From the moment we met the Dursleys, we were under no illusion that they carried a hatred for Harry Potter. From his pokey cupboard under the stairs to Vernon’s militant guarding of his endless Hogwarts letters, the owners of No. 4 Privet Drive had no time for the young wizard.
But while readers were aware of the Dursleys’ intolerance of all things magical, it’s not always been clear what motivates their abhorrence. Until now – because JK Rowling has taken to Pottermore to fill in some gaps, revealing important background details about Harry’s reluctant guardians.
According to the new piece, the Durlseys met in an office where Vernon – then a junior executive – appeared “a model of manliness” to young Petunia who deemed him “deliciously normal” after growing up with a wizard for a sister.
After a series of “dull dates”, Petunia nervously introduced her “large and neckless” boyfriend to her sister Lily and her partner James (Harry’s parents). She was nervous, largely because “Vernon was apt to despise even people who wore brown shoes with black suits” – and, suffice to say, it wasn’t a success…
“James was amused by Vernon, and made the mistake of showing it. Vernon tried to patronise James, asking what car he drove. James described his racing broom. Vernon supposed out loud that wizards had to live on unemployment benefit. James explained about Gringotts, and the fortune his parents had saved there, in solid gold. Vernon could not tell whether he was being made fun of or not, and grew angry. The evening ended with Vernon and Petunia storming out of the restaurant, while Lily burst into tears and James (a little ashamed of himself) promised to make things up with Vernon at the earliest opportunity.”
Unfortunately, the reconciliation never took place as the sisters grew apart, with Vernon and Petunia deciding not to attend James and Lily’s wedding. Besides the announcement of Harry’s birth, the next they heard of their relatives was the appearance of their orphaned nephew on their doorstep – and we all know the rest of that tale…
But one character who’s always remained a bit of a mystery is Petunia who Rowling’s provided some all-important extra details on…
“Prior to Harry’s arrival, Petunia had become, if anything, the more determined of the Dursleys in suppressing all talk about her sister. Petunia had some latent feelings of guilt about the way she had cut Lily (whom she knew, in her secret heart, had always loved her) out of her life, but these were buried under considerable jealousy and bitterness. Petunia had also buried deep inside her (and never confessed to Vernon) her long ago hope that she, too, would show signs of magic, and be spirited off to Hogwarts.
Reading the shocking contents of Dumbledore’s letter, however, which told her how bravely Lily had died, she felt she had no choice but to take Harry in, and raise him alongside her own cherished son, Dudley. She did it grudgingly, and spent the rest of Harry’s childhood punishing him for her own choice. Uncle Vernon’s dislike of Harry stems in part, like Severus Snape’s, from Harry’s close resemblance to the father they both so disliked.”