Harry is still serving his longest-ever punishment for setting a snake loose at the zoo on Dudley’s birthday. Meanwhile, it’s nearing the end of the summer and the boys prepare to return to school: Dudley to a private school called Smeltings and Harry to the local Stonewall High. One morning, when ordered to retrieve the mail, Harry gets a mysterious letter.
Harry picked it up and stared at it, his heart twanging like a giant elastic band. No one, ever, in his whole life, had written to him. Who would? He had no friends, no other relatives — he didn’t belong to the library, so he’d never even got rude notes asking for books back. Yet here it was, a letter, addressed so plainly there could be no mistake:
Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
First of all, I’d like to address Harry’s brilliant sass and snarky sense of humor chronicled in this chapter.
Exhibit A: When Dudley menacingly asked Harry if he wanted to practice stuffing Harry’s head down the toilet since apparently, they do that at Stonewall High.
No, thanks,” said Harry. “The poor toilet’s never had anything as horrible as your head down it – it might be sick.”
Exhibit B: When Petunia was dyeing Dudley’s old clothes gray to pass as Harry’s “new” school uniform.
“Oh,” he said, “I didn’t realize it had to be so wet.”
Exhibit C: When Vernon asked Dudley to get the mail in which Dudley replied “Make Harry get it.” Harry says:
“Make Dudley get it.”
These don’t seem to be normal responses coming from a 10-year-old child facing daily torments. Despite the awful reality Harry is living in under the Dursley’s roof, we start to see Harry’s brilliant wit and unfailing optimism – a defense mechanism he’s developed over the years stemming from how horrible he is treated.
OK, back to the letter.
Dudley tried to grab the letter to read it, but Uncle Vernon held it high out of his reach. Aunt Petunia took it curiously and read the first line. For a moment it looked as though she might faint. She clutched her throat and made a choking noise.
Vernon takes away Harry’s letter. He also makes Harry move upstairs into Dudley’s second (yes, he has a second) bedroom. The next day another letter arrived for Harry, this time with “Mr. H. Potter, The Smallest Bedroom” on the address line. These details were actually what made me fall in love with the series as a kid. I just thought it was so cool how these mysterious letters are following Harry. Also, after feeling invisible and neglected and abused all those years, someone knows Harry. Someone knows where he lives – exactly where he lives. Someone knows what’s happening to him. Someone cares enough to send him a letter – a physical proof acknowledging his existence.
For days more and more letters keep arriving – and not just delivered by mail. They keep popping up in the weirdest of places.
On Saturday, things began to get out of hand. Twenty-four letters to Harry found their way into the house, rolled up and hidden inside each of the two dozen eggs that their very confused milkman had handed Aunt Petunia through the living room window. While Uncle Vernon made furious telephone calls to the post office and the dairy trying to find someone to complain to, Aunt Petunia shredded the letters in her food processor.
Oh and Vernon has officially gone batshit insane. He tears up and burns the letters, nails the mailbox shut, and nails planks to the fireplace and the cracks through the door stop the letters from getting into the house. He also drives his family for God-knows-however-many miles for days to escape these letters. Further proof that Vernon has descended into madness: He procures a rifle and takes his family to some shack on a rock way out to freakin’ sea during a storm. If that’s not disturbing, I’m not sure what is.
As Harry lies awake on the cold, damp floor in a shack on a desolate island, he counts down the seconds until it’s officially his 11th birthday.
One minute to go and he’d be eleven. Thirty seconds…twenty…ten…nine – maybe he’d wake Dudley up, just to annoy him – three…two…one…
The whole shack shivered and Harry sat bolt upright, staring at the door. Someone was outside, knocking to come in.
What a fantastic way to end this chapter by the way! I distinctly remember not wanting to put the book down and continue reading onto the next chapter after finishing this one the very first time I read this book!
- My only note is this is a wonderful chapter! And the scenes from the movie adaptation taken from this chapter were brilliant!
By the way, it’s worth mentioning that I have found HPCompanion.com, an amazing website that goes through each chapter of the Harry Potter series and accompanies it with beautiful artworks of noteworthy HP scenes. It also offers brilliant insight into the Harry Potter world. After finishing a chapter, I would read the corresponding page on HPCompanion. The commentary and fun facts at the end, along with memorable quotes taken from the chapter, completes my re-reading experience!