The escape of the Brazilian boa constrictor earned Harry hislongest-ever punishment. By the time he was allowed out of hiscupboard again, the summer holidays had started and Dudley hadalready broken his new video camera, crashed his remote controlairplane, and, first time out on his racing bike, knocked down oldMrs. Figg as she crossed Privet Drive on her crutches. Harry was glad school was over, but there was no escapingDudley's gang, who visited the house every single day. Piers, Dennis,Malcolm, and Gordon were all big and stupid, but as Dudley wasthe biggest and stupidest of the lot, he was the leader. The restof them were all quite happy to join in Dudley's favorite sport:Harry Hunting. This was why Harry spent as much time as possible out of thehouse, wandering around and thinking about the end of the holidays,where he could see a tiny ray of hope. When September came he wouldbe going off to secondary school and, for the first time in hislife, he wouldn't be with Dudley. Dudley had been accepted at UncleVernon's old private school, Smeltings. Piers Polkiss was goingthere 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 atStonewall," he told Harry. "Want to come upstairs and practice?" "No, thanks," said Harry. "The poor toilet's never had anythingas 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 hisSmeltings uniform, leaving Harry at Mrs. Figg's. Mrs. Figg wasn't as bad as usual. It turned out she'd broken her leg trippingover one of her cats, and she didn't seem quite as fond of themas before. She let Harry watch television and gave him a bit ofchocolate cake that tasted as though she'd had it for several years. That evening, Dudley paraded around the living room for thefamily in his brand-new uniform. Smeltings' boys wore maroontailcoats, orange knickerbockers, and flat straw hats calledboaters. They also carried knobbly sticks, used for hitting eachother while the teachers weren't looking. This was supposed to begood training for later life. As he looked at Dudley in his new knickerbockers, Uncle Vernonsaid gruffly that it was the proudest moment of his life. AuntPetunia burst into tears and said she couldn't believe it was herIckle Dudleykins, he looked so handsome and grown-up. Harry didn'ttrust himself to speak. He thought two of his ribs might alreadyhave cracked from trying not to laugh. There was a horrible smell in the kitchen the next morning whenHarry went in for breakfast. It seemed to be coming from a largemetal tub in the sink. He went to have a look. The tub was full ofwhat looked like dirty rags swimming in gray water. "What's this?" he asked Aunt Petunia. Her lips tightened asthey 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 ofDudley's old things gray for you. It'll look just like everyoneelse's when I've finished." Harry seriously doubted this, but thought it best not toargue. He sat down at the table and tried not to think about howhe was going to look on his first day at Stonewall High -- like hewas wearing bits of old elephant skin, probably. Dudley and Uncle Vernon came in, both with wrinkled nosesbecause of the smell from Harry's new uniform. Uncle Vernon openedhis newspaper as usual and Dudley banged his Smelting stick, whichhe carried everywhere, on the table. They heard the click of the mail slot and flop of letters onthe 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. Threethings lay on the doormat: a postcard from Uncle Vernon's sisterMarge, who was vacationing on the Isle of Wight, a brown envelopethat looked like a bill, and -- a letter for Harry. Harry picked it up and stared at it, his heart twanging like agiant elastic band. No one, ever, in his whole life, had written tohim. Who would? He had no friends, no other relatives -- he didn'tbelong to the library, so he'd never even got rude notes asking forbooks back. Yet here it was, a letter, addressed so plainly therecould be no mistake: Mr. H. Potter The Cupboard under the Stairs 4 Privet Drive Little Whinging Surrey 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 apurple wax seal bearing a coat of arms; a lion, an eagle, a badger,and a snake surrounding a large letter H. "Hurry up, boy!" shouted Uncle Vernon from the kitchen. "What areyou doing, checking for letter bombs?" He chuckled at his own joke. Harry went back to the kitchen, still staring at his letter. Hehanded Uncle Vernon the bill and the postcard, sat down, and slowlybegan to open the yellow envelope. Uncle Vernon ripped open the bill, snorted in disgust, andflipped 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 waswritten on the same heavy parchment as the envelope, when it wasjerked sharply out of his hand by Uncle Vernon. "That's mine!" said Harry, trying to snatch it back. "Who'd be writing to you?" sneered Uncle Vernon, shaking theletter open with one hand and glancing at it. His face went fromred to green faster than a set of traffic lights. And it didn'tstop 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 Vernonheld it high out of his reach. Aunt Petunia took it curiously andread the first line. For a moment it looked as though she mightfaint. She clutched her throat and made a choking noise. "Vernon! Oh my goodness -- Vernon!" They stared at each other, seeming to have forgotten thatHarry and Dudley were still in the room. Dudley wasn't used tobeing ignored. He gave his father a sharp tap on the head with hisSmelting 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 theletter back inside its envelope. 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 bythe scruffs of their necks and threw them into the hall, slamming thekitchen door behind them. Harry and Dudley promptly had a furiousbut silent fight over who would listen at the keyhole; Dudley won,so Harry, his glasses dangling from one ear, lay flat on his stomachto listen at the crack between door and floor. "Vernon," Aunt Petunia was saying in a quivering voice, "lookat the address -- how could they possibly know where he sleeps? Youdon't think they're watching the house?" "Watching -- spying -- might be following us," muttered UncleVernon wildly. "But what should we do, Vernon? Should we write back? Tell themwe don't want --" Harry could see Uncle Vernon's shiny black shoes pacing up anddown the kitchen. "No," he said finally. "No, we'll ignore it. If they don't getan answer... Yes, that's best... we won't do anything.... "But --" "I'm not having one in the house, Petunia! Didn't we swear whenwe took him in we'd stamp out that dangerous nonsense?" That evening when he got back from work, Uncle Vernon didsomething he'd never done before; he visited Harry in his cupboard. "Where's my letter?" said Harry, the moment Uncle Vernon hadsqueezed through the door. "Who's writing to me?" "No one. it was addressed to you by mistake," said Uncle Vernonshortly. "I have burned it." "It was not a mistake," said Harry angrily, "it had my cupboardon it." "SILENCE!" yelled Uncle Vernon, and a couple of spiders fellfrom the ceiling. He took a few deep breaths and then forced hisface into a smile, which looked quite painful. "Er -- yes, Harry -- about this cupboard. Your aunt and I havebeen thinking... you're really getting a bit big for it... we thinkit might be nice if you moved into Dudley's second bedroom. "Why?" said Harry. "Don't ask questions!" snapped his uncle. "Take this stuffupstairs, now." The Dursleys' house had four bedrooms: one for Uncle Vernonand Aunt Petunia, one for visitors (usually Uncle Vernon's sister,Marge), one where Dudley slept, and one where Dudley kept all thetoys and things that wouldn't fit into his first bedroom. It onlytook Harry one trip upstairs to move everything he owned from thecupboard to this room. He sat down on the bed and stared aroundhim. Nearly everything in here was broken. The month-old video camerawas lying on top of a small, working tank Dudley had once driven overthe next door neighbor's dog; in the corner was Dudley's first-evertelevision set, which he'd put his foot through when his favoriteprogram had been canceled; there was a large birdcage, which hadonce held a parrot that Dudley had swapped at school for a real airrifle, which was up on a shelf with the end all bent because Dudleyhad sat on it. Other shelves were full of books. They were the onlythings in the room that looked as though they'd never been touched. From downstairs came the sound of Dudley bawling at his mother, Idon't want him in there... I need that room... make him get out...." Harry sighed and stretched out on the bed. Yesterday he'd havegiven anything to be up here. Today he'd rather be back in hiscupboard with that letter than up here without it. Next morning at breakfast, everyone was rather quiet. Dudley wasin shock. He'd screamed, whacked his father with his Smelting stick,been sick on purpose, kicked his mother, and thrown his tortoisethrough the greenhouse roof, and he still didn't have his roomback. Harry was thinking about this time yesterday and bitterlywishing he'd opened the letter in the hall. Uncle Vernon and AuntPetunia kept looking at each other darkly. When the mail arrived, Uncle Vernon, who seemed to be trying tobe nice to Harry, made Dudley go and get it. They heard him bangingthings with his Smelting stick all the way down the hall. Then heshouted, "There's another one! 'Mr. H. Potter, The Smallest Bedroom,4 Privet Drive --'" With a strangled cry, Uncle Vernon leapt from his seat andran down the hall, Harry right behind him. Uncle Vernon had towrestle Dudley to the ground to get the letter from him, whichwas made difficult by the fact that Harry had grabbed Uncle Vernonaround the neck from behind. After a minute of confused fighting,in which everyone got hit a lot by the Smelting stick, Uncle Vernonstraightened up, gasping for breath, with Harry's letter clutchedin his hand. "Go to your cupboard -- I mean, your bedroom," he wheezed atHarry. "Dudley -- go -- just go." Harry walked round and round his new room. Someone knew he hadmoved out of his cupboard and they seemed to know he hadn't receivedhis first letter. Surely that meant they'd try again? And this timehe'd make sure they didn't fail. He had a plan. The repaired alarm clock rang at six o'clock the nextmorning. Harry turned it off quickly and dressed silently. Hemustn't wake the Dursleys. He stole downstairs without turning onany of the lights. He was going to wait for the postman on the corner of PrivetDrive and get the letters for number four first. His heart hammeredas he crept across the dark hall toward the front door -- Harry leapt into the air; he'd trodden on something big andsquashy on the doormat -- something alive! Lights clicked on upstairs and to his horror Harry realized thatthe big, squashy something had been his uncle's face. Uncle Vernonhad been lying at the foot of the front door in a sleeping bag,clearly making sure that Harry didn't do exactly what he'd beentrying to do. He shouted at Harry for about half an hour and thentold him to go and make a cup of tea. Harry shuffled miserablyoff into the kitchen and by the time he got back, the mail hadarrived, right into Uncle Vernon's lap. Harry could see threeletters addressed in green ink. I want --" he began, but Uncle Vernon was tearing the lettersinto pieces before his eyes. Uncle Vernon didnt go to work thatday. He stayed at home and nailed up the mail slot. "See," he explained to Aunt Petunia through a mouthful of nails,"if they can't deliver them they'll just give up." "I'm not sure that'll work, Vernon." "Oh, these people's minds work in strange ways, Petunia, they'renot like you and me," said Uncle Vernon, trying to knock in a nailwith the piece of fruitcake Aunt Petunia had just brought him. On Friday, no less than twelve letters arrived for Harry. Asthey couldn't go through the mail slot they had been pushed underthe door, slotted through the sides, and a few even forced throughthe small window in the downstairs bathroom. Uncle Vernon stayed at home again. After burning all theletters, he got out a hammer and nails and boarded up the cracksaround 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. On Saturday, things began to get out of hand. Twenty-four lettersto Harry found their way into the house, rolled up and hidden insideeach of the two dozen eggs that their very confused milkman hadhanded Aunt Petunia through the living room window. While UncleVernon made furious telephone calls to the post office and thedairy trying to find someone to complain to, Aunt Petunia shreddedthe letters in her food processor. "Who on earth wants to talk to you this badly?" Dudley askedHarry in amazement. On Sunday morning, Uncle Vernon sat down at the breakfast tablelooking tired and rather ill, but happy. "No post on Sundays," he reminded them cheerfully as he spreadmarmalade on his newspapers, "no damn letters today --" Something came whizzing down the kitchen chimney as he spoke andcaught him sharply on the back of the head. Next moment, thirty orforty letters came pelting out of the fireplace like bullets. TheDursleys ducked, but Harry leapt into the air trying to catch one. "Out! OUT!" Uncle Vernon seized Harry around the waist and threw him intothe hall. When Aunt Petunia and Dudley had run out with their armsover their faces, Uncle Vernon slammed the door shut. They couldhear the letters still streaming into the room, bouncing off thewalls and floor. "That does it," said Uncle Vernon, trying to speak calmly butpulling great tufts out of his mustache at the same time. I want youall back here in five minutes ready to leave. We're going away. Justpack some clothes. No arguments!" He looked so dangerous with half his mustache missing thatno one dared argue. Ten minutes later they had wrenched their waythrough the boarded-up doors and were in the car, speeding towardthe highway. Dudley was sniffling in the back seat; his father hadhit him round the head for holding them up while he tried to packhis television, VCR, and computer in his sports bag. They drove. And they drove. Even Aunt Petunia didn't dare askwhere they were going. Every now and then Uncle Vernon would take asharp turn and drive in the opposite direction for a while. "Shake'emoff... shake 'em off," he would mutter whenever he did this. They didn't stop to eat or drink all day. By nightfall Dudley washowling. He'd never had such a bad day in his life. He was hungry,he'd missed five television programs he'd wanted to see, and he'dnever gone so long without blowing up an alien on his computer. Uncle Vernon stopped at last outside a gloomy-looking hotel onthe outskirts of a big city. Dudley and Harry shared a room withtwin beds and damp, musty sheets. Dudley snored but Harry stayedawake, sitting on the windowsill, staring down at the lights ofpassing cars and wondering.... They ate stale cornflakes and cold tinned tomatoes on toastfor breakfast the next day. They had just finished when the ownerof the hotel came over to their table. "'Scuse me, but is one of you Mr. H. Potter? Only I got about an'undred of these at the front desk." She held up a letter so they could read the green ink address: Mr. H. Potter Room 17 Railview Hotel Cokeworth Harry made a grab for the letter but Uncle Vernon knocked hishand out of the way. The woman stared. "I'll take them," said Uncle Vernon, standing up quickly andfollowing her from the dining room. Wouldn't it be better just to go home, dear?" Aunt Petuniasuggested timidly, hours later, but Uncle Vernon didn't seem tohear her. Exactly what he was looking for, none of them knew. Hedrove them into the middle of a forest, got out, looked around,shook his head, got back in the car, and off they went again. Thesame thing happened in the middle of a plowed field, halfway acrossa suspension bridge, and at the top of a multilevel parking garage. "Daddy's gone mad, hasn't he?" Dudley asked Aunt Petunia dullylate that afternoon. Uncle Vernon had parked at the coast, lockedthem all inside the car, and disappeared. It started to rain. Great drops beat on the roof of the car. Dudley sniveled. "It's Monday," he told his mother. "The Great Humberto's ontonight. I want to stay somewhere with a television. " Monday. This reminded Harry of something. If it was Monday --and you could usually count on Dudley to know the days the week,because of television -- then tomorrow, Tuesday, was Harry's eleventhbirthday. Of course, his birthdays were never exactly fun -- lastyear, the Dursleys had given him a coat hanger and a pair of UncleVernon's old socks. Still, you weren't eleven every day. Uncle Vernon was back and he was smiling. He was also carryinga long, thin package and didn't answer Aunt Petunia when she askedwhat he'd bought. "Found the perfect place!" he said. "Come on! Everyone out!" It was very cold outside the car. Uncle Vernon was pointingat what looked like a large rock way out at sea. Perched on top ofthe rock was the most miserable little shack you could imagine. Onething was certain, there was no television in there. "Storm forecast for tonight!" said Uncle Vernon gleefully,clapping his hands together. "And this gentleman's kindly agreedto lend us his boat!" A toothless old man came ambling up to them, pointing, witha rather wicked grin, at an old rowboat bobbing in the iron-graywater below them. "I've already got us some rations," said Uncle Vernon, "soall aboard!" It was freezing in the boat. Icy sea spray and rain crept downtheir necks and a chilly wind whipped their faces. After what seemedlike hours they reached the rock, where Uncle Vernon, slipping andsliding, led the way to the broken-down house. The inside was horrible; it smelled strongly of seaweed,the wind whistled through the gaps in the wooden walls, and thefireplace was damp and empty. There were only two rooms. Uncle Vernon's rations turned out to be a bag of chips each andfour bananas. He tried to start a fire but the empty chip bags justsmoked and shriveled up. "Could do with some of those letters now, eh?" he saidcheerfully. He was in a very good mood. Obviously he thought nobody stooda chance of reaching them here in a storm to deliver mail. Harryprivately agreed, though the thought didn't cheer him up at all. As night fell, the promised storm blew up around them. Sprayfrom the high waves splattered the walls of the hut and a fiercewind rattled the filthy windows. Aunt Petunia found a few moldyblankets in the second room and made up a bed for Dudley on themoth-eaten sofa. She and Uncle Vernon went off to the lumpy bednext door, and Harry was left to find the softest bit of floor hecould and to curl up under the thinnest, most ragged blanket. The storm raged more and more ferociously as the night wenton. Harry couldn't sleep. He shivered and turned over, trying to getcomfortable, his stomach rumbling with hunger. Dudley's snores weredrowned by the low rolls of thunder that started near midnight. Thelighted dial of Dudley's watch, which was dangling over the edge ofthe sofa on his fat wrist, told Harry he'd be eleven in ten minutes'time. He lay and watched his birthday tick nearer, wondering if theDursleys would remember at all, wondering where the letter writerwas now. Five minutes to go. Harry heard something creak outside. He hopedthe roof wasn't going to fall in, although he might be warmer ifit did. Four minutes to go. Maybe the house in Privet Drive wouldbe so full of letters when they got back that he'd be able to stealone somehow. Three minutes to go. Was that the sea, slapping hard on the rocklike that? And (two minutes to go) what was that funny crunchingnoise? Was the rock crumbling into the sea? 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... BOOM. The whole shack shivered and Harry sat bolt upright, staringat the door. Someone was outside, knocking to come in.