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Harry Potter: Exactly it's a lot to remember. I'll have to make it sound convincing, won't I? What if I accidentally let something slip? Vernon Dursley: You'll get the stuffing knocked out of you, won’t you?
~ Harry Potter to Vernon Dursley.
The Dursleys are a muggle (non-magical) family and the opening antagonists of the Harry Potter franchise. They are the protagonist, Harry James Potter's only surviving relatives, following the death of his parents at the end of the First Wizarding War. Although staunchly anti-magic, Vernon and Petunia nevertheless took Harry in after James and Lily's deaths.
All four members of the family were highly abusive towards Harry, treating him with open disdain and borderline cruelty. Due to their fear and lack of understanding, Vernon and Petunia hoped that their actions would drive out Harry's magic, which did not occur. At the same time, they failed to recognize the impact that their actions were having upon their own son, Dudley, who grew up to become a spoiled bully. As such, they were Harry's primary foes in the human (Muggle) world.
Vernon, Petunia and Dudley Dursley appeared in the opening chapters of all seven Harry Potter books. They also appeared in the opening segments of most of the films. Marjorie Dursley made her only appearance in the third book/film; The Prisoner of Azkaban.
Note: This section contains only a small summary of the Dursley family's actions. For a more in-depth analysis of each character, please check out their respective villains pages.
Virtually nothing is known about Vernon and Petunia Dursley's early lives or marriage. By the end of The First Wizading War however, in 1981, the couple were married, lived at Number 4, Privet Drive and had a one year old son, called Dudley. Although the family had a close relationship with Vernon's sister, Marge, they avoided contact with Petunia's younger sister, Lily and her husband, James Potter. The reason for this estrangement was because James and Lily were wizards and could use magic. Petunia was extremely jealous of the fact that her sister could use magic and she couldn't. Vernon on the other hand, hated anything out of the ordinary. For this reason, although there was some degree of contact between them, the Dursley's generally acted as if the Potter's did not exist.
Their lives were changed forever in November 1981, when Petunia opened the door to find a baby boy resting on the doorstep. This boy was their nephew Harry James Potter. Accompanying the boy was a note from Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore. The letter notified Vernon and Petunia about the deaths of James and Lily at the hands of the fallen Dark Lord Voldemort. Although, Dumbledore knew about the families cruel nature and the fact that many wizarding families would have happily adopted Harry, necessity forced him to leave the young boy with his relatives. Due to Lily sacrificing herself to save her infant son, she bestowed a magical protection upon Harry. So long as he lived with an immediate family member, Voldemort, who Dumbledore knew would one day return, could not harm the boy. This was all explained in the letter, along with the hope that Vernon and Petunia would treat Harry as one of their own.
The Dursley's however, did exactly the opposite, a fact which Dumbledore eventually called them out on in 1996. Over the next seventeen years, Vernon and Petunia frequently chastised Harry, putting him down frequently and treating him more like an animal than a human being. They refused to give Harry pocket money, buy him clothes or toys, locked him the cupboard under the stairs rather than give him his own bedroom and would punish/yell at him for any strange phenomena. They initially kept Harry ignorant of the magical world or his heritage, even going so far as to claim that James and Lily died in a car crash. When Harry started attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he was forced to return home for the summer breaks. Each year, without fail, Vernon and Petunia would immediately lock his school equipment away, where it would remain until Harry either left to stay with his friends or escaped from the household.
Vernon and Petunia's son, Dudley, initially grew up to be just as bad, if not worse than his parents. He was spoilt rotten by his parents and aunt. As far as they were concerned, Dudley could do no wrong. Following in his parents footsteps, Dudley spent much of his youth bullying the local children, with Harry as his favorite victim. He and his gang regularly chased and beat up Harry for their own amusement. Even if Harry told his Aunt and Uncle what Dudley had done, they ignored it. The cousins relationship changed significantly, after Harry saved Dudley's life in 1995. Following the failed Dementor attack, Dudley began to realize that Harry and magic were not as bad as his parents had made out.
Out of all of the Dursley's however, Harry's least favorite member was Marjorie Dursley. Unlike her brother and sister in law, Aunt Marge made no attempt to hide her hatred for Harry, whom she regarded as worthless. Apart from telling Vernon and Petunia that they should have taken Harry straight to an orphanage, she was both physically and emotionally abusive to the boy. She insulted him and his dead parents openly, whilst comparing him unfavorably to Dudley. Harry ultimately got his revenge by making her inflate like a balloon, though the Ministry of Magic erased Marge's memory of the incident.
Despite Harry's dislike for the Dursley's, in 1997 he nevertheless helped to ensure their safety at the height of The Second Wizarding War. As Dumbledore had explained the previous year, the magical protection that Lily bestowed upon Harry would break when he turned seventeen. Knowing that Voldemort would not hesitate to go after his relatives in order to try and draw him out, Harry urged the family to go into hiding, with the Order of the Phoenix arranging special protection for them. Although Vernon and Petunia were somewhat hesitant, Dudley accepted the offer and persuaded his parents that they should do the same. After a final exchange, the Dursley's left Privet Drive.
Harry did not see his relatives again until after the war. In his adult years, he remained on Christmas card terms with Dudley and would occasionally visit him, with his children. It is not known if Harry ever made amends with Vernon and Petunia.
I’m warning you, I’m warning you now, boy — any funny business, anything at all — and you’ll be in that cupboard from now until Christmas.
~ Vernon to Harry
Vernon Dursley is the patriarch of the family, who runs a drill making company called Grunnings. With the exception of his sister, Marge, he is by far the most hateful and abusive towards Harry, who is his nephew by marriage. As the most anti-magical member of his family, Vernon did everything within his power to keep Harry away from the Wizarding World and oversaw many of his punishments. During Harry's childhood, if Harry so much as innocently said anything to relating to magic or imagination, Vernon would explode at him as if he had spoken a cruel swear word.
Despite his cowardly tendencies, Vernon was very protective of his family and feared what Harry could do to them if he turned his magic upon them. His fears were somewhat justified since Harry made Marge inflate like a balloon in 1993 and in 1995, Dudley was nearly killed by a pair of Dementors. In spite of this, Vernon never once thought that the best thing to was to treat Harry better and therefore, never showed him any compassion. On the contrary, following the incident with the Dementors, Vernon nearly evicted Harry from the premises and was only stopped by Petunia.
When the pair parted in 1997, Vernon was the only member to show no concern for Harry, being the only one not to disagree with his sarcastic comment that he was a “waste of space”. Although he did briefly move to shake Harry's hand and wish him luck, Vernon stopped himself and left without another word. It is not known what happened to him after the Second Wizarding War.
In the movies, Vernon was portrayed by the late Richard Griffiths.
I was the only one who saw her for what she was — a freak! But for my mother and father, oh no, it was Lily this and Lily that, they were proud of having a witch in the family!
~ Petunia on her sister
Petunia is the matriarch of the Dursley family and the older sister to Harry's deceased mother, Lily. Although she adores her own son Dudley, Petunia is cruel and heartless towards Harry due to the troubled history with her own sister. Due to her own lack of magic and her parents favouritism, Petunia has an extremely poor view on magic. She often left Harry to the daily houndings/punishments of Vernon.
Despite this however, Petunia did hold a secret affection for Harry. Although she never admitted it and even called Lily a freak, to both her and later Harry's faces, Petunia deeply regretted that she was not able to reconcile with Lily for what she said during their childhood. Dumbledore highlighted this in the Order of the Phoenix novel, when he pointed out that despite her hatred and attitude towards magic, Lily and Harry himself, Petunia did nevertheless take Harry into her home. It should also be noted that whilst Vernon was portrayed as a complete psychopath, who abused Harry for his own amusement, Petunia’s abuse was mostly only disciplinary.
Petunia would ultimately prove that she did care for Harry when the Dursley's left Privet Drive in 1997. The last member of the family to leave the house, she paused in the doorway and looked at her nephew. Teetering on the verge of wishing him luck, she like her husband, stopped herself at the last moment and walked out. When Petunia passed away, she left Harry something very precious; the blanket that he had been wrapped in, when Dumbledore left him on the doorstep.
Dudley is Harry's cousin. Throughout much of their youth, Dudley was a spoiled, bully, who like his parents took pleasure in hurting Harry. He and his gang made sure that both Harry's school and home life were completely miserable. It should be noted that his opinion of Harry was solely due to the negative influence of his parents. Dumbledore himself took pity on Dudley, indicating that whilst they were not abusive to him, their treatment of him had grossly shaped his character.
After Harry saved his life from a Dementor attack, Dudley had a profound change of heart, even going as far as standing up against Vernon's bullying and saying he did not see Harry as a waste of space. Due to this change of heart, Harry decided to keep Dudley in his life even as an adult, albeit in small doses, sending Christmas cards each year and also arranging visits so their children could play together, even if said visits were slightly awkward for the two cousins, who rarely actually talked. Despite the awkwardness, it is still clear Dudley and Harry have managed to keep a familial bond.
Although she did not appear as frequently in Harry's life as any of his other relatives, Marge Dursley holds the questionable "honor" of being the most abusive and vile member of the entire family. Whilst most of Vernon and Petunia's punishments involved locking Harry in his cupboard/bedroom, Marge was not only physically, but verbally and emotionally abusive towards him. For instance, she whacked the then five year old Harry with a stick, when he started to beat Dudley at musical statues. Five years later, she allowed her aggressive bulldog Ripper to chase Harry, after he accidently trod on the dogs paw, not caring about the fact that Ripper could potentially maul him.
As a result of her cruelty, Marge was the only Dursley that Harry actively punished for abusing him. After one insult to many, the thirteen year old Harry would, in a fit of rage, cause her to inflate like a balloon, forcing the Ministry of Magic's intervention. Although Marge's memory of the incident was erased, Vernon and Petunia realised it was not safe to let her anywhere near Harry afterwards and made sure that the pair never saw each other again aftwerwards.
Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, Dudley Dursley and Severus Snape were the only antagonists to appear in every Harry Potter novel.
Despite being completely non-magical, the Dursleys were one of the most recurring antagonists in the series and also the most personal, with Harry finally learning to stand up their bullying and ultimately breaking ties with them entirely (save Dudley)
J.K Rowling herself confirmed that Uncle Vernon was her least favorite character in the story. Fans share this opinion and despite the fact that he posed little actual threat to Harry, Vernon is one of the most hated characters in the Harry Potter franchise.
Dudley was the only member of the family to truly redeem himself and make amends with Harry, after the latter saved him from a Dementor attack in 1995. As a Muggle, Dudley was unable to see the Dementors, but could still feel their effects. Rowling, confirmed that because Dudley was a spoilt brat, the Dementors affected him differently than they did Harry or any of their other victims. Instead of seeing the worst memories of his life, Dudley saw himself for what he really was and what he would become if he continued his bullying ways, i.e. like his own father. After learning that the Dementors were real and reflecting upon what he saw, Dudley was appalled and willed himself to change.
Following the shocking introduction of Obscurial (a wizardkind who consciously repressed his/her powers through enduring abuse to the point of warped into a destructive, out-of-control force) in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, many fans became curious and wonder how Harry didn't became one due to Dursleys' mistreatments on him. Thus, J.K. Rowling assured them by explained: "An Obscurus is developed under very specific conditions: trauma associated with the use of magic, internalised hatred of one’s own magic and a conscious attempt to suppress it. The Dursleys were too frightened of magic ever to acknowledge its existence to Harry. While Vernon and Petunia had a confused hope that if they were nasty enough to Harry his strange abilities might somehow evaporate, they never taught him to be ashamed or afraid of magic. Even when he was scolded for ‘making things happen’, he didn’t make any attempt to suppress his true nature, nor did he ever imagine that he had the power to do so." As such, Dursleys were EXTREMELY lucky not to create one out of the Boy Who Lived, more so since Harry's very ability to feel and be empowered by love practically made his overall magic grew close to match Voldemort and Dumbledore's own.