What Was in Dumbledore’s First Letter to Petunia?
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Petunia Dursley receives a Howler, later revealed to be from Albus Dumbledore himself, shouting only the words, “REMEMBER MY LAST, PETUNIA” (OoTP 40). These four words are enough to make Petunia look “as though she might faint,” sink into a chair with her face in her hands, and insist that the Dursleys must let Harry stay at Privet Drive when Vernon had been prepared to throw him out (OoTP 40). Today’s episode of Promptly Potter wonders what Dumbledore might have said in that last letter to which he refers.
Surely Dumbledore’s initial letter from 14 years prior explained what had happened to Lily and James and the necessity for Petunia to raise Harry. But just how much did Dumbledore explain? How exactly did he convince Petunia – and through her, Vernon – to keep Harry and not dump him in an orphanage but fail to convince them to treat him like family? What was it that still resonated so strongly all these years later? Dumbledore likely appealed to Petunia’s status as a mother and sister and her jealousy of her sister’s abilities, using a combination of guilt, flattery, and above all, empathy. The letter may have gone something like this:
It is with great sadness that I must inform you of the death of your sister and her husband. They were murdered by a Dark wizard known as Lord Voldemort, whose cruelty and violence they had been fighting for years. I tried my best to protect them, but, alas, I regret to say that I failed. They died defending their son, Harry. Lily sacrificed herself to save him. He survived the attack, seemingly vanquishing Voldemort in the process.
Despite the celebration with which the news of Voldemort’s defeat has been met, I remain cautious. I am all but certain that this is not the last we have seen of him and that when he returns, whenever that may be, Harry will be in grave danger. Even now, I fear that Voldemort’s followers may seek revenge on this innocent child. There are many wizarding families that would be happy to take this boy into their homes and raise him as their own. They would likely provide a much more suitable environment for him. You are no doubt wondering why I nevertheless would choose to leave him on your doorstep.
You once wrote to me asking to join your sister in receiving a magical education. Although I could not offer you a place at Hogwarts, you do have a role to play in the wizarding world. The same blood that ran in Lily’s veins runs in yours. You may not be able to perform magic with a wand, but you possess a unique power. When Lily died to defend her son, she invoked an ancient magic that still provides continuing protection even after her death. That magic lives on in you. I have devised a charm that uses that magic as a shield – a shield that can only hold if you seal it by providing a home for Harry. You alone can protect this child. No witch or wizard has the ability to provide what you can. Lily’s sacrifice is alive in you, and whilst Harry lives under your roof and your protection, Voldemort cannot harm him.
I know that your relationship with Lily was strained, and I doubt that you or your husband are eager to take in her son. I realize that Harry’s presence may be a painful reminder of old wounds. I write this letter not to Mr. Dursley but to you. I appeal to the young girl who once begged to learn magic. This is your magic. It is the most powerful in the world. Your sister’s love was strong enough to combat the strongest hatred. I know I ask a great deal of you – to put aside resentment and bitterness, to care for Harry as though he were your own. But I believe that you are up to the task.
Whatever your feelings about your sister or about the world of which she was a part, which she died to save, I ask you to fulfill this duty which only you can and, in doing so, honor her memory. Without you, Harry will never be truly safe. This child needs you. The fate of the magical world, and your own world, may depend on you.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore