J.K. Rowling Surprises Harry Potter Fans With Dursleys’ Origin Story

Richard Griffiths, Harry Melling and Fiona Shaw in Harry Potter
J.K. Rowling wrote about the Dursley family on Pottermore Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

The secrets of Privet Drive are no longer hidden under the stairs. J.K. Rowling celebrated the 35th birthday of Harry Potter's cousin Dudley Dursley on Tuesday, June 23, by penning a new origin story for Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia Dursley on Pottermore.

The beloved author, 49, shared details about the beginning of the relationship between the two vile characters, and explained what led Vernon and Petunia to force Harry to live in his tiny cupboard under the stairs. 

"Harry's aunt and uncle met at work," Rowling began of Vernon and Petunia, who were played by Fiona Shaw and the late Richard Griffiths, respectively, in the big-screen adaptations. "Petunia Evans, forever embittered by the fact that her parents seemed to value her witch sister more than they valued her, left Cokeworth forever to pursue a typing course in London. This led to an office job, where she met the extremely unmagical, opinionated and materialistic Vernon Dursley."

Rowling writes that the two got to know one another and fell in love, leading Vernon to propose "in his mother's sitting room." Petunia happily accepted the proposal, but knew she would have to reveal to her love that her sister Lily was a muggle-born witch. 

"Vernon was apt to despise even people who wore brown shoes with black suits; what he would make of a young woman who spent most of her time wearing long robes and casting spells, Petunia could hardly bear to think," the story continues. "She confessed the truth during a tear-stained date, in Vernon's dark car as they sat overlooking the chip shop where Vernon had just bought them a post-cinema snack. Vernon, as Petunia had expected, was deeply shocked; however, he told Petunia solemnly that he would never hold it against her that she had a freak for a sister, and Petunia threw herself upon him in such violent gratitude that he dropped his battered sausage."

At this time, Petunia's relationship with Lily suffered. Vernon and Lily's husband-to-be James butted heads, leading the Dursleys to skip the Potters' wedding. Rowling explains that "the very last piece of correspondence [Petunia] received from Lily and James was the announcement of Harry's birth, and after one contemptuous look, Petunia threw it in the bin."

As the seven Harry Potter books and their corresponding films detail, this was hardly the last Petunia would hear of Harry. Rowling writes about Petunia getting Dumbledore's letter about the deaths of her sister and brother-in-law, and her realization that she had "no choice but to take Harry in."

"She did it grudgingly, and spent the rest of Harry's childhood punishing him for her own choice," Rowling notes. "Uncle Vernon's dislike of Harry stems in part, like Severus Snape's, from Harry's close resemblance to the father they both so disliked."

The British author went on to explain her inspiration for the characters, writing that "Vernon and Petunia were so-called from their creation, and never went through a number of trial names, as so many other characters did." She chose Vernon because it was "simply a name [she] never much cared for" and Petunia because it's "the name that [she] always gave unpleasant female characters in games of make believe."

"The Dursleys are reactionary, prejudiced, narrow-minded, ignorant and bigoted; most of my least favorite things," Rowling added. "I wanted to suggest, in the final book, that something decent (a long-forgotten but dimly burning love of her sister; the realization that she might never see Lily's eyes again) almost struggled out of Aunt Petunia when she said goodbye to Harry for the last time, but that she is not able to admit to it, or show those long-buried feelings. Although some readers wanted more from Aunt Petunia during this farewell, I still think that I have her behave in a way that is most consistent with her thoughts and feelings throughout the previous seven books. Nobody ever seemed to expect any better from Uncle Vernon, so they were not disappointed." 

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