Hermione and Harry avoid talking about Ron. They wait for Ron to come back, knowing he’ll have no way of ever finding them again once they Disapparate from their current location. But Ron does not appear, and they move on to a new site. With Ron gone, and little idea what to do next, Harry and Hermione make a habit of bringing Phineas Nigellus’s portrait out of the bag and talking to Phineas, from whom they learn that at Hogwarts, Ginny, Neville, and Luna seem to be trying to continue Dumbledore’s Army, carrying out acts of low-grade mutiny against Snape.
Hermione, who has carefully studied The Tales of Beedle the Bard, shows Harry an unexplained symbol that someone drew onto a page of the book after it was printed—a symbol that looks like a triangular eye, with a vertical line for a pupil. Harry recognizes it as the symbol Luna’s father was wearing at the wedding, and he tells Hermione how Krum had said it was Grindelwald’s mark.
Harry tells Hermione that he wants to go to Godric’s Hollow, and to his surprise—since she had previously said it was a waste of time—she agrees, having made up her mind that Godric’s Hollow is the most likely location of Gryffindor’s sword, since it was Godric Gryffindor’s birthplace. Harry reminds her that according to Aunt Muriel, Bathilda Bagshot still lives in Godric’s Hollow, and Hermione imagines that Dumbledore might have entrusted the sword to her.
Harry and Hermione plan their trip carefully, using some of their store of Polyjuice Potion, and go to Godric’s Hollow well disguised as middle-aged Muggles—wearing the Invisibility Cloak to boot. They realize when they get to the town that it is Christmas Eve. They go to the graveyard and see Kendra and Ariana Dumbledore’s graves. Hermione finds a grave that has the triangular symbol on it, beneath the name Ignotus Peverell, but Harry presses on, more interested in finding his parents’ grave.
Finally, they find it—the grave of Lily and James Potter, bearing the inscription “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” Just as Harry realizes that he has brought nothing to leave at his parents’ grave, Hermione conjures a wreath for him to lay. Then they head out of the graveyard and back toward the town.
Thinking that they hear someone coming, Harry and Hermione leave the graveyard and put the Invisibility Cloak back on. As they walk along the street, they suddenly come upon what can only be the house of James and Lily Potter. The hedge and garden are overgrown, untended for sixteen years. The house itself is a ruin, with its top floor partially blown apart—evidence of Voldemort’s backfired curse.
As soon as they touch the gate, a commemorative wooden sign rises up, with golden letters explaining that the house, which is invisible to Muggles, has been kept in its destroyed state “as a monument to the Potters and as a reminder of the violence that tore apart their family.”
An old woman, heavily muffled and stooping, walks up the street and approaches them, beckoning them to follow, despite the fact that they are under the Invisibility Cloak and presumably unrecognizable in their disguises. Harry asks the woman if she’s Bathilda. The woman nods silently and beckons again, turning to lead them into another house.
Inside, Bathilda’s house is extremely dirty and full of unpleasant odors. Harry notes that a number of picture frames are missing their photographs. He sees a photograph of the young man who stole the wand from Gregorovitch, and realizes that he saw that young man in a picture in Rita Skeeter’s book, in which he was arm in arm with a teenage Dumbledore. He guesses that Rita Skeeter must have taken the missing pictures to reproduce in her book.
Harry asks Bathilda who the young man in the picture is, but she does not respond, instead beckoning Harry to accompany her upstairs while Hermione remains below. In the foul-smelling room upstairs, Harry asks Bathilda if she has something for him, hoping she will give him the sword of Gryffindor, but instead he experiences yet another vision through Voldemort’s mind, with Voldemort telling someone to “hold him there” and then flying through the night sky. Back in the room, Harry is horrified to see Voldemort’s snake, Nagini, emerge from within Bathilda’s dead body to attack him. Apparently Bathilda had been dead long before, and the snake was somehow animating her body. Hermione rushes into the room, and Harry and Hermione struggle against the snake both physically and with magic. Hermione manages to fend it off with a violent blasting curse, then Disapparates with Harry in tow.
At the moment they disappear, Harry sees through Voldemort’s eyes as Voldemort arrives on the scene and sees Harry and Hermione (in their disguised form) disappearing and escaping. Harry can feel Voldemort’s rage and frustration, and then he has a flashback, still from Voldemort’s perspective, of the night Voldemort killed Harry’s parents and tried to murder Harry. In the flashback, Voldemort stalks through Godric’s Hollow on Halloween night, frightening a child. He approaches the Potters’ house and sees the Potters through the window. Neither James nor Lily Potter is holding a wand, and the defenseless James goes down quickly before Voldemort’s Killing Curse. Voldemort expects Lily to stand aside while he kills Harry, but she does not, trying to shield Harry with her body and begging to be killed in his place. Voldemort kills her, then aims his wand carefully at Harry’s face. When he delivers the curse, instead of killing Harry, he feels himself ripped from his body, his own self now consisting of nothing but pain and terror.
After the flashback into Voldemort’s memory is over, Harry sees through Voldemort’s eyes as Voldemort picks up off the floor of Bathilda’s house the photograph of the thief who stole from Gregorovitch—the thief that Voldemort has been looking for all along. Harry curses himself for dropping the photograph, then realizes he is back in his own body again, no longer in Voldemort’s mind. Hermione tells him that he has been unconscious for hours, and that the Horcrux had been stuck to his flesh, necessitating her use of a severing charm to remove it.
Harry offers to stand guard while Hermione rests, but Hermione reveals that Harry’s wand was broken by her ricocheting curse. They attempt to repair it, but the damage is too great. In despair, and furious with Hermione for destroying his wand, Harry stoically borrows Hermione’s wand and goes to stand watch.
Chapter Sixteen, with its trips to the graveyard and the memorial at the ruined house, is about visiting the dead. What drives the entire chapter, motivating their trip to Godric’s Hollow, is not really the quest, but rather Harry’s unresolved feelings about Dumbledore and about his parents. All that’s actually on his mind is his wanting to see for himself that Dumbledore really lived there, and perhaps finding out something more from Bathilda about Dumbledore than he could learn from Rita Skeeter’s book. Hermione is still absorbed in the mysteries of their quest for Horcruxes and sword, but she has not yet put anything together, and is groping along a dead end. It is simply convenient for Harry that she thinks the sword might be there.
Harry’s visit to the dead is frustrating for him, only increasing his resentment and despair. When he sees Kendra and Ariana’s graves, and the inscription “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” all that it means to him is that Dumbledore did leave behind relatives there and didn’t tell Harry. The inscription itself is meaningless to him—he misses the fact that it implies that Kendra treasured Ariana, and that Dumbledore treasured them both. Seeing his parents’ graves is even worse. Though their inscription suggests that death can be conquered, all that Harry can think when he sees their graves is that they are dead and moldering and are unable to see him or care about him. Thus, the visit to the dead makes the dead seem farther away than ever.
Harry’s desire to commune with the dead—especially Dumledore and his parents—is one of his central preoccupations in the book. While defeating Voldemort by destroying the Horcruxes is his conscious desire, the one he has professed to his friends, the desire to commune with the dead is his subconscious, unacknowledged desire. That desire seems to be most firmly denied in this chapter.
A tone of horror pervades Chapter Seventeen, with its crisis in the filthy, smelly house of Bathilda, and the snake possessing and reanimating Bathilda’s long-dead body. Incidentally, we see in this chapter the true nastiness of Rita Skeeter, who has taken advantage of an impoverished and senile old woman to write her book, and who stole the woman’s photographs to illustrate it. The climax of the chapter’s horror comes in the extended flashback where we see with Harry the cold-blooded murder of Harry’s parents, witnessed firsthand through Voldemort’s sick mind. The chapter culminates in the
devastating loss of Harry’s wand, driving a wedge of resentment between Harry and Hermione. Harry and Hermione were not led to Godric’s Hollow by any true insight or plan. It would be more accurate to say that they were misled there, by Harry’s grief and Hermione’s confusion.