The book starts out with Harry writing his History of Magic essay on [[BurnTheWitch witch burnings]] late at night, since he doesn't want his aunt and uncle to find out. His uncle is already annoyed with him, since his friend Ron Weasley tried to call him on the phone, but kept shouting. There is a brief recap on how Harry's parents were killed by [[BigBad Voldemort]] and that Harry is lucky to still be alive.
When Harry decides to stop for the night, he is startled to find that it is one o'clock in the morning and that he has been thirteen for an hour without noticing. After putting his school things away under a loose floorboard under his bed, he looks out the window and sees a strange shape flying towards him. After a moment, he realizes that it is two owls supporting a third one and quickly lets them in. One is the Weasleys' rather ancient owl, Errol, the second his own Hedwig, and the third one from Hogwarts.
The third owl flies away after leaving its parcel and letter and Harry turns his attention to his mail. Errol has brought Harry's first ever birthday card, plus a letter, newspaper clipping, and a present, all from Ron. The newspaper clipping reveals that Ron's father has won the ''Daily Prophet'' Grand Prize Draw and is using the money for the entire family to visit his oldest son Bill in Egypt. In the letter, Ron apologizes for the phone call, talks about the trip, and says that his brother Percy was made Head Boy. The present is a Sneakascope, a sphere that lights up whenever there's someone untrustworthy around. The accompanying note says that Bill thinks its rubbish sold to tourists, since it kept lighting up at dinner, but he didn't realize that the twins Fred and George had put beetles in his soup.
The package that Hedwig brought it from Harry's other friend, Hermione Granger. The letter reveals that she is currently on holiday in France, and didn't know how to get her present to him in case it got opened up at Customs, but then Hedwig showed up. The present, which Harry at first thinks is a large book full of difficult spells, turns out to be a Broomstick Servicing Kit. He is quite happy with this gift.
The last package is from Hagrid, who has sent him the book ''Monster Book of Monsters'', a card, and a note saying that the book would be useful for the upcoming school year. While Harry finds it a bit ominous that he is being given a biting book (since he had to belt it shut), he is still happy to get a present.
Finally, he opens the Hogwarts letter, which is thicker than usual. It turns out that third-years and above are allowed to visit the all-magical village of Hogsmeade, which is next to the school, as long as a parent or guardian signed the permission form. At this, Harry feels let-down, since he has no idea how to convince his relatives to sign the form. After a few minutes, he decides to worry about it later and goes to bed, happy for once that it's his birthday.