Chapter 1: Part 1 - Chapter 1
"I am a female writer. And what's interesting about the wizarding world is when you take physical strength out of the equation, a woman can fight just as well as a man can fight, can do magic just as powerfully as a man can do magic, and I consider that I've written a lot of well rounded female characters in these books. As an author, none of the women ever gave me trouble, actually. It was always the men that gave me trouble, never the women. But Harry came to me as Harry, and I never wanted to change that. Because switching gender isn't simply putting a dress and a pretty name on a boy, is it? A lot of the preoccupations and expectations are different on men and women, and so the books would have been incredibly different, I think."
- JK Rowling, The Women of Harry Potter
"Uncle Vernon's dislike of Harry stems in part, like Severus Snape's, from Harry's close resemblance to the father they both so disliked."
- JK Rowling, Pottermore
Petunia was to raise the girl. Vernon wanted nothing to do with her. This was decided early on.
He sighed as he got out of his Grunnings Co car - shiny, new, black, and expensive. High grade. Vernon always kept it parked outside the garage; he wanted his neighbors to notice what he could afford. He walked up to his square white two story suburban house, past the front wall and gate, past the neat, flat green lawns and tidy flowerbeds, up the front steps to the stained glass white door with the polished bronze number four on it.
He had a beautiful homemaker wife, a boisterous young son, a nice three-piece suit with a bland tie, a good house and enough money, a sister who visited on holidays, everything he had ever wanted. Vernon didn't think that was too much to ask for. His life was entirely perfect - except for the one unwanted intrusion.
He was now raising his sister in law's orphaned daughter - his niece by marriage, Aster Potter. There was nothing wrong with this in and of itself… but if her parents were any indication, he dreaded what she would become. Privet Drive and its neat suburb had a mold, and Aster Potter had no place in it.
But in any case, that was Petunia's business.
He unlocked the door with a jangle of keys and walked in from work for the evening, shiny black shoes squeaking on the polished wood floors. He looked up, and paused in surprise.
Petunia was in the gleaming checkered kitchen, cooing at Dudley and making dinner, apparently not paying much attention to Aster. Not that Vernon could blame her. By all accounts Petunia's sister had been terrible, and raising the daughter of a woman she'd so despised must eat at her. Still… the girl was only a toddler, and she was trying to climb the entrance hall stairs by herself.
The stairs were carpeted with plush white piled cloth. Aster was about halfway up, almost level with the vase of flowers on the entrance hall's end table. Vernon watched her suspiciously as she struggled. Her quest was silent and entirely intent, and he could admit to himself she was awfully young to be making it up the stairs in the first place. In the middle of her second year.
There was nothing terribly threatening about her right now. She was just being a normal child - it was almost deceptive. He'd expected a bratty and bizarre James Potter lookalike - if Lily Potter had been awful, her husband had been if anything worse. But this little girl looked nothing like James Potter, nothing so mocking or jeering, disorganized or threatening. She had a headful of deep crimson hair, round hazel eyes, a long straight nose and a delicate little mouth, pale skin. She was tiny, even for a toddler girl, and gave off the appearance of being far too fragile to be climbing any set of stairs.
She toddled further up the staircase, then yelped and stumbled. Vernon felt a shoot of panic and he was there in a second, steadying her. "Be careful!" he barked at Aster, forceful mainly out of fear.
If she fell down a set of stairs, people would accuse them of abuse, he told himself.
But Aster looked up at him with big hazel eyes… and tears filled them. Her face screwed up and she started wailing. Even Vernon Dursley felt uneasy at making a little girl cry.
"Don't -! Really -! Don't -!" Vernon had no idea what to say. He sighed in exasperation and set down his briefcase. "Look, it's fine," he said, attempting to make his tone civil with a great effort. "Really, it's okay." Gingerly, he rubbed her back. She slowly calmed down, her sobs shuddering to a halt, looking up at him once more with more curiosity. "You were doing quite well," he admitted, begrudging. "Like this." He made a step. "See? Climbing the stairs. It's not too difficult. You can do it," he added unconvincingly.
Was he saying the right things?
Aster looked at the step he'd made - then slowly made her own.
"Vernon?!" Petunia called from the kitchen. "Is that you?!"
"Yes, I'll be there in a minute, Petunia!" he called. And he and Aster went like that, step by step, she following him all the way up to the top of the staircase. In the back of his mind, he wondered why he was bothering.
Still, when she got to the top of the stairs, he felt a jump of triumph. Well, the girl could be taught, and he'd taught her. That was something. "See?" he said. "I knew you could do it!"
Aster beamed up at him, then ran at his legs and threw herself around them in a hug. "Thanks, Unca Vernon!" she chirped, cuddling.
Vernon looked down at her and grunted. "Well," he said gruffly, returning to himself. "You're welcome." And he patted her awkwardly on the head, she still hugging his legs with a cherubic smile. "Now I have to get back down." She stayed there. "No," he said. "Really. I do."
Vernon wasn't one for metaphors; he found them deeply suspicious. But had he been a poetic, nonsensical sort of man, he would have said that he never really "got back down" in the non-literal sense. Every evening after work, he went into the living room with Aster, a vast clean carpeted space filled with armchairs and a massive red brick fireplace, and took to helping Aster walk, run, and play.
"You've come a great way and I'm not about to see you regress," he told her firmly, pointing a finger at her. "You are going to make steady progress, now that I know you can!"
Aster was still smiling as she played blissfully with her blocks. He wondered despairingly if she even understood him.
"I don't understand why you're bothering," Petunia once told him sharply. "Especially for the girl instead of Dudley."
Vernon knew that tone. He knew he would have to tread carefully.
"She needs extra help," he told her. "Because of her background. I'm making sure she's someone presentable for our household. Isn't that important?"
Petunia harrumphed and marched away, heels clacking. But she seemed to accept this explanation. She may even have been glad not to have to do the training herself.
So Vernon assisted Aster with walking, running, and climbing. He discovered her to be a sweet child, gentle and smiling, quiet and with a gift for physical activity. She soon found her feet, taking to running, walking, and climbing with grace.
So after that he moved on to talking, having conversations with her and trying to get her to respond. This did not go as well. Aster didn't seem to have much interest in language, only saying spare words, mostly listening, and when he yelled at her she cried. She cried easily. The smallest tension could have her wailing away; it was amazing what actual yelling could do.
So then he would try to control his heaving temper, and she would quiet down. "Is she just stupid?" he asked himself, troubled.
Still, every morning she would begin anew with bright optimism. She had spirit. So what was wrong with her language? Why didn't she talk more?
Deciding to test her intelligence, he began turning to other things. He read her books and she seemed interested; he gave her commands and she did follow them. So she could understand him. She even got perhaps overly emotional at the smallest instances of drama in the stories she was reading. It was rather alarming.
He turned to toys, buying her things "for the sake of training," he told Petunia. Aster sat on the living room play rug and scribbled with crayons, built towers of blocks, played ball, and enjoyed emptying and filling containers. He watched her copy other people's movements - playing with a toy phone, feeding a doll, pretending to drive a car. And as she got older she began doing everything herself, or wanting to. She tied her shoes wrong, put on clothes backwards, spilled juice, held cups and utensils the wrong way, but she did try doing everything for herself.
Eventually he had to conclude that there was nothing wrong with her intelligence. She was just an exceptionally quiet girl. She did even move on to eventual sentences and phrases, though used sparingly. But she was always quiet; she even enjoyed alone time. This was not necessarily a bad thing. It was not in the least reminiscent of James Potter, or indeed anything he'd expected from a Potter in the first place.
As he watched her play with her new toys on the colorful living room play rug, it wore at him that she slept in a closet and had poor secondhand clothes, as per Petunia's command. Yes, she was right, the girl was grateful to have a home with them at all and they got no compensation for having her… but that argument didn't sit with him as easily as it used to, somehow, as he watched her. She grew into a full running, playing, and babbling toddler, her face turning heart shaped with high cheekbones and delicate features. Her dark red hair grew to brush her shoulders, falling around her. She was a pretty young girl, not at all like he'd thought she'd be, and it wore on him that she didn't have a proper bedroom or dresses.
Because she was, he eventually realized, just a child. A little girl like any other. She smiled often and liked hugs, rarely had tantrums and cried easily when yelled at and preferred quiet, harmonious surroundings. She followed orders matter of factly and was easygoing - though confusingly, she broke the rules a lot. This at first angered Vernon, until he realized she simply often got lost in her own thoughts and forgot airily about the rules she'd been given. She only seemed to purposefully ignore the rules when she had a goal she needed met and a rule stood in her way. In that moment, she ignored them altogether.
She was curious - she held everything and put almost all of it in her mouth and quite often was found exploring places she was not supposed to be. She sucked her thumb for a long time after Petunia thought she was supposed to have stopped, and for a long time dragged a security blanket around on the floor behind her. She got emotional easily, around stories especially so, and Vernon found she loved animals.
At first his sister Marge hadn't liked Aster anymore than Vernon himself had. But one day when Marge was visiting, one of her bulldogs charged at Aster, who ran away and was starting to cry. Vernon stormed to his feet and held back the dog, shouting so loud it quieted into a whimper. Then he gave Aster a dog treat. She held the dog treat out to the dog, and the dog paused before starting to quietly munch away at it.
After that, Aster and the bulldog Ripper were perfect friends. She sat and played with him on the floor, beaming.
"She likes dogs," said Marge, a dog breeder herself, wonderingly as she watched.
"It makes sense," Vernon said, sitting back down at the table. "Dogs are friendly and they don't talk much. Same with her."
Marge chuckled. "Well," she said, warming to the girl, "at least someone in this family knows how to keep their mouth shut!"
Petunia sniffed. She despised animals and their uncleanliness, and her coldness toward Aster was beginning to seem increasingly odd and concerning to Vernon. Aster now charged up to greet him cheering every evening after work, but she seemed almost afraid of Petunia. Vernon wondered what happened when he was at work.
"So she's not a burden?" Marge asked curiously.
Vernon turned to look at Aster with a veiled expression. "... She's getting better," he said at last.
"Well," said Marge, "if anyone can turn her around from that awful mess of her parents, you can!" She patted her brother on the hand. She was much fonder of Aster after that.
One thing Aster became was clingy around Vernon. From a boy, this would have been irritating, but from a little girl it was endearing. She would cry and wail every time she was left with her babysitter, little old Mrs Figg, or every time he left for work in the morning. Petunia would look like she was holding back a screech, but Vernon always comforted Aster for a few minutes before leaving.
Aster learned to deal with his leaving, but she never liked it. She even grew to enjoy Mrs Figg's cats.
Hard also was a big girl bed and potty training. Petunia left the entire thing up to Vernon, which he thought might be her way of trying to get back at him for spending so much time with "the girl." Aster had to learn how not only to dress and eat for herself, but now how to do other things for herself as well: sleeping, potty, bath, that sort of thing.
Aster was cheerful and obliging but extremely absent-minded and Vernon - the polar opposite in personality - was often despairing. Somehow they got through it all in the end. He was even learning to discipline her without shouting at her. His hold on his temper was better than it used to be.
"Why is she coloring?" Petunia asked suddenly one day in the living room doorway.
Vernon stood up from where he'd been sitting on the floor with Aster, and went to his wife. "What do you mean?" he asked, frowning, as they watched her scribble on a piece of paper.
"Is she getting that from one of those silly books you've been reading her?" Petunia asked sharply. "What about what we discussed?"
Vernon turned to look at Aster, bewildered. "She's drawing a crayon picture of a blue elephant," he said. "Not summoning Satan. And our last picture book was actually about a bat."
"I still think it's suspicious," said Petunia stridently.
Aster looked up at her tone, glanced between them, and shrunk into herself a little bit, stopping what she was doing.
"Darling, she's coloring," said Vernon, pained. "Children do that. Dudley does that."
"She's not children!" Petunia snapped. "She's not Dudley! She's her!" And she stormed away.
Vernon saw Aster's expression. He decided to risk something and knelt down before her. "Aster," he said, "listen to me." She leaned forward closely. "Sometimes people aren't going to like things you do. People don't always like things I do. But if you go your whole life worrying what other people think, you'll be walked all over. Do you understand? Treated badly? Taken advantage of?"
Aster paused, and then nodded. "Yes, Uncle Vernon," she whispered.
After that, Aster became harder in her airiness, firmer and more ignorant of what other people thought of what she was doing. She didn't cry at the tiniest sign of disapproval the way she used to. She was still eccentric - odd -
But slowly, she became okay with being different.
Soon being read to was her favorite thing, and she took to being creative in all kinds of ways. She painted, drew, played with clay and play-do, and she liked music. As with books, the smallest detail of a piece of music could leave her extraordinarily emotional.
She became a precocious little thing, using increasingly bigger words and bigger ideas, enacting the part of the little adult. It was cute, Vernon supposed, in its own way. She was quite earnest and proud about it.
But she had one last attachment to her clingy, emotional childhood and it was a worn old stuffed bear. She carried it around everywhere with her, cried when it was taken away.
So one day Vernon opened the front door, and waited. No Aster came to greet him. Curious, he walked over and peeked into the cupboard under the stairs, opening the door - and he was horrified.
As opposed to the rest of the gleaming house, with its red brick fireplace, polished mantel, squeaky wooden floors, and piled white carpets… this cupboard was filthy. Petunia was supposed to have been cleaning it. But it was covered in cobwebs and filthy rags and crawling black spiders.
Aster was curled up in the center in her plain secondhand dress, face in her hands, crying. That was unusual. Aster didn't cry much anymore.
"What's wrong?" he asked urgently, frowning.
"My - my teddy - my teddy is gone -"
"Well, maybe you just lost it -" Vernon began soothingly.
"She threw it away!"
And for the first time anger entered Vernon. Hot, choking anger. He stormed down the hall into the kitchen, brushed past a startled Petunia, grabbed the trash can, took the teddy bear out, and stomped away. He handed it back to Aster's eager, snatching fingers. She held the teddy bear tight to herself and sat there amidst the shadows and spiders, eyes big - quiet - watchful - like she was when she was about to intentionally break a rule, when she was exploring somewhere forbidden, when she was being quiet or wanted to understand something or wanted to be independent and alone.
Maybe he was just being romantic, but he thought of airy, eccentric, quiet, graceful, different, precocious Aster becoming that way all the time. She was already hard, harder than she was supposed to be, fierce. It bothered him.
He stomped back out to the kitchen. "You threw away a toddler's favorite teddy bear!" he barked at Petunia, and for once he did not become nervous when she grew angry, poisonous, and spiteful, her face ugly. "And you let her room with black widow spiders!"
"You are becoming far too fond of that little monster!"
"She's just a child!"
"But she's not just a child! She's their child!"
"DO YOU PAY NO ATTENTION TO HER AT ALL?!"
Petunia stared at him uncomprehendingly as Vernon stormed away.
Aster stored her teddy bear safe away on a shelf and never dared take him out again. That was it. Vernon was through appeasing his wife.
He suggested he'd pay for Petunia and Dudley going out somewhere fun together for the weekend. "I'll stay here and look after the girl. A little mother-son bonding time," he said thoughtfully.
Petunia, delighted to spend any time with Dudley, said yes immediately.
While she was gone, Vernon did it all. He mail-ordered Aster several new pretty dresses set to be delivered over the weekend, and he paged through a magazine full of girl's bedrooms with Aster, asking her which one she'd like.
Their house had four bedrooms. One was a guest room, one was for Vernon and Petunia, one was for Dudley - why not give the empty fourth room to Aster instead of making her sleep in that effing closet?
Petunia was supposed to take care of the girl. She was clearly unfit for the job, so now it was Vernon's turn. This was always the way it worked when he was firm director at Grunnings. If someone can't do the job, give it to someone else more qualified.
He was the husband. He paid for the house and it was his. If he wanted the girl to have a bedroom, she was getting a bedroom.
Once they'd picked one out, they had a designer and movers come in and decorate the whole bedroom as per Aster's choice, complete with big girl bed. All her toys, art supplies, books, and new dresses were put inside, and the room was hers.
She'd chosen a pink and green color scheme. Her checkered bed had lots of pillows, a a quilt, a teddy bear and a doll. Her furniture was white with intricate carvings. Her bedside lamp was fanciful and tasseled, and there was a striped armchair, a mirrored wardrobe, and favorite story quotes stenciled in pink on the green walls. An intricately carved white desk sat near the gauzy curtained window.
Vernon was proud of himself as Aster bounced on her new bed in delight - he calmly picked her up and put her down on the floor again, which she went along with willingly enough - and he was positively gleeful as he waited for the fireworks.
Petunia came home, saw the new bedroom and Aster wearing her new clothes, and she had a fit.
"That girl has you entranced!" she spat.
"I have not been entranced by anyone!" said Vernon indignantly. He did not like the implication that he was being manipulated by something as silly as magic.
"How dare you!"
"Oh yes, I gave a little girl a pink bedroom, how dare I!" Vernon yelled in irritation, a tick going in his temple. "Petunia, do you have any idea how ironically abnormal this entire resentment is! We claim to be so normal and we had a child sleeping in a spider infested closet!"
"How much did this cost?! You could have spent this on Dudley!"
"Well fortunately for Dudley, he already has a bedroom!" Vernon barked, and Petunia flinched. "And far more expensive toys than are present in this room!"
"... We'll be encouraging her," Petunia whispered.
Vernon softened. "I haven't seen any evidence of strangeness," he told her gently, helplessly. He raised his hands as if not knowing what to do.
Petunia put her head into her hand, face scrunched up as if something pained her. "Dudley is joining your living room sessions," she snapped at last. "You are not ignoring my son in favor of that wretched girl."
"That's perfectly fine," said Vernon softly. "Why do you hate the girl so much?"
"Can't you see?" said Petunia heatedly. "She's just like her. Perfect Lily," she snarled. "Well I won't fall for it!"
And that was when Vernon saw it clearly for the first time: jealousy.
And so Dudley joined their living room evening-times.
A large and energetic, sporty blond boy, Dudley had always caused a bit of a ruckus in behavior. Vernon had always told himself that was just how boys were. But watching Aster with Dudley, comparing the two… he became troubled.
Dudley had horribly spoilt behavior. He threw tantrums far more often than Aster, broke toys without thinking, did everything no matter the consequences, and he physically bullied Aster, punching her around and yanking at her hair, making her cry.
This could not be allowed to continue, Vernon realized, troubled.
At last, he saw Dudley hit Aster for the fifth time and he put his foot down. "Dudley! No!" he barked, pulling his son away. Dudley looked up - and promptly began throwing a tantrum, yelling all over the floor. Vernon watched in horror as his son - his son! - tried to cry his way out of his problems! Entitlement - Vernon's worst enemy.
Did this work with Petunia?
Vernon put his foot down. "Dudley!" he repeated thunderously, face ruddy. "NO!" And Dudley stilled in surprise. Vernon knelt down beside him. "Real men," he told his son furiously, "do not cry their way out of their problems. And real men don't hit their sisters. They protect them instead."
He took Aster by the shoulder.
"This is your little sister," he told Dudley fiercely. "She's the only person you'll have your whole life. And it is your job to protect her. Not to hurt her."
He turned to Aster.
"That's your big brother," he said, pointing at Dudley. "You're a little girl and he's the big boy. That's how things are going to be."
Aster and Dudley looked at one another in wide-eyed surprise. The first stirrings formed: Teasing but fiercely protective Dudley Dursley, and his tiny odd but firmly nonconformist cousin Aster Potter. The tough big brother, and the protected younger sister.
"That," said Vernon, "is how you're going to be treated from now on." His eyes narrowed as he considered his horribly behaved, bullying son. "It is time for a little more discipline," he said gravely, "and a little less entitlement in the Dursley house."
He and Petunia had always wanted a son-and-daughter, a loving little house with a white picket fence. Well - and why hadn't he realized this sooner? - now they could have one.
Petunia would just have to be brought round. And Aster and Dudley would be taught to fill their son-and-daughter roles. Did that mean they suddenly had to be new people? No.
But who they were currently could certainly be added to.
And so the disciplining of Dudley Dursley began.
Vernon tried to start putting Dudley and Aster on an equal level, treating them both the same. This could be viewed in terms of gift giving: Aster started getting more gifts while Dudley started getting less, until they were both of relatively equal value.
Vernon also stopped paying for replacements for toys Dudley broke.
“Well you should have been more careful with it, shouldn’t you?” he’d say sternly when Dudley came in with a broken toy. Since Vernon was where all the money came from, this change was significant. Dudley stopped breaking toys.
Dudley threw temper tantrums a lot at first, but Vernon would pointedly ignore them until they wore themselves out. By the time his living memory had started, Dudley had learned it was hard to weasel anything past his stern father.
Strangely, Aster and Dudley both enjoyed this simple hierarchy of rules and firm discipline. They both became very fond of Uncle Vernon, as he offered stability and equality. He never treated them cruelly - just with more fairness and discipline than Aunt Petunia did. They began to see him as “good with children.” They could count on him to always make sense. Around them he could even be proud, jolly, a sort of bulging-belly, red-faced and mustached Santa Claus.
He was also the first to introduce the idea that they might be good for each other.
Vernon began encouraging kindness and play between Dudley and Aster - he only ever truly bellowed at his son, in fact, when his son hit his surrogate sister. This, Vernon didn’t put up with at all. Dudley found this terrible at first…
But soon he found the merits of this new way of seeing Aster. He always had someone to play with or have snacks with, and he liked the idea of being a tough guy who could beat up anyone who hurt his tiny sister. Aster was also smart and just as careless of rules as he was, so they could get up to some truly terrific fun together.
He began lying to Aunt Petunia, who always believed him, in order to keep Aster out of trouble.
In the Dursley family, gender roles were important. Aster, though fiercely odd and airy, was trained to be polite and intelligent, wear pretty clothes, and be exasperated with boyish, dirty, or disgusting people. She was given chores related to cooking, cleaning, and gardening. She learned to carry herself with calm grace.
Dudley, however, was also given chores. His chores were related to helping Uncle Vernon fix things up around the house, wash the car, or mow the lawn. Boyishness was tolerated, but he had to be the tough guy - showing tender emotions or romantic tendencies was not allowed.
Their specific roles were also cemented - Dudley was encouraged into becoming the teasing but fiercely protective older brother, Aster the fiery but protected younger sister.
Petunia didn’t necessarily have a problem with Dudley being protective or doing male chores, though she did protest the lessening in gifts… Still, Dudley had plenty, the girl was of no significance, and it all really shouldn’t have been a problem.
She watched Dudley and Aster’s new interactions, their new comfort with Vernon, and told herself she wasn’t uncomfortable or suspicious at all.
Vernon convinced Petunia to go out and have fun certain nights, as she now had so many less chores to do. As was usual these days, there was an ulterior motive. He’d suggested they introduce Dudley and Aster to fictional stories, and Petunia had thrown a fit.
“We are not introducing my precious Duddy and that wretched brat to imaginative nonsense!” She hissed like a spitting cat, or perhaps a cornered snake, from where they were arguing in the kitchen.
“Petunia, you know I do despise imaginative nonsense. But this isn’t imaginative nonsense. It’s television,” said Vernon, pained. “Something everyone watches.”
“It’s not happening!” she’d mandated, and put her foot down on the matter.
So he’d suggested a couple of weeks later, casually, that she take a couple evenings a week off. Not even he had a problem with books and television. That was just ridiculous.
Now he was gathered with Aster and Dudley in the living room. They had the house to themselves for the evening.
“Remember, you can’t tell your aunt about this,” he warned them, feeling a twinge of reluctant guilt as he said it. “Or all this stops and goes away.”
“Okay.” They nodded eagerly, curious.
So he sat in an armchair, they curled up with pillows on the floor. And he would read to them, or let them watch television shows and movies. He introduced them to fiction and fun. And if someone had told Vernon Dursley as a younger person that he’d end up being the fun parent, he’d have had them sent to an insane asylum.
They each formed their favorites. Dudley loved action movies and sci fi, aliens and things that blew up, warriors and adventures. They made his eyes light up in excitement.
But Vernon watched with discomfort - very deep discomfort - as Aster became fascinated by all dark and fantastical aesthetics. Magic and witches, black lace corsets, spells and potions, Victorian era stories and the morbid and macabre, candles and spell books, big specs of jewelry, dragons and phoenixes, ghosts and zombies, Halloween tales.
She would sit before these stories, leaning forward, transfixed, torn between pain and longing, as if she found a piece of herself there that she had lost.
Petunia stood framed in the living room doorway, watching her family, torn.
Her family. She supposed it was hard not to think of them that way. Her family. The little wretch had ingratiated herself into the household alongside the other two.
Vernon sat back and watched, cheerful and resting in his armchair, as Aster in her lovely dress and Dudley in his nice clothes played with toys together quite harmoniously on the floor before him. There was a fire crackling in the red brick fireplace, casting a long circle of light across the plush carpets. It was the perfect scene.
All that was missing was her and her famous tea and biscuits.
Petunia faced a problem. Her husband loved Aster. Her son loved Aster. Aster, she could admit at least to herself, had shown no outward evidence of being undeserving of that love.
Yet there were thoughts that held Petunia back from joining in that perfection.
She refused to raise another Lily. She refused to raise another sickeningly perfect girl, care for her only to have that girl brutally ripped from her grasp. She refused to allow for strangeness. Vernon didn’t remember Lily growing up. Petunia did. And that blasted girl was almost a carbon copy, feature for feature, of the sister Petunia had both so loved and so despised. Of the sister who had shut Petunia out of her life.
There was something else, though. She wanted to continue giving Dudley preferential treatment - because she didn’t want him ever to feel as worthless as she had as a child. She didn’t want him ever comparing himself to the much beloved Aster.
But Dudley didn’t seem to want preferential treatment anymore. He thought she didn’t see the lies he told on behalf of his cousin, but she did. Even Vernon seemed milder than Petunia now. She knew about the movies, the stories. She wasn’t stupid. And Dudley seemed to enjoy being treated as an equal - it was almost as if he preferred it that way.
Petunia was trying hard to hold onto her hate and her anger, but it was increasingly occurring to her that the girl hadn’t actually done anything wrong. And Petunia wanted to join her family. She did.
“Duddy, dear, can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Yeah. Why?” Dudley stood there frowning in the kitchen, holding his snack. Petunia knelt down before him, trying for a smile, and realized she was unsure how to start.
“Do you think your cousin’s… odd?”
“Well, yeah,” said Dudley, and Petunia’s heart stopped. “But, like, normal odd. I mean, that’s just how she is.” He was still frowning at his mother, puzzled.
“And you don’t… resent that?” Petunia asked delicately.
“No. I wouldn’t want to be weird little Aster Potter for anything,” Dudley declared. “I have my thing and she has hers. You know, she’s allowed to be weird, Mummy,” he added conversationally, a scold almost hidden in his tone.
I have my thing and she has hers. Dudley truly didn’t envy his “sister.” Petunia realized why - the same competitive spirit that had been between her and Lily was not there for a boy and a girl.
She relaxed. “Thank you, Duddy,” she said. “You can go play.”
She stood and decided she would try. She would try, for her husband and her son, to be kinder to the little rugrat. Woe betide Aster Potter if she was not up to par.
Petunia stood before Aster, expressionless, and Aster began to scowl to hide her nervousness.
Then, out of the blue, “... Vernon never reads you princess stories, does he?” said Petunia, reserved.
“Er - no?” said Aster, puzzled.
Petunia nodded. “Well. I’ll just have to read you some. Not the silly ones where the princess gets saved by the prince. The strong princess stories, the ones with powerful women in them.”
“... Why?” said Aster, mystified, and Petunia bristled.
“I… do not do well with young children.” She struggled for an even tone. Aster looked curious despite herself at this piece of supposedly true information. “But… now that you’re an older girl, it’s time that I taught you… about femininity, elegance, and strong dignity. We can start with strong princess stories.”
And so Petunia began reading Aster princess stories. Aster listened eagerly, starry-eyed, and Petunia gave a small smile, gratified. This, she could admit to herself… wasn’t so bad.
And so she took Aster under her wing. Aster had always been airy and eccentric but hard, girlish but contemptuous, but under Petunia’s tutelage she learned calm elegance. They began fun afternoons cooking and baking in the kitchen together - and for the first time Aster felt close to her aunt.
Strangely, with this final member of her family acting kinder, she also began smiling more - fierce, fiery, mischievous smiles that rounded out her personality quite nicely.
It wasn’t long before Petunia gave into an urge she had wanted for a long time. She took up the clothes Vernon had bought for Aster in distaste one day. “You’re sure you want these?”
“What do you mean?” said Aster, puzzled.
“Well, they’re expensive. But they’re not at all your color.” Petunia looked at Aster speculatively. “What say you and I go shopping?”
Aster brightened and Petunia smiled. Secretly… she had always wanted a daughter. A little girl to take under her wing and teach about fashion.
Petunia and Aster went out for a day of shopping.
Petunia drove them around to various malls and department stores for hours, determined with single minded tenacity to find the right clothes. “You have a good heart, but no fashion sense,” she’d told a bewildered Vernon, an equally bewildered Dudley behind him, right before they’d left.
Petunia was fierce in her demands for excellent clothes and good service, never once losing her innate dignity. She introduced Aster to colors that would look best on her: deep peaches, reds, oranges, golds, deep purples and turquoises, eggshell whites, dusty colors. But to Petunia’s despair, Aster immediately went for what Petunia termed “the odd clothes.”
She loved shawls and long colorful dresses and dangling earrings. She insisted on a gold pair of earrings patterned like feathers, done up as costume jewelry so she could put them in her ears. She liked strange ornaments to pin her red hair up behind her head, odd thick golden rings with strange eyeball carvings into them.
“You look like a gypsy,” Petunia told her flatly at the end.
“Really? Cool!” said Aster eagerly, hazel eyes bright.
And nothing Petunia could say would dissuade her. She airily and stubbornly refused any other clothes, smiling proudly in her new getup. She looked like a tiny little woman, in the outfits she chose to wear. Petunia firmly told herself it was not cute.
Petunia sighed in exasperation, blamed suspiciously their recent encouragement of the girl’s imagination through fantasy and princess stories and through artistic hobbies, and bought her the silly clothes. And thus Aster’s transformation was complete.
The first time they celebrated Aster’s birthday, she insisted on going to a trampoline park.
Deciding to be fair, as she was supposedly equal with Dudley, they started with presents and a special birthday breakfast. Dudley and Aster ran downstairs and into the kitchen on the morning of.
“Wow! Look at all the presents!” said Dudley in amazement.
“And they’re all for me,” Aster whispered, her eyes widening. A huge mound of presents lay on the kitchen table - not covering it. The Dursleys were practicing moderation with both of their children.
Blueberry pancakes were had and Aster tore open her gifts. She found countless books of stories, art supplies, movies, and music underneath - her favorite kind, different, imaginative, fantastical, full of strong women and strange witches.
The Dursleys had made a gamble. Since Aster hadn’t yet shown any signs of magic, they were gambling that treating her as any other girl might keep her safe. Deep down, it did make them uncomfortable.
“Thank you!” Aster gasped, delighted, looking up with big hazel eyes, pale heart shaped face with high cheekbones lighting up like a candle.
“There’s a present from Aunt Marge as well,” said Petunia, reserved. “She sent one. She couldn’t be here, but she’ll be coming round for Christmas.”
Aster opened Aunt Marge’s present to find a hand-knitted quilt covered with bulldogs chasing snowflakes.
“Wow…” she whispered, beaming, fingering the cloth. This was going right on her bed upstairs.
There was a whole hour getting all of Aster’s new presents set up in her pink and green, wall-stenciled bedroom. Then they all got dressed and were off in the car to the trampoline park.
Petunia and Vernon watched in dry amusement as Aster and Dudley shrieked with laughter, jumping on the trampoline alongside the other kids.
“What if they get hurt?” Petunia whispered for the hundredth time.
“Children are tough. They’ll be fine,” said Vernon cheerfully. “An occasional bump never hurt anyone. Honestly, I’m just glad she didn’t ask to go to some sort of Satanic ritual.”
Vernon and Petunia shared an amused look.
And so little old cat lady Mrs Figg was not Aster’s babysitter nearly as often anymore. She started being included in family dinner parties and family outings. She became fabulously popular at dinner parties - others apparently found her combination of polite girlishness, fiery forwardness, and distinct oddness quite charming in a small child. When they heard she helped her aunt make the food, they became even more impressed. She started adding her own little Halloweenish, alien, and mermaid additions to the baked treats, for example, and astonishingly? They went over great.
And her fashion ended up being talking points - people always asked about something she was wearing with genuine curiosity. Aster was eager to explain. Dudley didn’t like talking to dinner party guests, so this was a double bonus.
Yes, Vernon thought, pleased, watching Aster talk to an enchanted client with starry eyed eagerness as she explained this or that, watching Dudley roll his eyes off to the side in good natured amusement - yes, this would do quite nicely.
The living room evenings were complete.
Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia sat back before the crackling fireplace in armchairs, a tray of Aunt Petunia’s famous tea and biscuits in their center. Dudley and Aster played together on the rug before them, without violence. Vernon and Petunia looked on fondly. Everything was at peace in the Dursley household.
Then the magic came.
It came quite suddenly one day, and with enormous strength.
They were in the middle of preparing for a dinner party. The doorbell rang and for once they were behind; everything was a mess.
“We’re not in our clothes yet!” Aunt Petunia despaired. “The cake’s not finished!”
Aster’s face screwed up - and all of a sudden all of their clothes were beautiful, picking up in a gust of wind and transforming top to bottom into gorgeous and expensive clothing. The strange blue cake swelled in the oven, the crystals on Aster’s new shawl glittered, and the timer went off. Everything was done.
Aster looked around and beamed. “Look what I can do!” she said.
“Whoa…” Dudley whispered, his eyes big in awe and reflecting the glittering crystals.
Vernon swelled to twice his usual size. “WHAT ON EARTH HAVE YOU DONE -?!”
Aster flinched back, her face squinched up as if she was trying not to cry -
But Petunia had looked at Aster and thought of Lily. “Look what I can do.” Lily had used to do that too. She stared at Aster expressionlessly, her eyes widening as a thought occurred to her. This girl was not her sister. This girl was in effect her daughter. And something occurred to her, with this new family affection, with this girl’s gender and similarity to Lily, something which would never have occurred to her otherwise.
She could live vicariously through the magic of this girl - in a way she couldn’t have with Lily. It was the closest Petunia could ever come to being a witch. Suddenly, with this magical transformation, she could practically taste it.
Vernon was still yelling, red-faced, at a terrified Aster, a confused Dudley storming over to glare in front of her protectively -
“Vernon,” said Petunia suddenly, and something in her tone made all sound stop. It was time to stop keeping certain truths from him. If she was really going to do this, she had to stop demonizing the wizarding world. “Apologize to the clients; tell them this is not a good time. And come with me. Alone.”
She glared at the children, who bowed their heads, cowed but interested and hopeful. It marked the first time Petunia had ever saved them from a scolding.
A red-faced and heaving Vernon followed Petunia away, up the stairs to their bedroom to talk in private.
“What’s wrong?!” Vernon shouted. “We need to do something; she’s exhibiting signs of freakishness -!”
“Vernon, do you know what rhetoric is?” said Petunia suddenly.
Vernon frowned. “I went to college. Of course I know what rhetoric is. It’s persuasive speech toward a certain end goal. Which means sometimes -” He paused, his eyes widening.
“It means sometimes people only give you certain facts, and don’t tell you the full truth.” Petunia looked at Vernon with piercing blue eyes, defiant and unafraid.
“... There’s something you haven’t told me about… those people?” Vernon whispered. Then he became angry. “Petunia, a husband and wife don’t keep things from one another!” He sounded genuinely betrayed, and with something remarkably like shame Petunia knew why. Making an irrational decisions without all the facts was anathema to Vernon - the kind of reckless behavior he always complained about in other people.
“I know,” she said calmly. “But I hated my sister and I wanted you to hate her, too. So I didn’t lie. I just didn’t explain the full truth about those people either. But I looked at little Aster, and I thought about alienating, shunning, and despising her, and I realized - I don’t want to do this anymore. I want a witch daughter.”
Petunia’s voice had become watery, her jaw clenched as she tried hard not to look upset. Vernon was just staring at her.
“So,” said Petunia, looking up. “Would you like to know the full truth? About those people?”
“Yes,” said Vernon icily. “After all these years, that would be nice.”
“Check to make sure the children aren’t at the door and I’ll tell you,” said Petunia with an absent kind of worry - a worry about many things. What if Vernon still refused to accept Aster? What if he always held this keeping of information against her? What if she didn’t explain well enough?
She - she would just have to explain well enough, that was all.
Vernon checked. Then the Dursleys sat down uneasily side by side each other on the bed, Petunia seeming suddenly sad and uncertain. And she began her explanation - of witches and wizards.
“Wizards and witches are a genetic rarity. At their heart, they are simply recessive gene people born with a special energy inside them - a documented, physical one - one they can use to manipulate matter in the world around them,” Petunia began. She was about to make this explanation as Muggle friendly as possible. “At heart, that’s all it is. All that separates them from you and me.
“They were persecuted during the Middle Ages for being Satanic, even though their power is almost more like a divine gift. Like divine powers, these powers can be used for either good or evil. Yet they were persecuted, so they separated from us and created their own world where they were safe. They now have their own aboveground world, hidden with that special power - called magic - within ours.
“They have everything we do, Vernon. They have a government, laws, regulations, departments. They have essentially all of the career-choices that we do, if with somewhat different materials and in somewhat different terms. They have a prison. They have banks. They have schools and an educational system, in which students do actually learn things like reading comprehension, memorization, essay-writing, and even arithmetic alongside more magical subjects. That Hogwarts is a boarding school; it has dormitories and houses just like the Muggle ones. Students send letters home, though by owl post instead of Muggle post office - in essence, it’s all the same.
“There’s even a reason why so much of their world is so old fashioned. Strong magic shorts out electricity. See? A perfectly ordinary explanation.
“And they have other things, too. Popular music, dances, theater. They have sports and bookshops, fiction and nonfiction. They have newspapers, political sides, hot button issues. They have buses and trains and other more magical methods of transportation.
“There are cultural differences, but there are also cultural differences between English people and Indian people. In the real human things, we’re all exactly the same. The only difference is that they have a physical, inborn power that can manipulate matter and short out electricity in enough doses, and we don’t. And they have access to animals that have the same power, which we also don’t.
“In fact, they often protect us. Wizards and witches save us from magical creature attacks quite often, wiping our memories, and the reason why Lily and James were fighting that great Dark Lord is because he wanted to commit genocide. He wanted to wipe out all the people who had treated his race so poorly, people like… people like us.” She bowed her head, ashamed. “They were soldiers, Vernon. Fighting for us. That’s why they died.”
Vernon sat there, thunderstruck, for a long time. “And… there’s no way to get rid of it?” he whispered. “The… magic?” He swallowed as he tried to say it more normally.
“I don’t think so,” Petunia admitted. “Not safely, anyway. It’s a physical, inborn power. A part of them. It wasn’t gifted by Satanic influences.”
“And all this time we’ve been repressing her imagination because we thought it would help save her.” Vernon laughed bitterly. “When really it was utterly useless. She’s… there’s nothing freakish about her at all. And you… suddenly had a change of heart? You want to raise a girl like the sister you were… well… jealous of?”
So he had noticed. “It… would be easier in a daughter than in a sister,” Petunia admitted. “I could be involved more. And if Dudley truly isn’t jealous of her the way I was of my sister… I don’t suppose my son is a carbon copy of me.”
“You always wanted to be a witch,” Vernon realized. “That’s what you were jealous of in the first place.”
Petunia winced. “It’s an ugly part of me,” she muttered. “Not something I’m proud of. But Vernon, if you could see it… if you could catch a glimpse of their world, the things they could do…! You can’t imagine what it’s like, being the only child ever blocked off from that place. Even Lily’s closest childhood friend turned out to be a wizard and went off to that amazing place, and I never left -! I was just - I was just me -!”
Petunia was crying. And Vernon realized in that moment he couldn’t hold it against her - even if he wanted to. He reached out and hugged her, rubbing her shoulder quietly.
“Just you is enough for me,” he said. Petunia looked up in surprise - then her eyes softened, and they shared a grateful kiss. She knew she had been forgiven, even if perhaps she didn’t deserve it.
“I think, looking back on that moment… I think I understand, a little,” he said, sitting back. “Can you imagine a child being able to create beautiful clothes and a fanciful cake within seconds?”
“It’s powerful magic,” Petunia admitted. “I didn’t know even she had it in her.”
“So you think she could really make something of herself - in this world - in a career?” said Vernon thoughtfully, ever practically minded.
“I think she could, if encouraged,” Petunia admitted. “She’s bright enough. She’s creative.”
“And we can finally go there,” Vernon realized. “By helping her.” He looked over at Petunia and smiled. “Let’s do it.”
Vernon and Petunia went quietly back down the stairs a few minutes later, after Petunia had time to compose herself.
“Aster.” Vernon knelt down in front of Aster, and realized in shame that she seemed timid and Dudley was glaring between them defensively. “I’m very sorry for yelling at you,” he said. “I was just surprised. We talked it over, and -” He looked back behind himself hesitantly at Petunia.
Petunia swallowed, and forced herself to say the words she never thought she’d say. “There’s nothing wrong with what you can do,” she said, haughty because she was defensive, crossing her arms before herself.
“Quite right,” said Vernon in a jolly way, turning back to Aster. “In fact… as long as nobody in this house tells anyone outside this house about it… because they might not understand, you know. They might get scared, or even try to hurt Aster. Over something that’s really… quite a good thing,” he said with effort. This would take some getting used to. “But as long as it never gets outside this family… we’re okay with you doing all those amazing things.
“As a matter of fact, we encourage it. Experiment a little. And we think you have a lovely imagination.” He swallowed. “We - we encourage that, too,” he forced out. He wanted Aster to be successful… and where she was from, where she would return to, perhaps that was what it took.
Dudley stared in honest surprise - not unpleasant surprise, but obviously a large amount of it. Aster’s hazel eyes widened and brightened, glittering, as a great smile came over her face… then she ran at Uncle Vernon and hugged him. “Thanks, Uncle Vernon!” He chuckled and patted her on the back.
Then Aster paused, and walked shyly up to Aunt Petunia with her hands folded. Aunt Petunia sighed and rolled her eyes, holding out an arm gingerly and with all the dignity she could muster. “Come here,” she muttered reluctantly.
Aster beamed, ran forward, and threw her arms around her aunt’s thin, elegant, bony form. “Thanks, Aunt Petunia,” she said with feel.
And for a moment, just for a moment, Petunia couldn’t remember why she’d ever been angry with her sister at all.
One more chapter and part one is complete.
“Aunt Petunia, what happened to my parents? And how come I can do things no one else can?”
Petunia froze. Aster had crept up behind her and asked the dreaded questions. Petunia turned slowly around to Aster’s big, innocent hazel eyes staring up at her.
Petunia and Vernon shared a long look. He was sitting in an armchair near the living room where she’d been dusting, reading the paper. Vernon gave a small sigh, and a tiny nod.
“Alright,” Petunia admitted, bending down to her niece’s level. “It had to happen eventually. Aster, I’m going to read a letter to you - from the man who left you here after your parents died.”
Aster looked excited, curious. Petunia thought with some amount of mourning that she might never look that innocent again.
They read her Dumbledore’s letter - the whole thing. He explained in it the wizarding world in basic form, the war, her scar, and the death of her parents. No details, just those basic stats.
Dudley and Aster sat stunned after the whole letter was done.
“This… is your mother and father,” said Petunia, pulling out the only photo she had of Lily and James, a moving picture of the small redhead who looked just like Aster and the tall, thin, messy black haired man with glasses and a nerdy but defined jawline. Aster took it and drank it in hungrily. “Your mother Lily was bright, fiery, emotional, kind, and what’s called Muggleborn - born to a non magical, or Muggle, family like mine. Your father James was what’s called a Pureblood, from a good wizarding family, a joking and self confident jock - with all that entails, so he was not always a nice person. They met in school; high school sweethearts, so to speak, and married. Lily Evans and James Potter, that’s who they were.
“They lived in a rural cottage with you for your first year of life. They were good Light Side people fighting in a war for the right cause. They loved you very much.”
Tears had filled Aster’s eyes. She wiped them away quickly. Everyone was silent, heavy, for a moment.
“You will someday go to a witch training school called Hogwarts, for secondary school,” Petunia finished uneasily. Aster’s head shot up, as did Dudley’s. “There, you will formally learn magic and more about being a witch, witchcraft, both good and bad. Samhain, for example, is celebrated where you’re from. Purple and green are the colors of magic and royalty - but purple especially.
“So you’re a purple aster.
“Now. Would you like to hear more about your wizarding world?”
“Yes, please…” said Aster, nodding and leaning forward hungrily.
And so Petunia began the same speech she had already given Vernon, Vernon and Dudley watching and listening quietly and attentively.
Aster looked like a whole world had opened up before her.
Aster was not set to rejoin the wizarding world yet. But someday, she was told, she would.
Petunia was unsure if this had anything to do with it, but this was right before Aster’s schooltime Gothic and Gypsy phase.
A short little chapter to end part one.
Part two will be from Aster's perspective during her primary school years.
(... Is anyone even still reading this...? Sorry, real life got in the way...)
Next chapter probably won't come out till after New Years.
Chapter 6: Help Me Get Unstuck from Writer's Block!
I am stuck on beginning section two. Writer's block. Help me get out of it.
This is a bit too broad a question for a poll... But what would YOU be interested in seeing from Aster's primary school years? I already have hobbies, magic, and fashion.
But what else would you like to see as Aster grows in preparation for Hogwarts? Any ideas really burning inside you, bursting to get out? Well here's your chance. I can't promise to use everything I get, but I will read everything people send.
Leave a review if you have anything you'd particularly like to see from this next section of the story.
DO tell me what you want to see on this story! Because I am all committed to finishing it. I just got some writer's block.
Help me get unstuck. What do YOU absotively posolutely need to see before that Hogwarts letter? Write and lemme know!
Peace out, friends. As soon as I get unstuck, I'll pump that next chapter out. And Happy New Year!
PS: If you're interested, I have a new story out on a new account. Felt I needed a fresh start, that's all. Shakespeare, Arthur, Mythology & The Stars by ESP Witch. Should be up on Ao3 in the next few days, is up on FF right now. Just thought I'd let you know. If you're interested, cool. If you're not, that's cool too.