Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways. For one thing, he hated
the summer holidays more than any other time of year. For another, he really
wanted to do his homework but was forced to do it in secret, in the dead of
night. And he also happened to be a wizard.
It was nearly midnight, and he was lying on his stomach in bed, the blankets
drawn right over his head like a tent, a flashlight in one hand and a large
leather-bound book (A History of Magic by Bathilda Bagshot) propped open against
the pillow. Harry moved the tip of his eagle-feather quill down the page, frowning
as he looked for something that would help him write his essay, “Witch Burning
in the Fourteenth Century Was Completely Pointless discuss.”
The quill paused at the top of a likely-looking paragraph. Harry Pushed his
round glasses up the bridge of his nose, moved his flashlight closer to the
book, and read:
Non-magic people (more commonly known as Muggles) were particularly afraid
of magic in medieval times, but not very good at recognizing it. On the rare
occasion that they did catch a real witch or wizard, burning had no effect whatsoever.
The witch or wizard would perform a basic Flame Freezing Charm and then pretend
to shriek with pain while enjoying a gentle, tickling sensation. Indeed, Wendelin
the Weird enjoyed being burned so much that she allowed herself to be caught
no less than fortyseven times in various disguises.
Harry put his quill between his teeth and reached underneath his pillow for
his ink bottle and a roll of parchment. Slowly and very carefully he unscrewed
the ink bottle, dipped his quill into it, and began to write, pausing every
now and then to listen, because if any of the Dursleys heard the scratching
of his quill on their way to the bathroom, he'd probably find himself locked
in the cupboard under the stairs for the rest of the summer.
The Dursley family of number four, Privet Drive, was the reason that Harry
never enjoyed his summer holidays. Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and their son,
Dudley, were Harry's only living relatives. They were Muggles, and they had
a very medieval attitude toward magic. Harry's dead parents, who had been a
witch and wizard themselves, were never mentioned under the Dursleys' roof For
years, Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had hoped that if they kept Harry as downtrodden
as possible, they would be able to squash the magic out of him. To their fury,
they had been unsuccessful. These days they lived in terror of anyone finding
out that Harry had spent most of the last two years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft
and Wizardry. The most they could do, however, was to lock away Harry's spellbooks,
wand, cauldron, and broomstick at the start of the summer break, and forbid
him to talk to the neighbors.
This separation from his spellbooks had been a real problem for Harry, because
his teachers at Hogwarts had given him a lot of holiday work. One of the essays,
a particularly nasty one about shrinking potions, was for Harry's least favorite
teacher, Professor Snape, who would be delighted to have an excuse to give Harry
detention for a month. Harry had therefore seized his chance in the first week
of the holidays. While Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley had gone out into
the front garden to admire Uncle Vernon's new company car (in very loud voices,
so that the rest of the street would notice it too), Harry had crept downstairs,
picked the lock on the cupboard under the stairs, grabbed some of his books,
and hidden them in his bedroom. As long as he didn't leave spots of ink on the
sheets, the Dursleys need never know that he was studying magic by night.
Harry was particularly keen to avoid trouble with his aunt and uncle at the
moment, as they were already in an especially bad mood with him, all because
he'd received a telephone call from a fellow wizard one week into the school
Ron Weasley, who was one of Harry's best friends at Hogwarts, came from a
whole family of wizards. This meant that he knew a lot of things Harry didn't,
but had never used a telephone before. Most unluckily, it had been Uncle Vernon
who had answered the call.
“Vernon Dursley speaking.”
Harry, who happened to be in the room at the time, froze as he heard Ron's
“HELLO? HELLO? CAN YOU HEAR ME? I—WANT—TO—TALK—TO—HARRY—POTTER!”
Ron was yelling so loudly that Uncle Vernon jumped and held the receiver
a foot away from his ear, staring at it with an expression of mingled fury and
“WHO IS THIS?” he roared in the direction of the mouthpiece. “WHO ARE YOU?”
“RON—WEASLEY!” Ron bellowed back, as though he and Uncle Vernon were speaking
from opposite ends of a football field. “I'M—A—FRIEND—OF—HARRY'S—FROM—SCHOOL
Uncle Vernon's small eyes swiveled around to Harry, who was rooted to the
“THERE IS NO HARRY POTTER HERE!” he roared, now holding the receiver at arm's
length, as though frightened it might explode. “I DON'T KNOW WHAT SCHOOL YOURE
TALKING ABOUT! NEVER CONTACT ME AGAIN! DON'T YOU COME NEAR MY FAMILY!”
And he threw the receiver back onto the telephone as if dropping a poisonous
The fight that had followed had been one of the worst ever.
“HOW DARE YOU GIVE THIS NUMBER TO PEOPLE LIKE—PEOPLE LIKE YOU!” Uncle Vernon
had roared, spraying Harry with spit.
Ron obviously realized that he'd gotten Harry into trouble, because he hadn't
called again. Harry's other best friend from Hogwarts, Hermione Granger, hadn't
been in touch either. Harry suspected that Ron had warned Hermione not to call,
which was a pity, because Hermione, the cleverest witch in Harry's year, had
Muggle parents, knew perfectly well how to use a telephone, and would probably
have had enough sense not to say that she went to Hogwarts.
So Harry had had no word from any of his wizarding friends for five long
weeks, and this summer was turning out to be almost as bad as the last one.
There was just one very small improvement—after swearing that he wouldn't use
her to send letters to any of his friends, Harry had been allowed to let his
owl, Hedwig, out at night. Uncle Vernon had given in because of the racket Hedwig
made if she was locked in her cage all the time.
Harry finished writing about Wendelin the Weird and paused to listen again.
The silence in the dark house was broken only by the distant, grunting snores
of his enormous cousin, Dudley. It must be very late, Harry thought. His eyes
were itching with tiredness. Perhaps he'd finish this essay tomorrow night...
He replaced the top of the ink bottle; pulled an old pillowcase from under
his bed; put the flashlight, A History of Magic, his essay, quill, and ink inside
it; got out of bed; and hid the lot under a loose floorboard under his bed.
Then he stood up, stretched, and checked the time on the luminous alarm clock
on his bedside table.
It was one o'clock in the morning. Harry's stomach gave a funny jolt. He
had been thirteen years old, without realizing it, for a whole hour.
Yet another unusual thing about Harry was how little he looked forward to
his birthdays. He had never received a birthday card in his life. The Dursleys
had completely ignored his last two birthdays, and he had no reason to suppose
they would remember this one.
Harry walked across the dark room, past Hedwig's large, empty cage, to the
open window. He leaned on the sill, the cool night air pleasant on his face
after a long time under the blankets. Hedwig had been absent for two nights
now. Harry wasn't worried about her: she'd been gone this long before. But he
hoped she'd be back soon—she was the only living creature in this house who
didn't flinch at the sight of him.
Harry, though still rather small and skinny for his age, had grown a few
inches over the last year. His jet-black hair, however, was just as it always
had been—stubbornly untidy, whatever he did to it. The eyes behind his glasses
were bright green, and on his forehead, clearly visible through his hair, was
a thin scar, shaped like a bolt of lightning.
Of all the unusual things about Harry, this scar was the most extraordinary
of all. It was not, as the Dursleys had pretended for ten years, a souvenir
of the car crash that had killed Harry's parents, because Lily and James Potter
had not died in a car crash. They had been murdered, murdered by the most feared
Dark wizard for a hundred years, Lord Voldemort. Harry had escaped from the
same attack with nothing more than a scar on his forehead, where Voldemort's
curse, instead of killing him, had rebounded upon its originator. Barely alive,
Voldemort had fled...
But Harry had come face-to-face with him at Hogwarts. Remembering their last
meeting as he stood at the dark window, Harry had to admit he was lucky even
to have reached his thirteenth birthday.
He scanned the starry sky for a sign of Hedwig, perhaps soaring
back to him with a dead mouse dangling from her beak, expecting praise. Gazing
absently over the rooftops, it was a few seconds before Harry realized what
he was seeing.
Silhouetted against the golden moon, and growing larger every moment, was
a large, strangely lopsided creature, and it was flapping in Harry's direction.
He stood quite still, watching it sink lower and lower. For a split second he
hesitated, his hand on the window latch, wondering whether to slam it shut.
But then the bizarre creature soared over one of the street lamps of Privet
Drive, and Harry, realizing what it was, leapt aside.
Through the window soared three owls, two of them holding up the third, which
appeared to be unconscious. They landed with a soft flump on Harry's bed, and
the middle owl, which was large and gray, keeled right over and lay motionless.
There was a large package tied to its legs.
Harry recognized the unconscious owl at once—his name was Errol, and he belonged
to the Weasley family. Harry dashed to the bed, untied the cords around Errol's
legs, took off the parcel, and then carried Errol to Hedwig's cage. Errol opened
one bleary eye, gave a feeble hoot of thanks, and began to gulp some water.
Harry turned back to the remaining owls. One of them, the large snowy female,
was his own Hedwig. She, too, was carrying a parcel and looked extremely pleased
with herself. She gave Harry an affectionate nip with her beak as he removed
her burden, then flew across the room to join Errol.
Harry didn't recognize the third owl, a handsome tawny one, but he knew at
once where it had come from, because in addition to a third package, it was
carrying a letter bearing the Hogwarts crest. When Harry relieved this owl of
its burden, it ruffled its feathers importantly, stretched its wings, and took
off through the window into the night.
Harry sat down on his bed and grabbed Errol's package, ripped off the brown
paper, and discovered a present wrapped in gold, and his first ever birthday
card. Fingers trembling slightly, he opened the envelope. Two pieces of paper
fell out—a letter and a newspaper clipping.
The clipping had clearly come out of the wizarding newspaper, the Daily Prophet,
because the people in the black-and-white picture were moving. Harry picked
up the clipping, smoothed it out, and read:
MINISTRY OF MAGIC EMPLOYEE SCOOPS GRAND PRIZE
Arthur Weasley, Head of the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office at the Ministry
of Magic, has won the annual Daily Prophet Grand Prize Galleon Draw.
A delighted Mr. Weasley told the Daily Prophet, “We will be spending the
gold on a summer holiday in Egypt, where our eldest son, Bill, works as a curse
breaker for Gringotts Wizarding Bank.”
The Weasley family will be spending a month in Egypt, returning for the start
of the new school year at Hogwarts, which five of the Weasley children currently
Harry scanned the moving photograph, and a grin spread across his face as
he saw all nine of the Weasleys waving furiously at him, standing in front of
a large pyramid. Plump little Mrs. Weasley; tail, balding Mr. Weasley; six sons;
and one daughter, all (though the black-and-white picture didn't show it) with
flaming-red hair. Right in the middle of the picture was Ron, tall and gangling,
with his pet rat, Scabbers, on his shoulder and his arm around his little sister,
Harry couldn't think of anyone who deserved to win a large pile of gold more
than the Weasleys, who were very nice and extremely poor. He picked up Ron's
letter and unfolded it.
Look, I' really sorry about that telephone call. I hope the Muggles didn't
give you a hard time. I asked Dad, and he reckons I shouldn't have shouted.
It's amazing here in Egypt. Bill's taken us around all the tombs and you
wouldn't believe the curses those old Egyptian wizards put on them. Mum wouldn't
let Ginny come in the last one. There were all these mutant skeletons in there,
of Muggles who'd broken in and grown extra heads and stuff.
I couldn't believe it when Dad won the Daily Prophet Draw. Seven hundred
galleons! Most of it's gone on this trip, but they're going to buy me a new
wand for next year.
Harry remembered only too well the occasion when Ron's old wand had snapped.
It had happened when the car the two of them had been flying to Hogwarts had
crashed into a tree on the school grounds.
We'll be back about a week before term starts and we'll be going up to London
to get my wand and our new books. Any chance of meeting you there?
Don't let the Muggles get you down!
Try and come to London,
P. S. Percy's Head Boy. He got the letter last week.
Harry glanced back at the photograph. Percy, who was in his seventh and final
year at Hogwarts, was looking particularly smug. He had pinned his Head Boy
badge to the fez perched jauntily on top of his neat hair, his horn-rimmed glasses
flashing in the Egyptian sun.
Harry now turned to his present and unwrapped it. Inside was what looked
like a miniature glass spinning top. There was another note from Ron beneath