Harry Potter is asleep, face pressed up against his bedroom window at Number Twelve Privet Drive, the home of his Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon, and despicable cousin Dudley Dursley. Clutched in Harry’s hand is a letter from Dumbledore, who has asked to escort Harry to the Burrow. Harry wakes up to see Dumbledore approaching the door. Dumbledore steps inside and greets Petunia, Vernon, and Dudley. Harry notices that Dumbledore’s hand is shriveled and blackened, but Dumbledore will not yet tell him why. When Harry leaves the living room to pack his trunk, Dumbledore reminds the Dursleys that when Dumbledore left Harry on their front porch, sixteen years ago, he put a spell on the house causing Harry to have powerful protection as long as he called this house home.
Even though Harry’s time at Four Privet Drive has been miserable, it has kept him safe. Now Dumbledore requests that the Dursleys allow Harry to return home once more before he comes of age at seventeen and the spell is broken. They reluctantly comply, and Harry and Dumbledore leave together. Harry has not yet learned how to Apparate (transport himself instantaneously through magic) and must clutch Dumbledore’s arm as they travel. For Harry, it feels like being smushed through a rubber tube. Dumbledore and Harry arrive at the home of one of Dumbledore’s old friends, Horace Slughorn. Harry assumes that Slughorn will be replacing Dolores Umbridge as Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Slughorn is preoccupied with making the acquaintance of potentially influential young wizards, and Harry unknowingly entices him to accept Dumbledore’s offer to return to the school.
Harry and Dumbledore Apparate again, arriving, moments later at the Burrow where Harry’s schoolmate, Ron Weasley, lives with his family. Dumbledore reminds Harry that no matter what the Daily Prophet prints about Harry being the “Chosen One,” only Harry and Dumbledore know the true contents of the prophecy. Dumbledore suggests that Harry share the prophecy with his two best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Dumbledore also tells Harry that he will be giving Harry private lessons this year, and that O.W.L. scores will be arriving soon, and requests that Harry keep his Invisibility Cloak with him at all times.
Inside the Burrow, Harry sees Tonks, an Auror with the Order of the Phoenix. Although she is usually chipper and bright, Tonks seems dejected, even ill. Harry stays in the room of Fred and George Weasley, twin brothers who have opened a joke shop called Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. Harry is awoken by the shouts of his two best friends, Ron and Hermione. They are eager to hear about Harry’s night with Dumbledore, and he fills them in on his visit to Horace Slughorn. Ron’s younger sister, Ginny, wanders in, complaining about her brother Bill’s beautiful fiancé, Fleur, whom she calls “Phlegm.” Ginny, Hermione, and Mrs. Weasley all dislike the gorgeous Fleur. Once Ginny leaves, Harry tells his friends that he will be receiving private lessons from Dumbledore this term and shares the contents of the prophecy. He also reminds his friends that they should be receiving their scores from the O.W.L. examinations they took last year at Hogwarts. Hermione, an extremely conscientious student, panics and runs downstairs. Hermione receives all Oustandings, save an Exceeds Expectations in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Harry and Ron both do well, passing seven O.W.L.s each. Harry receives an Outstanding in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Harry is pleased with his scores but a bit sad that his Potions mark, Outstanding, is not strong enough for him to be an Auror.
As Rowling emphasizes, the main reason Harry has been successful as a young wizard is the steady, unwavering help of his loyal companions and closest friends, Ron and Hermione. Hermione is bright and careful, while Ron is brave and strong. When Dumbledore suggests that Harry share the contents of the prophecy with his friends, Rowling further emphasizes Dumbledore’s wisdom. Clearly, Dumbledore understands both Harry’s strengths and his weaknesses. When Harry finally has the opportunity to tell Ron and Hermione the truth about what happened at the Ministry, he experiences enormous relief. Harry has never been a perfect student, and his magical abilities often fail him; Ron and Hermione are as much a part of Harry’s quest as Harry himself, and each of his successes and failures falls on their heads as well as his. They are each at their most powerful when they are together, and Rowling is careful to emphasize the importance of teamwork, trust, love, and cooperation when fighting off evil. As explained at the close of Book V, Harry’s capacity to love and be loved is his greatest strength as a wizard. Nowhere is this capacity more evident than in his relationship to his two best friends.
Horace Slughorn’s excitement about meeting Harry is the first sign that Harry will be treated differently at Hogwarts this year. While Harry has always enjoyed a certain amount of notoriety, the Daily Prophet has spent the entire summer referring to him exclusively as the “Chosen One,” and the Wizarding world has responded with a mix of fear and admiration. Even though Slughorn is initially reluctant to return to Hogwarts, Harry unknowingly woos him back, inadvertently preying on Slughorn’s desire to surround himself with influential young wizards. Regardless, Harry has never wanted to be treated as anything other than an equal by his peers, and all of this attention makes him extremely uncomfortable. Given his tumultuous childhood and his parents’ murder at the hands of Voldemort, Harry simply wants to attend school and feel normal. Unfortunately, he was marked for life from the moment he was born.
The results of the O.W.L. exams are very important in determining the futures of young wizards. Although Harry does remarkably well, his grades are nowhere near as high as Hermione’s. Rowling reminds her readers once again that Harry is imperfect, subject to the same stresses and failures as any student, and that in spite of his powers and reputation as the “Chosen One,” he still has to study and often comes up short academically. Harry does receive an Exceeds Expectations in Defense Against the Dark Arts, which is telling given Harry’s birthright and supposed destiny. Obviously, Harry has been predestined to destroy the Dark Arts, and his natural affinity for the practice will only help Harry when he finally faces Voldemort.