Petunia and the Creaky Stair
Almost every reader of the Harry Potter series knows that there’s something odd about Aunt Petunia. The fact that she knows things about the wizarding world, the world she clearly despises, just makes no sense. J.K.Rowling has said the following about Petunia:
“‘Is Aunt Petunia a Squib?’‘Good question. No, she is not, but-[Laughter]. No, she is not a Squib. She is a Muggle, but-[Laughter]. You will have to read the other books. You might have got the impression that there is a little bit more to Aunt Petunia than meets the eye, and you will find out what it is. She is not a squib, although that is a very good guess. Oh, I am giving a lot away here. I am being shockingly indiscreet.'”
– (J.K.Rowling’s official website)
So, Petunia is not a Squib, but J.K. Rowling makes it pretty clear Petunia isn’t “all muggle.” I think Petunia is hiding evidence that proves she knows more knowledge about the wizarding world, and more importantly, how she got that knowledge. HBP gives us more evidence about what Petunia is hiding.
“‘Albus Dumbledore’, said Dumbledore, when Uncle Vernon failed to effect an introduction. ‘We have corresponded, of course.’ Harry thought this an odd way of reminding Aunt Petunia that he had once sent her an exploding letter, but Aunt Petunia did not challenge the term.” (my emphasis)
(49, HBP [UK Edition])
I’ll have to agree with Harry here: sending his aunt one Howler can hardly be called a correspondence. Combine that with the fact that Petunia doesn’t challenge the term, and we have evidence that Petunia has received other letters than the one Dumbledore left with Harry in PS and the Howler in OotP. I believe that Petunia still has these letters, and that she’s hiding them somewhere in the Dursley house.
But where would she hide them? I think I’ve discovered her hiding place: the creaky bottom stair in the Dursley house, of course.
The creaky stair is first mentioned in CoS:
“‘So – we’ll get your trunk – you grab anything you need from your room and hand it out to Ron,’ whispered George.
‘Watch out for the bottom stair, it creaks,’ Harry whispered back.”
Many people will dismiss this as a detail, but I find the stair highly suspicious. We all know what the Dursleys are like: people who give their kitchen cupboards a wipe down every night before they go to bed would fix a creaky stair before you can say ‘Dementoid.’ So why didn’t Vernon fix the creaky stair? There’s an easy answer to that question. Petunia might have said it would be a great alarm system: one creak and they know Harry has left his room. Vernon would think of this as a marvellous idea: that annoying creaky stair could warn him if Harry would want to blow up the house.
Moving on to PoA, Harry hides his school stuff under a loose floorboard:
“He replaced the top of the ink bottle, pulled an old pillowcase from under his bed, put the torch, A History of Magic, his essay, quill and ink inside it, got out of bed and hid the lot under a loose floorboard under his bed.”
This quote shows us that stuff can be hidden in the weirdest places. And why is there a loose floorboard in first place? Again, this seems very un-Dursleyish.
That brings us to GoF, where everybody except Harry is suffering because of Dudley’s diet:
“But Aunt Petunia didn’t know what was hidden under the loose floorboard upstairs.“
Harry thinks Petunia doesn’t know about the loose floorboard, but I think she does. In fact, Harry might be using her old hiding place for her letters.
Harry moves to Dudley’s second bedroom in PS. There are no references to the creaky stair in PS, perhaps because it didn’t exist at that time. My guess is that Petunia used the space under the loose floorboards in Harry’s current room to hide Dumbledore’s letters. When Harry was allowed to move to Dudley’s second bedroom in the beginning of PS, Petunia lost her hiding place. She couldn’t have objected to Harry’s move, because then she’d have to admit to Vernon she has had contact with the crowd they both claim to hate: wizards and witches. Petunia needed a new hiding place for her stuff, and that new place is the bottom stair, that started to creak after being turned into a hiding place. That’s why the stair is mentioned as being creaky in CoS and not in PS.
The creaky stair also appears in OotP, albeit very sneaky:
“A wand-tip flared, illuminating the hall with magical light. Harry blinked. The people below were crowded around the foot of the stairs, gazing up at him intently, some craning their heads for a better look.”
(47, OotP [US Edition])
Why didn’t they come up the stairs? My guess is that Mad-Eye Moody looked at the bottom stair with his magical eye, saw something wasn’t right about it (hiding letters under a stair is indeed not a normal thing to do), thought it was a booby-trap and refused to let anybody go to Harry’s room.
HBP doesn’t contain any creaky stair-references, but throughout the books, J.K. Rowling has made clear that stairs aren’t always what they seem. Another funny stair is mentioned in PS and GoF:
“There were a hundred and forty-two staircases at Hogwarts: wide, sweeping ones; narrow rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday; some with a vanishing step halfway up that you had to remember to jump.“
“And then, halfway down the staircase, not thinking about what he was doing, not concentrating on anything but the peculiar behaviour of Mr Crouch. Harry’s leg suddenly sank right through the the trick step Neville always forgot to jump.”
Finally, there’s one back-up clue from the PS movie. When Dudley comes running down the stairs, he first jumps on a stair halfway up the stairs (right above Harry’s head) and then makes his way to the kitchen, causing the bottom stair to creak when he walks over it. We know J.K. Rowling has some influence in the movies, so maybe she urged the filmmakers to put the creaky stair in the movie. However, this isn’t real evidence, because the stair is already creaking before Harry is allowed to move to the room with the loose floorboard. We should focus on the evidence from the books, because the movies have their flaws.
We’ve known for quite a while that Petunia is hiding something, and in HBP we learn that she has received letters from Dumbledore. She must have hidden these letters somewhere, and the creaky bottom stair in her own house seems to be the spot Petunia chose.
Thanks to all the wonderful people on CoS forums who came up with some great evidence I could use in this editorial!