“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.”
Both Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon looked around instinctively, as though expecting to see someone other than Dudley squeezed between them.1
Dudley Dursley, Harry’s spoiled, lazy, ill-mannered bully of a cousin, has a face only a mother could love and the temperament of a troll in a china shop. He’s big boned and brutal, but only brave when surrounded by his gang of cronies. He’s his mother’s little angel, but when no one is looking he prefers to pick on kids smaller than himself (anyone remember poor little Mark Evans?).
Dudley isn’t really a leading character in the Potterverse. It seems he is mainly part of the story to provide more depth to Harry’s home life: the contrast between the Dursleys’ treatment of their unwanted nephew and their own son is stark and gives us even more sympathy for our poor young hero. Even though the Harry Potter fandom is prone to taking every aspect of the story apart, turning each word around twenty times and analysing the importance of the most minor of characters (and boy, do we remember Mark Evans), there are surprisingly few wild, elaborate or intriguing theories about our Dudders. It seems that there really isn’t much that Dudley is good for other than providing some good laughs.
Diddy, Duddy, Ickle Diddikins, Dinky Diddidums, Dudders, Big D, call him what you like, one thing we can all agree on is that he is as Muggle as they come, right? Or is he…?
Of Dementors, Squibs and Genetics
“Of course he is a Muggle!” I hear you cry. “How could he not be! He is terrified of magic, both his parents are Muggles and besides, he is nearly seventeen years old. If he was magical, wouldn’t he have shown some magical ability by now?”
Not necessarily. J.K. Rowling has told us that it is possible for people to show magical ability later in life. In her own words, “In my books, magic almost always shows itself in a person before age 11; however, there is a character who does manage in desperate circumstances to do magic quite late in life, but that is very rare.”2 Could the person she is referring to be Dudley?
Again, you’re protesting, “sure it could be Dudley, anything is possible. It could also be Argus Filch, the pretty Muggle girl in the paper shop3 or… well no, probably not Mark Evans,4 but there isn’t any canon evidence to suggest that Dudley is anything other than a Muggle!”
Wrong again! There most certainly is! There is undeniable canon proof that Dudley isn’t just a normal Muggle boy, and the answer lies with Dementors.
Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them. […] Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you.5
Nasty creatures, those Dementors. We have repeatedly seen the effect the mere proximity of a Dementor has on Harry. He describes the feeling as an intense cold inside his heart6 or freezing water inside his chest,7 while Ron explains that the Dementor made him feel like he’d “never be cheerful again.” 8 Even Mrs Figg, who is a Squib, felt “as though all happiness had gone from the world” 9 during the Dementor attack in Wisteria Walk. Pretty horrible stuff!
Muggles cannot see Dementors, Professor Lupin tells us, but they can feel their presence.10 What Muggles feel exactly when a Dementor is near isn’t quite certain, but during the unusually foggy summer prior to Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts, the Muggle Prime Minister muses that “a grim mood has gripped the country” 11 and that “people really did seem more miserable than usual.” 12 Ex-Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge later explains that both the fog and the gloomy feelings are caused by Dementors breeding all over the country.13 “Grim” and “miserable” are the words used – nothing about feeling like you’ll never be cheerful again or as if all the happiness has disappeared from the world; Muggles are just a little bit more miserable than usual.
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, our friend Dudley also has the misfortune to run into a couple of Dementors. When the street becomes pitch dark and freezing cold, the poor boy stumbles and falls to the ground, clamping his arms across his face.14 Later that night he recounts to his parents how he had felt:
“Horrible,” croaked Dudley. “Cold. Really cold. [...] Felt… felt… felt… as if… as if…”
“As if you’d never be happy again,” Harry supplied dully.
“Yes,” Dudley whispered, still trembling.15
There you have it! As if he’d “never be happy again”: almost exactly the way it was described by Ron. Not just a bit gloomy and depressed, but soul-sucking, happiness-draining coldness, just as it is experienced by wizards and Squibs!
What’s more, the Dementor “was crouching low over him, gripping his wrists in its slimy hands, prising them slowly, almost lovingly apart.” 16 The Dementor actually touches Dudley! If Muggles cannot see Dementors, surely they cannot physically feel them either? As far as we know there have never been Dementor attacks on Muggles – no Muggle has ever had any physical interaction with a Dementor, felt that “putrid, death-cold breath” 17 on their face or had their soul sucked out through their mouth. Why would that Dementor in Wisteria Walk suddenly break a pattern of centuries and pick on a random Muggle boy? Looks like Mark Evans was lucky to only encounter Dudley and his gang!
There is some confusion on whether Squibs can see Dementors or not. Whereas Arabella Figg indignantly proclaimed to the Wizengamot that Squibs can see Dementors,18 her creator, J.K. Rowling, has stated that they cannot.19 However, as in the case of Marcus Flint doing an extra year at Hogwarts, if it’s between Jo making a mistake and the character making a mistake, “I think I prefer [the character] making the mistake.” 20 Let’s therefore say that Squibs cannot see Dementors. We don’t know for sure if Dudley could actually see the Dementors – after all, he was whimpering on the ground with his eyes covered – but it is implied that he couldn’t. Combine this with the fact that there has so far been no indication of magical ability from Dudley and we could safely presume that if Dudley is not a Muggle, he is in all likelihood a Squib.
Ron, who’s in the know on all things magical, has kindly provided us with the definition of a Squib: “someone who was born into a wizarding family but hasn’t got any magic powers. Kind of the opposite of Muggle-born wizards.” 21 I don’t know if there is such a thing as a half-blood Squib, but let’s assume that if Dudley were indeed a Squib, at least one of his parents would have to be magical.
Now, the genetic background of magic is somewhat obscure. Muggle scientists have tried to determine how magical properties are inherited,22 but never quite managed to put their finger on it.23 However, according to the goddess of the Potterverse, magic is definitely hereditary.24 It is therefore not an illogical presumption that any magical blood Dudley may possess would come from his mother’s side of the family. After all, his aunt was most certainly a witch. She may have been Muggle-born, but she definitely had the magic power.
The Creevey brothers have shown us that it is possible to have two magical siblings born to Muggle families. It is probably quite a rare phenomenon, but it is possible. It would therefore not be unimaginable that both Evans daughters had the magical force running through their veins, too. Unfortunately for our little hypothesis, J.K. Rowling has swiftly done away with that theory and proclaimed that Petunia “is a Muggle.” 25 Not a witch, not even a Squib – a Muggle. That doesn’t leave much room for interpretation, now does it!
It could be that Dudley simply is a true Muggle-born. However, as our working hypothesis is that he is a Squib, wouldn’t a Muggle-born Squib be, well, a Muggle? Maybe magic can somehow skip a generation. We could possibly come up with intricate magical genograms and complex explanations of latent, inactive wizarding genes present in Muggle families that may get passed on through generations before they finally get expressed blah blah… but the answer could be much simpler. If one of Dudley’s parents is magical, and it isn’t Petunia.…
Who’s your Daddy?
“What, are you suggesting that Uncle Vernon is a wizard? Surely not!” Well, no, of course not. Vernon Dursley is a great big Muggle and you know it. He probably never even heard of “real magic” until he met Petunia. So, in summary, if one of Dudley’s parents is magical, it is not Petunia and it isn’t Vernon.…
Now we really get to the crux of the matter; the reason this essay exists. Petunia is Dudley’s mother, there is no reason to doubt this. After all, if she wasn’t, she’d know, wouldn’t she! Ever heard of maternity tests? Besides, can anyone imagine Petunia fawning over a boy of magical descent as if he were her own son if he wasn’t? I think not. Now, paternity issues are usually a lot more cloudy. What if Aunt Petunia has a dirty little secret that even Uncle Vernon does not know about? After all, we do know there is more to Petunia than meets the eye.…26
J.K. Rowling is the absolute queen of planting subtle, seemingly insignificant clues. We already caught glimpse of the Hand of Glory and Vanishing Cabinet Draco used in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince during Harry’s very first visit to Borgin and Burkes more than four years earlier; many discerning readers put two and two together and figured out why the “familiar looking” barman of the Hog’s Head Inn smelled like goats; and Mark Evans… well no, he still is just Mark Evans.
Another thing about J.K. Rowling’s style of writing is that it is very visual. All her characters are very clearly physically described and family connections are usually rather obvious. No one could ever mistake Seamus for a Weasley, or Angelina for a Malfoy. Dennis Creevey is small and mousy-haired like his brother, Snape has the same hooked nose as both his parents,27 and Harry is the spitting image of his father, though with his mother’s green eyes. Ahhh, those eyes….
Let’s take a look at Dudley. The very first time we meet him he is described as having “a large, pink face, not much neck, small, watery blue eyes and thick, blond hair that lay smoothly on his thick, fat head.” 28 Apart from the hair colour he obviously does not look a lot like his mother, who is described as being “thin and blonde and [having] nearly twice the usual amount of neck.” 29 Granted, it was also mentioned that Dudley “looked a lot like Uncle Vernon,” 30 but it could be that Petunia simply had a thing for large, light haired men, and besides, this would explain how, if she did make a little oopsie, it could have remained unnoticed for so many years!
So, following Jo’s usual pattern, it would follow that we have at some point stumbled across a wizard with a striking physical resemblance to Big D. Let’s consider the wizards that Petunia may have met – Lily’s friends. Of course there’s James Potter. However, young James looked very much like Harry does now, “but with deliberate mistakes.” 31 Harry is skinny, dark haired and green eyed – hardly a visual match with Dudley. Sirius Black may also have frequented the Evans residence; however, he shows very little resemblance to Dudley either, with his (pre-Azkaban) good looks and dark hair. Besides, Sirius and Petunia? Nuh-uh! We don’t actually have a lot of information on Remus Lupin’s appearance other than that he is shabby looking and has greying-brown hair, but you couldn’t find a character more different from Dudley than kind, gentle Remus! And although other readers have found strong evidence for a liaison between Petunia and Snape,32 we can forget about it being him, too. I mean, he has frequently been described as thin and pale, and even as a teenager he had a “stringy, pallid look about him, like a plant kept in the dark” 33: no-one would pick him out of a line-up of possible perpetrators.
All right already! I know you have realised it now too! It suddenly is glaringly obvious isn’t it! In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban we meet…
a very short man, hardly taller than Harry and Hermione. His thin, colourless hair was unkempt and there was a large bald patch on top. He had the shrunken appearance of a plump man who has lost a lot of weight in a short time. His skin looked grubby, almost like Scabbers’s fur, and something of the rat lingered around his pointed nose, his very small, watery eyes.34
A plump man who has lost a lot of weight in a short time with – gasp! – small, watery eyes? We know how important eyes are in the Potterverse. We also know it usually isn’t a coincidence if the exact same words are used to describe two unrelated objects, or people. And if this one mention wasn’t enough, the very same person is described using the very same words in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (“A short, balding man with greying hair, a pointed nose and small, watery eyes” 35) and again in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (“He had small, watery eyes, a pointed nose and wore an unpleasant simper” 36)!!! Talk about anvil sized hints! 37 It is like J.K. Rowling is saying “how did you people not notice this the first time around. Do I really need to say it again?” The truth is right there, dancing naked in front of us and wearing Dobby’s tea-cosy!38
Dudley’s father… is Peter Pettigrew.
Remember My Last!
Petunia’s aversion to the wizarding world now suddenly makes sense, doesn’t it? Imagine being a normal, plain girl but having a beautiful, intelligent sister, who also turns out to be an actual witch. Imagine how you’d feel seeing all the special attention she receives from your parents while you’re left standing at the sideline. Imagine you might want to hang out with her and her interesting group of friends, be part of the buzz, catch some of the glory, but your sister and her friends are just too cool to spend time with you. But one of the friends is an outsider, just like you are. One of the friends isn’t cool enough to date the beautiful sister. Imagine having a brief fling with him and falling pregnant. Imagine the excitement of the prospect of having a magical child – which would make you almost as special as your sister. And imagine the bitter disappointment to find out that your son is not showing any magical aptitude at all while that horrible little brat of your sister’s not only has magic coming out of his ears, he even is the most famous wizard in the world.
What a secret she has carried around with her for all this time! Both in fear and in anticipation of being found out. Fear because it may ruin her marriage, anticipation because it would be her escape from the dull, anonymous Muggle world. However, especially now, with Voldemort returned and the wizarding world at war, remembering what happened to her sister and brother-in-law, common knowledge of Dinky Diddidums’s magical heritage would place him in terrible danger. Imagine the stress of not being able to talk to anyone about this, not to your son, least of all to your husband, and even the kid’s real father likely does not know.
However, it may just be possible that someone else knows about Dudley’s true parentage, someone who has been keeping a close eye on the Evans/Potter/Dursley family at Privet Drive.
We know that Albus Dumbledore has been corresponding with Petunia in the past two decades. We know that when a magical child is born a magic quill puts their name down for Hogwarts.39 Even the parentage of Squibs is recorded.40 It is very well possible that Dumbledore knows that Vernon is not Dudley’s father. After all, when he came to visit Harry at Privet Drive at the start of Half-Blood Prince, he took care not to refer to Dudley as “your son,” but chose to use the words “the boy sitting between you,” as stated in the opening quote of this essay. That would certainly open up some interesting possibilities! What if Dumbledore has been keeping Petunia’s little secret? What if their correspondence was not about Harry, but about Dudley?
Petunia hates Harry. There are no two ways about this. After all, swinging a heavy frying pan at your beloved twelve-year-old nephew’s head41would be very convincing role-play. So when she received the Howler with Dumbledore’s booming voice reminding her to “remember his last,” what could possibly have made her turn a complete 180 and, instead of throwing the annoying little boy she despised so much out into the cold night, decide to let him stay? It can’t have been concern for Harry, could it? Maybe Dumbledore reminded her of the dangers of the wizarding world, and how he could not vouch for Dudley’s safety if she could not vouch for Harry’s?
Deathly Dudley Dursley
What would this mean for the plot of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? I don’t know, but the possibilities are endless.42 The warm and fuzzy option would be that Dudley finds out he has magical blood, finds new respect for his cousin, Harry finally gets the warm, family bonds he has been lacking all his life and everyone lives happily ever after. It may be unlikely, but I am sure J.K. Rowling likes a happy ending as much as the next person, 43 so I wouldn’t discount that option instantly.
However, it could be much more intriguing. What if Peter did learn about Petunia’s pregnancy! The knowledge of having a son, ostensibly horrible even as a baby, gave Peter even more reasons to go so far as to fake his own death and live as a rat to escape it all. But seriously, the possibility that Peter did know about Dudley offers intriguing plot potential. It is far from me to try and predict Deathly Hallows’ events – as you will appreciate I abhor speculation of any kind, thank you very much. But I do wish to point out at least one frightening possibility.
Harry is supposed to be so very well protected from Voldemort’s magical intrusion while staying at the Dursleys, but is he? Doesn’t this just seem too easy and reassuring? What if there’s a truly evil force at work at number four, Privet Drive? In the summer following the Triwizard Tournament Harry talks in his nightmares about Voldemort’s murder of Cedric Diggory, loud enough for Dudley to hear and taunt him about it.44 Why did we need to read about that? The sheer randomness of this scene should have set off alarm bells in many readers’ minds. Now, surely, in this last summer with the Dursleys, Harry’s coming Horcrux Hunt and planned murder of Voldemort must be at least as emotionally challenging for Harry if not much more so as Cedric’s death. It is far from inconceivable that Harry unknowingly spills his Horcrux beans to Dudley. So what, you may ask? Dudley wouldn’t recognise it and couldn’t do anything harmful with that knowledge, could he now?
But there you are wrong. It can be safely assumed that Peter Pettigrew wouldn’t have been able to hide his secret little illegitimate love baby from Voldemort, Evilest of Wizards and Expert Legilimens. Somehow I feel Voldemort isn’t the type to shy away from using this information for his own foul purposes. Voldemort used Lucius’s son, Draco, so why not use Pettigrew’s son, Dudley? Dudley seems ideally placed to harm Harry precisely “at home” in Privet Drive, where Voldemort supposedly can’t touch him, just as Voldemort has used a number of “inside men” in Hogwarts – supposedly equally well protected. A bullying coward like his father, equally eager to “stand in the shadow of the strongest person,” 45 Dudley would jump at the opportunity to continue his favourite sport of Harry Hunting46 at a whole new level.
The End of the Tail
There you have it. Petunia’s secret revealed at last. Jo must have rubbed her hands in glee when she let poor, unknowing Vernon call his beloved “son” “little tyke” 47 – a well-hidden reference to Dudley’s real father’s being an Animagus – not to mention when she gave him a pig’s tail to boot!
We need only wait for a few short months to see this startling truth unfold. The thought of Dudley as the Dark Lord’s ally is too disturbing to consider. Mark Evans better not be cheeking him any more! 48
1. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 57.
2. Ibid., “Barnes and Noble Interview.”
3. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince. 307.
4. Rowling Official Site, “What is the significance, if any, of Mark Evans?”
5. Rowling, Prisoner of Azkaban, 140.
6. Ibid., 66.
7. Ibid., 134.
8. Ibid., 67.
9. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 132.
10. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 140.
11. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 8.
13. Ibid., 20.
14. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 20–22.
15. Ibid., 33.
16. Ibid., 22
18. Ibid., 131.
19. Rowling Official Site, “Squibs.”
20. Ibid., “Marcus Flint.”
21. Rowling, Chamber of Secrets, 110.
22. Craig, “Harry Potter and the Recessive Allele.”
23. Dodd, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Presumption.”
24. Rowling Official Site, “Squibs.”
25. Rowling Official Site, “Edinburgh Book Festival.”
27. Pam2002, “Madam Pince”; and Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 521.
28. Rowling, Philosopher’s Stone, 21.
29. Ibid., 7.
30. Ibid., 21.
31. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 565.
32. Futureweasley, “The Unsinkable Ship.”
33. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 564.
34. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 269.
35. Ibid,. Goblet of Fire, 18. Emphasis mine.
36. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 29. Emphasis mine.
37. Anelli & Spartz, “TLC/MN interview Part Two.”
38. Rowling., Goblet of Fire, 335.
39. Ibid., “Scholastic Chat.”
40. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 131.
41. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 13.
42. Wings, Wither. Harry Potter and the VLVHIDHEEYWH.
43. According to the Edinburgh Phone Directory, the next person would be K.M. Rowlinson of 406 Grogie Road, Edinburgh.
44. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 19.
45. Jensen, “Fire Storm.”
46. Rowling, Philosopher’s Stone, 28.
47. Ibid., 21.
48. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 17.
Anelli, Melissa and Emerson Spartz. “The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling: Part Two,” The Leaky Cauldron, 16 July 2005. /#static:tlcinterviews/jkrhbp2 (accessed 29 March 2007).
Craig, J.M., Dow, R., Aitken, M. “Harry Potter and the Recessive Allele,” Nature 436, 776: 2005.
Dodd, A.N., Hotta, C.H., Gardner, M.J. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Presumption,” Nature 437, 318: 2005.
Futureweasley, “The Unsinkable Ship,” Scribbulus Issue 12. /features/essays/issue12/theunsinkableship (accessed 30 March 2007).
Jensen, Jeff. ”’Fire’ Storm,” Interview with J.K. Rowling. Entertainment Weekly, September 7, 2000. Transcript AccioQuote! http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2000/0900-ew-jensen.htm (accessed 30 March 2007).
J.K. Rowling Official Site. “Extra Stuff: Squibs.” http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/extrastuff_view.cfm?id=19 (accessed 29 March 2006).
———, “FAQ: What is the significance, if any, of Mark Evans?” http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/faq_view.cfm?id=49 (accessed 29 March 2006).
———, “FAQ: Why did Marcus Flint do an extra year at Hogwarts?” http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/faq_view.cfm?id=16 (accessed 29 March 2006).
———, “News: J K Rowling at the Edinburgh Book Festival.” 15 August 2004. http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/news_view.cfm?id=80 (accessed 29 March 2006).
PAM2002, “Madam Pince: Is She Really Eileen Prince?” Scribbulus Issue 14. /features/essays/issue14/ (accessed 30 March 2007).
Rowling, J.K. “Barnes and Noble Interview,” 19 March 1999. Transcript Accio Quote! http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/1999/0399-barnesandnoble.html (accessed 29 March 2007).
———, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London, Bloomsbury, 1998.
———, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London, Bloomsbury, 2000.
———, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2006.
———, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.
———, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997.
———, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 1999.
———, “Scholastic Chat,” 3 February 2000. Transcript Accio Quote!
http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2000/0200-scholastic-chat.htm (accessed 30 March 2007).