Where there are fandoms, there are fan theories. The Harry Potter world has a ton of them. The latest to gain attention is that the Dursleys were not just mean to Harry because they were bad people, but because they were under the affect of a Horcrux.
Specifically, they were under the affect of Harry, who is himself a Horcrux. Remember?
The theory started on Tumblr—because where else—where Graphic Nerdity wrote that the Dursleys were ordinary, perfectly respectable people before Harry was dropped off on their doorstep. She continues, “For the next decade it proceeded to warp their minds…The fact that they survived such prolonged horcrux exposure without delving into insanity or abandoning a helpless child only solidifies their place among the pantheon of noble and virtuous heroes in the Harry Potter universe.”
And, I suppose, on the surface the theory makes sense. Both Ron and Ginny become possessed when exposed to a Horcrux for a long period of time—Ron with the Slytherin locket and Ginny with Tom Riddle’s diary. The wizarding world had long since been surprised by the Dursley’s complete lack of familial love for Harry.
All this to say, yes, I felt it too. Reading the books, especially as a child myself, I wanted to understand the sort of people who’d keep a little boy in a closet under the stairs.
But while the Harry Potter universe does have a “pantheon of noble and virtuous heroes,” I don’t think the Dursleys are among them. Nor were they meant to be. Sometimes bad people just have to exist.
The universe Rowling created also has many evils, and while most of those belong to the magical world, there are plenty of evils that are very much human.
Abuse, for one. Let’s not forget, plenty of people exposed to Harry weren’t affected. Ron, Hermione, or the very Gryffindor boys that slept beside him each night at Hogwarts. Maybe the good in Harry was enough to cancel out the bad that lived inside him. We’ll never know unless we ask J.K. Rowling herself (and sometimes she does answer).
Either way, Vernon and Petunia Dursley hated Harry for reasons that were entirely their own. Petunia spent her childhood being bitter that her sister, Lily, was a witch. In Sorcerer’s Stone, Petunia shrieks “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!” She was jealous. But still, Lily was her sister, and she was dead. Harry was a living reminder of the world that had taken her away.
Vernon, probably, was simply terrified of magic. Also in Sorcerer’s Stone, Vernon says, “We swore when we took him in we’d put a stop to that rubbish. Swore we’d stamp it out of him! Wizard indeed!” In his mind, if he didn’t let Harry go to Hogwarts, he wouldn’t ever become a wizard.
Even Marge, Vernon’s sister, someone who had very little contact with Harry, was, well, kind of a monster. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Marge says, “I still don’t like your tone, boy. If you can speak of your beatings in that casual way, they clearly aren’t hitting you hard enough. Petunia, I’d write to them if I were you. Make it clear that you approve the use of extreme force in this boy’s case.” She also smacked Harry on the shins with her walking stick when he was only four years old so that he wouldn’t beat Dudley at a game.
It’d be nice to point the finger at Harry the Horcrux (not for Harry, of course), but Rowling has created a highly complex world. So much so that we now even know Dumbledore’s sexual orientation. And maybe, just maybe, Rowling wanted readers to confront the evil facets that exist in our own world.
Plus, there’s the fact that J.K. Rowling herself did almost write Dudley into the epilogue of the series, standing with a magical kid, but decided “any latent wizarding genes would never have survived contact with Uncle Vernon’s DNA.”
Which leads me to believe that, no, the Dursleys were just kind of dicks.
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