- CHAPTER ONE -
- CHAPTER ONE -
The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy
silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive. Cars that were usually
gleaming stood dusty in their drives and lawns that were once emerald green
lay parched and yellowing -for the use of hosepipes had been banned due to drought.
Deprived of their usual car-washing and lawn-mowing pursuits, the inhabitants
of Privet Drive had retreated into the shade of their cool houses, windows thrown
wide in the hope of tempting in a nonexistent breeze. The only person left outdoors
was a teenage boy who was lying flat on his back in a flowerbed outside number
He was a skinny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who had the pinched, slightly
unhealthy look of someone who has grown a lot in a short space of time. His
jeans were torn and dirty, his T-shirt baggy and faded, and the soles of his
trainers were peeling away from the uppers. Harry Potter's appearance did not
endear him to the neighbours, who were the sort of people who thought scruffi-ness
ought to be punishable by law, but as he had hidden himself behind a large hydrangea
bush this evening he was quite invisible to passers-by. In fact, the only way
he would be spotted was if his Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia stuck their heads
out of the living-room window and looked straight down into the flowerbed below.
On the whole, Harry thought he was to be congratulated on his idea of hiding
here. He was not, perhaps, very comfortable lying on the hot, hard earth but,
on the other hand, nobody was glaring at him, grinding their teeth so loudly
that he could not hear the news, or shooting nasty questions at him, as had
happened every time he had tried sitting down in the living room to watch television
with his aunt and uncle.
Almost as though this thought had fluttered through the open window, Vernon
Dursley, Harry's uncle, suddenly spoke.
'Glad to see the boy's stopped trying to butt in. Where is he, anyway?'
'I don't know,' said Aunt Petunia, unconcerned. 'Not in the house.'
Uncle Vernon grunted.
'Watching the news:' he said scathingly. 'I'd like to know what he's really
up to. As if a normal boy cares what's on the news -Dudley hasn't got a clue
what's going on; doubt he knows who the Prime Minister is! Anyway, it's not
as if there'd be anything about his lot on our news - '
'Vernon, shh!' said Aunt Petunia. The window's open!'
'Oh - yes - sorry, dear.'
The Dursleys fell silent. Harry listened to a jingle about Fruit 'n' Bran
breakfast cereal while he watched Mrs Figg, a batty cat-loving old lady from
nearby Wisteria Walk, amble slowly past. She was frowning and muttering to herself.
Harry was very pleased he was concealed behind the bush, as Mrs Figg had recently
taken to asking him round for tea whenever she met him in the street. She had
rounded the corner and vanished from view before Uncle Vernon's voice floated
out of the window again.
'Dudders out for tea?'
'At the Polkisses',' said Aunt Petunia fondly. 'He's got so many little friends,
he's so popular
Harry suppressed a snort with difficulty. The Dursleys really were astonishingly
stupid about their son, Dudley. They had swallowed all his dim-witted lies about
having tea with a different member of his gang every night of the summer holidays.
Harry knew perfectly well that Dudley had not been to tea anywhere; he and his
gang spent every evening vandalising the play park, smoking on street corners
and throwing stones at passing cars and children. Harry had seen them at it
during his evening walks around Little Whinging; he had spent most of the holidays
wandering the streets, scavenging newspapers from bins along the way.
The opening notes of the music that heralded the seven o'clock news reached
Harry's ears and his stomach turned over. Perhaps tonight - after a month of
waiting - would be the night.
'Record numbers of stranded holiday makers fill airports as the Spanish baggage-handlers'
strike reaches its second week -
'Give 'em a lifelong siesta, I would,' snarled Uncle Vernon over the end
of the newsreader's sentence, but no matter: outside in the flowerbed, Harry's
stomach seemed to unclench. If anything had happened, it would surely have been
the first item on the news; death and destruction were more important than stranded
He let out a long, slow breath and stared up at the brilliant blue sky. Every
day this summer had been the same: the tension, the expectation, the temporary
relief, and then mounting tension again: and always, growing more insistent
all the time, the question of why nothing had happened yet.
He kept listening, just in case there was some small clue, not recognized
for what it really was by the Muggles - an unexplained disappearance, perhaps,
or some strange accident: but the baggage-handlers' strike was followed by news
about the drought in the Southeast ('I hope he's listening next door!' bellowed
Uncle Vernon. 'Him with his sprinklers on at three in the morning!'), then a
helicopter that had almost crashed in a field in Surrey, then a famous actress's
divorce from her famous husband ('As if we're interested in their sordid affairs,'
sniffed Aunt Petunia, who had followed the case obsessively in every magazine
she could lay her bony hands on).
Harry closed his eyes against the now blazing evening sky as the newsreader
said, '- and finally, Bungy the budgie has found a novel way of keeping cool
this summer. Bungy, who lives at the Five Feathers in Barnsley, has learned
to water ski! Mary Dorkins went to find out more.'
Harry opened his eyes. If they had reached water-skiing budgerigars, there
would be nothing else worth hearing. He rolled cautiously on to his front and
raised himself on to his knees and elbows, preparing to crawl out from under
He had moved about two inches when several things happened in very quick
A loud, echoing crack broke the sleepy silence like a gunshot; a cat streaked
out from under a parked car and flew out of sight; a shriek, a bellowed oath
and the sound of breaking china came from the Dursleys' living room, and as
though this was the signal Harry had been waiting for he jumped to his feet,
at the same time pulling from the waistband of his jeans a thin wooden wand
as if he were unsheathing a sword - but before he could draw himself up to full
height, the top of his head collided with the Dursleys' open window. The resultant
crash made Aunt Petunia scream even louder.
Harry felt as though his head had been split in two. Eyes streaming, he swayed,
trying to focus on the street to spot the source of the noise, but he had barely
staggered upright when two large purple hands reached through the open window
and closed tightly around his throat.
'Put - it - away!' Uncle Vernon snarled into Harry's ear. 'Now.' Before -
anyone - sees!'
'Get - off - me!' Harry gasped. For a few seconds they struggled, Harry pulling
at his uncles sausage-like fingers with his left hand, his right maintaining
a firm grip on his raised wand; then, as the pain in the top of Harry's head
gave a particularly nasty throb, Uncle Vernon yelped and released Harry as though
he had received an electric shock. Some invisible force seemed to have surged
through his nephew, making him impossible to hold.
Panting, Harry fell forwards over the hydrangea bush, straightened up and
stared around. There was no sign of what had caused the loud cracking noise,
but there were several faces peering through various nearby windows. Harry stuffed
his wand hastily back into his jeans and tried to look innocent.
'Lovely evening!' shouted Uncle Vernon, waving at Mrs Number Seven opposite,
who was glaring from behind her net curtains. 'Did you hear that car backfire
just now? Gave Petunia and me quite a turn!'
He continued to grin in a horrible, manic way until all the curious neighbours
had disappeared from their various windows, then the grin became a grimace of
rage as he beckoned Harry back towards him.
Harry moved a few steps closer, taking care to stop just short of the point
at which Uncle Vernon's outstretched hands could resume their strangling.
'What the devil do you mean by it, boy?' asked Uncle Vernon in a croaky voice
that trembled with fury.
'What do I mean by what?' said Harry coldly. He kept looking left and right
up the street, still hoping to see the person who had made the cracking noise.
'Making a racket like a starting pistol right outside our -
'I didn't make that noise,' said Harry firmly.
Aunt Petunia's thin, horsy face now appeared beside Uncle Vernon's wide,
purple one. She looked livid.
'Why were you lurking under our window?'
'Yes - yes, good point, Petunia! What were you doing under our window, boy?'
'Listening to the news,' said Harry in a resigned voice.
His aunt and uncle exchanged looks of outrage.
'Listening to the news! Again?'
'Well, it changes every day, you see,' said Harry.
'Don't you be clever with me, boy! I want to know what you're really up to
- and don't give me any more of this listening to the news tosh! You know perfectly
well that your lot -
'Careful, Vernon!' breathed Aunt Petunia, and Uncle Vernon lowered his voice
so that Harry could barely hear him,'- that your lot don't get on our news!'
'That's all you know,' said Harry.
The Dursleys goggled at him for a few seconds, then Aunt Petunia said, 'You're
a nasty little liar. What are all those -' she, too, lowered her voice so that
Harry had to lip-read the next word, - owls doing if they're not bringing you
'Aha!' said Uncle Vernon in a triumphant whisper. 'Get out of that one, boy!
As if we didn't know you get all your news from those pestilential birds!'
Harry hesitated for a moment. It cost him something to tell the truth this
time, even though his aunt and uncle could not possibly know how bad he felt
at admitting it.
'The owls: aren't bringing me news,' he said tonelessly.
'I don't believe it,' said Aunt Petunia at once.
'No more do I,' said Uncle Vernon forcefully.
'We know you're up to something funny,' said Aunt Petunia.
'We're not stupid, you know,' said Uncle Vernon.
'Well, that's news to me,' said Harry, his temper rising, and before the
Dursleys could call him back, he had wheeled about, crossed the front lawn,
stepped over the low garden wall and was striding off up the street.
He was in trouble now and he knew it. He would have to face his aunt and
uncle later and pay the price for his rudeness, but he did not care very much
just at the moment; he had much more pressing matters on his mind.
Harry was sure the cracking noise had been made by someone Apparating or
Disapparating. It was exactly the sound Dobby the house-elf made when he vanished
into thin air. Was it possible that Dobby was here in Privet Drive? Could Dobby
be following him right at this very moment? As this thought occurred he wheeled
around and stared back down Privet Drive, but it appeared to be completely deserted
and Harry was sure that Dobby did not know how to become invisible.
He walked on, hardly aware of the route he was taking, for he had pounded
these streets so often lately that his feet carried him to his favourite haunts
automatically. Every few steps he glanced back over his shoulder. Someone magical
had been near him as he lay among Aunt Petunia's dying begonias, he was sure
of it. Why hadn't they spoken to him, why hadn't they made contact, why were
they hiding now?
And then, as his feeling of frustration peaked, his certainty leaked away.
Perhaps it hadn't been a magical sound after all. Perhaps he was so desperate
for the tiniest sign of contact from the world to which he belonged that he
was simply overreacting to perfectly ordinary noises. Could he be sure it hadn't
been the sound of something breaking inside a neighbour's house?
Harry felt a dull, sinking sensation in his stomach and before he knew it
the feeling of hopelessness that had plagued him all summer rolled over him
Tomorrow morning he would be woken by the alarm at five o'clock so he could
pay the owl that delivered the Daily Prophet -but was there any point continuing
to take it? Harry merely glanced at the front page before throwing it aside
these days; when the idiots who ran the paper finally realised that Voldemort
was back it would be headline news, and that was the only kind Harry cared about.
If he was lucky, there would also be owls carrying letters from his best
friends Ron and Hermione, though any expectation he'd had that their letters
would bring him news had long since been dashed.
We can't say much about you-know-what, obviously: We've been told not to
say anything important in case our letters go astray: We're quite busy but I
can't give you details here: There's a fair amount going on, we'll tell you
everything when we see you:
But when were they going to see him? Nobody seemed too bothered with a precise
date. Hermione had scribbled I expect we'll be seeing you quite soon inside
his birthday card, but how soon was soon? As far as Harry could tell from the
vague hints in their letters, Hermione and Ron were in the same place, presumably
at Ron's parents' house. He could hardly bear to think of the pair of them having
fun at The Burrow when he was stuck in Privet Drive. In fact, he was so angry
with them he had thrown away, unopened, the two boxes of Honeydukes chocolates
they'd sent him for his birthday. He'd regretted it later, after the wilted
salad Aunt Petunia had provided for dinner that night.