I think that Petunia got comfortable with the idea, as we all sometimes do, that someday things can change for the better. She and her sister will melt the ice and become an important and happy part of each other’s lives. Unfortunately, again as we wall sometimes do, Petunia forgot that for this to happen someone should make the first steps.
A year passed and when she woke up one morning and found her nephew at the doorstep. She knew her perfectly normal life was about to change. Magic smacked her one more time. Her sister was dead. She doesn’t have a sister anymore, something she sometimes dreamed about. But this felt cold, dark and painful. Her little sister was gone. She would never see her again, she will never have the chance to make things up.
I am sure that at that moment Petunia truly felt guilt and pain over losing Lily. However, there was something else – she had no choice but to take her sister’s son and raise him alongside her one and only Duddley. The letter said that that is the only way to save Harry from Lily’s faith. I want to add here, that a little resentment might have struck Petunia again – her sister acted like the hero everyone thought she was, but her decisions one more time disrupted Petunia’s life. She took Harry in but punished him time and time again for her own choice, or the lack thereof.
Where did the idea of punishing Harry in order to get rid of his magic come from? I believe that could be Petunia’s misunderstanding of magic again. She had years to think about reasons why her sister was magical and she wasn’t. She might have concluded that being neglected, mistreated, and probably occasionally punished for Lily’s magical mischiefs, suppressed her own magical abilities. Ergo if she put Harry through the exact same thing, he will never become a wizard. But she took it way further than that. Knowingly or not, she made Harry feel the same way she did when she was a child – unwanted, isolated and different. She did the same thing she believed her parents did – she constantly rewarded one child and punished the other. She gave Duddley the attention she believed she never got and then some. She denied the same thing to Harry as if this way she was taking away the attention Lily got from their parents.
Instead of changing her very loosely called “parental” methods, seeing how Harry kept on doing the same weird and abnormal things his mother used to do, like flying, for example, she allowed Vernon to go further and further. I say “allowed Vernon” because I believe she slowly but surely abdicated from taking any kind of care of Harry. By neglecting him over and over again, interacting with him only to shout at him or humiliate him, she slowly transferred her responsibilities to her beloved and all wise husband. Vernon, as bad as he was, got stuck raising a child he didn’t understand and didn’t want. His wife gave him all the power to do with the boy whatever he sees fit and that he did.
Even after Harry started going to Hogwarts, his uncle was the one making all the decisions. Whenever Harry needed permission for something, he asked his uncle. He never saw Petunia as more than his uncle’s wife and Duddley’s mother. To Harry, she wasn’t his mother’s sister. Probably because she herself failed to see him as her sister’s son. She should have taken the unfortunate circumstances of raising Harry as a chance to reconnect with Lily through him. Instead, she chose to see him as a reminder of James, who himself was a reminder of Snape, who was a reminder of the whole magical world that rejected her over and over again. So she rejected it, the magic and Harry.
When he gets his letter, she is furious. Their hard work to suppress Harry’s magic proved pointless. He, unlike her, was invited to go to Hogwarts. Maybe at that moment she finally realized that her conception of magic is wrong and that she will never be a witch. She allowed her husband to take charge again, who made one stupid decision after another. Maybe if she had paid a little more attention to Lily when she was trying to tell her about magic, she would have known that there’s no escaping the owes, especially so close to her and Lily’s old home. Instead, she was building up more and more resentment towards Harry, which exploded along aside the door at that dreadful cottage in the middle of the sea.
“Knew!” shrieked Aunt Petunia suddenly. “Knew! Of course, we knew! How could you not be, my dratted sister being what she was? Oh, she got a letter just like that and disappeared off to that – that school – and came home every vacation with her pockets full of frog spawn, turning teacups into rats. I was the only one who saw her for what she was – a freak! But for my mother and father, oh no, it was Lily this and Lily that, they were proud of having a witch in the family!”
That night magic for the first time struck her beloved Duddley. She felt horror and shame dealing with his new pigtail. Yet she managed to completely ignore Harry the following weeks. In fact, she finally reached the point of complete neglect of him. Over the years Harry attended Hogwarts, her behavior didn’t change much. But when it was brought to her attention that her sister’s faith may reach Harry, and more importantly – her family, she dropped the façade and Harry saw her as his mother’s sister for the first and only time.
“Back?” whispered Aunt Petunia.
She was looking at Harry as she had never looked at him before. And all of a sudden, for the very first time in his life, Harry appreciated that Aunt Petunia was his mother’s sister. He could not have said why this hit him so very powerfully at this moment. 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. Aunt Petunia had never in her life looked at him like that before. Her large, pale eyes (so unlike her sisters) were not narrowed in dislike or anger: They 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.”
At that point, Petunia relived her sister death one more time, something she denied herself for many years. She felt the pain and the guilt and maybe even got worried about what would happen to Harry.
A person would think that she may change her ways. Whoever that person may be, he would be very disappointed. In her last moment with Harry, she acted exactly how she did his whole life – trying to ignore him. Not even the fact that Duddley was capable of showing concern and care for Harry was strong enough to push her. In the books, Petunia looked as if she wanted to say something to Harry but managed to slow it. In the movie, Petunia and Harry have a last conversation, which Rowling said was very close to what she had in mind when she wrote that chapter. In that scene, Petunia gives a little glimpse of her pain and grieve over Lily.
“I wanted to suggest, in the final book, that something decent (a long-forgotten but dimly burning love of her sister; the realisation that she might never see Lily’s eyes again) almost struggled out of Aunt Petunia when she said goodbye to Harry for the last time, but that she is not able to admit to it, or show those long-buried feelings. Although some readers wanted more from Aunt Petunia during this farewell, I still think that I have her behave in a way that is most consistent with her thoughts and feelings throughout the previous seven books.”
Petunia was incapable of changing her ways.
“She stopped and looked back. For a moment Harry had the strangest feeling that she wanted to say something to him; she gave him an odd, tremulous look and seemed to teeter on the edge of speech, but then, with a little jerk of her head, she bustled out of the room after her husband and son.”
That is the last part of our journey through Petunia’s life. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride and I’ll see you soon with another book inspired article. Until then enjoy the video and check out my other articles and videos to see what else I have in my mind.