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18 February 2009 @ 03:51 pm
In Defense of the Dursleys: A Response to Raison_gal’s “Ode to Petunia”  
Raison_gal (in "Ode to Petunia" http://community.livejournal.com/hp_essays/tag/characters:dumbledore+family:albus ) makes a good case that Petunia merits all possible accolades for courage in allowing her sister’s lightening-rod son protection under Petunia’s own roof.

But any praise for Petunia is muffled by the criticism that the Dursleys have abundantly earned, for the abuse Harry suffered before ever we met the defenseless child.

Except—did he? What goes unquestioned is whether the Dursleys really did abuse Harry, at least from their best knowledge of the situation. At best, the discussion gets bogged down in trying to draw distinctions between abuse, mistreatment, and neglect.

It’s absolutely clear in canon that Petunia disliked and feared her nephew, that she favored her son shamelessly over her nephew, and that Harry both disliked her and had cause to do so. It’s less clear that Petunia ever did anything at all that, in her mind, could possibly have been tagged as abusive. Once you remember that Petunia never once thought that, with Harry, she was dealing with a normal child.

She was raising a wizard. Involuntarily.

We’d do well to remember that Petunia does in fact have a role model for how to raise a wizard rather than a normal child: Eileen Snape.

Maybe those resemblances between Severus and Harry’s childhoods weren’t so accidental after all.

Let’s start by distinguishing between Harry’s normal situation with the Dursleys at various points in canon, and how the Dursleys punish him—and for what, which turns out to be highly relevant. It’s common in fanon to depict Harry as being regularly starved, beaten, worked like a house elf, locked up in a tiny closet without food, light, company, bathroom breaks… how much of this, if any, is true?

Well, what is Harry’s situation before the owls start arriving in PS? We see him first en famille on Dudley’s birthday, where poor abused Harry is being ordered to—fry bacon. And subsequently to eat what he’s cooked. Now, while I grant that I personally have encountered situations in which being ordered to eat my own cooking would count as torture, I don’t think we’ re being instructed to see that here.

Harry, mind you, is justifiably unhappy with his treatment. His relatives dislike and fear him, and the dislike at least is fully reciprocated. His aunt and uncle shamelessly favor Dudley over him, spoiling their son while ignoring or belittling their nephew. They dress Harry in Dudley’s cast-offs, which are ridiculously large and shabby. They allow Dudley and his friends to beat up on Harry as they will. Harry believes that his weird attire and Dudley’s enmity are responsible for Harry’s being a social outcast at school. Harry’s bedroom is a spider-infested closet.

However, the fanon convention that Harry was beaten, starved, or worked like a house elf is not supported. We see Harry being ordered to make Dudley’s birthday breakfast, true—but at age eleven I or either of my brothers might have been told to do the same. It’s not an onerous or unreasonable chore—it’s simply that it contrasts with the total indulgence shown to Dudley. When breakfast is ready, Harry sits down to eat with the family—and when he hurriedly stuffs his face full of bacon, it’s because he thinks Dudley might kick the table over in a tantrum, not because he thinks Vernon or Petunia will snatch the food from his mouth.

We’re told that he’s skinny and small for his age, which could indicate malnourishment. However, vegetarian-raised children tend to be smaller than average while being perfectly healthy (when their diets are balanced), and we are explicitly told that Harry can outrun Dudley. Which in fact tells us several things—that he is healthy, not weak from hunger, and that he’s allowed to escape Dudley if he can. The Dursleys allow Dudley to beat Harry up, but they don’t force Harry to submit. When the first letter comes we see the two boys wrestle each other to listen at the keyhole; Dudley wins, of course, because he’s larger and stronger, but Harry clearly dares to fight back. Moreover, we know from the story of the Smeltings stick that Vernon was raised with the idea that allowing boys to bully each other is “good preparation fro life.” Vernon would then regard Harry’s being beat up as showing that Harry was naturally weaker and inferior to Dudley, “unfit”; it would by that ideology (not that I espouse it) be wrong to intervene to protect the smaller boy. We might well imagine that had Harry been the larger and stronger, the Dursleys’ commitment to social Darwinism might have been abandoned. As it was, however, their actions are completely consistent with their beliefs—beliefs undoubtedly shared with a social circle of other Smeltings alumni and Thatcher admirers. Allowing Dudley to bully the smaller boy would then, in their own minds, be perfectly acceptable, not abusive.

And nowhere in canon do the adults themselves strike Harry. In fact, Vernon seems somewhat to regret that they hadn’t tried that expedient when he says to Hagrid, “Nothing a good beating wouldn’t have cured….”

How do the Dursleys punish Harry? Well, the first punishment we see in detail is in response to the incident at the snake house. Harry is sent to bed without supper, and confined to his room (grounded) for several weeks thereafter. The reason that seems over the top is because his “room” is a cupboard (which, however, is large enough for a bed, with room left over for Uncle Vernon to come in for a visit). He’s not locked in; Harry waits for the Dursleys to go to sleep that night so he can raid the kitchen. (We’re told, however, that in the past his cupboard has been locked. We’re not told for how long, or in punishment for what. But locking Harry in is not the norm at this time. Either that, of course, or Uncle Vernon was too shaken to attend to locking Harry in, and Aunt Petunia doesn’t choose to do so.)

And note: Harry wrestles with Dudley without either of them expecting Harry to be punished for it. Harry cheeks his uncle and insults his cousin without expecting more punishment than being yelled at. Harry whines, “Make Dudley do it,” when told to get the mail. Harry yells at his uncle when denied his letter. Harry’s punishment for sneaking to try to get the mail and stepping on his uncle’s face is to be yelled at for half an hour. So normal boyish misbehavior, fighting with Dudley, even direct defiance of his uncle, is punished by being yelled at, if at all.

What Harry is punished severely for is using or referring to magic. And he knows that that’s the one thing that really upsets his relatives, and he does it anyhow. He can’t control his accidental magic, but he can control what he says. Telling Vernon about the flying motorcycle dream at the start of Dudley’s birthday celebration (but too late for them to leave him at home)? Can you say, “passive-aggressive”?

Most of the fanon about Harry being abused probably comes from CoS. At the start of it Harry’s upset because his Hogwarts gear is all locked away. A pretty severe form of abuse, of course, but not actually life-threatening. In the preparations for the “biggest deal of Vernon’s career”, what Harry is told to do is stay out of the way and keep quiet. He’s sent outside to be out of Petunia’s way while SHE does the cleaning. And then Harry mucks it up, first by deliberately pretending to do a spell to frighten his cousin (who, remember, had to endure surgery and spent months unable to sit properly after his first encounter with magic). At that point—not before—Petunia punishes Harry by giving him a whole series of chores and denying food until he’s finished them. This isn’t her normal treatment of the boy: it is how she punishes him for violating WHAT HE KNOWS TO BE HER MOST IMPORTANT RULE. She also swipes at him with the frying pan, but doesn’t connect. Sorry, at that range if she’d meant to hit him, she would have. That was a warning shot. And at the end of the day she does feed him—a cheese sandwich is a meager dinner when she’s got a feast in the oven, especially given how hard he’s been working, but he is still being punished (and warned). And she’s been working as hard as he has, and for longer.

So how does Harry reward her? From the Dursleys’ point of view, by deliberately doing the very worst thing he could: using his magic to sabotage the business deal. Which is then exacerbated by Vernon’s finding out that the boy was so malicious he risked expulsion from his beloved school, just to harm his aunt and uncle.

And by the way, Petunia knew all along that Harry’s not allowed to do magic at home. We know for sure that she does remember the conversation she spied on, about underage magic being punishable, but not by Azkaban, because we know she remembers about Dementors. (And Jo tells us, outside canon, that Lily did earn herself a warning letter.) So why did she never tell her husband and son that Harry wasn’t allowed to do magic outside of school… unless she knew they would leave Harry alone if they were afraid of him, and wanted them to do so? And Harry repays her, first, by making what she thought to be empty threats to terrorize her son, and then by demonstrating that the threats weren’t empty; he’s willing to risk the Wizarding world’s punishment to harm her family.

So how do Vernon and Petunia punish their criminal nephew? Remember, they don’t know about Dobby; they think Harry’s just broken both the Wizarding law and their own biggest rule, out of pure, malicious intent to screw up the biggest deal of Vernon’s career. So they punish the wizard criminal by putting locks on his door and bars on his window, and locking him in where he can do no more damage. Letting him out twice a day for bathroom breaks, and feeding him three small meals a day. Three meals which are made smaller by the fact he gives the lion’s share to Hedwig, which undoubtedly never even occurs to Petunia. This is harsh, but three days of it is not going to harm the boy; Harry is “aching with hunger”, not “weak with hunger”, when the Weasleys break him out. And this, remember, is punishment for outright criminal behavior, or so the Dursleys think. This is not how they treat him when he’s behaving himself.

So what about those shabby, ridiculously oversized clothes and that closet? And the alternation between criticism and ignoring the boy? How about causing his social isolation? Those, at least, were abusive, emotionally at least, right?

Well, maybe not. At least not in Petunia’s eyes.

One of the comments made to “Ode to Petunia” was schemingreader’s criticism of Petunia: “She should have cared for Harry because he was a helpless baby human being.”

Well, actually, that’s rather the point. He wasn’t. He was a baby wizard, and that’s different. Or at least, Petunia had been given good reason to conclude that wizards neither considered themselves to be normal humans nor were helpless. It was the first thing Severus ever said directly to Petunia, after all: “Wouldn’t spy on you, anyway, you’re a Muggle.” And whatever Lily told Petunia about her break with the awful boy, it probably included the information that he had insulted her ancestry.

Lily herself, moreover, became more and more estranged from normal people the longer she went to that freak school. In the end, Lily married a wizard and cut all ties to her former friends and even her sister, associating only with fellow freaks.

As to helplessness, Lily first manifested her magic by willfully engaging in dangerous activities that should have badly injured her, but did not, and Severus showed his by dropping a branch on Tuney’s head when she taunted him.

And Dumbledore, after all, in dropping off the baby, went out of his way to reinforce the Petunia’s belief both that Wizards don’t consider themselves to be human beings (or rather, the converse, that they don’t count Muggles as such) and that Wizard children don’t require the same level of care that normal ones do.

Let’s put it this way: Had Headmaster Snape notified Colin Creevey’s next of kin of his untimely death by dumping on their doorstep a letter and a baby (who might have frozen or wandered away into the November night), their reaction might well have been, “My God! Professor Snape’s an even bigger bastard than Colin and Dennis ever told us—how is that possible? The rudeness, lack of consideration, and callousness of that man passes all bounds! How dare he treat us like that? And that baby could have caught its death.”

But Petunia and her parents would have heard quite different things about Dumbledore than what the Creeveys were told about Snape, wouldn’t they? Lily trusted and respected the headmaster enough to join his Order of the Phoenix, literally to put her life under his orders. So what Petunia learned about the headmaster while Lily was at school may have included that he was eccentric, but certainly would have included that he was brilliant, powerful, wise and good. It might even have included that he was a noted defender of Muggle-borns and Muggles.

And if a brilliant, wise, powerful defender of Muggle-borns can’t be arsed to notify a dead witch’s Muggle next of kin with a proper condolence visit, if he instead walks up to her front door in the middle of the night and leaves a frigging LETTER—well, that shows that the headmaster himself doesn’t really consider Muggles worthy of the most basic human consideration and courtesy, doesn’t it? If that’s how a “good” wizard acts, then that awful boy’s contempt for real people, his conviction that wizards were essentially a separate and superior species (even if they could be spawned by normal people), is the truth held by all wizards. The requirements for raising one, then, need not be the same as for raising a human boy.

In fact, they must not be. No human schoolmaster would even dream of leaving a seventeen-month-old alone on a doorstep in the middle of a November night, but that wise, good, kind Dumbledore apparently didn’t think twice about it. He didn’t even ring the doorbell and run, if he couldn’t bear to sully himself with talking to a Muggle about her sister’s murder. So obviously Wizard children don’t need the protection and care real ones do.

So it’s not abuse to fail to give it.

And think back to how Petunia saw Severus cared for.

Before she had ever even talked to the boy, she knew that he and his mother didn’t care about looking normal or respectable, and they didn’t care (apparently) that they were social outcasts. Eileen’s son was underfed and unwashed. Eileen sent her boy out with uncut hair and ludicrously mismatched clothes, including what might be a blouse, all but guaranteeing the boy would be shunned, laughed at, or attacked by every child who saw him. And yet he considered himself superior to Petunia! He made it perfectly clear he had no desire to be accepted by normal people; he had no time for “Muggles.” And when Lily learned she was a witch, no more did she. Petunia’s sister preferred to spend time with that dirty little freak instead of with her own sister and was happy to dress in robes instead of decent clothes. Vernon knows to worry about “that lot” when he sees people clothed abnormally, after all; from whom did he learn that but his wife and her family?

And the cupboard? That awful boy never bothered washing, and Lily came home from Hogwarts every year “with her pockets full of frog spawn, turning teacups into rats.” In front of the fastidious sister who “hated animals”. Wizards and witches LIKE vermin, so what’s wrong with housing the boy with spiders? Or at least, it’s certainly not as wrong as treating a normal child that way.

In fact, think about the traditional slander/lore about witches. They’re ugly (don’t care about their appearance); they like vermin (rats, spiders, toads); they like the dark; they ride brooms; they hate/attack/ are jealous of normal people.

My apologies to Severus, but I would not have put it past Lily and her best friend to have had fun with Lily’s prissy older sister by playing “let’s freak Petunia out”. Sounds like adolescent humor to me. Potions, say, brewed at Hogwarts to get around the Reasonable Restriction of Underaged Sorcery, a few drops of which turn Petunia’s teacup into a rope-skipping rat, or worse. Detailed discussions of the more, er, esoteric Potions ingredients. Arguments, arranged to be overheard, over whether the Bloody Baron or Nearly Headless Nick is the better house ghost. Perhaps even stories about how, regardless of what Lily’s told their mum, all the kids are housed in dungeons without bedding until they learn to magic up their own….

But even without assuming that, most of the stereotypes about witches were confirmed unequivocally by the time Lily left Hogwarts. Petunia’s sister wore these weird black robes that no one normal would be caught dead in; she accepted vermin (she created it!); she associated with a dirty, ugly lowlife; she did ride a broom; she could poison and hex if she would….

So what’s wrong with clothing the baby wizard in weird clothing, housing him in a closet with spiders (and a bed, remember), and being hostile to him oneself and making it difficult for him to make friends with other children? He wouldn’t want to, anyhow. Remember, their minds work differently from ours. That might be mistreatment of a normal child, but it’s the norm for a wizard.

And in actuality, arguably the worst thing Petunia really does to Harry is to overindulge Dudley—thereby ensuring that Harry acquire a form of this father’s arrogance and sense of entitlement by observation. What Harry knows in his bones, after ten years of watching Petunia with Duddiekins, is that if someone really cares for you, she overlooks all your flaws, never disciplines you, and hands you every thing you might want on a silver platter. How life is supposed to be (how life would have been had Harry’s parents survived*) is how Dudley has it. Being expected to work hard, being held accountable for anything at all, being disciplined if you do wrong, being denied anything you desire, is both fundamentally unjust and proof positive that the other person is just out to get you.

(* And Harry may well be right that that’s how he would have been raised had the Potters survived, at least had he stayed an only child. We know that James was spoiled by his own parents, while it’s probably not coincidence that both Lily and Petunia married well-off, arrogant bullies.)

No wonder Harry gets on so well with the Potions Master (Snape’s deliberate efforts aside). Look at Harry’s reaction to Snape’s detentions after Sectumsempra—the boy feels put-upon that as punishment for nearly killing someone, he’s deprived of some time to snog with his girlfriend and forced to confront his father’s misdeeds. Because any punishment, really, is unfair. It’s never something you might have earned; it shows only that the punisher hates you.

Finally, one last thing to bear in mind about Petunia’s reaction to her nephew: we know that every bit of magic Harry performed at home up was accidental right up until that Patronus charm, because we were privy to Harry’s thoughts and were told so. Petunia’s hardly a Legilimens, however.

Most witch and wizard children have little or NO control of their magic before they start formal training. Harry doesn’t; Ron doesn’t; Neville doesn’t. Draco can fly and stew slugs properly (we know he later stars as one of Hogwart’s best Potions students). Hermione, the very best student in first year (per both Draco and Harry) AND ONE OF THE OLDEST, claims to have done spells from her texts at home, and in Transfiguration she’s the only one able to turn her matchstick “silvery and pointy” in the first lesson.

I would imagine that there’s a bell curve distribution of when magical children finally attain some (any) degree of control over their powers, and that being sent to school (Hogwarts) coincides with when most children might be able to start learning. So, say, 80% of children with magical powers start exercising control over those powers between their eleventh and twelfth year. If it’s an even bell curve (no reason to assume so, but no reason to assume the other, so hey…) then about 10% of students show little ability to control their magic until after first year (Neville, anyone?), another 10% show some ability to harness their magic before Hogwarts starts. One in twenty, perhaps, well before Hogwarts starts. It’s Harry and Petunia’s bad luck that Lily and maybe Severus, but not Harry, were among that one in twenty group.

Severus was said (by an enemy) to have entered Hogwarts “knowing more curses than half of the seventh years” and was shown to have dropped a branch on Petunia’s head when she insulted him. Not the most vigorous debate among readers has sufficed to establish whether that was accidental or deliberate magic on his part. But we do know that Lily thought it was deliberate—because Lily Sue did have that degree of control, and had it by age nine.

But if Lily Sue had that kind of power and control, and Severus might have had it, then Petunia thinks that controlled magic is the NORM for wizard children. She therefore thinks—she would have to—that Harry does those freakish things DELIBERATELY. And that he’s lying to her every time he says “I dunno how it happened.” She thinks, in effect, that she’s in Mrs. Cole’s position, dealing with Tommy Riddle: a little boy who knows that, if not how, he’s making bad things happen. And he’s incorrigible; not her worst punishments can make him stop. And he’s an accomplished liar, looking at her guilelessly while he whines “I dunno.”

At the opening of PS, Petunia and Vernon have essentially spent a decade under house arrest, keeping an eye on a boy that they can’t control. They daren’t ever leave him alone for fear of what he might do; they daren’t leave him with a sitter for fear of what he might do or reveal. Once a YEAR Petunia and Vernon allow themselves a family outing, to celebrate poor little Dudley’s birthday. They can never accept invitations; they almost never offer any, except to Aunt Marge. They’re trapped.

Then Mrs. Figg breaks her leg, and they let Harry come along for once on Dudley’s birthday excursion. They even buy him a sweet and lunch, and let him finish Dudley’s dessert.

And Harry thanks them for the indulgence by deliberately setting a snake on their son that could have KILLED him.

And all the Dursleys do is to send the boy to bed without supper and ground him for a month?

Petunia the abuser? Pfui.
Leni Jess: Pay attention (art by brevisse)leni_jess on February 19th, 2009 12:49 am (UTC)
Interesting. The Dursleys' behaviour is still abusive and unwarranted and repellent, but I see your point that they wouldn't think it so, and all Petunia's experience is leading her to defend her family from this wild animal as best she can.

Pity Petunia never thought of trying to get the boy on her side... Once he started associating with magic users he'd probably pick up and act on the "universal disregard" of Muggles, but until then she might have made things easier for the family, and it might have had some good result long-term, too. Too scared? Too stupid?

In this context, it's interesting that Dudley's attitude had changed somewhat by the time he and Harry were 17. Smarter than his mum? A better observer? Less prejudiced because Harry hasn't been able to do anything to him, which is what counts to a spoiled child? He has always been able to beat the crap out of Harry without reprisal, so he's not going to be as concerned, despite the influence of his parents' horror and fear.
terri_testing on February 19th, 2009 01:59 am (UTC)
Getting Harry on her side
Actually, we don't know that she DIDN'T try that first. By the time the second chapter opens she's been saddled with the boy for ten years, after all.

We're told that Harry had turned a teacher's hair blue, flown (like Lily--which would only confirm to Petunia that his magic was intentional), made his own hair grow, shrunk a sweater... Only one of the four listed could possibly be construed as self-defense--the others were done in sheer malice (given that Petunia doesn't credit that Harry, like young Severus, actually does care about how ridiculous he appears). Moreover, that's only the tip of the iceberg. "The problem was, strange things often happened around Harry and it was just no good telling the Dursleys he didn't make them happen" (emphasis mine)

The first, second, or twentieth time "strange things happened," Petunia might have tried bribes to get the boy to stop that behavior. But it didn't work, did it? The "strange things" kept happening. The only conclusion to be drawn is that the boy likes upsetting his relatives more than any bribe they can give him. Or, later, more than he fears any punishment they're prepared to hand out.

(Which is in fact true, by CoS--Harry taunts Dudley with pretend-magic, deliberately inviting the worst punishment Petunia can give him--and at the worst possible time--solely for the pleasure of terrifying Dudley. The only thing that keeps him in check is fear of expulsion from Hogwarts, not any fear of anything the Dursleys might do to him. Which pretty much tells you right there that he's confident the Dursleys will do no worse than scream at him and ground him. I mean, given the description of Vernon, it's clear that he could, physically, have beaten Harry to a bloody pulp. Or to death. If he knocked Harry out first, would Harry's accidental magic protect him? I think not--triggered by emotion, isn't it?)

I mean, if you start from the premise that all magic is controlled and intentional--how malevolent would Harry have to be, to keep on and keep on doing it? I'm very serious in comparing Harry to Tommy here. From Petunia's point of view.

As to the Big D--Harry never did intentional but wandless/nonverbal magic in front of him. (In fact, if I remember correctly, to the end of canon Harry never did manage wandless magic, much less wandless AND nonverbal.) LILY DID, in front of her sister. In fact, showing off to her sister. Dudley probably picked up (subconsciously, we know he's not that bright) on the difference between the wanded, verbal Patronus-casting that Harry did--which saved both boys' lives, and Dudley acknowledges this--and the uncontrolled accidental outbursts that he'd seen Harry do before. So Dudley had reason to understand--as his mother did not--that Harry maybe really couldn't help those "strange happenings".

A further observation: Lily couldn't demonstrate the formal magic she was learning at home until she was seventeen. Petunia's at least a year older; she might well have been out of the house by then. Particularly if she was dissociating herself from her freakish, but beloved-by-parents, baby sister. (In fact, Lily was married and pregnant by the age of nineteen. Petunia, if a year older, was so at the age of twenty. Awfully young, isn't it? One might infer she was in haste to build herself a proper respectable conventional life as quickly as possible, away from the chaos trailing in Lily's wake....)

But this means that the only magic Petunia may ever have seen was Lily's intentional but wandless, nonverbal, spell-less showing off. And that branch Severus dropped on her. Plus whatever hi-jinks the two friends got up to on the summer hols to torture Petunia with.

Re: Getting Harry on her side - hanfastolfe on February 19th, 2009 03:04 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Getting Harry on her side - oryx_leucoryx on February 19th, 2009 03:38 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Getting Harry on her side - hanfastolfe on February 19th, 2009 04:14 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Getting Harry on her side - oryx_leucoryx on February 19th, 2009 04:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Getting Harry on her side - ricevellus on February 22nd, 2009 09:52 am (UTC) (Expand)
The financial side of the Harry situation (1/2) - raisin_gal on March 2nd, 2009 02:44 pm (UTC) (Expand)
The financial side of the Harry situation (2/2) - raisin_gal on March 2nd, 2009 02:52 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Getting Harry on her side - terri_testing on February 19th, 2009 04:49 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Getting Harry on her side - oryx_leucoryx on February 19th, 2009 05:05 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Getting Harry on her side - wook77 on February 19th, 2009 02:39 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Getting Harry on her side - terri_testing on February 19th, 2009 03:29 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Getting Harry on her side - wook77 on February 19th, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Getting Harry on her side - ricevellus on February 22nd, 2009 09:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
Hagrid's assault on Dudley - terri_testing on February 22nd, 2009 12:50 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Hagrid's assault on Dudley - ricevellus on February 22nd, 2009 11:01 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Getting Harry on her side - avagoyle on February 20th, 2009 01:32 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Getting Harry on her side - hanfastolfe on February 22nd, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Getting Harry on her side - leni_jess on February 19th, 2009 03:46 am (UTC) (Expand)
Celestial Navigatorwook77 on February 19th, 2009 05:22 am (UTC)
And in actuality, arguably the worst thing Petunia really does to Harry is to overindulge Dudley—thereby ensuring that Harry acquire a form of this father’s arrogance and sense of entitlement by observation

Really? The worst is that Petunia overindulges Dudley?

I haven't read the initial article so I'm not certain how much your essay here is based on that. However, looking at the merits of your essay on its own - I hope you realize just how truly offensive your essay is, speaking as a victim of multiple forms of child abuse.

You do realize that not all abuse is physical, correct? There is also sexual, mental, emotional and verbal abuse. All are reasons for children being pulled from their homes. IMHO, Harry is a victim of mental, emotional and verbal abuse on the part of the Dursleys.

Hurling names and insults at a child is definitely verbal abuse. When do we ever see the Dursleys saying anything nice to Harry at all?

Treating a child the way they do(ie - locking him in the cupboard under the stairs on a nightly basis, disallowing the child from participating in school projects, spreading an absolutely false and detrimental rumor to the neighbors so the child cannot possibly have any sort of "normal" relationship in the neighborhood, encouraging another child in the household to beat up on the child, locking the child out of the house, as just a few examples) can also be considered a form of mental abuse.

Overindulging Dudley to the point where Harry is never afforded the same sort of "luxuries"? That's the emotional abuse. It's not just overindulging Dudley. This is denying Harry any sort of emotional connection to them or to others during his formative years. Harry is constantly denied even the smallest of emotional gifts - he receives no praise, no acknowledgement of his presence except to have insults hurled at him. And those luxuries? Include having a clean room without a lock on the outside of it let alone a Christmas gift or a birthday gift. In point of fact, the Dursleys go so far in denying Harry any sort of emotional succor that they retreat to an island to keep him from going somewhere they have no control over him or his interactions.

This is far beyond "overindulging Dudley". They have completely and totally harmed Harry as a child. Children raised this way have a very hard time creating any sort of relationships at all and those they do, are normally very few and far between.

Harry shows the classic signs of child abuse by being sensitive to gossip, stray looks and whispering. He has very few friends, is rash and quick to anger, has an inability to relate to others, is judgmental, shy and withdrawn. He is quick to loyalty to those that show him affection and trust, sometimes to his own detriment.

There is no getting around it, no quibbling over the clarification of wizard versus muggle. Verbal and mental abuse are still horrible forms of abuse. Your last line, IMHO, is the most offensive, indeed.

The Dursleys are classic examples of abusers.
Kayla's Journalkibatsu on February 19th, 2009 07:17 am (UTC)
I completely agree with you. Here is evidence from the text:
PS:Dudley’s favourite punch-bag was Harry

....Harry had a thin face, knobbly knees, black hair and bright-green eyes. He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Sellotape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose.
Punched often by their son

.....The Dursleys often spoke about Harry like this, as though he wasn’t there – or rather, as though he was something very nasty that couldn’t understand them, like a slug. Treated as invisible.

....“I’m warning you,” he had said, putting his large purple face right up close to Harry’s, “I’m warning you now, boy – any funny business, anything at all – and you’ll be in that cupboard from now until Christmas.”

“I’m not going to do anything,” said Harry, “honestly …”

But Uncle Vernon didn’t believe him. No one ever did.

The problem was, strange things often happened around Harry and it was just no good telling the Dursleys he didn’t make them happen.

....Another time, Aunt Petunia had been trying to force him into a revolting old jumper of Dudley’s (brown with orange bobbles). The harder she tried to pull it over his head, the smaller it seemed to become, until finally it might have fitted a glove puppet, but certainly wouldn’t fit Harry. Aunt Petunia had decided it must have shrunk in the wash and, to his great relief, Harry wasn’t punished.

....It was a very sunny Saturday and the zoo was crowded with families. The Dursleys bought Dudley and Piers large chocolate ice-creams at the entrance and then, because the smiling lady in the van had asked Harry what he wanted before they could hurry him away, they bought him a cheap lemon ice lolly.

...“Out of the way, you,” he said, punching Harry in the ribs. Caught by surprise, Harry fell hard on the concrete floor. What came next happened so fast no one saw how it happened – one second, Piers and Dudley were leaning right up close to the glass, the next, they had leapt back with howls of horror.

Harry sat up and gasped; the glass front of the boa constrictor’s tank had vanished. The great snake was uncoiling itself rapidly, slithering out on to the floor – people throughout the reptile house screamed and started running for the exits.

The escape of the Brazilian boa constrictor earned Harry his longest-ever punishment. By the time he was allowed out of his cupboard again, the summer holidays had started and Dudley had already broken his new cine-camera, crashed his remote-control aeroplane and, first time on his racing bike, knocked down old Mrs Figg as she crossed Privet Drive on her crutches.

Harry was glad school was over, but there was no escaping Dudley’s gang, who visited the house every single day. Piers, Dennis, Malcolm and Gordon were all big and stupid, but as Dudley was the biggest and stupidest of the lot, he was the leader. The rest of them were all quite happy to join in Dudley’s favourite sport: Harry-hunting.
(no subject) - kibatsu on February 19th, 2009 07:28 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - kibatsu on February 19th, 2009 07:58 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - oryx_leucoryx on February 19th, 2009 05:34 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - avagoyle on February 20th, 2009 01:35 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - gaymaninside on March 15th, 2009 11:35 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - oryx_leucoryx on February 19th, 2009 05:11 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - ricevellus on February 22nd, 2009 10:14 am (UTC) (Expand)
Kayla's Journalkibatsu on February 19th, 2009 08:01 am (UTC)


Harry ran down the stairs two at a time, coming to an abrupt halt several steps from the bottom, as long experience had taught him to remain out of arm's reach of his uncle whenever possible.

Why would experience teach him to stay out of reach of his uncle if not for abuse?

"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."

Dumbledore confirms the charge of abuse.

So yes, all this is me saying I agree with you 100% :)
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(no subject) - wook77 on February 19th, 2009 02:25 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Dumbledore's timing - terri_testing on February 19th, 2009 04:10 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Dumbledore's timing - wook77 on February 19th, 2009 04:41 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Dumbledore's timing - mary_j_59 on February 19th, 2009 05:13 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Dumbledore's timing - wook77 on February 19th, 2009 05:25 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Dumbledore's timing - oryx_leucoryx on February 19th, 2009 06:52 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Dumbledore's timing - wook77 on February 19th, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Dumbledore's timing - oryx_leucoryx on February 19th, 2009 08:05 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Dumbledore's timing - wook77 on February 19th, 2009 08:23 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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Re: Dumbledore's timing - wook77 on February 19th, 2009 10:27 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Dumbledore's timing - oryx_leucoryx on February 19th, 2009 10:12 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Dumbledore's timing - wook77 on February 19th, 2009 10:33 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Dumbledore's timing - oryx_leucoryx on February 19th, 2009 11:00 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Dumbledore's timing - mary_j_59 on February 19th, 2009 05:16 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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Re: Dumbledore's timing - sweettalkeress on July 28th, 2010 03:54 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - wook77 on February 19th, 2009 10:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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some kind of snark faery: ravenclaw (house shield)shyfoxling on February 20th, 2009 10:00 pm (UTC)
About the essay as a whole: Interesting how just about any character can be sympathetic if you take the time to think about them as a real person, eh? I dare you do do this with Umbridge. ;)

I would imagine that there’s a bell curve distribution of when magical children finally attain some (any) degree of control over their powers

That's actually a good point, something I hadn't thought about before. People often rail against what we see little Lily and little Tommy doing as being "Sue-ish" (you use Lily Sue here, I see ;) ) -- it certainly is exceptional, there's no question of that -- should be impossible, children aren't supposed to be able to do that, etc. And while there probably is a line of demarcation somewhere before which no child has yet demonstrated any control, it's equally unrealistic to assume that somehow specifically 11 is the magic age (if you'll pardon the pun) at which everyone gets it.
terri_testing on February 21st, 2009 06:06 am (UTC)
Sympathetic Umbridge
THAT challenge is completely beyond me. Interestingly, however, excessivelyperky managed in her story "The Birthday Present." Her "Dolly" was a Hufflepuff who, at 13, started being sexually assaulted by her new stepfather--she ended pregnant, barren after losing the baby, and unable to tolerate touching men sexually. Sadistically, however, she could manage. And her clinging fanatically to power and (illusions of) order becomes more understandable. But you notice none of this is supported by direct canon!

(And actually, I don't find Petunia sympathetic--pitiable, yes, which is different.)

Glad you liked the bell curve point--and it certainly puts Neville in a different perspective. (Though I think Jodel's point, that Neville was unconsciously putting on a "duffer" act because his parents' fate left him afraid to develop his magic, is also plausible.)
visitkartevisitkarte on February 22nd, 2009 09:24 am (UTC)

Harry is an e ten years old boy, he can't always control what he says, measure every word on a golden scale. You expect him to walk around on eggshells! In his own home!

Most of his 'punishments' were because of the outbursts of spontaneous magic. And when are those prone to happen? Yes, when the person is stressed to it's maximum. Harry had a plenty of those outbursts, what does this fact show us? That Harry grew up in a friendly environment?

Of course Harry was abused, emotionally, even physically (nearly starving him in his makeshift-cell is abuse at its worst, hurts more than trashing). We have this unsaid facts that Vernon punished him at some occasions, so he would ‘regret having being bourn’. That means almost certainly trashing, and Vernon wouldn’t need anything than his necked hands to nearly smash him to pulp.

I find the fandom way of overdoing the physical abuse ridiculous at its best. No one, wizard or not, can survive being locked without water for a week, severely injured, after a massive loss of blood and caring serious injuries… You know what I mean. Such storylines are ridiculous at their best. Dumbledore did ‘check on Harry’ on regular terms: That was Arabella Figg’s job. Harry was not severely abused in a physical way, but his emotional abuse was quite severe.

We ‘saw’ Harry making breakfast for Dudley at Dudley’s ‘very special day’ and slaving in the garden and hiding in his room at his own ‘special day’. He never got any friends because Dudley scared them away f bit them into submission. Where did he learn that it was OK to terrorise Harry?

I know Petunia didn’t notice how badly she behaved. I a way she was as bitter as Severus, because ‘magic stole her sister and got her killed in the end’. Who was the only other representative of the magic world? Yes. Is there anyone calling ‘weirdo’? Well, there you have it.

We ‘saw’ Dursleys leaving the house on regular terms. When they went away for vacation or social visits, Harry was sent to Mrs. Figg. The same went surely for a lot of visits they got at home. She, on the other hand, had to make sure Harry hated the visits, because the Dursleys would have forbidden Harry to come to her again. That is more than a prove how much they abused and hated him. They couldn’t stand if he was happy, even for a short while. Petunia was punishing him over an over again, for being a wizard, for ‘getting her sister killed’, for living. Why should he live when her sister is dead? On the other side, Lily just got what was coming to her, for being a freak and making a pact with the devil… didn’t she? On the other side, she must have bin fond of her sister before she got her Hogwarts letter, and feels guilty for the way she treats her child.

Bad conscience here and there wouldn’t make Petunia kinder to Harry, not at all. She reacts with ignoring him and his most elementary needs of a child. No presents might not be an abuse if you are short of money. But showering one kid with attention and wealth, while denying the other even a single teddy-bear, or even a used but well enough bike, decent cloths, decent glasses…

visitkartevisitkarte on February 22nd, 2009 09:29 am (UTC)
They were just as abusive as they could dare to, without going to the point when it becomes dangerous of punishable by law. They were dancing along this thin line between ‘still legal’ and ‘illegal abuse’. But abusive they were. That’s canon.

Another thing you forgot: The Dursleys abused their own son! They spoiled him so bad, that they made him almost unfit to live in a social acceptable way. Petunia overfed him do badly, that he is going to suffer diabetes, high cholesterol and destroy his cardiovascular system. He, who always got what he wanted, will never be able to buy normal cloths in a shop, travel economy class in a plain, drive a normal car. Thanks God he started with boxing, otherwise he might have ended up locked in his own apartment and unable to move around, needing a veterinary meds CT-Scan when he got sick; (the model for horses and cows).

Dudley was also lucky that he met the Dementors, who showed him how bad he used to behave. So he reformed, in the next two years. No thanks to his parents, but thanks to the Dementors, Harry and Dumbledore (who scolded his parents because of the way how they abused their own sun.

I know the Dursley’s didn’t want to have Harry. They were equally scared, angry and envious to him. But there is no excuse to treat a child like they did. No way!

It doesn’t mean they need to be ‘punished’ for their behaviour. I don’t think Harry would ever want it. I don’t think it would do them any good. But I think their son ‘punished’ them in the best way possible, because he shows himself grateful to Harry and appreciates him for all he is. They got ‘punished’ seeing how well Harry came out of the whole story, richer than they would ever be, handsome young man, happily married, a great job, great social standing… That’s the worst punishment for them.
(no subject) - mary_j_59 on February 25th, 2009 05:01 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - visitkarte on February 25th, 2009 07:07 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mary_j_59 on February 26th, 2009 05:10 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - visitkarte on February 27th, 2009 12:04 am (UTC) (Expand)
wolf_willow31wolf_willow31 on February 22nd, 2009 06:24 pm (UTC)
I wonder about the contrast between Petunia and Lily. How were they raised, to end up so different? Did their parents dote on Lily and ignore Petunia, or even treat her badly? That sort of thing happens sometimes: the parents play a good-kid/bad-kid game with them. Maybe the grandparents did it to Petunia and Lily, and now Petunia is doing it to Harry and Dudley. These things get passed on from generation to generation. Let's hope that Big-D will be able to break the cycle.
mary_j_59mary_j_59 on February 23rd, 2009 04:23 am (UTC)
That's a really good question, I think. Others (Terri may be among them) have pointed out that Petunia and Lily really aren't so different, in key ways. Both are attracted to aggressive alpha males; both end up wealthy; both seem to have some concern for appearances - based on the very little we know about Lily. We do know more about Petunia, who is certainly abusive, and we know abuse does get passed down.
(no subject) - wolf_willow31 on February 24th, 2009 04:28 am (UTC) (Expand)
Whiteduckiemage + Leaping Lionwhiteduckiemage on February 24th, 2009 09:55 pm (UTC)
The only excuse that would work for the Dursley's, would be the fact they obviously don't know how to raise children.
We get the sense that Petunia didn't like her sister. Since abuse or neglect can be passes through families, we could grasp the idea that perhaps Petunia was neglected while the parents doted on their magic child, Lily.
This would give Petunia the sense to play favorites with children. Doting on the one whom she liked, and neglecting the child of her sister[ who we all know Petunia despises].
Vernon is an aggressive male. He encourages this aggression in Dudley, hoping to make a proper male out of him[as all fathers do]. Vernon might see Harry as a threat to Dudley's future, and encourages their son to 'put Harry in his place'. Since we know next to nothing on Vernon's family [cept his sister] we don't know how his father acted or if abuse was apparent in the family.
Neglect is still neglect. Abuse is still abuse. No matter the reasoning's behind them, it is wrong to put a child in an environment where they can not become the best they can be.
If you wish to call Harry a trouble-maker, know that children learn how to behave from the people aground them.
The people around Harry while he grew up = The Dursleys.
puff222001 on May 18th, 2009 02:46 am (UTC)
Ah, the internetz
1. Abuse is abuse is abuse.

2. The Dursleys abused Harry.

3. The author is NOT CONDONING ABUSE.

4. The author is playing Devil's Advocate and using some complex psychology to try and get into the mind of abusers.

5. Defense attorneys do this all the time.

6. I so totally want to write a fanfiction where Harry and Petunia make real peace now.
attacked by a mad rabbit: ron hermionetevye_cat on June 19th, 2009 11:46 pm (UTC)
very late comment
I just wanted to say I adore you forever for this paragraph:

"And in actuality, arguably the worst thing Petunia really does to Harry is to overindulge Dudley—thereby ensuring that Harry acquire a form of this father’s arrogance and sense of entitlement by observation. What Harry knows in his bones, after ten years of watching Petunia with Duddiekins, is that if someone really cares for you, she overlooks all your flaws, never disciplines you, and hands you every thing you might want on a silver platter. How life is supposed to be (how life would have been had Harry’s parents survived*) is how Dudley has it. Being expected to work hard, being held accountable for anything at all, being disciplined if you do wrong, being denied anything you desire, is both fundamentally unjust and proof positive that the other person is just out to get you.

(* And Harry may well be right that that’s how he would have been raised had the Potters survived, at least had he stayed an only child. We know that James was spoiled by his own parents, while it’s probably not coincidence that both Lily and Petunia married well-off, arrogant bullies.)"

Am now going to read the rest of the comments.