Look, we know Poor Dudders wasn’t the ‘baby angel’ Aunt Petunia had him cut out to be, but this school bully did soften in his later years.

Dudley and his concerned parents after Dementor attack
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

We must admit, it’s a tough mission to try to defend Dudley Dursley. After all, he mercilessly bullied his cousin Harry, making his life a living hell, and was constantly petulant and spoiled, not to mention violent at school. In short, he was a nightmare.

But it is interesting to examine why Dudley might have turned out this way, especially when you look to his parents, Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, who spoiled the boy so rotten he descended into a spiral of rage if he got under 37 presents for his birthday. We can’t believe we’re defending Dudley but – considering his upbringing – we think he deserves a bit of a case.

‘No finer boy’

When we first met Dudley we were instantly introduced to him under his parents’ marvellous bias: ‘…in their opinion there was no finer boy anywhere’.

And yet... he didn’t seem that fine. Even as a baby, his mother battled to get him into the high chair and his father couldn’t get a kiss in because he was throwing one of many spectacular temper tantrums. Instead of providing their child with discipline and guidance, Vernon just chuckled proudly at his little tyke, and thus started the problems. In conclusion: from birth, Dudley had been taught that violence and screaming would always allow him to get his own way.

And on the most ego-boosting day of them all, Dudley’s birthday, all hell broke loose if he didn’t get enough presents.

Harry, who could see a huge Dudley tantrum coming on, began wolfing down his bacon as fast as possible in case Dudley turned the table over.
Aunt Petunia obviously scented danger too, because she said quickly, ‘And we’ll buy you another two presents while we’re out today. How’s that, popkin? Two more presents. Is that all right?’
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Instead of telling her son to be grateful for what he had, Petunia reinforced his belief that tantrums win out. In regards to the great debate of nature vs nurture, Dudley seemed like a difficult baby, sure. But he was certainly nurtured into something worse.

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

Compared to how the Dursleys brought up Harry – keeping him in a cupboard under the stairs, and giving him only basic human rights due to their underlying fear of him – things were a very different story for Dudley. Basically smothered by his parents, he turned into a cookie-cutter version of Vernon, while Harry didn’t. The Dursleys’ ‘extreme love’ could well have contributed to Dudley’s horrid, privileged attitude. Even Dumbledore seemed to blame Petunia and Vernon.

‘You did not do as I asked. You have never treated Harry as a son. He has known nothing but neglect and often cruelty at your hands. The best that can be said is that he has at least escaped the appalling damage you have inflicted upon the unfortunate boy sitting between you.’
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The Dementor attack that changed everything

Dudley cowers against the wall during Dementor Attack.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

So for years Dudley was awful, yes. But he was still just a child who had become set in his ways. He needed to be jolted out of that – and a strange change certainly came over Dudley after a sudden attack by two Dementors in Little Whinging.

He could not believe what had just happened. Dementors here, in Little Whinging.
Dudley lay curled up on the ground, whimpering and shaking.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

When two Dementors were sent for Harry, Dudley got caught up in the mix. The experience left him completely confused and traumatised, leaving Harry to save his life and carry him home.

At first, we were furious to see that this horrendous experience hadn’t been enough for Dudley to say thank you: he blamed Harry the second he got back home to mum and dad. But something did seem to shift in Dudley after that – just not straight away.

The cold cup of tea and the handshake

Harry and Hedwig leaving Privet Drive for the last time
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1

In Deathly Hallows Dudley went on a bit of a u-turn, and it all seemed to start with a cold cup of tea. As Harry was approaching his seventeenth birthday, at which point he would finally leave Privet Drive for good, he stepped on a cup of tea outside his bedroom door. At first, assuming this was some sort of mean Dudley trick, Harry didn’t think much of it, but we would later realise that this was Dudley’s idea of an olive branch. And it didn’t stop there. There was also the handshake.

Yes, despite the shameful parenting by Petunia and Vernon and the constant reinforcement of his bad behaviour, we saw a splash of the Dudley-that-could-have-been when Harry was getting ready to leave the Dursleys forever. It was as if Dudley had suddenly had a surge of regret for all those years of treating Harry badly. It was Dudley who wanted to know if Harry would be all right when he and his family were ushered off by Hestia Jones and Dedalus Diggle at the end, and he was the one who stepped up to let Harry know that he did actually care about him. Well, sort of. He said that he didn’t think Harry was a waste of space – but even that was a big step for Dudley.

Dudley gently released himself from his mother’s clutches and walked towards 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.’
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

And there it was. After all that time of schmaltzy parental suffocation, Dudley found the compassion to make his own decision about something, hopefully paving the way for a better, more independent, kinder Dudley. Maybe there’s hope for the little tyke yet.

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

Each month Pottermore will try to defend the more… questionable characters from the Harry Potter stories. Come back next month when we make the case for Percy Weasley.