Dursleys: Harry and Money

by Meghana Desai

Every time I read the second book, there is a conversation that always bothers me when Ron and Harry miss the Hogwarts Express (thanks to my cousin, Aparna, for finding this quote for me – I could not find it and was losing my mind):

“‘It’s gone,’ said Ron, sounding stunned. ‘The train’s left. What if Mum and Dad can’t get back through to us? Have you got any Muggle money?’ 

Harry gave a hollow laugh. ‘The Dursleys haven’t given me any pocket money for about six years.'”

(pg. 55, Bloomsbury Children’s Paperback Edition)

Notes: All the quotes are from the Bloomsbury Children’s Paperback Edition, unless otherwise noted. Also ellipses (…) either denote the concatenation of quotes without the surrounding sentence structure (he said, she stated, etc) or the omission of quotes that don’t pertain or are unnecessary.

Several questions spring to mind (I’ll try to answer them as best I can):

1) Why did the Dursleys (Vernon and/or Petunia) give Harry pocket money (spending money)?
2) How long was he getting said pocket money?
3) How much was he getting every week/month/year?
4) Did Harry ALWAYS get treated THIS badly by all of them or did their treatment of him get worse and worse as the years passed?
5) Why did it stop at age 6 (he just turned 12 in Year 2)?
6) Did money factor into the Dursleys’ decision to keep Harry?

Question 1:

Why were the Dursleys giving Harry pocket/spending money? They are stingy and miserly – especially when it comes to Harry. We have examples of their treatment of money in regards to Harry from Book One: 1) Harry had to wear Dudley’s old clothes (pg. 20), 2) getting a CHEAP lemon ice lolly at the zoo (pg. 24), and 3) Harry going to public school instead of a nice private school – Stonewall High vs. Smeltings (pg. 28).

Another example of their miserly attitude is on Dudley’s birthday, before going to the zoo. Mrs. Figg broke her leg and they were thinking of what to do with Harry. A discussion ensues for about half an hour before they finally take Harry. However, this sentence fragment caught my attention: ‘His aunt and uncle hadn’t been able to think of anything else to do with him’ (23, PS). WHAT?!? Did they not think of a babysitter? Aren’t there teenage girls trying to make money in his neighborhood? Were they all busy? He could go over to their house if the Dursleys are not comfortable with him in the house when they aren’t there. Don’t they even want to leave him with any of their neighbors for a bit of money? Of course, there are other reasons; maybe they didn’t want anyone else to discover Harry’s ability or maybe they didn’t trust anyone else – Dumbledore could have told nosy Petunia not to trust anyone – to keep Harry safe. It could be a combination of these reasons (side note: I do recognize that this was devised by JKR to show his magical & Parseltongue abilities, but that’s besides the point – there are many levels to her work). Interesting sidebar: they would rather pay his admission to the zoo, pay for the lemon ice lolly and pay for his lunch than have other people (outside their circle of trust) look after Harry and pay them by the hour… and looked what happened – he performed magic in front of many people in the zoo.

So, why on earth did he receive any money, even pocket change?

We get the answer from the Dursleys themselves, Vernon Dursley, nonetheless. “‘We swore when we took him in we’d put a stop to that rubbish,’ said Uncle Vernon, ‘swore we’d stamp it out of him!'” (43, PS) They probably wanted to treat him as nearly as possible like a normal Muggle child at the beginning. This would mean that he would get spending money. If he did not and saw that Dudley had gotten an allowance or spending money, then he would probably complain.

Questions 2 & 3:

How long was he getting said pocket money? How much was he getting every week/month/year? We will not know unless Jo decides to tell us. However, I think he was getting it for some time or at least as far back as he can remember.

Question 4:

Did Harry ALWAYS get treated THIS badly by all of them or did their treatment of him get worse and worse as the years passed? I think their treatment of him worsened as the years passed. Petunia seems concerned about Harry’s safety at one point: ‘A tiny man in a violet top hat had bowed to him once while out shopping with Aunt Petunia and Dudley. After asking Harry furiously if he knew the man, Aunt Petunia had rushed them out of the shop without buying anything’ (27, PS). If the above quote from Vernon is any indication, the Dursleys favored nurture instead of nature. They thought the way that they brought him up would rid Harry of his inborn ‘abnormalities’. They did not want him to be curious about his parents. One of the Dursleys’ rules was ‘Don’t ask questions’ (20, PS). They probably used negative reinforcement at first and then punishment later. The concept of negative reinforcement and the difference between it and punishment is outlined in What Is Negative Reinforcement? Every time that Harry did a tiny bit of magic, voluntarily or not, they scolded him, punished him, neglected him, and/or mistreated him. By the time we first meet Harry, at almost age 11, they are constantly nasty to him.

Question 5:

So, why did the pocket money stop? Here are a couple of possibilities:

1) Harry did something so horrible that they stopped his allowance as punishment.
2) Harry started school or pre-school and they decided to spend that money on his school dues instead of giving it to him.
3) They finally figured out that Albus was not watching/spying on them.

I wonder if Harry had done something magical. We know that Dudley heard something when he was confronted by the Dementors. What did he hear? Here is one theory. We know that Dudley is frightened of magic – he runs away when Harry threatens magic (13, CoS). What if Dudley heard/saw Harry do involuntary magic? When Harry was confronted with Dementors on the Quidditch Pitch in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, he heard his parents’ voices that fateful Halloween night, something that he couldn’t possibly remember (134). Maybe it was the same for Dudley. Or it could be him remembering when he got his piggy tail, OR the whole zoo incident with the vanishing glass, OR when he ate the Ton-Tongue Toffees 🙂

Or it could be that for the first six years or so, the Dursleys were living in fear (they do seem a bit paranoid, don’t they?) of Dumbledore doing random checks on how Harry was doing (kind of like random drug testing of professional athletes, to see if they are using drugs or steroids). The threat would keep the ‘players’ in check (for the most part). They acted like they were being videotaped. However, after a while, they decided to test their restrictions so they started treating Harry badly every once in a while (it must be tiring for the Dursleys to act nice and all; you know, unlike themselves). They were acting like children/young adults (infants, toddlers, teenagers) who test their limits with authority (their parents). Since there was no reprimand from Albus, they thought they were not being watched. They, very slowly, started to treat Harry badly all the time. After about 6 years of no evidence of checks/spying (that’s not to say that Albus is not watching, just not saying anything), they had fully reverted to their normal behavior.

I personally would love it if Harry had done something magical in front of Dudley at that young age 🙂

Question 6:

We get to the most interesting question of all: was there a monetary incentive for letting Harry stay? We know that money influences people and their actions in the novel. Lucius Malfoy, the wealthy patriarch of the Malfoy family – Draco’s dear daddy – is known for supporting Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic (he has Fudge in his pocket), and makes donations to St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries (there is a theory out in Potterverse that there is a reason – probably buckets of galleons full – that Frank and Alice Longbottom don’t get better). It even affects Gilderoy Lockhart, Harry’s 2nd year Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, though he is in it more for the fame and celebrity than the money.

We know that a letter was delivered to the Dursleys on Harry’s arrival. This letter was addressed to both Vernon and Petunia. “‘It’s the best place for him,’ said Dumbledore firmly. ‘His aunt and uncle will be able to explain everything to him when he’s older, I’ve written them a letter” (15, PS). Irrespective of ‘Dumbledore’s Last’, a letter was written to both of them to convince Vernon and seemingly Petunia (Petunia probably convinced at this point because of Albus’s other letters) to let Harry stay with them.

What reasons could Dumbledore give to convince them?

Here are a couple of reasons:

  1.  The Dursleys are preoccupied with appearances.It would look bad if they didn’t let him stay. (Yes, I know that they didn’t want anyone to know that Petunia had a sister, but that doesn’t mean that people couldn’t find out; we know that Marge, Vernon’s sister, knew). Or it could be that Dumbledore would state if they didn’t take Harry in, that he would spread the word to certain people (Vernon’s boss, their friends, etc) that Petunia’s sister was a witch.

    Here is an excerpt from Philosopher’s Stone‘The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it. They didn’t think that they could bear it if anyone found out about the Potters. Mrs. Potter was Mrs. Dursley’s sister, but they hadn’t met for several years …Mrs Dursley pretended she didn’t have a sister’ (7).

    The reason that Petunia gave Vernon when Harry was about to be kicked out in Book Five was all about keeping up appearances: ‘If we throw him out, the neighbors will talk. They’ll ask awkward questions, they’ll want to know where he’s gone. We’ll have to keep him’ (41, Scholastic Hardcover).

    Note: Dumbledore is trying to protect Harry and probably won’t have anyone stand in his way to accomplish this – so I think emotional blackmail and threats to the Dursleys are completely in character for him. This quote from Order of the Phoenix from Dumbledore explains why he left Harry on the Dursleys’ doorstep: “‘My answer is that my priority was to keep you alive. You were in more danger than perhaps anyone but myself realized. Voldemort had been vanquished hours before, but his supporters – and many of them are almost as terrible as he – were still at large, angry, desperate, and violent. And I had to make my decision too with regard to the years ahead'” (835, Scholastic Hardcover).

    If his priority was to have Harry safe and sound with the Dursleys, then it is IMPERATIVE that he convinces them by any means necessary. In this case, the end justifies the means.

  2. The last will and testament for Lily and James Potter pertains to them.We know that Lily and James were prepared for a possible confrontation with Voldemort. We know that lots of spells and enchantments were done to protect Harry: Fidelius Charm (the Secret-Keeper), the switching of the Secret-Keeper, the protection of love that flows through Harry’s veins (the one Lily performed), and the charm that Albus placed on him (sealed by Petunia when she let him stay with them), just to name a few. Why wouldn’t they make a will? They would. They would want to make sure that Harry was taken care of if anything ever happened to them. Hagrid had told Harry in Diagon Alley, “‘D’yeh think yer parents didn’t leave yeh anything? …They didn’ keep their gold in the house, boy'”(50, PS).

    Let’s elaborate on this point. We know certain things were left to Dumbledore’s keeping on the Potters’ death: James’s Invisibility Cloak – given to Harry as a Christmas present – and the key to the Potters’ Gringotts vault (given to Harry by Hagrid after the first trip to Gringotts).

    We also know from Jo’s AOL interview/chat on Oct. 19, 2000, that the Potters were rich (‘James inherited plenty of money’). Remember the first time Harry sees the inside of his parents’ vault? ‘Harry gasped. Inside were mounds of gold coins. Columns of silver. Heaps of little bronze Knuts. … All Harry’s – it was incredible‘ (58, PS). Usually, when parents die (especially wealthy ones) and their children are minors at the time of their passing, an appointed trustee usually controls the money until that child comes of age; I think in Harry’s case, this age is 11 when Harry starts to attend Hogwarts. Since Albus had the vault key, I think he was this person. I think it’s a reasonable assumption that they wouldn’t have let the Dursleys have control as they seem greedy – they would probably spend it on themselves and Dudley, leaving none for Harry. When Harry was in the vault, he remarked: ‘The Dursleys couldn’t have known about this or they would have had it from him faster than blinking. How often had they complained of how much Harry cost them to keep? And all the time there had been a small fortune belonging to him, buried deep under London’ (58, PS). There is some truth to this – that is, if the Dursleys were able to get their hands on the money (if they were the trustees). Do we really know that they knew about the vault? No, it’s only Harry’s opinion that they didn’t. Also, we don’t know how much money they were actually spending on Harry. They might not be spending that much (i.e. they make Harry wear hand-me-down clothing) – they are doing it for show and to be mean and spiteful – they didn’t want to take him in so they are still a bit sore. They want him to feel indebted to them for taking him in, but he doesn’t seem so (but do you blame him for that? I don’t.) because he does say that he wishes that someone else would take care of him. ‘When he had been younger, Harry had dreamed and dreamed of some unknown relation coming to take him away, but it had never happened; the Dursleys were his only family’ (27, PS).

    Albus knew that more incentive needed to be given to take away the “sting” of having Harry stay in their house. He might have bribed them or stated that James and Lily wished it so in their will (not sure which because DD might not want them to know James and Lily were rich) – told them that they would receive £X a year for Harry’s expenses for every year that Harry stayed at #4 – not to cover everything, but most expenses. I say most and not all because I can’t picture the Dursleys corresponding to Dumbledore on how much money they spent this year on Harry – with all the supporting documentations (bills). Also, I really can’t see Dumbledore poring over these documents and seeing if they really spent the money on Harry and not on Dudley. This wouldn’t count as correspondence as it is just wire transfers or direct deposits. Do you see someone like Vernon not taking money for letting Harry stay (he wouldn’t pass up this opportunity)? If this happened, it is another secret that the Dursleys hoped nobody would discover. When Aunt Marge visited them in Book Three, a discussion ensued about James’ occupation, their behavior at the time of their death, and Harry’s attitude toward the Dursleys. Vernon stated: “‘He – didn’t work. Unemployed'” (26). Marge’s response: ‘As I expected! A no-account, good-for-nothing, lazy scrounger who … Proud of your parents, are you? They go and get themselves killed in a car crash (drunk, I expect) …They died in a car crash, you nasty little liar, and left you to be a burden on their decent, hardworking relatives! You are an insolent, ungrateful little – ‘ (26-27).

    The question is IF Albus did this, why not tell Harry this information? For the same answer that Dumbledore gave Harry for trusting Severus Snape. “‘That, Harry, is a matter between Professor Snape and myself'”(524, GoF). It’s a matter between him and the Dursleys. Though, personally, I think if I were in Harry’s shoes, and I knew that they thought about that eventuality and had, in some way, prepared for this, it would make me feel comforted and loved.

Conclusion:

Do I think money could have been a factor that the Dursleys used to decide if Harry could stay with them? If the incentive had been given, yes, yes I do. Do I think that incentive was given? YES!

Other questions about money:

All this thinking about money has me pondering about other money related questions and issues. I have no answers for them, but they are interesting nonetheless.

  1. How does the school get the money to run itself? From what we saw of Harry’s letter, there was no mention of school dues. Or was it too boring to mention? If it wasn’t in the letter, does it get paid from the MoM, like a Muggle public schools and universities – grants, taxes, etc? Is Hogwarts a private boarding school? Do they get all their money in form of donations (I’m sure that they get some donations)? Are the teachers unionized? If so, what happens if Dumbledore can’t pay up? Also, if the teachers strike (usually when creating a new contract), does that mean no school?
  2. If there are school dues and the family has to pay, how does our favorite wizard family, the Weasley family, pay? Do they take out loans, get scholarships, or does the government compensate the school? Do they even have that system?
  3. How are the school governors appointed? Did they all have to donate very large amounts of money (to the school and/or certain members of the MoM [i.e. Fudge]), or is it because of their contribution (good deeds, etc) to the wizard world, or a combination of both? We know that Lucius is on the committee (194 & 246, CoS). I don’t think the man has done one good deed in his entire life – he may disguise them as such, though. So, what are the criteria?

Conclusion:

So, I discovered that Dumbledore possibly threatened the Dursleys and gave them a monetary reason in the letter left with baby Harry so that they would take good care of Harry. Too bad that this behavior didn’t last.

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