Hermione remains angry at Ron, but Ron and Harry feel much more optimistic now that they’ve destroyed one Horcrux. Ron tells Harry that a magical Trace has been placed on Voldemort’s name, so that anyone who says it can be tracked by the Ministry. This Trace is how the trio were discovered in Tottenham Court Road. Fortunately, Harry and Hermione have already slipped into the habit of calling Voldemort You-Know-Who.
Hermione announces that she wants to visit Xenophilius Lovegood, having found, in the signature of the letter from Dumbledore excerpted in Skeeter’s book, yet another appearance of the triangular symbol associated with Grindelwald and worn by Xenophilius. Ron concurs, noting that Xenophilius’s underground newspaper, The Quibbler, has been staunchly pro-Harry, despite the price on his head.
The trio find the tower where the Lovegoods live, but Xenophilius seems alarmed at their presence and reluctant to invite them in or help them. Grudgingly, he lets them come in. Ron chides Xenophilius for printing in his newspaper that people should help Harry, then appearing unwilling to help Harry himself, and finally Xenophilius agrees to help. He excuses himself to go call Luna, who, he says, is outside fishing, then serves them a nasty-tasting root infusion. Xenophilius asks Harry what he has come for, and Harry inquires about the symbol. Xenophilius tells him that it is the sign of the Deathly Hallows.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione are all baffled—none of them have heard of the Deathly Hallows. Xenophilius explains that the Deathly Hallows have nothing to do with Dark Magic, and that the symbol is merely a way for wizards to indicate to each other that they believe in a particular legend and are engaged in a quest for certain objects—the Deathly Hallows. To explain what these objects are, Xenophilius has Hermione read an old and familiar fairy tale from The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
Three brothers were traveling on a road when they came to a river. They made a bridge using magic, but when they were halfway across, Death spoke to them. Death was angry at being cheated of their lives, but he congratulated them and offered them each a prize. The oldest brother asked for a wand that would always win duels, and Death fashioned one out of an elder tree branch. The second asked for the power to bring people back from the dead, and Death gave him a stone with that power. The youngest brother asked for something that would let him leave that place without being followed by Death, and Death reluctantly handed over his own Invisibility Cloak.
The three brothers departed. The first brother was killed in his sleep by a thief after he boasted about his wand. The second brother summoned the spirit of a girl he had once loved, but she couldn’t truly be with him in life, so he killed himself to join her. The youngest brother lived for many years, then handed the cloak off to his own son and welcomed Death like an old friend.
Xenophilius explains that the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone, and the Cloak of Invisibility are the Deathly Hallows. Initiates into the legend behind the fairy tale believe that the possessor of all three objects will be the master of Death. Hermione questions whether these objects actually exist, but Xenophilius unwittingly draws her attention to the fact that Harry’s cloak sounds exactly like the cloak in the story. He has no proof that the stone exists, but he notes that there is ample evidence for the existence of the wand, which has been passed from famous wizard to famous wizard, with the new owner always capturing it from the old one in order to truly master it.
Hermione asks Xenophilius if the Peverells have anything to do with the quest, since she saw the symbol on the gravestone of Ignotus Peverell in Godric’s Hollow. Xenophilius explains that many believe the three Peverell brothers to have been the three brothers in the story. Then he excuses himself to fix the dinner.
The three friends debate the relative merits and possible existence of the three artifacts, then Harry wanders upstairs into Luna’s room, seeing paintings of himself and Luna’s other friends, as well as a photograph of Luna and her mother. Harry is startled to realize that the photographs are dusty and the room clearly has not been inhabited for months. He confronts Xenophilius with his lie, and Xenophilius admits that the Ministry has kidnapped Luna because of the pro-Potter articles Xenophilius had been printing. When Xenophilius had gone outside earlier, he had actually dispatched an owl to the Ministry.
Death Eaters arrive, and Xenophilius attempts to subdue Harry and his friends with a spell, but the spell hits an explosive Erumpent horn hanging on his wall, which detonates and blows up half the tower, leaving the trio upstairs and Xenophilius below, separated by rubble. The Death Eaters beat Xenophilius and berate him for constantly summoning them on false pretexts, but one of them uses a spell to determine that someone is indeed upstairs. Ron, Harry, and Hermione Disapparate, but not before Hermione hits Xenophilius with a Forgetting spell to erase his memory and allows the Death Eaters to catch a glimpse of Harry, so they’ll know Xenophilius wasn’t lying.
Having transported themselves safely to an empty field, Ron, Harry, and Hermione discuss what they’ve learned and debate whether the Deathly Hallows could possibly exist. Hermione steadfastly maintains that it is all nonsense, but Harry starts to put together the information they’ve just gathered into a coherent picture, until he becomes almost obsessed with the Hallows.
First, Harry remembers that during the previous year, when he viewed images in Dumbledore’s Pensieve of Marvolo Gaunt (Voldemort’s grandfather), Gaunt had claimed to be the descendant of the Peverells and claimed that their symbol was on his ring. (This was the ring Horcrux that Dumbledore destroyed in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.) Harry puts these pieces together and decides that Gaunt must be the descendant of one of the three brothers in the tale, and that the Resurrection Stone is the stone that was in the ring—and that Dumbledore must have hidden it for Harry inside the Snitch, which they have yet to open.
Harry further realizes that Voldemort was tracking Ollivander, Gregorovitch, and now Grindelwald because he wants the Elder Wand—not because he wants a new wand, or answers about how to defeat Harry’s wand.
Finally, Harry decides that his Invisibility Cloak—the cloak his father left to him—must be the cloak in the story, and that he himself must be descended from the third brother in the story, living as he did in the same town as the Peverells. He remembers that in the letter fragment from his mother that he found in Sirius’s house, she mentions that Dumbledore had borrowed the Cloak. Harry reasons that Dumbledore must have known that it was one of the Hallows and must have wanted to assemble them all. Harry is seized by the idea that if he gathers the Hallows himself, he will finally be powerful enough to defeat Voldemort, whose Horcruxes will be no match for the Hallows.
It occurs to Harry that Voldemort must not know about the Hallows, having been raised in a Muggle orphanage without being read wizard fairy tales. He must be searching for the wand thinking only that it is a powerful wand, not one of three artifacts. If Voldemort had known, he would have pursued the Hallows rather than making the Horcruxes, and he wouldn’t have made a Hallow into a Horcrux (the ring with the Resurrection Stone in it).
As passionate as Harry is about his deductions, Hermione resists, noting that there would be no reason for Dumbledore not to tell Harry about the Hallows if they existed, and reminding Harry that Dumbledore left clear instructions to find and destroy Horcruxes—not to go searching for Hallows to destroy Voldemort. Ron supports Hermione, so the matter seems to be closed, but Harry lies awake that night obsessing about what he could do with the Resurrection Stone and the Elder Wand—for example, using the Stone to question Dumbledore and the Wand to free Luna from Azkaban, where she is most likely being kept. Over the next few days, the sense of division between Harry and Ron and Hermione deepens.
One night, Ron manages to tune into the underground radio program “Potterwatch,” produced by members of the Order of the Phoenix. Harry, Hermione, and Ron listen eagerly as wizards they know and recognize give out news of the outside world and the people they know and love. Ted Tonks and Dirk Cresswell have been murdered, along with a goblin; Xenophilius is in prison; Hagrid was almost arrested but escaped; Muggles are being murdered by Death Eaters in great numbers. Rumors have circulated that Voldemort has been sighted outside of England.
As the program ends, Harry seizes on this last piece of information to insist that Voldemort must be searching in Europe for the Elder Wand. Unfortunately, he slips and says Voldemort’s name, breaking the Trace and leading the Ministry’s agents to their hiding place. A voice announces that a dozen wizards are outside the tent, and orders them to come out with their hands up.
This sequence of chapters, which finally introduces us to the meaning of the book’s title, brings together the two plotlines that have dominated the book. On the one hand, we have seen Harry’s difficult quest to find the Horcruxes and destroy Voldemort before Voldemort can kill him. Under the surface of that plot, Harry has been struggling internally with his grief over Dumbledore. In this second plot, Harry has struggled to stay faithful to his promise to Dumbledore to destroy the Horcruxes, while his doubts have grown that Dumbledore may not have loved him and may not even have been a good person. Essentially, Harry has not been able to fully focus on or commit to the quest that Dumbledore left him because of his grief over Dumbledore—he feels unable to accept Dumbledore’s love now that Dumbledore is dead, and is thus unable to maintain his faith in Dumbledore and the quest.
The Deathly Hallows capture Harry’s imagination primarily because they offer a way out of his impasse. With the Resurrection Stone, Harry could speak with Dumbledore, or with his parents, and he would no longer feel cut off from his dead loved ones. He would be master of death, and so would no longer have to grieve. His power would be sufficient to defeat Voldemort at last. But if Harry chooses to pursue the Hallows instead of the Horcruxes, he will pay a price, because he’ll essentially be abandoning his faith in Dumbledore altogether, refusing to do what Dumbledore advised, and he’ll be giving up on the possibility that Dumbledore knew what was best for him. He would be putting his faith in his own power rather than in Dumbledore.
The fact that choosing to look for the Hallows would be a dangerous, even foolish decision, is implied by a number of factors. In the story of the three brothers, the gifts from Death are intentionally duplicitous, giving the two older brothers what they want but leading directly to their ruin. Only the younger brother thrives, and that is because he does not even seek to “master” death by becoming a killer, an immortal, or a resurrector of dead souls. All he asks for is a normal life. Other signs include the fact that Xenophilius seeks the Hallows, and Xenophilius is manifestly a fool. Throughout literature, folklore, and mythology, the attempt to bring back dead loved ones almost always backfires, being an unnatural and taboo act that the gods will not tolerate.