Convos with D2: Why Petunia REALLY hated Harry
D2 and I got into a long discussion yesterday (she just finished reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) about why Petunia hates Harry so much, and why the Dursleys were the only option for Harry after Lily and James’ death. We know, of course, that Vernon hates the wizarding world, and Petunia’s distaste for it is almost as great. But other than jealousy, what would sustain so much loathing for an innocent child who was clueless about the whole side society? It’s not a case of hating children; she spoils her own son to an unhealthy point. She welcomes (or would have welcomed) Dudely’s friends on family outings, so her generosity is not merely for her own son. No, it’s just Harry that she hates.
We considered, then, the faceless grandparents on each side of Harry’s family tree, and why they’re absent in the books. Obviously they must both be dead, or we’d see them somehow in the series. JKR confirmed their deaths, in fact. We have only positive associations the few times they’re mentioned in the series. i.e. Sirius tells Harry that he was welcomed with open arms in the Potter house after his own family disowned him for not taking up their Pure Blood philosophy, and we know from Petunia’s own words that Lily’s parents are thrilled and proud when they discover she’s a witch. Surely they, then, wouldn’t find any shame in Harry’s existence, and would have been the more humane guardians in lieu of his parents.
The question then becomes, when did the grandparents die? There’s no mention of either James or Lilly having been orphaned while students at Hogwarts. While it’s true they may have died sometime between Harry’s parents leaving Hogwarts and Harry’s himself having become an orphan, it would be ominous and unexpected for four different people to all pass away during that time. UNLESS…. Unless, one considers that Harry’s grandparents died at the hands of Voldemort and/or the Death Eaters. D2 and I agreed on a theory: We know in the books that Lily and James escaped Voldemort/DEs three times. (As did Neville’s parents, of course.) Perhaps two of those times were at either parent’s house, where you’d think they might have run at the beginning, especially with a young baby in tow. You’d want to be around family. The third time? I don’t know.
Now the crick in this theory. JKR said that all the grandparents died natural deaths. But, from Petunia’s viewpoint, once you open yourself up to a world where magic exists, and then refuse to gain any understanding of that world and write it all off as weirdos and freaks, what wouldn’t your mind decide is possible?
There’s a striking, sobering moment in the Deathly Hallows where Petunia reminds Harry that he isn’t the only one who’s lost someone. It’s perhaps the only time in the movie adaptations that you get a sense of Petunia’s own grief, amplified by the regret of having cut her sister out of her adult life completely. It’s the only time you feel pity and compassion for her. Petunia can never get that back. Lily is gone, and with her, any opportunity for the two to make amends. And on top of all that, she is stuck with the constant reminder of her sister right under her nose, a living testament to her own shortcomings.
That alone might be reason enough to stilt her where Harry’s concerned, but would that be enough to drive so much vehemence for so many years?
We didn’t think so. Rather, what we think is that, if Voldermort was hunting the Potters, the Evans parents (Lily and Petunia’s mother) became indirect casualties. Perhaps the stress of their child and grandchild being hunted by a despotic mass murderer may have induced muggle illnesses that attributed to their deaths. Afterward, not only can Petunia never amend her relationship with her sister, but she has lost her parents as well. In her eyes, Harry is the reason Dudely will never know his grandparents, that she has only Vernon as emotional support (which we’ve seen, he’s somewhat inept at.) Because of Harry, she lives in constant fear that her child, her husband, and herself are targets by the mere fact that he’s in their lives. Add to that the fact that she is then coerced by Dumbledore to provide for Harry out of family obligation, i.e. the love for and guilt about her sister, and her bitterness, while not excusable where a child is concerned, becomes a little easier to understand. At some level, she loves Harry because he’s Lily’s, and at a much more visceral level, she hates him for that very same fact.
Kind of reminds you a little of another character, doesn’t it?