The Dursleys Departing
Chapter 3 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: The Dursleys Departing
Uncle Vernon has changed his mind again. The Dursleys were informed by Arthur Weasley and Kingsley Shacklebolt that Harry's life will be in danger when he turns seventeen, and that the Dursleys, as his relatives, are likely under the same threat. Since then, Vernon and Petunia have alternately been willing to accept the Order's protection or preparing to refuse it. Today, they are convinced that Harry plans to put their house in his own name as soon as they are gone. Harry repudiates this, asking why he would want to do that. In any event, he already owns a house.
Harry's arguments are bolstered by Order wizards who have arrived to transport and protect the Dursleys: Dedalus Diggle and Hestia Jones. When Dudley says he is going with Dedalus and Hestia, Uncle Vernon's protests are rather deflated, and he suddenly decides that has been his intention all along. Dudley wants to know why Harry is not coming with them; Uncle Vernon says he does not want to, to which Harry agrees. Dudley now admits to not thinking that Harry is a waste of space and goes so far as to thank Harry for saving his life. He shakes hands with him before leaving. Aunt Petunia looks as if she might want to say something, but marches off after Vernon and Dudley.
The last book deviates from the series' usual structure. Apart from brief introductory scenes in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, each novel opened during the summer at the Dursleys' home, amidst some ongoing dispute between Harry and his family. Shortly after, Harry returned to Hogwarts aboard the Hogwarts Express, was reunited with his friends, then engaged in normal school activities while the book's main storyline unfolded. The familiar pattern provided readers a means to chart the characters' development and the story's progression over the years. Deathly Hallows radically departs from that comfortable formula. Following a brief scene at Malfoy Manor, the story still opens at Privet Drive as Harry is about to leave the Dursleys. This, however, is Harry's final exit, nor is he returning to Hogwarts. Instead, he is about to embark on his secret mission for the late Albus Dumbledore. The Dursleys are also leaving, defiantly, and resentful at being under obligation to the magical world they so despise, but also terrified for their lives. The author hints that this parting is permanent. Opening the story in such a different way may underline Harry's maturity and growing independence, and shows that the Dursleys' influence over him is forever severed. It also leaves readers without a predictable game plan as to what will happen.
Dudley's reaction to Harry's leaving is certainly surprising. He is grateful to Harry for having saved him from the Dementors (in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) and expresses concern over what might happen to Harry. (Harry thinks it was Dudley who left the cup of tea outside his bedroom, an apparently contrite act for Dudley's bad behavior over the years.) Although Dudley is a Muggle and was unable to see the Dementors, he was still somewhat able to detect their presence. Lupin once told Harry that even though Dementors are invisible to Muggles, they could be affected by them. The encounter certainly had an effect on Dudley, and his experience may have been severe enough to be life-changing, giving hope he will mature into a better person than either Vernon or Petunia. The elder Dursleys, however, seem as antagonistic as ever, though Petunia nearly shows a rare emotional glimmer, as if teetering on a precipice to reach out to Harry, and through him to her lost sister, during this final encounter, but at the last moment reels herself in and walks away. Harry's own reaction seems mixed. While he endured an unhappy life at Privet Drive, it was his home for many years and leaving it is still difficult—this is yet another incomplete chapter in his life that must be closed and left behind.
Also, the Dursleys' habitually attaching importance to appearances is seen one final time. Vernon is only able to accept the Order of the Phoenix's instructions because he has seen Order member Kingsley Shacklebolt on television, standing directly behind the Muggle Prime Minister. He also demands Shacklebolt be his protector, trying, apparently, to claim that he is as important as the Prime Minister due to Harry's fame in the Wizarding world. Of course, he worries about what the neighbours will think as he and his family drive off with these two oddly-robed figures. It is, perhaps, interesting that what eventually stops Vernon's perpetual waffling about accepting the Order's protection is Dudley's defiant decision to follow Harry's advice. We have not previously seen Dudley value anything regarding Harry, and clearly neither have the Dursleys, as Vernon seems quite shocked, so much so that he acquiesces with the Order's plans.
- How long could Dudley have felt this way about Harry?
- What might have changed Dudley's feelings towards Harry? Are Harry's feelings toward Dudley ever likely to change?
- Was Dudley entirely responsible for his abusive behavior towards Harry? If not, what may have contributed to it? Under different circumstances, how might Dudley have turned out?
- Could Dudley's friendly gesture open the door to a future relationship between him and Harry? Explain what this relationship might or might not be and why.
- Could Aunt Petunia feel the same way Dudley does? If so, why is she unable to express it?
- Why did Aunt Petunia seem to hesitate before leaving?
This is the last time the Dursley family is seen. Harry does occasionally think about the Dursley family, notably when he hears about Dumbledore's sister being locked into their cellar; the comparison with his own life is inevitable. Outside of Harry's thoughts, however, they do not re-enter the story.
Perhaps interestingly, we also never again see Dedalus Diggle or Hestia Jones. There are points in the story where having two more Order Wizards could have been useful, but it seems they remain off-stage, guarding Harry's relatives.
Clearly, others besides Harry are having conflicting feelings here. Vernon, naturally, perpetually shifts between inclination to follow the Order's instructions, and outright defiance; Harry, as mentioned, is glad he will no longer be tormented in that place, but also seems regretful that his childhood there has ended. Surprisingly, not only is Dudley the only one among the four who seems decided, but he understands the real danger he and his family are in. He also shows actual concern about Harry and expresses his gratitude for Harry having saved him from the Dementors. Petunia's behavior is telling in that it shows she must have once dearly loved her sister, Lily. It might have been Petunia's jealousy and spite over Lily's magical ability, something Petunia may have desperately wanted, that drove them apart. This was probably Petunia's last opportunity to connect to Harry and her dead sister in some meaningful way, but she instead opts to abandon that avenue by saying nothing and walking away; her momentary hesitation does indicate that she is uncertain what direction she is headed.
The author, in interviews following this book's publication, has stated that while Harry and Dudley never would have more than a Christmas-card relationship, they quite likely have at least that much. This seems in character for both; Dudley has come to respect Harry, but knows very little about him, and Harry, while he knows much more about Dudley than Vernon and Petunia do, has little respect for him. They have virtually nothing in common, and no grounds for a relationship any deeper than exchanging holiday cards, along with the annual family "newsletter" updates. However, without Dudley's gesture, there would be no impetus for Harry to do even that much, and it is likely Dudley would have difficulty re-opening communications with Harry, given that Harry will be largely within the Wizarding world after this book ends.