Harry wishes he could put Mad-Eye Moody’s death behind him by embarking on his quest to destroy the Horcruxes—the objects into which Voldemort has placed fragments of his soul, making him immortal as long as those objects survive. Harry wants to discuss the quest with Ron and Hermione, who agreed to accompany him in the previous book, but Mrs. Weasley interferes, first by approaching each of them in turn and trying to dissuade them from leaving Hogwarts, then by keeping them busy and apart from each other by having them help her prepare the house for the wedding of Bill Weasley and Fleur. Finally the three friends steal a moment to meet in Ron’s room, and Ron and Hermione reveal the lengths they’ve gone to in preparing for the quest.
Hermione has enchanted her Muggle (non-wizard) parents into changing their names, forgetting that they have a daughter, and moving to Australia so that Voldemort will not be able to find them. Ron has given the household ghoul a pair of his own pajamas and enchanted the ghoul with red hair and pustules, so that when Ron fails to return to Hogwarts, his parents can give out the information that he’s ill with an infectious disease called spattergroit, which would cause him to look somewhat like the enchanted ghoul does. Anyone who checks in on Ron will see the ghoul in his bed, assume that Ron’s really sick, and flee before becoming infected.
Most important, Hermione reveals that she used a spell to steal the books on Horcruxes, which Dumbledore had removed from the library for safekeeping, out of Dumbledore’s office after he died. She explains that Voldemort is unlikely to try to reassemble his own soul by destroying the Horcruxes himself, because doing so requires that the person who made the Horcruxes suffer the pain of remorse for their actions, which seems contrary to Voldemort’s nature. But for Harry and his friends to destroy them will be very difficult, because only very destructive and dangerous items, such as the basilisk’s fang that Harry used to destroy Tom Riddle’s diary (the first of the Horcruxes) in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, can be sure to do the job.
Mr. and Mrs. Delacour, Fleur’s parents, arrive, and Harry feels guilty about the strain that his presence, and the added security, is putting on Mrs. Weasley.
Harry dreams that he’s walking in the mountains looking for a man who holds the answer to a problem that’s bothering him. Ron wakes Harry and tells him that Harry was muttering the name Gregorovitch in his sleep. Harry realizes that he was seeing through Voldemort’s eyes in his dream, as he has done before, and he thinks he recognizes the name Gregorovitch, though he can’t place where he might have heard it.
Harry perks up when he remembers that it’s his seventeenth birthday, and the Trace (a spell with which the Ministry of Magic can track any spell cast by an underage—meaning under seventeen—wizard) is broken, allowing him to practice magic freely. Harry’s friends and Ron’s family give Harry presents. Ginny draws Harry into her room and gives him a passionate kiss, but Ron breaks in angrily and interrupts them, afterward scolding Harry for toying with his sister. Harry promises not to kiss her again.
Harry’s birthday dinner is interrupted by the arrival of Rufus Scrimgeour, the Minister of Magic, who insists on speaking to Harry, Ron, and Hermione in private. Scrimgeour has brought each of them a bequest from Dumbledore’s will. Dumbledore has left Ron a device called a Deluminator, a device that can suck all the light out of a room or turn the light on again. He left Hermione a copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a collection of fairy tales familiar to virtually everyone raised by wizards. To Harry, Dumbledore bequeathed the first Snitch he ever caught, saved from his first Quidditch match. Dumbledore’s will also bequeathed to Harry the sword of Godric Gryffindor, but Scrimgeour maintains that the sword was not Dumbledore’s to give. (Presumably he’s about to say it belongs at Hogwarts in the headmaster’s study, where in fact it is; they interrupt Scrimgeour before he can finish.)
As Hermione forces Scrimgeour to admit, he has kept these items for the full thirty-one days allowed by law for the Ministry to study and test willed items for Dark magic or curses. Having failed to find out anything about the items, he questions the three friends closely about why Dumbledore might have left these seemingly frivolous, even inappropriate, bequests. Harry, Ron, and Hermione put Scrimgeour off with flippant and unhelpful responses, but in truth they are as mystified about the bequests as Scrimgeour. Scrimgeour guesses that there is something inside the Snitch, and that it will open only at Harry’s touch, and he watches closely as Harry takes it in his hand. The Snitch does not open, and Scrimgeour departs, frustrated.
After Scrimgeour has gone, Harry reminds his friends that he caught his first Snitch in his mouth, though he avoided mentioning this fact in front of Scrimgeour. Now he places the Snitch in his mouth again, and though it does not open, words appear on it: “I open at the close.”
On the afternoon following Harry’s birthday, the Weasleys host the wedding of Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour. To keep secret the fact that he’s hiding at the Weasleys’, Harry takes Polyjuice Potion to disguise himself as a red-headed boy from the village, passing himself off as the Weasleys’ “Cousin Barny.”
Among the guests who attend are Luna Lovegood and her father, Xenophilius Lovegood. Both are dressed in vibrant yellow robes, and Xenophilius wears a chain with a pendant shaped like a triangular eye. Luna sees through Harry’s disguise effortlessly, though Xenophilius is not as discerning as his daughter.
Viktor Krum, the professional Quidditch player with whom Hermione was briefly infatuated in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, arrives as Fleur’s guest, much to Ron’s consternation. After the wedding ceremony, Krum takes a seat next to Harry and asks him about Xenophilius Lovegood. Krum is infuriated by the symbol Xenophilius wears, recognizing it as a symbol associated with the Dark wizard Grindelwald, who had terrorized the Continental European magical community before he was finally defeated in a duel by Dumbledore. Krum’s grandfather had been among those murdered by Grindelwald, and Krum had seen the triangular eye symbol at his school, Durmstrang, where Grindelwald had carved it into the wall. In his agitation, Krum takes out his wand and taps it menacingly against his own leg, prompting Harry to remember where he had heard the name “Gregorovitch”: the name belongs to the famous wand maker who made Krum’s wand, as Harry had learned in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
After the wedding ceremony, Harry recognizes Elphias Doge, the author of the sympathetic obituary to Dumbledore that he read in Chapter Two. Harry sits next to Doge and strikes up a conversation, hoping to discover whether there is any basis to Rita Skeeter’s accusation that Dumbledore was involved in the Dark Arts as a young man. Doge vehemently denies this, but Harry feels as though Doge is not giving him the whole story. Before he can pursue the subject, they are interrupted by Ron’s obnoxious Aunt Muriel, who sits between them, proclaiming what a fan she is of Rita Skeeter and taunting Doge for skating over the sticky patches in Dumbledore’s life story.
Aunt Muriel seems to know all of the nastiest rumors about Dumbledore’s personal history, and over Doge’s increasingly indignant denials, she drags them all out in front of Harry. According to the rumors, Dumbledore’s sister, Ariana, was a Squib—a child born to wizard parents who lacks any magical abilities. Supposedly, Dumbledore’s mother, Kendra, a terrifying woman, kept Ariana locked in the basement out of shame for her abnormality, and Dumbledore did nothing to stop it. Ariana may or may not have killed her mother in desperation, but Albus most likely murdered Ariana after Kendra’s death. Albus’s brother, Aberforth, subsequently broke Dumbledore’s nose at Ariana’s funeral.
Aunt Muriel’s source for all of these rumors is a woman named Bathilda Bagshot, who lived in Godric’s Hollow (the town where Harry was born and where his parents were murdered) at the same time that Dumbledore’s family lived there, the time immediately following the imprisonment of Dumbledore’s father and extending through the deaths of his mother and sister. Aunt Muriel heard all of these rumors from Bathilda at roughly the time the events themselves took place. Though Bathilda Bagshot is now quite senile, Aunt Muriel reports that Bathilda is Rita Skeeter’s main source.
Harry is shocked at these reports about his dead friend, not least that Dumbledore lived in Godric’s Hollow like Harry, and that they both have relatives buried there, yet Dumbledore never saw fit to mention these things to Harry.
The wedding celebration is cut short by the appearance of Kingsley Shacklebolt’s Patronus, a silver lynx. (A Patronus, as we learn in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, is a charm that witches and wizards use to send out an animal-shaped manifestation of themselves. It can be used to send messages, and is also one of the only things that can ward off a dementor.) The lynx tells the guests that Scrimgeour is dead, the Ministry has fallen, and the Death Eaters are coming.
In these chapters, Harry has safely escaped the immediate threat of Voldemort for the moment, and the focus of the book shifts toward the quest to find and destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes, the cursed objects into which Voldemort has placed fragments of his soul, rendering himself immortal while the objects survive. These chapters set up the terms and rules of the quest, in the sense of telling us what information the characters have to work with and what tools they have at their disposal. In the other novels in the series, the rules of the book were comprised of what a student at Hogwarts can and cannot do (such as not being able to Disapparate on school grounds), coupled with whatever tricks Harry has up his sleeve, such as his Invisibility Cloak and Marauder’s Map. This book has different rules, but the ever-systematic Hermione makes sure that they have all available information about Horcruxes and every piece of equipment that might be useful, all neatly packed in her tiny beaded handbag (actually a magic pouch—a plot device that lets them continue to work with a wide range of magical artifacts, much like when they lived at Hogwarts).
Chapter Six seems unusual at first glance, in that the chapter is not driven by the conflict between Harry and Voldemort but rather by the conflict between Harry and Mrs. Weasley. Mrs. Weasley does not know what the quest is, but she does a pretty effective job of blocking them from planning for it or leaving on it, at least for a few days. Mrs. Weasley is more than simply a hurdle to be overcome, however. Her maternal opposition reminds us that the stakes are very high in this quest. By accepting Ron and Hermione’s help, Harry has not only put his friends in danger, but also Ron’s entire family, and Harry feels guilty about this. Mrs. Weasley, the mother of so many of the novel’s characters (one of whom has just been maimed), will not let us forget the human costs of fighting Voldemort. The people who risk themselves and die helping Harry actually matter to someone.
The reading of Dumbledore’s will, in Chapter Seven, expands the theme of Dumbledore’s crypticness, as his bequests are essentially baffling riddles sent from beyond the grave. The will also gives them additional clues that help them start their quest. Since the inciting incident of the quest took place in the previous book, with Dumbledore telling Harry that he had to destroy the Horcruxes, the reading of the will is the dramatic equivalent of an inciting incident in this book, with mysterious clues or enigmas that start us wondering what the characters will do to locate and destroy the Horcruxes.
The scene with Aunt Muriel in Chapter Eight picks up and develops the plot concerning Harry’s growing mistrust of Dumbledore, giving concrete shape to his doubts, including details about Dumbledore’s supposedly abusive actions, and pointing to an actual source for the rumors in Bathilda Bagshot. But the statements bother Harry not so much because of their inherent credibility or the evidence supporting them but because they touch on doubts that are already latent within Harry.
Harry wants to believe Doge over Aunt Muriel, but he can’t shake the feeling that there must be more to the story than Doge is telling him. At least Aunt Muriel’s rumors have concreteness and specificity to them, while Doge’s denials seem vague and uninformed. And that difference is the root of Harry’s problem. Harry’s whole friendship with Dumbledore was based on mutual trust and faith, not on Harry’s knowledge about Dumbledore. But now that Dumbledore is dead, trust and faith aren’t good enough for Harry. He now wants facts, information, and personal history, and he doesn’t perceive that this thirst for knowledge is a substitute for love. Normally, he would be able to see that Rita Skeeter, Aunt Muriel, and Bathilda Bagshot are unreliable and biased sources. The reason he doesn’t is that it is easier for him to try to “know” things about Dumbledore than to believe Dumbledore loved him. As long as he believes there’s some truth about Dumbledore that he doesn’t know, Skeeter, Aunt Muriel, and Bathilda will torment him like demons.