The Harry Potter series is, by and large, about the magical world and all its exciting and dangerous trappings. Still, J.K. Rowling’s series and its corresponding film franchise has plenty of ties to the “real” world. One of the most memorable parts of the muggle side of things are Harry’s closest remaining family members, the Dursleys. Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and their son, Dudley, are a source of frequent discord in our hero’s life. They took him in after his parents died, but mistreated him terribly throughout the first 11 years of his life. Between depriving him of a normal childhood full of love, toys, and an actual bedroom, and treating him as though he was a stranger in his own home, Harry was more than happy to leave his family behind when he found out he had been accepted at Hogwarts.
As the series wore on, the Dursleys became less and less important in Harry Potter’s life. Let’s be honest, they don’t make many lists of fan favorite characters, either. Still, there are plenty of intriguing parts of their lives that we often overlook. Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About The Dursleys.
15. Vernon plays a unique role in the Harry Potter series
In many ways, the Dursleys faded into obscurity by the end of Harry Potter. After all, they mostly existed so that our hero had a place to go home to in the summer, and even that became more or less a technicality by the time we got to the final installment. Still, they were a pretty integral part of the earlier chapters. In the film version of The Sorcerer’s Stone, we meet Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Hagrid first when they leave Harry on the Dursleys’ doorstep. In the book, however, we’re introduced to J.K. Rowling’s world by way of Vernon’s annoyance at the strangely behaving (and dressed) people he meets on the way to work one day.
As a result, Vernon is the first character we meet in the Harry Potter universe, and also one of only four through which we encounter Rowling’s world throughout the entire series. Surely, he’d be begrudgingly impressed with himself for holding such a distinct honor.
14. Petunia’s name describes her perfectly
We don’t get to know all that much about Petunia Dursley during the Harry Potter series. As a tertiary character, she mostly exists to prop up her husband’s hateful and close-minded behavior, or coddle her incredibly obnoxious son. Still, there’s plenty to glean about her based just on her name. Many fans have noticed that she and her sister were both named after flowers, but few have stopped to consider the deeper symbolism behind them.
The name Lily can represent passion, drive, renewal and rebirth, and also motherhood. These are largely positive traits, and given the reverence that many HP characters show for Harry’s mother, that makes a lot of sense. Petunia, on the other hand, often stands for anger and resentment, two of the traits that are almost always on display in Harry’s aunt. J.K. Rowling has never explicitly stated that she gave these sisters their names for those reasons, but it stands to reason that she did, given the amount of thought she put into most other aspects of the series.
13. Dudley may have had the coolest video game console on the planet
Anyone who knows the first thing about Harry Potter knows that Dudley Dursley was extremely spoiled. From early on in the series, Harry frequently noted the ridiculous amount of toys and gadgets that his cousin had amassed, and how little he seemed to appreciate them. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Dudley’s disregard for his fortune in life was on full display when he chucked a PlayStation out the window to protest the fact that he’d been put on a diet. It’s a humorous moment in the book, and a good one for Harry, since he’s able to grab the gaming device and play it when his family isn’t around.
Unfortunately, it’s one that’s nearly impossible, even in a book series all about magic. That’s because the scene takes place in 1994, and the PlayStation console didn’t hit shelves in the UK until 1995. Of course, Rowling could argue that the Dursleys were so preoccupied with pleasing their child that they somehow called in a favor at Sony to get him something no one else had – or maybe the time turner was involved.
12. Vernon Dursley has discerning TV habits
Throughout the Harry Potter series, we learn a lot about what the Dursleys don’t like and very little about what they actually enjoy. In the case of Vernon, the thing he seems to enjoy most, aside from talking about work, is making Harry miserable. According to J.K. Rowling, his tastes did expand at least a bit over the years, though.
In 2015, she took to Twitter to weigh in on a controversy surrounding the popular British stunt show, Top Gear – and revealed that it was Vernon Dursley’s very favorite program. In fact, he likes it so much that he petitioned the series’ creators to bring back its embattled presenter, Jeremy Clarkson. Vernon’s affinity for Top Gear makes sense in the context of his character, given that he was pretty obsessed with shiny objects and fancy cars.
11. Petunia had another life before she was Mrs. Dursley
We only really know Petunia Dursley as an accessory to other characters: she is Harry’s aunt, Dudley’s mom, Vernon’s wife. Somewhere in between all of these roles, though, she did carve out a life for herself – and though it was nowhere near as magical as her sister Lily’s, that was just fine by her. According to
According to Pottermore, while her sister was off joining forces with the Order of the Phoenix, Petunia left the small town she grew up in, Cokeworth, and moved to London to pursue a clerical career. She enrolled in a typing course, graduated, and eventually ended up getting a job at Vernon Dursley’s firm. They met when he was a junior executive, and she was wooed by the prospect of falling into a stable and predictable life together. Vernon and Petunia began a completely unremarkable courtship that resulted in their engagement in 1977. All in all, her life was extremely ordinary, and so far as anyone can tell, that’s exactly the way she would have wanted it.
10. Dudley’s dementor attack changed him forever
As a general rule, the Dursleys did everything they could to stay far away from Harry Potter’s wizarding life. In Order of the Phoenix, Dudley came face-to-face with the dark side of magic, though, when the Dementors descended on Little Whinging. One swooped down on him, and though Harry was able to intervene and save his cousin from their deadly kiss, Dudley was clearly stunned. We didn’t learn much more about his experience at the time, but according to J.K. Rowling, he was deeply changed as a result.
The author said that when the Dementor overpowered Dudley’s thoughts and emotions, he was forced to face the way he’d treated others, especially his cousin. By seeing himself for what he really was – a bully who repeatedly and mercilessly hurt others for fun – he was deeply hurt. From then on, he vowed to treat others better. Dudley never exactly warmed to Harry, but he also eased up on the constant antagonism.
9. Uncle Vernon’s hatred of Harry went way back
Every great book series needs a villain, and Harry Potter had plenty. Between embittered teachers, hateful classmates, and a murderous dark wizard, there was never a shortage of antagonists for our titular hero. The first truly awful people he ever encountered, though, were (unfortunately) members of his own family, who begrudgingly took him in and then proceeded to mistreat him for years. J.K. Rowling never explicitly told us, in the books, why Vernon Dursley and his wife, Petunia, were so hard on Harry, but she did reveal a bit of backstory years later that helped to explain their animosity.
According to the author, Vernon’s grudge against Harry went back – way back – to when he first met James and Lily Potter. The two couples had a disastrous first encounter that ended with Vernon feeling as though James was making fun of him (in reality, the elder Potter was simply trying to explain the differences between muggle and wizard currency). The Dursleys and Potters never mended fences, and he transmitted his hard feelings directly onto his young nephew. In other words, in Vernon’s case, being the bigger man definitely didn’t mean he was the better one.
8. Petunia looks way different than J.K. Rowling’s description
Fiona Shaw did an excellent job bringing Petunia Dursley to life on screen. From her sneering contempt for her nephew to her inane cooing over her son, she was able to deliver on many of the villain’s most recognizable traits from the Harry Potter books. However, in one key way, she is decidedly different from her literary counterpart.
In J.K. Rowling’s novels, Petunia Dursley is described as having blonde hair, horse teeth and “nearly twice the usual amount of neck” (Since she was also supposed to be extremely thin, we assume that means length rather than width). Shaw, obviously, has much darker hair, perfectly lovely teeth, and a pretty average neck, so far as we can tell. Who knows why the production team opted not to dye Shaw’s hair to make her truly look the part as Rowling envisioned it, but she was so darn good as Harry’s aunt that for the most part, we barely even noticed the discrepancy.
7. Dudley and Harry kept in touch
It goes without saying that Harry Potter and his cousin, Dudley, were never going to be best friends. Despite the animosity they felt toward each other as children, though, in their adult years, they did make an effort to remain cordial with one another. According to J.K. Rowling, Harry and Dudley put their differences aside as they matured, and were on “Christmas card” terms with one another. In other words, they kept up with the basic events in each others’ lives.
Dudley, like Harry, married and he and his wife had two children. They even made an effort to get together every once and awhile so that their children could play together. Of course, James, Albus, and Lily sort of dreaded having to see their cousins, as they didn’t have much in common, and Dudley and Harry didn’t have all that much to say to one another either, truth be told. It’s the thought that counts, right?
6. The Dursleys were complete jerks to the Potters on more than one occasion
Given their completely unsuccessful first meeting, it’s no wonder that the Dursleys and the Potters never exactly became BFFs. Still, the lengths that Petunia and Vernon went to in order to exclude Lily and James were pretty ridiculous. When they got married, Petunia refused to let her younger sister be one of her bridesmaids. Despite the hurtful snub, Lily Evans made an effort to include her sister and brother-in-law when she and James got hitched. Unfortunately, her attempts at setting aside their differences were completely rebuffed, as Petunia and Vernon refused to attend their wedding at all.
After that, the two couples barely communicated. Petunia sent a vase to her sister as a wedding gift, and Lily sent a perfunctory notice about Harry’s birth to the Dursleys. By all accounts, that’s the last correspondence that passed between them – and the longstanding grudge tragically ended when Lily and James were killed by Voldemort.
5. Petunia and Snape knew (and hated) each other
There’s a lot of history between characters in the Harry Potter series, so it can be easy to forget who knew who when, and what they meant to each other. In The Deathly Hallows, we learned all about Severus Snape’s relationship with Lily Evans and how much he cared for her. An oft-forgotten detail of their childhood friendship, though, is that he also had a chance to get acquainted with her sister.
Given that both Snape and Petunia have surly dispositions, you’d think they would have hit it off – but you would be wrong. She looked down on him because he was poor, and grew to especially hate him after she learned that he, like her sister, was magical. He, in turn, felt that Petunia was an incredible snob, and that her self-important air was completely unnecessary, given how un-magical she was. Once Lily and Snape shipped off to Hogwarts, it’s likely that Petunia didn’t spend much time around either of them; but her negative feelings toward him continued into adulthood. She referred to him as “that awful boy” in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, even though she hadn’t seen or heard from him in years, proving that old grudges die hard.
4. Dudley almost had a magical child
In the final chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, fans got a glimpse of a new generation of witches and wizards as they headed off to Hogwarts. Among the young characters we encountered were Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione’s children.
According to J.K. Rowling, though, there could have been someone else at Platform 9 ¾ in the epilogue – Dudley Dursley and his child. The author toyed with the idea of having Harry encounter his cousin’s offspring at the train station, but ultimately decided against it. Her rationale was pretty clear, too. Sure, it would have been fun to imagine how Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon would handle having their own grandchild as a Hogwarts student, but it was logistically impossible so far as Rowling was concerned. While magical blood could have passed through Petunia’s lineage, it would likely have been completely wiped out by Vernon Dursley’s decidedly non-magical DNA.
3. Petunia likely had a lot of regret
On the surface, Aunt Petunia was a mostly unsympathetic character throughout the Harry Potter series. Between her treatment of Harry and her contempt for the wizarding world, there was little in her that fans of the books and movies could relate to. Despite these characteristics, she wasn’t a complete monster.
A deleted scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 featured Petunia Dursley standing in the empty living room of 4 Privet Drive and lamenting the loss of the life she once knew. Then, to Harry’s surprise, she tells her nephew that he wasn’t the only one who lost a loved one when Voldemort killed his parents. She tells him that she lost a sister.
We also know that Petunia wrote to Dumbledore and asked to be admitted to Hogwarts when she learned her sister was a witch. Rowling toyed with the idea of softening Petunia’s edges in the series and connecting the dots between her jealousy over her sister and the falling out that occurred between them as a result. Instead, Petunia’s story remained more open-ended, and fans were left to draw their own conclusions about the amount of regret she had toward the way she treated Lily.
2. Dudley looked decidedly different by the end of the film franchise
One of Dudley Dursley’s most obvious traits is his size. In the books, he’s described as being wider than he is tall, and in the films, his love affair with food is a frequent subplot. So, when the actor who played him on screen, Harry Melling, began to shed some of his baby fat, the films’ producers were in a bit of a conundrum. By the time he was due on set for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Melling had lost so much weight that they almost had to recast the role.
Instead, they opted to go the Neville Longbottom route and fatten him up with a prosthetic suit. Ultimately, the scenes featuring Dudley were cut from Deathly Hallows, anyway, so fans missed out on seeing this bit of movie magic. These days, Melling is still acting, still hella svelte, and thanks to his adolescent transformation, he has completely avoided being typecast as a spoiled brat.
1. Most of the Dursleys’ story never made it to the screen
The Harry Potter film franchise is pretty famous for the amount of stories and subplots it had to cut from its source material. From entire characters to extensive background info, the movie version of J.K. Rowling’s magical world sometimes bore little resemblance to what fans of the books encountered.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes was how frequently we saw the Dursleys. In The Chamber of Secrets and The Deathly Hallows, their roles were significantly scaled back, and in The Goblet of Fire and The Half-Blood Prince, they were cut out entirely. It’s not that we missed them, really. The Dursleys’ despicable behavior toward Harry did grow a bit tiresome, and once his connection to Hogwarts had been firmly established, his ties to the muggle world seemed way less important. Still, HP fans that only caught the movies ended up missing out on some pretty hilarious interactions between Vernon, Petunia, Dudley and various characters from the wizarding world.
Do you love to hate the Dursleys, or can you do without them? Let us know in the comments!