The Burrow: Dissecting Dumbledore’s Last

An original editorial by Meghana Desai

First of all, I want to thank simplybecky in the CoS forums for inspiring my revelation and hence this editorial. The purpose of this editorial is to figure out how Dumbledore’s last letter to Petunia was delivered and speculate about the contents of that letter.

When was the letter delivered?

We actually find out in OotP when exactly the letter was delivered.

“Your aunt knows this. I explained what I had done in the letter I left, with you, on her doorstep. She knows that allowing you houseroom may well have kept you alive for the past 15 years.” (pg. 836, Scholastic hardcover edition)

How was the letter delivered?

Now that we know when the letter was delivered, let’s find out how the letter was delivered. To do that, we need to look at the FAQ for more answers.

What did Dumbledore’s Howler to Aunt Petunia mean? (‘Remember my last’?) Well, it is a relief to move on after the Mark Evans fiasco. This time, two out of the three poll questions had interesting answers (or so I think) and thank goodness you chose one of them.

So: Dumbledore is referring to his last letter, which means, of course, the letter he left upon the Dursley’s doorstep when Harry was one year old. But why then (you may well ask) did he not just say ‘remember my letter?’ Why did he say my last letter? Why, obviously because there were letters before that…

Now let the speculation begin, and mind you type clearly, I’ll be watching…

P.S. It has been suggested that I am wrong in saying that Dumbledore’s last letter was the one he left on the doorstep with baby Harry, and that he sent a letter since then concerning Harry’s illegal flight to school. However, both Dumbledore and I differentiate between letters sent to the Dursleys as a couple, and messages directed to Petunia ALONE. And that is my final word on the subject – though I doubt it will be yours.

If we look closely at her answer (she worded Trelawney’s first prophecy carefully, remember), we have clues to how the mystery letter (Dumbledore’s Last) was delivered.

By whom and in what manner was it delivered?

From JKR’s FAQ:

Dumbledore is referring to his last letter, which means, of course, the letter he left upon the Dursley’s doorstep when Harry was one year old.

The answer says that Dumbledore hand-delivered the last letter. Why would he hand-deliver it? He would not want this letter to be intercepted by anyone.

Ever since Jo answered the question and updated it with the P.S., I was confused. Why? The reason: In the first movie, the letter left with baby Harry is addressed to Mr. and Mrs. V. Dursley. I found a quote in SS to support this fact (bold is there for emphasis).

‘It’s the best place for him,’ said Dumbledore firmly. ‘His aunt and uncle will be able to explain everything to him when he’s older, I’ve written them a letter.’ (pg. 15, Bloomsbury paperback edition)

So, did Jo make yet another mistake? The answer: I’m happy to report, no, she didn’t. It depends on how you look at it. Let’s look at part of the P.S. again.

It has been suggested that I am wrong in saying that Dumbledore’s last letter was the one he left on the doorstep with baby Harry, and that he sent a letter since then concerning Harry’s illegal flight to school. However, both Dumbledore and I differentiate between letters sent to the Dursleys as a couple, and messages directed to Petunia ALONE.

As she mentioned the Ford Anglia incident, let’s look at the quote from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (bold added for emphasis):

‘Not today Mr. Weasley,’ said Dumbledore. ‘But I must impress upon both of you the seriousness of what you have done. I will be writing to both your families tonight.’ (pg 64, Bloomsbury Childrens Paperback Edition)

If you keep in mind that BOTH the doorstep letter AND the Ford Anglia incident letter were addressed to BOTH the Dursleys, this means that there is another letter, addressed to Petunia ONLY. WE think she is differentiating between the letter on the doorstep and the Ford Anglia letter – but SHE isn’t. She’s differentiating between THESE letters and ones to Petunia only. Jo is brilliant!!!!

Let’s think about this logically. Petunia finds baby Harry on her doorstep. She screams because that means her sister is DEAD and she is SHOCKED to find a baby on her doorstep. Enter Vernon, what’s wrong Petunia? Why is a baby here? You say it’s Harry, Lily’s baby? What do you mean he has to LIVE HERE?!? What are you reading? Can you imagine Vernon NOT reading the letter? If the last letter was the one left with baby Harry, then the howler would be addressed to BOTH PETUNIA and VERNON. We know that Vernon is the biggest muggle around. There has to be an explanation that persuades Vernon (and Petunia, or so Vernon is led to believe) that they have to take Harry (i.e., the part of the last will and testament of James and Lily Potter that pertained to them – money, Harry, etc.). Albus didn’t take time to explain the dementors and Lord Voldemort and all in the letter that came with Harry. Also, Vernon had no clue that Petunia ever communicated with Albus. This explains Vernon’s confusion in Book 5.

If we combine the facts that there is another letter to Petunia, Dumbledore hand-delivered this letter, and that it was left on the doorstep with Harry, it must have happened during the night of November 1 – morning of Nov 2 timeframe. The most likely and easiest explanation is that there were TWO LETTERS delivered that night.

Two letters – Where is the missing letter?

Given that Jo hasn’t made a mistake, Dumbledore left TWO letters that night. The question becomes: Where is that second letter?

We saw one letter that night that Hagrid came to drop baby Harry off at the Dursleys (it was curled around baby Harry’s hand). We know that he showed to McGonagall one letter. However, who says that he shows or tells McGonagall everything? He doesn’t. He didn’t tell Minerva that he was communicating with Petunia. He tells people only what they need to know. We have seen this with Harry during the whole series.

In one of the previous letters, Dumbledore could have stated that there would be 2 letters with Harry (if the situation arose). There are two possibilities:

1. The two letters were separate.
2. One letter was delivered within the other.

JKR could have written both scenarios. Which one she picked depends on 1) the type of person Vernon is and 2) how Petunia got her hands on that letter.

If the two letters were separate:

1. If Vernon is the type of husband to come when she screamed:

a. Vernon is nosy and picks Harry up at some point. Petunia has a short window of time in which to extract the last letter from baby Harry’s person/blankets and hide it.
b. Vernon doesn’t touch baby Harry. Petunia can wait to extract the last letter until Vernon leaves for work.

2. If he isn’t:

a. Vernon is nosy and picks up baby Harry. Petunia can scurry around for the letter and find it before coming back to Vernon (who probably is at the kitchen table).
b. Vernon is not nosy and doesn’t root around/pick up baby Harry. Petunia can wait until he leaves for work.

So, when did Dumbledore place the second letter?

1. Used Hagrid, which he “would trust with his life” (pg. 16, SS).
2. It was slipped in and wasn’t reported to us by the narrator. Maybe Dumbledore knows of sleight of hand.
3. We know that he left Privet Drive, but we don’t know if he made a return visit to Number Four; I think this is unlikely, but possible nonetheless.

If one letter was inside the other:

1. If Vernon is the type of husband to come when she screamed, Petunia has a short window of time in which to extract the last letter from baby Harry’s person/blankets and hide it.

2. If he isn’t, Petunia has a little longer to find it before coming back to Vernon (who probably is at the kitchen table).

She needs to extract the letter since she knows that Vernon would snatch the letter from her since he would want to read exactly why Dumbledore left Harry with them. She can’t have Vernon know that she is in contact with Dumbledore or someone else from the wizard world.

My statement regarding the P.S. still is true. She is still differentiating between the letters: the doorstep letter that we saw and the Ford Anglia letter vs. the last letter. If the last letter was contained within the doorstep letter, then she is differentiating between the contents of the doorstep letter — separating the part for Vernon and Petunia AND the one for Petunia only. She was comparing the letter with Vernon and Petunia and the Ford Anglia AND the letter for Petunia only.

I think it would be easier (if it was me) to write the situation in which one letter was inside the other. We all saw the letter. However, all, to me, are very viable scenarios since it’s conceivable for JKR to write them.

Contents of “Dumbledore’s Last”

Now, let’s speculate on what could scare Petunia so MUCH that she defies her own husband to demand Harry stay at Number Four Privet Drive after the dementor attack.

We know, from Jo’s answer, that there was more than one letter to Petunia. Because of this we know (just as meamcat stated in Preparing Petunia) that Petunia had knowledge of the wizard world via Lily (turning the teacups into rats and frog spawn in her pockets, eavesdropping on her conversations, and quite possibly letters from her) and via Dumbledore (letters: who Voldemort is, what Lily is trying to do, etc).

So, what was in the last letter? These are a few ideas:

1. Last letter from Lily to Petunia (personal sis-to-sis letter). It could be a reminder of favors owed or just sister mentality: “I know that you would do this for me, because I would do it for you, that’s what sisters are for,” etc.
2. This is just a taste of what is to come if he comes back (referring to the Godric’s Hollow attack on Halloween night) – makes her realize that this is real and not just some abstract notion (like it was before) – saving wizard and muggle kind. It killed somebody she knew and loved (Lily).
3. More graphic examples of what Lord Voldemort can do if Harry doesn’t survive.
Re-explanation of the bond of blood and charm placed on it. How her taking him in seals the pact.
4. Dumbledore might reiterate what Lily is stating in her letter, if she sent one that is, (I don’t think that Dumbledore is the type to open letters not intended for someone else, though it doesn’t mean that he didn’t help Lily compose parts of it) on how Petunia can save them by taking Harry in and giving him a fair shot to defeat Lord Voldemort or other things pertaining to Harry.

I hope, however Petunia received the last letter, Harry finds it and the rest of the letters Dumbledore and/or Lily sent so we have an idea of what happened in the years up to and including Wizard War I, a.k.a. Voldy War I, so that we have some idea of what to expect in Wizard War II, a.k.a. Voldy War II.

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