No doubt, JK Rowling has handled bullying as a theme very delicately, formulating it mostly through plot developments, simply inviting us to notice parallels and draw our own conclusions. Vernon and Petunia saw their nephew as ‘different’, an extreme case of ‘different'.
Harry was the son of James and Lily Potter and nephew of Vernon and Petunia Dursley. At the beginning of the book, Harry is an unimpressive figure: skinny, sloppy, isolated from his family, the constant victim of his cousin's bullying, and marked with a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead (the result of Voldemort's failed attempt to kill him during his infancy).
Right from the beginning, we saw Harry Potter bullied by his own family. For most of Harry’s childhood, he was forced to live in a small, cramped cupboard under the stairs. This goes to show the type of regard they have for him as they treated him even worse than a pet. It was not until the letter arrived saying “the cupboard under the stairs” that they let him move into the extra bedroom. When he wasn’t locked in a cupboard, Uncle Vernon shouted at him, Aunt Petunia treated him as though he was worthless and his cousin beat him up for fun. As he had no friends or other family to turn to, Harry was completely alone. Another reason Harry was treated badly by the Dursleys is that they were jealous of him for they were ‘normal’ people whereas Harry being the son of Lily and James was special. Petunia described her sister Lily as a ‘freak’ but Petunia’s opinion shouldn’t matter since she was jealous of her. Petunia never showed any love and affection at all towards Harry because he reminded her of Lily and the wizarding world.
She treated him as a waste of space, often abusing him, giving him the cupboard under the stairs at first and making him do all the chores. She, along with Vernon, ignored most of Harry's birthdays. Dursleys did whatever they could to suppress Harry’s spirit, but they couldn’t break him. Harry had a bright future ahead and couldn’t be held back by horrible, petty people. They were harsh and critical, and they never had a nice thing to say about him. They also lied to others and said that Harry was a criminal with severe mental health issues.
After his discovery of his magical abilities and his introduction to the wizarding world and Hogwarts, Harry begins to grow in confidence, strength, and courage until he becomes a worthy protagonist, capable of facing off against any odd. Harry is particularly affected by the deaths of his parents and much of his behavior is informed by his loneliness and desire to avenge their wrongful deaths.
When Hagrid finally finds Harry and tells him he’s a wizard, he lets him know when he needs to be at King’s Cross to catch the Hogwarts Express. The Dursleys drop him off, but they think it’s hilarious when platform 9 ¾ doesn’t seem to exist. Instead of trying to help him, they leave him there while laughing. They don’t worry at all about if he makes it somewhere safe, and there are so many things that could have gone wrong leaving someone that young alone like that. Afterall, he was just 11. Their callous attitude about this is appalling.
Bullying was as real at Hogwarts as it can be in our own lives. Draco Malfoy dismissed Hagrid as a ‘savage’ and called the Weasleys ‘riff-raff’. Worse still, the Malfoys believed that pure-blood wizards were superior to Muggle-borns. For the first time, Harry noticed prejudice within the wizarding world and he was wary of Draco from here onwards. What’s interesting is that Harry had a choice. Draco would have accepted him in a heartbeat and even extended a hand of friendship. However, Harry refused. Draco may have been a wizard but Harry saw him for what he was – a bully, like the Dursleys.
Sadly, Snape didn’t dislike Harry, he hated him. Bullying isn’t always done by children. Sometimes adults can be equally guilty. Professor Snape was notorious for his harsh teaching style but this took on a whole new level with Harry. ‘Mister Potter’ was singled out at the start of his first Potions lesson, mocked by his teacher and sniggered at by the Slytherins. Snape’s hostility didn’t diminish over the school year, either. Snape should have known better than to mistreat a pupil just because he looked like his father.
Though treated unfairly, Harry didn’t shout back or storm out of the classroom. Like it or not, he had to learn Potions. Harry persevered and passed his exams, showing true strength of character and mastering skills that would help him in the future.When Harry meets Draco Malfoy for the first time in Madam Malkin’s shop, Harry has already formed an opinion of Draco, and during their second meeting, Harry rejects Draco’s hand at the friendship and remains loyal to the humble and kind-natured Ron. Harry says, “I think I can tell the wrong sort for myself, thanks.” which illustrates his confidence in making clear choices very early in this world he recently discovered.
Professor Dumbledore's decision to place him in the Dursley household after the death of his parents, rather than force him to endure the constant attention of the wizarding world. Because of his background, Harry often views himself as an unexceptional character, which makes his achievements in the wizarding world all the more impressive.
Harry wasn’t the only one persecuted by bullies. Malfoy and his cronies were particularly cruel to Neville Longbottom, who was too terrified to do anything about it. Though Neville’s mishaps were often comical, there’s nothing funny about the pain he suffered. In one particularly bad incident, Draco trapped Neville in a Leg-Locker Curse. Hermione advised him to tell a teacher but Neville didn’t want any more trouble. Ron told Neville to stand up to Malfoy, but that was easier said than done. Harry did something different – instead of offering advice, he listened to what Neville had to say and assured him he was worth ‘twelve of Malfoy’. He also offered Neville his last Chocolate Frog — a small gesture that almost moved him to tears. This action had an impact, as seen later during a Quidditch match:
Neville went bright red but turned in his seat to face Malfoy. ‘I’m worth twelve of you, Malfoy,’ he stammered.
These bullying relationships were (a) Draco Malfoy and Neville Longbottom, (b) Dudley Dursley and Harry Potter, (c) Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter, (d) Fred and George Weasley and Percy Weasley, and (e) Draco Malfoy and Ron Weasley.
The value of the Harry Potter series is profound, and even if the presentation of bullying is wanting at times, we would be remiss to disregard the merit of other powerful themes throughout: love, family, friendship, maturation, perseverance. As characters, Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley serve as encouraging examples of standing up for the oppressed and transitioning from childhood to adulthood despite unwarranted darkness; they are bastions of hope for many readers worldwide. The stories are appealing on multiple thematic and storytelling levels, and I feel that they will continue to resonate with children and adults alike for years to come.