The Burrow: Preparing Petunia

An original editorial by meamcat

What does Dumbledore’s Howler, “Remember my last, Petunia” mean? First, let’s look at the passage from OotP:

Harry darted forward to pick up the letter, but Aunt Petunia beat him to it…
“It’s addressed to me,” said Aunt Petunia in a shaking voice. “It’s addressed to
me, Vernon, look! Mrs. Petunia Dursley, The Kitchen, Number Four, Privet Drive–”
She caught her breath, horrified. The red envelope had begun to smoke…
Aunt Petunia’s hand was trembling. She looked wildly around the kitchen as though looking for an escape route, but too late–the envelope burst into flames. Aunt Petunia screamed and dropped it.
An awful voice filled the kitchen, echoing in the confined space, issuing from the burning letter on the table.
“REMEMBER MY LAST, PETUNIA.”
Aunt Petunia looked as though she might faint. She sank into the chair beside Dudley, her face in her hands. The remains of the envelope smoldered into ash in the silence…
She raised her head. She was still trembling. She swallowed.
“The boy–the boy will have to stay, Vernon,” she said weakly.
“W-what?”
“He stays,” she said.
(OotP, American edition, pp. 39-40)

Here are the basics:

-Dumbledore sent this Howler.
-His “last” is the letter he left at the Dursley’s doorstep with Harry. (J.K.’s statement)
-This means that Dumbledore has sent more than one letter to Petunia.
-Vernon has no idea what this letter is or what it means.
-Petunia was terrified at the mention of the last letter.
-Dumbledore wrote a Howler (instead of a normal letter) to make a fierce point.

First of all, we must consider what we know about Aunt Petunia:

-Aunt Petunia is Harry’s mother’s sister.
-She is a Muggle, as her sister was Muggle-born.
-She has always despised Lily’s powers (she calls her “a freak”).
-She wants nothing to do with the magical world.
-She is very afraid of magic and magical people.
-She took Harry in when his parents died.

The main point I want to stress is that she took Harry in. Why would she do that if she hates all things magical? Dumbledore must have written something in his letters to convince Petunia to protect her nephew. I propose three strategies Dumbledore could have used:

Dumbledore kept Petunia well-informed of occurrences in wizarding society.

We know JK has told us that there is “something more to Petunia.” Perhaps Petunia’s oddity isn’t as complicated as many speculate. I believe she knows about the first war, even more about it than Harry does.

JK has said that Dumbledore and Petunia have conversed through letters more than once. Dumbledore was aware that it was likely that Harry would end up with the Dursleys. To prepare Petunia for this, he probably sent letters to her informing her of what was occurring in the wizarding world, whether or not she was willing to receive them. Since we know how curious Petunia is, we can assume she read them, and out of embarrassment kept them a secret. I bet that because of this, she knows more about the first war than Harry.

The knowledge of the first war would probably terrify Petunia. This could increase her fear of Harry’s world, which leads us to…

Dumbledore “threatened” her.

Dumbledore knew what Voldemort could do unburdened–Voldemort’s a clever and powerful wizard, especially if he inspired so much fear throughout wizarding society for more than 15 years. Imagine what chaos would have occurred if Harry had died.

In OotP, Dumbledore sent a Howler (a very powerful and angry message) that instilled great fear in Petunia. I deduced that Dumbledore must have said something in his last letter that caused Petunia to be so frightened, she cowered at the mention of it.

After a good think, I believe Dumbledore must have given Petunia an idea of what might happen if Voldemort succeeded. He told her that magic, a thing that she hates most, would run rampant. Death Eaters killing Muggles (or enslaving them, whatever comes to your mind) left and right. Homes destroyed. Giants and Dementors would control the populous, ravaging townships.

Petunia could look back on the time she heard Lily and James talking about Dementors. Remember this little gem?

“And what the ruddy hell are dementors?”
“They guard the wizard prison, Azkaban,” said Aunt Petunia.
Two seconds’ ringing silence followed these words and then Aunt Petunia clapped her hand over her mouth as though she had let slip a disgusting swear word. Uncle Vernon was goggling at her. Harry’s brain reeled. Mrs. Figg was one thing–but
Aunt Petunia?
“How d’you know that?” he asked her, astonished.
Aunt Petunia looked quite appalled with herself. She glanced at Uncle Vernon in fearful apology, then lowered her hand slightly to reveal her horsey teeth.
“I heard–that awful boy–telling
her about them–years ago,” she said jerkily.
“If you mean my mum and dad, why don’t you use their names?” said Harry loudly, but Aunt Petunia ignored him. She seemed horribly flustered.
(OotP, pp. 31-32)

This can be any two people talking, but let’s just say it was Lily and James.

Petunia heard them talking sometime, when her curiosity got the better of her. She heard them saying to each other how bloody awful Dementors, the prison guards of Azkaban, are. Now imagine Dumbledore saying that Dementors would run rampant. Petunia must have gotten the idea of that threat rather quickly.

Petunia’s reaction when she discovered that Voldemort had risen again is another piece of evidence:

“He’s back,” said Harry heavily…
“Back?” whispered Aunt Petunia.
She was looking at Harry as she had never looked at him before…All he knew was that he was not the only person in the room who had an inkling of what Lord Voldemort being back might mean. Her large, pale eyes were…wide and fearful. The furious pretense that Aunt Petunia had maintained all Harry’s life–that there was no magic and no world other than the world she inhabited with Uncle Vernon–seemed to have fallen away.
(OotP, pp. 37-38)

Aunt Petunia’s fear is very clearly stated–it is obvious that she knows something. Her knowledge of Voldemort would be important for her to understand Dumbledore’s third point:

The blood bond is crucial for Voldemort’s defeat, Harry is family

Dumbledore must have told Petunia that Harry cannot be hurt while with his blood relatives.

Dumbledore heard the prophecy. He knew now that Harry would become Voldemort’s equal. If Harry would die, there would be nothing that could stop Voldemort–and the only place Harry would be safe from him is at the Dursley’s because of the blood bond, correct? Dumbledore told Petunia that if she didn’t take him in, Harry would die, and it would be all her fault.

Being the cause of a person’s death is a big thing. Besides, Harry is Petunia’s nephew. No matter how estranged Harry is from Petunia’s family, it is still her duty to protect her sister’s son.

Here is a list of speculated things that Dumbledore told Petunia about, to be clear (I would say there were at least five letters sent to Petunia at specific points in time):

Letters before the Potters’ death outline:

-Reason for letter
-The war’s current events
-Explanation of terror caused by Voldemort
-What may happen because of these events, etc.

His “last” left with Harry outline:

-What happened to Lily and James
-Explanation of the blood bond/prophecy
-What would happen if Harry died (reminder of Voldemort’s power)
-Formal request (for Petunia to take Harry in)

You may be wondering how Petunia would use this knowledge in future books. I’m yearning to see how Vernon and Dudley will react to this! I’m still waiting for July 16! Only then will we know if our Petunia ponderings are true.

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