Understatement of the year here: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was unique in countless ways. But one of the things I feel like gets overlooked amid the ~magic~ and the beloved characters and, y’know, insanely amazing world-building, was the very unique way she ended villainous arcs. This deleted Harry Potter scene with Dudley is especially relevant to her handling of the villains in the series, because it did for Dudley what Rowling did not do for most of the baddies: It offered some redemption for him.
To really understand the significance of Rowling offering some redemption for Dudley Dursley, Harry’s main tormentor throughout adolescence, we first have to examine her handling of the other villains. Voldemort is, of course, irredeemable, as is Umbridge. Peter Pettigrew only gets a sliver of what might be goodness, but could just as easily be cowardice before his death. Even Draco, who was scripted in the movie to change sides at the last moment, is denied any real redemption or even repentance for his actions within the narrative of the OG Harry Potter books. Snape and Dudley may not have much in common, but Rowling very carefully united them with one thing: They were the only two villains who got any kind of redeeming arc.
We see Snape’s, of course, in both the movie and the books; his “redeeming” love for Lily was a pivotal part of the Potter plot. But any avid book reader will remember that Dudley, too, had a scene just before he left Little Whinging in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
“I don’t think you’re a waste of space.”
If Harry had not seen Dudley’s lips move, he might not have believed it. As it was, he stared at Dudley for several seconds before accepting that it must have been his cousin who had spoken; for one thing, Dudley had turned red. Harry was embarrassed and astonished himself.
“Well ... er ... thanks, Dudley.”
Again, Dudley appeared to grapple with thoughts too unwieldy for expression before mumbling, “You saved my life.”
“Not really,” said Harry. “It was your soul the Dementor would have taken ...”
He looked curiously at his cousin. They had had virtually no contact during this summer or last, as Harry had come back to Privet Drive so briefly and kept to his room so much. It now dawned on Harry, however, that the cup of cold tea on which he had trodden that morning might not have been a booby trap at all. Although rather touched, he was nevertheless quite relieved that Dudley appeared to have exhausted his ability to express his feelings.
After opening his mouth once or twice more, Dudley subsided into scarlet-faced silence.
Considering how rare it was for Rowling to allow any of the baddies in Harry’s universe to redeem themselves in any way, this was Kind Of A Big Deal — which is exactly why, to this day, fans are upset that this scene was cut from the first Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movie.
Um, aca-scuse me, I just have 17 years pent up despair caught in my eye.
As someone who was thoroughly here for Rowling reserving redemption arcs for a select few of her characters — I thought it was much more appropriate and true to life, even if it did go against what was typical of the genre at the time (if you can even put Harry Potter in a genre) — I was disappointed that this scene didn’t make the movie. I am well aware of (and cast no shade on) the fact that a massive part of the Harry Potter fan base only ever watched the films, and because this wasn’t included, Dudley didn’t get the sliver of redemption he deserved. And I would argue that he did kind of deserve it, even if he grew up being horrible to Harry; he was a kid conditioned by awful, arguably abusive parents, who did a number on him even if it was in a completely different and more subtle sense than the number they did on Harry. His character deserved to get to break away from them, if only for a moment.
But all’s well that ends well... ish. As we know from Pottermore and other supplementary materials about the series from Rowling, Dudley has two kids and is on “Christmas card terms” with Harry’s family; the cousins even visit each other from time to time. And really, that’s a heck of a lot more than fans could have expected, given their history. At least some people got a happily-ever-after of sorts.