Hermione points her wand at Harry’s face and causes it to swell so that he’s unrecognizable, just before the three friends are seized by a gang of Snatchers. Harry can’t see, but he recognizes one of the voices menacing Hermione as belonging to Fenrir Greyback, the werewolf. Questioned about their names, Harry claims to be Vernon Dudley, Ron to be Barny Weasley (after having been caught in the lie that he was Stan Shunpike), and Hermione to be Penelope Clearwater.
As the Snatchers go to check their names against lists of wanted persons, leaving the prisoners bound together, Harry and his friends discover that Dean Thomas, their fellow Gryffindor, is bound with them. Dean tells them that these Snatchers are merely looking for truant Hogwarts students to sell to the Ministry for gold.
The Snatchers return, not having found the names they gave on their lists. Harry is able to lie convincingly that he is a Slytherin and that his father works in the Ministry, but the Snatchers realize who they’ve actually caught when they match Hermione to a picture of her in the newspaper, which states that Hermione is known to be traveling with Harry Potter, then discover the Sword of Gryffindor and Harry’s glasses. Throughout this ordeal, Harry has trouble staying in the present moment, as he keeps having visions through Voldemort’s eyes of Voldemort flying to the top of a black fortress—Nurmengard. The Snatchers decide to take the prisoners to Malfoy Manor, Voldemort’s base of operations, and as they go there, Harry has visions of Voldemort interrogating Grindelwald in his cell at Nurmengard.
At the manor, Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy try to get Draco to positively identify Harry, whose face is still unrecognizably swollen, but Draco, fearful and reluctant, won’t commit. Narcissa and Lucius think it is Harry, because they can identify Hermione and Ron, but they don’t want to contact Voldemort without being sure. Bellatrix Lestrange enters the room, and though at first she seems ready to contact Voldemort herself and end the dispute, when she discovers the Sword of Gryffindor, which she had thought safe in her own vault at Gringotts, she tells Narcissa and Lucius that they are all in mortal danger, and she has Harry and Ron thrown into the dark basement so she can interrogate Hermione and plan her next move.
As Bellatrix tortures Hermione to learn where they got the sword, accusing her of breaking into Bellatrix’s Gringotts vault, Harry and Ron discover that the basement also holds Luna, Ollivander the wandmaker, Dean Thomas, and Griphook, a Gringotts goblin. Luna has a nail that she uses to untie them, and Ron uses his Deluminator to light the basement. As they hear Hermione screaming in pain, Harry desperately looks for a way to escape. Finding none, he empties his pouch, looking for something that might aid him, and he finds the shard of Sirius’s magic mirror. Dumbledore’s eye is looking out of it at Harry. Harry asks the eye for help, and it disappears.
The prisoners hear Hermione claiming that the sword is only a fake, and then Bellatrix stating her intention to question the Gringotts goblin. Harry asks Griphook to lie and say the sword they were carrying is a fake, then they turn out the lights, just as Malfoy comes down to bring Griphook to Bellatrix.
There is a loud crack, and they relight the Deluminator to discover that Dobby the house-elf, who served the Malfoys until Harry tricked Lucius into freeing Dobby, has appeared in their midst, ready to rescue them. Dobby, with his special house-elf magic, can Disapparate in and out of the house, taking humans with him, so Harry tells him to take Luna, Ollivander, and Dean to Bill Weasley’s house, and then return for the rest of them. The people upstairs hear the crack of the elf disappearing, so they send Wormtail to investigate. Ron and Harry struggle to subdue Wormtail, but Wormtail’s silver hand clamps around Harry’s throat and chokes him. Harry reminds Wormtail that Harry once saved his life and says that Wormtail shouldn’t kill him, and Wormtail actually loosens his grip. But then Wormtail’s silver hand, which had been given to him by Voldemort, turns on Wormtail and strangles him, a punishment for his moment of hesitation.
Upstairs, Griphook tells Bellatrix that the sword is a fake, and Bellatrix, reassured, summons Voldemort by tapping the Dark Mark on her forearm. Harry has a vision from Voldemort’s point of view of Voldemort being enraged at being summoned, and, in his impatience, killing Grindelwald.
Bellatrix announces that she’s finished with Hermione and offers Hermione to Greyback to eat. Ron and Harry rush in, disarming Bellatrix of her wand and incapacitating Lucius, but Bellatrix holds a knife to Hermione’s throat and forces Harry and Ron to drop the wands they have taken (from Bellatrix and Wormtail, respectively), which Draco picks up. Harry senses that Voldemort is very near.
With a grinding sound, the chandelier above them starts to fall. Bellatrix leaps out of the way, and the chandelier falls on Hermione and Griphook, who is holding the Sword of Gryffindor. Harry jumps up and wrests Draco’s wand from his hands, as well as the two wands Draco had picked up.
Narcissa sees Dobby and realizes that her former house-elf is the one who helped Harry and his friends. Dobby seizes her wand as Bellatrix screams for Dobby’s death.
Harry, Ron, Griphook, and Dobby all Disapparate to Bill Weasley’s cottage, but Dobby arrives mortally wounded, Bellatrix having thrown her silver knife into his body before he disappeared. Harry tries to comfort Dobby and pleads with him not to die, but the house-elf dies in Harry’s arms after saying Harry’s name.
As Bill and Fleur help the escaped prisoners, Harry covers Dobby with his jacket. He is aware that he can see and hear the enraged Voldemort punishing the residents of Malfoy Manor, but in his grief—which is a manifestation of his love—for Dobby, he finds himself able at last to close his mind to Voldemort and to choose not to listen. Harry digs Dobby’s grave himself, using a shovel rather than magic. They have a brief funeral service for Dobby, then Harry uses one of the wands he seized to inscribe a stone with the inscription “Here Lies Dobby, A Free Elf.”
Harry, having had time to think as he dug the grave, decides that he should be pursuing the Horcruxes as Dumbledore instructed, rather than the Hallows. He guesses that Dumbledore didn’t tell him about the Hallows because he knew that Harry would have to struggle with himself in order not to pursue them, and that Harry would need time to work out for himself that they’re not worth pursuing.
Harry takes Ron and Hermione with him to question Griphook. Harry asks the goblin to help him break into the Lestrange vault at Gringotts, and Griphook, who is impressed by the kindness and respect Harry shows to elves and goblins, says he’ll consider it. Outside of Griphook’s room, Harry tells Ron and Hermione that he thinks the vault may house a Horcrux, since Voldemort trusted Bellatrix and tended to find grandiose homes for his Horcruxes, and also because Bellatrix seemed so worried to hear that her vault might have been broken into.
Harry and his friends next go to question Ollivander. Ollivander tells him that his broken wand is past repair. He identifies the wands Harry and Ron took as belonging to Bellatrix and Draco, and tells them that when a wand has been captured, it generally shifts its allegiance to the new owner—regardless of whether the previous owner is still alive. Ollivander confirms that Voldemort had taken him prisoner and tortured him to find out how to overcome the problem of not being able to beat Harry with the wand that shared the same phoenix-feather core as Harry’s. Ollivander first told Voldemort to simply borrow a wand, but Harry’s wand destroyed the borrowed wand. Then, Voldemort decided to try to find an even more powerful wand, and that is how Voldemort began to seek the Elder Wand. Ollivander confesses that he told Voldemort to look to Gregorovitch for the wand, because Gregorovitch was rumored to possess it. However, though Ollivander knows about the history of the Elder Wand and its powers, he doesn’t know about the Deathly Hallows or the wand’s connection to the other artifacts.
Harry deduces that if Gregorovitch had the wand and it was stolen from him by Grindelwald (as he had witnessed during his vision of Voldemort reading Gregorovitch’s mind), and then Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald in their famous duel, then the ownership of the Elder Wand must have passed to Dumbledore. Harry realizes that Voldemort must have figured this out by now and must already have gone to Dumbledore’s grave to take the wand, and that they’re too late to stop him, but he accepts this fact with equanimity, having deliberately decided to talk to Griphook before Ollivander because he is now committed to pursuing Horcruxes rather than Hallows.
At Hogwarts, Voldemort enters Dumbledore’s grave and takes the Elder Wand from his hands.
Harry’s over-enthusiasm for the Hallows (at the end of Chapter Twenty-Two) leads directly to the party’s being captured, imprisoned, and tortured. The experience is important to the advancement of the main plot, because it is only by having Bellatrix torture and interrogate Hermione that Harry deduces that something vitally important to Voldemort, possibly a Horcrux, must be stored in Bellatrix’s vault. Chapter Twenty-Three represents a shift of pace from the preceding, replacing the abstract, hypothetical dilemma of Horcruxes versus Hallows with fast-paced action.
One of the things that makes this sequence so suspenseful and convincing is how fully imagined each of the evil characters is. Bellatrix drives the scene, being the most forceful character and the one with the most power, but Lucius, Narcissa, Greyback, Draco, and Wormtail all have their own individual dilemmas and preoccupations—all quite separate from Voldemort and his concerns—that come together to shape the events of the chapter.
Chapter Twenty-Four represents a momentous decision for Harry, which the narrative signals as momentous to us and to Harry, even though nothing extraordinary seems to be at stake for anyone else. All Harry does is decide to speak to the goblin before the wand maker. The goblin can give him information about his only lead on a Horcrux, which might or might not be in Bellatrix’s vault, while the wand maker could offer him information about the Elder Wand, a Hallow. Harry’s decision turns out to have real consequences: by delaying talking to Ollivander, Harry gives Voldemort a head start in his pursuit of the Elder Wand, actually allowing Voldemort to take possession of it. Harry reaches this decision as he is digging the grave for Dobby the house-elf. Dobby has just given his life saving Harry and his friends, and there is nothing Harry can do to change Dobby’s sacrifice and loss. All he can do is bury Dobby and try to keep faith with him by continuing his own struggle. Thus, Dobby’s death is good for Dumbledore’s mission, because it makes Harry want to keep faith with the dead.