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‘[...][Harry'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?’

Philosopher's Stone - pages 15 - 16 - chapter one, The Boy Who Lived

Did Dumbledore choose correctly?

Knowing what we do about Harry and his canon character attributes (And faults, too!), was Harry really better off enduring eleven years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the Dursleys than eleven years of celebrity and fame in the wizarding world? I'm sure we've all read about child celebrities who have done well handling fame, and some who have not fared so gracefully.

Would Harry have endured celebrity as stoically as he did the Dursleys' abuse? Did Dumbledore make the right choice in leaving Harry with the Dursleys instead of letting him grow up in the wizarding world?

Was Harry really better off?

ETA: I'm looking for an answer grounded in Harry Potter canon and written in the spirit of canon. Please do not pair Harry with Elle Fanning or opine that he's secretly an American ;) Thanks!

  • 14
    This seem very opinion-based. – Valorum Jun 6 '14 at 19:39
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    I'm going to go out on a limb and say that celebrity doesn't always work from an early age; google.co.uk/… – Valorum Jun 6 '14 at 19:40
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    I included "canon characteristics" in reference to Harry to try and ground it in canon, but I'll throw in an ETA to clarify. Subjective questions are allowed at SFF.se -- it's up to you to determine whether you think it's worthy of answering, or closing, or whatever else. :) – Slytherincess Jun 6 '14 at 19:42
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    I've not VTC'd, but mostly because I'm genuinely interested to see people's answers. – Valorum Jun 6 '14 at 19:49
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    Not sure this can be reasonably answered without a large amount of supposition and opinion based guessing. Where he would have lived, who would have raised him, who would his friends have been, etc? Far too many unknowns I think. – Xantec Jun 6 '14 at 19:59
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TL;DR - The Summary

Dumbledore himself happens to have explained this to Harry in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Dumbledore tells Harry that he knew his decision was between abuse and celebrity. He then goes on to say that he believes the choice he made - for Harry to stay at the Dursleys' - was the right one.

The Detail

The Choice

“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.1

Not really a choice

“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 honored and delighted to raise you as a son.
My answer is that my priority was to keep you alive. ..."1

Dumbledore had no other choice at this point2, the Death Eaters were going to be after Harry. He also believed that Voldemort was not truly gone; that he would return and seek to kill Harry.

So the protection of Lily's sacrifice out-weighed any other option for Harry's safety. For what wizarding family could protect Harry if Dumbledore didn't believe that even he could:

I knew that even my most complex and powerful protective spells and charms were unlikely to be invincible if he [Voldemort] ever returned to full power.1

The Outcome
Dumbledore goes on to explain that he is proud of the way that Harry turned out:

“Five years ago, then,” continued Dumbledore, as though he had not paused in his story, “you arrived at Hogwarts, neither as happy nor as well nourished as I would have liked, perhaps, yet alive and healthy. You were not a pampered little prince, but as normal a boy as I could have hoped under the circumstances. Thus far, my plan was working well.
“And then . . . well, you will remember the events of your first year at Hogwarts quite as clearly as I do. You rose magnificently to the challenge that faced you, and sooner — much sooner — than I had anticipated, you found yourself face-to-face with Voldemort. You survived again. You did more. You delayed his return to full power and strength. You fought a man’s fight. I was . . . prouder of you than I can say.1

The Outcome - Explained
There is evidence that Harry's greatest strength was his character3, 4. This is crucial, as the story sums up how Harry's overwhelming love is what conquers the hatred of Voldemort.

Harry endures hardship and suffering, mainly at the hands of the Dursleys, and in turn becomes a patient and caring person. He is often called "remarkable" and "exceptional", and not just for his feats but for his character:

[Dumbledore]: "I never dreamed that I would have such a person on my hands. ..."
...
"Young you might be, but you had proved you were exceptional. ..."1

We see this right from the start where he refuses to befriend Draco Malfoy5 and instantly becomes good friends with Ron Weasley.

Harry is on many occasions compared to his father, and are quite similar, but what James didn't have was that same selfless character which Harry possessed - right from his early life. Would James have done the same things that Harry ends up doing? Would Harry have done the same thing if he had grown up a "jock" like his father?

At the end Harry chooses his friends and family over himself6 - a choice that not every person could or would take. This is what makes him special.


1. -Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter Thirty-Seven (The Lost Prophecy). [All emphases added are mine]

2. As pointed out by Zibbobs

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I believe your answer can actually be found in the books themselves. JKR gives many examples of how Harry would have been treated if he had grown up in the Wizarding World (by the way who would he have stayed with?). Aside from the protection of living with the Dursleys, Harry was given an extremely grounded upbringing. It would have been hard for anything to go to his head after the Dursleys, because he probably kept expecting bad things to happen to him whether he deserved them or not. He gets punished constantly and keeps seeing others get things undeservedly. Any gratitude or triumph he achieves he values dearly. He's actually quite similar to a house elf. Intentionally or unintentionally, Dumbledore gave Harry the best possible childhood to be able to face his challenges later in life.

Now let's look at what we know about how the Wizarding World treated Harry once he started school. This is the first chance that the world got to see him and he was instantly judged by many. The first thing that comes to mind is Draco Malfoy trying to befriend him. Harry decided to stick with Ron because he felt closer to him especially after Draco insulted Ron. Teachers started to judge him straight away. Snape had his own personal reasons as well as McGonagall but most others seemed to give him a celebrity "jock of the school" status early on which only continued with his own achievements.

Then there is Rita Skeeter. She would have been pestering Harry his whole life making it into some sort of Truman Show documenting everything he did as tabloid papers will, making him into a celebutard - maybe something like Justin Bieber: initially talented, but becoming more and more obnoxious and out of touch day by day.

So Harry would have grown up under an unknown influence being treated similarly to Draco - as if he was better than everyone else, with little to no grounding in the real world. He may not have chosen the same friends. For example, Hagrid, being an outcast like Harry and Harry's first introduction to magic, had special meaning to Harry - but if Harry hadn't had that connection with Hagrid, he might have mocked him as the other children sometimes did.

In the books, Harry was often chastised for thinking of himself as special. In this alternate reality, he really would have done. We as the readers knew Harry was merely standing up for what was right, because under the Dursleys he never got the chance to. A large part of Harry's sense of justice and right and wrong and willingness to fight for the underdog came from his childhood with the Dursleys. Harry would also have been hounded for years by Rita Skeeter and others like her which would possibly have had a worse effect on him then the Dursleys ever did. At least at the Dursleys' he never had to worry about the opinions of the whole world centred on him.

So yes, despite the mental abuse from the Dursleys, Harry was much better off with them than he would have been in the Wizarding World.

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    An extremely grounded upbringing - as in, he was grounded for most of it, prior to actual bars being put on his windows. Prior to that, didn't his cupboard have a lock on the outside? – Jeff Oct 16 '14 at 17:21
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Regardless of whether or not Dumbledore was right to think Harry would be better off living without knowledge of his fame, he had no choice in the matter.

Both of Harry's parents are dead. His godparent has been taken to Azkaban. He has no other living relatives or anyone to declare custody over him in the wizarding world.

Regardless of whether he would've been better or worse off growing up in the Wizarding World, no one else has legal claim to be his guardian. The Dursleys, despite all their flaws, are legally his new guardians.


I suppose you could say it also bypasses the complexity of determining a wizard guardian to take care of him. And it means he wouldn't be falling into the hands of someone untrustworthy. You might assume Dumbledore would take him in, but who's to say Peter Pettigrew wouldn't be handed custody of the boy for how close he was to his parents? Hagrid was almost willing to give Harry over to him when he rescued him from the wreckage, and he was still a highly trusted individual.

By handing him over to the Dursleys, they may have saved his life.

  • Peter Pettigrew was considered dead. – Jerry Schirmer Jul 20 '14 at 15:19
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    @JerrySchirmer That happened later. Hagrid actually SAW Peter Pettigrew that night, and he was asking for Harry to be handed over to him. Luckily, he was under strict orders to take him to Dumbledore. – Zibbobz Jul 20 '14 at 20:23
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    If I remember correct, it was Sirius Black who talked with Hagrid that night, instead of Peter Pettigrew. – IKM Jun 16 '18 at 21:02

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