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Despicable things the Dursleys do in Philosopher’s Stone

The Dursleys weren’t just horrible to Harry – some of their actions were borderline child abuse! Here are some of the worst Dursley deeds from Philosopher's Stone.

Harry's bedroom was the cupboard under the stairs for eleven years.
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Making their nephew live in a cupboard

Despite having plenty of room at number four, Privet Drive, Harry is forced to live under the stairs. He gets an upgrade eventually, but only because his aunt and uncle are scared they’re being watched. Also shocking is how often Harry’s cupboard is used for punishment – guys, you can’t lock a child under the stairs and stop feeding him! Worst of all, there are spiders in there. Big spiders. Ron Weasley would have a fit.

Raising Dudley to be a bully

While neglecting their nephew, the Dursleys gleefully overindulge their son Dudley. This creates massive problems – ‘massive’ being the operative word, to the extent he soon has to be put on a diet. Harry gets 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 gets hold of that Smeltings stick. What are Petunia and Vernon raising?!

The Dursley family photo, Dudley is wearing his Smeltings school uniform
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Leaving Harry behind on his cousin’s birthdays

Whenever the Dursleys take Dudley and his friends out for a birthday treat, they’re only too happy to dump Harry with the nearest available relative or neighbour. Usually this means Harry is subjected to a detailed history of Mrs Figg’s many, many cats. Worse still, the Dursleys actually suggest leaving Harry in the car while the rest of them enjoy a day at the zoo (they only decide against this out of concern for the car).

Animal abuse

Here’s what we learn in chapter three – never mix Dudley and animals. The evidence is all over Harry’s new bedroom, which includes a ‘small working tank Dudley had once driven over next door’s dog’ and an empty bird cage after Dudley swapped a parrot for an air rifle. For good measure, Dudley expresses his displeasure over the new sleeping arrangements by throwing his tortoise through the greenhouse window. Maybe after Dudley grows a pig tail, he'll develop a bit more empathy for the animal kingdom.

Interfering with the mail

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 are repeatedly stolen, burned or shredded in Petunia’s food mixer before he even gets a chance to read them. And speaking of the lengths the Dursleys will go to while avoiding mail from Hogwarts…

The Privet Drive kitchen full of Hogwarts letters
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Endangering the family by setting sail during a storm

‘Daddy’s gone mad, hasn’t he?’

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

That might be the smartest thing Dudley ever says. After carting the rest of the family around all day to get away from Harry’s Hogwarts letters, Vernon finally cracks and decides that the best thing to do is to sail to a draughty old shack on a rock. Whatever nautical experience Vernon might possess (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.

Threatening Hagrid with a gun

That cannot be legal. And that’s the least of our concerns as Uncle Vernon points a rifle at our favourite gamekeeper. Luckily it doesn’t worry Hagrid, and the gun is literally bent out of shape before it can be fired. We also think Hagrid could probably withstand at least a few bullets.

Vernon Dursley protecting Petunia
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Abandoning a child in the middle of a busy railway station

We know the Dursleys don’t like Harry, but come on… After only getting a lift because the family were driving to London anyway, Harry is dumped with his belongings in the middle of King’s Cross with no money. No Muggle money, anyway. Uncle Vernon points out that Harry’s platform doesn’t exist but, rather than stay and gloat till the train departs, the Dursleys drive off laughing. Er... if they didn’t believe Harry’s platform existed, they basically just abandoned him, then.

Illustration of the Hogwarts Express from Read the Magic
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd.™ Warner Bros.

Giving rubbish presents

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 gets a coat-hanger and a pair of Uncle Vernon’s old socks, for example. This still beats his next birthday, which the Dursleys forget about altogether. Later on, he gets 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.