Despite having plenty of room at Number Four, Privet Drive, Harry was forced to live under the stairs. He eventually got an upgrade, but only because his aunt and uncle were scared they were being watched. Also shocking was how often Harry’s cupboard was used for punishment – guys, you can’t lock a child under the stairs and stop feeding him! Worst of all, there were spiders in there. Big spiders. Ron Weasley would have had a fit.
While neglecting their nephew, the Dursleys gleefully overindulged their son Dudley. This created massive problems – ‘massive’ being the operative word, to the extent he soon had to be put on a diet. Harry got a raw deal, alternating as Dudley’s football and punching bag and forever having his glasses broken. And for added insult to injury, Dudley soon becomes armed and dangerous once he got hold of that Smeltings stick. What were Petunia and Vernon raising?
Whenever the Dursleys took Dudley and his friends out for a birthday treat, they were only too happy to dump Harry with the nearest available relative or neighbour. Usually this meant Harry was subjected to a detailed history of Mrs Figg’s many, many cats. Worse still, the Dursleys actually suggested leaving Harry in the car while the rest of them enjoyed a day at the zoo (they only decided against this out of concern for the car).
Here’s what we learnt in chapter three: never mix Dudley and animals. The evidence was all over Harry’s new bedroom, which included a ‘small working tank Dudley had once driven over next door’s dog’ and an empty birdcage after Dudley swapped a parrot for an air rifle. For good measure, Dudley expressed his displeasure over the new sleeping arrangements by throwing his tortoise through the greenhouse window. Maybe after Dudley grew a pig tail, developed a bit more empathy for the animal kingdom.
We can’t be sure of the exact wizarding laws regarding owl post, but any Muggle should know that tampering with someone’s private correspondence is a crime. Harry’s personal letters were repeatedly stolen, burned or shredded in Petunia’s food mixer before he even got a chance to read them. And speaking of the lengths the Dursleys would go to while avoiding mail from Hogwarts…
‘Daddy’s gone mad, hasn’t he?’
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
That might be the smartest thing Dudley ever said. After carting the rest of the family around all day to get away from Harry’s Hogwarts letters, Vernon finally cracked and decided that the best thing to do was to sail to a draughty old shack on a rock. Whatever nautical experience Vernon might have possessed (we’re guessing ‘none’), everyone could’ve died in a multitude of ways during this little episode, if not from the boat capsizing then from freezing in sub-zero temperatures. All to get away from a bunch of letters.
That cannot be legal. And that was the least of our concerns as Uncle Vernon pointed a rifle at our favourite gamekeeper. Luckily it didn’t worry Hagrid, and the gun was literally bent out of shape before it could be fired. We also think Hagrid could probably withstand at least a few bullets.
We know the Dursleys didn’t like Harry, but come on… After only getting a lift because the family were driving to London anyway, Harry was dumped with his belongings in the middle of King’s Cross with no money. No Muggle money, anyway. Uncle Vernon pointed out that Harry’s platform didn’t exist but, rather than stay and gloat till the train departed, the Dursleys drove off laughing. Er... if they didn’t believe Harry’s platform existed, they basically just abandoned him, then.
All right, it’s a less serious issue than the other points on this list, but the level of quality of the gifts the Dursleys gave Harry over the years definitely verges on psychological cruelty. On turning ten, Harry got a coat-hanger and a pair of Uncle Vernon’s old socks, for example. This still beat his next birthday, which the Dursleys forgot about altogether. Later on, he received the likes of a single tissue, a fifty-pence piece and a toothpick. Oh Dursleys, you really, really shouldn’t have.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Pottermore will explore themes, moments, characters and much more from the very first Harry Potter story. Come back tomorrow when we ask six questions we still have about the first book.