Unwelcome feathery guests

Mr. Dursley is furious that owls keep turning up at his perfectly ordinary home

Extract from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

by J.K. Rowling

But at that precise moment a screech owl swooped in through the kitchen window. Narrowly missing the top of Uncle Vernon’s head, it soared across the kitchen, dropped the large parchment envelope it was carrying in its beak at Harry’s feet, turned grace- fully, the tips of its wings just brushing the top of the fridge, then zoomed outside again and off across the garden.

‘OWLS!’ bellowed Uncle Vernon, the well-worn vein in his temple pulsing angrily as he slammed the kitchen window shut. ‘OWLS AGAIN! I WILL NOT HAVE ANY MORE OWLS IN MY HOUSE!’

But Harry was already ripping open the envelope and pulling out the letter inside, his heart pounding somewhere in the region of his Adam’s apple.

Dear Mr Potter, We have received intelligence that you performed the Patronus Charm at twenty-three minutes past nine this evening in a Muggle-inhabited area and in the presence of a Muggle.

The severity of this breach of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery has resulted in your expulsion from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Ministry representatives will be calling at your place of residence shortly to destroy your wand.

As you have already received an official warning for a previous offence under Section 13 of the International Confederation of Warlocks’ Statute of Secrecy, we regret to inform you that your presence is required at a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Magic at 9 a.m. on the twelfth of August.

Hoping you are well,

Yours sincerely,

Mafalda Hopkirk Improper Use of Magic Office Ministry of Magic

Harry read the letter through twice. He was only vaguely aware of Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia talking. Inside his head, all was icy and numb. One fact had penetrated his consciousness like a paralysing dart. He was expelled from Hogwarts. It was all over. He was never going back.

He looked up at the Dursleys. Uncle Vernon was purple-faced, shouting, his fists still raised; Aunt Petunia had her arms around Dudley, who was retching again.

Harry’s temporarily stupefied brain seemed to reawaken. Ministry representatives will be calling at your place of residence shortly to destroy your wand. There was only one thing for it. He would have to run – now. Where he was going to go, Harry didn’t know, but he was certain of one thing: at Hogwarts or outside it, he needed his wand. In an almost dreamlike state, he pulled his wand out and turned to leave the kitchen.

‘Where d’you think you’re going?’ yelled Uncle Vernon. When Harry didn’t reply, he pounded across the kitchen to block the doorway into the hall. ‘I haven’t finished with you, boy!’

‘Get out of the way,’ said Harry quietly.

‘You’re going to stay here and explain how my son –’

‘If you don’t get out of the way I’m going to jinx you,’ said Harry, raising the wand.

‘You can’t pull that one on me!’ snarled Uncle Vernon. ‘I know you’re not allowed to use it outside that madhouse you call a school!’

‘The madhouse has chucked me out,’ said Harry. ‘So I can do whatever I like. You’ve got three seconds. One – two –’

A resounding CRACK filled the kitchen. Aunt Petunia screamed, Uncle Vernon yelled and ducked, but for the third time that night Harry was searching for the source of a disturbance he had not made. He spotted it at once: a dazed and ruffled-looking barn owl was sitting outside on the kitchen sill, having just collided with the closed window.

Ignoring Uncle Vernon’s anguished yell of ‘OWLS!’ Harry crossed the room at a run and wrenched the window open. The owl stuck out its leg, to which a small roll of parchment was tied, shook its feathers, and took off the moment Harry had taken the letter. Hands shaking, Harry unfurled the second message, which was written very hastily and blotchily in black ink.

Harry – Dumbledore’s just arrived at the Ministry and he’s trying to sort it all out. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR AUNT AND UNCLE’S HOUSE. DO NOT DO ANY MORE MAGIC. DO NOT SURRENDER YOUR WAND. Arthur Weasley

Dumbledore was trying to sort it all out ... what did that mean? How much power did Dumbledore have to override the Ministry of Magic? Was there a chance that he might be allowed back to Hogwarts, then? A small shoot of hope burgeoned in Harry’s chest, almost immediately strangled by panic – how was he supposed to refuse to surrender his wand without doing magic? He’d have to duel with the Ministry representatives, and if he did that, he’d be lucky to escape Azkaban, let alone expulsion.

His mind was racing ... he could run for it and risk being captured by the Ministry, or stay put and wait for them to find him here. He was much more tempted by the former course, but he knew Mr Weasley had his best interests at heart ... and after all, Dumbledore had sorted out much worse than this before.

‘Right,’ Harry said, ‘I’ve changed my mind, I’m staying.’

He flung himself down at the kitchen table and faced Dudley and Aunt Petunia. The Dursleys appeared taken aback at his abrupt change of mind. Aunt Petunia glanced despairingly at Uncle Vernon. The vein in his purple temple was throbbing worse than ever.

‘Who are all these ruddy owls from?’ he growled.

‘The first one was from the Ministry of Magic, expelling me,’ said Harry calmly. He was straining his ears to catch any noises outside, in case the Ministry representatives were approaching, and it was easier and quieter to answer Uncle Vernon’s questions than to have him start raging and bellowing. ‘The second one was from my friend Ron’s dad, who works at the Ministry.’

‘Ministry of Magic?’ bellowed Uncle Vernon. ‘People like you in government? Oh, this explains everything, everything, no wonder the country’s going to the dogs.’

When Harry did not respond, Uncle Vernon glared at him, then spat out, ‘And why have you been expelled?’

‘Because I did magic.’

‘AHA!’ roared Uncle Vernon, slamming his fist down on top of the fridge, which sprang open; several of Dudley’s low-fat snacks toppled out and burst on the floor. ‘So you admit it! What did you do to Dudley?’

‘Nothing,’ said Harry, slightly less calmly. ‘That wasn’t me –’

‘Was,’ muttered Dudley unexpectedly, and Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia instantly made flapping gestures at Harry to quieten him while they both bent low over Dudley.

‘Go on, son,’ said Uncle Vernon, ‘what did he do?’ ‘

Tell us, darling,’ whispered Aunt Petunia.

‘Pointed his wand at me,’ Dudley mumbled.

‘Yeah, I did, but I didn’t use –’ Harry began angrily, but –

‘SHUT UP!’ roared Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia in unison.

‘Go on, son,’ repeated Uncle Vernon, moustache blowing about furiously.

‘All went dark,’ Dudley said hoarsely, shuddering. ‘Everything dark. And then I h-heard ... things. Inside m-my head.’

Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia exchanged looks of utter horror. If their least favourite thing in the world was magic – closely followed by neighbours who cheated more than they did on the hosepipe ban – people who heard voices were definitely in the bottom ten. They obviously thought Dudley was losing his mind.

‘What sort of things did you hear, Popkin?’ breathed Aunt Petunia, very white-faced and with tears in her eyes.

But Dudley seemed incapable of saying. He shuddered again and shook his large blond head, and despite the sense of numb dread that had settled on Harry since the arrival of the first owl, he felt a certain curiosity. Dementors caused a person to relive the worst moments of their life. What would spoiled, pampered, bullying Dudley have been forced to hear?

‘How come you fell over, son?’ said Uncle Vernon, in an unnaturally quiet voice, the kind of voice he might adopt at the bedside of a very ill person.

‘T-tripped,’ said Dudley shakily. ‘And then –’

He gestured at his massive chest. Harry understood. Dudley was remembering the clammy cold that filled the lungs as hope and happiness were sucked out of you.

‘Horrible,’ croaked Dudley. ‘Cold. Really cold.’

‘OK,’ said Uncle Vernon, in a voice of forced calm, while Aunt Petunia laid an anxious hand on Dudley’s forehead to feel his tem- perature. ‘What happened then, Dudders?’

‘Felt ... felt ... felt ... as if ... as if ...’

‘As if you’d never be happy again,’ Harry supplied tonelessly.

‘Yes,’ Dudley whispered, still trembling.

‘So!’ said Uncle Vernon, voice restored to full and considerable volume as he straightened up. ‘You put some crackpot spell on my son so he’d hear voices and believe he was – was doomed to misery, or something, did you?’

‘How many times do I have to tell you?’ said Harry, temper and voice both rising. ‘It wasn’t me! It was a couple of Dementors!’

‘A couple of – what’s this codswallop?’

‘De – men – tors,’ said Harry slowly and clearly. ‘Two of them.’

‘And what the ruddy hell are Dementors?’

‘They guard the wizard prison, Azkaban,’ said Aunt Petunia.

Two seconds of ringing silence followed these words before Aunt Petunia clapped her hand over her mouth as though she had let slip a disgusting swear word. Uncle Vernon was goggling at her. Harry’s brain reeled. Mrs Figg was one thing – but Aunt Petunia?

‘How d’you know that?’ he asked her, astonished.

Aunt Petunia looked quite appalled with herself. She glanced at Uncle Vernon in fearful apology, then lowered her hand slightly to reveal her horsy teeth.

‘I heard – that awful boy – telling her about them – years ago,’ she said jerkily.

‘If you mean my mum and dad, why don’t you use their names?’ said Harry loudly, but Aunt Petunia ignored him. She seemed horribly flustered.

Harry was stunned. Except for one outburst years ago, in the course of which Aunt Petunia had screamed that Harry’s mother had been a freak, he had never heard her mention her sister. He was astounded that she had remembered this scrap of information about the magical world for so long, when she usually put all her energies into pretending it didn’t exist.

Uncle Vernon opened his mouth, closed it again, opened it once more, shut it, then, apparently struggling to remember how to talk, opened it for a third time and croaked, ‘So – so – they – er – they – er – they actually exist, do they – er – Dementy-whatsits?’

Aunt Petunia nodded.

Uncle Vernon looked from Aunt Petunia to Dudley to Harry as if hoping somebody was going to shout ‘April Fool!’ When nobody did, he opened his mouth yet again, but was spared the struggle to find more words by the arrival of the third owl of the evening. It zoomed through the still-open window like a feathery cannonball and landed with a clatter on the kitchen table, causing all three of the Dursleys to jump with fright. Harry tore a second official-looking envelope from the owl’s beak and ripped it open as the owl swooped back out into the night.

‘Enough – effing – owls,’ muttered Uncle Vernon distractedly, stomping over to the window and slamming it shut again.


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

by J.K. Rowling