Harry stumbles out of his room at the Dursleys’ house, clutching his bleeding hand. On his way to the bathroom he steps on a cup of tea inexplicably left outside of his bedroom door. After treating his finger and cleaning up the broken tea cup, he returns to his room, where he has spent the morning sorting the belongings in his school trunk into things he’ll no longer need, and a smaller pile of things he will keep with him now that he’s left Hogwarts and is about to leave the Dursleys’. He has just cut his finger on a shard of the mirror that Sirius gave him in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, of which all that now remains is the single shard.
Harry reads two newspaper articles commemorating Albus Dumbledore. “Albus Dumbledore Remembered,” by Dumbledore’s schoolmate and longtime friend, Elphias Doge, describes Dumbledore’s brilliant career at school, despite his having a father imprisoned at Azkaban for attacking Muggles; his relationship with his less intellectual younger brother, Aberforth; his struggles following the deaths of his mother and sister; his triumph over the Dark wizard Grindelwald in a famous duel in 1945; and his brilliant career as headmaster. Harry feels regret that he knew so little of what there was to know about Dumbledore’s life and wishes he’d asked Dumbledore about himself.
The second article is an interview with the journalist Rita Skeeter, who has just written a biography of Dumbledore called The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore. In the interview, Skeeter indicates that her book debunks the supposed accomplishments that Dumbledore is famous for, reveals dark secrets about his family, and depicts Dumbledore’s relationship with Harry Potter in a sinister and unhealthy light. Disgusted by Skeeter’s lies, Harry puts down the paper.
Harry picks up the broken mirror shard, turning it in his hands as he thinks bitterly about Rita Skeeter’s lies. He catches a flash of bright blue in the shard, which reminds him of Dumbledore’s blue eyes. He decides he must have imagined it, because there’s nothing blue in the room that it could have been reflecting.
Harry’s uncle Vernon summons Harry from his room. Harry goes downstairs to find all three Dursleys—Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley—sitting in the living room dressed for traveling. Uncle Vernon announces that he’s changed his mind: He doesn’t believe Harry that Uncle Vernon and the Dursleys are in danger, and he’s not going into hiding with the help of the Order of the Phoenix. Repeating a discussion they’ve had many times already, Harry explains that once he turns seventeen, the protection charm that keeps them all safe will break, and Voldemort and the Death Eaters will torture and kill the Dursleys. The Ministry of Magic cannot protect them because the Death Eaters have already infiltrated it.
Dudley breaks in and announces that he’s going to go with the representatives of the Order, so Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia have no choice but to acquiesce as well. Hestia Jones and Dedalus Diggle, members of the Order of the Phoenix, arrive to take the Dursleys into hiding. Dudley surprises his own family and Harry by inquiring where Harry is going to go. He surprises them even further by declaring that, in contrast to what Harry believes the Dursleys think of him, he does not consider Harry to be “a waste of space,” and declares that Harry saved his life. Harry realizes that Dudley actually is grateful for Harry’s saving him from the dementor that had attacked him the summer before, and that the tea cup outside his bedroom must have been put there by Dudley in a clumsy attempt at solicitude. Harry shakes hands with Dudley, and the Dursleys depart.
Chapter Two establishes one of the main conflicts or problems of the book—one that has little to do with the fight against Voldemort. Harry has just lost someone he loved very much: Dumbledore. It’s bad enough that he no longer has Dumbledore’s presence, and can’t enjoy Dumbledore’s friendship or seek his help. What’s worse is that now that Dumbledore is gone, Harry feels doubt about what he actually had with Dumbledore. Clearly, there was much about Dumbledore that Harry never knew. But now those gaps loom large in Harry’s mind, and he wonders if he really knew Dumbledore at all, and if Dumbledore really loved him. Dumbledore might have been lying to him, or manipulating him, or he might not have been the man Harry thought he was. Harry doesn’t want to have these doubts, of course, but he can’t seem to shake them. The riddles and omissions in what Dumbledore told him, and even the obituary written by Dumbledore’s friend, all exacerbate these doubts and make them grow stronger. As Harry embarks on his quest and tries to fight Voldemort, the real struggle in the book will be the internal one, with Harry struggling with himself to trust Dumbledore and accept that Dumbledore loved him. This theme makes the book immeasurably richer, and justifies the presence of the lofty epigraphs that preface it.
Chapter Three brings us a familiar sight: the annual parting of ways with the Dursleys. Every book in the series has started in the summertime at the Dursleys’ house, with the Dursleys being the first problem to be overcome. This repeated structure is a literary device that not only establishes continuity across the series, but also allows us to mark how much the characters have changed from year to year, giving the series a greater sense of depth. But this time, all of the usual situations are reversed. Instead of Harry leaving, and the Dursleys keeping him from the magical world that they hate, the Dursleys have to flee, kowtowing to the wizarding world and being thrown to the mercy of wizards. The series has always maintained the irony of Harry being important in the secretive magic world but scorned as a waste of space in the Dursleys’ Muggle world, but this time the magical world has subordinated the normal world. Things are out of balance, and the reason is Voldemort’s rise to power. We get no reassuringly familiar spat with Dursleys, followed by Harry’s exit. This time, the Dursleys are the ones who exit first, their normal lives as they know them over.