When you’re a kid (wizard or not), and someone hates you, the destruction it wreaks on your self-esteem can be devastating. Just ask poor Harry Potter, sent to live with Vernon and Petunia Dursley after his parents’ deaths. The people who were supposed to love and care for Harry only treated him with hostility and disdain; the poor kid lived in a cubby under the stairs, for crying out loud (and I just might). Even worse, Harry didn’t really know — we didn’t know — exactly what made his uncle and aunt feel how they did; why would they hate a tiny, little Potterboy (before they even knew he had powers)?
J. K. Rowling has taken to Pottermore to give us new bits of the Dursley/Potter backstory, and fills in around what we thought we knew (they feared Harry might be magical, and a “freak”). While still attending Hogwarts, Lily and her boyfriend James Potter were invited by (at-the-time engaged) Vernon and Petunia out to dinner; things didn’t go well…
“James was amused by Vernon, and made the mistake of showing it. Vernon tried to patronise James, asking what car he drove. James described his racing broom.
Vernon supposed out loud that wizards had to live on unemployment benefit. James explained about Gringotts, and the fortune his parents had saved there, in solid gold.
Vernon could not tell whether he was being made fun of or not, and grew angry. The evening ended with Vernon and Petunia storming out of the restaurant, while Lily burst into tears and James (a little ashamed of himself) promised to make things up with Vernon at the earliest opportunity.”
Rowling goes on to say that when the Dursleys married, Petunia wouldn’t have Lily in her bridal party, and Vernon wouldn’t even speak to James — the couples’ last communication was Harry’s birth announcement. Though the foursome stopped speaking entirely, the Dursleys begrudgingly took Harry in after his parents died. It was Harry’s resemblance to his father that’s to blame for his uncle’s behavior toward him.
I’m not sniffling; you’re sniffling! A kid can’t help who he looks like, and to hold a bitter grudge long after a man is dead — to take it out on an innocent child who’s already lost both his parents — well that’s just unforgivable.
Fly away, bad people; fly far away!
The author also passed on a bit of information about where Harry’s aunt and uncle got their names: “Vernon is simply a name I never much cared for,” and Petunia is the name she “gave unpleasant characters in games of make believe” Dursley is “from the eponymous town in Gloucestershire…(more about) the sound of the word, rather than any association with the place.” Finally, she also mentioned a desire to have Petunia be a little nice to Harry when she said her goodbyes, but Rowling felt she had to keep Petunia in character, “…in a way that is most consistent with her thoughts and feelings throughout the previous seven books.”