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Hogwarts Letter mysteries: Who delivers them and when?

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Everybody knows that your Hogwarts letter should arrive on your eleventh birthday. But careful reading suggests that no, it doesn’t. Harry’s only did by coincidence. The first letter actually arrived on July 24. It was only because of c03--the-letters-from-no-oneUncle Vernon’s comical attempts to avoid the letters that Hagrid had to deliver it in person a full week later, and it was only by coincidence that it was Harry’s birthday when it happened. So no, it doesn’t have to come on your eleventh birthday.

Except Rowling doesn’t seem to have this quite fixed in her mind. After all, here’s what she wrote on Pottermore about McGonagall:

“Minerva never forgot how much her mother cried, when the letter of admittance into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry arrived on Minerva’s eleventh birthday …”

Minerva McGongall’s birthday is October 4. If she did receive her letter on her eleventh birthday, she then had to wait almost an entire year to actually go to Hogwarts.

Furthermore, Rowling writes this on Pottermore about Harry’s letters:

“Even though Petunia was raised alongside a witch, she is remarkably ignorant about magic. She and Vernon share a confused idea that they will somehow be able to squash the magic out of Harry, and in an attempt to throw off the letters that arrive from Hogwarts on Harrys eleventh birthday, she and Vernon fall back on the old superstition that witches cannot cross water.”

Well, if Rowling thinks that the letter arrives on a person’s eleventh birthday, I guess they do. Like so many little inconsistencies in the first book, Harry’s early-arriving letters must be a fluke, kind of like the Quidditch match which was inexplicably held, not at 11 am like every other school match, but in the late afternoon in chapter 13 of Philosopher’s Stone.

Or maybe whoever brought the letters was so eager to see Harry after all those years that he or she delivered the first letter a bit early. There’s nothing to indicate that the letters were sent by owl post, after all, despite what we see in the film. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that they were. Owls wouldn’t know that Harry moved to a new bedroom, and they certainly wouldn’t be able to magically insert letters into a dozen eggs. Someone was clearly watching from nearby, orchestrating the whole letter event, someone with more than a little magical skill and a clever imagination. McGonagall herself, perhaps? Once again, hanging about in Privet Drive disguised as a cat?

Commentary

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  • I think a lot has to do with when your birthday was. As Harry was one of the younger students from his class his birthday was likely very close to the age limit. He also was muggle raised… and Minerva and Dumbledore knew what the Dursleys were like.

  • Amber Elizabeth

    Right after he gives Dudley a tail, Hagrid states that he had sent the letters to Harry.

    • Well spotted! I didn’t catch that. So we know it was Hagrid hanging around and bewitching letters into eggs, etc. I’m still a bit muddy on this, though. I can imagine McGonagall lurking in cat form. I can’t imagine Hagrid “lurking” in any form whatsoever. So he must have been orchestrating this all from some other location. Where? Mrs Figg’s house, with Kneazles giving him the details of what was going on in Privet Drive? Then following the Dursleys’ car all over England on the flying motorbike? Where could he have spent the night in Cokeworth, when the Dursleys were at the Railview? Surely not Snape’s house in Spinner’s End, which we now know was also in Cokeworth. Oh, someone please write a fanfic telling Hagrid’s side of this story!

      • Amber Elizabeth

        Ooooooh! I didn’t actually think about where Hagrid could be for each of those days– no wonder you were thinking sly McGonagall! I like the idea of him hanging out with Mrs. Figg (and her amazing, spying kneazles!) or flying around on Sirius’ bike (makes Uncle Vernon’s diatribe on motorcycles on the way to the zoo even funnier). And that would explain when he later tells Harry that he “flew” to the Hut-on-the-Rock (the storm would have disguised the noise).

      • I’m not sure I want to see that fanfic…

  • Sándor Antal

    I thinks people usually get their letters at eleventh birthday but Harry’s case was special. Dumbledore and Minerva knew the Dursley’s attitude well, that’s why they sent Hagrid to the Privet Drive a few days earlier.
    And I think people born in August receive the letter at the end of July.

  • Samantha

    I’m reading the series once again, just started today actually. In Harry’s letter it states that they need to reply that they are attending Hogwarts by July 31st. Since that is his birthday, it’s understandable why they tried to deliver his letter early. Maybe all the other students get it on their birthday, but maybe done get it before if their birthday falls after the deadline to respond but before the first of the year. Our maybe they made an exception because they wanted Harry back that year instead of waiting an entire year.

  • Iain Walker

    This is one of those cases where Rowling’s first instincts seem to be better than her later afterthoughts. Having all Hogwarts acceptance letters go out in the last week of June is the sensible and fair thing to do, since it gives all new pupils the same amount of time to prepare for the new school year. This would be particularly important for new Muggle-borns – five weeks gives them just enough time to adjust to the new world that they’re entering, and for existing educational plans to be changed, while at the same time is short enough to minimise risks to the Statute of Secrecy (can you imagine having a September birthday and needing to go for nearly an entire year without telling your schoolfriends that you’re a witch/wizard?).

    Having the acceptance letters go out on the child’s birthday, however, leads to too many unnecessary complications. Imagine being a Muggle-born with a birthday on August 31st, the final cut-off point for admission in that school year. Imagine getting your Hogwarts acceptance letter the very day before you’re supposed to start your new Muggle secondary school. It’s not a goos system at all.

    So rather than it being an early-installment fluke that Harry’s letter(s) start arriving before his birthday, this strikes me as Rowling getting it right the first time. (It’s worth noting that all subsequent Hogwarts letters arrive in the last week of June, for everybody.) That she later talks of acceptance letters arriving on character’s birthdays looks like the actual mistake.

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