If you were to name two people who hated the magical community with all their heart, Mr and Mrs Dursley would spring straight to mind. Yet, that wasn’t always Petunia’s view. While she acted like her hatred of witches and wizards came from them being what she saw as abnormal – she had yearned to belong to the community herself. Petunia was incredibly jealous of Lily’s magical ability and hated that her magical sister always seemed to be the centre of attention. When she married Vernon, she didn’t want Lily to be a bridesmaid because she was tired of being overshadowed by her. And as children, she called Lily a ‘freak’ because she was upset that she didn’t have the same gifts. While none of that is an excuse for Petunia’s behaviour, it does give an insight into her rejection of anything remotely magical.
Petunia didn’t just keep her magical aspirations to herself, she actually asked Albus Dumbledore if she could join Hogwarts. Unfortunately, as she had no magical ability, the kindly headmaster had to gently rebuff her. While that was a humiliating blow for Petunia (or ‘Tuney’ as she was known then), it could have been something she got over quietly and privately. However, Lily and Snape found her letter and read it – furthering her humiliation. When Petunia discovered what they had done, she lashed out at her sister and that was when she first called her a ‘freak’. Unfortunately for the Evans sisters, that was a moment when their relationship really began to sour.
Though the bond between the two sisters was strained – and Petunia would probably have you believe she wanted nothing to with the witch in her family – they did actually try to have a relationship when they were adults. In fact, when Petunia became engaged to Vernon, they met James and Lily for a meal at a restaurant. However, the meeting was not a success and culminated in the future Mr and Mrs Dursley storming out. They never managed to quite make up after that. Even though the Potters did attend the wedding, the Dursleys refused to reciprocate and attend theirs. Yet, having known the Petunia we met in the books, the fact that she ever tried to see her sister as an adult is rather surprising.
One of Petunia Dursley’s biggest secrets was the promise she made to Albus Dumbledore. When James and Lily were killed at the hand of Voldemort and Harry was dropped off on the doorstep of 4 Privet Drive, there was a letter accompanying him. Dumbledore explained in the note that Lily had sacrificed her life for her son and by doing so had invoked an ancient and powerful magic. As Lily’s last remaining blood relative, if Petunia were to take Harry in it would seal the enchantment and provide him with protection from Voldemort. This would last as long as he could call the place where his mother’s blood existed his home. Despite her animosity towards her sister, Petunia took in the infant Harry, and he was able to call Privet Drive home – albeit an unhappy one – until his seventeenth birthday. Petunia never seemed to share with anyone what Albus Dumbledore’s letter had contained and so kept the one good thing she had done all to herself. And she did keep her promise – even when it took a Howler from Dumbledore crying ‘Remember my last’ to remind her of it.
Petunia might have preferred to pretend that, like her husband Vernon, she knew nothing of the wizarding world but that wasn’t strictly true. While she was obviously ignorant to a lot of things – like her belief that she could squash the magic out of her nephew – it seemed that Mrs Dursley had more of an understanding than she cared to share, and it wasn’t just the knowledge of the protective enchantment left by Lily’s sacrifice. In Order of the Phoenix, after Harry and Dudley had faced a couple of Dementors, Petunia let slip that they were the guards of the wizarding prison Azkaban. Though she was immediately mortified that she had said that, it showed us that no matter how much she tried to ignore the wizarding world she wasn’t completely oblivious to its existence.