Chapter 1 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Dudley Demented
Harry spends another dreadful summer with Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. He is angry and frustrated that he has had little communication with either Ron or Hermione, and feeling isolated and cut off, is desperate for any information about Voldemort and the Wizarding world. One day, he hides in the Dursleys' flower bed under the living room window so he can overhear the Muggle news on TV. He is listening for any reports of unexplained events that, as a wizard, he would recognize as being caused by Dark magic. Hearing a cracking noise that he recognizes as someone Disapparating, Harry jumps up, wand at the ready, but bumps his head on the window frame, giving away his presence. An argument ensues with Uncle Vernon, but Harry leaves to investigate the noise. He encounters Dudley with his motley friends in the park. Harry, knowing that Dudley fears his magical powers, restrains himself from taunting him. After Dudley's companions leave, he and Harry head back to Privet Drive. As they reach an alley, it suddenly becomes dark and cold, and they are attacked by Dementors. Harry repels the Dementors with a Patronus Charm. However, Dudley is chilled to the bone and later becomes nauseous. Mrs. Figg (Harry's neighbour) appears on the scene, and amazingly, she is not at all surprised to see Harry's magic wand, ordering him not to put it away.
Readers can see how lonely Harry is at his erstwhile relatives' home and how unhappy he has always been there. He is trapped inside a world in which he no longer belongs, nor wants to be part of, but Professor Dumbledore has apparently decreed that he must endure living there each summer. We do not yet know why, but at the previous book's conclusion, Ron says that Dumbledore had vetoed Mrs. Weasley's invitation to have Harry spend the entire summer at the Burrow. Once again, the Dursleys show how little they care for their nephew's needs. However, they do treat him better than they used to, and, like Dudley, now fear Harry's magical powers. While Harry and the Dursleys' relationship remains unchanged, there has been a gradual power shift within the household, seen as far back as the first book, when Harry was given Dudley's "extra" bedroom and no longer had to sleep in the cupboard under the stairs. While Harry would never use magic against his relatives, he knows they fear his increasing magical abilities, and this has progressively granted him some bargaining leverage.
Harry is hungry for information about the Wizarding world he is being isolated from. In the previous book, he witnessed Voldemort's resurrection, and he knows, perhaps as no other excepting Dumbledore, how much evil has returned. However, it seems that Harry is deliberately being denied information, making him angry and frustrated. While Hagrid has been on a mission and is likely unable to write, it seems that Ron and Hermione are deliberately withholding important details from their letters, leaving Harry feeling abandoned.
Harry has been carefully watching for any signs that Voldemort's activity restarted, not only in the Wizarding realm but in the Muggle world, which is why he eagerly listens for any news. Harry is aware that Voldemort considers Muggles unworthy of preservation. The Dementor attack is a sign that Voldemort is becoming active, and it actually helps relieve Harry's anger and frustration by reestablishing his ties to the magical world. Discovering that batty old Mrs. Figg possesses knowledge about wizards delivers Harry a powerful shock, given the vacuum he is forced to stay in. There have been clues that Mrs. Figg is connected to the Wizarding world since the first book, such as the strange odors emanating from her kitchen and her unusual cats, though Harry was too young and inexperienced a wizard to have recognized them.
The attack also brings another character into focus: Dudley. Being a Muggle, he should have been unaware and largely unaffected by the Dementors' presence; however, he was obviously affected by them, just as they were able to detect him.
- How is Dudley affected by the Dementors?
- Why is Harry so intent on listening to the Muggle news?
- How has Harry's relationship with the Dursleys changed? What accounts for this?
- Why would Harry expect to hear news about the Wizarding world reported on Muggle TV?
- Why does Harry feel as though he is being ignored? Could there be a more logical reason behind the disappointing lack of responsiveness in his friends' letters? Is Harry overreacting, or does he have the right to feel deprived?
- How does Mrs. Figg know about the Wizarding world?
- Why do letters from Harry's friends contain so little information about the Wizard world?
- Why would Dudley, a Muggle who should be unaware of a Dementor's presence, be so affected by them? Why would a Dementor attack him along with Harry?
- Who could have sent the Dementors to Privet Drive and why?
The "loud, echoing crack" that startles Harry is, as he had believed, the sound of someone Disapparating. We will find out that the someone in question was Mundungus Fletcher, abandoning his job of watching over Harry in order to complete one of his shady deals. The cat Harry sees running off immediately after the sound is one of Ms. Figg's cats (actually at least part Kneazle) running to report Mundungus' departure.
Mrs. Figg's connection to the Wizarding world was mentioned at the end of the previous book, though it is very carefully formed so as to not attract attention. We never know Mrs. Figg's first name, even the Dursleys call her "old Mrs. Figg", and the complexity of her first name (Arabella) seems to be carefully selected so as to overshadow her last name when Dumbledore mentions it. We will find out that Mrs. Figg is an associate of Dumbledore's and a member of the Order of the Phoenix from Voldemort's first rise to power, and has been charged with watching over Harry since he was first left at Privet Drive.
Slightly connected to this is Dumbledore's insistence that Harry spend time at Privet Drive each summer. Dumbledore has set protective spells on Harry and the house, based on the protection given Harry when his mother died to save him. That protection will only hold so long as Harry is sheltered by his mother's blood, which is to say as long as his home is the place where one of his mothers' close blood relatives lives. If he stops being able to call Privet Drive home, or reaches the age of majority, that protection will cease. Harry's returning each summer is sufficient to keep Privet Drive his home. While this is Harry's strongest protection, Dumbledore never has only one string to his bow, and has arranged for Harry to be watched and guarded by other means, including Mrs. Figg.
Harry is correct in his assumption that Ron and Hermione are deliberately withholding information in their letters. This is at Dumbledore's orders, though why Dumbledore wants Harry to remain unknowing is never fully explained. It is possible that, even at this early stage, Dumbledore worries that Voldemort may know about the linkage between Harry's mind and his own, and is trying to minimize the possible damage should Voldemort snoop in Harry's mind. Dumbledore is aware that, even before Voldemort re-embodied himself, there were two episodes where Harry apparently received clear images from Voldemort's mind. Dumbledore may also feel it is inappropriate for someone Harry's age to be involved in adult matters, even if it is related to Harry. And while Ron and Hermione are certainly not adults, they are in a position to overhear much of what is going on, and Dumbledore does not want them sharing that with Harry, particularly when he is so cut off from anyone who can discuss matters with him. Harry, of course, feels differently.
While it is never known exactly why Dementors were at Privet Drive, we do learn Dolores Umbridge sent them; she is introduced a little later in this book. Her only explanation for sending the Dementors is that, "something had to be done", though she remains mute on just why, or why Dementors were the reasonable choice.
Dudley perhaps should have been affected much less by the Dementors than he was. In chapter 1 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it is stated that Muggles are unable to see Dementors but can feel some of their effects, and the author has said that Squibs are also unable to see them, though we have reason to question that. (In particular, Mrs. Figg's first words in the next chapter, "Dementors! In Little Whinging!" make it clear that she recognizes the Dementors somehow, though whether by direct perception or by understanding of the effects is never made clear.) In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it is mentioned that the Dementors are attacking people, but it is uncertain to what extent Muggles are being targeted or what effects they are feeling from the attacks. But we are led to believe that Dudley suffers from the Dementors more than expected; and it is interesting that the Dementors chose to target Dudley as well as Harry.
Dudley's being affected by the Dementors leads us to an interesting suggestion. According to Rowling, in an interview prior to the third book's publication, a character, previously believed to be a Muggle would develop magical abilities unexpectedly late in life ("late" meaning after age 11 or so), and that it would not be Aunt Petunia. Although this was expected to happen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling later decided to omit this from the storyline. However, if Dudley suffers the effects from the Dementors that we see in this chapter, it is possible that he was originally intended to be the character to which this would happen, despite Rowling's later statement that the ordinariness of Vernon's DNA would crush any incipient magic out of Dudley. In that event, Arabella Figg may have been the character Rowling intended to become magical. Like Dudley, she apparently also detected the Dementors presence when she should have been unable to, and her magical lineage was far stronger than Dudley's.