In a chair next to his bedroom window, Harry Potter is snoring. The room is full of spellbooks, trash, and a pile of newspapers. The paper on top displays an article on Harry himself, wondering whether he is indeed the only wizard who can take on Voldemort. Another article on the front page reports that Rufus Scrimgeour has succeeded Cornelius Fudge as Minister of Magic. Although most of the Wizarding community is happy about this change, it’s already rumored that Scrimgeour has fallen out with Albus Dumbledore, one of the community’s most respected leaders.
It’s interesting that the newspapers’ anxious coverage of Voldemort’s rise focuses on the hope that various individuals – Scrimgeour, Harry, or Dumbledore – might defeat him singlehandedly. While Scrimgeour’s incompetence will cast doubt on this heroic narrative, Dumbledore will eventually conclude that Harry really is the only one who can fight Voldemort – albeit aided by a cohesive team of friends.
Another newspaper displays an article in which the Ministry of Magic urges the Wizarding community to feel safe and secure, especially when sending their children to Hogwarts. The Ministry is taking extra security precautions this year, although they’re not discussing them publicly. Nearby is a Ministry leaflet outlining new safety guidelines that all wizards should follow, from never leaving the house alone to reporting suspicious activity in friends and neighbors.
The Ministry’s guidelines are vague and not particularly helpful – rather than giving concrete guidelines, they stoke fear. In portraying a government whose actions engender paranoia rather than promoting safety, Rowling may be criticizing the actions of US and UK institutions in the wake of 9/11.
From inside her cage, Hedwig the owl clicks her beak impatiently, but Harry doesn’t wake up. In his hand is a note from Professor Dumbledore, communicating that he will pick him up from the house at eleven o’clock. Before falling asleep, Harry had been watching by the window for hours, wondering if the professor would really come; he hasn’t even packed yet, feeling that the possibility of rescue from the Dursleys is too good to be true.
Even though Harry trusts and respects Dumbledore, he’s still worried that the professor will somehow forget about him. Stemming from the fact that he grew up without a supportive family, Harry’s lingering insecurity about the adults who are supposed to take care of him incites the reader’s sympathy.
Just as the clock strikes eleven, the streetlight outside goes off and Harry wakes up. Seeing Dumbledore striding up the path, Harry frantically begins throwing possessions into his trunk; after a minute he hears the doorbell ring, and Uncle Vernon begins shouting about the rudeness of calling at this late hour.
Even though their relationship is formal and somewhat distant, by repeatedly stepping in to rescue or take care of Harry, Dumbledore has established himself as a sort of parent figure.
Harry runs downstairs to see Dumbledore politely greeting a dumbfounded Uncle Vernon and stepping without invitation into the house. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, now emerging from the kitchen, say nothing, evidently concluding that this man will be “hard to bully.” Undeterred, Dumbledore proceeds into the living room, saying that he has a few matters to discuss before leaving with Harry. When he flicks his wand to bring the couch zooming over to the Dursleys, Harry notices with shock that his hand is “blackened and shriveled.”
In approaching Dumbledore, Uncle Vernon’s first thought is of the power the other man can wield; in this sense, he’s much like the Muggle Prime Minister confronting Cornelius Fudge. Dumbledore’s shriveled hand is an early reminder that despite his power and respected status, he’s an old man and not necessarily invincible.
With another wave of his wand, Dumbledore produces several glasses of mead. When the Dursleys refuse to drink theirs, the glasses begin tapping the sides of their heads. Briskly, Dumbledore announces that Sirius’s will has been discovered. He’s left everything to Harry, including his house in Grimmauld Place, which the Order of the Phoenix has long used as headquarters. Rudely, Uncle Vernon bursts out in surprise that Harry has inherited a house – Harry has never confided in him about Sirius’s death. Listlessly, Harry tells Dumbledore that the Order can continue using Grimmauld Place; he doesn’t want it.
Hearing about Harry’s inheritance, Uncle Vernon is immediately more interested in his nephew than he’s been all summer. On the other hand, Harry is indifferent to material acquisitions, which do not compensate for Sirius’s death. This contrast highlights the fact that Uncle Vernon approaches family issues with an eye to material concerns, while Harry is motivated by emotional relationships.
However, Dumbledore says that the Order has vacated the building. Since Black family tradition decrees that the house must never pass out of the family, they’re worried that some enchantment will kick in to prevent Harry’s ownership. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to test Harry’s claim: with a flick of his wand, Dumbledore summons Sirius’s house-elf, Kreacher, who appears on the floor filthy and screeching his refusal to belong to Harry. Disgusted, Harry says he doesn’t want the elf, but Dumbledore says it’s imperative to keep him away from the other Blacks, given the information he now knows about the order.
The Blacks, an old Slytherin clan, claim to be motivated by extreme family loyalty: they’re famously reclusive and extremely picky about their offspring’s spouses. However, they’re actually bigoted and power-hungry, and their lack of genuine love isolates children like Sirius. Sirius’s background highlights the difference between people who trumpet their concern for their family and people who actually practice family values, like the Weasleys.
When Harry orders Kreacher to shut up, the elf stops shouting, clearly against his will – his forced obedience demonstrates that Harry really has inherited his godfather’s possessions. Dumbledore suggests that Harry send Kreacher to live with the house-elves at Hogwarts, and Harry uncomfortably orders Kreacher away. Harry’s last new possession to dispose of is Sirius’s hippogriff, Buckbeak; as the animal is currently living quite happily with Hagrid, Harry and Dumbledore agree to let current arrangements stand.
Even though Harry technically “owns” Kreacher and could order him to do anything, he’s demonstrably uncomfortable with exercising this power. Harry’s dislike of telling people what to do – even though he has many opportunities to do so – differentiates him from controlling relatives like Uncle Vernon and enemies like Draco, who savor every taste of power they get.
To Dumbledore’s amusement, Harry scurries upstairs to finish packing his trunk; he returns with his things to find the professor and the Dursleys sitting in frigid silence. Dumbledore addresses the Dursleys, informing them that with the return of Lord Voldemort, Harry is in more danger than ever – even more than when Dumbledore first left him with the Dursleys, hoping they would care for him as their own child.
Dumbledore’s speech underscores the new sense of danger that has been brewing ever since the Muggle Prime Minister’s conversation with Fudge. At the same time, the fact that he is actively caring for Harry gives Harry a sense of safety.
Icily, Dumbledore continues that the Dursleys have “never treated Harry as a son.” Rather, Harry has experienced only “neglect and cruelty” from them, although their coldness has at least prevented him from ending up like Dudley. The Dursleys are clearly enraged that Dumbledore views Harry more positively than Dudley.
Even though Dumbledore is pointing out the Dursleys’ misdeeds, his cold fury on Harry’s behalf points out that Harry really does have adults in his life who care about him. Even though his biological family has proved insufficient, Harry has cultivated familial relationships with more reliable adults.
When he left Harry with the Dursleys, Dumbledore cast a powerful spell that gave Harry magical protection as long as he calls the Dursley’s house “home.” The spell will end when Harry turns seventeen and becomes a man, but Dumbledore asks that the Dursleys allow him to return once before then, so that the magic continues as long as possible. The Dursleys are silent as Harry and Dumbledore leave the house. With a wave of his wand, Dumbledore sends Harry’s belongings ahead to Ron’s house (called “the Burrow”); they have an errand to perform before heading there themselves.
The fact that Harry draws tangible protection from having a “home” with the Dursleys reflects the important psychological and emotional protection he receives from the homes he creates for himself at Hogwarts and the Burrow. Dumbledore’s remark foreshadows his later announcement that Harry’s loving relationship with his parents is what enables him to fight Voldemort.