :-) That said, there must be some sort of transfer mechanism that allows a new headmaster to change the password. Presumably that involves the portraits or the gargoyle. I think we can assume that Snape did have the password though.
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 20:46
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    @Richard, I just re-read the chapter at the end of Phoenix and the fact that Harry demands to be let out and Dumbledore says no indicates to me that Dumbledore had control of the door. From the inside and the out. Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 11:05

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