From downstairs came the sound of Dudley bawling at his mother, I don't want
him in there... I need that room... make him get out...."
Harry sighed and stretched out on the bed. Yesterday he'd have given anything
to be up here. Today he'd rather be back in his cupboard with that letter than up
here without it.
Next morning at breakfast, everyone was rather quiet. Dudley was in shock. He'd
screamed, whacked his father with his Smelting stick, been sick on purpose, kicked
his mother, and thrown his tortoise through the greenhouse roof, and he still didn't
have his room back. Harry was thinking about this time yesterday and bitterly wishing
he'd opened the letter in the hall. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia kept looking at
each other darkly.
When the mail arrived, Uncle Vernon, who seemed to be trying to be nice to Harry,
made Dudley go and get it. They heard him banging things with his Smelting stick
all the way down the hall. Then he shouted, "There's another one! 'Mr. H. Potter,
The Smallest Bedroom, 4 Privet Drive --'"
With a strangled cry, Uncle Vernon leapt from his seat and ran down the hall,
Harry right behind him. Uncle Vernon had to wrestle Dudley to the ground to get
the letter from him, which was made difficult by the fact that Harry had grabbed
Uncle Vernon around the neck from behind. After a minute of confused fighting, in
which everyone got hit a lot by the Smelting stick, Uncle Vernon straightened up,
gasping for breath, with Harry's letter clutched in his hand.
"Go to your cupboard — I mean, your bedroom," he wheezed at Harry. "Dudley —
go — just go."
Harry walked round and round his new room. Someone knew he had moved out of his
cupboard and they seemed to know he hadn't received his first letter. Surely that
meant they'd try again? And this time he'd make sure they didn't fail. He had a
The repaired alarm clock rang at six o'clock the next morning. Harry turned it
off quickly and dressed silently. He mustn't wake the Dursleys. He stole downstairs
without turning on any of the lights.
He was going to wait for the postman on the corner of Privet Drive and get the
letters for number four first. His heart hammered as he crept across the dark hall
toward the front door --
Harry leapt into the air; he'd trodden on something big and squashy on the doormat
— something alive!
Lights clicked on upstairs and to his horror Harry realized that the big, squashy
something had been his uncle's face. Uncle Vernon had been lying at the foot of
the front door in a sleeping bag, clearly making sure that Harry didn't do exactly
what he'd been trying to do. He shouted at Harry for about half an hour and then
told him to go and make a cup of tea. Harry shuffled miserably off into the kitchen
and by the time he got back, the mail had arrived, right into Uncle Vernon's lap.
Harry could see three letters addressed in green ink.
I want - — " he began, but Uncle Vernon was tearing the letters into pieces before
his eyes. Uncle Vernon didut go to work that day. He stayed at home and nailed up
the mail slot.
"See," he explained to Aunt Petunia through a mouthful of nails, "if they can't
deliver them they'll just give up."
"I'm not sure that'll work, Vernon."
"Oh, these people's minds work in strange ways, Petunia, they're not like you
and me," said Uncle Vernon, trying to knock in a nail with the piece of fruitcake
Aunt Petunia had just brought him.
On Friday, no less than twelve letters arrived for Harry. As they couldn't go
through the mail slot they had been pushed under the door, slotted through the sides,
and a few even forced through the small window in the downstairs bathroom.
Uncle Vernon stayed at home again. After burning all the letters, he got out
a hammer and nails and boarded up the cracks around the front and back doors so
no one could go out. He hummed "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" as he worked, and jumped
at small noises.
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.
"Who on earth wants to talk to you this badly?" Dudley asked Harry in amazement.
On Sunday morning, Uncle Vernon sat down at the breakfast table looking tired
and rather ill, but happy.
"No post on Sundays," he reminded them cheerfully as he spread marmalade on his
newspapers, "no damn letters today - — "
Something came whizzing down the kitchen chimney as he spoke and caught him sharply
on the back of the head. Next moment, thirty or forty letters came pelting out of
the fireplace like bullets. The Dursleys ducked, but Harry leapt into the air trying
to catch one.
Uncle Vernon seized Harry around the waist and threw him into the hall. When
Aunt Petunia and Dudley had run out with their arms over their faces, Uncle Vernon
slammed the door shut. They could hear the letters still streaming into the room,
bouncing off the walls and floor.
"That does it," said Uncle Vernon, trying to speak calmly but pulling great tufts
out of his mustache at the same time. I want you all back here in five minutes ready
to leave. We're going away. Just pack some clothes. No arguments!"
He looked so dangerous with half his mustache missing that no one dared argue.
Ten minutes later they had wrenched their way through the boarded-up doors and were
in the car, speeding toward the highway. Dudley was sniffling in the back seat;
his father had hit him round the head for holding them up while he tried to pack
his television, VCR, and computer in his sports bag.
They drove. And they drove. Even Aunt Petunia didn't dare ask where they were
going. Every now and then Uncle Vernon would take a sharp turn and drive in the
opposite direction for a while. "Shake'em off... shake 'em off," he would mutter
whenever he did this.
They didn't stop to eat or drink all day. By nightfall Dudley was howling. He'd
never had such a bad day in his life. He was hungry, he'd missed five television
programs he'd wanted to see, and he'd never gone so long without blowing up an alien
on his computer.
Uncle Vernon stopped at last outside a gloomy-looking hotel on the outskirts
of a big city. Dudley and Harry shared a room with twin beds and damp, musty sheets.
Dudley snored but Harry stayed awake, sitting on the windowsill, staring down at
the lights of passing cars and wondering....
They ate stale cornflakes and cold tinned tomatoes on toast for breakfast the
next day. They had just finished when the owner of the hotel came over to their
"'Scuse me, but is one of you Mr. H. Potter? Only I got about an 'undred of these
at the front desk."
She held up a letter so they could read the green ink address:
Mr. H. Potter
Harry made a grab for the letter but Uncle Vernon knocked his hand out of the
way. The woman stared.
"I'll take them," said Uncle Vernon, standing up quickly and following her from
the dining room.
Wouldn't it be better just to go home, dear?" Aunt Petunia suggested timidly,
hours later, but Uncle Vernon didn't seem to hear her. Exactly what he was looking
for, none of them knew. He drove them into the middle of a forest, got out, looked
around, shook his head, got back in the car, and off they went again. The same thing
happened in the middle of a plowed field, halfway across a suspension bridge, and
at the top of a multilevel parking garage.
"Daddy's gone mad, hasn't he?" Dudley asked Aunt Petunia dully late that afternoon.
Uncle Vernon had parked at the coast, locked them all inside the car, and disappeared.
It started to rain. Great drops beat on the roof of the car. Dud ley sniveled.
"It's Monday," he told his mother. "The Great Humberto's on tonight. I want to
stay somewhere with a television. "
Monday. This reminded Harry of something. If it was Monday — and you could usually
count on Dudley to know the days the week, because of television — then tomorrow,
Tuesday, was Harry's eleventh birthday. Of course, his birthdays were never exactly
fun — last year, the Dursleys had given him a coat hanger and a pair of Uncle Vernon's
old socks. Still, you weren't eleven every day.
Uncle Vernon was back and he was smiling. He was also carrying a long, thin package
and didn't answer Aunt Petunia when she asked what he'd bought.
"Found the perfect place!" he said. "Come on! Everyone out!"
It was very cold outside the car. Uncle Vernon was pointing at what looked like
a large rock way out at sea. Perched on top of the rock was the most miserable little
shack you could imagine. One thing was certain, there was no television in there.
"Storm forecast for tonight!" said Uncle Vernon gleefully, clapping his hands
together. "And this gentleman's kindly agreed to lend us his boat!"
A toothless old man came ambling up to them, pointing, with a rather wicked grin,
at an old rowboat bobbing in the iron-gray water below them.
"I've already got us some rations," said Uncle Vernon, "so all aboard!"
It was freezing in the boat. Icy sea spray and rain crept down their necks and
a chilly wind whipped their faces. After what seemed like hours they reached the
rock, where Uncle Vernon, slipping and sliding, led the way to the broken-down house.
The inside was horrible; it smelled strongly of seaweed, the wind whistled through
the gaps in the wooden walls, and the fireplace was damp and empty. There were only
Uncle Vernon's rations turned out to be a bag of chips each and four bananas.
He tried to start a fire but the empty chip bags just smoked and shriveled up.
"Could do with some of those letters now, eh?" he said cheerfully.
He was in a very good mood. Obviously he thought nobody stood a chance of reaching
them here in a storm to deliver mail. Harry privately agreed, though the thought
didn't cheer him up at all.
As night fell, the promised storm blew up around them. Spray from the high waves
splattered the walls of the hut and a fierce wind rattled the filthy windows. Aunt
Petunia found a few moldy blankets in the second room and made up a bed for Dudley
on the moth-eaten sofa. She and Uncle Vernon went off to the lumpy bed next door,
and Harry was left to find the softest bit of floor he could and to curl up under
the thinnest, most ragged blanket.
The storm raged more and more ferociously as the night went on. Harry couldn't
sleep. He shivered and turned over, trying to get comfortable, his stomach rumbling
with hunger. Dudley's snores were drowned by the low rolls of thunder that started
near midnight. The lighted dial of Dudley's watch, which was dangling over the edge
of the sofa on his fat wrist, told Harry he'd be eleven in ten minutes' time. He
lay and watched his birthday tick nearer, wondering if the Dursleys would remember
at all, wondering where the letter writer was now.
Five minutes to go. Harry heard something creak outside. He hoped the roof wasn't
going to fall in, although he might be warmer if it did. Four minutes to go. Maybe
the house in Privet Drive would be so full of letters when they got back that he'd
be able to steal one somehow.
Three minutes to go. Was that the sea, slapping hard on the rock like that? And
(two minutes to go) what was that funny crunching noise? Was the rock crumbling
into the sea?
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.
THE KEEPER OF THE KEYS
BOOM. They knocked again. Dudley jerked awake. "Where's the cannon?" he said
There was a crash behind them and Uncle Vernon came skidding into the room. He
was holding a rifle in his hands — now they knew what had been in the long, thin
package he had brought with them.
"Who's there?" he shouted. "I warn you — I'm armed!"
There was a pause. Then --
The door was hit with such force that it swung clean off its hinges and with
a deafening crash landed flat on the floor.
A giant of a man was standing in the doorway. His face was almost completely
hidden by a long, shaggy mane of hair and a wild, tangled beard, but you could make
out his eyes, glinting like black beetles under all the hair.
The giant squeezed his way into the hut, stooping so that his head just brushed
the ceiling. He bent down, picked up the door, and fitted it easily back into its
frame. The noise of the storm outside dropped a little. He turned to look at them
"Couldn't make us a cup o' tea, could yeh? It's not been an easy journey..."
He strode over to the sofa where Dudley sat frozen with fear.
"Budge up, yeh great lump," said the stranger.
Dudley squeaked and ran to hide behind his mother, who was crouching, terrified,
behind Uncle Vernon.
"An' here's Harry!" said the giant.
Harry looked up into the fierce, wild, shadowy face and saw that the beetle eyes
were crinkled in a smile.
"Las' time I saw you, you was only a baby," said the giant. "Yeh look a lot like
yet dad, but yeh've got yet mom's eyes."
Uncle Vernon made a funny rasping noise.
I demand that you leave at once, sit!" he said. "You are breaking and entering!"