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Another Rumor Squashed – Now What?

by Lady Lupin

With Christmas came some lovely presents from JKR, as she updated her site to answer some of our burning questions. As is typical when JKR answers our questions, the result is that they multiply like rabbits and we have more than we had to begin with. Such is the case with the following sequence of information:

Q: Will there be, or have there been, any “late blooming” students in the school who come into their magic potential as adults, rather than as children?JKR: No, is the answer. In my books, magic almost always shows itself in a person before age 11; however, there is a character who does manage in desperate circumstances to do magic quite late in life, but that is very rare in the world I am writing about.
Barnes & Noble Interview, March 19, 1999

Q: Is Aunt Petunia a Squib?

JKR: Good question. No, she’s 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 that 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.
Edinburgh Book Festival, August 15, 2004

[Rumor] Aunt Petunia will start exhibiting magical tendencies.

[Exclusive] No, she won’t. Aunt Petunia has never been able to perform magic, nor will she ever be able to do so.
JKRowling.com, December 25, 2005

The addition of the latest tidbit to the older clues has me pondering anew two thus far unanswered questions:

1. What is up with Aunt Petunia?2. Who is going to do magic late in life?

Until the rumor update on Christmas Day, many people believed that both questions would be answered when Aunt Petunia’s latent magical talents suddenly burst forth onto the scene in Book Seven. While it seemed a little too easy an answer to me, it was certainly plausible, and answered both questions at once. I couldn’t really effectively shoot it down. Until now.

Muggles and Magic and Squibs – Oh My!

It should be mentioned that some have named Hagrid as the latent wizard in question, but that doesn’t make sense to me. Hagrid does magic. He isn’t supposed to, but he does. Granted, he isn’t particularly good at it, which is hardly surprising, given the fact that his education was abruptly called to a halt at age thirteen by a soon-to-be horrifying dark wizard. While I do think that we are going to see Hagrid reach new heights of power and excellence in Book Seven, I don’t believe that the above comment refers to him.

Of the principal players, Vernon, Petunia, Dudley, Filch and Mrs. Figg are the most central characters and the only ones to appear consistently throughout the books, so they are the most likely candidates. Petunia has now been eliminated by JKR. I believe that Dudley was also eliminated during the Edinburgh discussion:

Q: Is there more to Dudley than meets the eye?JKR: No [Laughter]. What you see is what you get. I am happy to say that he is definitely a character without much back story.

So, strike two. It seems unlikely that Dudley will suddenly begin growing his hair back overnight or leaping to the top of school yard buildings. Besides, Book Seven will hardly take place “late” in Dudley’s life.

If there is one character that absolutely does not deserve to be able to do magic, it’s Vernon. What a thoroughly unlikable person he is. After all of his cruelty over the years, the idea of Vernon with a wand in his hand is almost as frightening as Voldemort. On the other hand, if he did somehow perform magic, it would probably horrify him to no end, which could provide some levity in what promises to be a pretty intense book. However, I don’t see Uncle Vernon picking up a wand and dueling Bellatrix any time soon.

Then we have the highly unpleasant Mr. Filch. I do have sympathy for Filch’s plight. It would be maddening to exist on the fringes of a magical society that you cannot really be a part of. However, he suffers by comparison with Mrs. Figg. Again, as with Lupin/Greyback, Harry/Voldemort, etc., we have two characters with the same circumstances who make very different choices. Mr. Filch and Mrs. Figg were given the same cross to bear. They were also both aided and given a useful place in life by the great and magnanimous Albus Dumbledore. Mr. Filch stews in his own bitterness and disappointment, abuses his power and does his best to thwart the prospects of the students who pass through Hogwarts. Mrs. Figg has found a useful way to make a contribution to Wizard kind. She has kept an eye on Harry during his time in the care of the Dursleys. She comes to his aid when the Dementors attack him and Dudley, and she bravely goes to a highly intimidating hearing to speak in Harry’s defense. This last is particularly daunting, given the disdain with which most of Wizard kind treats Squibs. I believe that Arabella would have been a great Gryffindor, had she not been a Squib.

It is my hope that Mrs. Figg’s tenacity and willingness to bear her lot in life with fortitude and patience will be rewarded with a burst of magical power that will make heads spin (perhaps literally…). It makes sense that this could come early on in Book Seven. Harry will lose his protection at #4 Privet Drive when he turns seventeen. Will he stay with the Dursleys until that time? He does not seem to need to stay “all summer” any other year in order to renew the protection he has there, but he must return every year, and he must be able to call Privet Drive “home” in order for the protection to work. Whenever he chooses to leave this time, Petunia’s house will no longer be his home. So he may have to delay his final departure until his birthday in order to get the maximum benefit of the charm. Perhaps he’ll leave for Bill and Fleur’s wedding in July, but return until his birthday. He may well be able to travel to a variety of places in July, provided he does not move out of #4 Privet Drive.

If I were Voldemort, I would not want to overlook this opportunity to create chaos and to possibly capture Harry and/or someone he loves. I think it’s possible that we’ll see some Death Eaters on Privet Drive over the summer, and we might have our first skirmish right there in front of the Dursleys. It would be the ultimate Dursley nightmare, wouldn’t it?

What if Mrs. Figg were first on the scene? She is the nearest to Harry and most able to keep an eye on things without arousing suspicion. I can imagine a scenario where Mrs. Figg is the only person who could help Harry in dire straits, and where she summons her latent powers in that moment the way that a 115 lb. woman can suddenly lift a large pickup truck to save her child. This seems to fill the requirement of “desperate circumstances.”

One other possibility that I must note, though I think it unlikely: Aberforth. I suddenly realized that I could not find any actual, concrete evidence that Aberforth is a wizard. Have I missed something? The only indication I can find that Aberforth may have performed magic is the “inappropriate charms on a goat” episode. However, we aren’t told what happened, if there were witnesses, or even if Aberforth actually did what he was accused of. Other than that, we see him tend bar, shamble off after the incident in Hogsmeade with Mundungus (as opposed to Apparating) and perform other non-magical actions. He is in the photograph of the first Order. I wonder if a Squib could appear in a Wizard photo? Aberforth has the same, dismal, limited sort of life that Mrs. Figg and Mr. Filch have, and we don’t know why. Is he lacking in brains, ability or ambition? Or, is he a formidable undercover wizard who keeps his abilities to himself?

While it’s a provocative possibility that Aberforth is actually a Squib who will suddenly find his powers in Book Seven and save Harry, I think it’s more likely that Mrs. Figg will be the late bloomer. My reasons are the practical considerations of a writer: JKR has a lot to tie up. We need to meet Aberforth and Harry needs to put together that he is Dumbledore’s brother. We need to learn what he knows or can do that might aid (or hinder) Harry, and he needs to make that contribution to the plot. If Aberforth were the late bloomer, we would also have to establish that he is a Squib (I am assuming that Albus and Aberforth were not Muggleborn, though that isn’t certain). We would have to get to know him as a Squib and then he would have to summon these hitherto unknown powers. I think that would be too cumbersome for the through line of the book, though heaven knows, JKR is clever enough to do it. I am not aware of any watertight evidence to rule out Aberforth, so he must be considered.

However, Mrs. Figg has been an established character since PS/SS. As her importance grew, so did my affection for her. The images of her whacking Mundungus in the head with a sack of cat food and stepping bravely before the judges in her carpet slippers have endeared her to other readers as well. It would be a nice payoff to have Mrs. Figg shock everyone with a well-placed burst of power. I hope she gets this opportunity. I think she has earned it.

Pondering Petunia

Regarding the other question, what on earth could be up with Petunia? She certainly knows more about the Wizarding world than she usually likes to admit. She knew about Dementors, Azkaban, Voldemort, frog spawn, transfiguration, Dumbledore, and only JKR knows what else. She also was privy to a conversation between two people that included the information about the Dementors. Since this is really the only hint we’ve had as to any interaction between Petunia and wizards (apart from her sister and Dumbledore), it is most likely a significant clue.

It is generally assumed that said conversation occurred between James and Lily. This is certainly the most obvious and likely explanation. However, we really don’t know that for sure. Petunia doesn’t name names in this revelation. She says that she heard “that awful boy telling her about them.” James would have probably visited Lily after they began to date, if not before. Petunia certainly had no use for James, and can easily be imagined to have referred to him as “that awful boy.” However, it would also be just like JKR to phrase something like that to throw us off the scent. I cannot think of another “her” besides Lily, since Petunia is unlikely to have visited magical places where other witches would have been present. We don’t know who Lily’s good girlfriends were at Hogwarts, or if any of them visited the Evans home. It seems most likely that “her” refers to Lily.

However, there could be any number of “awful boys” to consider. Assuming that JKR wouldn’t pull a cheap shot and make this a character we don’t know, let’s look at Lily’s acquaintances that are also major characters in the series: James, Sirius, Remus, Peter and Snape. Petunia wouldn’t classify other characters, such as Dumbledore, Hagrid, etc., as “boys.” Therefore, I’m limiting the analysis to Lily’s peers.

It’s hard to imagine any useful plot payoff that would place Peter at the Evans home visiting Lily without the other Marauders. Sirius and/or Remus make more sense, as they might have been coming to speak to Lily on James’ behalf before James and Lily started going out. I could also see all four of them dropping in for a surprise visit after James and Lily started dating, which would have thrown Petunia into quite a state. Not only would there be four rambunctious young wizards in her home, but at least a few of them were very attractive, mischievous and charming young men. I would love to have been privy to that interaction! In this scenario, the Azkaban conversation could have evolved naturally as the young people discussed the rising conflict in their world, and the boys from magical families showed off their knowledge to their highly intelligent but Muggleborn friend. I can also easily see James and/or Sirius exaggerating the stories for effect, if they knew Petunia was listening.

The most intriguing possibility, as usual, is Snape. I have already speculated about what their common talent at Potions may have done to foster a more tolerant relationship between Snape and Lily than Severus shared with the Marauders. Could Snape have paid a visit to the Evans home, perhaps to try to recruit Lily to join his newfound friends? Lily really couldn’t have been a Death Eater, even if she had wanted to, since she was Muggleborn. But if Snape either cared for Lily or wanted to make use of her talents, he might have tried to persuade her to lend her abilities to his friends. Depending on the tone of the conversation, he might have warned her about the Dementors or threatened her with them. All descriptions of the young Snape indicate that he could easily be seen as “that awful boy” by more generous-minded people than Petunia.

Could this have been the first time that Lily defied Voldemort? I have wondered if the particular ways in which the Potters and the Longbottoms “thrice-defied” Voldemort will be pertinent to the story. Is it necessary that Lily and James defied Voldemort three times together? Or might it be that they had each defied him and they also defied him together? Was Petunia privy to this defiance? Was she the cause of it? Did Lily need to protect her sister in some way that has given Petunia a debt to be paid? JKR has said that it is true that Petunia overheard this conversation and that “there is more to it” than that, but we cannot know what, as it will effect Book Seven. (Edinburgh Cub Reporter Press Conference, July 16, 2005.)

We know that the “awful boy” was telling “her” (we’ll assume Lily) about the Dementors and Azkaban. Much of our speculation hinges on the context of the discussion. Why did this person share this with Lily? What did he want from her? Was he trying to protect her? Threaten her? Sway her thinking or actions? Use her?

If the “awful boy” was Snape, he was either trying to help Lily or to use or intimidate her. Let’s assume for a moment that his motives were honorable: he cared about Lily, and was worried about her because she was Muggleborn. He has devised a way that Lily could be useful to Voldemort and hopes that the Dark Lord might accept her on those terms. Lily’s Potions talent could be the key, and that may be why it was emphasized so strongly in HBP. That would also be something Snape would notice, as he is also a talented Potions student. Perhaps Voldemort is busy hiding his Horcruxes, and improving on their safety measures. He tests a young Severus, who is a known talented Potion maker. He tells his Death-Eater-in-training that he needs a foul and deadly potion that will prevent even the most advanced wizard from penetrating it to retrieve what lies within it. He does not necessarily explain that what lies within will be a Horcrux, only that he needs such a potion. Severus goes to Lily and suggests that she can ingratiate herself and therefore protect herself and her family by helping with the potion. Lily refuses, thereby defying Voldemort once.

Or, still assuming Severus is trying to help Lily, suppose he knows that James and Lily are to be married. At this point, perhaps James has already defied Voldemort once, and Severus knows that James is on Voldemort’s hit list. At best, James would be seen as a blood traitor for his interest in Lily anyway. Snape goes to Lily to try to persuade her to save herself by giving up James, and using her talents to assist Voldemort. He fails, and Lily defies Voldemort once.

Finally, assuming that his intentions are not noble, perhaps Severus goes to Lily because he knows of the planned marriage to James. He thinks he can intimidate Lily into helping him with the Potion, either by telling her frightening tales of Azkaban or by suggesting that Voldemort plans to try to harm James, and that Lily can escape his wrath by abandoning James and joining with the Dark Side. Perhaps he tries to bribe her into giving James away to Voldemort. Perhaps he even catches Petunia eavesdropping and sharply humiliates or threatens her. But he’s dealing with Lily Evans: a Gryffindor of the highest caliber. Lily refuses, thereby defying Voldemort.

There are an almost infinite variety of possible contents for this overheard conversation. Off topic, but interesting to contemplate: if Snape made or helped with the foul green potion, he may have deduced that Dumbledore was suffering its effects on the Tower, especially if he and the Headmaster shared a moment of consensual legilimency (which I believe they did). In fact, I think that Snape’s memory of that moment may be something that helps Harry get to the truth of what went on in that moment on the Tower.

Whatever the substance of the conversation, we know that Petunia overheard it – or at least a portion of it. What happened then? Was Petunia now in danger because of what she overheard or because of how she reacted to it? Was she already enjoying Dumbledore’s protection before Harry was born? If so, it’s possible that what Dumbledore demanded of her after Godric’s Hollow was a favor for a favor. If Petunia’s dark secret has to do with the fact that something she did put herself as well as the Potters in danger, once Dudley was born, her fear of retribution would multiply. Did Dumbledore protect her, and then let her know that unless she protected Harry, the deal was off? Or, that without Harry, there was no hope anyway?

Another unanswered question about Petunia is why and how she corresponded with Dumbledore before Harry came to live with her and Vernon. Again, we turn to the fount of all knowledge, JKR:

Q: What did Dumbledore’s Howler to Aunt Petunia mean? (‘Remember my last’?)JKR: Dumbledore is referring to his last letter, which means, of course, the letter he left upon the Dursleys’ doorstep when Harry was one year old. …Why did he say my last letter? Why, obviously, because there were letters before that.
– JKRowling.com, FAQ Poll

Harry came to Privet Drive the night after James and Lily were killed, and Petunia found “Dumbledore’s Last” with baby Harry the next morning. So, Petunia and Dumbledore were in communication for some reason while Lily and James were still alive. That could have been any time between Lily turning eleven and getting her Hogwarts letter and the night that Voldemort struck Godric’s Hollow.

These two events, the overheard conversation and the letters from Dumbledore, must surely be related, and must hold the key to Petunia’s secrets. What would Petunia and Dumbledore have had to talk about during Lily’s lifetime? Did Petunia do something foolish after overhearing the conversation? Are Dumbledore’s other letters to Petunia still at #4 Privet Drive, and, if so, will Harry learn of them and/or their contents? Petunia seems to have developed the tiniest bit of conscience about Harry. At least, that is one way to interpret her flush when Dumbledore admonishes her and Vernon for their treatment of Harry. She also is surprised when Dumbledore tells her that Harry’s protection will cease in a year. When Harry is about to leave her house for the last time, will Petunia pull out the hitherto unshared letters? If so, will they offer a clue that will set Harry on his way?

Dumbledore clearly reminds Petunia of their previous correspondence. He also makes sure that the Dursleys hear some very specific information:

1. He tells them that Harry has inherited gold, unnamed possessions and a house, and that Sirius is dead.2. He exposes Kreacher to the Dursleys, and let’s them see that Harry has the power to command Kreacher to his bidding.

3. He informs them that Harry comes of age in a year.

4. He reiterates that Voldemort is back, that he is trying to kill Harry.

5. He admonishes them for their past treatment of Harry.

6. He ensures Harry will be allowed to return to live at Privet Drive next summer.

Dumbledore really did not need to say most of this in front of the Dursleys. He only needed to secure Harry’s annual return to Privet Drive. Was there information in any of the other statements that will mean something to Petunia? Particularly the suggestion that Harry is in great danger and that Dumbledore thinks that the Dursleys have failed in some measure to keep their bargain? I do believe Petunia is culpable in some action that brought great danger on the Potters, herself, Vernon and Dudley. She has taken in Harry in an effort to nullify that complicity and stay under Dumbledore’s protection. How will she react, knowing that she is weeks from the expiration of the bargain, at a time when the danger is back and growing in power? And will her relationship with Harry change when she finds out Dumbledore (her protection as well as Harry’s) is dead? What might she disclose to Harry when she learns that he may be the only one who can protect her and her family now?

What did Petunia do? It depends on how vindictive she was in her early life, exactly what she overheard and what opportunity she had to make something of it. I could see Lily refusing Snape, and Petunia spitefully telling Snape something that eventually put James and Lily in danger. There are a myriad of possibilities. It is interesting that many of the possibilities hinge on the same bit of information that much of Book Seven rests on: what is Snape up to and whose side is he on? Of course, the “awful boy” may not have been Snape. But it does seem like a strong possibility.

One thing is certain: in OotP, when her knowledge slips out, Petunia is terrified, flustered and temporarily at a loss for words. As Harry notices, it is very odd that Petunia should remember this incident as opposed to all of the other magical references that she must have heard while Lily was at Hogwarts. We, the reader, are led to believe that Petunia is flustered because Vernon will be unhappy that she acknowledged the existence of the wizard world. But I think she is terrified that he might find out whatever she has done.

When Harry reveals that Voldemort is back, Petunia cannot even find her voice. She whispers, “Back?” Harry is struck again by the difference in Petunia, her fear and loss of pretense and, for the first time, hr feels a kinship with her regarding the dangers that Voldemort will bring.

By the time Dumbledore’s Howler arrives, Petunia can bear no more. Dumbledore’s four words are enough to completely defeat any fight that may be left in her. She sinks into a chair with her head in her hands, about to faint, and declares, weak and trembling, “The boy will have to stay, Vernon.”

I feel certain that Petunia and Dumbledore have a deal – perhaps a binding magical contract of some sort. We have seen at least three different types of binding contracts: the Unbreakable Vow, the Life Debt and the Goblet of Fire/Triwizard Tournament. There are likely many other ways to ensure a contract is upheld in the wizarding world.

If there is one thing that we should learn from this new Petunia information, it’s that even when all of the road signs seem to point in one direction and we think we know where we are going, Jo is still the one driving the car.