The Letters From No One

chapter three of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

An unexpected letter arrives at Privet Drive, addressed to Harry. When Vernon tries to destroy it, though, more soon follow – pursuing them even as the Dursleys run around the country trying to escape. Finally the family ends up in a hut out at sea, confident that no letters will find them.

Letter From No One, by Helene Sirois

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.


Harry's Letters Day Two, by forbis

Uncle Vernon had to wrestle Dudley to the ground to get the letter from him, which was made difficult by the fact that Harry had grabbed Uncle Vernon around the neck from behind.

(by forbis)


The Letters From No One, by Keith James

Thirty or forty letters came pelting out of the fireplace like bullets….


by mneomosyne

Uncle Vernon was pointing at what looked like a large rock way out at sea. Perched on top of the rock was the most miserable little shack you could imagine.


11th Birthday, by Miri

As night fell, the promised storm blew up around them. Spray from the high waves splattered the walls of the hut and a fierce wind rattled the filthy windows.

(by Miri)


11th Birthday, by Helene Sirois

One minute to go and he’d be eleven. Thirty seconds… twenty… ten… nine – maybe he’d wake Dudley up, just to annoy him – three… two… one…


about the chapter


I love imagining what it would be like to be in Harry’s shoes in this chapter. After all, even for a first-time reader, these crazy letters don’t seem that extraordinary; we already know from the cover that Harry is a wizard, and meeting Dumbledore in the first chapter gave us some clue that Harry would be in for something like this. But for Harry, with no warning, suddenly letters are arriving rolled up inside eggs, and shooting down the chimney? Whoa.

Something You May Not Have Noticed

The way Harry’s Hogwarts letters are delivered is incredibly interesting. We will learn later that Muggle children are normally visited by a representative of Hogwarts to explain the situation to the parents; it will also be clear that wizarding children would typically have their letters delivered by owl. In fact, Harry’s case – living with a family who knows about Hogwarts but does not take owls – is probably unique, or close to it. So somebody at Hogwarts must be doing some unique magic to get his letters to him.

But this is where things get even stranger. Harry’s first letters seem to arrive with the Muggle post. Are the letters bewitched so the postman delivers them, ignoring the lack of stamps? If so, when are they inserted into the mail? And then, the letters seem to carry spells so they know if Harry hasn’t read them, and continue delivering accordingly. Who is casting the spells to make the letters deliver themselves in all these different ways? Judging by the spell-caster’s sense of humor, it almost has to be Dumbledore himself (would McGonagall really roll letters up inside eggshells? And who else could it even be?). It seems likely that Dumbledore is paying far closer attention to Harry’s life than we’ve realized, even before Harry knows what Hogwarts is.

The Boy Who Lived

If I had to pick one moment to define Harry’s childhood with the Dursleys, I think it would be the one he stumbles across in this chapter: Aunt Petunia dying Dudley’s old clothes for Harry to wear at school. Almost every other mistreatment at the hands of the Dursleys can be explained by their simply not wanting to spend money on him or exert unnecessary effort on his behalf. But here, Petunia has purchased clothing dye, is spending time and energy on one pain of a project, and is smelling (and probably dying) up her pristine kitchen – surely it would just be worth it for her to instead just go buy some cheap grey clothes for Harry? Instead she’s actually going out of her way to make Harry’s life more miserable. Whether she’s jealous of her sister, or scared of Harry, or whatever else her motives might be, it’s really despicable that she takes it this far.

Something to Remember

So Harry does have to stay at batty old Mrs. Figg’s house after all – but she doesn’t give him quite as rotten a time as usual. He attributes it to her having tripped over one of her cats, but there might be another reason for it, too, that wouldn’t occur to Harry in a million years.

32 Responses to “The Letters From No One”

  1. I kind of wonder: would Harry have turned out differently if he’d gone to the public school wearing that dyed uniform, with no friends (and no Dudley)? Maybe he would’ve been more like Snape.

    Not that it would’ve happened, but hey.

  2. I always thought the letters were all Hagrid’s doing, but yeah, maybe Dumbledore was watching after him even then? And what with Fudge tormenting him and the PStone protection, did he really have the time?

  3. I am sure it is Dumbledore sending the letters because: One he has the ability to use magic that few other wizards can and two, because JKR tells us in OP (p. 739. Bloomsbury pbk 1st ed.) “and I have watched you more closely than you can have imagined.” He knows Harry is mistreated, so he also knows Harry is not getting his letters. Another way he know is Harry has not responded to the request for confirmation he will be attending Hogwarts.

  4. I agree with Pam, it’s Dumbledore doing. It has his name all over it.
    Thank you for the site, it’s great. I’m writting from Argentina…

  5. We must also remember that Dumbledore can make himself invisible without a cloak, so he could be anywhere watching Harry. Even in the Dursley’s own home, perhaps?

  6. I love the “Home Sweet Home” on the mat that Vernon, Dudley and Harry are tussling on. Nice ironic touch!

  7. I’ve never thought about the implications of Petunia dyeing Harry’s uniform before. It really is quite appalling that she’d go to such lengths, although after keeping Harry in a cupboard for 11 years I suppose we shouldn’t really be surprised.

    I like Hayley’s comment about how Harry would have turned out if he’d never gone to Hogwarts. I think it’s commented on in the books how remarkable it is that he was such a nice boy after the upbringing he had, but I wonder how long that would have lasted. There’s only a certain amount that anyone can put up with, after all, and I’m sure going to a school like Smeltings (in bits of old elephant skin, no less) would have taken its toll eventually. On the other hand, he’s lasted ten years so maybe he would have been OK.

  8. hey!
    i found it quite nice but i dont know 1 thing…
    how does dumbledore (or whoever wrote the letters) know that harry ‘lived’ in the cupboard under the stairs???

  9. ud, that’s an interesting question, I hadn’t really thought about it before.

    I can think of two possibilities. One is that the Hogwarts quill which writes down the names of magical students when they’re born also finds their addresses through some kind of permanent magical spell. For most kids, the address of their house would be sufficient – but in Harry’s case (unlike any of his classmates), he doesn’t really *live* in the house, because the only space that he can claim any kind of ownership over is his own cupboard (and later bedroom). Since he’s not really welcome anywhere else, the quill knows to address the letters more specifically in his case.

    The other possibility is that Dumbledore himself ensured that the letters were addressed that way as a signal to the Dursleys that he’s watching them (and as a signal to Harry that someone cares enough about him to pay attention). In some ways I like this one better, but it also points to a level of surveillance that is a little scary. Harry certainly never realized he was being watched as closely as he was.

  10. well… i was puzzled tat how did the letters sender know that harry lived in the cupboard under the stairs???

  11. well…
    thanks a lot Josie!!! :D

  12. Considering how reprehensible the Dursleys are, I’ve always been amazed that Harry survived his infancy. I wonder if they have kept him in the cupboard from the start.

  13. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Vernon Dursley was being told about Wizards for the first time. Who told him, what was his reaction, how was he convinced?

  14. Hagrid sent the letters. He tells Harry that in chapter four. “I was allowed to do a bit ter follow yeh an’ get yer letters to yeh an’ stuff…”

  15. Pennie, I don’t think Hagrid ‘sent’ the letters as the letter which Harry finally received from Hagrid was signed by Professor McGonagall in her position as Deputy Headmistress – I think Hagrid was the courier only.

  16. ud, magical children have some kind of trace on them that enables them to be found whenever, wherever. Maybe the Hogwarts letters take advantage of this when sent out and maybe just maybe that is how Dumbledore was able to know that Harry lived under the cupboard.

  17. lived *in* the cupboard.

  18. To respond to the statement that Petunia was taking time and effort out of her way to make Harry’s life miserable by dying Dudley’s old clothes, I have a separate theory. :)

    My mother would do the same thing with crafts, and she did so with tea bags. So, Petunia was probably just using some “Erl Grey”(ha) that they had lying around. Or some common black tea. They’re English, so I don’t doubt they would have a surplus of both. However, I do agree with you that it is odd she would spend the hours needed for soaking and turning the clothes. she would have needed to get up at dawn to do so, and since in a later chapter it’s stated that Petunia is up till past midnight each night for her “evening wipe-down”. not much sleep there. :/

    Just a thought, shoot me an e-mail for your reply. ^^

  19. ud, I think Mrs Figg probably told Dumbledore that Harry was sleeping in the cupboard under the stairs.

    Harry probably told Mrs Figg when he was too young to realise that it was anything unusual.

  20. I definitely think there is some kind of trace or tracking on Harry, which is why the letters are able to follow him. It might be something extra of DD’s making which is included in the charm he cast for Harry’s safety. I somehow don’t think the ministry is interested in tracking the whereabouts of every underage witch or wizard! :-)

  21. I kinda wondered whether Aunt Petunia was really dying those clothes for Harry. Surely she knew that the age of students admited to Hogwarts was 11, and she knew that if Harry really was a wizard then he would be recieving his letter quite soon. She also more than Uncle Vernon anyways knew that Hogwarts would not give up until Harry got his letter and that they really couldn’t stop him. Knowing all this she might’ve known that Harry would never have to go to Stonewall and just maybe the clothes were really just for rags.

  22. Another point about the dyeing of the clothes, we find out that when Petunia takes Harry places random people often talk to him or try to shake his hand etc. Perhaps Petunia just doesn’t want that hassle, plus the time it would take to take Harry to try on new clothes from what we’ve been told he always has hand-me-downs so she probably wouldn’t know his size and would have to spend time having him try stuff on. Dudley would ge easily bored with that if he had to go and demand gifts most likely, Petunia would give in and the shopping trip would end up costing more than the dye.

    easier to just get the dye

  23. Two things bug me in this chapter. One, why did Dudley want to read Harry’s letter when it first arrived? And two, the last two sentences of the paragraph that describes the Smelting’s uniform: “They also carried knobbly sticks, used for hitting each other whle the teachers weren’t looking. This was supposed to be good trainging for later life.” How is hitting each other with sticks while the teachers weren’t looking supposed to be helping the students prepare for later life?

  24. I agree with you Jeremy, as i believe most sane people would. Students hitting each other with sticks, does not prepare anyone for anything in life, however, I believe it is included to emphasize what type of school the Dursley’s choose for their child, hence emphasizing what kind of people the Dursley’s are.

  25. @ Jeremy, Dudley is as spoilt as a child could possibly be. Harry who has never had a letter in his life receives one and isn’t allowed to read it. Dudley is going to be extremely curious as to what is in the letter. Why on earth would anyone be writing to his nuisance of a cousin and why has his dad confiscated the letter?

    What bugged me was why Dudley didn’t hide Harry’s second letter and take the rest to his dad before sneaking away and reading it. It just goes to show how thick Dudley is. He wants to know what’s in the letter, he knows that his dad doesn’t want him to know what’s in the letter so what does he go and do? Announce loudly that another letter has arrived before taking the chance to read it (he obviously can read since he read the address), how stupid can you get?

  26. I love

    harry potter films and books

    Me and my brother Thomas want to come to hogwarts school of whitch crarft and wizardy

  27. I was very much amused with Vernon in this chapter. The way his face changed color upon reading Harry’s first Hogwarts letter, the way he kept on pulling his mustache (that must have been quite painful!), the way he keeps on humming and mumbling to himself… all these emphasizes Jo’s quirky writing style. Vernon is one paranoid character when subjected under pressure and stress, that’s for sure. He even went so far as to hit the son he dotes over “round the head”. :)

  28. SPOILER.

    I didn’t quite understand the Something to Remember part, though. I’ve read the whole series for the umpteenth time, and I do know that Mrs. Figg worked undercover for the Order of the Phoenix. Was there any mention throughout the books as to why she didn’t give Harry a bad time on that day? Did she really trip over one of her cats? There’s one theory floating around back then that it was Crookshanks whom Mrs. Figg tripped over. It goes on to say that she got so mad and sold the cat to the pet store in Diagon Alley, until, of course, Hermione bought him after two years. Is this true?

  29. May, here was my logic: Mrs. Figg tells Harry later that she had to give him a horrible time, or else the Dursleys wouldn’t continue sending Harry to her house (and she needed him to come over to her house with some regularity to help keep an eye on him). But now, Harry is getting ready to go to Hogwarts, so neither the Dursleys nor Dumbledore will have any more need for her to watch him. So she makes less of an effort to be horrible. Does that makes sense?

  30. It does make sense that way. Haven’t realized it until you pointed it out, Josie. Quite an astute observation there. Thanks a lot! :)

  31. The question always plagues me: Why did Harry not just grab a letter off the floor? It makes more sense. Oh well, kids do silly things, I suppose.

  32. I always try to find ways to explain Petunia’s behaviour a bit, but yeah, the clothes-dye thing….(and the frying pan!)

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