Having magical powers is not such a wizard wheeze

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The Independent Online

Today I bring you an exclusive extract from the new Harry Potter book. Yes, a full 24 hours before publication, stolen at my command from the inner fortress of Castle Publishing, spirited away by invisible hands via lorry parks in the North of England, here is a taste of the as yet unseen new bestseller, Harry Potter and the Hype of Fire.

Harry Potter sat at the Dursleys' breakfast table, not eating anything. There was, oddly, nothing to eat. Moments earlier the voice of his Aunt Petunia had called him down to breakfast, crying, "Come on, Harry, your breakfast is on the table!," but by the time he arrived there was nothing on his plate, only a satisfied smile on the face of young Dudley, his overweight and smug cousin. It was quite clear what had happened. Dudley had taken his helping and eaten it.

Harry miserably took a piece of toast, put a thin helping of butter on it and sat in silence to munch over the great unanswered questions which from time to time occupied his mind. Such as: if he were such a great wizard and had inherited his parents' powers, why couldn't he think of a clever way of solving the big problems which encountered him in every adventure?

Why, come to that, couldn't he think of a clever way of solving a medium-sized problem, such as having to live at the Dursleys'?

And why, come to that, could a wizard like him not even look after his own breakfast?

It didn't make sense. Somebody, somewhere, wasn't looking after consistency of plot and characterisation efficiently enough. But before he could follow through the uncomfortable implications of that line of thought, his uncle Vernon came in, porkily twitching his large moustache and fuming over something.

"I have to drive to work this morning," said Uncle Vernon, "and it looks very much as if I won't be able to get there. Is this anything to do with you, Harry?"

He pointed through the window. There, in the street outside, blocking everything in both directions, were two stationary queues of red Royal Mail vans, nose to tail, all hooting at each other.

"I've been out there, talking to one of the drivers," he said. "Couldn't make out what he was on about. Mass delivery... Friday... embargo... midnight... What's all that about, then? He mentioned your name once, Harry. What have you got to tell us, eh?"

"I don't know, uncle," said Harry.

That's another mystery, thought Harry. If I'm a wizard, how come I am always so wet?

"Well, maybe there's something about it on the news," said Uncle Vernon, switching on the TV.

"...And traffic should be back to normal on Saturday. Now, here is the rest of the news again."

"Pah," said Uncle Vernon, switching channels. They found themselves looking at a handsome, grave-looking woman with long blonde hair, being interviewed by an obsequious young man.

"No, I don't hate people who disapprove of me, such as the man you name, Humphrey Carpenter," she was saying. "He is entitled to his opinion. And I need people like that. My plans for world domination will always encounter opposition, and it is good for me to know where my enemies are so that I can isolate them and cast spells on them."

"What sort of spell would you cast on Humphrey Carpenter?," said the young man.

"I would condemn him to be gradually forgotten as a biographer, and to have to work as an obscure classical music DJ on Radio 3," she said.

"But isn't that what he does anyway?," he said.

"The spell seems to be working, then, doesn't it?," she said, smiling sweetly.

"Who is this wretched woman?," said Uncle Vernon, testily snapping the telly off. "And you can go to your room, Harry!," he added, seeing Harry smiling. "And stay there till that traffic jam has gone!"

Unhappily, Harry trudged back upstairs to his poky little room but cheered up when he opened the door and found Hagrid sitting on his bed.

"Hagrid!," he said. "How great to see you! What brings you here?"

"I don't know," said Hagrid, "I just know that I have to make an appearance early on. But these days I don't seem to have any motivation or rationale. I just come on and grin, and make big bearded noises, like a hairier Brian Blessed, but as to why I do it, well, search me, son! I used to know why, Harry. I don't any more."

Outside, the vans' hooting rose. Throughout the country, queues were beginning to form outside bookshops. It was all very odd, thought Harry.

To be continued, though not in this space.