"Don't let the Muggles get you down!"
-- Ron Weasley
Calendar and Dates
First week of summer vacation, last week of June, 1993 - Ron calls Harry at Privet Drive, Ron's poor use of a Muggle phone gets Harry in trouble with Vernon Dursley.
July 31, 1993 - 1:00-2:00 AM - Harry is secretly doing summer homework on his bed for Professor Binns' class. Harry stops working on his essay, puts away his school supplies and hides them, stands up and realizes he's turned 13.
Interesting facts and notes
CS1, this chapter, and GF2 are given the unfortunate task of filling the reader in on "the story so far." With each successive book, this gets a bit more cumbersome, as there is just so much more story to tell. Thankfully, Rowling gave up on this approach with book five, very rightly deciding instead that anyone who was silly enough to jump into the series with book five can't expect to have much of a clue of what's going on. But here we are in book three and so in chapter one we get introduced to each of the main characters, to Hogwarts, and to the story that's been unfolding through the previous two books. Rowling does keep it interesting, however, by weaving the recitation of facts with her usual droll wit and with a few new revelations about the wizarding world, as we'll see below.
...his essay, "Witch Burning in the Fourteenth Century Was Completely Pointless -- discuss."
Right off the bat, Rowling's sense of humor comes through with the witty title of the essay Harry has been assigned. It's hard to imagine boring, dry-as-chalk Professor Binns giving this assignment, actually.
"Non-magic people (more commonly known as Muggles)..."
Of course, there is no way that the author of the book Harry is reading would need to define the word "Muggle" for her readers, but Rowling does need to define it for her readers, and she manages to slip that definition in here.
Wendelin the Weird enjoyed being burned so much that she allowed herself to be caught no less than forty-seven times in various disguises.
While Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley had gone out into the front garden to admire Uncle Vernon's new company car (in very loud voices, so that the rest of the street would notice it too)...
One more necessary bit of information, this time telling us the character of the Dursleys, but presented with that clever wit that makes the books so enjoyable.
Harry had crept downstairs, picked the lock on the cupboard under the stairs...
"A lot of wizards think it's a waste of time, knowing this sort of Muggle trick," said Fred, "but we feel they're skills worth learning, even if they are a bit slow (CS3)."
It is likely that the twins taught Harry to pick locks sometime during his second year, since he didn't know how to pick them during the previous year's holidays but does now.
...his name was Errol, and he belonged to the Weasley family.
Poor Errol's misadventures make very good visual jokes in CS/f, wherein he smacks headfirst into a window and crash-lands in a bowl of potato chips. The name Errol was very likely (in SVA's opinion) chosen for the sound, which reminds us of the word "error." (MLW, on the other hand, thinks that it may be a sly reference to the actor Errol Flynn, who was well known for very dashing heroic roles involving a lot of physical feats of derring-do - the very opposite of poor Errol the owl's clumsiness.)
When Harry relieved this owl of its burden, it ruffled its feathers importantly...
Owls are a lot more intelligent in these books than owls are in real life, and carrying post is apparently a very prestigious occupation for an owl. Hedwig acts somewhat like this when she first meets Pigwidgeon; she clearly doesn't think his behavior is befitting the honorable position of post owl.
Harry scanned the moving photograph, and a grin spread across his face as he saw all nine of the Weasleys waving furiously at him...Right in the middle of the picture was Ron, tall and gangling, with his pet rat, Scabbers, on his shoulder...
This photograph ran in the Daily Prophet a week previous, which means that the Weasleys were in Egypt in mid-July. Shortly before that, Ron had tried to call Harry on the telephone; perhaps he wanted to tell him about his dad winning all those Galleons.
This newspaper photograph will be the trigger that sets off all the events of the book. How innocent it seems at this point, however: "his pet rat, Scabbers, on his shoulder..." If that insignificant event hadn't happened -- if Scabbers had been in Ron's pocket for the photograph, for example -- Sirius would have had no impetus to escape Azkaban and Peter Pettigrew would in all likelihood remained safely hidden as a rat. Everything that happens in the rest of the book--indeed, in the rest of the entire series -- might very well never have happened if Scabbers hadn't been in this picture.
There was a large jar of Fleetwood's High-Finish Handle Polish, a pair of gleaming silver Tall-Twig Clippers, a tiny brass compass to clip on your broom for long journeys, and a Handbook of Do-It-Yourself Broomcare.
Hermione doesn't give a gift like this again. By the time we get to book five, she buys homework planners that tell you off for not keeping up with your studying (OP23). In this case, however, Hermione shows a real sensitivity to what Harry would like. Ron sends a Sneakoscope, which when you think about it, is rather prescient of him. Harry's talent for Defence Against the Dark Arts hasn't even had a chance to flourish yet, but it will during the coming school year under Lupin's tutelage. Sneakoscopes are the kind of things Aurors might use; fake-Moody had one in his office, for example. On the other hand, by the time the DA begins meeting, Harry teaches the other students about Dark Detectors like the Sneakoscope but cautions them not to rely on them too much.
Uncle Vernon gave a loud, sleepy grunt in the room next door.
Now we know that Vernon and Petunia's bedroom is right next to Harry's room. If you're sketching floor plans, then, you'll want to note this. We don't know anyone who does things like sketch floor plans of the places in the books, no, not us...
Please note that the new school year will begin on September the first.
And, in the best wizarding tradition, September the 2nd, when classes start, will be a Monday, since it is that pretty much every year.
It would be wonderful to visit Hogsmeade on weekends; he knew it was an entirely wizarding village, and he had never set foot there.
Exceptional character moments
Harry spends the early hours of his thirteenth birthday secretly working under a blanket with a flashlight on an essay about "witch burning in the fourteenth century" for History of Magic. Harry states in his essay that the non-magic people in mediaeval times were particularly afraid of magic, but not very good at recognizing it. Obviously the Dursleys have not conquered the magic phobia of their Muggle ancestors from the 1200's. Their fear of Harry's magical powers increase with each of his passing years at Hogwarts. These advancing skills along with Harry's growing adolescent attitude are beginning to work to Harry's advantage regarding his current treatment from Vernon, Petunia, and especially Dudley.
Ron's first attempt to contact Harry using a Muggle telephone illustrates (surely to Arthur Weasley's chagrin) Ron's lack of understanding of Muggle technology. This is somewhat similar to Harry's first attempt to use Floo powder (wizarding "technology") the previous summer. Ron spoke too loudly on the telephone, and Harry did not speak clearly enough the first time he used Floo powder. The Weasleys' knowledge of Muggle communication did not improve very much when the following year Molly's letter to Harry arrived at Privet Drive covered in too many stamps. The Weasley family could benefit from a class in Muggle Studies.
Too bad that the beetles that Fred and George put in Percy's soup during their Egyptian holiday did not include Rita Skeeter.
Hermione's birthday gift to Harry - a Broomstick Servicing Kit - seems to be an ironic choice. This kit was intended for the care of one of Harry's most prized possessions - his Nimbus Two Thousand. Less than four months after receiving Hermione's gift, Harry loses his Nimbus when he falls off during a Quidditch match, the broom flies into the Whomping Willow and is destroyed.
Hagrid has seen the wealth left to Harry in vault 687 (when adding these three numbers together - 6+8=14+7=21 - the sum is 21 the same age that most young people must reach before receiving their trust fund from deceased relatives - just a thought) so why did he send Harry a Hogwarts textbook for a birthday present? Possibly hoping that Harry will study The Monster Book of Monsters before school starts which might help Harry to be an outstanding student in Hagrid's first year of teaching Care of Magical Creatures.
"How dare you give this number to people like -- people like you!" Uncle Vernon to Harry
"Don't let the Muggles get you down!" Ron
"Ron says Percy's Head Boy. I'll bet Percy's really pleased. Ron doesn't seem too happy about it." Hermione
"Third-years are permitted to visit the village of Hogsmeade on certain weekends. Please give the enclosed permission for to you parent or guardian to sign." Professor McGonagall
Words and phrases
From the Web
Writing by J K Rowling on WizardingWorld (Pottermore):
Harry Potter Wiki: Dursley Family
MuggleNet: The Dursleys
Wizarding World (Pottermore) features: