Aunt Petunia’s Little Secret
Why is Aunt Petunia the way she is? Where did she get her ideas about magic? Normally, one would suppose that these attitudes came from her parents — a very strict upbringing and a hatred of magic passed down. But we know that this isn’t the case. Petunia tells Harry in PS/SS:
“…for my mother and father, oh no, it was Lily this and Lily that, they were proud of having a witch in the family!”
As hard as it is to picture a teenage Petunia at all, I find it even more difficult to imagine that, having grown up in a seemingly liberal household, she was anything like she is now. Which leads us to the inevitable question — what changed? We have virtually no background information on Petunia, although JKR has hinted very heavily that this will no longer be the case after Book 7. In the meantime, we can only speculate. So, here’s something completely out of left field.
I propose, very simply, that Petunia had her heart broken by a wizard. I believe this wizard was Sirius Black. This may seem at first glance to be a completely absurd idea. (It seemed absurd to me when I first thought of it.) However, there is sufficient canon evidence that it is plausible.
Lupin tells Harry in OotP that James and Lily started dating in their seventh year. Also in OotP, Sirius tells Harry that when he was 16, he ran away from home and went to live with the Potters.
“Your grandparents were really good about it; they sort of adopted me as a second son…after that I looked after myself. I was always welcome at Mr. and Mrs. Potter’s for Sunday lunch, though.”
I contend that the elder Evans and Potters would certainly want to get to know each other, since Lily’s parents were so proud of her place in the magical world, and the Potters had probably been listening to James talk about Lily for years. It seems very possible that the Potters would invite the Evans clan to their house for lunch, at least to discuss wedding plans, if not much earlier in James and Lily’s relationship. I also contend that it is probable that the Potters’ “second son” would be in attendance.
Sirius’ one goal in his early life seemed to be trying to find a way to make his parents mad. He got sorted into Gryffindor, probably, as the author of Red Hen contends, by mentally shouting “Not Slytherin!” just like Harry. He proceeded to form friendships with Lupin, a werewolf, and James, presumably a major blood-traitor. The next logical step in Sirius’ quest to define himself as anything other than a typical Black? A Muggle girlfriend, of course. It seems that anything that went against the Black family mantra sounded like a good idea to Sirius. And we all know that Sirius was more than charming enough to catch Petunia’s eye.
However, knowing Sirius, eventually he probably got bored. He had adventures to seek, and not much later, became involved in the original Order of the Phoenix and the first resistance against Voldemort. I can’t see any woman, at this point in his life, being able to hold Sirius’ attention for long. He left Petunia broken hearted, and completely embittered toward wizards in general. When she met a simple man who worked for a company that made drills, she was more than happy to settle down with him instead, telling herself that she would never want to be counted among the “freaks” anyway.
When Sirius first appears on the Muggle news, Petunia “whipped around and peered intently out the kitchen window.” We do not know her to be particularly easily excitable. This is a more extreme reaction than we should expect from her, especially regarding anything besides her precious Dudley. Besides that, she doesn’t seem like a totally irrational person, unless magic is mentioned. Why would she look out the window for a man she’s never met and has no reason to believe is anywhere near Privet Drive? Unless she has some history with this man, and has some idea of his relation to Harry, even though Harry doesn’t yet know who he is. The only time Harry mentions his godfather, either he is speaking solely to Uncle Vernon, or we only see Vernon’s reaction. Furthermore, when he does mention Sirius in Aunt Petunia’s company, he doesn’t mention him by name.
The other clue we are given involves the exchange that Harry has with his aunt in OotP, after the dementor attack. When Harry asks her how she knows about dementor, this is her response:
“I heard — that awful boy — telling her about them — years ago, she said jerkily.
“If you mean my mum and dad, why dont you use their names?” Harry said loudly, but Aunt Petunia ignored him. She seemed horribly flustered.
She is quite clearly referring to Lily, but do we have any reason to believe that she was talking about James? I think it reads a little differently if consider the possibility that she is, in fact, talking about Sirius. It would also explain Harrys next mental inquiry.
He was astounded that she had remembered this scrap of information about the magical world for so long, when she usually put all her energies into pretending it didn’t exist.
Perhaps this is nowhere even in the ball park of where JKR is actually going with Aunt Petunia. But the pieces certainly fit. And let’s face it, if Sirius Black was Aunt Petunia’s primary source of information about the wizarding world, she must have heard a rather colorful account, no doubt including tales of his escapades with a werewolf, his crazy pure-blood isolationist family…well, you’d probably think they were all freaks too.