The Keeper of the Keys
Chapter 4 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: The Keeper of the Keys
BOOM! The loud knocking continues outside the door. Vernon rushes in with a rifle as the door is smashed in. A huge man with a bearded face enters. He twists Uncle Vernon's gun barrel like a pretzel, sits down and wishes Harry happy birthday, then gives him a squashed cake. The giant makes himself at home, starts a fire, and makes tea and cooks sausages. He introduces himself as Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts. Hagrid is dismayed that the Dursleys revealed nothing to Harry about his past or about his parents, and furious that Harry was told that his mother and father died in a car crash. Hagrid explains that Harry is a wizard — a very famous wizard, in fact. He presents Harry his letter, now addressed to him at the shack. The letter invites Harry to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Hagrid sends an owl to Professor Dumbledore saying he found Harry and will be taking him to get his school supplies. Petunia begins ranting and Harry learns that she and Uncle Vernon have always known about his past. Hagrid tells Harry about a Dark wizard named Voldemort (though Hagrid seems to have enormous difficulty saying the name, apparently afraid), who ten years ago (when Harry was only one-year-old) tracked down and murdered Harry's parents, James and Lily Potter. He also tried to kill Harry, but failed, and left Harry the scar on his forehead. When asked what happened to Voldemort, Hagrid tells Harry no one is certain, but something happened to him (on the Hallowe'en night he tried to kill Harry) that drove him into hiding.
Harry questions whether he is really a wizard, but Hagrid asks whether he had ever made things happen when he was angry or scared. Harry remembers things he had done, most recently the boa constrictor, and smiles. Uncle Vernon interrupts, saying Harry is not attending a magic school. Harry is angry that his aunt and uncle knew he was a wizard, as were his parents, and that they lied about how James and Lily died. Vernon refuses to pay, then insults Albus Dumbledore, calling him "some crackpot old fool". Hagrid, infuriated, uses his umbrella (apparently containing his wand) to give Dudley a pig's tail. The Dursleys scramble into the other room, terrified. Hagrid asks Harry to avoid mentioning to anyone at Hogwarts that he performed magic, as he is forbidden to use it, though he was allowed to use some only while on his mission to retrieve Harry. Hagrid explains that he was expelled from Hogwarts during his third year, though he changes the subject when Harry questions him further. It is late, and Hagrid says they have much to do the next day. At that they go to sleep, Hagrid on the couch, Harry under Hagrid's huge coat on the floor.
Without realizing it, Harry has reached the most significant milestone in his life thus far: his 11th birthday. Hagrid's arrival on that day not only liberates Harry from his miserable existence, it has given him knowledge about himself that, though he may have realized later, he never had imagined before. He is also empowered to stand up against the abusive Dursleys—forever altering their relationship; from here on, his life will never be the same. Now Harry is empowered to make choices that will determine his destiny. He alone decides whether to stay with the Dursleys or attend Hogwarts, leaving behind the Muggle world where he subconsciously felt he never belonged. By choosing Hogwarts, Harry shows his budding maturity and independence, and also a new ability to chart his own life's course. Later in the series, Harry develops a reluctance to put his faith into the unknown, but this time he unhesitatingly believes this is his true path, and that nothing could be worse than what he already must endure. He trusts Hagrid to lead him on those first tentative steps. Harry is livid that his aunt and uncle hid the truth, as adults often do to protect children, though the Dursleys' were entirely spurred by hate and resentment, rather than any attempt to shield a child from something unpleasant or hurtful. The obstinate Dursleys' refusal to allow Harry to attend Hogwarts is clearly intended to deny him what they know he wants most. Even though the Dursleys detest Harry's presence, and his departure would alleviate much unwanted responsibility for his care, they want to keep him at home purely to be spiteful, though Petunia may have an additional reason. This time, however, the choice is Harry's alone, and he opts to leave the Muggle world (and the Dursleys) behind, though we expect he will periodically revisit Privet Drive, at vacations and other times when the school is closed, until he reaches adulthood.
As an astonished Harry learns about his true past and how his parents actually died, we learn more about what happened the night Lord Voldemort came to Godric's Hollow. We sense the dread most wizards feel for Voldemort, or even the terror his name alone evokes, despite his being defeated ten years before. This lingering apprehension seems to indicate that the Wizarding world may still be uncertain that Voldemort is truly dead and whether he can or will return. Harry lacks this fear, perhaps because he was never conditioned to it like other Wizards have been over the years. Instead, he comes to consider Voldemort as his foe, but not an invincible one.
A central theme to these books is prejudice, divisiveness, and fear of the unknown. This chapter, particularly Petunia's tirade, shows a biased view from the Muggle side of the Muggle-Magic divide toward anything that is seemingly strange or different. The Dursleys' behaviour is also a classic example showing how human ignorance and fear tend to go hand-in-hand. In a vicious circle, their ignorance perpetually causes them to be frightened by magic, while that fear prevents them from developing a better understanding of it. In contrast, Harry's willingness to accept his magical nature when the evidence is presented, as well as his intuitiveness regarding his abilities, clearly indicates his open-minded intelligence.
- Why did Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon hide the truth about the deaths of James and Lily Potter?
- Why might Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia want to hide the truth from Harry?
- What does this chapter say about Aunt Petunia's character?
- What is the significance of Harry being given a birthday cake?
- Why did Hagrid give Dudley a pig's tail?
- Why is Hagrid afraid to speak Voldemort's name?
- Why does Petunia seem to hate her sister, Lily?
- Can the Dursleys stop Harry from attending Hogwarts, and do they have the right to? Explain why or why not.
- Why might Hagrid have been expelled from Hogwarts? Why is he trusted with fetching Harry?
- Why were the Potters murdered?
This chapter briefly mentions Hagrid's expulsion from Hogwarts, which is an important plot element in the next book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Hagrid's fear to speak Voldemort's name aloud will be echoed throughout the series, with people referring to him as, "the Dark Lord," "you-know-who", "he who must not be named", as well as other variants. This dread, though constant, is greatly reinforced in the seventh book when Voldemort places a taboo on his name, such that anyone uttering it is immediately detected and subjected to reprisals. The taboo is generally aimed at those fighting him, as they are among the few who dare speak his name, and most specifically at Harry Potter, who has become public enemy number one under Voldemort's new regime. While only speculated, it is possible that a similar taboo could have existed during Voldemort's initial reign, and that it engendered a fear of his name among the Wizarding populace. By contrast, Harry is also known by a different moniker, "the Boy Who Lived" (and later, "the Chosen One"), though none in the Wizarding world fear using his real name.
Petunia's tirade is meant to show how Muggles' fear and disdain what they are unable to fully understand. While this becomes a recurring theme in the series, Petunia's reaction is actually motivated by jealousy that her sister, Lily, was a witch, while she is not. After Lily received her Hogwarts letter, Petunia also desperately wanted to attend, but lacking any magical ability, she was forced to remain behind in the Muggle world. To console herself, she became convinced that Lily was a freak, and that the Wizarding world and anything or anyone tied to it, is "abnormal", and she resolved to be as opposite from that as possible; she has since inflicted her bitter resentment and animosity onto Harry, and her refusal to allow her nephew to attend Hogwarts is a feeble attempt to deny him what she was unable to have. Fortunately, it is Harry's decision alone as to whether or not he will attend the school.
By learning his own true nature, Harry has taken the first step on the path leading to his eventual destiny. He will continue on it throughout the series, with some occasional setbacks.
- Petunia's hatred of her sister and fear of magic is introduced. It will reappear in each book in turn, though less pronounced than here, until finally the reason is revealed in the final book of the series.
- Hagrid's fear of mentioning Voldemort's name will be echoed by Ron in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We will discover there, also, the reason for that fear.
- This is the first instance where we actually see the Wizarding mail system, owl post, being used. This recurs throughout the series.