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So let me just preface this by stating that I have decided to reread the Harry Potter series for at least the hundredth time; but this time, I am reading them in reverse order.

That being said, in Order of the Phoenix, A Peck of Owls, we have the following, emphasis is my own:

"De-ment-tors," said Harry slowly and clearly. "Two of them."

"And what the ruddy hell are dementors?" [Uncle Vernon]

"They guard the wizard prison, Azkaban," said Aunt Petunia.

...

Aunt Petunia looked quite appalled with herself. She glanced at Uncle Vernon in fearful apology, then lowered her hand slightly to reveal her horsey teeth.

"I heard – that awful boy – telling her about them – years ago," she said jerkily.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, pages 31-32, US Edition

Now Harry takes for granted at the time, and understandably so, that "that awful boy" was in reference to his father, James.

Fast forward two years to Deathly Hallows. When Harry views Snape's memories, we find that Lily and Snape were friendly as children, and that Snape was the first to actually tell Lily that she was a witch. Petunia, as we know is jealous of this fact, and takes to spying on Lily and Snape:

...

"They wouldn't give you to the dementors for that! Dementors are for people who do really bad stuff. The guard the wizard prison, Azkaban. You're not going to end up in Azkaban, you're too –"

He turned red again and shredded more leaves. Then a small rustling noise behind Harry made him turn: Petunia, hiding behind a tree, had lost her footing.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pages 667-668, US Edition

So we know for a fact that Petunia did overhear Lily and Snape's discussion about dementors. That is not to say, however, that she never heard Lily and James talk about them.

So my questions are:

  1. Is there any canon evidence that states about whom Petunia was referring to as "that awful boy" in Order of the Phoenix, or is this all just a massive coincidence?

  2. Is JKR really that organized to have planned out such small details that far in advance?

  3. Why am I only making this connection now? [This question is more rhetorical than anything else]

Any canon-based answers, or answers in the spirit of canon, would be much appreciated.

  • 3
    I've heard anecdotally that Rowling told Alan Rickman the end of Snape's subplot for his role in the film version, so I'm inclined to say "yes, Rowling does plan that far in advance" – Jason Baker Jun 1 '15 at 17:56
  • I always thought it referred to James, but thinking about it now, I believe that in Snape's memories we actually see Snape telling Lily about the dementors. I don't have the books with me to check though. – Kevin Jun 1 '15 at 17:59
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    afaik she never refered to james as a boy before, by the time he would have met petunia he would have already been of legal age, and being similar in age to petunia anyways, so i believe just by that it was intended for someone else to have been that awful boy. – Himarm Jun 1 '15 at 18:04
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    Aren't you quoting the canon evidence for it being Snape in your question? – TZHX Jun 1 '15 at 18:32
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    I realised she was referring to Snape on my first reread of OotP after reading DH. Seems obvious to me, but I haven't got any canon evidence (JKR interviews or whatever) other than, as @TZHX says, the quote you yourself provide. – Rand al'Thor Jun 1 '15 at 19:17
51

I don’t think it’s explicitly stated, but I think it’s pretty likely that it was Snape.

Some thoughts in this direction:

  • James and Lily only started dating in their seventh year. By this point they’re both adults, and Lily probably left home shortly afterward (she’d had Harry and was living in Godric’s Hollow when she died, at 21 years old). It seems unlikely that Petunia would have met James before then, so referring to him as a “boy” seems a little odd, even for her.

  • It would be an unnecessarily oblique way of referring to James. Although she prefers not to mention Harry’s parents, she has mentioned them directly on occasion. I don’t think she’d refer to James in this way, especially in Harry’s presence.

  • I think “awful” is a strong word for James. We know she abhorred him and the world he represented, but there’s no evidence that he was antagonistic towards her. By contrast, as a child, Snape read her letters and used his magic to hurt her. The moniker fits Snape more than it fits James.

  • In an interview in 2005, JK Rowling was asked about this scene, and how she knew about Dementors:

    How does Aunt Petunia know about dementors and all the other magical facts she knows?

    She overheard a conversation, that is all I am going to say. She overheard conversation. The answer is in the beginning of Phoenix, she said she overheard Lily being told about them basically. […] I don't want to say what else there is because it relates to book 7.

    If James told her about Dementors, why not just say so? By contrast, Snape and Lily’s friendship wasn’t really mentioned before Deathly Hallows, and so that seems to be what she’s talking about here.

As for JK Rowling’s foresight? She’s said in interviews that she planned out the rules of magic pretty meticulously before Philosopher’s Stone was published. And the major plot arcs were sketched out pretty far in advance. So I think it’s pretty likely that by the time it came to Order of the Phoenix, (a) she knew that Snape and Lily’s friendship would be a major reveal in the last book, and (b) that Snape would have been able to tell Lily about Dementors.

  • Thank you from adding the interview source. I have accepted this as the answer. – bz032002 Jun 1 '15 at 20:22
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    It absolutely was Severus. The Prince’s Tale says it all. Or I should say it shows it all. – Pryftan Jul 15 '18 at 19:48
  • Do you have a reference for the statement that James and Lily only started dating in their seventh year? – b_jonas Jul 17 '18 at 21:44
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    @b_jonas if reading the Prince's Tale doesn't do it, there's always the exchange with Lupin and Sirius in OotP "'How come she married him?' Harry asked miserably. 'She hated him!' 'Nah, she didn't,' said Sirius. 'She started going out with him in seventh year,' said Lupin." (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - p.591 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 29, Careers Advice – Au101 Jul 17 '18 at 22:22
36
+500

It was Snape

In 2017/8 the British Library put on an exhibition called Harry Potter: A History of Magic to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. They exhibited various historical manuscripts and "magical" objects that were connected with the Harry Potter world - possibly somewhat loosely, but Harry Potter was the theme and the hook on which they hung the objects of their exhibit. Also included in the exhibit were items from Bloomsbury and JK Rowling herself, including drafts of the books, handwritten notes and hand-drawn illustrations.

I never went to the exhibition, but I did get the companion book Harry Potter: A Journey Through A History of Magic.

This book contains some of JK Rowling's plans for The Order of the Phoenix which I believe were exhibited at the British Library and which I think may have been seen before.

In her notes on chapter 2 - already called A Peck of Owls - in the box for "Harry/Dad/Snape" she has written

Mention of Snape obliquely by Aunt P.

enter image description here

enter image description here

(Second image provided generously by ibid -- thank you!!)

  • 2
    An excellent find and worthy of upvote. – Valorum Jul 14 '18 at 19:46
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    @chirlu it's not the clearest image in the book, I really did my best with bad equipment so people wouldn't just have to take my word for it, but i'll have another go for you. Truth be told its been bugging me – Au101 Jul 15 '18 at 19:16
  • Google has quite a bit on the exhibit. Pottermore referenced it a while back. Maybe it will be there? – Pryftan Jul 15 '18 at 19:50
  • @Pryftan - This item isn't scanned on the Google recreation. Out of all the items on loan from JKR, only two of them were included in the Google version. (Everything in the exhibit loaned from other places are on the Google site.) – ibid Jul 17 '18 at 16:50
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    @Au101 - Here are some (possibly better) pictures. Feel free to add any of them to your answer: Journey ebook (close up), Book of the exhibition scan (close up), another Book of the exhibition scan (close up). (Btw, I stand corrected from my previous comment. For this particular page the Journey book has a slightly larger version. The exhibition book only has the final five bigger) – ibid Jul 17 '18 at 18:17
-3

The 'awful boy' Aunt Petunia mentions is Snape.

Although we didn't know at the time.

During The Prince's Tale we find out that Severus loved Harry's mother Lily and told her at age 10 that she was a witch(similar to when Hargrid tells Harry that he is a wizard).

He also gives her a significant amount of knowledge on the wizarding world.(This also reminds me of when Hagrid tells Harry why he's famous in the wizard community.) Young Snape gives Lily information on a variety of subjects including Azkaban and Dementors.

Snape telling Lily about the wizarding world ttps://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/harrypotter/images/1/1c/Lily_and_Severus.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20111019181033

  • OP is looking for an answer from the books (or related materials) that confirms it was Snape and that JKR had actually planned on that from the beginning. Your answer just contains a movie quote and a movie still showing that it could have been Snape. None of this answers the question and none of it even seems to pull from the type of canon material the OP was interested in. – ibid Jul 18 '18 at 0:49
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    @ibid To be fair though one might argue that this is just a visual... I agree though that having quotes from the books would be better (and far more in character too for Hermione! :) ). – Pryftan Jul 18 '18 at 22:29
  • @Pryftan - Maybe I was being a bit unfair, but the "Yer a wizard Harry" misquote is one of my pet peeves. – ibid Jul 18 '18 at 22:51
  • @ibid Oh I agree with that too. Not related to the Tale even. I was merely commenting on the visual of the Tale and the fact she does say some things that did indeed happen as the memory shows. I think that the quote you refer to is misplaced but I see where she's going I think; it's just not really useful to the answer and is arguably a distraction more than anything else. – Pryftan Jul 18 '18 at 22:56
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    I didn't have the book with me when I wrote this so I couldn't add the quote.BTW at that time I was out hunting horcruxes – Hermione Granger Jul 22 '18 at 8:37

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