I have to admit that when I heard the news of a potential Harry Potter stage show about Harry’s childhood with the Dursleys I was not very excited, which in turn made me feel really disappointed. As a long time Potter fan I wanted to be excited about the possibility of getting more from the wizarding world, but the idea of seeing more of Harry’s childhood held little interest for me. In fact, the more I consider it the more upset I become with the idea of Harry’s upbringing, and I’ve begun to wonder who should be held accountable for allowing him to live in such poor physical and emotional conditions.
As someone who works with teenagers who might have had similar abusive backgrounds, it is troubling for me to think about the treatment Harry suffered under the Dursleys. It is even more troubling that it seems pretty clear that multiple people in the magical community were aware of this treatment, and yet nothing was done to help Harry.
In Sorcerer’s Stone we are all introduced to Harry and his family and are shocked to learn that he lives in a tiny, dusty, spider-filled cupboard under the staircase of Number Four Privet Drive. We are told that in the past when Harry displayed signs of magic the Dursleys became especially abusive. He would be tossed into his cupboard, locked in for days with little food, and that’s not to mention the emotional abuse he experienced such as cutting all of his hair off except the bangs and not allowing any mention of his parents. All of this is extremely troubling, but it is made worse when we become aware of the fact that someone must have known that Harry was made to live in the cupboard. When the Hogwarts letters start arriving, they are addressed to Mr. H. Potter, The Cupboard Under the Stairs. Shouldn’t this have raised some alarm bells? Sure, you could tell me that the Hogwarts letters are not addressed by anyone, that instead they are sent out automatically, but I am not buying that. This is Harry Potter after all; someone (most likely at Hogwarts, and I’ll go further to say most likely Dumbledore) must have known that the Dursleys were keeping Harry in a cupboard.
Skip ahead a year, and we come to the start of Chamber of Secrets where Harry is once again living with the Dursleys over the summer. What?! But surely after a year at Hogwarts someone should have realized this family was not looking after him properly? Okay, maybe Harry kept quiet about his treatment, and no one really knew. However, this summer Harry is locked in his room with bars put over his windows so that not only can he not leave the house, but any chance of communicating with the magical world through Hedwig is cut off as well. On top of this, he is basically being starved yet again. But rescue comes in the form of Ron, Fred, George, and a flying car, and he’s off on an adventure to the Weasleys’ house. Now you cannot tell me no one in the wizarding world knows how poorly Harry has been treated. Ron, Fred, and George witnessed it, and they tell Mrs. Weasley when they arrive at The Burrow. Why wasn’t anything done at this point?
On top of all of this, in Order of the Phoenix we learn that Mrs. Figg is a Squib who has been keeping an eye on Harry during his entire time living with the Dursleys. Am I to believe that she never witnessed Harry being mistreated? Am I to further believe that she reported this mistreatment to no one?
Of course, we all learn that Harry must keep returning to the Dursleys because of the blood magic left from Lily’s sacrifice, but that never seems like a good enough excuse to allow for this kind of abuse to go on. Couldn’t Dumbledore have sent someone to stay with Harry while he was at the Dursleys, to ensure that no harm came to him? It seems to me something could have and should have been done to protect Harry from abuse.
The biggest question that remains for me is whether the Ministry of Magic provides any kind of protection for the children in the magical world. Harry is the most glaring case of abuse in the series, but his is not the only one. Take Neville Longbottom, for instance. Neville tells his friends in Chamber of Secrets that his family had feared that he was a Squib and that his Uncle Algie would try to force accidental magic out of him. One of the ways he did this was to hang a young Neville out of an upstairs window. Not only that, but he accidently dropped him out the window! How is this okay? What if Neville were a Squib? He would have most likely been seriously injured during this event. Shouldn’t the Ministry have a department that makes sure children are not treated this way?
You could even look at young Tom Riddle. Here is another orphan who is left in a Muggle orphanage but clearly displays magic at a young age. Of course, Tom is not the one being mistreated; he is the one using his abilities to harm other children. But where are the Minitry officials to get him the help he clearly needs as an emotionally unstable child? Why is it that the first wizard sent to speak with Tom is Dumbledore, and that is only to let him know that he can start going to Hogwarts?
We all dreamed about getting our Hogwarts letters and wished to know what it would be like to live in the magical world, but there are some truly troubling aspects about this society. Who should we be looking to to help and protect this society’s children? Clearly the government (the Ministry) is lacking in this respect, but it seems that the main wizarding school in the UK is also failing to protect its students. We know that in the case of Harry and Tom Riddle, Dumbledore at least knew things were not right with these children, but he did not do much to get them the support they needed and deserved. It is always hard to say who should be held accountable in cases like these, but it seems clear to me that it’s not just the Dursleys we should be upset with when it comes to how Harry was treated as a kid. We also need to look to the Ministry and Albus Dumbledore as being responsible for protecting the children in their care.