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I was reflecting earlier on the way Molly Weasley's Howler famously explodes at Ron in Chamber of Secrets, having the dual effect of his mother screaming at him, as well as embarrassing him in front of the entire Great Hall.

But I'm wondering if Howlers are safe to use, and if there's any indication in the canon that Howlers are 'protected' somehow.

For instance, can anyone open a Howler, or just the person to to whom it's addressed? (Does this even matter if the Howler is going to bellow the contents to everyone in earshot?)

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    You've got two distinct questions here; I'd strongly recommend splitting them into two posts otherwise I expect this will get downvoted and closed as 'too broad' – Often Right Nov 12 '15 at 5:44
  • @TheDoc Thanks for the advice! I removed my second question! – Singular1ty Nov 12 '15 at 6:15
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    Answered the second question partially for the shigs (before the edit anyhow) :) – CandiedMango Nov 12 '15 at 6:19
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Not very, unless you happen to receive it whilst isolated in the countryside or locked inside a sound proof booth or in space where no one can hear you scream howl

If Howlers are left unopened then they do something much worse than when they are opened. Presumably they are louder and burst open to the shock of the recipient.

"You'd better open it, Ron," said Neville in a timid whisper.

"It'll be worse if you don't my gran sent me one once, and I ignored it and" -- he gulped -- "it was horrible."

Chamber of Secrets

Although we get a precise indication of what happens when petunia receives a Howler

but too late - the envelope burst into flames. Aunt Petunia screamed and dropped it.

An awful voice filled the kitchen, echoing in the confined space, issuing from the burning letter on the table.

Order of the Phoenix

So there you have it, if it's left alone it will burst into flames and issue it's message. Presumably it's 'timer' for lack of a better word begins upon the witch/wizard first receiving it. If they choose to run away then whoever is present can hear the message.

It is likely anyone can open a Howler at least Harry thinks he can when Petunias arrives

Harry dart forwards to pick up the letter,

Order of the Phoenix

It is however unlikely that this situation would ever really arise considering the directness of wizard mail for instance:

The owl dropped the red envelope on her head, turned, and flew straight back up the chimney.

Order of the Phoenix

The howler was delivered straight to her. The same happened with Ron's howler.

The Curious Case of the Possibly Different Howlers (Movie Only)

In the movies we see two seemingly different types of Howlers the first type can be reffered to as a Red Howler:
Red Howler

In the films this Howler shouts at Ron.

We also get a second type of Howler let's call it the Formal Howler:
formal howler
This Howler is used to read out a very formal letter addressed to Harry about his use of underage magic and his court hearing. This Howler speaks at a normal level and does not shout.

Even though this is only seen in the movies it's possibly evidenced within Pottermore

when you can communicate with friends and acquaintances by means of owl, fire, Patronus, Howler, enchanted objects such as coins, or Apparate to visit them in person;

Pottermore - Technology

It seems odd to lump Howlers in with these more civilised methods of communication if a Howler can only be used to discipline or embarrass someone.

The Muffling of a Howler

This is unlikely if anyone were to figure out an easy way to do so it'd be the Weasley twins and it's incredibly likely they'd work out a way to sell it to the masses of delinquents at Hogwarts!

If you merely tried to smother it I have the impression it would explode. Either than or it's magical voice is good enough to permeate through all common objects.

  • This is such a great answer, thank you! – Singular1ty Nov 12 '15 at 22:38
  • The second image was a letter from the Ministry, not a Howler (hence not red). Otherwise a good answer. – The Dark Lord Jul 22 '17 at 10:38

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