44

As a follow-up of this question (quote stolen from the answer with bolded text from me)

Dear Mr Potter, We are pleased to inform you that you have a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment. Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 July. Yours sincerely, Minerva McGonagall Deputy Headmistress

Assuming that the Dursleys were not complete jerks - they just explain Harry that he is a wizard and stuff.

All good and nice but ... how is Harry supposed to get an owl and answer? The Dursleys cannot buy him one even if they wanted to. Muggle-born students get a visit from a Hogwarts staff member, who explains the situation but this does not seem to be the case. Harry just received a letter. He cannot use the same owl that delivered the letter because the first letter was delivered like a normal one in the mail box.

  • 25
    Because JK Rowling doesn't know how to run a school. Or for an in-universe explanation, because the administrators of Hogwarts are idiots. – chif-ii Jan 27 '17 at 16:57
  • 53
    Out-of-universe this is the first introduction to one of the recurring themes of the series; wizard institutions are satires of the unthinking, inflexible, impersonal, occasionally corrupt, vulnerable to abuse, and always bureaucratic muggle institutions we're all familiar with. The fact that Harry has no ability to comply is a feature of the text there to introduce a theme; it's not a mistake. – Eric Lippert Jan 27 '17 at 19:19
  • 1
    I suppose a follow-up to this would be how DID Hermione respond? It's not mentioned in any of the answers below, either. Or any muggle-born, I suppose. Not a mention in any of the letters about "we will be sending someone to assist and who will prove to you that magic indeed exists and you shouldn't put your child on Ritalin or call the cops". – Marakai Jan 27 '17 at 22:28
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    @Marakai While Harry was living with muggles, he's not himself muggle-born, so they likely used the 'wizard-born' enrolment process, rather than the muggle-born one that includes visits (like Hermione would have received). – Someone Somewhere Jan 28 '17 at 9:06
  • @SomeoneSomewhere Yes, but that still leaves me wondering: if you had someone showing up at your doorstep dressed like Dumbledore, or heavens forbid a half-giant like Hagrid, what, apart from something like an Obliviate spell would not have you freaking out and going "you're what? you want to take my child where? who and what are you?" - while your SO had run out the backdoor frantically calling the police. – Marakai Jan 28 '17 at 9:18
68

Harry is a bit of a special case, since he was born to a witch and wizard (James and Lily Potter), but was raised by Muggles. It seems that he received the version of the letter intended for children born to witches and wizards (which he was). Those families would, of course, have an owl of their own or know where to go in order to send one.

Unlike regular Muggleborns, Hagrid doesn't turn up to explain the things that are normally explained to them, because Harry is assumed to already know all of those things. Hagrid is shocked (and then angry) when he learns that Harry doesn't know "anything". Hagrid is only sent when it becomes clear that Harry wasn't receiving his letters (though it's never explained how they knew that).

We know from Snape's memories in Deathly Hallows that letters sent via the Muggle post can reach Hogwarts, so for Muggle families written confirmation can be sent using a method they're already familiar with.

  • 4
    Good points. But, as per the question, if they were expecting an owl back why wouldn't they send the initial invite via owl as well? – The Dark Lord Jan 27 '17 at 13:15
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    @Dan, you underestimate the power of bureaucracy :-) – user1717828 Jan 27 '17 at 14:35
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    @Dan Exactly. Harry Potter was a legend to the wizarding community. The very idea that he didn't know he was a wizard was unthinkable to them. How could you keep someone so amazing in the dark about who he is? Most wizards would assume he was well aware of his heritage. – jpmc26 Jan 27 '17 at 15:05
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    @jpmc26 Hmm, that's a interesting perspective. He was so famous that nobody considered the fact that he might not know where to obtain an owl. – Dan Jan 27 '17 at 15:29
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    @Dan: I would expect that the Dursleys were given a lot of information that was supposed to be passed along to Harry as he grew up. I don't think Harry would have had any trouble sending an owl if not for the Dursleys' horrid behavior. – supercat Jan 27 '17 at 19:45
18

He would've sent an owl from Diagon Alley.

Muggle-borns generally get a visit from a Hogwarts member of staff. Riddle got Dumbledore. Harry got Hagrid. The communication issue can probably be put down to a blunder on Hagrid's part. He probably should have just knocked on the door and asked to speak to Harry and explained the situation in person. However, he may have had some recollection of McGonagall's opinion of the Dursleys. Knowing that they are particularly Muggleish Muggles he may have decided that simply popping the letter through the letterbox was the wisest approach. When that failed, for reasons best known to himself, he decided to inundate the Dursleys with increasing quantities of letters.

As for how Muggle-borns traditionally signify their acceptance of an offer, they have to send an owl. This can be done from Diagon Alley. Of course, if a teacher presents their invitation in person then they can presumably accept there and then. The owl is just a written confirmation. The teacher would explain that the child has to go to Diagon Alley (with their parents, if necessary) to buy their school supplies.

“Where do you buy spellbooks?” interrupted Riddle, who had taken the heavy money bag without thanking Dumbledore, and was now examining a fat gold Galleon.
“In Diagon Alley,” said Dumbledore. “I have your list of books and school equipment with me. I can help you find everything —”
(Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 13, The Secret Riddle).

Even if the teacher doesn't offer to go with the student, as Dumbledore did, the Hogwarts letter itself contains the full list of required items. The teacher only needs to give the family details of how to get to Diagon Alley.

“Still got yer letter, Harry?” he asked as he counted stitches.
Harry took the parchment envelope out of his pocket.
“Good,” said Hagrid. “There’s a list there of everything yeh need.”
Harry unfolded a second piece of paper he hadn’t noticed the night before, and read...
(Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 5, Diagon Alley).

If the Dursleys were supportive of Harry's decision to go to Hogwarts (as the question suggests) then they presumably would've had no problem with taking him to Diagon Alley.

Once in Diagon Alley you can buy your own owl.

Or, if you don't want an owl, you can hire one from the post office. Diagon Alley presumably has an owl post office; Hogsmeade, which is rather smaller, has one after all.

“Thanks,” said Harry, picking up a packet of tiny black Pepper Imps. “What’s Hogsmeade like? Where did you go?”
[...]
“The post office, Harry! About two hundred owls, all sitting on shelves, all color-coded depending on how fast you want your letter to get there!”
(Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 8, The Flight of the Fat Lady).

  • 3
    "Muggle-borns generally get a visit from a Hogwarts staffer" Really, Tom Riddle and Harry Potter were very special cases. There's no evidence that all muggle-born students get a visit from a Hogwarts staffer, or even that most do. – TylerH Jan 27 '17 at 16:58
  • 3
    @TheDarkLord Live? Work? Research? What do school teachers in real life do in the summer? – TylerH Jan 27 '17 at 19:48
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    Weren't the Dursleys a bit of a special case in that they knew magic existed, but wanted absolutely nothing to do with it? – Marakai Jan 27 '17 at 22:37
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    @TylerH Harry was known to be a special case, yes; but what was special about Tom Riddle? At the time when Dumbledore visited him, he was a normal boy living in an orphanage whose name had been scribbled down by a magic device in a tower like so many others. There is no evidence that Dumbledore even knew beforehand whether he was full-blood, half-blood, or Muggle-born (why bother asking Mrs Cole about his parents if he did?), much less that there was anything special about him at all. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 28 '17 at 14:00
  • 1
    @TylerH JKR did say that a Hogwarts teacher usually visits the family of muggle-borns to explain the wisarding word: see the first quote in scifi.stackexchange.com/a/47726/4918 – b_jonas Jul 9 '17 at 13:46
9

Petunia Dursley knows how to contact the school

In fact, she even managed to do so unprompted when she was young:

"You didn't think it was such a freak's school when you wrote to the headmaster and begged him to take you."

...

"Severus saw the envelope, and he couldn't believe a Muggle could have contacted Hogwarts, that's all! He says there must be wizards working undercover in the postal service who take care of —"

(Deathly Hallows, Chapter 33, The Prince's Tale).

  • Excellent point! – TaW Jan 29 '17 at 17:26
  • And she suggests contacting them again after Harry's letter comes. – ibid Jan 29 '17 at 17:31
5

Another perspective, although @Anthony Grist's answer is a good one.

Several times in the series, we see letters sent by owl and replies written quickly and given back to the same owl. I know that the letter Harry read was given to him by Hagrid, but I doubt they changed the text from the original and subsequent letters, at least many of which were sent by owl. As unbiased readers, it seems unlikely that someone who had no idea about the wizarding world would then think to write a response and post it back but we have also seen many times that wizards don't always recognise their ways as unusual.

I think the possibility of writing a quick response "Yes, I would love to come, Yours, H. Potter," and sending it back with the original owl would be a real possibility in the minds of the senders of the letters.

  • 3
    This is actually what happens the morning after Hagrid shows up with Harry's letter -- the owl delivers the daily newspaper and then waits for payment. I'd assume an owl would be smart enough to wait for a "heck yeah" reply. – tonysdg Jan 27 '17 at 19:29
  • Might not fit with the months-in-advance closing date. – Someone Somewhere Jan 28 '17 at 9:15
  • This doesn’t really fit with the fact that the first of Harry’s letters were delivered by regular Muggle post, rather than by owl. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 28 '17 at 14:33
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    @Janus Bahs Jacquet - Were they? – ThruGog Jan 28 '17 at 15:59
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    Come to think of it, unless I’m misremembering, the movie actually shows and owl flying close to the door and dropping off the letter, which magically slips itself right through the letter box. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 28 '17 at 16:14
0

This answer to another question may help:

Who sent the letters

Apparently, Dumbledore had a feeling that contacting Harry might be difficult.

Granted, since he lived with Muggles who would not have an owl, it appears that this was either an oversight, or J.K. Rowling had a broader plan in mind when she wrote it that way. I suppose we'd have to find something she wrote to know for certain. I wasn't able to find anything explaining it.

EDIT: Something she wrote explaining why the letters were not sent via owl.

  • I don't see anything in the post you links to that answers the question of how Harry was expected to reply. – Blackwood Jan 27 '17 at 16:32

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