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What does "Remember my last, Petunia" mean in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix?

From what I gather, most people seem to think it refers to the letter Dumbledore left for Aunt Petunia when he left Harry at the Dursleys' doorstep -- but is it?

Aunt Petunia seems to act as if she was compelled to keep Harry at her home after listening to the Howler, but what would compel her to keep him there?

Uncle Vernon had, I suppose, made a logical decision to throw Harry out after he found out that a dangerous criminal was looking for Harry, and Harry certainly couldn't call it his home if the owner did not let him live there, which was the sole cause of the existence of the protection. Could it be that the charms that protected Harry from Voldemort at the home of his relatives was also protecting his relatives as well?

But then again, did Voldemort know about the Dursleys at all? He probably would have tried to find out where Harry went when he was away from Hogwarts, and the Ministry certainly knew where Harry was and with whom. Even if we believe Voldemort and any of his crew didn't know about the Dursleys prior to the Order of the Phoenix, Lucius Malfoy did have good connections and a certain level of control and influence over at the Ministry. Wouldn't it have been possible for him to find out about Harry's relatives after the Ministry decided to go against Dumbledore at the end of Goblet of Fire?

In Deathly Hallows, Harry states that the Dursleys should go into hiding because Voldemort might try to take them hostage to make Harry come and save them, so the Order itself takes it upon themselves to ensure the Dursleys' protection.

Even if we assume that all of the residents couldn't be harmed inside No. 4 Privet Drive (and not just Harry) by Voldemort, wouldn't it be easy for him to, say, attack uncle Vernon at the office or Dudley at school? They certainly knew about the general location of the house, wouldn't they know exactly who the residents were and where they worked?

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    There's some good questions in here, but it might help to break some of them out into separate questions (i.e. "What did the message to Petunia mean?", "Why didn't Voldemort try to get at the Dursley's outside of their house?", "When did the Death Eaters learn about the Dursleys/No. 4 Privet Drive?", etc.). It'll help focus the answers, and perhaps give you more opportunities for reputation :) – Beofett Jul 12 '13 at 19:55
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    All of your questions are great ones, but there's waaaaaaaaay too many of them for one post. I count six different questions in your post on different topics. I love Harry Potter questions, so I'm glad you're participating -- for the future, you may want to consider just one question/topic per post. Just some food for thought :) – Slytherincess Jul 12 '13 at 20:33
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Part of this question is answered in an FAQ from J.K. Rowling’s website:

What did Dumbledore’s Howler to Aunt Petunia mean? (“Remember my last”?)

So: Dumbledore is referring to his last letter, which means, of course, the letter he left upon the Dursleys’ doorstep when Harry was one year old. But why then (you may well ask) did he not just say “remember my letter?” Why did he say my last letter? Why, obviously because there were letters before that…

I doubt the protection extended to his relatives, but the charms Dumbledore placed on the house to extend Harry’s protection in Philosopher’s Stone probably did.

I don’t think we know what was in Dumbledore’s previous letter to Petunia, but it must have convinced her to take Harry. I can’t find a reference right now, but I think Petunia makes reference to Voldemort at some point; clearly she had some idea of how dangerous he was, and the risk Harry would be in (and perhaps even Harry’s importance to the anti-Voldemort fight).

Petunia probably realised that casting out Harry would put him in huge danger, even if she could‘t explain why to Vernon. I don’t think Vernon would appreciate the magnitude of the threat posed by Voldemort.

  • I would give a fuller answer, but I need to go out, and there are also really too many questions to be answered at once. – alexwlchan Jun 25 '14 at 18:46
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    Thanks! I hadn't seen that FAQ answer before. I am in the middle of rereading the books, and was wondering this again. Also, Petunia explains to Vernon what Dementors are, nothing about Voldemort in the beginning of Order of the Phoenix. – krillgar Apr 20 '15 at 9:49
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    "I thought," said Dumbledore, inclining his head slightly, "that she might need reminding of the pact she had sealed by taking you. I suspected the Dementor attack might have awoken her to the dangers of having you as a surrogate son." OotP, The lost prophecy – chirlu Oct 5 '15 at 4:08
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    @krillgar There is. It's clear from the way she says “Back?” and is visibly terrified afterwards that, to quote, “he was not the only person in the room who had an inkling of what Lord Voldemort being back might mean”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 20 '16 at 5:39
  • Speculating, but Petunia was envious of her sister / had a link with her. That's a reason why she'd be so worried by her murderer returning and going after Harry. – marcellothearcane Jul 30 '17 at 15:46
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It seems that Arthur Weasley and Kingsley Shacklebolt (and probably others in the Order of the Phoenix) believed that Voldemort would be able to get at Harry when he turns seventeen and the protective charm that Dumbledore put on the house would break.

In the Deathly Hallows (page 33 of Scholastic paperback), Harry is telling the Dursleys:

Once I’m seventeen, the protective charm that keeps me safe will break, and that exposes you as well as me. The Order is sure Voldemort will target you…

Also, earlier, Snape is discussing with Voldemort and the Death Eaters about the plans to move Harry. While Snape doesn’t mention the Dursleys or Privet Drive by name, he does imply that he (or Voldemort already) knows the location. Snape tells Voldemort (Deathly Hallows, page 3 of the Scholastic version):

My Lord, the Order of the Phoenix intends to move Harry Potter from his current place of safety on Saturday next, at nightfall (emphasis mine)

It is unclear how much Voldemort and the Death Eaters knew about the Dursleys themselves. But obviously they knew Harry was at Privet drive. When Harry and the others left, the Death Eaters were waiting. As Harry told Mrs. Weasley (Deathly Hallows, page 68 of the Scholastic version):

“The Death Eaters were waiting for us,” Harry told her. “We were surrounded the moment we took off…”

  • that still doesn't explain why Voldemort wouldn't attack them outside the house during the period of the Order of the Phoenix or the Half Blood Prince – user13267 Jul 12 '13 at 21:40
  • No, it only addresses if Voldemort and the Death Eaters knew the Dursley's location – Treborcram Jul 12 '13 at 21:45
  • they certainly didn't know the location, but only the general area – user13267 Jul 12 '13 at 21:58
  • I agree. Not nowing the exact house is a result of the charms, I believe. – Treborcram Jul 12 '13 at 23:58
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    Petunia had written to Dumbledore when Lily was admitted to Hogwarts. So Dumbledore was aware of Petunia. – Amanda Jul 13 '13 at 0:34
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Well for your first question about why didn't petunia throw Harry out I believe it has two parts for answers:

  • One is the letter Dumbledore left with Harry when he left Harry on their doorstep. The letter explained how Harry's parents had died and that if Harry wasn't given a home he would be in extreme danger his entire life. It further explained that their home was the only place that could be made safe. In the letter Dumbledore tells Petunia to remember that if she kicks Harry out that he will be most likely murdered; she has enough love in her heart still for her sister and for Harry that she couldn't let that happen (mostly because I personally think that she felt guilty for distancing herself from Lily - they were super close until Lily got her letter and Petunia didn't get one even though she wrote to the school asking to be let in.)
  • Second is the charm your talking about, which Dumbledore bound to the house where Harry's mothers blood flowed and called home. It would be the place where Petunia called home and lived. While they each called the place home they were protected. Which is why in the book, when they decided to break the protection spell early, both the Dursleys and Harry had to leave with the intent of never returning to that home - so the spell would break and the Dursleys would be moderately "safer."

For the question about wether or not Voldemort knew where Harry's aunt lived and why he just didn't attack them when they went to work: Voldemort had a general idea of where the house was but because of the spell cast by Dumbledore, using Harry's mothers sacrifice, it sort of produced a fidelius charm,

"An immensely complex spell involving the magical concealment of a secret inside a single, living soul. The information is hidden inside the chosen person, or Secret Keeper, and is henceforth impossible to find — unless, of course, the Secret Keeper chooses to divulge it. As long as the Secret Keeper refused to speak"

Which is the same spell Harry's parents used to hide from Voldemort. However, the trusted Peter Petigrew was Voldemort's supporter, so it failed. I believe Dumbledore did a similar spell that duplicated the effect of the fidelius charm but used Harry's mothers sacrifice-protection and extended it to cover anyone who shared her blood.

So Voldemort knew the general idea, but could not find the specific house - or harm them when they were within its protective barriers. The range of the protection was, I believe, a 5+ mile radius around the house (the Dursleys had to drive 15 mins before the broke free of it).

Also I think that although the order thought Voldemort would take the Dursleys - I don't really think he would of bothered. If he finds anyone who isn't a pureblood wizard to be unworthy of his notice, then a muggle probably wouldn't be worth his time.

Since he doesn't understand love, which is why he couldn't possess Harry, he wouldn't really comprehend using someone's love for another to compel them to do something. Dumbledore did say that the closest Voldemort has come to feeling love his in his closeness to the snake Nagini. But that could just be because Nagini is a horcrux, so caring about what happens to yourself isn't really close to loving others at all.

  • couple of things: "Also I think that although the order thought Voldemort would take the Dursleys - I don't really think he would of bothered" - they attacked muggles even just for fun, and attacking the Dursleys actually had a purpose, of luring Harry towards them – user13267 Jul 19 '13 at 19:14
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    "..he wouldn't really comprehend using someone's love for another to compel them to do something." - he lured Harry into the Ministry using images of Sirius being tortured as bait; he knew Harry would reach the Ministry somehow – user13267 Jul 19 '13 at 19:15
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I kind of wonder if "Remember my last" wasn't a reminder of the last time that Dumbledore personally wrote to Petunia. The letter left with baby Harry would surely have been addressed to the Dursleys and not just Petunia. However, there was a letter Dumbledore wrote to her, when she was a child and had wanted so badly to join her sister as a student at Hogwarts. Perhaps he was referring to the fact that he once was compassionate and kind to her, even in rejecting her admission to Hogwarts, or even that she appreciated magic and the wizarding world at one time.

I think maybe he was asking her to recall those memories and to extend those same decencies to Harry when Vernon wanted to wash his hands of him.

I also think there is some credence to her appreciating how dangerous and deadly Lord Voldemort was, and that she knew the entire family, including but not limited to Harry, would be endangered in turning Harry out of her home.

That being said, if we go with my theory that it could be Dumbledore referring to the rejection of admission letter, it could be a veiled threat of exposing that Petunia had once wanted to go to Hogwarts as well, which would certainly be enough motivation for her to refuse to kick Harry out. I mean, we know how the Dursleys feel about magic and "those kind" of people. How would Vernon react to his own wife having once coveted her sister's abilities? It would definitely explain why she didn't want to explain what the letter meant it discuss it further at all when asked to... Thoughts?

  • Interesting points, however, if you have a new question, feel free to ask a new one using the Ask Question button at the top right. – Möoz Sep 19 '16 at 22:55
  • great point. Petunia would definitely not want dursley to know of her connection. Though personally the first time i read it, i thought it was more like a warning. So i thought maybe this wasn't the first time the discussion of keeping harry came up in the house. Maybe petunia was always calming down Dursley without drawing attention to herself. But of course we know later on that there Were other letters before this one..... – Dev Sep 20 '16 at 13:44
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I thought somehow Lily Potter sent the Howler to her sister. Harry wouldn't know his mother's voice. Maybe "remember my last" meant remember my last dying wish? Which would be to protect Harry.

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    Well, this isn’t really the answer, though. Dumbledore sent the Howler. It’s mentioned later in the book, as well as in some of the other answers. – Adamant Oct 18 '16 at 1:44
  • Welcome to the site :) Lily's dead, which tends to be a bit of an impediment to sending and receiving post, so you should try and back this up with some evidence from the books. It's not your fault, you're a little new here, try taking the tour, but unlike some forums and stuff, we take our scifi pretty seriously here. We're a Q&A site and the A's are usually expected to have some supporting evidence. And unfortunately, the evidence from the book is quite plain that it was Dumbledore – Au101 Oct 18 '16 at 2:23
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I think it must be Snape in the howler. I mean, he really cares about Harry's safety. It must be a dreadful man’s voice like it says in the book. Mad Eye Moody? Not Dumbledore! It can’t be Sirius either. Snape knew Aunt Petunia from his childhood (Lily Potter) so it’s more likely its him.

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    What makes you think it isn’t Dumbledore? – alexwlchan Jan 31 '15 at 14:38
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It can't be dumbledore who sent the howler because Harry asks himself who's terrible voice it could be.. Since Harry has known dumbledore for 4 years now he had to recognize his voice, no matter how much more 'terrible' than normal.

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I think Dumbedore did something, like making sure Petunia can't have more children for example, in case she gave Harry to an orphanage or did something Dumbeldore did not want.

So he means his last action. "Remember my last" Its a clear threat formulated in a way Dumbeldore would say it, describing / hinting at : Remember what I did last time. YOU WILL OBEY!

  • Do you have evidence that Dumbledore may have done such a thing? – DBPriGuy Sep 19 '16 at 23:38
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I have no theories about this, but Snape doesn't care about Harry (J.K. Rowling has said it herself). So, it clearly wasn't him.

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    "JK said it herself" <-- Where did she say this? – Möoz Oct 5 '15 at 1:05
  • conversation bet snape & dumbledore in 7th part:{S>so you let him live all this time only to be slaughtered like a pig at the right time? D>dont tell me you finally grew fond of the boy S>The boy?...[patronus charm same as Lily] D>all this time? S>Always.}Basically he doesn't have any love for harry but only as a human. Snape is not a monster like Voldy! he does have humanity. Also, however much he looks like James, he knew he can never harm someone with Lily's blood. All for Lily. I hope people wont down vote me just for saying Snape doesn't really care for harry more than any other student. – Dev Sep 20 '16 at 13:56

protected by Null Oct 18 '16 at 2:58

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