Defending Dudley Dursley
Dudley Dursley is a complex character. During his childhood, he was a mean, spoiled child who bullied other children. However, it can be argued that he was this way because of how his parents raised him, and he might have turned out differently in different circumstances.
When Dudley was a child, he was a horrible one who enjoyed beating other children.
Dudley’s best friend, Piers Polkiss, walked in with his mother. Piers was a scrawny boy with a face like a rat. He was usually the one who held people’s arms behind their backs while Dudley hit them.” (SS 23)
In addition, he took great pleasure in tormenting Harry.
‘They stuff people’s heads down the toilet the first day at Stonewall,’ he told Harry. ‘Want to come upstairs and practice?'” (SS 32)
It is hard to excuse this despicable behavior, but this might be rationalized by his upbringing. He watched his parents treat Harry badly for years. According to them, it was all right to allow Harry to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs and verbally abuse him, so Dudley would do the same.
This all changed in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when they were attacked by Dementors. After Dudley realized what could have happened if the Dementors got him and Harry saved him, Dudley started to change. This maturity can really be seen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows right before their departure from Privet Drive.
He had trodden on a cup of cold tea that had been sitting on the floor outside his bedroom door.” (DH 13)
Again, Dudley appeared to grapple with thoughts too unwieldy for expression before mumbling, ‘You saved my life.’
‘Not really,’ said Harry. ‘It was your soul the dementor would have taken. . . .’
He looked curiously at his cousin. They had had virtually no contact during this summer or last, as Harry had come back to Privet Drive so briefly and kept to his room so much. It now dawned on Harry, however, that the cup of cold tea on which he had trodden that morning might not have been a booby trap at all.” (DH 40)
When they were saying their final goodbyes, we got a proper glimpse of the eloquent Dudley that could have been.
‘They think I’m a waste of space, actually, but I’m used to – ‘
‘I don’t think you’re a waste of space.’” (DH 40)
Dudley gently released himself from his mother’s clutches and walked toward Harry, who had to repress an urge to threaten him with magic. Then Dudley held out his large, pink hand.
‘Blimey, Dudley,’ said Harry over Aunt Petunia’s renewed sobs, ‘did the dementors blow a different personality into you?’
‘Dunno,’ muttered Dudley. ‘See you, Harry.’
‘Yeah . . .’ said Harry, taking Dudley’s hand and shaking it. ‘Maybe. Take care, Big D.’ (DH 42)
Given the change in Dudley, I think that he must have seen something horrible when the Dementors attacked him. Since Dementors consume happiness, I think that they would have forced him to take a good look at the pain that he caused, which led him to better himself. Hopefully, after this attack, he stopped intentionally hurting other children in the neighborhood and school. Not only that, I hope that the Dementor attack actively spurred him to create more positive memories filled with kindness and light instead of the pain that might have filled his life beforehand.
Even in the two years between the attack in Order of the Phoenix and when they part ways in Deathly Hallows, Dudley matured significantly. He was not afraid or discouraged to act better around Harry when his parents were present, and I think that might have continued after they left Privet Drive. I believe that Vernon and Petunia would have been too set in their ways to change their opinions on magic or Harry, but just the fact that Dudley might have tried would help his redemption.
This [blanket] . . . is the last thing I had from my mum. The only thing. I was given to the Dursleys wrapped in it. I thought it had gone forever and then, when your great-aunt Petunia died, hidden amongst her possessions, surprisingly, Dudley found this and he kindly sent it on to me, and ever since then – well, anytime I’ve wanted luck I’ve found it and just tried to hold it and I wondered if you…” (CC 68)
We know that they did reunite after the war and kept in touch, so Harry must have forgiven Dudley for everything that he did during their childhood. I think Dudley’s thoughtful actions in Deathly Hallows, combined with Harry spending a year on the run and constantly fighting for his life, would have also sorted out Harry’s priorities.