When Dumbledore knocks on the Burrow’s door, Mrs. Weasley answers nervously before welcoming them in. She’s been sitting in the kitchen with Nymphadora Tonks, a young member of the Order of the Phoenix who looks thin and unwell. At Harry’s arrival she gets up to leave, turning down Mrs. Weasley’s invitations to dinner the following weekend. Dumbledore follows on her heels.
Although the Burrow has always been a place of warmth and safety, tonight Mrs. Weasley and Tonks both seem distinctly ill-at-ease. For Harry, growing up means losing his instinctive faith in the places that have long sheltered him from danger.
Steering Harry to the kitchen table, Mrs. Weasley clucks over his height and thinness. As she pours him a bowl of delicious soup, Hermione’s cat Crookshanks jumps onto Harry’s knee; he’s glad to know that she’s already arrived at the Burrow.
Even as the Burrow seems changed by the new dangers, Mrs. Weasley’s character remains stolid and unchanged, reminding Harry that his friendships persist despite Voldemort’s return.
Knowing about Harry’s earlier errand, Mrs. Weasley reminisces about her own days at Hogwarts with Slughorn; she says that he’s “good at giving leg ups,” especially in the Ministry, but has never taken much interest in Mr. Weasley. Still, she continues with pride, Mr. Weasley has just been promoted to head the newly-created Office for the Detection and Confiscation of Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Protective Objects. Ever since Voldemort’s return, unscrupulous people have been selling false protective charms and amulets; Mr. Weasley’s job is to regulate this black-market industry.
The fact that Slughorn never took notice of Mr. Weasley speaks negatively about his character; after all, Ron’s father is one of the most trusted adults in Harry’s life. Lacking in wealth or material status, the Weasleys often slip beneath the notice of people with priorities like Slughorn. Harry’s respect and value for the family is a testament to his own character.
In fact, Mr. Weasley is so busy that he’s still at work. Wondering where he is, Mrs. Weasley turns to the magical clock whose hands state the whereabouts of each family member. Currently, each one points to “in mortal peril,” but Mrs. Weasley says with forced casualness that every wizard is in danger now.
Voldemort’s rise creates new insecurity not just within governmental structures but among family units.
Suddenly, the hand representing Mr. Weasley switches to “traveling;” soon, there’s a knock on the door. Mrs. Weasley rushes to answer it, but her husband wearily reminds her to ask the security question to make sure it’s really him. Mrs. Weasley asks what his “dearest ambition is,” and he responds that he wants to find out how airplanes stay up. Next, he asks what his private nickname for her is; reluctantly and clearly embarrassed at Harry’s presence, she whispers that it’s “Mollywobbles.”
Mr. Weasley’s insistence on following Ministry security guidelines highlights the new dangers that attend even the most basic aspects of family life. At the same time, the comic nature of this exchange shows how pointless and unhelpful these guidelines really are.
Satisfied, Mr. Weasley enters the house and shakes hands with Harry. He tells Mrs. Weasley about the latest fraud he’s identified: medallions that are supposed to allow their wearers to transform their appearance but actually just turn people orange. Seeing Harry yawn, Mrs. Weasley sends him up to bed; he’s been given Fred and George’s room, as they now live in a flat above their joke shop. Harry changes into his pajamas and falls asleep as soon as he lays down in the bed.
In his new position, Mr. Weasley apprehends people who are profiting off the general paranoia. In alluding to crimes like this, Rowling might be critiquing people who used anxiety about terrorism in the wake of 9/11 for personal or ideological gain.
In the morning, he wakes up suddenly to Ron and Hermione’s exuberant entrance. Sitting down on his bed, they quiz him on his journey and his stay with the Dursleys. Harry notices Hermione scrutinizing him and knows she’s looking for signs of grief over Sirius. Harry tells them that he accompanied Dumbledore to persuade an old teacher to return to Hogwarts – he doesn’t know how he feels about Slughorn, but Slughorn can’t be worse than Professor Umbridge, who taught Defense Against the Dark Arts last year.
While both of Harry’s friends are delighted to see him, it’s Hermione who’s truly cognizant of Harry’s emotional state. She’s just trying to be mindful of his feelings, but Harry thinks that showing his grief is a sign of weakness, and he sees her actions as overbearing or embarrassing. Harry’s unwillingness to confront his own feelings is a sign of his emotional childishness, especially compared to Hermione’s maturity.
Looking grumpy, Ron’s sister Ginny enters the room and says she knows someone who’s “worse than Umbridge.” Hermione rolls her eyes in agreement and says that “she’s so full of herself.” Harry thinks that they’re complaining about Mrs. Weasley and is astonished by this rudeness. Just then, the door opens to reveal a young and beautiful blonde woman, carrying a breakfast tray for Harry. When she greets him effusively he recognizes her as Fleur Delacour, one of the contestants in the Triwizard Tournament, but he has no idea why she’s staying here.
Hermione and Ginny are united in their dislike of Fleur, while both Harry and Ron will be taken in by her supernatural attractions. On one level this is a sign of the women’s greater emotional maturity. On the other hand, while Hermione usually forces Harry to modify and soften his character analyses, in moments like this it’s clear that she, too, is capable of judging others harshly.
Glowing with pleasure, Fleur announces that she and Bill Weasley are going to be married; she’s staying at the Burrow for a few days in order to get to know his family, but there’s not much for her to do, as she’s not interested in “cooking and chickens.” Hermione, Ginny, and Mrs. Weasley all look grimly away from each other.
Beautiful, stuck-up, and condescending, Fleur seems antithetical to the Weasleys’ values and characters. However, this picture of her character will evolve over the novel, teaching Harry that snap character judgments are not always accurate.
When Fleur breezes out of the room, Mrs. Weasley complains that Bill is rushing into an engagement because of all the panic about Voldemort. Ginny counters that Bill likes the adventure and glamor that “Phlegm” provides, and Harry and Hermione laugh. Ron looks punch-drunk, clearly overwhelmed by Fleur’s magical attraction. Hermione tells him that he’s pathetic.
Ron’s obvious infatuation with Fleur reflects his rather childish approach to romance. Hermione’s frustration foreshadows the rejection and betrayal that she’ll feel due to Ron’s behavior for much of the novel.
Ginny posits that Mrs. Weasley is trying to break up the engagement by constantly throwing Bill and Tonks together. When Ron argues that Bill will never ditch Fleur for someone “okay-looking” like Tonks, the girls take offense, pointing out that Tonks is much nicer and more intelligent than Fleur. Harry puts in that Fleur is intelligent too, but when Ginny turns on him, he wishes he hadn’t spoken.
Ron seems to consider it both obvious and acceptable that men judge prospective partners primarily on their looks. Comments like this are early indicators of the chauvinism that will govern his treatment of Ginny and Hermione for much of the novel.
Anyway, Ron says, Tonks seems increasingly depressed lately. Hermione thinks that she’s experiencing “survivor’s guilt” over Sirius’s death, to the point that she’s having trouble changing her appearance. This conversation is interrupted when Mrs. Weasley enters and demands that Ginny come downstairs to help her – she clearly doesn’t want to be alone with Fleur.
Unlike Ron, Hermione is both intuitive and unabashed in discussing other people’s feelings – even though, in this case, she hasn’t identified the true source of Tonks’ depression.
Ron updates Harry on Fred and George’s new joke shop, which has turned out to be wildly successful. Meanwhile, Percy Weasley is still estranged from the family, even though his bosses at the Ministry proved drastically wrong about Voldemort’s return.
While Percy is more conventionally successful than Fred and George, his values aren’t in alignment with those of his family.
Suddenly remembering last night’s most important development, Harry shares that Dumbledore is going to give him personal lessons. Ron and Hermione are impressed. Harry says that he suspects the lessons have to do with the prophecy, and he admits to his friends the terrifying revelation that he must either kill Voldemort or be killed by him. As they’re all staring at each other in silence, there’s a sudden bang – Hermione has picked up one of the joke toys still in the room, and it punched her in the face.
Although Harry, Ron, and Hermione have faced Voldemort and his minions several times, this is the first time they’ve received external “confirmation” that Harry must defeat the Dark Lord. Knowledge of the prophecy adds a new dimension of adult responsibility to the conflict in which they’ve been engaged since childhood.
Ignoring her new black eye, Hermione looks sympathetically at Harry and asks if he’s scared. Ron points out that Dumbledore wouldn’t be giving Harry lessons if he didn’t have a chance, and Hermione starts speculating about the kinds of spells he might learn. Harry isn’t really listening to her, but the mere fact that his friends are comforting him instead of “shrinking from him” is “worth more than he could ever tell him.”
As always, it’s his steadfast friendships that allow Harry to face the many challenges in his life. His gratitude for Ron and Hermione shows that, for him, trust and loyalty are the most important components of friendship – unlike Slughorn, Harry doesn’t care about the material benefits that friendship can bring him. At the same time, it’s clear that the secure and homey atmosphere of the Burrow helps Harry develop his genuine character.
Suddenly, Harry remembers Dumbledore mentioning that their O.W.L. results would likely arrive today. When she hears this, Hermione frantically runs downstairs to check the mail. When Harry goes down, he finds her pacing in agitation while Mrs. Weasley tries to remove her bruise and Fleur looks on smugly. When Ron tries to comfort her, she wails that she knows she failed every test. Fleur starts to talk about how the examination system at her school was better.
Hermione’s preoccupation with her grades – despite her superior intelligence – has long been at the core of her character. Her anxiety now shows that, despite the new challenges facing her, she’s still grounded in the safe universe of her childhood. After all, O.W.L. results are the most important worry facing her.
Harry sees three owls heading toward the Burrow, and Hermione grips him and Ron tightly. With trepidation, Harry opens the envelope addressed to him: he’s achieved a perfect score in Defense Against the Dark Arts and only failed two classes, History of Magic and Divination. Ron is satisfied with his grades, and Hermione has received the highest marks in all but one class. Harry knows he should be happy, but he knows that because of his grade in Potions he won’t be able to qualify as an Auror (Ministry wizards trained to fight Death Eaters). It’s the end of a dream he’s always harbored.
Even though Harry’s not an excellent student, his high mark in Defense Against the Dark Arts shows that he’s developing the skill and confidence to fight Dark forces. It’s also interesting that Harry envisions himself fighting Death Eaters as part of an established institution – the Ministry Aurors. By the end of the novel, he’ll have broken with the Ministry and developed a much more independent conception of his role in the fight.