Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Characters/Vernon Dursley
|Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Character|
|Related Family||Marge Dursley (sister), Petunia Dursley (wife), Dudley Dursley (son), Harry Potter (nephew)|
Vernon Dursley is Harry Potter's uncle (Vernon's wife is Harry's mother's sister). He and his wife Petunia Dursley reluctantly took Harry in as a baby, while they had their own son, Dudley. Vernon feels somewhat threatened by Harry's magical abilities and wishes to "stamp it out of him," to the extent of refusing to allow him to speak of anything even slightly out of the ordinary.
Role in the Books
The first person we actually meet in the series is Vernon Dursley. We follow Vernon as he kisses his wife goodbye in the morning, and as he drives off to his workplace, Grunnings, where he sells drills and yells at people. On his way to work he sees a cat apparently reading a map, and several small groups of people wearing robes, talking excitedly about something. He happens to overhear one of the groups talking about one "Harry Potter" and this worries him to the point that he nearly calls home. He decides, however, that it would not be normal to phone his wife over such a small occurrence, and decides to wait until he gets home. There, while watching a news report about strange occurrences happening all around Britain, he casually asks the name of Petunia's sister's child. She confirms that he is named Harry Potter, "a dreadfully common name". Vernon is still worried, and still not daring to show it, when he goes to sleep that night.
We see Vernon some ten years later, sitting at the breakfast table, and doting on his son, Dudley. It is Dudley's birthday, and Vernon cheerfully tells him that there are thirty-seven presents there. Dudley is immediately angered: he had thirty-eight the year before. He calms down when Petunia promises him two more. A phone call interrupts them; Petunia reports that Mrs. Figg has broken her leg and will be unable to take care of Harry while everyone else is at the zoo. Petunia and Vernon discuss what to do with Harry as if he was not present in the room, except that when Harry suggests he could stay at home by himself, Vernon dismisses that idea out of hand. Eventually they decide that Harry will have to go to the zoo with them.
On the way to the zoo, Harry mentions that he had dreamed about a flying motorcycle. Vernon, livid, yells at him that there are no such things as flying motorcycles.
Despite Vernon's attempts to keep Harry in the background, Harry has a good time at the zoo, as vendors naturally assume that Vernon will be buying for all three of the boys he has with him. When the glass in front of the snake vanishes, and Dudley falls into the moat, Vernon apparently blames Harry. Once they get home, Vernon, evidently unable to speak, locks Harry back into his cupboard under the stairs, saying he will have no meals. Harry, left to his own devices, plans to sneak out to the kitchen for some food after the Dursleys are all asleep.
Vernon is extremely pleased that Dudley will be attending Smeltings, his old school. In the face of Vernon's obvious and overweening pride, Harry retreats to hide his amusement at Dudley's uniform. It is the same day the the first of Harry's letters arrives. Vernon is apparently appalled when he realizes who has sent the letter to Harry, and immediately sends both Harry and Dudley out of the kitchen. While Harry and Dudley listen at the door, Vernon and Petunia discuss what they are going to do about this letter, eventually deciding to ignore it. However, now knowing that someone knows Harry is in the cupboard under the stairs, that being where it was addressed to, Vernon decides to move him to Dudley's second bedroom, where all Dudley's broken toys are stored.
This turns out to be a less than useful decision, as the letters keep coming. The next day, Dudley announces a second one, addressed to Harry in "The Smallest Bedroom", and Vernon has to fight both Harry and Dudley for it. The next day, Harry gets up early to reach the door before anyone else, and finds Vernon sleeping across the doorway. Three more letters are delivered onto his chest, and he tears them up before Harry's eyes. Vernon, now getting more frantic, nails up the letterbox.
On Friday, twelve more letters for Harry arrive, stuffed in all the cracks around the door, as they can't be put in the letterbox. Vernon, now very jumpy and humming "Tiptoe Through the Tulips", seals up all the cracks that letters had come through.
On Saturday, twenty-four more letters arrive, inside the two dozen eggs delivered through the window by the milkman. Vernon, of course, phones the dairy, demanding to know who was responsible for them being there.
On Sunday, an apparently slightly demented Vernon announces that this is his favorite day of the week, because there is no post. Almost as he speaks, a rumbling noise heralds the delivery of what seems to be about a hundred letters, all addressed to Harry, down the kitchen chimney. Vernon throws Harry bodily out of the kitchen, and pulling tufts out of his mustache, tells everyone that they are going away, and to pack some clothes.
Vernon drives them in apparently random directions all day, often turning 180 degrees and going back on his course, all the while muttering something about "shaking them off". By the end of the day Dudley is howling, as he had missed five television programs, and Vernon had not stopped for food. Eventually they end up at a gloomy hotel on the outskirts of a large city. In the hotel restaurant the next morning, the clerk approaches them, saying that he's got about a hundred letters for Harry Potter at the desk; Vernon rises to take them, and they set off again.
Today, Vernon seems to be madly looking for some place that they can't be reached, stopping and looking around in the middle of a suspension bridge, deep in the woods, but none of these seems correct somehow. Eventually, as night falls, they stop on a seacoast, and Vernon leaves the car. He returns in a short while saying he has found just the place, and points at a hut precariously perched on a rock out in the ocean. He is also carrying a long, thin package, and says he has provisions and a boat to get out there.
Once in the hut, the provisions prove scanty: a packet of crisps (US: chips) and a banana for each of them. With a storm coming on, Vernon seems quite cheerful, thinking nothing could get through to them now. He and Petunia take the bedroom, leaving Dudley on the broken-down couch in the main room, and Harry with the thinnest blanket on the floor.
When Hagrid arrives, knocking the door down at the height of the storm, Vernon appears, now carrying the contents of the long thin parcel: a rifle. Hagrid bends the rifle into a pretzel and throws it away, and Vernon retreats, though he does retain enough sense to tell Dudley to to eat anything Hagrid offers him. When Harry admits that he knows nothing about Hagrid's world, the Wizarding world, Hagrid turns angrily on Vernon, who, much abashed, subsides into incoherence. Vernon does try a number of times to prevent Hagrid telling Harry about the Wizarding world, and insists that Harry is not going to Hogwarts, but Hagrid overrides him easily. When Vernon angrily protests that he is not going to pay good money to have some doddering old man teach Harry magic tricks, Hagrid angrily warns him not to insult Albus Dumbledore, and by way of emphasis gives Dudley a pig's tail. Panicked by this display of magic, the three Dursleys retreat to the back bedroom.
When Harry returns to Privet Drive, Vernon has apparently chosen to ignore him, and so Harry's life is much quieter. As the day of departure comes closer, Harry asks Uncle Vernon if he could get a ride into London to catch his train. Vernon agrees, saying that they had to go into London anyway to get Dudley's tail removed surgically. When Vernon comments sarcastically about Harry's need for a train, Harry says that he has to catch the train at King's Cross Station at platform nine and three quarters. Vernon seems surprised by this.
The next day, as they reach King's Cross Station, Vernon is uncharacteristically jolly. He even loads Harry's trunk onto a dolly and pushes it into the station. He points out the big signs for platforms nine and ten, and observes that there doesn't seem to be a platform nine and three quarters. He then wishes Harry a happy term, and leaves, laughing. Harry sees the three Dursleys laughing at him in the car as they drive away.
At Christmas, Harry receives a note acknowledging his earlier message – he had written to say he had made it to school – and enclosing his Christmas gift, a 50p piece (about $1 US). The note is signed by Vernon and Petunia. Harry gives the coin to Ron, who is amazed at the appearance of this Muggle money.
When Harry returns to London on the Hogwarts Express, Uncle Vernon is extremely brusque in his greeting, to the point of shocking Hermione and Mrs. Weasley. As Vernon leaves, Harry tells Ron and Hermione that he'll be having some fun with the Dursleys, as they don't know he isn't allowed to practice magic.
When Harry comes down to breakfast, he reminds Dudley to "use the magic word" when Dudley commands him to pass the bacon. This results in Uncle Vernon becoming enraged, as he has forbidden all mention of magic in the house. Harry is briefly amazed to hear Uncle Vernon say that it is a special day, as it is Harry's birthday. It turns out, however, that Vernon is talking about his guests that evening, the Masons, a couple that he is trying to impress, as they could place the largest order of drills Vernon has ever received. Vernon then leads his family in rehearsing what they will be doing, reminding Harry repeatedly that his role is to be upstairs in his room, pretending he is not there. Harry several times has trouble keeping a straight face, as the plans for the evening seem to him to be ludicrously transparent attempts to curry favor.
As the guests arrive, Harry, as ordered, goes to his room, where he finds a house-elf jumping on his bed. The elf, who introduces himself as Dobby, apparently feels he is being very disobedient by coming to see Harry, and must punish himself. The resulting noise bring Vernon upstairs to chide Harry, who has managed to hide Dobby when he heard Vernon approaching. When Dobby drops the Dursleys' dessert in the kitchen, Vernon almost manages to calm down his guests; but very shortly after that an owl arrives with a parchment, which it drops on Mrs. Mason's head. Mrs. Mason, who is morbidly afraid of birds, runs screaming from the house, and Mr. Mason follows, saying he will not be dealing with Grunnings.
Furious, Vernon brings the letter to Harry and tells him to read it out loud. It is a warning from the Ministry that Harry has violated the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery by performing a Hover Charm. Vernon, now knowing that Harry is not allowed to perform magic at Privet Drive until he comes of age, decides to lock him into his bedroom, adding bars across the window for good measure.
When Ron, Fred, and George break Harry out of his room, Harry almost forgets Hedwig, who is locked into her cage. Hedwig's loud hoot at being forgotten wakes up the Dursleys, and Vernon rushes into the room, barely catching Harry's foot as Harry is lifted out of the window by the Weasleys' flying Ford Anglia. Vernon tumbles down into the bushes under the window, and Harry escapes in the car.
At Christmas, the Dursleys send Harry a toothpick as a gift.
Somewhat less afraid of Harry having learned that he is not allowed to practice magic at Privet Drive, Vernon has locked all Harry's school supplies away in the cupboard that was previously Harry's bedroom. Harry has used the lock-picking skills he had learned from Fred and George Weasley to get the materials he needs out of the cupboard, and now does his homework by torch (US: flashlight) under his bedcovers at night.
When Harry's Hogwarts letter arrives with the next years' booklist, it contains a permission slip; signed by a parent or guardian, it would allow Harry to visit Hogsmeade on specified weekends. Harry wonders how he will get Uncle Vernon to sign it.
Vernon, the next morning, announces that he is off to the train station to collect his sister, Harry's Aunt Marge. Harry receives strict instructions as to how he is to act: be civil to Marge, no discussion of magic, and Harry is to recall that Marge has been told that he has been placed in St. Brutus' Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys. As Vernon is leaving, Harry takes him aside and points out that he's going to have a hard time remembering the stuff he's been told he has to remember. Vernon, thinking about how much damage one small slip could do, pales. Harry suggests that if there was something in it for him, he wold be more careful, and asks if Uncle Vernon would be willing to sign his permission slip. Vernon grudgingly agrees that if Harry manages to stay convincing for the full week of Marge's stay, he will sign the permission slip.
The following week is very hard on Vernon, as Marge insists on not only keeping Harry in view so he can't sneak around behind her back, but in insulting Harry and his parents. Vernon is unusually sensitive to Harry's moods, repeatedly trying to distract Marge off subject so that Harry won't get upset and say something that would reveal that he isn't normal. On the last night of her visit, however, Marge insults Harry's father, and Harry loses control, inadvertently causing Marge to inflate like a balloon. Knowing that he is in trouble, Harry hastily retrieves his school supplies, threatening Vernon with his wand when he tries to stop Harry and get him to deflate Aunt Marge, and leaves, dragging his trunk.
When Harry reaches the Leaky Cauldron, he is intercepted by the Minister for Magic, Cornelius Fudge, who tells him that Aunt Marge had been punctured and her memory adjusted. He says that the Dursleys are willing to have him back at Privet Drive over the summer if he stays at Hogwarts over Christmas and Easter.
When Harry returns to London after the school year, he tells Vernon that he has met his godfather. When Vernon says he doesn't have one, Harry says he does, his name is Sirius Black and he's a convicted murderer who is on the run, but he is very interested in Harry's wellbeing and will expect to hear from him over the summer. Vernon turns quite pale at this news.
The school nurse has sent instructions home with Dudley that he is to be put on a diet, as he is so fat; Vernon's temper has not been improved by Petunia putting the entire family on a diet, to keep Dudley from feeling singled out.
In mid-August, Vernon receives a letter from Mrs. Weasley, asking if Harry could go to the Quidditch World Cup with her family, as they have tickets. Vernon is disconcerted by the letter, which has aroused the postman's interest because it is totally covered with stamps, except for a small area where Mrs. Weasley has written Vernon's address. Clearly, this is Different, and therefore Bad. The contents of the letter are equally dismaying, because they leave Vernon with a quandary: if he permits Harry to go, then Harry will be doing something he likes, which is clearly bad; however, Mrs. Weasley has also said that he can stay the rest of the summer with her, which would mean that Harry would be out of Vernon's hair a good fortnight sooner than expected. Sensing this indecision, Harry points out that he should get an answer from Uncle Vernon soon, as he is writing to his godfather, and Sirius will want to know where he is and what he's doing. Reminded of Sirius' existence, Vernon backs down from his indignation and gives Harry permission to go.
The Weasleys had said that they would arrive to collect Harry; Vernon wonders how they will arrive, and whether they will be dressed normally or in those robe things. Vernon himself has dressed in his best business suit, to try and intimidate the Weasleys. The time of their scheduled arrival comes, and goes, with Harry looking anxiously outside to see them arrive, when there is a noise from the fireplace: Mr. Weasley has had the Dursleys' fireplace attached to the Floo network for the day, and he, Fred, George, and Ron have all appeared in the Dursleys' walled-up fireplace. Mr. Weasley blows the wall apart magically to get his family out, coating Vernon and Petunia with white dust. Stunned, Vernon and Petunia say nothing, despite Mr. Weasley's attempts at making conversation, while Fred and George go to retrieve Harry's trunk. As he re-enters the fire, Fred drops a bag of toffees, and though he picks most of them up, one is left behind. With all the other Weasleys gone, Harry is preparing to go when Mr. Weasley stops him. He reminds Vernon that Harry is about to leave for several months, isn't Vernon even going to say goodbye? Grudgingly, Vernon says, "Well, goodbye then." Mr. Weasley is amazed at this brusqueness, but Harry prepares to enter the fire. He is stopped by a gagging noise: Dudley has found and eaten the toffee left by Fred, and it has expanded his tongue to several feet in length. Outraged, Vernon starts attacking Mr. Weasley. As Harry departs, he sees Mr. Weasley destroying the china figurines that Vernon is throwing at him.
At one point, Hermione mentions that the Dursleys would likely be pleased to hear how well he was doing in the Triwizard Tournament. Harry demurs, saying they would be happier if he had managed to get himself killed.
Vernon meets Harry again at King's Cross Station, and is, as usual, surly and untalkative.
Knowing Voldemort is back, Harry is intensely interested in both the Wizarding and the Muggle news, looking for evidence of his return. He cannot watch the Muggle news without being abused by Uncle Vernon, so in order to at least hear the news, in hopes that he will be able to recognize the effects of Dark Magic, he lies in the garden, hidden from the neighbours by the geraniums, listening through the open windows. While he is listening this way, he hears a noise in the street that he recognizes as the sound of someone Diasapparating, and leaps up, wand at the ready, only to crack his head on the window standing open above him. Vernon, discovering him there, pulls Harry in through the window, and then makes conciliatory noises at the neighbours who have looked around at his bellow of outrage, to try and reassure them that there is nothing wrong. Vernon and Harry then have a low-voiced argument, until Harry goes out, in part to investigate the noise he had heard.
Harry later brings a very ill Dudley, who has just been attacked by Dementors, back home. Harry hopes to escape to his room, but Dudley manages to mention Harry, and Vernon calls Harry back into the kitchen. While Vernon and Petunia Dursley confront him about their now-ill son, Harry receives a letter from the Ministry of Magic expelling him from Hogwarts and saying his wand will shortly be destroyed. Harry decides that his only option is to become a fugitive, but before he can get past Uncle Vernon, another owl letter arrives from Arthur Weasley, telling him to stay in his uncle's house, not let Ministry representatives break his wand, and not use magic again; Dumbledore is straightening things out. As he must remain in the house anyway, Harry stays at the kitchen table and tries to explain what happened. He insists that he did not use magic against Dudley, that it was the Dementors. When Uncle Vernon asks what Dementors are, Aunt Petunia answers, "they are the guards of the Wizard prison, Azkaban."
Petunia's revelation shocks everyone, including Petunia, who belatedly covers her mouth with her hands, as if realizing she has just said something horribly obscene. Harry is amazed to find himself sitting in Aunt Petunia's antiseptic kitchen, answering questions about the Wizarding world. Meanwhile, another owl arrives from Arthur, and one from Sirius, briefly telling Harry that the situation is being sorted out. Finally, a second owl from the Ministry of Magic arrives revoking his expulsion and wand destruction. Instead, Harry's fate rests on a hearing scheduled for "9 A.M. on August 12th."
When Harry says Lord Voldemort has returned, Uncle Vernon, recognizing the danger he and his family are in while they house Harry, demands he leave. However, this is interrupted by one final owl carrying a Howler—surprisingly for Petunia Dursley. A menacing voice reverberates throughout the kitchen: "REMEMBER MY LAST, PETUNIA!" Petunia quickly overrides her husband, insisting that Harry remain at their house, on the grounds that sending him away at this point would make the neighbours talk, but sending him to bed immediately.
Harry is now once again locked in his room, though we don't know whether this is Vernon's decision or Petunia's. Three days later, Vernon tells Harry that he, Petunia, and Dudley have been invited to a Best Kept Suburban Lawn award, and are leaving Harry alone in the house, locked into his room. Harry listens to them leave. Shortly, the Advance Guard arrives to take him away to the Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. As he is leaving, Harry wonders what Vernon will think when he discovers there is no Best Kept Suburban Lawn competition.
When Harry returns to London for the summer vacation, he finds Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Tonks, Lupin, and "Mad Eye" Moody who tell Harry they plan to have a stern talk with his aunt and uncle about how they treat him. The whole group confront Uncle Vernon, intimidating him, despite his initial bluster, into making the necessary concessions for Harry's comfort over the summer, and saying that they will be in touch, either by Harry's owl, or in person.
Although Professor Dumbledore had told Harry he would be arriving only two weeks into the summer vacation to take Harry away to The Burrow, Harry had not told the Dursleys about it, partially out of fear that it would not actually be happening. So when Dumbledore arrives, the Dursleys are stunned almost to insensibility. Dumbledore makes himself at home, and sweeps the Dursleys into a couch; then offers everyone mead. The Dursleys refuse to acknowledge the mead, despite the animated glasses getting more and more insistent about being taken, to the point that one of them ends up bouncing off Vernon's head and spilling most of its contents as it does so. Dumbledore and Harry, meanwhile, discuss Harry's inheritance; Sirius, it seems, had left Harry the house at Grimmauld Place and all its contents. This catches Vernon's attention: Harry owns a house in London? When, in order to test whether the house actually did pass to Harry, Dumbledore summons the house-elf Kreacher, Vernon and Petunia are both revolted at finding this dirty thing in the middle of their spotless living room.
After Harry had packed for school and brought his trunk downstairs, Dumbledore addresses the Dursleys again, saying that he had expected that the Dursleys would treat Harry as one of their own children, rather than maltreating him as they had. However, Harry had apparently not been as poorly served by the Dursleys as the child between them. Both Vernon and Petunia look around at this, as if expecting someone other than Dudley to be present. Dumbledore then says that Harry must return to Privet Drive next summer, at least briefly, but that his magical protection in that place would end when he reached his majority. When Vernon points out that Harry will only be turning seventeen, not eighteen, Dumbledore says that in the Wizarding world, seventeen is the age of majority. Vernon says that's stupid.
At this point, Harry and Dumbledore leave Privet Drive. As this book ends before Harry returns for the summer, Vernon plays no further part in it.
Harry, assisted by Kingsley Shacklebolt and Arthur Weasley, has been trying to convince Uncle Vernon to accept the offer of a safe retreat for protection from the chance that Voldemort will attack the house at Privet Drive once Harry's protection there ends. Vernon seems quite happy to speak with Kingsley, who he has seen on television in the company of the Prime Minister, but he still doesn't entirely trust Harry or Arthur. He asks Harry at one point why Kingsley cannot be sent to guard them, and Harry does not have an answer. When we first see Vernon in this book, he has just changed his mind again, saying that he will not leave the house because he expects that Harry would immediately try to transfer title to himself. Harry wearily points out that he already owns a house in London, and that there is nothing that would make him want to stay at Privet Drive anyway.
When the members of the Order of the Phoenix who will be traveling with the Dursleys arrive, Vernon is not particularly reassured. Dedalus Diggle is a very short and bouncy man, whose admission that he doesn't understand all the gadgets in a car is worrying to Vernon, and whose watch, alarmingly, talks, saying that they are late. Hestia Jones, while much less flamboyant, also does not seem to impress Vernon. All the same, the three Dursleys and the two wizards all climb into the Dursleys' car, and the last we see of Vernon is him driving away to safety.
Vernon is a narrow minded and often cruel man. He despises having Harry under his roof and rarely misses a chance to belittle him. Vernon is fearful of the magical world and considers Harry's wizarding abilities an abnormality that must be suppressed and concealed. Vernon loses his temper at any mention of the "M" word.
Relationships with Other Characters
Vernon's relationships with other characters are very different in nature, though apparently uniformly shallow. Toward Harry, we see that Vernon makes no accommodation to Harry's needs, such as refusing to sign a Hogsmeade permission slip in Harry's third year. Vernon often restricts his nephew to his room for days at a time. Vernon is verbally, emotionally, and on occasion, physically abusive to Harry. As Harry matures and becomes more powerful as a wizard, Vernon's feelings towards him shift, becoming less authoritarian and more fearful. By the beginning of the sixth book, Vernon is almost as afraid of Harry as he is of any mature Wizard.
Vernon acts completely differently towards his son, Dudley, showering him with gifts and making nearly infinite allowances for his desires. However, one cannot tell whether Vernon's motivation here is affection towards his son, or simply the need to keep up appearances. Fathers love their sons, so Vernon must show the appearance of loving Dudley. He does seem, however, to be genuinely fond of Dudley.
It is hard to determine Vernon's actual feelings, if any, towards his wife, Petunia, or his sister Marge. It could be that all we see is Vernon acting properly to keep up appearances. However, Vernon again makes great allowances for Marge's foibles and her opinions, wincing as Marge puts the saucer down for her dog, and keeping her liquor glass filled in order to attempt to defuse her diatribe against Harry. Towards Petunia, he has the appearance of the dutiful husband, caring for his wife, but with Petunia herself seeming to discourage intimacy, it is extremely hard to determine what feelings, if any, they have for each other.
Clearly, the main driving force behind Vernon Dursley is "what other people think." From the beginning of the first book, it seems that his world image is based on what other people think of him, and he is at great pains to appear "normal." Because of this, when things that are not normal happen around Harry, Vernon will often punish Harry inordinately. Events at the zoo in the first book are clearly out of the ordinary, and the punishment Harry receives, being locked in his "room" under the stairs for several days, is clearly out of line. (One wonders, in fact, how Vernon and Petunia made Harry's extended absence from school on this occasion seem "normal". We are led to believe that this form of punishment was not uncommon, so the Dursleys may have explained his frequent absences by claiming that Harry was a sickly child.)
Despite being the head of the household where Harry lives, Vernon is clearly not a father figure for Harry. It could be argued that if he is a father figure for his own son, Dudley, he is not a particularly good one; rather than a source of security, Dudley seems to see Vernon as a source of gifts and toys. We find that Harry has somewhat idealized his deceased parents, which of course makes Vernon even less likely to fulfill the role of parent in Harry's mind; rather, he is an oppressive force to be first avoided, then negotiated with, and finally outright defied, as Harry matures.
Vernon's role, then, would largely be one of highlighting how Harry is maturing, as the series progresses. As Harry develops abilities that Vernon will never have, his self confidence increases, as does his willingness to stand up to Vernon for what he wants and needs. In his interactions with Harry, Vernon is handicapped by needing to appear normal to the neighbours, and Harry, as he develops, is able to use this in his dealings with Vernon and Petunia.