Chapter Notes: I've been away from the Harry Potter 'verse for some time now. It feels like coming home.
It was a perfectly normal morning, thank you very much. The sun was shining, leaves of ochre and brittle brown lay on the yellowing grass, and skeletal tree branches grasped at the blue sky above number four Privet Drive. Vernon was having coffee and watching the news from the table, tie hanging unknotted over his wide shoulders. Dudders was sleeping quietly in his crib upstairs.
Petunia poured herself a mug of coffee, spooned one sugar and exactly a quarter-cup of cream into it and swirled it all together, tapping her spoon on the lip of the mug before she placed her coffee on the counter, crossed to the sink, and rinsed her spoon before putting it in the dishwasher. She and Vernon purchased the house after their marriage three years ago, just when the tidy development of Privet Drive was being constructed, houses equipped with all the modern conveniences.
Petunia returned to her coffee and drank it standing up, seven sips, still warm so the steam formed a film of condensation on her upper lip and made the tips of her fingers tingle.
"Paper here yet, Petunia?" said Vernon gruffly from the table, not looking away from the television screen. He was not a very amiable person in the morning, and these were the first words he said to her, save his good morning grunt when he first climbed out of bed.
"I'm sure it is, Vernon dear," Petunia answered, disposing of her mug as she had the spoon. The paper was always there by now, delivered promptly at six-thirty by the spindly Bobbins boy who had terrible aim and undoubtedly landed the paper in the lawn if he hadn't hit the car again. "I'll go and check, shall I?"
It was their morning ritual, familiar, comforting, and tidy as all of Petunia's life was. A day which did not begin as such would begin wrong, and therefore spoil the rest of the twenty-four hours until they might wake up the next morning and try again. Petunia's life was ruled by structure and symmetry, how else to guarantee stability? Monday was for the week's shopping, Tuesday was afternoon tea with the ladies, Wednesday her and Dudders' Mother and Baby instructional class, Thursday for the household chores, and Friday an hour later to bed and sex with Vernon.
Petunia collected the wire crate of empty milk bottles by the front door (washed and all turned with the label facing forward), tightened the tie of her robe, and twisted the doorknob with her free hand. The door swung inward. The outside air was cool and crackling with the smell of autumn.
November. November meant planning for the coming holidays. A list must be drawn up of things Petunia had to get done before Christmas. Dinners to design, packets of cards to order, and presents to buy. Dudders' second Christmas, after all, called for something extra special.
Petunia put the crate of empty bottles inside the white cooler where the delivery man could replace them later with full ones. She stepped over the baby sleeping in a peaceful swaddle of blankets on her way down the front stairs to the drive where the morning paper was lying in wait.
She snatched up the paper, turned back around, saw the baby on the front porch, dropped the paper, and screamed.
Her slippered feet made slithering noises on the pavement as she hustled back up the steps, staring incomprehensibly at the baby by the milk box.
"Vernon, come quickly!"
She heard his heavy footfalls through the door and was worried perhaps it was the thumping of her heart. She clutched at her chest and fell against the doorframe. In the bedroom above her, Dudders began to scream. Never a boy to do anything half-hearted, his lungs were anything but weak. The neighbors lifted their windows and poked out their snooping noses. The baby on the front step opened his eyes – green eyes – and let out a puny wail.
"What in the blazes –" started Vernon and then choked. He sputtered and spat. A bit of spittle flew out of his lips and landed on Petunia's cheek.
"A baby!" Petunia said. Her voice was high-pitched and unfamiliar. She swiped at the drop of moisture on her cheek. "A baby, Vernon!"
"A baby," Vernon echoed as though he never heard of such a thing.
The next door neighbor's head popped itself around his front door. "Alright there, Dursley?" Petunia was suddenly acutely aware of how many people were staring at them. The neighbors' children were watching through the fence. A car had stopped in the road.
"Vernon. Oh Vernon," Petunia moaned. Her head was spinning. A baby. This would not do. A baby. This would simply not do.
"The police," Vernon muttered, unaware of the attention they had drawn. "We'll have to notify the police. Of course. The police. A baby. Of all the nerve!" he suddenly roared. Petunia started. "A baby! On our front porch! Miscreants! Imps! It's the government, Petunia! The government is to blame. It's their fault for not locking up people like this –"
"It – it's a baby, Vernon," said Petunia stupidly.
"Yes," said Vernon, white face turning purple, "but who's left the baby, that's the question!"
"What are we to do with it?" said Petunia.
"We'll have to call the police," said Vernon. "They'll take the little urchin off our hands."
"What do we do with it now?" said Petunia. Her voice dissolved into the sounds around her, the whimpering of the child at her feet and Dudders howling inside the house.
"Well, stop it crying for heaven's sake!" Vernon ordered. The baby was a skinny, unpleasant thing, horridly pale with a shock of black hair and a newly sealed cut on its forehead. It could have come from anywhere in the world, some grubby alleyway or inner-city flat, born among junkies and prostitutes. It might have been diseased. Petunia couldn't bear the thought of picking it up and bringing it into her clean house where it could put her healthy Dudders at risk.
The baby was trying to free itself from its blankets now. Mrs. Figg wandered by in a robe and slippers, walking a cat on a leash. She smiled at Petunia and had the gall to wink.
There was nothing for it. Painfully aware she had made a scene, Petunia sucked in a deep breath of air and bent at the waist to gather the child into her arms, holding it as far away from her as possible as she fled past Vernon and into the house. Vernon shut the door firmly behind her, rattling the picture frames hung along the stairwell.
Petunia marched into the living room. There was certainly no possibility she going to bring the child into her kitchen. She unwound the blankets from the baby and deposited it on the floor, where it continued to cry, looking up at her with streaming eyes and a snotty nose.
"Go and tend Dudley, Vernon," said Petunia faintly.
There was an envelope by Petunia's toe, where it had fluttered out of the blankets.
Vernon noticed it at the same time Petunia did and bent to retrieve it.
"It's addressed to me," Petunia snapped and snatched it from Vernon's fingers.
"Bloody hell, Petunia!"
Petunia hated when Vernon used vile language but for once she did not reproach him. Her throat was constricted, saliva sticky and thick in her mouth.
Mrs. V. M. Dursley
The Master Bedroom
4 Privet Drive
Said the front of the envelope in emerald green, spidery handwriting. The letter vibrated in Petunia's trembling hand.
"Well?" Vernon demanded. "Aren't you going to open it?"
"Of course I'm going to open it, Vernon, and for goodness' sake go quiet Dudley!" she said shrilly.
She slit the envelope open with her fingernail and drew out the letter from within. The handwriting was the same as the address, strangely, frighteningly familiar from a time in her life she diligently pretended had never occurred.
Dear Mrs. Petunia Dursley, formerly Miss Petunia Evans,
My name is Albus Dumbledore. I had the occasion to write to you once before, many years ago now, and an unhappy occasion it was, just as it is again. There is no easy way to tell you this, Mrs. Dursley, so I will say it quite frankly.
I hope I can comfort you, small comfort it may be in the face of this tragedy, by telling you your sister and her husband died as heroes – just as they had lived. In fact, it is because of them our Wizarding and Nonmagical worlds alike are now no longer at risk of a most evil and threatening force. All good people, beings, and creatures hold a great debt to your sister and her husband. We are eternally grateful to Lily, and to you, whose sacrifice is equally as great.
The child, I am sure you have guessed, is your sister's only son, ergo your orphaned nephew. His name is Harry James Potter.
Of this boy I have several important matters to discuss. Perhaps, Mrs. Dursley, you have heard of a wizard named Voldemort.
Here the letter ran on for several pages, describing impossible, frightening things about fairytales and enchantments, make-believe magic of dreams, dark wizards, prophecies, blood ties, talked a good deal about death, and repeatedly mentioned a scar.
The child hiccupped itself into silence at Petunia's feet, blinking up at her with its horribly familiar eyes the color of poison green. Petunia examined the cut on the boy's forehead from afar, found it was, in fact, the unnatural shape of a lightning bolt and wrinkled her nose at its black hair. James Potter, she remembered, had had black hair, messy and unruly. Petunia always thought black was a most undesirable color of hair. It made one's face so awfully drawn and sallow looking.
The letter finished,
I am leaving Harry in your care with every confidence you will accept with open arms he who was so loved by your sister and brother-in-law. Harry is a hero in our world, yet no more than an unknown orphan in yours. I beseech you, bring him up as you would your own son: in humility, caring, gentleness, and safety. In every extent you are in blood, be also in love, his family.
My condolences and warm regards,
Petunia folded the letter carefully and creased it hard between her thumb and forefinger. She tucked it neatly back into its envelope.
Petunia did not understand. Petunia did not want to understand. Her sister. Petunia had no sister. Lily Evans had ceased to exist or matter in Petunia's life long ago. Lily Evans. Lily. Harry. Harry Potter. Lily's son. Lily's dead.
Petunia's mind flew back to the last and only other time she corresponded with Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of that – that place:
Dear Petunia Evans,
I received your letter – a very well-versed letter, my dear – and am distraught to inform you Hogwarts can receive only children who have displayed magical tendencies. There is no way, no charm or potion, which allows a Muggle to become magical. I understand this must be a horrible blow, and am saddened to know there is nothing else I can do to soften it but to say I am so very sorry.
I will also offer you a bit of unsolicited (and perhaps unwelcome, although I hope not) advice: learn to be happy for your sister, Petunia. There is so little room in our hearts for good feelings, it is a pity to crowd them out with bitterness and anger. Learn to be happy for and accept your sister as she is. And be sure to do the same for yourself. Do not let disappointment or jealousy overshadow your love for her. Never forget the bond of love between family is stronger than any magic.
Petunia's hand unconsciously tightened around the envelope still in her hand, crumpling it into a ball. The child – Harry Potter. Harry. Lily's son. Lily's dead – reached out a chubby hand to touch the hem of Petunia's robe. She fought back the twin desires which rose in her throat to choke her: one to pull away, two to kick at him, repulsive creature as he had become to her.
Harry Potter. Lily's son. Lily's dead. Petunia's little sister. Lovely Lily, perfect Lily, better Lily, idiot Lily who got caught up in a war, been swept up in a world she hadn't any right to, gotten herself killed – Lily dead. Lily killed. Harry Potter. Lily's son.
Vernon tumbled back into the kitchen, holding Dudley at arm's length because Petunia's son was still shrieking, face twisted and red, crying in the tearless way he'd perfected when he was only very cross and bothered and not scared or hurt. Well? Dudley had every right to be cross. He had every right to be upset – peaceful morning as his had been, interrupted by the child whose parents were so reckless as to get themselves killed —
"Petunia?" said Vernon. "What is it, Petunia?"
Perhaps she was pale. She was lightheaded. She would dearly have loved to sit down, had Vernon the presence of mind to offer her a chair. He did not, however, and all of Petunia's feelings – her disorderly, messy feelings – bubbled and grew inside her: confusion, frustration, anger, and fear, until she felt fit to burst.
She straightened her bony shoulders, tossed her hair out of her face, and told Vernon, impressed with the calmness of her voice. "The child is Harry Potter. My sister's son."
"Your sister!" Vernon's mouth opened. Dudley continued to scream when his parents still refused to pay attention to him. "What the devil is it doing here?"
"They're dead. His parents," said Petunia, voice still level, clipped and informative.
"Dead!" Vernon roared, astounded anyone could be so inconsiderate as to die and leave behind their offspring for someone else to look after.
"Yes. He's been left with us."
"Why, for goodness' sake?" Vernon stormed. "We had nothing to do with your sister or her good-for-nothing husband! We had nothing to do with them! What right have they to drop their problems on us?"
"The letter," Petunia explained, trying to make sense of it in her disheveled brain before speaking, packing things back into the pulled out drawers and mussed filing cabinets inside her head. "The letter explained we were supposed to take him in."
"The letter! The damned letter can go to hell – and that goes for whoever wrote the damn thing, too!"
"The letter is quite clear. We are to take him in and – and – and we are to take care of him until he is old enough to be on his own."
"Let me see this damned letter, Petunia —"
Vernon made a grab for her hand, and it was at that moment Petunia realized she had balled the letter in her fist.
"No," she said, much sharper than she intended, and pulled the letter to her chest. "It's my letter, Vernon. It's addressed to me."
"Of all the confounded – Petunia, be reasonable."
"It's already half-past, Vernon. If you're any later to work than you already are, people will begin to talk. Talk, Vernon. Talk is the one thing I do not think I could bear." Petunia's voice pitched and began to quiver.
Vernon looked at her strangely but quieted. He left her to deposit Dudley into his highchair at the table, silencing him with a chocolate muffin from the tin on the counter. Dudders. Her little Dudders. Strong, lovely Dudders. Such a healthy, happy boy with such a good appetite. Quite unexpectedly Petunia found her eyes filled with tears.
She forgot the child at her feet and crossed the room to plant a flurry of kisses in Dudley's hair, who ignored her, happy now with muffin crammed in his mouth.
"Mummy loves you, Dudders. Yes she does. Oh yes she does, and nothing will ever change that, my little Diddy Duddy Diddikins."
She turned and pecked Vernon on the cheek. With her back straight and chin lifted she went to fetch Vernon's briefcase and returned to him, going with him to the front door as she did all mornings to wave him off.
"Are you sure you're alright, Petunia?" said Vernon, eyebrows furrowed. She loved those eyebrows. Bushy, snowy, thick, and serious. A man with eyebrows like that could not be easily fooled.
She recalled watching his eyebrows across the candlelit table of their favorite restaurant.
"I do not approve of long engagements," said Vernon without theatrics.
"Neither do I," Petunia answered quickly.
"Then let's make it two months," said Vernon gruffly. "I trust you can arrange everything by then? I do not approve of a big to-do."
"Two months would be wonderful," said Petunia, and so she was engaged.
"Perfectly alright, thank you, Vernon," Petunia answered him, back in the present, straightening Vernon's tie, buttoning his coat for him.
"Alright then," Vernon hesitated before opening the door. "You will call if —"
"All will be alright, Vernon," said Petunia. It was just as it always had been. Just as it was supposed to be. There was nothing to worry about. Nothing to think about.
Vernon left. Silence shuddered after the door shut behind him.
Petunia returned to Dudley in the kitchen. He'd finished his muffin and was whining for another one, which she promptly gave him. After he finished, she heaved him out of the highchair, swept the crumbs off the tray and went to her cabinet to get a disinfectant wipe.
To clean was to bring order back to a disordered world. Petunia had always liked things clean. Even as a child she was immaculate, room spic-and-span, not a spot of dust or corner not vacuumed.
Lily had always been messy. Lily had always been frivolous. Lily had always been silly, unthinking, impulsive. Lily had never cared if the countertops were cleaned or stained with jelly. Petunia doubted if Lily even cleaned her countertops, though of course she didn't know, as she had never been to her sister's house.
Though, of course, Lily was dead now.
The house blown to smithereens, and with it her countertops.
Petunia looked over her shoulder. Harry was staring at her mutely from the ground. Unnatural child. So silent and still, watching her unceasingly with its piercing green eyes. Lily's eyes. Lily's son. Lily's dead.
Dudley – strong Dudley, smart Dudley – pulled himself to his feet and waddled over to the living room, curiosity drawing him to his cousin.
Harry blinked at him. Dudley looked over his shoulder at his mother, looked back at Harry, raised a hand to touch Harry on the chest and then pushed him over. Harry toppled over onto his back, feet kicking in the air.
Petunia said nothing, staring unblinkingly at the two boys. Her Dudley. Her lovely, smart, strong Dudley who would grow up to be as sharp and grand as Vernon. And Harry. Lily's son. Weak and already sniffling again. Underfed. Lily and her good-for-nothing husband were undeniably uncaring and negligent parents, running off to get themselves killed and dumping their child on Petunia.
Petunia breathed sharply through her nose and reached up to dab at her eyes. She realized she was still holding the disinfectant cloth, turned sharply on her heel, and tossed it in the bin. Dudley grew disinterested in his cousin and turned back around. He toddled over to inspect the crumbled letter on the floor. Petunia must have dropped it. She could not remember dropping it.
How did they die? The letter did not say. They were killed. How did – people like them – kill each other? In messy, inconvenient ways no doubt.
Explain to him when he's old enough to understand said the letter.
A car crash. Harry would be told his parents had been killed in a car crash, simple and uninteresting. A disappointing end for people who were supposed to be heroes.
"Heroes," Petunia scoffed aloud, and both Harry and Dudley looked at her in surprise, silent as she had been for so long. A car crash was a perfectly fitting end for a sister like Lily. (Lily's son. Lily's eyes. Lily's dead).
A strange feeling burst to life in Petunia's chest, and it took only a moment for her to define it. Fear. She was afraid of the child. Unaccountable but unavoidable afraid of it. A car crash and that would be the end of it. Harry would never know the truth. Harry would never know what his parents were. Petunia wouldn't let it happen. Wouldn't let another one – wouldn't allow this child to become like its parents.
A car crash and that would be the end of it. She would tell Vernon later when he got home from work. She had no doubt he would completely approve of her plan.
"Come Dudley," she said, stepping forward and scooping Dudley into her arms. He squirmed for a bit but she held him tightly, unwilling to put him back on the ground next to Harry with Lily's bright, tear-filled eyes and alien blood perhaps coursing through his veins. "Let's get Mummy's little Diddy Dumpkins all cleaned up for the day."