Over-Analyzing Harry Potter: Why Everything is Aunt Petunia's Fault

Buckle up, readers, because I'm about to take on the most beloved books the world has ever seen.

If you grew up in a literate, first-world family that didn't engage in ritual witch burnings, you've read Harry Potter. At the very least, you've seen the movies. If you were alive in the 1990s and you've made it this long without being exposed to the famous boy wizard, you are a statistical anomaly on par with the existence of an albino humpback whale.

This is you.

For all the albino whales and forgetful readers in my audience, here's a quick synopsis: Harry Potter is a seven-book series that tells the story of a bespectacled, cupboard-dwelling orphan with an AC/DC logo on his face who teams up with a redheaded welfare case and an encyclopedia with tits in order to defeat an immortal, snake-faced racist. The final book culminates in the deaths of approximately everyone, including Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, Lavender Brown, Fred Weasley, George Weasley's ear, Rufus Scrimgeour, Alastor Moody, Dobby the House Elf, Hedwig, Charity Burbage and a host of other characters whose names you don't recognize, Bathilda Bagshot, Vincent Crabbe, Nymphadora Tonks' father, a substantial number of Death Eaters who had it coming, Nagini, Colin Creevy, Severus Snape, Lord Voldemort, and your childhood. What the book fails to mention, however, is that every single one of those deaths could have been easily prevented by a single character: Harry's Aunt Petunia. 

This woman killed Dobby.

This might be a good time to mention that this post is absolutely lousy with spoilers, but c'mon guys, the last book came out in 2007. It's been seven years. Snape kills Dumbledore, and Harry is a Horcrux. You should know this by now. 

Also, they had bitchin' lightsaber battles, like, all the time.

Let's get right to it. At the start of the fifth book - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Harry and his chunky cousin are strolling through suburban England when they're accosted by spooky, soul-sucking magical prison guards called Dementors. This is Dudley Dursley's first direct encounter with the magical world, and he reacts by running home to his mommy and throwing a spectacular hissy fit. That scene prompts the following exchange:

"De - men - tors," said Harry slowly and clearly. "Two of them."
"And what the ruddy hell are Dementors?"
"They guard the wizard prison, Azkaban," said Aunt Petunia.
Two seconds of ringing silence followed these words before Aunt Petunia clapped her hand over her mouth as though she had let slip a disgusting swear word. Uncle Vernon was goggling at her. Harry's brain reeled. Mrs. Figg was one thing - but Aunt Petunia?
"How d'you know that?" he asked her, astonished.
Aunt Petunia looked quite appalled with herself. She glanced at Uncle Vernon in fearful apology, then lowered her hand slightly to reveal her horsy teeth.
"I heard - that awful boy - telling her about them - years ago," she said jerkily.
"If you mean my mum and dad, why don't you use their names?" said Harry loudly, but Aunt Petunia ignored him. She seemed horribly flustered.

Gee, it seems awfully strange that Harry's aunt can't bring herself to name his parents. Rowling makes it clear throughout the series that the woman is going through life with a stick of generous circumference firmly lodged up her hindquarters, but surely even Petunia isn't too uptight to use her dead sister and brother-in-law's names. So why doesn't she just say Lily and James Potter?

Because she's not talking about James Potter.

I just wrote this post as an excuse to look up pictures of Alan Rickman.

When Harry takes a leisurely swim through the silvery goop of Snape's memories in the seventh book, the second memory he sees is a young Severus telling Lily all about Azkaban and Dementors while Petunia eavesdrops. In comparison to all the other life-changing memories Harry witnesses in the Pensieve, that one is relatively minor. The only reason that it's included is because J. K. Rowling has a lady-boner for keeping tiny details in her universe consistent. That 'awful boy' referenced in the fifth book wasn't Harry's father at all - it was Petunia's creepy neighbour, Severus Snape.

I wonder what other sorts of things Petunia caught them doing...

So let's go back to Petunia and Harry's little chat about Dementors. We know that Aunt Petunia is hyper-sensitive to criticism, and that there are approximately no circumstances in which she's willing to shut her big, horsey mouth for even a moment and stop talking. And yet, her hatred of magic is so strong, she's not even willing to continue the conversation long enough to let her own nephew know that she's not insulting his dead father. Its not as if Petunia has any reason to conceal Snape's identity. He started working at Hogwarts after Lily's death, and Harry's education isn't exactly discussed at the Dursley dinner table; she has no way of knowing that the 'awful boy' from her childhood grew up to be Harry's least favourite teacher. So in that one little phrase - "Aunt Petunia ignored him" - Mrs. Dursley damages her relationship with Harry, disrespects her dead sister's memory, alarms her son and husband, conceals the identity of a man she has no reason to protect, and sentences dozens of innocent people to die in the battle of Hogwarts. How?

If she had corrected Harry's assumption, he would have learned about the connection between his mother and Snape more than two years early. 

"Connection".

Remember, Harry is desperate for any link to his deceased parents, to the point that his 'deepest heart's desire', shown in the mirror of Erised, is just to be with them. There's no way that he would have overlooked Petunia mentioning "the Snape boy" - he's hungry for knowledge of his parents, and finding out that any teacher knew his mother as a child is something he'd be sure to follow up on. By this point in the fifth book, he already has plenty of information about his father; he's seen his awards, learned about his Quidditch career, met his friends, discovered his shape-shifting and acquired his map and cloak. Keep in mind, James Potter was only twenty-one years old when he died; Harry essentially knows his entire life story, and if there's anything he needs to know, he can ask Lupin and Sirius for more stories about that time they smuggled a ravenous werewolf under a homicidal tree. Everywhere Harry goes, adults blurt out "You're just like your father", as if it's a Tourettic tic. 

For Lily, however, Harry has nothing. The only person in Harry's life who spent substantial time with her when she was alive - her own sister - has no interest in talking about her, and Harry won't meet Professor Slughorn until book six. He knows nothing about her hobbies, achievements, classes or friends, and he doesn't have any of her old possessions. She might as well have been a pair of sentient eyeballs, because the only information Harry ever hears about her is that she was good at school and had the same remarkably noteworthy green eyes as him. 

Either it was really dark in Hogwarts, or all wizards suffer from blue-green colourblindness.

Finding out that Severus Snape was the only living connection to Lily's childhood and school days would have profoundly changed the nature of their relationship. Harry's desire for information constantly overthrows his common sense - he threw himself at a murderous tree in the middle of the night and snuck out to an abandoned shack to single-handedly confront a man he believed to be a dangerous mass murderer, just because he knew the man had a connection to his father. Harry changing his mind about Snape is not just idle speculation on my part, either; when Harry learns about it in book seven, it prompts him to name his freaking son Severus. Imagine the connection the two of them could have had if Snape had been alive to discuss Lily after the revelation, instead of being a dead husk of snake chow.

You monster.

Having a trusting relationship between Harry and Snape isn't all about Harry finding closure and emotional fulfillment, however. That wouldn't be worth writing about. What is worth writing about is that nearly every single bad thing that happens from book five onward could have been prevented if Harry had trusted Snape. Don't believe it? Let's start with Sirius Black. Specifically, with the death of Sirius Black.

The only man ever killed by a mysterious archway.

Sometime during the fifth book, Voldemort figures out that he can do a Vulcan mind-meld with Harry, allowing the two of them to sense each other's thoughts and feelings. After Harry uses it to witness an attack and save Arthur Weasley's life, Voldemort realizes that the connection goes both ways. He then starts filling Harry's head with visions of a hallway filled with glass balls. Dumbledore doesn't feel comfortable having Wizard-Hitler rooting around in Harry's brain, and he orders Harry to start taking private Occlumency lessons with none other than Severus Snape.

"Private lessons".

The lessons go nowhere. Lack of trust and a bad memory viewed out of context lead to a complete breakdown, and Harry's mind remains completely vulnerable. Since Harry can't protect himself, Voldemort takes advantage of the mind-link and feeds Harry a fake memory of Sirius being tortured at the Department of Mysteries, luring Harry into an obvious trap that results in the death of his godfather. If Harry had had a chance to confront Snape about his childhood relationship with Lily and clear the air prior to starting Occlumency lessons, he might actually have been able to stick with them long enough to block the fake vision from getting in. 

Even if Harry's angsty teenage brain never did get the hang of Occlumency, he still could have prevented Sirius's death by trusting Snape. When Harry first has the vision, Hermione is clever enough to realize that they should verify that Sirius is in danger before they go skipping off to the ministry. Problem is, there isn't a member of the Order of the Phoenix handy. Dumbledore has been chased off, and McGonagall is in the hospital after being stunned to the tits by Umbridge's lackeys. That leaves Harry with absolutely no one to go to, except for maybe Severus Snape, a full-fledged member of the Order and a Death Eater double-agent, who could have easily told Harry that the vision was fake and ordered him back to his room to sip pumpkin juice and read page 394, because everything was fine. No one would have died. The only reason that Harry himself doesn't die in the fifth book is because Snape correctly interprets Harry's cryptic, half-garbled warning, based on a three-second conversation with an evil house elf.

As it turns out, this was not a reliable source of information.

Things only get worse from there. Having proven himself to be an impulsive and irresponsible shithead, and having completely alienated himself from Snape, Harry is not informed of Dumbledore's inevitable death or of the 'Snape kills Dumbledore so Voldemort doesn't get suspicious" plan. When the moment of Dumbledore's death actually arrives, Harry's blind hatred for his teacher leads him to completely misinterpret Dumbledore's "c'mon, seriously, you promised you'd do this" begging and Snape's "I would really rather not murder the only person who ever gave me a second chance" glare. 

"Thanks, bro, I owe you one." - Dumbledore

Harry's completely avoidable distrust of Snape culminates in the seventh book. Harry and friends spend most of the book camping out in the wilderness, gathering Horcruxes and destroying them with a sword that conveniently turns up in a nearby pond. Of course, the trio isn't nearly competent enough to be managing this all by their lonesome; though they don't know it, Snape is is babysitting them from afar the entire time, sneaking them help and sending his Patronus to lead them to things they need, like convenient pond-swords. Really, Snape has everything locked down; as Headmaster, he's exercising his power to keep Voldemort and the Death Eaters out of Hogwarts, preserving his students' safety while keeping them just miserable enough to be convincing. With Harry well on his way to destroying all of Voldemort's Horcruxes, all Snape really needs to do is keep sending help and bide his time until his master is left defenseless. 

Then Harry comes along and fucks it all up. 

Goddammit, Harry.

Things come to a head when Harry figures out that one of the last Horcruxes is probably Ravenclaw's diadem, but since Hogwarts isn't real big on vocabulary tests, he doesn't know what a diadem looks like. He decides that the only way to find out is to break into Hogwarts and stand around, undisguised, in the Ravenclaw common room. A passing Death-Eater-turned-teacher walks by and sounds the alarm, summoning Voldemort and crew to the castle and prompting the battle that brings out the truth about Lily and Snape, and results in the death of just about everybody. All because Harry and Snape didn't trust each other enough to realize that they were on the same side. 

Come on, guys, even Voldemort knew how to hug it out.

So, in summary: your favourite character died because Petunia Dursley was too stuck-up to admit that she'd heard a greasy poor boy talking to her sister once. She had a perfect opportunity to overcome Harry's pride and Snape's shame to unite them just in time to take down the world's most evil wizard together without all their friends and colleagues dying in the process, but instead, she chose to say nothing. At least Tom Riddle had a motive for all of the terrible things he caused, and paid the price for his actions. Petunia Dursley was just uptight and petty, and went about her life not knowing what she could have prevented. 

Yes, that makes Petunia worse than Voldemort.

14 comments

  1. LMAO I love this. Seriously. LOVE it like Snape loved Lily kind of love. :)

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  2. Brilliant write-up! I've emailed the link to half a dozen people! I loved the Snape-Lily story and believe Snape was noblest of them all and loved her more than James did.

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    1. Thank you so much, it really means a lot to me that people share my work! I agree wholeheartedly!

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  3. Really well-written
    XD

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  4. Nice read. I love ur write ups :D

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  5. I agree whole heartedly with this awesomeness

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  6. Well, I have spent the majority of my day reading this blog, just having found it. I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the fact that you called me a whale.
    So. I had heard of Harry, but only knew it existed, and was about wizards. Why does he live in a cupboard? Is he a leprechaun or a midget? Is he just short? Is it a glandular thing?

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    1. But not just any whale - an albino humpback whale! The best whale of them all!

      I believe "cupboard" is British for "tiny, sad closet". So Harry's not actually small enough to fit in a kitchen cupboard, he just has an unforgivably awful family.

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