One dull, gray Tuesday morning, Mr. Vernon Dursley-who is not given to believe in "anything strange or mysterious"-notices, as he drives to work at a drills factory, a cat reading a map and street signs on the corner of Privet Drive, the street where the Dursleys live. He manages to convince himself that he has seen incorrectly when he also notes many people dressed in strange clothes. These people, for some reason, make him uneasy. Later in the day, at a bakery, he overhears some of the strangely-dressed people discussing someone named "Harry Potter"-the same name as his infant nephew. A brief encounter with a gaudily-garbed stranger who calls him a "Muggle" and who crows about "You-Know-Who" having been defeated doesn't improve Mr. Dursley's mood, nor does his notice of the same cat he saw earlier sitting on his garden wall when he returns home. Watching the evening news, Mr. Dursley learns of other strange occurrences across England, including daytime spotting of owls in flight and "a downpour of shooting stars." Sensing somehow that all of these oddities are connected with "a whisper about the Potters," Mr. Dursley asks his wife, Petunia, if she has heard from the sister she would prefer she didn't have. She has not. As he falls asleep, Mr. Dursley decides "that even if the Potters were involved [in the day's strange sights and events], there was no reason for them to come near him and Mrs. Dursley."
Meanwhile, Albus Dumbledore-Headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry-has arrived on Privet Drive to talk with the cat, who, under cover of night, reveals herself to be Professor Minerva McGonagall. Dumbledore has been celebrating the abrupt disappearance of "You-Know-Who," whom he-to McGonagall's dismay-boldly calls by his true name, Voldemort. McGonagall informs Dumbledore that she has heard a rumor: that, on the previous night, Voldemort killed Lily and James Potter, and tried to kill their son, Harry. "But-he couldn't. He couldn't kill that little boy. No one knows why, or how, but they're saying that when he couldn't kill Harry Potter, Voldemort's power somehow broke-and that's why he's gone." Dumbledore confirms the rumor's truth. He also tells McGonagall that he is present to bring the infant Harry to his aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, the only family the boy has left. He believes Harry will be better off growing up away from the fame that would press upon him in the world of wizards.
Hagrid-whom readers will later learn is the gamekeeper at Hogwarts-arrives on a flying motorcycle ("Young Sirius Black lent it to me") with Harry tucked in his arms. The sleeping baby boy bears a scar on his forehead that is shaped like a lightning bolt-a mark of Voldemort's attempt on Harry's life. Dumbledore says, "He'll have that scar forever." Dumbledore leaves Harry on the Dursleys' doorstep and the three adults from Hogwarts leave. Young Harry can't know that "people meeting in secret all over the country [are] holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: 'To Harry Potter-the boy who lived!'"
Chapter 1 establishes not only the premise of Rowling's novels but also several of their important themes and motifs. The opening scenes provide readers with their first glimpses of the wizards' world, which-in Rowling's "universe"-exists parallel to but hidden from our own. The world of magic and the world of "Muggles"-i.e., non-magical people-will collide in ways small and large throughout the Harry Potter series, illustrating an assertion that enchantment still fills the world, if only we "Muggles" would make an attempt to look for it. For example, the wizards celebrating Voldemort's downfall are-at one point literally-in Mr. Dursley's face, and yet he chooses to dismiss them as fund-raisers at best, young rebels at worst. The problem with Muggles, readers suspect, is not that they are non-magical (indeed, later in the novel and subsequent volumes, Mr. Weasley will praise modern technology as "magic" in its own right), but that they are completely devoid of imagination and allow no room for fantasy and the unexpected. Despite the racist slurs of Draco Malfoy in later books, "Muggle" is not so much a genetic category as it is a state of mind.
The chapter also juxtaposes two extreme "families" for the orphaned Harry: the Dursleys, who are Muggles of the worst sort; and Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Hagrid, who represent Harry's "family" at Hogwarts. The question of how, if at all, Harry can straddle these two families and the worlds they embody will occupy much of the series. Alert readers will note the first mention of Sirius Black, who does not figure as a prominent character in the series until the third volume. He, too, will help Harry explore the true nature of his family as the series progresses.
Finally, the chapter introduces the threat of Voldemort, who is the enemy-and, in many ways, the foil-of Harry in this book and in the books that follow. We learn that Dumbledore is the only wizard unafraid to speak Voldemort's true name. This fact suggests that acknowledging and naming our fears is an important step in overcoming them.