Read an Excerpt
"Up! Get up! Now!"
Harry woke with a start. His aunt rapped on the door again.
"Up!" she screeched. Harry heard her walking toward the kitchen and then the sound of the frying pan being put on the stove. He rolled onto his back and tried to remember the dream he had been having. It had been a good one. There had been a flying motorcycle in it. He had a funny feeling he'd had the same dream before.
His aunt was back outside the door.
"Are you up yet?" she demanded.
"Nearly," said Harry.
"Well, get a move on, I want you to look after the bacon. And don't you dare let it burn, I want everything perfect on Duddy's birthday."
"What did you say?" his aunt snapped through the door.
"Nothing, nothing . . ."
Dudley's birthday - how could he have forgotten? Harry got slowly out of bed and started looking for socks. He found a pair under his bed and, after pulling a spider off one of them, put them on. Harry was used to spiders, because the cupboard under the stairs was full of them, and that was where he slept.
When he was dressed he went down the hall into the kitchen. The table was almost hidden beneath all Dudley's birthday presents. It looked as though Dudley had gotten the new computer he wanted, not to mention the second television and the racing bike. Exactly why Dudley wanted a racing bike was a mystery to Harry, as Dudley was very fat and hated exercise - unless of course it involved punching somebody. Dudley's favorite punching bag was Harry, but he couldn't often catch him. Harry didn't look it, but he was very fast.
Perhaps it had something to do with living in a dark cupboard, but Harry had always been small and skinny for his age. He looked even smaller and skinnier than he really was because all he had to wear were old clothes of Dudley's, and Dudley was about four times bigger than he was. Harry had a thin face, knobbly knees, black hair, and bright green eyes. He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Scotch tape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose. The only thing Harry liked about his own appearance was a very thin scar on his forehead that was shaped like a bolt of lightning. He had had it as long as he could remember, and the first question he could ever remember asking his Aunt Petunia was how he had gotten it.
"In the car crash when your parents died," she had said. "And don't ask questions."
Don't ask questions - that was the first rule for a quiet life with the Dursleys.
Uncle Vernon entered the kitchen as Harry was turning over the bacon.
"Comb your hair!" he barked, by way of a morning greeting.
About once a week, Uncle Vernon looked over the top of his newspaper and shouted that Harry needed a haircut. Harry must have had more haircuts than the rest of the boys in his class put together, but it made no difference, his hair simply grew that way - all over the place.
Harry was frying eggs by the time Dudley arrived in the kitchen with his mother. Dudley looked a lot like Uncle Vernon. He had a large pink face, not much neck, small, watery blue eyes, and thick blond hair that lay smoothly on his thick, fat head. Aunt Petunia often said that Dudley looked like a baby angel - Harry often said that Dudley looked like a pig in a wig.
Harry put the plates of egg and bacon on the table, which was difficult as there wasn't much room. Dudley, meanwhile, was counting his presents. His face fell.
"Thirty-six," he said, looking up at his mother and father. "That's two less than last year."
"Darling, you haven't counted Auntie Marge's present, see, it's here under this big one from Mommy and Daddy."
"All right, thirty-seven then," said Dudley, going red in the face. Harry, who could see a huge Dudley tantrum coming on, began wolfing down his bacon as fast as possible in case Dudley turned the table over.
Aunt Petunia obviously scented danger, too, because she said quickly, "And we'll buy you another two presents while we're out today. How's that, popkin? Two more presents. Is that all right?"
Dudley thought for a moment. It looked like hard work. Finally he said slowly, "So I'll have thirty . . . thirty . . ."
"Thirty-nine, sweetums," said Aunt Petunia.
"Oh." Dudley sat down heavily and grabbed the nearest parcel. "All right then."
Uncle Vernon chuckled.
"Little tyke wants his money's worth, just like his father. 'Atta boy, Dudley!" He ruffled Dudley's hair.
At that moment the telephone rang and Aunt Petunia went to answer it while Harry and Uncle Vernon watched Dudley unwrap the racing bike, a video camera, a remote control airplane, sixteen new computer games, and a VCR. He was ripping the paper off a gold wristwatch when Aunt Petunia came back from the telephone looking both angry and worried.
"Bad news, Vernon," she said. "Mrs. Figg's broken her leg. She can't take him." She jerked her head in Harry's direction.
Dudley's mouth fell open in horror, but Harry's heart gave a leap. Every year on Dudley's birthday, his parents took him and a friend out for the day, to adventure parks, hamburger restaurants, or the movies. Every year, Harry was left behind with Mrs. Figg, a mad old lady who lived two streets away. Harry hated it there. The whole house smelled of cabbage and Mrs. Figg made him look at photographs of all the cats she'd ever owned.
"Now what?" said Aunt Petunia, looking furiously at Harry as though he'd planned this. Harry knew he ought to feel sorry that Mrs. Figg had broken her leg, but it wasn't easy when he reminded himself it would be a whole year before he had to look at Tibbles, Snowy, Mr. Paws, and Tufty again.
"We could phone Marge," Uncle Vernon suggested.
"Don't be silly, Vernon, she hates the boy."
The Dursleys often spoke about Harry like this, as though he wasn't there - or rather, as though he was something very nasty that couldn't understand them, like a slug.
"What about what's-her-name, your friend - Yvonne?"
"On vacation in Majorca," snapped Aunt Petunia.
"You could just leave me here," Harry put in hopefully (he'd be able to watch what he wanted on television for a change and maybe even have a go on Dudley's computer).
Aunt Petunia looked as though she'd just swallowed a lemon.
"And come back and find the house in ruins?" she snarled.
"I won't blow up the house," said Harry, but they weren't listening.
"I suppose we could take him to the zoo," said Aunt Petunia slowly, ". . . and leave him in the car. . . ."
"That car's new, he's not sitting in it alone. . . ."
Dudley began to cry loudly. In fact, he wasn't really crying - it had been years since he'd really cried - but he knew that if he screwed up his face and wailed, his mother would give him anything he wanted.
"Dinky Duddydums, don't cry, Mummy won't let him spoil your special day!" she cried, flinging her arms around him.
"I . . . don't . . . want . . . him . . . t-t-to come!" Dudley yelled between huge, pretend sobs. "He always sp-spoils everything!" He shot Harry a nasty grin through the gap in his mother's arms.
October arrived, spreading a damp chill over the grounds and into
the castle. Madam Pomfrey, the nurse, was kept busy by a sudden spate of
colds among the staff and students. Her Pepperup potion worked instantly,
though it left the drinker smoking at the ears for several hours afterward.
Ginny Weasley, who had been looking pale, was bullied into taking some by
Percy. The steam pouring from under her vivid hair gave the impression that
her whole head was on fire.
Raindrops the size of bullets thundered on the castle windows for
days on end; the lake rose, the flower beds turned into muddy streams, and
Hagrid's pumpkins swelled to the size of garden sheds. Oliver Wood's
enthusiasm for regular training sessions, however, was not dampened, which
was why Harry was to be found, late one stormy Saturday afternoon a few days before Halloween, returning to Gryffindor Tower, drenched to the skin and splattered with mud.
Even aside from the rain and wind it hadn't been a happy practice
session. Fred and George, who had been spying on the Slytherin team, had
seen for themselves the speed of those new Nimbus Two Thousand and Ones.
They reported that the Slytherin team was no more than seven greenish blurs,
shooting through the air like missiles.
As Harry squelched along the deserted corridor he came across
somebody who looked just as preoccupied as he was. Nearly Headless Nick, the ghost of Gryffindor Tower, was staring morosely out of a window, muttering
under his breath, ". . . don't fulfill their requirements . . . half an inch, if that . . ."
"Hello, Nick," said Harry.
"Hello, hello," said Nearly Headless Nick, starting and looking
round. He wore a dashing, plumed hat on his long curly hair, and a tunic
with a ruff, which concealed the fact that his neck was almost completely
severed. He was pale as smoke, and Harry could see right through him to the
dark sky and torrential rain outside.
"You look troubled, young Potter," said Nick, folding a transparent
letter as he spoke and tucking it inside his doublet.
"So do you," said Harry.
"Ah," Nearly Headless Nick waved an elegant hand, "a matter of no
importance. . . . It's not as though I really wanted to join. . . . Thought
I'd apply, but apparently I 'don't fulfill requirements' -"
In spite of his airy tone, there was a look of great bitterness on
"But you would think, wouldn't you," he erupted suddenly, pulling
the letter back out of his pocket, "that getting hit forty-five times in the
neck with a blunt axe would qualify you to join the Headless Hunt?"
"Oh - yes," said Harry, who was obviously supposed to agree.
"I mean, nobody wishes more than I do that it had all been quick and
clean, and my head had come off properly, I mean, it would have saved me a
great deal of pain and ridicule. However -" Nearly Headless Nick shook his
letter open and read furiously:
"'We can only accept huntsmen whose heads have parted company with their
bodies. You will appreciate that it would be impossible otherwise for
members to participate in hunt activities such as Horseback Head-Juggling
and Head Polo. It is with the greatest regret, therefore, that I must inform
you that you do not fulfill our requirements. With very best wishes, Sir
Fuming, Nearly Headless Nick stuffed the letter away.
"Half an inch of skin and sinew holding my neck on, Harry! Most
people would think that's good and beheaded, but oh, no, it's not enough for
Sir Properly Decapitated-Podmore."
Nearly Headless Nick took several deep breaths and then said, in a
far calmer tone, "So - what's bothering you? Anything I can do?"
"No," said Harry. "Not unless you know where we can get seven free
Nimbus Two Thousand and Ones for our match against Sly -"
The rest of Harry's sentence was drowned out by a high-pitched
mewling from somewhere near his ankles. He looked down and found himself
gazing into a pair of lamp-like yellow eyes. It was Mrs. Norris, the
skeletal gray cat who was used by the caretaker, Argus Filch, as a sort of
deputy in his endless battle against students.
"You'd better get out of here, Harry," said Nick quickly. "Filch
isn't in a good mood - he's got the flu and some third years accidentally
plastered frog brains all over the ceiling in dungeon five. He's been
cleaning all morning, and if he sees you dripping mud all over the place -"
"Right," said Harry, backing away from the accusing stare of Mrs.
Norris, but not quickly enough. Drawn to the spot by the mysterious power
that seemed to connect him with his foul cat, Argus Filch burst suddenly
through a tapestry to Harry's right, wheezing and looking wildly about for
the rule-breaker. There was a thick tartan scarf bound around his head, and
his nose was unusually purple.
Harry went down to breakfast the next morning to find the three Dursleys already sitting around the kitchen table. They were watching a brand-new television, a welcome-home-for-the-summer present for Dudley, who had been complaining loudly about the long walk between the fridge and the television in the living room. Dudley had spent most of the summer in the kitchen, his piggy little eyes fixed on the screen and his five chins wobbling as he ate continually.
Harry sat down between Dudley and Uncle Vernon, a large, beefy man with very little neck and a lot of mustache. Far from wishing Harry a happy birthday, none of the Dursleys made any sign that they had noticed Harry enter the room, but Harry was far too used to this to care. He helped himself to a piece of toast and then looked up at the reporter on the television, who was halfway through a report on an escaped convict:
"... The public is warned that Black is armed and extremely dangerous. A special hot line has been set up, and any sighting of Black should be reported immediately."
"No need to tell us he's no good," snorted Uncle Vernon, staring over the top of his newspaper at the prisoner. "Look at the state of him, the filthy layabout! Look at his hair!"
He shot a nasty look sideways at Harry, whose untidy hair had always been a source of great annoyance to Uncle Vernon. Compared to the man on the television, however, whose gaunt face was surrounded by a matted, elbow-length tangle, Harry felt very well groomed indeed.
The reporter had reappeared.
"The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries will announce today -"
"Hang on!" barked Uncle Vernon, staring furiously at the reporter. "You didn't tell us where that maniac's escaped from! What use is that? Lunatic could be coming up the street right now!"
Aunt Petunia, who was bony and horse-faced, whipped around and peered intently out of the kitchen window. Harry knew Aunt Petunia would simply love to be the one to call the hot line number. She was the nosiest woman in the world and spent most of her life spying on the boring, law-abiding neighbors.
"When will they learn," said Uncle Vernon, pounding the table with his large purple fist, "that hanging's the only way to deal with these people?"
"Very true," said Aunt Petunia, who was still squinting into next door's runner beans.
Uncle Vernon drained his teacup, glanced at his watch, and added, "I'd better be off in a minute, Petunia. Marge's train gets in at ten."
Harry, whose thoughts had been upstairs with the Broomstick Servicing Kit, was brought back to earth with an unpleasant bump.
"Aunt Marge?" he blurted out. "Sh - she's not coming here, is she?"
Aunt Marge was Uncle Vernon's sister. Even though she was not a blood relative of Harry's (whose mother had been Aunt Petunia's sister), he had been forced to call her "Aunt" all his life. Aunt Marge lived in the country, in a house with a large garden, where she bred bulldogs. She didn't often stay at Privet Drive, because she couldn't bear to leave her precious dogs, but each of her visits stood out horribly vividly in Harry's mind.
At Dudley's fifth birthday party, Aunt Marge had whacked Harry around the shins with her walking stick to stop him from beating Dudley at musical statues. A few years later, she had turned up at Christmas with a computerized robot for Dudley and a box of dog biscuits for Harry. On her last visit, the year before Harry started at Hogwarts, Harry had accidentally trodden on the tail of her favorite dog. Ripper had chased Harry out into the garden and up a tree, and Aunt Marge had refused to call him off until past midnight. The memory of this incident still brought tears of laughter to Dudley's eyes.
"Marge'll be here for a week," Uncle Vernon snarled, "and while we're on the subject" - he pointed a fat finger threateningly at Harry - "we need to get a few things straight before I go and collect her."
Dudley smirked and withdrew his gaze from the television. Watching Harry being bullied by Uncle Vernon was Dudley's favorite form of entertainment.
©1998; J. K. Rowling; reprinted with permission of Scholastic, Inc.