The snake nodded vigorously.
"Where do you come from, anyway?" Harry asked.
The snake jabbed its tail at a little sign next to the glass. Harry peered at
Boa Constrictor, Brazil.
"Was it nice there?"
The boa constrictor jabbed its tail at the sign again and Harry read on: This
specimen was bred in the zoo. "Oh, I see — so you've never been to Brazil?"
As the snake shook its head, a deafening shout behind Harry made both of them
"DUDLEY! MR. DURSLEY! COME AND LOOK AT THIS SNAKE! YOU WON'T BELIEVE WHAT IT'S
Dudley came waddling toward them as fast as he could.
"Out of the way, you," he said, punching Harry in the ribs. Caught by surprise,
Harry fell hard on the concrete floor. What came next happened so fast no one saw
how it happened — one second, Piers and Dudley were leaning right up close to the
glass, the next, they had leapt back with howls of horror.
Harry sat up and gasped; the glass front of the boa constrictor's tank had vanished.
The great snake was uncoiling itself rapidly, slithering out onto the floor. People
throughout the reptile house screamed and started running for the exits.
As the snake slid swiftly past him, Harry could have sworn a low, hissing voice
said, "Brazil, here I come.... Thanksss, amigo."
The keeper of the reptile house was in shock.
"But the glass," he kept saying, "where did the glass go?"
The zoo director himself made Aunt Petunia a cup of strong, sweet tea while he
apologized over and over again. Piers and Dudley could only gibber. As far as Harry
had seen, the snake hadn't done anything except snap playfully at their heels as
it passed, but by the time they were all back in Uncle Vernon's car, Dudley was
telling them how it had nearly bitten off his leg, while Piers was swearing it had
tried to squeeze him to death. But worst of all, for Harry at least, was Piers calming
down enough to say, "Harry was talking to it, weren't you, Harry?"
Uncle Vernon waited until Piers was safely out of the house before starting on
Harry. He was so angry he could hardly speak. He managed to say, "Go — cupboard
— stay — no meals," before he collapsed into a chair, and Aunt Petunia had to run
and get him a large brandy.
Harry lay in his dark cupboard much later, wishing he had a watch. He didn't
know what time it was and he couldn't be sure the Dursleys were asleep yet. Until
they were, he couldn't risk sneaking to the kitchen for some food.
He'd lived with the Dursleys almost ten years, ten miserable years, as long as
he could remember, ever since he'd been a baby and his parents had died in that
car crash. He couldn't remember being in the car when his parents had died. Sometimes,
when he strained his memory during long hours in his cupboard, he came up with a
strange vision: a blinding flash of green light and a burning pain on his forehead.
This, he supposed, was the crash, though he couldn't imagine where all the green
light came from. He couldn't remember his parents at all. His aunt and uncle never
spoke about them, and of course he was forbidden to ask questions. There were no
photographs of them in the house.
When he had been younger, Harry had dreamed and dreamed of some unknown relation
coming to take him away, but it had never happened; the Dursleys were his only family.
Yet sometimes he thought (or maybe hoped) that strangers in the street seemed to
know him. Very strange strangers they were, too. A tiny man in a violet top hat
had bowed to him once while out shopping with Aunt Petunia and Dudley. After asking
Harry furiously if he knew the man, Aunt Petunia had rushed them out of the shop
without buying anything. A wild-looking old woman dressed all in green had waved
merrily at him once on a bus. A bald man in a very long purple coat had actually
shaken his hand in the street the other day and then walked away without a word.
The weirdest thing about all these people was the way they seemed to vanish the
second Harry tried to get a closer look.
At school, Harry had no one. Everybody knew that Dudley's gang hated that odd
Harry Potter in his baggy old clothes and broken glasses, and nobody liked to disagree
with Dudley's gang.
THE LETTERS FROM NO ONE
The escape of the Brazilian boa constrictor earned Harry his longest-ever punishment.
By the time he was allowed out of his cupboard again, the summer holidays had started
and Dudley had already broken his new video camera, crashed his remote control airplane,
and, first time out on his racing bike, knocked down old Mrs. Figg as she crossed
Privet Drive on her crutches.
Harry was glad school was over, but there was no escaping Dudley's gang, who
visited the house every single day. Piers, Dennis, Malcolm, and Gordon were all
big and stupid, but as Dudley was the biggest and stupidest of the lot, he was the
leader. The rest of them were all quite happy to join in Dudley's favorite sport:
This was why Harry spent as much time as possible out of the house, wandering
around and thinking about the end of the holidays, where he could see a tiny ray
of hope. When September came he would be going off to secondary school and, for
the first time in his life, he wouldn't be with Dudley. Dudley had been accepted
at Uncle Vernon's old private school, Smeltings. Piers Polkiss was going there too.
Harry, on the other hand, was going to Stonewall High, the local public school.
Dudley thought this was very funny.
"They stuff people's heads down the toilet the first day at Stonewall," he told
Harry. "Want to come upstairs and practice?"
"No, thanks," said Harry. "The poor toilet's never had anything as horrible as
your head down it — it might be sick." Then he ran, before Dudley could work out
what he'd said.
One day in July, Aunt Petunia took Dudley to London to buy his Smeltings uniform,
leaving Harry at Mrs. Figg's. Mrs. Figg wasn 't as bad as usual. It turned out she'd
broken her leg tripping over one of her cats, and she didn't seem quite as fond
of them as before. She let Harry watch television and gave him a bit of chocolate
cake that tasted as though she'd had it for several years.
That evening, Dudley paraded around the living room for the family in his brand-new
uniform. Smeltings' boys wore maroon tailcoats, orange knickerbockers, and flat
straw hats called boaters. They also carried knobbly sticks, used for hitting each
other while the teachers weren't looking. This was supposed to be good training
for later life.
As he looked at Dudley in his new knickerbockers, Uncle Vernon said gruffly that
it was the proudest moment of his life. Aunt Petunia burst into tears and said she
couldn't believe it was her Ickle Dudleykins, he looked so handsome and grown-up.
Harry didn't trust himself to speak. He thought two of his ribs might already have
cracked from trying not to laugh.
There was a horrible smell in the kitchen the next morning when Harry went in
for breakfast. It seemed to be coming from a large metal tub in the sink. He went
to have a look. The tub was full of what looked like dirty rags swimming in gray
"What's this?" he asked Aunt Petunia. Her lips tightened as they always did if
he dared to ask a question.
"Your new school uniform," she said.
Harry looked in the bowl again.
"Oh," he said, "I didn't realize it had to be so wet."
"DotA be stupid," snapped Aunt Petunia. "I'm dyeing some of Dudley's old things
gray for you. It'll look just like everyone else's when I've finished."
Harry seriously doubted this, but thought it best not to argue. He sat down at
the table and tried not to think about how he was going to look on his first day
at Stonewall High — like he was wearing bits of old elephant skin, probably.
Dudley and Uncle Vernon came in, both with wrinkled noses because of the smell
from Harry's new uniform. Uncle Vernon opened his newspaper as usual and Dudley
banged his Smelting stick, which he carried everywhere, on the table.
They heard the click of the mail slot and flop of letters on the doormat.
"Get the mail, Dudley," said Uncle Vernon from behind his paper.
"Make Harry get it."
"Get the mail, Harry."
"Make Dudley get it."
"Poke him with your Smelting stick, Dudley."
Harry dodged the Smelting stick and went to get the mail. Three things lay on
the doormat: a postcard from Uncle Vernon's sister Marge, who was vacationing on
the Isle of Wight, a brown envelope that looked like a bill, and — a letter for
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
The envelope was thick and heavy, made of yellowish parchment, and the address
was written in emerald-green ink. There was no stamp.
Turning the envelope over, his hand trembling, Harry saw a purple wax seal bearing
a coat of arms; a lion, an eagle, a badger, and a snake surrounding a large letter
"Hurry up, boy!" shouted Uncle Vernon from the kitchen. "What are you doing,
checking for letter bombs?" He chuckled at his own joke.
Harry went back to the kitchen, still staring at his letter. He handed Uncle
Vernon the bill and the postcard, sat down, and slowly began to open the yellow
Uncle Vernon ripped open the bill, snorted in disgust, and flipped over the postcard.
"Marge's ill," he informed Aunt Petunia. "Ate a funny whelk. —."
"Dad!" said Dudley suddenly. "Dad, Harry's got something!"
Harry was on the point of unfolding his letter, which was written on the same
heavy parchment as the envelope, when it was jerked sharply out of his hand by Uncle
"That's mine!" said Harry, trying to snatch it back.
"Who'd be writing to you?" sneered Uncle Vernon, shaking the letter open with
one hand and glancing at it. His face went from red to green faster than a set of
traffic lights. And it didn't stop there. Within seconds it was the grayish white
of old porridge.
"P-P-Petunia!" he gasped.
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
"Vernon! Oh my goodness — Vernon!"
They stared at each other, seeming to have forgotten that Harry and Dudley were
still in the room. Dudley wasn't used to being ignored. He gave his father a sharp
tap on the head with his Smelting stick.
"I want to read that letter," he said loudly. want to read it," said Harry furiously,
"as it's mine."
"Get out, both of you," croaked Uncle Vernon, stuffing the letter back inside
Harry didn't move.
I WANT MY LETTER!" he shouted.
"Let me see it!" demanded Dudley.
"OUT!" roared Uncle Vernon, and he took both Harry and Dudley by the scruffs
of their necks and threw them into the hall, slamming the kitchen door behind them.
Harry and Dudley promptly had a furious but silent fight over who would listen at
the keyhole; Dudley won, so Harry, his glasses dangling from one ear, lay flat on
his stomach to listen at the crack between door and floor.
"Vernon," Aunt Petunia was saying in a quivering voice, "look at the address
— how could they possibly know where he sleeps? You don't think they're watching
"Watching — spying — might be following us," muttered Uncle Vernon wildly.
"But what should we do, Vernon? Should we write back? Tell them we don't want
- — "
Harry could see Uncle Vernon's shiny black shoes pacing up and down the kitchen.
"No," he said finally. "No, we'll ignore it. If they don't get an answer... Yes,
that's best... we won't do anything....
"But - — "
"I'm not having one in the house, Petunia! Didn't we swear when we took him in
we'd stamp out that dangerous nonsense?"
That evening when he got back from work, Uncle Vernon did something he'd never
done before; he visited Harry in his cupboard.
"Where's my letter?" said Harry, the moment Uncle Vernon had squeezed through
the door. "Who's writing to me?"
"No one. it was addressed to you by mistake," said Uncle Vernon shortly. "I have
"It was not a mistake," said Harry angrily, "it had my cupboard on it."
"SILENCE!" yelled Uncle Vernon, and a couple of spiders fell from the ceiling.
He took a few deep breaths and then forced his face into a smile, which looked quite
"Er — yes, Harry — about this cupboard. Your aunt and I have been thinking...
you're really getting a bit big for it... we think it might be nice if you moved
into Dudley's second bedroom.
"Why?" said Harry.
"Don't ask questions!" snapped his uncle. "Take this stuff upstairs, now."
The Dursleys' house had four bedrooms: one for Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia,
one for visitors (usually Uncle Vernon's sister, Marge), one where Dudley slept,
and one where Dudley kept all the toys and things that wouldn't fit into his first
bedroom. It only took Harry one trip upstairs to move everything he owned from the
cupboard to this room. He sat down on the bed and stared around him. Nearly everything
in here was broken. The month-old video camera was lying on top of a small, working
tank Dudley had once driven over the next door neighbor's dog; in the corner was
Dudley's first-ever television set, which he'd put his foot through when his favorite
program had been canceled; there was a large birdcage, which had once held a parrot
that Dudley had swapped at school for a real air rifle, which was up on a shelf
with the end all bent because Dudley had sat on it. Other shelves were full of books.
They were the only things in the room that looked as though they'd never been touched.