8

At the beginning of Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry gets a fright when he sees Sirius in dog form on a street near his aunt and uncle’s house. In the letter Harry gets from Sirius on his way back to London at the end of the school year, he writes:

I would also like to apologise for the fright I think I gave you, that night last year when you left your uncle’s house. I had only hoped to get a glimpse of you before starting my journey north, but I think the sight of me alarmed you.
Prisoner of Azkaban, ch. 22: “Owl Post Again”

This description makes it sound like it was sort of a spur-of-the-moment thing to go and see Harry—something he just thought he’d do on the way. He doesn’t make it sound like a major thing he’d spent lots of time on, at any rate.

But how did he know where to look for Harry to get a glimpse of him?

There is an older question on here which asks how Sirius found Harry in Privet Drive when it was supposed to be protected from Voldemort and his supporters, but the answers to that question mostly just point out the flawed premise: Harry wasn’t in Privet Drive when he saw Sirius,note 1 and Sirius wasn’t a Voldemort supporter (even if he was widely believed to be one at the time).

What puzzles me more is how Sirius knew where to look in broader terms. After all, Sirius would have had to know to go to Little Whinging somewhere in Surrey to find him at all.

DVK’s answer to the older question says that “He'd have known Lily extremely well (being James best friend and Harry's Godfather) and would have likely known that Lily's sister got married and to whom”, which seems like an unlikely answer to me. It requires several things to all hold true:

  • That Hagrid actually told Sirius that Harry was being sent to live with his mother’s sister before borrowing his motorcycle
  • That Lily ever mentioned her sister’s husband’s last name to Sirius, despite not having seen her sister for a long time
  • That Sirius remembered this last name (which, at the time it was mentioned, was presumably quite unimportant to him) for however long it was between him hearing it and the Potters dying, and then for twelve more years in Azkaban
  • That, once he escaped from Azkaban, he managed to locate the present whereabouts of the Dursleys armed with nothing but a name remembered from at least twelve or thirteen years ago

Even if the first three points held up, which would be unlikely but not unthinkable, Sirius would still have had to locate two specific people in a country of about 58 million people. This was in 1993, before the common availability of the Internet, so he would likely have had to resort to phone directories. As far as I can tell (please correct me if this is wrong), there were no national phone directories for the UK in 1993, only local and regional ones, so it wouldn’t be as easy as just looking under D and finding Dursley, Vernon and Petunia. He’d have had to do that in dozens of different phone books to get lucky (if they were listed at all, that is).

Granted, Dursley isn’t a particularly common name (there are apparently just under 200 of them in the UK), but even so, finding the family that lived on Privet Drive would not have been an easy task for a worn-out wizard who’s never lived among Muggles and likely doesn’t know how to use a phone.

Surmountnig all these practical difficulties seems like a lot of overkill just to “get a glimpse of [Harry] before starting [the] journey north”, which makes me think perhaps there’s some other way he knows where Harry lives.

Is there?

How did Sirius know where in the country to look for Harry at the Dursleys’ place?

 


note 1 It is a bit too much of a coincidence for my taste that Harry just happens to drag his suitcase to the exact street and sit down for a breather at the exact place where Sirius is standing at that moment (if Sirius has narrowed it down to the correct neighbourhood of Little Whinging, why isn’t he looking for him on Privet Drive itself, rather than on some other street?), but I’ll let that slide for now.

  • 1
    I believe it was common knowledge that Harry was living with Muggles, and Sirius would probably have known that Petunia was the only Muggle that Harry was related to. However, that still doesn't explain how he knew where Petunia's house was. I mean, I'm going to go with "magic", but I'm assuming you're looking for a little more detail than that. :-) – Harry Johnston Jul 21 '18 at 23:27
  • Regarding note 1, the implication in the text is that Sirius was watching the Dursley's house, saw Harry leaving, and followed him. So I think the whole "not actually Privet drive" thing is a red herring. – Harry Johnston Jul 21 '18 at 23:30
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    @Harry That is definitely a possibility, yes. Rereading it now, it does say he’d been sitting in Magnolia Crescent for ten minutes before he started rummaging in his suitcase, and that’s when he suddenly felt like he was being watched. There’s no mention of any sounds of anyone approaching, just “someone or something standing in the narrow gap between the garage and the fence behind him”, which doesn’t say much. I’ll go with the idea that Sirius followed him from Privet Drive and Harry was just too angry to notice anything until he calmed down a bit. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 21 '18 at 23:41
  • And yes, I was hoping for a bit more detail than just “magic”. :-ɒ – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 21 '18 at 23:42
6

Probably from Hagrid.

In the absence of any direct canon information, it is certainly possible that he got the address from Lily, though we are told in the very first page of the very first book:

Mrs Potter was Mrs Dursley's sister, but they hadn't met for several years.

That implies, however, that Lily and Petunia had met not too many years ago, likely recently enough that the Dursley's were already living at their house in Privet Drive, and recently enough that it was after Lily married James and became friends with Sirius. (It was probably before Harry's birth, though, as "they had never even seen him".)

Sirius might have occasionally given Lily a lift to Petunia's house on his motorbike.

We can assume that Vernon's hatred for magic didn't go quite so far as to refuse to allow his wife's sister to visit (preferably while he wasn't there) but he certainly wouldn't want her arriving by broomstick, apparition, or Floo powder. A motorbike, while not ideal from his perspective, might have been an acceptable compromise. (He didn't need to know it could fly!)

On the other hand, Sirius might have simply seen the return address on a letter from Petunia one time, and happened to remember it - or at least enough of it to find the right phonebook. If there's one thing a skilled wizard must have it's a good memory, and whatever one might say about Sirius's personality (not to mention that of his extended family) they were certainly skilled wizards.

All that said, there's an even simpler possibility: Hagrid.

'Hagrid,' said Dumbledore, sounding relieved. 'At last. And where did you get that motorbike?'

'Borrowed it, Professor Dumbledore, sir.' said the giant, climbing carefully off the motorbike as he spoke. 'Young Sirius Black lent it me. I've got him, sir.'

Sirius would certainly have wanted to know where Harry was going, and at that point, Hagrid knew of no reason not to tell him. It was important to Sirius, so he'd have wanted to remember it, but it wasn't a happy memory, so the Dementors couldn't have sucked it out of him.

Edit: on re-reading the question I see you already mention that Sirius and Hagrid talked. But I'm not sure why you think it unlikely that Hagrid would have told Sirius the address; it seems to me Sirius would certainly have asked for Harry's address so that he could visit, and Hagrid would have had no reason not to tell him.

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    I’m not sure I really buy the first part of your answer. We don’t know exactly how much older than Lily Petunia is, but the flashbacks to their childhood show them as being of fairly equal age, so I doubt she’s more than two or three years older. That would make her perhaps 24 at the time. Dudley is one, and I don’t think it’s too much to assume that he was probably born within the first two years of their marriage. It could be more, but it seems more likely that Lily and Petunia hadn’t met after Petunia married and moved into the house in Privet Drive. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 22 '18 at 8:22
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    The second part of your answer I find much more likely. Hagrid of course knew exactly where he was going (even if he didn’t necessarily know the Dursleys’ name), and even if Dumbledore had told him it was a secret where Harry was to be taken (he probably had), we know how good Hagrid is at keeping secrets from people he trusts and likes (“I shouldn’t have said that… I should not have said that”). Hagrid telling him is a very good guess, I think. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 22 '18 at 8:24
  • In the US, the average couple has their first baby three years after marriage. I couldn't find any figures for the UK. At any rate, I think it plausible, though not necessarily likely, that Lily had been to visit Privet Drive. – Harry Johnston Jul 23 '18 at 1:00
1

It is pretty simple in the Wizarding World to track someone's whereabouts.

When Harry receives his initial letters from Hogwarts, the person writing the address was able to know where he was at a given time. They knew when he was in the cupboard under the stairs, they knew when he moved to Dudley's second bedroom, they knew when they went to a hotel and even knew which room they were in, and they knew that Harry was on the floor of a hut on a rock in the sea.

Additionally, we find that Harry is able to send letters to Sirius all the time despite having no idea where Sirius is. If an owl can track someone, then presumably a wizard can too, or at the very least a wizard can follow an owl to track someone.

In later books we also find out that underage wizards have a "trace", and that taboos can be created that give people's locations.

Thus, while we are never told the precise method that Sirius used to track Harry's whereabouts, and some methods are probably beyond the ability of a single wizard on the run with no wand, the idea of tracking someone's whereabouts is hardly a novelty and it is therefore not very surprising that Sirius was able to figure out some way to locate Harry.

  • The trouble with this solution (which I did think about) is that the entire country is looking for Sirius for two whole years without ever finding him. Clearly, even though owls and letters can magically find their way to their intended addressee, this does not extend to wizards being able to find each other; it’s something special and specific to owls and letters. Harry did have the Trace on him, but we see no evidence that anyone but the Ministry was able to tap into this, either. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 22 '18 at 8:17
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I would imagine that though there are methods of tracking, there are also methods of blocking tracking. Sirius presumably knew the latter, while 13 year old Harry did not. – Alex Jul 22 '18 at 12:48
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I think my answer to the question about tracking Sirius can shed some light on your follow-up. – Alex Sep 4 '18 at 7:07

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