At 4 Privet Drive, the Dursley family is arguing. Vernon Dursley bellows at his nephew Harry Potter because Harry's pet owl, Hedwig, is noisy. Dudley Dursley, Vernon's spoiled and obese son, clamors for more bacon. When Dudley demands the frying pan, Harry mutters, "You've forgotten the magic word," and the family erupts into chaos.
The narrator explains the reason for the hubbub about the magic word. Harry Potter is a wizard, staying with the Dursleys for the summer after his first term at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Upon Harry's return from school, Uncle Vernon locked all of Harry's magical things—his spellbooks, brookstick, wand and cauldron—into a closet. The Dursleys are "Muggles," or non-magical people, and they were forced to adopt Harry when his own parents were killed by the greatest wizard of their time, the evil Lord Voldemort. Harry survived Voldemort's curse but was left with a lightening-bolt shaped scar on his forehead, beneath his unruly dark hair and above his usually broken glasses. For the survival of this powerful curse (thus destroying Voldemort's powers) and also for his scar, Harry Potter was famous in the wizard world before he was even old enough to remember. Harry did not even know himself to be a wizard until the previous summer, when Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper, arrived to whisk eleven-year-old Harry away to Hogwarts for his wizarding education.
The day the story begins, Harry is turning twelve, and the Dursleys ignore his birthday entirely. They are much more concerned with a dinner that night during which Vernon, who sells drills, hopes to make a business deal with a rich builder. During breakfast, Vernon asks his wife, Petunia, and his son, Dudley, to rehearse the things they will say to the guests. Harry is instructed to remain upstairs in his room and pretend not to exist.
After breakfast, Harry walks outside, saddened by the fact that he hasn't heard from his best friends from Hogwarts, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Suddenly, Harry notices a pair of giant eyes staring at him from inside a nearby hedge, but before he can investigate, Dudley waddles over and begins to taunt him for having no friends who call him on his birthday. Harry stares at the hedge, ignoring his rude cousin, until Dudley asks what he's doing, and Harry responds that he was trying to decide how to set the bush on fire. Dudley panics and wails for his mother. Harry's Aunt Petunia promptly punishes Harry by setting him to work around the house. When Harry finishes, she gives him bread for dinner and sends him upstairs. As Harry enters his room to collapse onto his bed, he finds somebody else already sitting on it.
The first chapter sets the proper background for the story, explaining who exactly Harry is, why he is important, and why he does not enjoy living with the Dursleys. Parts of Harry's past, both before and at Hogwarts, are summarized here, shortened from their more detailed introductions in the first book of the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. This chapter shows the lack of joy in the Dursleys' lifestyle, their abuse of Harry, and their social-climbing ambitions. We see at once the unpleasantness Harry must face while he is home, allowing us to appreciate Hogwarts even before we see it, simply because it must be better than Harry's current situation. Harry handles his relatives gracefully, picking his battles carefully, defending himself at times but not always, laughing at them when they are absurd, and trying not to offend thm. The story begins with the typical plight of a protagonist in British children's literature. Blessed with a special talent, and confined by a terrible family life, Harry is finally set free to have adventures and prove himself worthy.
In Chapter One, we also learn that Harry is a hero within the wizard world. He was mysteriously protected from Voldemort's curse, and his very survival ended an era of terror for the wizard world; in the eyes of the grant magical public, he is cherished. His situation with the Dursleys greatly contrasts this stituation, and we see Harry as lonely and somewhat deflated through his summer at Privet Drive. We are able to see his vulnerabilities, making him a livable, likeable character from the beginning. A theme in the Harry Potter series is that it is important to live up to fame and expectation rather than achieve it in its own merit. He has gained the recognition that many people strive for, and he simply strives throughout his adventures to deserve it. Due to circumstances out of his control, Harry is famous, and because we watch his own uneasiness and confusion, his own modesty and peculiarities of humor, we can watch him as he grows up, understanding the private life of a public wizard figure. Hence, we expect him to be observed, criticized, and admired.