Chapter Three: The Letters from No One
In which a letter addressed to Harry scares the living daylights out of the Dursleys. They don’t let him read it, but more and more arrive every day until Vernon snaps and tries to escape them in his car. It doesn’t work.
By the time he was allowed out of his cupboard again, the summer holidays had started
I seriously hope that was only a few days. What would the authorities have to say if they knew the Dursleys were preventing Harry from going to school?
Dudley and Harry are now preparing to attend separate secondary schools. Dudley will be going to his father’s old school, named Smeltings:
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.
This is both hilarious and totally disturbing. From what I know of English “public schools”, this is unfortunately not too much of an exaggeration. (As for the uniform: lol. I didn’t have to wear a uniform at all during high school, so the thought of wearing that is utterly foreign to me.)
Harry, meanwhile, will be going to the local high school. He’s looking forward to being at school without Dudley and his mates, but he doesn’t think life there will be much better than it has been: he’ll probably still be teased for his clothes, which in this case will be Dudley’s old things dyed grey.
(Incidentally, the name of the school is Stonewall High—if the Dursleys had prevented Harry from going to Hogwarts, he certainly would have been stonewalled!)
Everyone is distracted, however, when a letter for Harry arrives. Vernon and Petunia’s reactions are pretty funny:
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 greyish white of old porridge.
‘P-P-Petunia!’ he gasped.
For a moment it looked as though she might faint. She clutched her throat and made a choking noise.
‘Vernon! Oh my goodness – Vernon!’
This is ten years of denial crashing down around their ears. I especially love the image of Vernon changing colour—this is one of the quirks of Rowling’s writing that makes her so entertaining to read. (Another one to do with Vernon is coming up soon.)
So the Dursleys decide to ignore the letter. Despite not being allowed to read it, Harry does get the better end of this deal. He is moved into Dudley’s second bedroom in case “they” (presumably Dumbledore) are spying on the house. (Again, the Dursleys are trying to make it seem as though they are not mistreating Harry—which of course means they are aware that this is exactly what they’ve been doing!) Uncle Vernon also seems to be trying to be nice to Harry. Dudley, meanwhile, is not allowed to read the letter either (which comes as a major shock, seeing as he’s used to getting whatever he wants) and loses his second bedroom to boot:
He’d screamed, whacked his father with his Smeltings 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.
Of course, when you read something like that, you can’t exactly feel sorry for him.
Predictably, ignoring the letter proves to be a giant mistake, and we are treated to a montage of Vernon going steadily insane as more and more letters arrive. This moment is particularly satisfying:
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.
It’s not until Saturday, through, that Rowling remarks that “things began to get out of hand”. Twenty four letters arrive via a “very confused milkman” (Confunded, perhaps?) who delivers them “rolled up and hidden inside … two dozen eggs”. I don’t know if this is Dumbledore or McGonagall or someone else, but I like their style. Rofl.
When “thirty or forty” letters stream out of the fireplace, Vernon completely loses it (like, more than we’ve already seen) and orders everyone to pack some clothes—they’re going to try to outrun them. Very bad idea. While he’s making this pronouncement, he’s “pulling great tufts out of his moustache” which is a great image and also HOLY CRAP that must have hurt.
After some more great moments of Uncle Vernon insanity, we finish the chapter with Harry counting down the seconds to his birthday in a shack, on a rock, in the sea, in the middle of a storm when—
The whole shack shivered and Harry sat bolt upright, staring at the door. Someone was outside, knocking to come in.
(I can’t go past this moment without recommending a parody by Silvver Phoenix, formerly known as SilverPheonix25—Harry Potter and Some Sorcerer’s Rock. You can find also find this story, and the sequels, on her website. Actually, just read all of her stories.)
Okay, fan art time! This fabulous picture of Harry and the Dursleys is by Rotae: