This has been bothering me ever since the first book. Why didn't anyone from the magic world (especially those around Dumbledore) care that Dursleys treated Harry badly?

I refuse to believe that Dumbledore just dropped the baby at Dursley's doorstep and then forgot about the boy for the next 10 years. The only moment I recall of him actually standing up to Dursleys is when he sends a howler to Petunia when she wants to kick Harry out. Why only then? Why not send one when Dursleys made Harry live under the stairs and many other situations? I get that he would probably react if they were straight up physically beating & abusing him (I even know some people who think that Harry's situation wasn't bad at all...). Did Dumbledore (being all hippie like with his "love is the strongest force" approach) not consider psychological abuse a form of abuse?

I'm not talking about Dumbledore forcing Dursleys to treat Harry like a king and love him, but there's a line between having an okay-ish relations within the family and forcing a child to live under the stairs and abusing him. I get that Harry's situation and the way his "family" treated him had a big impact on his personality. I am also not asking why he was put under their care in the first place, I understand it was necessary for Lilly's protective magic to work properly and the fact that Harry was living with Muggles helped to protect him more.

I haven't read the books in a while so I might miss some subtle (or not so subtle) clues about this that were included in the books. So this is more of a "was it ever explained" question rather than "why?" subject open to debate (although if there is a debate going on that issue please direct me to it!)

  • 2
    Because it builded character!
    – user73994
    Nov 23, 2016 at 9:33
  • 2
    Related: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/58791
    – Adamant
    Nov 23, 2016 at 9:34
  • 7
    I wondered this too. Certainly later, when we got some insight into Voldermort/Tom Riddle's childhood, we see that he had an upbringing that was equally as miserable as Harry's in many ways. It struck me then that Dumbledore had taken an enormous risk that Harry would grow up to be as emotionally scarred and resentful as Tom, and become as evil as he did. Harry could easily have joined with Voldemort at the end of Philosopher's Stone, and used his guidance and help to kill the Dursleys, just for starters...
    – Wallnut
    Nov 23, 2016 at 9:38
  • 8
    It builds character? Dumbledore says that Harry's capacity for love, despite the treatment he suffered at the hands of the Dursleys, was his greatest "weapon" against Voldemort (who was completely incapable of understanding it). Besides, a society that's totally on board with slavery and other atrocities probably doesn't care too much about a little bit of child abuse. Nov 23, 2016 at 10:11
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    @DavidS ONE letter from D addressed to the 'cupboard under the stairs' got Harry a room. D could've improved Harrys life with minimum effort.
    – user68762
    Nov 23, 2016 at 10:45

4 Answers 4


Dumbledore cared, but Harrys protection trumped a happy life.

Dumbledore felt massive regret for having left Harry with the Dursley's, but the protection they provided trumped all. Below are some big chunks of the book, but they really explain fully why Dumbledore accepted the mistreatment for the greater good.

‘Five years ago you arrived at Hogwarts, Harry, safe and whole, as I had planned and intended. Well – not quite whole. You had suffered. I knew you would when I left you on your aunt and uncle’s doorstep. I knew I was condemning you to ten dark and difficult years.’

‘You might ask – and with good reason – why it had to be so. Why could some wizarding family not have taken you in? Many would have done so more than gladly, would have been honoured and delighted to raise you as a son.

‘My answer is that my priority was to keep you alive. You were in more danger than perhaps anyone but I realised. Voldemort had been vanquished hours before, but his supporters – and many of them are almost as terrible as he – were still at large, angry, desperate and violent. And I had to make my decision, too, with regard to the years ahead. Did I believe that Voldemort was gone for ever? No. I knew not whether it would be ten, twenty or fifty years before he returned, but I was sure he would do so, and I was sure, too, knowing him as I have done, that he would not rest until he killed you.

‘I knew that Voldemort’s knowledge of magic is perhaps more extensive than any wizard alive. I knew that even my most complex and powerful protective spells and charms were unlikely to be invincible if he ever returned to full power.

‘But I knew, too, where Voldemort was weak. And so I made my decision. You would be protected by an ancient magic of which he knows, which he despises, and which he has always, therefore, underestimated – to his cost. I am speaking, of course, of the fact that your mother died to save you. She gave you a lingering protection he never expected, a protection that flows in your veins to this day. I put my trust, therefore, in your mother’s blood. I delivered you to her sister, her only remaining relative.’

‘While you can still call home the place where your mother’s blood dwells, there you cannot be touched or harmed by Voldemort. He shed her blood, but it lives on in you and her sister. Her blood became your refuge. You need return there only once a year, but as long as you can still call it home, whilst you are there he cannot hurt you. Your aunt knows this. I explained what I had done in the letter I left, with you, on her doorstep. She knows that allowing you houseroom may well have kept you alive for the past fifteen years.’

He even yelled at the Dursleys himself, late of course, but he did express his displeasure.

‘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.’

‘The magic I evoked fifteen years ago means that Harry has powerful protection while he can still call this house home. However miserable he has been here, however unwelcome, however badly treated, you have at least, grudgingly, allowed him houseroom. This magic will cease to operate the moment that Harry turns seventeen; in other words, the moment he becomes a man. I ask only this: that you allow Harry to return, once more, to this house, before his seventeenth birthday, which will ensure that the protection continues until that time.’

As to everyone else, no one but Dumbledore was aware of the treatment Harry received, other then Mrs. Figg, who again was under orders by Dumbledore to keep an eye on Harry but to not really intervene. See Mrs. Figg's assignment here Why did Dumbledore instruct Mrs. Figg to not tell Harry about the Wizarding World, even up to when he was ready to be admitted?

After coming to Hogwarts we have Hagrid, Sirius, Mr. Weasley, and other members of the order all threaten the Dursleys and comment to them about how they are mistreating Harry, and his home life does improve slightly, mostly by just being completely ignored.

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    But why D didnt do anything to lessen the abuse? It seems the Dursleys were under the impression no one cares and protects harry and they could treat him however they want. (At least until they heard about Sirius).
    – user68762
    Nov 23, 2016 at 14:17
  • @R.Skeeter I don't think there was anything Dumbledore could have done before Harry was at Hogwarts to lessen the abuse - at least anything that wouldn't have run the risk of the Dursleys tossing him out altogether. Nov 23, 2016 at 14:29
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    @MattGutting Thats exactly how i feel, the Dursleys are barely keeping Harry to begin with, complaining about their parenting will not fly very well. Dumbledore finally says something with only 1 year left to go, so the risk is minimal.
    – Himarm
    Nov 23, 2016 at 14:32
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    @MattGutting Why you think that? They tolerated a lot of mayhem caused by wizards in their home. And they seem to be intimidated by Dumbledore. Just the fact that Harry has ppl to care for him improved his life at PD. and D could have also manipulated, bribed, brainwashed them into being nicer.
    – user68762
    Nov 23, 2016 at 14:41
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    @Himarm but they did get regular (yearly) visits from wizards, starting from the impressive one when Hagrid kicked in their door, intimidated Vernon and gave Dudley a piggytail. Also they already accepted harry, transfiguring and gifting a few diamonds surely would've been fine? As xmas presents? And had D sent Kingsley, the Dursleys wouldve been at his feet. Everyone likes K.
    – user68762
    Nov 23, 2016 at 14:56

Because it would be illegal, highly inappropriate or completely pointless.

Lets start with following premises:

  1. The Dursleys DO NOT like Harry or the magical world.
  2. Harry has to live with them so that the protection cast by Dumbledore works.

So the options to help Harry would be:

  1. Warn the Dursleys that if Harry is not well treated, they will get in trouble.

This would be very hard to control and enforce. Assuming that there is a wizard who is in charge of monitoring the behaviour of the Dursleys - when is he/she supposed to intervene? Where is the difference between abuse and asking a kid to behav? Remember - neither Vernon, nor Petunia did physically abuse Harry.

There is also the issue with the "corrective" actions of the wizards in case of clear mistreatment. What would they be? Taking Harry away is not possible due to premise 2.

Even if there is a clear set of rules about treating Harry and these rules are enforces there is still our premise 1 - the Dursleys do not like Harry. No rule can change that.

So in this case Harry will have to grow up surrounded by passive hate. The Dursleys will treat him well out of fear but will show their despite at any possible occasion.

Honestly this would be even worse. At least with the current situation Harry knows that they are jerks and it is not his fault.

Additionally - the Dursleys got several treats and punishments from wizard for their behaviour - Dudley's pig tail, the (unintentional) destruction of their kitchen etc. This did not change their attitude a lot.

  1. Mind-control the Dursleys with Imperio and make them "nice"

Besides being illegal, this will be also very hard to maintain. How to make a person be "nice"? Maybe the Dursleys think that they are nice to Harry by just giving him food and shelter despite their hate for what he stands for?

Also this will also practically destroy their personalities which is more or less equal to killing them or at least putting them in prison for the period of the mind-control.

  • 1
    @ point 2, mind control would most likely negate the protection as well, since they have to willingly offer their home to harry.
    – Himarm
    Nov 23, 2016 at 18:42
  • @Himarm unknown. He has to "call this place 'home'". Maybe mind control would work.
    – vap78
    Nov 24, 2016 at 11:37
  • 1
    Dumbledore is pretty specific that the Dursleys need to let them stay of their own volition.
    – Himarm
    Nov 24, 2016 at 17:30
  • Funnily enough, Harry tries option 1 himself in Goblet of Fire and it works. When Vernon initially refuses to let Harry go to the Quidditch World Cup, Harry casually mentions he's writing a letter to Sirius (who the Dursleys still think is a mass murderer) and Vernon panics and backs down.
    – F1Krazy
    Aug 17, 2017 at 14:42

One should consider in a case like this that it might have just not been all that well thought out. The plot device is "Harry is miserable with the Muggles, it's consequently a huge joy to enter the magical world." One should consider the fact that authors don't always think everything completely through. The more miserable Harry is, the stronger the contrast is when he's at Hogwarts. It adds tension. It's believably repeatable in book after book since it's naturally recurring every summer. It's a great setup, because you get the next book thinking "I wonder if he'll be able to escape the Dursleys this time."--you're already eager to read the very first chapter to see how that goes in this year.

Also, we read the books from Harry's point of view. Harry is the most important thing in Harry's, and therefore, the reader's, point of view. Dumbledore has a lot of other stuff on his mind. Having a safe place for Harry crosses that very, very big item off the list. He can move on to the next thing he needs to find some non-ideal compromise on.


Something that I feel everyone forgets is that, other than the blood wards, Dumbledore had other motives for placing Harry with the Dursleys, which he implicitly states. Of course, he probably didn't anticipate they would be as bad as they were- or perhaps he did and sought to take advantage of it. Or maybe I've been reading too much fanfiction.

Anyway. Here's a passage from the Philoshpers Stone:

‘I’ve come to bring Harry to his aunt and uncle. They’re the only family he has left now.’ ‘You don’t mean – you can’t mean the people who live here ?’ cried Professor McGonagall, jumping to her feet and pointing at number four. ‘Dumbledore – you can’t. I’ve been watching them all day. You couldn’t find two people who are less like us. And they’ve got this son – I saw him kicking his mother all the way up the street, screaming for sweets. Harry Potter come and live here!’ ‘It’s the best place for him,’ said Dumbledore firmly. ‘His aunt and uncle will be able to explain everything to him when he’s older. I’ve written them a letter.’ ‘A letter?’ repeated Professor McGonagall faintly, sitting back down on the wall. ‘Really, Dumbledore, you think you can explain all this in a letter? These people will never understand him! He’ll be famous – a legend – I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter Day in future – there will be books written about Harry – every child in our world will know his name!’ ‘Exactly,’ said Dumbledore, looking very seriously over the top of his half- moon glasses. ‘It would be enough to turn any boy’s head. Famous before he can walk and talk! Famous for something he won’t even remember! Can’t you see how much better off he’ll be, growing up away from all that until he’s ready to take it?’ Professor McGonagall opened her mouth, changed her mind, swallowed and then said, ‘Yes – yes, you’re right, of course. But how is the boy getting here, Dumbledore?’"

Anyway, this infers that Dumbledore somewhat knew that Harry would be mistreated,or, at least, that his placement wouldn't be ideal. I do wonder, though, why Dumbledore hadn't thought so far as to anticipate Harry turning into a second Dudley. But then again, most wizards don't possess even a shred of logic, and Dumbledore, great though he may have been, certainly fits into the category. But! This begs many questions, like, when Dumbledore saw the letter addressed to the Cupboard Under The Stairs (though the general consensus seems to be that they are written by an automated quill) or that Harry was underweight, why didn't he, or anyone else, for that matter, do anything?

Well, as we see from Harry's point of view, his earlier years, save for the bullying and occasional cuffing by his aunt and uncle, aren't too unbearable. For him, anyway. He loathed going back to the Dursleys, but he was assured that they thought he could cast spells (which is also something I've wondered about; via Lily, Petunia should definitely know about the summer prohibition; she must have cared marginally for Harry) and therefore scare them to avoid any physical abuse.

Plus, even though Harry was small for his age, he was not starved. I haven't the time to find the exact quote, but it goes somewhere along the lines of the Dursleys never "exactly starving" him, and that Dudley would just take anything Harry wanted to eat. Harry was small perhaps because of never eating more than was needed, and running a lot, completing chores, and maybe sleeping in a cupboard somewhat stunted his growth. Since he was only slightly small, and a first year, most probably could ignore that. The wizards, not knowing much of muggles, would most likely think that the Dursleys were horrible muggles, yes, but not much more could be done. I suspect that the term "muggle" after "horrible" made them form a sort of disassociation towards it? And as for Hermione, well, for all her book smarts, they were only eleven at the time.

And so the cycle was cursed to continue. Harry had, in fact, told people that he didn't want to go back, but he was told that he had to. Harry, at that point, had exactly zero trust in adults, McGonagalls stint with ignoring him about the stone withstanding.

Second year; the abuse worsened, and the Weasleys knew. But, what could they do? Let's not fool ourselves into thinking Dumbledore wasn't aware of why and when Harry was "rescued." And but of course, the bars were fixed onto the windows, visible. The neighbors already knew of Harrys criminal status. So Arabella Figg obviously saw the bars, and reported them.

Harry stayed with the Weasleys for the rest of the summer, so relieved and of course heading to Hogwarts, that he forgot.

As much as I'd like to psychoanalyze every single summer, I'm running out of time, so I'll cut it short. Harry was a child, emotionally abused. He didn't trust adults to tell them what awful actually meant; of course they could assume that awful muggles simply meant that they were awful because they lacked magic and Hogwarts was better. Later, Harry was a rather prideful (as we see from the Blood Quill incidents) teenager. He's used to it, and usually spends the rest of the summer with the Weasleys. And he understands the importance of the Blood Wards.

Dumbledore is tricky. His actions can either waylay him as a manipulative, power hungry old man, wanting to keep his pawn emotionally dependent on the Wizarding World so that he could sacrifice himself "for the Greater Good" when the time was ripe, or he could have been an old man who was tired, and couldn't do much in the grand scheme of things; after all, the blood protections, relating to Lilys sacrifice, were imperative, and he couldn't attack nor simply imperio the muggles. It would be terrible for young Harry, but it was necessary. This Dumbledore wouldn't know of the abuse until it was too late, and by then Voldemort was becoming alarmingly active as the Howgwarts years went by, and Harry was older, and there was nothing to be done.

So!That was my long, uninteresting take! Hope you enjoyed it, I wasted like an hour. Or two. Shit.

  • 1
    You should format the textblock from the book to make it readable. Nov 19, 2019 at 23:16
  • And also remove the double indentation...
    – DavidW
    Nov 19, 2019 at 23:17

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