The Dursleys: Bodyguards Extraordinaire?
by Miss Piratess
When the average Harry Potter addict picks up a J.K. Rowling book, he expects certain things: Harry whining about something, a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, a surprise villain, and Harry’s obnoxious relatives. Fortunately, the addict has also come to expect Harry to somehow escape them for the school year. We all heave sighs of relief and there is much rejoicing. After all, not only can Harry not stand the Dursleys, most readers have certain degrees of ‘bad fortune vibes’ quivering in that family’s direction.
It just doesn’t make any sense. Here we have dear Harry Potter – a good, smart kid capable of defeating evil. And Harry has nice friends, including the wise and kind Albus Dumbledore to watch out for him. Yes, Dumbledore does seem like a good guy and, aside from a few mistakes he’s made, we have no reason to think he would intentionally do evil. And yet, for some reason, every summer he feels the need to send poor Harry back to these wretched people. Thank you, Albus, for making Harry’s life a happier one.
Then the fifth book comes along, and we finally get an explanation (yay!) to why Dumbledore has to ship Harry back to the Dursleys. A spell is in place; one that provides Harry some protection. This isn’t just any spell: it’s a ‘blood spell,’ based around blood sisters Lily and Petunia. It’s vital to Harry’s safety that he keeps some connection to his aunt and her home.
So, Dumbledore has an excuse. That’s good, but I can’t help but wonder if there is more to it. Petunia Dursley and her family are not just the grudging and clueless guardians of Harry. Book Five revealed to us that Petunia and Dumbledore have actually been in contact. She knows of the spell and its meaning. So, exactly how aware is she?
We already have seen that this arrangement is not without its negative consequences, as demonstrated in the case of Dudley and his Dementors. How does Petunia feel about putting her family in danger just so she can watch her dead sister’s brat? She’s made her feelings concerning Harry quite clear. Or has she? Upon finding the baby on her doorstep, she could have easily dropped him off with social services or something like that. If she is able to contact Dumbledore, she could have simply refused the task. He might have been upset, but for all intents and purposes, it was completely within the Dursleys’ power to get rid of Harry by one way or another. It can’t be easy to raise a child along side your own, especially one that attracts such danger. And yet when Vernon actually voices the decision to make Harry leave the house, Petunia refuses and tells her husband that Harry must remain with them.
I’ve come up with two reasons for her actions: 1) keeping Harry around not only keeps him protected, but offers the Dursleys reciprocal safety, and Petunia is conscious of this, and 2) she has her personal reasons.
1) I’ve been toying with the idea that Petunia may in fact be (or at least was) in the Order of the Phoenix. Yes, my old theory that she was a Squib or an untrained witch was shot down by J.K.’s assurance that Petunia is indeed a Muggle. But why can’t Muggles be in the Order? After all, in essence, they are fighting for the same thing. She is directly connected to the wizarding world through her sister and brother-in-law. During Voldemort’s first reign of terror, Muggles and wizards alike were attacked. Petunia might be fighting for her own people – just working with wizards in the process. J.K. recently revealed on her site that the famous “Remember my last, Petunia” message from Dumbledore referred to the letter he left with baby Harry on the doorstep – and goes on to suggest that there may have been more letters prior to that. James, Lily, and Dumbledore were all in the Order. What reason would Petunia have to be in contact with the Headmaster unless it was Order business?
It all fits together: sisters Lily and Petunia are in the Order. Petunia is a fairly ignored Muggle. She is blood-related to Lily and Harry. So, a type of business deal is struck: Petunia puts herself into this ‘blood spell’ to protect Harry, and Dumbledore does what he can to protect the Dursleys. Harry can’t very well be safe in the Dursley home if they are susceptible to danger. The spell must work both ways.
2) I just can’t label Petunia a heartless, two-dimensional character – not after the many sudden developments J.K. has brought to once-ignored characters. She’s nasty to Harry, but she has kept him and raised him to be a fairly decent teenager. She also loves her husband and son. There was the display of emotion when Dumbledore’s Howler delivered her the reminder of her duties. My one conclusion: there’s got to be more to her.
One thing that I question is her true feelings for her sister and nephew. We’ve heard her give unkind comments throughout the books concerning Lily, but I’ve noticed that each time is one of intense emotion or action. Come on – who hasn’t said mean things about a sibling from time to time? Despite each nasty word, Petunia has not once said that she hated Lily. Call me sentimental, but I like to imagine that at one point in their lives, Petunia and Lily were very close. I’m not sure what happened to change that, but it would have taken quite the tiff to tear down years of sisterly devotion. Perhaps Petunia feels she owes her sister a favor. Perhaps she took Harry in out of guilt for whatever happened between them. Perhaps it was even some degree of an emotional bond of (gasp!) love.
The fact is, however she treats Harry, she agreed to take him in and has kept him relatively safe. You don’t do that to someone you bitterly hate – it makes me wonder if there is affection buried somewhere in Petunia’s heart. Whatever reason – guilt, an odd sort of love, the simple necessity of progression – she has the motive to protect Harry.
By no means do I intend all glory to go to Petunia. What continues to fascinate me is the very nature of the spell. It seems that all protection lies within Harry’s aunt, but Dumbledore suggests that the spell is based on blood. If blood alone is important, I can bring forward another source of protection: Dudley Dursley.
It almost sickens me to suggest such a thing. Frankly, I don’t like that kid. He’s spoiled and selfish and an all-around creep, but he’s also left his mark in the world of junior boxing. More importantly, he is Harry’s blood cousin. If the spell is indeed based simply on relatives of Lily and not specifically Petunia, it is likely that the enchantment also includes Dudley. I doubt he is aware of such; his mother hasn’t spoken to her family about anything regarding the wizarding world. Perhaps that doesn’t matter.
What I fear is that Voldemort and his Death Eaters will soon discover what is protecting Harry at the Dursley home. The simplest way for an evil dark lord to take care of such a problem? Kill Petunia. Theoretically, that would break the spell – unless the spell was actually connected to the blood ties, thus including Dudley. It’s a scary thought: Harry under the protection of his cousin who used to beat him up for entertainment purposes.
Dudley seems to have a few secrets of his own. Just as Petunia is no longer the flat character she originally seemed to be, neither is Dudley, as was revealed in “Dudley Demented” of Book Five. Perhaps this kid is more than a spoiled jerk, though I can’t even imagine what else he might have going for him. I’d like to suggest the competition between he and Harry. Yes, Dudley was certainly the petted one, being the actual son. Despite whatever nasty conditions existed in that home, Dudley had to share attention, however limited, with Harry. It was Harry that took Dudley’s second bedroom. It was Harry that made Dudley miss his favorite television shows. It was Harry who ruined countless occasions for Dudley. In a way, Dudley remains under a certain fear of Harry; one that goes beyond the fact that the kid is a scary wizard. As Harry’s training progresses, his own fear of Dudley seems to lesson, to the point where he is quite comfortable in taunting and even psychologically torturing his cousin. Of course, Dudley responds with his own taunting.
Call me crazy, but it looks like some semblance of equality between them is being reached. I highly doubt there will ever be a friendship between them, but I can imagine mutual respect valuable enough to urge Dudley to do whatever he can. And hey, boxing has to be worth some talent, right?
Then we have Vernon. As far as the ‘blood spell’ goes, the man is, sadly, useless and expendable. He’s not related to Harry; he just married the kid’s aunt. Vernon could die, and Harry would not directly be affected. Though Vernon is a bit of an idiot when it comes to wizards, he still is a powerful figure in his family. After all, he consented to letting Harry stay, though obviously Petunia has told him nothing. What I see for him is that of the classic role of the father: to protect his family. In short, that would protect Harry. Vernon is mean, stupid and oblivious, but he HAS expressed love for his wife and son. He has even expressed other emotions: fear, doubt and near-acceptance. He would certainly be there to defend Petunia and Dudley if there were any chance of danger, but I also believe he could be valuable to the wizarding world – especially if Petunia is indeed part of the Order. After all, the man seems to hate all wizards – that includes Voldemort.
That brings up another problem. Vernon holds no love for Harry. Harry represents everything of the magical world that Vernon hates. There may be no distinction between Harry and Voldemort. Harry is a threat to the Dursley family in Vernon’s eyes. As unaware of what is going on as he is, he could unintentionally put the family he is so ready to protect into danger. Had it not been for Petunia in the fifth book, Harry would have left the Dursley home very early that summer. If Vernon had his way, his nephew would be out of the house and as far away possible – year round. Earlier I brought up the idea of reciprocal protection: with Harry gone, the Dursleys would be susceptible to whatever evils Voldemort wanted to inflict on the family he believed to be shielding his greatest enemy. Sooner or later, I believe that Vernon will have to learn what is going on in the war – and he will have to make a choice.
Not many like the Dursleys. I still don’t, but apparently they have served a purpose, and I believe it necessary that they continue to do so.