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Triumphant, the Dreamer

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She had always been told that dreams were the realm of the broken.  That the domain of dreams was the Creator’s gift to those who had loved and lost; a glimpse of Glory that her mortal mind could comprehend.   A sacred promise that comforted the broken in the darkest part of the night, one meant to ward off the worst of the loneliness and grief until she could be reunited with her lost loved ones.

She couldn’t remember if it was her Granddad or Grandma that had told her that, but she remembered crying- the wretched tears of an inconsolable child- that Christmas afternoon when the adults in her life had finally confessed that her mother was never going to come home.

Her life and the people in it would teach her many other lessons, but that whisper had always lingered in the back of her mind.  It had given her hope in her darkest moments, and would survive long after the rest of her childhood was lost to the blur of time.

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She blinked her eyes open, the vestiges of deep, heavy sleep insistently tugging at her mind.

Then she just sort of stared.

She blinked again, hoping for some divine intervention or some sort of clarity to come bursting through her hazy thoughts.

Nope, still there.  She stared some more, confusion giving way to incredulity and then incredulity edging into panic.

Then she screamed.

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Unknown sequences of the wake-panic-scream cycles later, she finally managed to struggle to the top of her emotional upheaval mountain and find a semblance of calm.

Not peace; the turmoil still raged, wild and fierce as ever, but it was much like being on the inside of a snow globe that was placed at the center of a blizzard.  Or, perhaps a better metaphor, was being in the eye of a tornado.  Helpless as a babe while everything she knew and loved was violently ripped away into a vortex of chaos and confusion, but she, herself, was sitting in an eerie moment of false serenity at its center.  Hyperaware that all it would take was the slightest shift in the winds, the tiniest amount of give in one side or the other, and then she would cease to be.

She closed her eyes and focused, putting all of her willpower into keeping her fragile sense of calm while her distressed mind tried to dredge up the most pertinent information.

The last thing she remembered….

She was in her kitchen.  The taco meat was simmering away on the stove and her eldest cat was twining around her ankles whilst her youngest was doing her level best to innocently edge towards the food.

The side door opened and her husband stepped inside, lunchbox hanging off his shoulder, and an annoyed look on his face.

“One of those days, huh?”  She teased him gently, a wide grin on her face, as she turned on the hot water to rinse off her spatula.

“Never a smart moment at that place.”  He drawled dryly as he moved past her- pressing a kiss to the side of her neck as he did so- to put his lunchbox away on the other end of the counter.

She turned around, clean spatula at the ready, fully intent to tease the details about the rest of his day from him-

And that was it.  At least in terms of what she knew for certain.

Had she slipped and hit her head?  Was she in a hospital?  Why couldn’t she move?

The next set of memories were almost like scenes from a movie.  One of those low-production ones without all the sleek editing and copious post production work.

(A woman with red hair, smiling warmly down at her.  “Mummy loves you, baby girl!”)

Both her birth mother and her adopted mother were- naturally, at least- brunettes.  Who was this woman?  And why was the delusional redhead absolutely gigantic?

(A man with glasses and warm hazel eyes was playing with a baby off to her side.  “And how about you, princess?  Are you ever going to say ‘Dada’?, hm?”)

Her daddy had started shaving his head ages ago, refusing to be ‘that comb over guy’.  And he had a beard.  A bushy, biker beard.  And tattoos on his arms.

Exhausted and more than a little alarmed, she fell into a troubled sleep.

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Another indeterminable amount of time later, she once again opened her eyes.  Her sore, aching eyes that felt as if they had been open for days instead of resting, while some sort of off-rhythm noise felt as if it was using the bones of her skull for its percussion section to practice with.

After a few, deep breaths the noise seemed to abate a bit.

She breathed out slowly, feeling thankful.

She’d still give someone a Klondike bar for some Ibuprofen or, hell, even an Excedrin Migraine.  Headaches sucked.

Then a door swung open to her right and the next thing she knew a gigantic face was peering down at her.

Quite angrily.  The woman had obviously permed, but pointedly poofed up blonde hair.  Not any blonde color that would be seen in public, either, but the sort of boxed blonde that was about a half a shade off from healthy and contrasted negatively with the woman’s off-color, cake-like foundation.  The overdone red rouge on the woman’s cheeks seemed to only enhance the not-blended-properly eye-bruising cover-up and her eyeliner was both crumbly and crooked behind her clumpy mascara.  Her twisted, yellowed teeth were bracketed by bright fuchsia painted lips and the makeup line on her neck seemed to be, honestly and truly, a quarter inch thick.  She was also wearing a string of slightly tarnished pearls, while her pearl earrings simply had to be clip-ons, given their size and extravagant backing.

For a moment, the world was still.

Her first thought was, ‘that is one unfortunate woman, maybe that apron is part of her nurses uniform?’ and her second was, ‘wait!  How can I see her so clearly?!  I never sleep with my glasses on!’.

Something on her face must have given away her need to panic, because the woman actively scowled- ‘oh, I guess she just has a really bad case of resting bitchface’- and opened her mouth.

Screeching was the politest term she could dredge up for the woman’s voice.  Screechy with a chance of glass shattering.

The woman’s babble was not as memorable as her accent.

English.  British.

‘What the actual fuck?’

She didn’t even remember closing her eyes, that time.

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Truthfully, she felt more than a little stupid with how long it took for her to realize her own, physical state of being.

In her defense, adult women did not often wake up as babies and having two sets of memories- one drastically more concrete to her than the other- was a jarring and existential-crisis worthy escapade.

It had been after a few more wake-panic-scream cycles- seriously, it should have occurred to her earlier, but alas- that she woke to find herself with a rather pressing need to use the restroom.  Being an able bodied human being she went to stand up, and that was when the differences, oddities, and general ‘Houston, we have a problem’ tidbits refused to be pushed aside.

After being forced to confront the plethora of inconsistences- physical, emotional, mental, and freaking metaphysical- she just sort of sat there and stared at the horrid wallpaper that she could see beyond the bars of her prison- crib?- for a long moment.

Maybe I’m having a strange reaction to heatstroke?’ She considered weakly.  The room was positively stifling, after all and she had always been warm blooded.  The walls she was staring at held a horrid half-wallpaper, half-painted scheme- overdone pastel flowers and an off beat cream, respectively- that wouldn’t have been out of place in some sort of retro ‘80s bed and breakfast place.

Her headache began to crescendo again, as her mind broke through her feeble sense of calm in order to cheerfully attempt drown her in casual observations and sensory input.

As she timidly brought one of her hands- suspiciously baby sized compared to the stuffed animal next to her, she noted distantly- up to her face, a horrible, creeping sensation began to worm its way into her chest.  Her eyes burned, but for the first time in what felt like forever her mind was startlingly clear.

Breathe.’  She ordered herself firmly, her once-upon-a-time job training as a Dispatcher tumbling to the forefront of her mind.  ‘Ok.  Work from the information provided.  What do I know for certain?’

Fact: she had not seen hide nor hair of her husband since she had woken up.  Not at all.  He would never not be there if she had gotten hurt!  Never ever.  He’d been enough of a worrywart when she’d gotten her impacted wisdom teeth removed, and that had been an outpatient procedure!  He wasn’t overbearing, just sort of fussy.  And if he wasn’t here, then someone else should be- goodness knows her Grandma would bring a tent and actually use it if the hospital tried to send her away!

A horrible, cold sensation began to creep up her spine.  Foreboding, dark, and sinister in its intent.

She, somewhat desperately, pushed it away and forged ahead.

Fact: this was obviously not a hospital, despite that rather clinical feel to the- admittedly gaudy- room. 

While the room was stifling and smelt of cleaning chemicals, pee, and air freshener than needed a new line of work, there was no medical equipment.  Not even a basic heart monitor thing.

And more to the point-

Fact: she didn’t actually know anyone who spoke with an across-the-pond accent.  The nurse might be from one of the city hospitals- which might explain the accent- but she doubted she had been moved that far since her neither her family members nor any signs of their presence- cards, flowers, a blanket from home- were nearby.  Additionally, all the well-equipped hospitals were at least two hours away from her in any given direction, meaning that someone or at least the signs of them, should be around here somewhere.

She double checked the walls for artwork from her nieces and nephews.

Nope.  Nothing.

Fact: her hands were far too small to be her expected age.  And it was her hand, as it had properly hurt when she bit into it with her teeth.  Speaking of which, she didn’t seem to have the full complement of those, either.

It felt strange, when she really concentrated.  Her teeth had never closed together neatly; she’d had an overbite- where the top teeth overlap the bottom ones- for as long as she could remember!

Fact: she was wearing what felt to be the world’s most uncomfortable pair of Depends- there were a couple of truly awful menstrual cycles back in her early teens years- and was dressed in a frilly, foufy monstrosity that had snaps just about everywhere.  It itched uncomfortably and she did not have the finger dexterity needed to undo the blasted snaps herself.

She had tried.  She lamented whoever had invented doily lace.

Panic began to edge at her mind, as the icy feeling from her spine spread throughout her extremities and cold, visceral terror gripped her soul.

She swallowed thickly and looked around for her cats.  Her furbabies.  For any signs of them at all.  The white one tended to shed faster than she could vacuum, and the little orange one-

Shock, panic, and anxiety swelled inside her and this time she was helpless against the tempest.

It felt as if her mind was breaking and the edges of reality were becoming blurred, blending in a manner that spelled doom for her mental stability.  Of the years, she had toed the line between ‘holding on’ and ‘losing it’ enough times to notice when she was nearing the edge of her tolerance, inching a bit too close to the rocky cliffs that ran along the spine of The Point Of No Return.

This……wasn’t even close to those moments.

This was strapping a jet pack on and plummeting, Wil E. Coyote style, off the edge of the Cliffside.

Without style.  No controlled dive.  No trampoline at the bottom.  No last minute shenanigans.

Just her and the seething misery of utter hysteria.  Or more correctly, Hysteria.

It was too much-

(too much, too little, generous, inadequate, overstuffed, underwhelmed, overclocked, desolate, bursting, cruel, kind-)

She did the only thing she could manage- she squeezed her eyes shut and prayed with all of her might.

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‘Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.’  She recited to herself a few days later, her breaths hitching as she perma-cried.  ‘Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.’

She could tell the passage of time thanks to the mostly-covered window and her recent acquisition of grief-induced insomnia. 

The insomnia had, at least, helped her fill in a few pieces of information.   It gave her plenty of time to explore her thoughts.

Her deduction?   

Her life had somehow ended and the strange movie-memories were, in fact, her own. 

From this new life.

In her somewhat less depressing moments, she wondered if President McCheetoface- or Lord Dampnut- had actually managed to destroy the world.  It would certainly explain her missing that important ‘ah-ha! So that’s how I died!’ moment.

Given the man’s general bumbling oafishness, they’d probably gotten nuked by Canada.

If that was the case, she sincerely hoped that Mexico had gotten ahold of Lord Dampnut and served him only tacos for the rest of his days.

Tacos and Montezuma’s Revenge.  Preferably served by the most outrageous Drag Queens to ever dress in drag.  In a prison staffed solely with solidly average looking, intelligent, take-no-shit women over the age of forty- bonus points if they wore shorts and didn’t shave their legs.

Fucker.

She tried to hold on to her feelings of anger and amused disgruntlement.  Humor was all that was standing between her and yet another plunge into the Chasm of Hysteria, after all.

The loss of her life- of her husband and home and family- were still too much to even consider. 

Let alone truly process.  She just….couldn’t.

So she was doing her best to hold onto those memories while also letting herself grieve.  The torrent of tears and soundless wailing were, strangely, a relief, despite the fact she usually went entirely numb in the face of loss.  It had taken nearly a week for her to be able to cry by the time Granny had passed away.

Since her plunge into Hysteria, she spent most of her time dredging up any and all memories she could metaphorically grasp before very carefully and extremely purposefully, engraving them into her heart; praying with each one she forcefully willed herself to always remember that the Creator would let her keep them close to her in this manner.

(Them.  Her entire life that had somehow abruptly vanished. )

Her vision wavered and she had to forcefully pull herself away from the Edge.  It took concentrated effort- who knew madness was so magnetic?- but after several agonizing minutes she managed to pull far enough away she only felt half insane  

What had she ever done to deserve this sort of agony?

‘The Father will never give you more than you can handle, baby girl.’  Her Grandad had told her that, ten years to the day after her mother’s funeral, when they had buried the kitty he had gotten for her in the aftermath of her mother’s- her only parents- death.  ‘Just you wait.  You’ll be able to see your Mama and Snowflake again one day.  I promise.  Just have faith.’

So, then what the hell was this?

She had been reborn.  She was a baby.

Her life- her family, her friends, her home, her identity- had been erased.  The person she would be from this point forward would be different. 

She’d be greatly influenced by who she’d been, of course, but the grown woman she had fought so hard to become had disappeared. 

The woman still technically existed inside her mind, but she wouldn’t look at her hands and see the scar from when she’d gotten into a fight with someone who had called her brother a ‘retard’ in middle school.  Her left leg wouldn’t be scarred from surgery and her right arm wouldn’t have those scars on her forearm as testament to that time she had learned the ‘fresh gravel, meet bike tires’ lesson. 

And that was just the beginning, she had lost so much more than a body or a handful of humans who would remember her existence. 

She wouldn’t ever wake up to her eldest cat’s nose about two inches from her face first thing in the morning.   She wouldn’t ever fall asleep to her husband’s warm, familiar arm draped over her side at the end of a trying day.  She’d never-

 ‘Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.’  She chanted inside her mind, reminding her that there was a plan.  A way through the darkness that felt like it would drown her if her internal fortitude altered for a single second.  ‘Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.’

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 ‘Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth’.   She thought, drained and utterly spent in a way that she had, honest and truly, never felt before this moment.

But she needed to move forward, or she risked being consumed by the barely-leashed shadows that even now sought to undermine her. 

She felt so stupid, as she clung to her faith and used it to build a raft out of the shattered pieces of who she used to be.  Even as stupid as she felt, though, she refused to give her faith up; refused to curse the Creator she had been taught to revere.  It might be utterly senseless, considering the situation she found herself in, to continue to believe in such a way, but she couldn’t just….stop.

Her faith was intertwined with her sense of self and so it would remain.

Well, she knew she could let go and allow herself to be swallowed up by grief, rendering herself utterly useless.  Or, as she had done through many other losses, she could patch herself together just enough to struggle onwards, meeting whatever lay before her with grim determination and resolve.

There was only one path that would make her family proud of her.  And while she really didn’t think all that highly of herself, she loved them with everything she had.  If the situation had been different, and she’d been watching over her husband or brother or anyone else in her position, she would have wanted to see them step forward and embrace their new life.  She wouldn’t begrudge them time to grieve, of course, but she’d want to see them move forward, despite the odds.

‘Sometimes things happen that will never heal, baby girl.  They are wounds that will still bleed decades after you received them.  But if you stop moving forward because of that pain, you’ll never get anywhere at all.’  The words were her crutch and her shield.  While the voice that originally uttered them had long been lost to the haze of time, but she could almost feel her Granny’s weathered hands pulling her wet strands of hair out of her eyes as she stood in front of her Mama’s grave.  She could almost feel the sharp winter winds as they tugged at her clothes, and the annoyingly bright gaze of the sun as it callously shone all al the clearer during one of the darkest times she had ever experienced.

‘Cry, mourn, move.’ She told herself in between sobbing breaths, pushing her dismay and helplessness and terror to the back of her mind as she forcibly marshalled her thoughts to order.

It probably wasn’t even remotely healthy, but it was all she could manage, so it would have to do.

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She slept, cried, prayed, and remembered. 

Over and over and over again. 

Time lost any significance as she tried to find her footing in this scary new situation.

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Eventually, the tears just refused to come anymore.  The torrent of memories slowed to a trickle.

She was exhausted.  On every possible level.

President McCheetoface hadn’t even been this exhausting,

It was only then that she truly paid attention to the most recent memories; the ones that had occurred since her rebirth that had been drowned out under the deluge of her Before memories crashing into her mind.

And, you know, making a visit to Hysteria and all that.

She was now reasonably certain that her new situation wasn’t a hallucination or anything along that line.   Well, her certainty was less a scientific fact and more a desperate belief, really.  Because if she was just laying on a hospital bed somewhere, dreaming up all of this turmoil, she was going to have some extremely firm words for the first celestial being she met.

She wasn’t so afraid of losing a fight that she wouldn’t throw a punch. 

So she had a desperate resolve to build a solid foundation under her metaphoric feet so she could find her equilibrium.  She’d gone over everything she had ever learned about hallucinations and such, but her situation just seemed too……constant and consistent. 

It was entirely possible- a small, defiant part of her noted grimly- that something traumatic had happened and she had succumbed to wholesale madness.  But, aside from her memories of Before just randomly ending- like a movie that was paused and then forgotten until the DVD player shut down- and the briefest memory of a place she had dubbed Beyond, there wasn’t any indications of trauma.  Just the ending of Before smushing up against her earliest memories of being carried around or eating or something equally as mundane.

It was confusing and more than a little scary, but she hadn’t been raised to shy away from challenges- except carbs; carbs were amazing- and she had no intention of wasting her new life chasing shadows from Before.

“Waste not, want not.”’ As Granny would say.  And Granny had been crazy enough to expect her granddaughter to live by that code, even a few realities and universes over from when she’d last heard it.

Because there are- apparently- some things that even being reborn cannot change, and being an older sister happens to be one of them.

Her more rational self, had, when the noise inside her head had died down enough she could hear herself think, purposefully pointed out that she needed to get her shit together, so that she could be there for her little brother.

Especially as she had a sneaking, cold suspicion that she had not just been reborn, but born into a world that housed magic. 

Well, she’d always thought it could be possible.

As crazy and irrational as such an idea seemed- ignoring her recently examined, suspiciously magic filled memories for a moment- she had heard a distinctly oafish sounding man bellow, “Petunia, I’m home!” from somewhere down below her not all that long ago.  And her lone blanket had the name ‘Potter’ sewn into it as well.  She might be in a room all by herself at the moment, but she had heard the aforementioned harpy screeching at a sniffly someone else- possibly in the next room, but she hadn’t been entirely coherent at the time- when the hag wasn’t cooing in a saccharine sotto voice at the Tantrum King.  Tantrum King, she assumed rather resignedly, was the woman’s actual offspring and an unholy terror in the making and the woman seemed to think that the little hellspawn being able to blink was a cause for heaping mountains of very vocal praise.

She had no reason to believe that anyone other than her was in this sort of a strange predicament, and that meant that her baby brother was truly a baby, and likely all alone without anyone at all to comfort him.

That was just appalling, no matter what sort of existential crisis she happened to be going through at the moment.

Like hell she was going to wail and wallow while there was an innocent little boy who needed her

Besides, Granny always said that the best way to heal was to help someone in need.  Something about the golden rule and paying it forward, or some such.

So, she was giving herself a little more time to grieve and order her thoughts.  But in a couple more days she would be pulling on her big girl panties and taking the reins of this new adventure.  First up on her to-do list was finding a way to be put back with her brother and she’d make plans for the future after that.

She’d spend her remaining adjustment time hoping and praying that her family- well, both of them- would be waiting for her in Glory at the end of this life.

She really didn’t think she could go through this again. 

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The indignity of having someone change her diaper- turned out baby bodies are not so great at ‘holding it’, regardless of the person’s mental discipline- was only balanced out by her secret glee at making Bitchy McBitchface change her dirty drawers.

In some of the- many, many- fanfictions she had read about this reality, Harry’s basic needs had been neglected.  Thankfully, that was not the case in terms of hygiene, as McBitchface actually was as anal retentive about cleanliness as her recently-sucked-on-a-lemon face suggested.

‘She’s like Mr. Clean’s cranky ex-wife.’  She mused as the woman’s ever-bright, painted lips twisted downwards in disgust.  The clothespin on her prominent nose was rather amusing to look at, though.

It did nothing to detract from the obnoxiously pastel floral wallpaper and the heavy, floor-length grandma curtains that blocked out nearly all of the natural light, save for whatever escaped past the top.  The heavy shag-style rug paired with the brass-colored bed clashed harshly with the rather lovely mahogany-stained dresser and vanity.

She supposed she should be grateful that McBitchface turned on the lighted mobile at night.  The music was rather annoying, but it gave off some light and the bird shapes it made on their ceiling gave her something to focus on.

Insomnia as a baby was a real bitch to deal with.  She hated being dependent on anyone as a rule, and being forced to suffer through migraine-level headaches and utterly unable to do more than pace a few times before her legs screamed at her was truly vexing.

She’d also consider performing murder for pizza. Or Chinese takeout.  Or even a grilled chicken salad.

God in Heaven, but she missed being herself.

She supposed that she ought to get used to calling the sour woman ‘Aunt Petunia’, but she had never had an aunt, Before, and this woman’s clinical treatment of her certainly didn’t engender feelings of family.

Seriously, who left a baby in a crappy crib that was nearly too small, with peeling paint?  If she was an actual baby she likely would have gnawed at the wood and possibly poisoned herself!  That was probably lead paint, jerks!  Her only companion was a cute teddy bear with a bright red bow that looked to have had better days.  About a century ago.  Was this thing even clean?  Oh, she had her blanket, too, she supposed.

Why she oughta-

-oh, right.

Heather.  Her name was Heather now.  She needed to internalize that. 

Heather Potter.

Born seven minutes before her little brother, Harry, from what her memories suggested.

Happily, she did not actually remember her birth.  Actually, she only remembered disjointed bits and pieces up until her and Harry’s first birthday, after which the memories were clearer, but still not pristine.  She wondered if this was partly due to the resilience of children- young ones were notorious for unconsciously suppressing trauma in order to survive- or if her older self had been awakened the night that Voldemort had crashed into Godric’s Hollow and messed with everything.

Speaking of which, she remembered James- ‘Papa,’ a small part of her reminded herself; her Daddy would always be the bald man with the tattoos and the biker beard, but Papa was an acceptable term for the warm man in her memories who had died for her and Harry- making little rings with his wand- and magic was real which was amazing!- just before the lights flickered and a terrible wail had gone off outside.  She remembered him dropping his wand and staring at something on the mantle, off to the side, as her Mum- and even though she’d already had a Mama and a Mom, she’d literally watched Lily Potter die for her- had come barreling in from the kitchen.

The next bit was all disjointed and just flashes of things she only understood because of her knowledge from Before.

Creepily enough, she did have a clear memory of a man draped in black, cradling her mother’s corpse to himself while sobbing.  The scent of copper, burnt plastic, and smoldering wood clogged her nose in the memory, but the hate in the man’s red-rimmed eyes when he turned to stare at her small form was the thing of nightmares.

It was like looking into a menacing abyss- that made Hysteria seem inviting by contrast- and having it stare back.

In her memory, the man kissed her mother’s brow with eerily contrasting gentleness before he gripped a thin piece of wood that she understood to be his wand and pointed it at her unconscious brother, who was sitting up next to her prone form.  Memory-her had screamed and the man snarled something in a low, menacing tone of voice that hurt her heart to hear even in a half-fogged recollection, and then her memory just…ended. 

Whited out.

The next thing she remembered was the beginning of the beginning of her existential crisis.

Supremely unhelpful mostly, but hey; at least now she could at least get some petty vindictive satisfaction from watching McBitchface clean up her poo.

As Tallahassee said, it’s all about the little things.

At any rate, she had separated her memories into Before and After. 

Before-her and Heather. 

At least she had tried, but the truth was the two sets of memories were mixing, much like sugar dissolves in a tall glass of water.  What was left behind was something a little different from the original, but fundamentally the same.

Hopefully it would help her keep track of the difference between past and present; fiction and fact.

With a bit of luck.

Sh-Heather was under no illusions that this world would be exactly the same as the story had read.  The story might have some interesting, helpful information- not to mention the fanon extrapolations, half the battle is just knowing something might be possible, after all- but the odds of it being exactly the same were astronomically low.

Actually, she’d already noted a few differences, at least in the appearances of her parents this time around.  She’d wait until her emotions settled down to a dull roar to really try to examine the memories with a microscope, though.   

Somewhere, someone had written that every story ever written was just a mirror lens into another world.  She had always been a dreamer, a realist mixed with an idealist and then sheltered with the sarcasm of a pessimist; endlessly fascinated by the idea of what might be possible.  Seeing as she had found herself in an impossible situation, she figured she would just roll with it.

Oh, it was far from easy.  The loss of her husband and cats and independence and life was an open, gnawing wound that ached every second of every day whether she was awake or not.  But she had experienced loss early on the first time around- she had been orphaned at the age of six.  And despite the relatively happy ending of that situation she had learned very, very early on that wishing for what was only distracted from what is.

Primal survival instincts, she thought someone had told her once when she’d wondered if she was broken, somehow defective.

So even though her heart still bled and she spent most nights desperately wishing for the comforts of home, she knew that the best way to deal with this situation was to pick a goal and march toward it with everything she had.  She’d prefer some familiar music to help soothe the jagged edges, but beggars couldn’t really be choosers. 

Seeing as how being the eldest sibling was something she had always been, it was not as hard as it could have been to plot out her course.  Familiar instincts and even more acquainted circumstances helping her gather up her scattered thoughts and push onward.

She couldn’t wait to be reunited with her brother.  Partly out of sisterly affection, but partly from a deep need to have something other than her own thoughts to focus on.  She heard him crying sometimes and it just about broke her heart all over again.   

Given what Bitchy McBitchface angrily muttered when feeding her or changing her nappies, Heather had come to realize that the twins had been separated because when one cried, so did the other.  She mentally scolded herself for her initial reactions to her situation, but it was a half-hearted effort at best.  Truthfully she internally acknowledged that it was not her fault that McBitchface was such a terrible caretaker and her baby brother was grieving for their fallen parents, but she still felt somewhat accountable.

On the topic of Bitchy McBitchface, Heather mentally debated giving Petunia Evans-Dursley more credit as a human being at least once a day. 

The woman and her husband had taken in two unexpected toddlers; possible letter and equally possible vague threats to their family’s safety aside.  Before-her would have certainly been sour about such a situation, after all, even if she liked to believe she would have been much more caring towards her new wards.  She’d never had children, but even she knew babies needed attention and positive interaction!  Heather quietly acknowledged that her already-fervent dislike of the woman was likely Before-her’s displeasure of the Durselys influencing her, as the woman had yet to do anything truly terrible, such as stick her in a cupboard. 

Any goodwill dredged up in the silence of the very routine in-between times, however, quickly evaporated when the woman came in for her scheduled ’check in’.  The times during which Heather was detachedly fed, changed, or scrubbed clean in a tub of lukewarm water with a little baby perch built in- she hadn’t even known washing babies in old-fashioned mini-tubs with a little baby seat was still a thing, but learn something new every day, she supposed- her bedding changed out, and the plastic covering of the mattress thoroughly sanitized.  She appreciated the help, really, even though her lack of independence bothered her something fierce.  No, Heather’s potential reconciliatory empathy tended to dry up the longer Petunia muttered while going about the previously mentioned tasks.  Voice typically pitched at a decibel baby humans did not appreciate, McBitchface seemed to revel in making loads of gushing comments about her ‘precious popkin’ before a veritable tidal wave of snide, nearly cruel comments about the Potter twins came tumbling out of her overly-made up face.

Heather had always been good at biting her tongue, because she had taken to heart the lessons about ’once words are spoken they could never be taken back’, but McBitchface’s commentary really made her wish she could verbally put the hag in her place.  Seriously, who talked shit about impressionable little toddlers to their face?  Where was the logic?

Still, Heather was a grown woman, and she could give her brother lots of positive attention and plenty of learning incentive if she could just get them reunited.

So, Plan A was to simply ask for her brother and hopefully be reunited with him.

Ask and ye shall receive, and all that.

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Naturally, Murphy’s Law laughed at her.  Long and loudly and with great enthusiasm.

Her voice was stupid.  Well, not so much stupid as untrained and entirely uncoordinated.  Prone to random squeaks and loud noises that would get her screeched at by the Banshee- hm, did she like that better than McBitchface?- she did her best to quietly hum the few vocal exercises she remembered from the, like, one set of vocal lessons she had attended as a child.  Mostly she practiced the vowels, as they were supposedly the backbone of diction, according to someone at one point in Before.

“Do, re, mi, fa, so, la, te, da…”

‘One thing at a time, Heather.   Even steady water wears away at stone. You can do this.’  She encouraged herself as her voice broke and she had to restart the exercise.

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About a week and a half after she had gotten her shit together- she was keeping count by putting her worn teddy in a different corner each day, clockwise- the door opened and the Banshee strolled in with purpose, her heeled shoes clacking casually against the wooden floor.

The heavy makeup trends of the 80s- she might be a pro at denial, but she was also rather firmly grounded in reality; at least she tried to be- were truly cringe worthy for Heather to witness in living color, as were the horrid floral dresses Banshee insisted on wearing. They had plate-armor worthy shoulder pads at the top of the fashion disasters and that poofy netting stuff underneath the skirt portion.  Banshee even wore those stirrup legging things with the foot straps under the blasted things! Even the cute pumps- Banshee had surprisingly good taste in shoes, Heather was sour to admit, even to herself- couldn’t save the horrid look.

‘I usually wore jeans, a t-shirt, and threw my hair into a ponytail and even I think you’re a walking fashion disaster, lady.’  Heather thought as she gazed at the caked on foundation in disturbed curiosity.  ‘You need serious help.’

“Girl.”  Banshee said as she came to a stop just beyond the crib’s bars, as if Heather was supposed to understand her.

Well, Heather could, but that was beside the point.

“Vernon’s sister is coming for the hols.”  She continued, crossing her arms underneath her bust and beginning to pace.  “And this is her preferred guest room.”

Heather scooted over to the bars of the crib and pulled herself upright, intently watching the agitated woman.  ‘If the foundation on her forehead cracks anymore, I think it might actually detach from her face and fall off.  It looks thick enough to actually shatter, like pottery.  Ohmygawd.  This cannot, actually, be real.  It just can’t.’

“If we have to….”  Petunia trailed off and looked out the window a moment, her expression doing a complicated dance that seemed to express both too much and too little.  After a few beats of silence, she shook her head firmly and turned to peer intently at Heather.  “I am going to put you and the other back together, and if you two proceed to cause an unholy ruckus like you did right after we found you on the stoop I’ll-“  The woman’s mouth snapped closed and she glared at Heather darkly.  “Well, your life here will become even more unpleasant.  We don’t want you here as it is.”

‘Such wonderful things to say to an impressionable child.’  Heather thought rather caustically as she stared blankly at her ‘aunt’.  ‘Truly you are a paragon of maternal excellence.’

Shortly thereafter, Heather was removed from her crib and taken- for the first time in her recent memory- out of her tackily wallpapered room.

The hallway was rather pretty, at least the wood parts were.  The wood was dark colored and impeccably placed and ran halfway up the wall before it gave way to more tacky wallpaper.  Straight out from the room she had been in was the hallway, which ran horizontally along until it met a wider hallway and switched directions.  There were two doors across the way, with a rather large closet to her left.  Heather suspected that the two doors across the way were bedrooms while the room to her right was the upstairs bathroom.

Proving her suspicions at least partly correct, Banshee opened the door to the room directly across from where she had been and inside was a sleeping baby.

A sleeping dark haired baby who was curled in on himself, dried tear-tracks on his little face.

Heather didn’t pay any attention to what he aunt said or did next, as she immediately stumbled over to her sleeping brother as soon as she wriggled out of Petunia’s grip.  Harry was small, but still chubby in that way that all babies were.  For a few moments Heather just stared at her little brother, immensely happy for the first time in forever, as she basked in the knowledge that they were finally together again.

Slowly, as if sensing her presence, Harry’s eyes fluttered open.

‘And…..I’m stupidly attached already.’  She thought as she smiled at the little guy as warmly as she could.

His eyes really are a bright green.’  She thought as she reached out a hand to gently pat at his face and hair.  Harry’s hair was dark, black as night, really.  Upon closer inspection, she noted that his eyes, while definitely a bright- dare she say, emerald- green towards the outer ring of the iris, were also sort of blue closer to the pupil.  Not overly so, and not solidly blue, but she figured that the blue was what made the green stand out quite so much.

Then, of course, Harry woke up fully and she had her hands full with weepy, happy, confused toddler.

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Heather was feeling slightly more sympathetic to Petunia’s plight after two whole days with her baby brother.  Mind you, she was not about to lock him up in a cupboard, but babies were exhausting.

Of course, she was pouring her entire being into making him happy as a way to distract herself, so that might be part of it, too.

Harry had also had a rather brilliant bout of accidental magic, cementing her theory about where she had landed. Or, rather, decimating her paper-thin excuses that she had tried to string together.

Mercifully, the burst of uncontrolled magic had been in response to her pretending to hide under her blanket from him.  The blanket vanishing from existence was startling, and had caused Harry to cry, but she had managed to soothe him before Petunia had come storming into the room.  As a matter of fact, when Petunia had come by to check on them later, she had not even noticed the blanket’s disappearance.

To be fair, Marge had apparently arrived and the woman sounded just as horrid as Heather had once imagined her to be.  Heather could hear the woman’s loud, bigoted, xenophobic, misogynist opinions rather clearly through the walls and Marge sounded like the sort of racist relative who would gladly believe anything bad about anyone she disliked while paltry things such as ‘facts’ were utterly lost on her.

In Heather’s humble opinion, the new room was more palatable than her old one.  While the floor was littered with various pieces of junk and the closet seemed full to the bursting point, the walls were a- decent, it should be duly noted- cream color and the curtains were much less severe.  So the ambient light helped lift her spirits a bit, even if she and Harry were stuck inside a crib that was really too small for the both of them.

Harry, at least, tired her out enough that sleeping was easier for her.  While her baby body needed lots of sleep, her mind was just as active as ever and being too tired to think was a welcome change.  So her days were spent happily babbling and pretending with her little brother, trying to keep him engaged and somewhat contained so as not to draw any unwanted attention to the two of them.

Fortunately Harry’s crib came with soft blocks as well as his own stuffed animal; a dog.

Unfortunately, she had yet to find a warm tingly feeling that signified magic.  She had been utterly normal in the Before, so she should be able to notice something as foreign as magic inside of her, right?

She tried to ignore the niggling little fear that she had been born just as normal as she had always been and the thought of her Harry going off into danger without her.

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Unfortunately, no matter how much she tried to distract him, Harry seemed to be determined to wail on the third day of Marge’ visit.

Heather had tried the babbling game, the pretending game, peek-a-boo, the fingers game, and just about everything else she could manage in her current form, but her brother just would not be soothed.

Given that he was calling out for their parents, Heather supposed that she couldn’t really blame herself.  Losing a parent was- is- a wretched experience and she could hardly expect her brother to have forgotten the life they had been ripped away from, baby or no.  So she did her best to cuddle him and make him understand that she was still here.

When the door slammed open hard enough for the hinges to squawk in protest, Harry wasn’t the only one who jumped.

“What the bloody hell are you squakin’ at, ya dirty little bastard?”  Marge roared at the room.  “Waste o’ space, just like those Dole-grubbers, ya are.”

The room, not them.  As the clearly inebriated woman was having trouble focusing.

Marge looked like an unpleasant stereotype given physical form to Heather.  The woman had rather unflattering jowls and her skin was flushed with either heat or drink or both.  She was clad in something made from velvet that clearly was not made to flatter her figure, and the pearls around her neck looked to be dangerously close to choking her. Also, it seemed as if Marge had drenched herself in vintage Avon perfume from the 1950s, given the strength of the so-called perfume’s scent.

The woman stumbled closer and kept screeching, so Heather pulled the still-wailing Harry as close to her as possible, in order to try to protect him from Marge’s diatribe. 

Heather kept her temper when Marge’s rough hands pawed at her, but when the woman grabbed Harry’s hair and pulled, Heather felt something inside her snap

In the next instant, Marge tumbled out into the hallway, clipping Petunia and nearly tipping over the railing on the stairs.

Back inside the room, Harry quieted for a moment while a strangely tired Heather took deep gulps of breath and tried to center herself.  After a few moments of awkward silence, Vernon and Marge began bellowing and Dudley, who was in the Petunia’s arms, also began wailing.

Vernon stormed around the mess in the hall and came stomping over to their crib, very much the masculine counterpart to his sister at that moment.  By the time he made it over to the crib, Harry had started crying again and Heather had wrapped herself around him as tightly as she could.

“She hurt Harry.”  Heather managed with only a moderate amount of lisping.  Her sleepless nights reciting words from her favorite books were paying dividends, though her consonants were still somewhat babyish-sounding.  “I wanted it to stop.”

Whether it was the usually silent child actually speaking or some late sense of conscience, Vernon paused and suspiciously regarded her with beady blue eyes.  “And if she stops you won’t do…it….again?”  He questioned her gruffly after a few tense moments of a staring contest.

Heather internally scoffed at him, ‘Amateur.’, but nodded firmly.  “Yes.”

“Fair enough.”  The man muttered grudgingly, his splotchy mustache quivering lightly.

And that was that.

The absurdity of the situation was somehow suspended until Vernon shut the door behind him with a quiet click.

Harry whimpered into her shoulder and she did her best to offer comfort to the little guy. 

‘He was surprisingly reasonable.’  She pondered thoughtfully just before Harry smeared snot on her exposed collarbone. 

The horrid, lace-ridden snap disaster had- very thankfully- been replaced with a rather normal, if pink, outfit that was slightly too big for her just yesterday.  Unfortunately, it was a bit big on her and was prone to being tugged down and away from her skin by her clingy little brother.

Ugh, this is getting old.’  Heather thought rather sourly as she messed with the nearest blanket, using it as a makeshift snot and drool barrier.   Babies were messy.  Even she sometimes woke to drool on the sheet.  But that did not mean that she enjoyed being drooled or snotted on.

Especially when she couldn’t even shower on her own.  Fucking hell, this situation was truly aggravating.

Harry snuffled into her shoulder, and she quickly abandoned her thoughts to ensure that he was breathing properly- it was her newest obsession: make sure Harry’s breathing properly.  She was going to have grey hair by the time she was ten, she was certain of it!  Once that was taken care of and he began to do his sleepy-babble routine, she returned to her thoughts.

She had finally sensed it.  That different feeling that she had been looking for, the one that would ensure that her brother wouldn’t go off into another world without her.

It was…..strange.

Now that she had sensed a surge of it, she could metaphorically see it.  It was less like a mass of energy behind her diaphragm- where she had always visualized the ‘magical core’ when pondering it Before- and more like an extra set of muscles all along her frame.  She felt tired in a way that she usually felt after a really long day at work, one that had been both mentally and physically taxing.

Well, she had been a Dispatcher after she had left the factory behind, so she had had plenty of experience with stress and exhaustion.

‘Do magicals use magic all the time subconsciously?’ She wondered as she eased Harry off her shoulder and down on to the mattress.  She carefully confirmed that he could breathe easily, and loosely tucked him under the remaining clean blanket.  For good measure she chucked the dirty blanket onto the floor, just to make sure that Harry didn’t grab it and start gnawing on it later.

Besides, if she threw things on the ground, Petunia took them to the wash.  The older woman gave her strange looks and sniffed disapprovingly, but they were whisked away to be cleaned, so that was all that mattered to Heather.

Heather spent a long moment hating her helplessness.  Reunited with Harry or not, she dearly missed her independence.  It was a bit more poignant now that she had her brother beside her, as their crib wasn’t exactly spacious.  And it was plastic wrapped, so it crinkled every time she moved and smelled like Lysol and pee.  Just being able to go to the bathroom, dress herself, feed herself, and other basic functions she had always taken for granted suddenly seemed like major luxuries.  She tried not to focus on that too much, lest she fall off the very narrow path of ‘dealing with this situation one thing at a time’ into ‘Basketcaseville’.

‘Right, magic.’  Heather thought resolutely as she shut the mental door to those desires firmly closed.  It took a few long minutes of psyching herself up, but eventually she managed to wrest her thoughts back to the excitement of magic being real and her having performed some, albeit accidentally.  ‘So do magicals use magic subconsciously all the time?  It would certainly explain why learning to cast spells might be somewhat difficult.  Learning to redirect a moving stream would be far more difficult than just trying to get a coiled lake to flow down a duct.’ 

Heather looked down at her hands and began to use her individual fingers to dance over imaginary spots on the sheets.  It was something she had been doing with Harry, having half-remembering something her sister-in-law had mentioned about young children and training dexterity.  From the rest of what Heather remembered, they should be feeding themselves- and had been, from what little she could remember from pre-Dursleys- but Petunia fed them herself. 

Petunia was actually fairly decent in terms of food, much more reasonable than Heather had truthfully expected her to be.  Even if the woman obviously fed them scraps and had taught them very early on that fussing would see them hungry until the next ‘check in’ time.  It was either eat when and what she fed you or nothing at all, really.

They were fed after Vernon left for work in the mornings, which sort of sucked, as breakfast was always cold.  The texture of cold eggs was just gross.  Petunia tended to give them a bit of milk with breakfast, a fruit cup at lunch, and some soft veggies with dinner, along with two smaller snacks during their in-between changing times.  The food was rather bland and unappetizing to her mind, but her body had long grown used to it and she knew better than to push Petunia’s tolerance.

Later would be a different story, but she had always been a bit of a realist and angering the food and nappy coordinator would just be folly at this point.  The only time they were let out of the crib as is was to sit in the highchair and baby tub, both in the case of Petunia changing the sheets.  Heather held out hope that eventually they would at least get the run of a playpen, the confined space couldn’t be good for their overall development.

Magic.  I wonder if it acts sort of like a silent protector?’  She mused as her stubby fingers danced over the thin blanket.  ‘There are people who have stronger than usual gut feelings, right?  Is it sort of like that?  Or maybe magicals naturally direct their inner magic into things they love, like gardening?  Or maybe they unconsciously use it in whatever they are doing?  Like cooking or whatever.’

Well, damn.  If that theory actually held some merit it might explain why the Dursleys in the story worked Harry so much.  Well, why Petunia worked him so much, as she seemed like the type to keep that sort of information to herself and just reap the consequences.  Like fantastic flowers and above-average meals.

She sighed heavily and decided to take a nap.

(Some things never changed, apparently.)

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Then again, some things did change.

Massively.

The day after the Marge Incident the three Dursley-born members of the household went out, leaving behind those of Evans ancestry and that was before things really went sideways.

The first indication that she had entered the twilight zone was Petunia gently steering in what looked to be R2-D2’s ancient ancestor.  Seriously, it looked exactly like the little Star Wars guy, complete with a rounded, thick plastic dome with what looked to be two red eyes sitting on a black piece of plastic in the middle.  It even had arms, for goodness’ sake!  Old school  design, to be sure, and the center chest area held what looked more akin to the 70s square-button, multi-panel display than  she had expected, but it was still an honest-to-goodness robot!

And all of that incredulity was before Petunia pushed a button- just above the proudly displayed TOMY logo- and the little guy started playing Hey Jude from his chest.

‘This is beyond weird.’  Heather thought rather dazedly as Harry clapped and squealed in delight, mesmerized by the little blinking lights and simple black-and-grey display panel.

Petunia had come strolling into their room not fifteen minutes after the others had left and, once her tunes started playing, set to work clearing away all the room’s junk.  Heather counted Petunia taking no less than sixteen trips out of the room in order to remove stuff from the room before she was summarily distracted by Harry’s fussing and lost count.

When the dust settled- literally, some of the nooks hadn’t been dusted in years, apparently- the room seemed about twice as large as it had been before.  The floor was obviously scratched and scuffed up, even after Petunia’s thorough scouring, but the woman came back with a worn circular white-yellow-orange rug that she laboriously unrolled at the center of the room.  The next thing that Petunia brought in was, at first, just a stack of folded wooden frame, but as the thing took shape Heather was happy to note that it looked to be a playpen.

Freedom to move!

Granted, more like a braced fence that just barely managed fit on the edges of the rug, but hey; she’d take what she could get.

---XXX---

Petunia dabbed her forehead with the hem of her apron before the wiped her hands off with a nearby rag.

She had done it!  And with at least an hour to spare, as well!

The woman did her best to keep from tearing up- she didn’t want to set off the toddlers!- but it was hard.  Because this was the playpen her mother had used for Petunia and Lily, and the one she had used for Dudley.

The one Lily-

‘Stop it.’  She ordered herself firmly, closing her eyes and fighting against the burn of tears.  It had been nearly two full months since her niece and nephew had arrived on her doorstep, with nothing more than a letter to inform her of her sister’s passing and it still hurt her to think about.

While she and Lily had been estranged to the point of only Holiday Cards since that disastrous double dinner date the sisters had tried to go on just a few weeks after their parents’ funeral, Lily had still been her little sister.  The little girl that Petunia had spent so much time happily entertaining in this very playpen, on this very rug, all those years ago in that now-decrepit house in Spinner’ End.  And time and resentment and hurt and anger only carried her so far in the face of the inexcusable truth that her little sister was now gone forever.

Petunia had done her best to distance herself from her niece and nephew.  She cared for their physical needs easily enough, but she just couldn’t bring herself to establish proper bonds with them.  At first it had been easy to hang on to her resentment of their intrusion into her perfectly ordered life, what with their incessant screaming and crying at all hours.  Then Duddy had caught the croup not ten days after they arrived and she had been too tired and frazzled to spend the emotional energy doing more than just the bare minimum for the other two.

It was during that first round of medicine and sleepless nights that she had separated the twins.  She had kept them together in the vain hopes that they would eventually settle down and realize they still had each other, but by that point she just wanted them to be quiet.

And it had worked. 

They still cried, of course, but without the other right beside them they quickly tired out and went quiet.  It had felt wrong, but she just didn’t know what else to do.

Then Marge had bloody insisted on still coming down for the Hols, even with Dudley just now getting better and the recent addition of the twins, and Petunia just knew Vernon would be beyond unreasonable if Marge was not able to stay in ‘her’ room.  Her husband loved her in his own way, but he was also a man very set in his ways and ‘my word is law’ and when he chose to be unpleasant- well, he was very good at it and knew all her weakest points.

So she had grimly gone into the girl’s room to put her back with her brother, muttering to herself as went, and somehow, for the first time in months, it seemed as if luck had been on Petunia’s side.

The two had begun to amuse themselves, and when they did cry it was usually for good reason- like a soiled nappy in between changing times.

Petunia greatly appreciated peace in her household.

It had not been until the Marge Incident yesterday- and how dare that she devil lay hands on her sister’s children!  Petunia might not appreciate their presence, but that didn’t give Marge the right to manhandle them!- that Petunia had come up with her new plan.

Heather had spoken.  Heather, who had not said a single word in the two months she had been under Petunia’s care, had spoken clearly and had managed to appeal to Vernon’s practicality, derailing the situation before it went nuclear.

Protecting a troublesome younger sibling and pragmatism were things Petunia could appreciate.

Thus came the new plan: getting Heather to see that things for her and Harry would be much more pleasant if they stayed to themselves. 

While it might sound calloused, Petunia had no intention of pouring herself and her care and her time into two children that would just be taken away from her in a few years.  She lost her grandparents five years ago, her parents nearly three years ago, and her sister just a few months ago. 

Petunia was more than done losing people she loved. It would be much better for her to keep her distance from these two, and if she and Heather could come to a ladies agreement early on, it would be better for everyone.

With that thought firmly in mind, she spun around to complete her self-appointed mission.  She only had a little more time before her family returned, after all, and it wouldn’t do for Vernon to return and not find lunch waiting for him.

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Despite the constant effort of trying to block out the fact that she had lost an entire life in the blink of an eye- and had recently lost her third set of parents- entertaining Harry was pretty fun.  He was such an energetic little guy and always willing to try something new as long as she did it with him.  It was far more involved than she was used to, but it tired them both out and most of her silly games were actually educational, so there.

Her favorite question to answer was his excited, “Why?”, which he said about every two and a half seconds.

It also was her least favorite word of his.

It was complicated.

Time marched on. Though sometimes it felt slower whenever she was smacked in the face with her chafing lack of independence, Heather knew that she absolutely must concentrate on the individual steps instead of how she had to go, otherwise she would go positively insane.

The only particular thing of note that happened in the early part of the new year was that Petunia actually gave them a pack of fruit snacks- they never got those, just fruit cups- one day, murmuring: “She would have been twenty-two today.”.

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By the time spring rolled around Harry had gotten fairly good at the ‘holding it’ game.  His vocabulary and speech had also improved by leaps and bounds, as Heather was constantly chatting away at him or singing half-remembered baby songs to him in order to better improve her own articulation skills.

It was a win-win situation, really.

However, one morning when Petunia came to give them their mid-morning check-up Heather interrupted the status quo.

She was so done with diapers and being helpless it was positively unreal.

“We would like to use the big person potty, Aunt Petunia.”  Heather informed her firmly, dying a little on the inside at her phrasing, but she hadn’t figured eloquence would be needed- or appreciated- in this situation.

Besides, they hadn’t even been given any books to paw at just yet, so how was she supposed to know the proper word for ‘toilet’ or ‘loo’?

Petunia paused just passed the doorway and a strange look came over her face before she stepped fully inside and crossed her arms.  “Oh?”

Heather nodded decisively and Harry copied her enthusiastically.  “We wanna go by ourselves, like big kids!”  The adult-turned-toddler tried out her most innocent smile.  “Please?”

Thus began the reclamation of Heather’s independence.

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The slow but steady reclamation of her independence.

It was a work in progress, really.

In other news, Heather was so proud of her baby!

Er, her brother.  They were the same physical age, she often had to remind herself.

The thing about living to be nearly forty was that a person realized that age, after a certain amount of years, sort of blurred into the background. 

She was fully supportive of protecting children and adolescents from predators, and particularly passionate about protecting youngsters from authority figures who would abuse the inherent trust that came from such positions, but she also knew that sometime in the mid-twenties a person woke up wondering when in the sam hell they had become a ‘responsible adult’.  From there on out time was measured more in important events and significant happenings than linear years, causing a fundamental shift in perspective.

Really, from that point on there were whippersnappers, peers, and elders. 

Whippersnappers, of course, generally referring to anyone under the age of twenty.  At first, that was.  For her that threshold seemed to progress upwards the more tired of melodramatic crap and manufactured drama she got permanently fed up with.  There was the occasional whippersnapper who was the exception to the rule, of course, but they were viewed more akin to little padwans or younger cousins. Young people who might need some old person wisdom that isn’t totally out of date, really.

Peers were a wide-ranging category who ran the gambit from barely tolerated coworkers, to potential love interests, to people she actually liked to converse with occasionally.  For Before-her, that transition period after high school had been painful, mostly because she had stepped back and took a long look at the people she had once known.  And- well, her values as a humbled being who had needed to move home after a series of truly unfortunate mishaps.  She hadn’t stayed there long, but it had happened and it had caused a difference the size of the Grand Canyon between her and her former friends.  And making friends as an adult was strange, especially for an introvert of her caliber.

Her husband was her awesome best friend with benefits.  Dear God in Heaven, did she miss that man.  Maybe they hadn’t been the traditional couple, with roses and anniversary dates or makeup kisses in the rain, but they’d loved each other fiercely in their own way.  They had had each other’s backs in any situation; they had been each other’s shoulder to cry on when things imploded or exploded, and his absence was a nearly physical ache, more so than any of the others that she had lost.  Then again, she had gotten married young, so by the time her memories of Before cut out, she had been married for over half her life, to the same man.

Elders.  Most were given a baseline of respect until they proved to be entirely undeserving of it.  Most were amusing and more than a little refreshingly blunt.

The point was, after a certain point, to the mind; age was mostly relative to experiences or milestones.  Sure, the body got creakier the older one got, and certain things began to sag that didn’t use to, but a certain type of person just really didn’t care about that as much as the sum of their experiences.

But her internal struggles did nothing to dampen her excitement at her baby’s accomplishments! 

It had only taken a month for him to get a real grasp of using the toilet properly, and now they only had to wear nappies at night!  The nappies at night thing didn’t make Heather very happy, but it was a work in progress.

Now to convince Petunia that they were able to properly clean themselves afterwards.

‘Little steps.’  She reminded herself firmly as she turned on Harry’s newest favorite thing ever: the Speak and Spell. The orange, yellow, and red plastic noisemaker was a hand-me-down, Dudley had gotten it for Christmas and the screen was now splinter cracked as a result of one of his tantrums.  Petunia had given it to them as a ‘reward’ for their potty training efforts, which annoyed Heather to no end as Petunia had hardly done anything, but at least it gave Heather an excuse to jump start Harry’s education.

Toddlers did not do abstract, but as long as she could make it a game or something he could see, touch, taste, or smell, Harry was all too happy to indulge her.

Her baby was so cute!

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“But Aunt Petunia.”  Heather pleaded earnestly.  “Think about how much easier it would be for you if Harry and I wore the same clothes!”

Petunia’s lips pressed together in a firm, unhappy line.  “Explain yourself, girl.”

Heather and Harry would be turning three soon, and had been in the care of the Dursley family for over a year. 

They had survived their second Marge Holiday Visit, and had even been given a couple of Dudley’s broken toys wrapped up in a supermarket bag as ‘presents’.

Heather had running tally of things to discuss with Harry when he was older, and being thankful for grudgingly given scraps was one of them.  It was one thing to be grateful for a heartfelt gift that might be a hand-me-down or bought used; those types of gifts were to be cherished. However, gifts given with cruel or manipulative intentions were to be mistrusted and scrutinized. 

Heather utterly refused to allow her baby to feel beholden to these people without a fight.  Blood Wards and decent portions of meals or not, the Dursleys overall treatment of the twins was disgusting, and Heather rebuffed the idea of allowing the twisted mind games of the household to hurt her baby any more than absolutely necessary.

Hell, sometimes she found her town thoughts slithering into the quagmire of the Dursleys subtle campaign of undermining the twins’ value as human beings, and she wasn’t actually an impressionable child!

So, no way in hell was Heather allowing them to hurt her baby more than absolutely necessary.  Even if it meant having to explain things to Harry that might be upsetting or uncomfortable.  Her baby deserved better than to think his life was somehow worth less than anyone else’s life because the adult Dursleys were shitty people!

Heather had to be careful to not think about how much different things could be had she woken up as an adult or something useful.   Therein lay the path to Hysteria and, thus, she focused far more on what she could do than what she couldn’t.

Aside from Heather’s subtle attempts to gently point out how terrible the Dursleys truly were, nothing overly exciting had happened since the Marge visit.  Well, save for Petunia now bringing them their food and making them eat at a little table off to the side in their room.

Thankfully, Heather could help Harry with his table manners or they would hardly have gotten anything to actually eat there for a while.  All Petunia did was set the food in front of them and leave, coming back about ten or fifteen minutes later to clean up the carnage, regardless if they were done or had spilled something or had not eaten anything.

If Heather took any vindictive satisfaction from Petunia’s look of surprise at Harry’s manners when she did catch them eating, that was Heather’s business.

Her baby was so smart!  And adorable!  Take that, Banshee!  Ha!

The twins did get to go outside once in a while nowadays, as Petunia would occasionally take Dudley to the park or she’d put the twins in Number Four’s fenced-in backyard while she cleaned their room.  Trips to the park were few and far between, though, mostly because Dudley was obviously spoiled and didn’t always get along with the other children. 

There was only so much Petunia could say in his defense when everyone saw Dudley hit another child, after all.

Dudley had free run of the house, but Heather and Harry most often stayed in their room.  Heather was leery of opening the window- it didn’t have a screen, for goodness’ sakes!- and usually they left the door open to the hallway and turned on the fan, to prevent the room from feeling cage-like.  Technically, the fan was supposed to be in Marge’s rom, but Petunia hadn’t actually taken Heather to task about it. 

Petunia had taken out the playpen- about ten months ago or so- and put in an old daybed, leaving the rug and a wide, open space in the middle of the room.  With the right positioning, the room was actually fairly spacious, even with the overflowing closet holding broken junk. Heather had gotten much better at darting over to Dudley’s room while Harry napped and liberating things for the twins to play with.  Dudley honestly had enough junk in his room what Heather took rarely was noticed.  And if something was noticed, Petunia would usually insist that her ‘precious popkin’ get a new one, as the twins’ liberated toys were usually damaged in some way.

Instead of allowing herself to feel caged and trapped, which was a constant struggle for someone who had once known the inherent freedom of adulthood, Heather took great pains to transform their room into their ‘safe place’. 

She grabbed blankets and construction paper and cheap plastic wristbands and made them into props for the wild reenactments of the adventures she had most loved. She told Harry about Hobbits, Elves, and dragons; of Azeroth, and King Llane, and Tirion Fordring; of the White Witch, Queen Lucy the Valiant, Aslan, and Cair Paravell; of shinobi, the fearless Uzumaki, and Kurama; of Cloud, Sephiroth, and Jenova.  She told him all the stories she could possibly remember and then some more, and slowly the little details that scattered around the room- the badly cut out shape of Cair Paravell, the glitter they had used for the Elves’ hair, the orange ribbon hey had knicked for Kurama’s tails- made it feel less like a cage and more like their own, personal kingdom.

However, Heather had a few things she would not be settling with for the sake of peace, and wearing silly, frilled dresses were one of them.

It was a rather irresponsible thing to be upset with- after all, she and Harry weren’t living in a cupboard just yet- until one realized the circumstances.  Before-her had gone to private, religious schools most of her growing up years.  She hadn’t fit- into the dresses that were the only dress code for girls or into the cliques that were such a big part of small, prestigious schools- and that ill-fitting, unwanted, scum-on-the-bottom-of-a-rich-kids-shoes feeling followed her every time she put on a dress.  Even as an adult, she had preferred pants or skirts, because a full body dress made her feel like that awkward nine year old, fruitlessly trying to be someone she wasn’t all over again.  Dresses- especially the ones Petunia preferred- were an unwelcome reminder of all the insecurities she had had to learn to live with once upon a time already.

So, to her, this fight was worth fighting. 

“If we both wear the same clothes it’ll make laundry easier.”  Heather pointed out sensibly.  As it was, Petunia washed their clothes and left them piled in a basket just inside the twins’ rooms, so they usually had to sort and fold the blasted things themselves anyways.  “And then we’ll be able to mix and max our own outfits, and we won’t need help.”  Heather blinked innocently up at her now-thoughtful aunt.  “And boys’ clothes are cheaper, right?  That’s what Mrs. Peterson said at the Market last week, and she was really pleased with your thriftiness!”

Mrs. Peterson being one of the Wisteria Walk ladies, who were technically a bit wealthier than Privet Drive’s inhabitants, and very much people Petunia Dursley wanted to please.  Of course, Mrs. Peterson had been talking about the boys, who had been wearing similar overalls-and-t-shirt outfits, but, meh; semantics.

Heather saw her aunt wavering and went in for the kill.  “Plus, when Uncle Vernon tries to complain about your shopping at the higher-end stores-“  As he had done not two weeks ago, and the Dursley home had been quite uneasy for at least four days afterwards.  When Petunia and Vernon fought, Number Four became a Cold War Zone.  “-tell him that the clothes are investments.  You know, you buy them for Dudley and then we can use them later?  Kind of like Window Fenway does for her grandkids?”

Petunia’s lips pursed for a moment, but finally she reluctantly nodded in agreement.  “And you’re certain you don’t want to wear proper girl clothes, girl?”

“I’d rather share with Harry, Aunt Petunia.”  Heather assured her aunt with her best bullshit smile. 

The elder woman sniffed disapprovingly and muttered some uncomplimentary things, but nodded sharply in agreement.  “Go gather up your clothes and meet me in the laundry room, then.”

Heather gave her eavesdropping brother a discreet thumbs up as she scurried past.

‘Success!’

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Just after the Marge Holiday Visit the year they all would turn four, Petunia took to locking them all three children inside the twins’ room while she took a nap in the afternoons.

Thus began the journey of the twins and Dudley coming to a general consensus.

To be fair, Heather had noticed that her aunt had been battling bouts of nearly debilitating fatigue since she had first begun truly observing Petunia.  Heather suspected that Petunia should see a doctor about her issues, but knew that Petunia would not.

Good, proper housewives were thankful for what they had and did not cause a fuss, after all.

If it had just been the boys, they no doubt would have hated each other even more intensely and torn the room apart.  However, it had taken Heather all of an hour to snare Dudley’s childish attention with her storytelling abilities. There had been a bit of a problem at first, since Heather had refused to continue the story after Petunia had woken up from her nap, and Dudley had thrown a massive, I’m-gonna-break-everything-until-I-get-my-way tantrum.  Surprisingly enough, Heather hadn’t had to do any fast talking that time, as Petunia had actually disciplined her son, for once.  After he’d gotten through breaking his way through his newest gadgets, Petunia had crossly informed Dudley that if he didn’t behave she’d put him in his room by himself the next day.

Dudley didn’t believe her and kept throwing a tantrum until his father came home.  At which point Vernon had- visibly, it was terribly apparent and vastly amusing to Heather- weighed his son’s perceived injustice against risking his already unhappy wife’s ire, judged Dudley to be the lesser of two evils, and supported his wife’s assertion.

Confused but committed, Dudley had continued throwing a tantrum until bedtime.  The next day Petunia locked him in his room around the same time she had taken a nap the day before.  After about ten minutes- Heather noted the time because Dudley’s room had gone entirely silent- Petunia knocked on his door and asked him if he had had a change of heart. 

Dudley had and was promptly made Heather’s problem.  She had been less than thrilled.

Dudley and Harry still didn’t exactly get along- Dudley was a truly spoiled brat and Harry was surprisingly obstinate about his dislike of sharing Heather or her stories- but they could at least tolerate each other in small doses.

Sometimes.

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Petunia couldn’t remember when the girl had begun to talk in full sentences, but Heather’s articulate nature no longer surprised her.  Whether it was Lily’s freakishness shining through or simply the girl being unnaturally bright to begin with, Petunia couldn’t say.  Then again, Lily had always been frighteningly intelligent as well, and the girl had her sister’s hair.  It was about three shades darker and two shades deeper than Lily’s bright orange-red; a dark auburn red that wound itself into curls the longer down her back it went, like their mother’s hair had been.  Petunia was not entirely sure where the girl had gotten the nearly violet, deep blue eyes, but she assumed it came from that bastard Potter’s family. 

However much Heather used that intelligence to keep the peace, Petunia feared the girl’s wrath should she genuinely feel that she and Harry had been slighted.

Petunia still shivered a little at the reminder of The Park Incident.  The look in the girl’s eyes had been just the same as Lily’s when that horrid boy had tried to come sniveling to the Evans house for forgiveness that one summer, only for her sister to resolutely and resoundedly deny him.  Lily had cared for him quite deeply, that Petunia knew for a fact, but whatever had happened had crossed a line Lily was not willing to budge up from.  And despite Lily’s lingering affection for him and her bleeding-heart do-gooder compassion for his home situation, Lily had coldly explained her very final conclusion and slammed the door in his face.

(Sometimes, in her darker moments Petunia wondered if the girl wasn’t the specter of her sister, come back to haunt Petunia from beyond the grave.)

Content as the girl seemed so long as herself and the boy were adequately cared for, Petunia, was not stupid.  The woman knew that should something happen to change the status quo too much, Heather could make her life about as miserable as Petunia could make Heather’s life in return.

And that was the issue Petunia wished to avoid.  She had no desire to engage in an extended war of attrition with her very willful niece, not when Vernon and Dudders needed her to take care of them!  And therein lay the issue, as Petunia’s precious Dudders was due to begin Reception in September, and Petunia wanted to send him on by himself so that he could make friends before the twins came along.

(And stole his friends, just as Lily had always stolen hers. Up until the day that horrible boy had taken her sole remaining friend- Lily.)

Petunia briskly shook off her thoughts and refocused.  Woolgathering wouldn’t solve anything!

How was she to present this to her niece?

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Heather was rather amused at how nice Petunia was playing with them.  She was just waiting for the Professor from Futurama to jump out and say, “Good news, everyone!”, and then proceed to inform her of something outlandishly awful.

She missed her favorite shows and movies so much sometimes.  Also the internet.  And video games.  And controlling her own household, up to and including the grocery shopping.

‘Be patient Heather.’  She told herself on the really, really bad days.  The ones when she couldn’t even get two seconds to herself and her introverted nature all but cried for some stillness and solitude.  ‘Childhood will only last for so long and then you’ll be able to take control of your life again.’

Truthfully, she had felt relieved when Petunia had announced that she and Harry wouldn’t be attending Reception Year.  It had taken some cajoling- and some suspiciously helpful assistance from Petunia- but Harry was mostly alright with not being able to attend.

After a month or so of sulking every time Dudley came home with an art project or talked about the friends he had made.

Their newly awarded independence to go outside or even down to the park at the intersection of Privet Drive and Magnolia Crescent went a long ways towards soothing Harry’s irritation.  Heather was simply ecstatic at having a semblance of freedom after three years of grinning and trying to ignore the stifling restrictions of being a better-not-seen-or-heard child.

While she didn’t have nightmares about her past- she never had- she tended to stay up extremely late and think.  Part of it was to reinforce things she wanted to ensure she never forgot, but a lot of it was simply her trying to recharge after a long day of just…. being.  

She was a tried and true introvert, something being reborn had not changed a whit.  While she could be suitably extroverted if a situation demanded it, that was mostly thanks to having easy access to a lifetime of watching others and trying to awkwardly copy other people’s social interactions.  She’d tended to overthink her words- still did, to a certain extent- and if a social interaction veered too far off from the mental ‘scripts’ she had pre-prepared, things got stressful.

Introvert or no, however, if she found someone who was on her wavelength- like her husband had been, and dear Lord in Heaven did she miss him just as dearly now as she had when she’d first arrived- she could chatter their ear off.  Or ears.

It was all very complicated.

Focused firmly on cultivating Harry’s childlike sense curious wonder of the world and wanting to fan the flames of his burning desire to learn, Heather had been reading books to Harry since they had first been given books to paw at; which had been shortly after the ‘Speak and Spell’ had arrived.  Practicing letters and words had started with the broken little plastic device then continuing on to writing practice when she had first gotten her hands on broken crayons and scraps of construction paper. 

Well, she had actually started in on the letters with the soft blocks in their playpen, but she doubted Harry remembered any of that. 

At any rate, she was fairly certain that he was well beyond Reception-level schoolwork.  Before-her had taught various nieces and nephews how to read- she’d been the cool aunt, thank you very much- so it hadn’t been much of a challenge, especially with a baby as bright as hers!  So she was relieved that they had at least another year before they had to go out and face the world, because she didn’t want them to be labeled prodigies.

Not a little bit, not at all.

Actually, all it would take was an algebra book being set down in front of her and the jig would be up.  While she was reasonably decent at math, she’d been grateful for the ‘Consumer Economics’ alternative after a semester of algebra.  For some reason, complex and intricate financial equations came to her frightfully easily, while traditional algebra- ah….did not.  At all.

Perhaps she should have been a little less enthusiastic about teaching Harry things they shouldn’t already know, but it was the only thing that had kept her sane.  Thinking of constant new ways to teach him word associations or how to form his letters properly or expanding his vocabulary and working on his pronunciation kept her from thinking too deeply about how much she had lost.  Keeping her feelings of loss and depression and grief wasn’t quite the constant, uphill struggle it had been when she had first realized her situation, but it still sapped a great deal of her emotional and mental energy.

Thankfully, her physiology was just the same as any other young and the energy of young children was not to be underestimated.  Some days it was only her body’s energetic jitters that helped her roll out of bed and start the day.

‘But what am I supposed to do with Harry’s schooling?  Even if we managed to avoid Reception, Year One is just around the corner.’  She wondered worriedly as she watched her brother sleep.  The soft, silvery slats of moonlight that filtered through their bedroom curtains were casting a gentle glow around her slumbering brother’s features, making her feel even more conflicted.  ‘I don’t want to discourage him from studying- not when he’s so smart, and genuinely likes to learn- but I also don’t want him to draw too much attention.  And Vernon will be positively unbearable if we score higher than Dudley, he golfs with the Superintendent, or whatever England calls them, I still forget to use the ‘proper’ terms sometimes. ‘  Heather sighed softly and wriggled backwards, setting her back against the daybed’s frame and pulling Harry’s head into her lap.

Harry grumbled a little, but this was a usual occurrence, he just resettled and fell back into deep sleep.  It didn’t even rate an eye-opening.

‘So, to downplay or not to downplay?  And to what extent?’ Heather worried her bottom lip and stared hard at the wall, but sleep and clarity eluded her.  ‘And how to accomplish this without damaging Harry’s budding desire to learn?’

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It took Harry all of a month into Year One to become entirely disenchanted with Surrey Primary School and pretty much all the people in it.

Part of Heather hurt, because her baby hurt.  He’d made new friends and then they had abandoned them- a combination of nasty rumors from Petunia,  Vernon’s money, and the social cred awarded to Dudley thanks to teachers wanting to suck up to their boss- and the teacher, a Mrs. Greer, was the crabbiest woman on the face of the planet who seemed to delight in plonking the Dunce Cap on Harry’s head.

Harry had been moody, weepy, and angry- usually in that order- the entire first month.  It had been stressful and upsetting for them both, as seeing Harry upset tended to make Heather angry.  And Heather being righteously angry caused a migraine-worthy dissonance between what her childish instincts wanted and the way her mature mind instructed her to answer such nuisances.  It made her crabby, though she did have excellent control over her tongue, so it was mostly just her radiating a sense of disapproval, which either annoyed or upset Harry, adding to the cycle.

Heather was thankful for sarcasm and her favorite movie lines.  Harry usually laughed at them, even without context, and gleefully folded the phrases into his vocabulary, giving the twins a rather interesting series of insider idioms.

As an unpleasant addition, Heather had learned to make sure to be careful of her intense desire to maim, kill, and destroy those who harmed Harry.  One day Vernon had come home grumbling about how he had spilled at least one of everything onto himself that day and she had distinctly remembered intently wishing for the stupid, selfish oaf to have to wear his food that very morning, as helping with breakfast had become the twins’ new chore, now that they were in school.  She had been thinking of Nascar-styled jackets with serving sizes emblazoned on the pictures of greasy hamburgers and piles of bacon, as he had been complaining about the dryer shrinking his favorite trousers, but she didn’t really want to tempt fate too loudly.

Then, part of Heather was exasperated and sort of regretted her planned ‘prank’ of Harry answering the odd questions and her answering the even ones.   

(“We’re twins!  C’mon, it’ll be funny!”)

 Before school had started, Harry had thought that it would be hilarious, and now he kept doing it because of pure spite. 

Come to find out, Mrs. Sneer- Harry’s persistent nickname for her- was set to get a bonus if all the children in her class averaged higher than the other Year One classes.  Something that had happened for the last umpteen million years, apparently.  Once Heather had explained what that meant and how such a thing was calculated, Harry had stubbornly stuck to every other odd question, with the most ridiculous answers he could think of in the other blanks.

Heather was proud and horrified in the same moment.  She cheerfully copied him anyways.  Screw the old hag.

Of course, Heather had made sure to tell Harry to always do his best and answer every question carefully on the important tests.  It was a holdover from her time Before, when assessment tests had seemed to come around every corner and her teachers had stressed the need for everyone to do their best so the school would get its grant money.  It was an internalized lesson that had stuck, and it would serve to remind her that she couldn’t afford to assume.

As for the tests-

Well, that hadn’t gone well.

Sort of.

The first set of assessment tests- the first of their kind to be handed out in Surrey, she later found- were handed out at the middle of the first month of school in order to ‘get a baseline for the students’.   She and Harry had barely paid more than a glancing bit of attention to the tests, easily finishing them up, and moving on with their plans to find a spot on the playground that didn’t regularly host Dudley and his gaggle of cronies.

In retrospect, that was a bit of a mistake. 

Heather had, for some reason, assumed that they would average the class score with the test score, at which point they should come out to be average students, but that was not what had happened.  A Ministry of Education representative had come to the school, and the twins along with about fifteen others were told that they would be taking part of a new, advanced set of classes that had been added to the curriculum just this school year.  It required parental permission, but it was in the school’s best interest for the students to participate.

As the two youngest in the room, they had been escorted to the Headmaster’s Office and, to their horror, the Dursleys were already there.

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Heather sucked in a bracing breath, having left the boys playing Nintendo in Dudley’s room as they could stand the sight of each other today, and determinedly made for the kitchen.

“Aunt Petunia?”  She softly called out to the woman sitting at the table.  It was the last week of the month, which meant the bank statements had arrived and thus her aunt was currently doing her meticulous reconciling of the Dursley finances.  The papers were neatly divided into piles around the monster ancient adding machine centerpiece, whose only purpose was to serve as a second opinion to Petunia and the bank’s figures.  There were at least two metal filing cabinets full of meticulously filed monthly reconciliations in Vernon’s office, and each one had an adding machine tape stapled proudly to its front.

“What do you need, girl.”  Petunia answered without raising her eyes from the papers in front of her, clearly annoyed at being interrupted.

“Well,”  Heather said slowly, trying to phrase this delicately.  This was dangerous territory she was treading, and if her gambit backfired she and Harry might end up in the cupboard as indentured servants yet. 

Petunia must have sensed something because she paused in her dutiful inspection of the numbers and gave Heather a gimlet glare over the top of her reading glasses. “Can it wait?”

Heather nodded gamely.  “Yes, but it is something I’d rather talk to you about alone.”

Her brows drew together a bit and her expression soured but Petunia nodded curtly. “Very well.  I will reach a stopping point shortly.  Make another pot of tea and then sit.  Quietly.”

As she went to do as she had been bid, Heather mentally ran over her conversation topic and tried to iron out her arguments.  Fortunately, the motions to make tea was fairly familiar by now, so she could afford for her thoughts to wander.

Proper British Tea, all caps needed, was actually fairly simple to make.  At least Petunia Evans-Dursley tea was: boil water in stovetop tea pot, situate two tea bags on opposite sides of the serving teapot, pour boiling water into serving teapot and immediately cover, wait about five minutes or so, and then serve into teacups.  Add sugar and milk as desired.

In the time Before she had liked sweet tea and sun tea well enough, but nowadays- well, that was still the case.  She tried to tough it out, really, but she would rather drink plain water than the Dursleys’ usual tea blends.  Though the so-called ‘breakfast’ tea was the blend Heather tolerated best.  She wasn’t sure if it was a psychological thing or just a taste bud thing, but that was just how it was for her.

By the time she had retrieved everything, placed it in the serving tray, and then got it all to the table, her aunt was waiting for her.

“So what did you wish to discuss with me?”  Petunia asked her after the woman had doctored her tea to her liking.

Heather took one last bracing breath, straightened her shoulders, and regarded her ant as coolly as she could manage.  “I wanted to talk to you about Hogwarts.”

“Where did you hear that name?” Petunia hissed venomously as she leaned forward and glared at Heather.  Petunia only paused briefly in her efforts to turn Heather to a crisp with the force of her gaze to glance about the room nervously, as if expecting one of the neighbors to sprout from the wall and cry out in triumph.

“I overheard uncle …...talking about it with you.”  Heather admitted without an ounce of shame.   “The night after The Meeting.”

“That was nearly a month ago, girl.”  Petunia bit out frostily, still learning forward and glaring at Heather with all of her might.  “Why bring this up now?”

As Heather had suspected, Petunia was more focused on the ‘Hogwarts’ part and not really on the ‘overheard’ part.  Vernon had gotten deep enough into his cups that night it had been sheer luck that Mr.-and-Mrs. Number 6- their neighbors to the left which was on the office side of the house- had been out visiting family that week.  Seeing as how the twins’ room was directly above the office and they didn’t have a telly to drown out the noise, it was a rather moot point that Heather had overheard.

“I understand that you don’t really want us here.” Heather hurried to assure the highly upset woman, trying to convince her that Heather was on her side in all of this.  “But you still let us live under your roof anyway.”

Not willingly, and they likely would have been dumped elsewhere without the whole ‘wizards will come after you and your family if these Wards, powered by your shared blood and based on your sister’s sacrifice, aren’t there to protect you’ part of the Headmaster’s letter, but hey- Heather felt no need to mention that. 

It is what it is, and all that.  And Heather didn’t want to explain when she had had time to go through Petunia’s underthings drawer.

The things Heather did for her and her brother’s happiness.  Who knew that Petunia liked gauzy lace nighties under her usual gaudy, flowery curtain-like dressing robes?

“So I spent my Library and Recess periods searching for a way to keep the peace.  Because I know the….changed classes have upset Uncle Vernon a great deal.”  Heather continued as smoothly as she could, trying to channel ‘sympathy’ into her body language and tone of voice.  “And I think I might have found a way to, possibly, ease the transition.”  Heather tried to give her aunt a dazzling smile.  “At least, with your help it might be a pretty good plan, and I really don’t want to cause any more stress for you than absolutely necessary.”

Petunia’s expression was still pinched and angry, but she seemed to be sort of curious and relieved, so Heather counted that as a win for now.

“Oh?”  Petunia retorted testily, leaning back in her chair and primly folding her hands on the table in front of her.  “And what childish scheme could possibly help against those kinds of people?” 

The condescension is strong with this one.’  Heather thought drolly, mentally rolling her eyes at the woman.

“According to what uncle mentioned, we should receive an invitation the summer we turn eleven.”  Heather tried to use proper English, as childishness at this point would undermine her credibility.  As would quoting any of the actual words Vernon Dursley had slurred that night.  “The laws are confusing, thanks to all the changes that are being made under Prime Minister Thatcher, but I have an idea.”

‘Gross understatement, thy name is Heather Potter.’ 

Petunia sniffed in disapproval, her dislike of the Iron Lady was rather well known.

“However, Mum went to school before then, didn’t she?”  Heather persisted levelly, crossing her ankles and tucking them against the leg of the chair to keep from fidgeting.  “And there has to be something on record.  More to the point, there must be something on Grandmum and Granddad’s yearly forms, right?  The government has to have some sort of explanation, after all.  At the very least there has to be an office, somewhere-“  Here Heather trailed off and stared pointedly at the financial statements in front of Petunia.

It took a few nerve-wracking minutes, but eventually Petunia’s face lit up with a mix of unholy glee and relief.

‘Thank you, Jesus!’  Heather mentally cheered.

“So I was thinking that we could find out whatever the records say and then we could find and address and post a letter.  All government administration offices have an address, don’t they?”  Heather finished, much more cheerful now that Petunia seemed to be invested in the conversation.  “And then, based on whatever information we get, we can plan out a story that works for everyone without having to mention anything….unusual.”  Heather smiled kindly, trying to seem understanding.  “Having a firm plan in place to prevent any gossip might make uncle more agreeable and that would be best for everyone.”

The boys’ squabbling voices came floating down the stairs and Heather sighed, knowing that the conversation was at an end.  “I should go mediate.”  She said with an apologetic grin.  “But just….think about it, ok Aunt Petunia?”

Heather didn’t wait for her aunt to dismiss her; she slipped off her chair and darted towards the stairs.

‘Hopefully the magical world isn’t as backwards as it seemed in the books and there actually is some sort of system in place for all the Hogwarts kids with nonmagical parents.  Otherwise, this small victory is going to get really sour, really fast.’

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Heather had honestly thought that her aunt would procrastinate and require a few more rounds of persuasion, but that was very much not what had happened.

Barely a week from her mentioning the idea, her aunt had whisked her away on a Saturday for a ‘girls day’- something which had confused the hell out of the boys and made Harry suspicious on sheer principle- and she found herself seated in a cheerfully cute little deli-café thing on the outskirts of London.  The table held a fresh tray of tea and goodies, and they were currently waiting on some type of representative, according to Petunia.

Her aunt had waited until their platter was delivered before she set about explaining.  “When you two arrived, I was left with a letter and nothing else.”  Petunia’s voice was pitched low enough that only Heather, who was sitting beside her and squished up against the wall, could hear her words clearly.  “As a…normal person, I had no idea how to contact….those people.” 

Heather looked at her aunt and felt her grudging appreciation for Petunia edge upwards a bit.  For all that she was a bitter, vicious gossip who overindulged both her son and her husband to the point of excess, the woman underneath was slightly softer.  Gentler than Petunia’s usually serrated edges and harsh tongue; a glimpse at a woman doing the best she could in an unpleasant situation that was being orchestrated by powerful people who technically didn’t even exist to the world at large.

Heather could empathize, to a certain extent.  Petunia was well and truly stuck between a rock and a hard place; stuck between her desire to fulfill her obligations to her remaining living family and her husband and the life she had built for herself that was entirely, unequivocally safe and normal.

Petunia was not a tolerant person.  She was not understanding or compassionate or willing to learn and reevaluate her opinions or beliefs.  She had a niche and that was where she wanted to stay.  Anything that challenged her worldview was derided with especially caustic and cutting cynicism, and that was just who she was.  Who she was happy to remain being.

It didn’t matter that Heather found such an outlook appalling and horribly drab, it wasn’t Heather’s place to try and change someone who emphatically did not want to change.

Ergo, sending magical children into Petunia Dursley’s domain had been the worst idea ever.

“There was a time.”  Petunia continued in a softer tone, eyes continually watching out for the waiter or eavesdroppers.  “When I sent a letter to the headmaster of…that place, but at that time I used an….artifact that belonged to your mother.”  Petunia blinked away the moisture that appeared in her eyes determinedly and plowed forward before Heather could gather her wits.  “By the time you two arrived….those people left you on the stoop, in November, just so you know, there was no longer anything I had access to that I could use to contact them.”

That……

Well, it made a lot of sense, actually.

Heather had always wondered, both Before and occasionally in the now, if Petunia had held a way to contact the magical world or knew about Mrs. Figg’s status as the Headmaster’s plant.  But if she was entirely cut off from any sort of communication with people who could actually help if Harry had a particularly nasty bout of accidental magic,- yeah, that would definitely ramp up the blonde woman’s anxiety level.  Petunia Dursley was all about order and schedules, such a major unknown could easily drive the rigid and immaculate woman senseless.

“I never thought to look up my parent’s records.”  Petunia continued softly, beginning to worry the napkin she had already draped across her lap.  “Trying to find records to apply for our stipend to cover the costs of housing you two was enough of an ordeal.” Her lips pressed together in a thin, unhappy line, but before she could continue an older woman entered.

Petunia’s attention was focused intently on the badge- a simple hexagon with a four pointed star inside it; displayed on upper left side of the woman’s blazer- from the moment the door opened, which drew Heather’s attention as well.

She was a fairly unassuming looking lady, with salt-and-pepper colored hair pulled back in a neat bun, a kindly looking face, and horned glasses perched pertly on her somewhat large nose. The lady’s outfit was very conservative, with its ankle length dark blue skirt, only moderately fitted white blouse with the immaculately matched blazer over it, and one of those little lady-throat-brooch looking things.

Heather missed Google enough on a normal day, but sometimes she missed it more keenly than usual.

As if sensing their stare, the woman locked eyes with Petunia, smiled and headed towards them, stopping just short of their table, her little beaded bag clutched firmly in her hands. “Mrs. Dursley?”  She inquired kindly, an accent Heather couldn’t immediately place underscoring her words and a kind expression her face.

Then again they lived in Europe, accents were sort of dime a dozen, something that still surprised Heather a little.

“Yes.”  Petunia responded briskly, straightening up and tilting her chin up a bit.  “You must be Representative the letter mentioned?”

“You are correct, Mrs. Dursley.”  The woman replied serenely, gracefully taking a seat just across from them and helping herself to the tea service already set out on the table.  “My name is Constance Rausch, please call me Connie.”  Constance turned away from Petunia and smiled warmly at Heather.  “You may call me Madam Connie, dear.  And may I ask what your name is?”

“Heather.”  Was all she managed before Petunia pinched her thigh under the table.  Not enough to hurt her, just enough to make her pause.

Constance didn’t seem to mind.  “That’s a lovely name, dear!”  She turned back to Petunia, absently pulling out a business card from her purse and setting down at the edge of the table and giving it a firm tap with her index finger.  As she did so, Heather felt a strange sensation, akin to a very mild static charge pass over her skin before the woman nodded in satisfaction and finished her statement.   “And what might an Intermediary such as myself assist you with today?”

Petunia shifted around a bit and settled her lightly trembling hands around her cold tea, but her face was entirely expressionless.

Heather had to quietly admire Petunia’s sheer stubbornness, if nothing else.  The woman was clearly uncomfortable and out of her element but determined to see this meeting through.

“My sister’s twins were brought into my care after their parents were in an accident.”  Petunia said stiffly.  “For their own safety it is best they remain under my roof, but my husband is not the most tolerant of men-“

‘Pot, meet kettle.’  Heather thought irreverently, trying to not squirm and distract Petunia in this already tense situation.

“-and so I would like to plan out a reasonable explanation for when their…special letter arrives.”  Petunia fussed with her tea for a moment before she added.  “Recently, thanks to a new venture by the Ministry of Education, the twins were- quite unexpectedly, mind- placed in an.…accelerated class and my husband reacted quite poorly.  We would like to avoid such a thing in the future.”  Petunia crossed her ankles, tucking them neatly to the side opposite of Heather and pulled her hands away from her cup to clasp them in her lap as she waited expectantly. 

“Understandable.”  Constance replied with an approving nod of her head.  “It is quite common all across the world for Intermediary agents, such as myself, to host meetings much like this one.”  Her lips turned downwards in a sort of neutral half-frown for a moment before she smoothed out her expression and continued.  “To be entirely honest with you, Mrs. Dursley, I am, in fact, quite relieved that you managed to get in contact with my department.”  Connie hesitated, intently studying Petunia’s face for a long moment before she added.  “The British Ministry for these sorts of things has always been a bit-ah, shall we say resentful?- of the so-called ‘meddling’ of the Intermediary Bureau.”  Connie paused and flicked a glance at Heather before looking to Petunia with a smile.  “Would you terribly mind a short history lesson?  It would make the situation a bit tidier.”

Petunia nodded stiffly, her entire being all but radiating ‘I’d rather be giving natural childbirth in public’.

‘I can almost hear her teeth grinding.’  Heather thought, bemused.  ‘But Petunia is nothing if not curious, though nosy would be a much better term, really.’

“Excellent!”  Connie exclaimed with a bright, excited grin.  The lady turned towards Heather, her voice full of good cheer as she went on to explain.  “As you will learn about when you attend Hogwarts, our societies split entirely in 1692.  Behind the scenes, on, shall we say, my side of the fence, an organization was established whose sole purpose was to ensure that the two societies remain separate.  It is quite the task, as you might be able to imagine, and we work very, very hard to stay, ah- ahead of the curve, so to speak.  My badge-“  Connie tapped the left side of her jacket pointedly.  “-means that I am part of the division that handles students from unconventional backgrounds.”

“So, um, different kids born to ordinary people?”  Heather blurted out when Connie paused expectantly.

Internally, Heather face-palmed and lamented her social awkwardness.  ‘Eloquence, thy name is Heather Potter.’  She thought grumpily.

Connie smiled indulgently at her.  “I prefer to use the term ‘gifted’, dear.  I feel that term generally ruffles fewer feathers, overall, while still acknowledging a need for specialized education.  As there are a great many people who are perfectly exceptional in their own way, you and I just happen to have a few more options than most.  Make no mistake, dear, how far you go in either world is entirely dependent on how much effort you choose to invest in yourself and your education.” 

Petunia quirked an eyebrow at the other woman and relaxed a fraction.

Progress.’ Heather mentally noted with a fair bit of amusement.

“Now then, while the ICW handles any issues that might threaten to expose the gifted to the world at large, individual communities are responsible for policing their own lands, and thus each enclave has its own sets of laws and enforcement.”  Connie paused for a mom, taking a sip of tea and nibbling on a nearby pastry before she continued.

Heather could still tell that Connie was annoyed, though.  And she imagined that Petunia could tell as well.

“Now, in Britain specifically, things are dreadfully overcomplicated, but I will do my best to summarize for now, alright?”  Connie shot Heather a bright grin before easily continuing.  “Hogwarts School is located in the Scottish Highlands and was founded near the very end of the tenth century.  Its location is considered unplottable, as many places of Olde and Ancient magic are, but the land itself came from two of its Founders who hailed from noble ancestry.”  Connie quirked a wry smile and winked at Heather conspiratorially.  “Now, the other two were far from nobodies, but that would be getting off track. 

“You see, when the Statue was implemented in 1692, the magical communities in this region had already largely withdrawn from the more common settlements; in fact, most of the gifted people who lived along the coastline of modern-day Europe actually began to go into hiding as early as the seventh century!  Due to that fact, the Ministries are largely, well nearly entirely, separate from the modern governments.”  Connie took another sip of tea and waved gesticulated lightly with her hands.  “Oh, there’s a treaty here and there to protect notable families- such as the Royal families- or persons in particular positions that were instituted mostly as the behest of in-the-know family members way back when, or during the Split Years.  There have been several wars- most notably the Second World War- when disaster and discovery were very nearly certain, but for the most part, you must know that when you step foot in a gifted-held territory you are, in fact, most likely on autonomous soil.”

“So does that make me a dual citizen or something?”  Heather asked n confusion, shooting a glance at the entirely disapproving Petunia.

‘Her spine is so stiff it hurts my back.’ Heather thought absently, wishing she could somehow tone down the wave of disapproval coming from Petunia’s person.

“In a manner of speaking, yes.”  Connie answered bluntly.  “It is due to the highly confusing and often contradictory laws that govern individual territories that my department was even founded back in the early days after the Split, and over time our role in being the transitional gatekeepers has only grown more important.”  Connie sighed heavily and took a long draw from her tea.  “As I mentioned before, Hogwarts was founded far before the Split and that is actually quite important.”

This is about five time more complicated than I was counting on.’ Heather admitted inside the sanctity of her own mind.  ‘Dear gawd, what have I done?!”

“Children born to gifted parents either send word to Hogwarts themselves, have a notary send in a birth announcement on their behalf in the case of a private or out-of-country birth, or the gifted hospital sends word to Hogwarts on behalf of new parents.  The Headmaster or his Deputy then adds the name to the Rolls.”  Connie blathered on blithely, unaware or uncaring of Heather’s internal turmoil.  “Now, very occasionally, a gifted child who was born on this side of the societal divide will manifest their talents strongly enough to be added at the behest of the Ministry, but that is actually extremely rare.  In most cases of emotional outbursts, the results are easily reasoned away and even if they are not, very few children are strong enough to overcome ambient energy that exists all around us in order to set off any alarms.  The Rolls of Hogwarts activate during the summer solstice each year and generate the coming year’s Hogwarts Acceptance Letters.”  Connie smiled apologetically at Heather and the still statue-stiff Petunia.  “Now, I have explained all of that so that you might understand this next part: in Britain, Scotland, and Wales, children are not considered full citizens, with all the rights and privileges attached, until they receive a letter.”

Heather’s eyes shot wide with alarm and she spoke before she thought.  “But-but what happens if a gifted kid doesn’t get a letter?”

Connie’s eyes dimmed and she smiled sadly.  “In the best cases, the Intermediary Bureau is contacted and we step in to help the family, though international law makes us, above all, the child’s advocate and many…..extremely traditional families choose to forgo our assistance.”

Tears burned in her eyes as righteous anger burned in her breast.  ‘What kind of fucked up, shitty system is that?!’  Then another thought occurred to her, ‘Ohmy- is that why the ‘muggleborn’ parents never raised a huge fuss?!  Like when a First Year was attacked by a Troll?  They likely have no grounds on which to protest!  I wonder if they are considered a foreign national or not even given that level of consideration.’  Heather shook her head sharply to clear away her winding thoughts.  ‘Wow.  Just…..wow.’

“The twins will receive an acceptance letter.”  Petunia snapped harshly, the vehemence in her voice surprising both Heather and Constance.  “While Heather is quite adept as keeping her brother distracted whenever he is feeling highly emotional, I have seen both of them exhibit definitive signs of…m-magic-“  Petunia tilted her chin defiantly, as if daring Connie to call her a liar.  “-which means they will be considered full citizens by….their rules, correct?”

“Correct.”  Connie’s eyes warmed considerably despite Petunia’s terse tone and suddenly Heather wondered how many hysterical people the kindly looking woman had needed to rescue terrified, recently discarded children from.

It made Heather sick to her stomach to think about, really.

“Correct, Mrs. Dursley.  Once the letter is opened by its intended recipient, Hogwarts is notified.  Usually they send out a representative to escort gifted born on this side of the divide to get their supplies, but cases such as this one, while not unheard of, is definitely unique.  They might simply send an Acceptance Letter, expecting you to be able to escort your wards to the gifted shopping district.” 

Petunia’s lips twisted in disgust, and Heather couldn’t blame her.

Her aunt had just finished informing Heather that she had been left on a doorstep in November, after all.  And while Heather had already known that, hearing it said aloud just made it seem that much more irresponsible, even knowing about magic and having an idea of what magic was capable of.

Like the Second Task hostages from the books.  They had been held underwater for at least an hour in the Scottish Highlands, in February, ‘nuff said.

Hey, she hadn’t spent her time entertaining her baby with stories only to forget the details of the one she was in!  She’d told so many variations of the original Harry Potter story, under different names of course, that she could probably write a whole new series of books.

Connie clapped her hands together firmly, a bright look overtaking her features.  “Fortunately, you now have myself as your advocate!  I have a packet for you, Mrs. Dursley, to fill out for each of the twins here-“  Connie rummaged around in her impossibly small bag until she extracted two very thick, very tidy looking manilla folders and handed them over to Petunia.  “-and once you fill out the information in those packets, I will take the information and enter it into the Intermediary system.  In anywhere from five to ten business days you will receive another package in the mail- oh!”  Connie smiled somewhat apologetically.  “I feel that I should warn you that any mail you receive from my office will be entirely magic-free, though a magical original copy will be filed in my office.  It is against international law for magic-bearing post to be sent through the normal mail system, you see. “  She winked cheerfully at Heather.   “Every public mail system in the modern world has checks and balances in place to prevent magically tampered post from being sent to those unawares.  We take the safety of our clients very seriously.”

Petunia drew in a deep breath, having shuffled through several papers while Connie had been speaking.  Squaring up her shoulders she looked the older woman in the eye and asked, point-blank.  “In the letter that was left with them, the person who left my sister’s twins on my doorstep mentioned that they were in danger because of my sister and her husband’s political views.”  Petunia gave the woman a truly frightening stare.  “Will that pose a problem?”

“I act in the best interests of all my clients, Mrs. Dursley.”  Connie replied stoutly, righteously insulted, but still understanding.  “My job, first and foremost, is to ensure that the children are not in immediate danger due to the mixed nature of their household.  I can see that you are nervous around the topic of magic and you mentioned your spouse is even more uncomfortable with the topic, but as we have plenty of time and you are willing to put in the work, I am satisfied with the arrangements for now.”

Connie gave Petunia a surprisingly gimlet glare, and Petunia actually relented.

Go Connie!’  Heather mentally cheered. 

“Seeing as we have that out of the way-”  Connie continued briskly, seeming content with her and Petunia’s new understanding of one another.  “-my main goal is to ensure that you have a contact on the other side should you need one.  And, of course, that all the paperwork and such is in impeccable order so that their withdrawal from normal schooling is well-ordered and their subsequent absence for ten months out of the year is adequately explained.”  She paused and gave petunia a far more empathetic smile.  “I realize that just my words might seem insufficient, so if you so desire, I can include a certified copy- entirely nonmagical, of course!- of my binding magical oaths in the follow-up packet.”

“That would be appreciated, thank you.”  Petunia retuned archly, relaxing a fraction and going back to perusing the papers.

“Of course!”  Connie replied cheerfully, whipping out a little notepad and jotting down a note with a smart looking pen.  One of those elegant looking fountain pens that were perfect for casual calligraphy.

Or so Heather’s art teacher a lifetime ago had always said.  Mrs. Atkins had been a font enthusiast, though, so it might have just been her personal opinion.

“Here, dear.”  Connie fussed as she searched through her beaded purse for a moment before emerging victorious.

That was to say, she put a rather cute coloring book and a little container of colored pencils and a pencil sharpener in front of Heather.

“From here on in, everything will be fairly boring for you, I’m afraid.”  Connie told Heather apologetically.  “But feel free to amuse yourself with those until your aunt and I are finished.”

Heather thanked Connie and immediately set upon the book.

What could she say?  She’d loved coloring, even as an adult with absolutely zero artistic talent.  And it wasn’t as if she couldn’t color and eavesdrop at the same time.  She used to spend entire days pretending to listen to some of her old bosses, after all.

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The Monday after the meeting with Connie, things took a sharp turn into the twilight zone. 

Well, things had been odd since the moment Petunia and Heather arrived back at Number four as Vernon, Dudley, and Harry- for the first time ever- were all allied in the opinion that they should never again be left alone together.  Their united front made life unpleasant for both Heather and Petunia, though in different ways. 

Heather felt for Petunia, she really did.  The poor woman had barely even stepped through the doorway before the two Dursley males started in on her. Vernon nitpicked everything- from the outfit Petunia had worn to the meeting, to the ‘unacceptable’ state of the house, then he shouted about having to feed ‘the boy’ takeout because they had needed to fend for themselves for lunch, and he generally grumbled irritably about absolutely everything she did from the moment she entered his line of sight.  He even grumbled about the ladies’ travel time, as if it were their fault they had needed to use public transit- Petunia didn’t have a license!  On top of Vernon’s pleasantness, Dudley was extra demanding and impatient, alternating between crocodile tears and angry diatribes if his whims weren’t somehow preempted.

Harry was sort of sulky and made sure to emphatically state just how willing he would be to endure any amount of ‘girl talk’ in order for his afternoon with the two Dursleys to never be repeated, but that was about it.

Heather made sure to be extra cuddly and finally caved to Harry’s desire for her to read The Secret Garden, the novel and several others having been quietly collected from a box of charity books that had been left at the school library.

---XXX---

The twins mostly stayed holed up in their room on Sunday.  Not entirely voluntarily, as they had been planning on going out into the backyard to continue reading their book.  However, when they had been in the kitchen helping with breakfast, Vernon had stumbled downstairs and started another fight with Petunia before Dudley had even woken up. 

This development prompting Heather to gather up some food for the twins and stage a strategic retreat.

Vernon and Petunia did not often fight, actually.  Their disagreements were mostly cold wars resulting in even colder meals for a few days before they found someone or something to redirect their displeasure onto. Once they were suitably distracted with tearing down someone- or someones- else, the household business continued as usual.  Which made their recent upswing in shouting matches and sleeping in separate rooms highly unusual.

It was why Heather had worked up the courage to talk to Petunia about checking her grandparents’ records, actually.  Given  the twins’ status as ‘barely tolerated’, Heather had been keenly aware that the longer Petunia and Vernon had problems with each other, the higher the likelihood of the twins ending up as the outlet for their combined frustrations.  Proper married folk did not shout and scream after all, so it would stand to reason that- given enough time to stew and indulge in their favored tracks of circular reasoning- the ‘freaks’ would be blamed.

She did wonder if something similar had happened in the books, though.  It would certainly explain how Harry’s treatment could have gone from ‘physically adequate’ to ‘borderline neglect-slash- indentured servant’.

By the time Monday rolled around the twins were well and truly restless, eager at the prospect of helping with breakfast, if only to get out of their room.  They were surprised, but pleased, when Petunia announced that they were old enough to walk to school on their own.  That the woman shoved them out the door just as Vernon began stomping down the stairs was not lost on the two.

Of course, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, or something along that line.

As Heather was reminded that afternoon.

---XXX---

“You all need to choose one of these approved after school activities and have your parents or guardians sign the forms.”  Mr. Pritchard, the gifted teacher informed the class just before the last bell.  “The school will provide the basic items needed for each activity, but additional expenses should be expected for the major events or one-time purchases, as this new initiative is young yet.”

Heather actually rather liked the old man.  He was extremely tall, nearly reedy, with retreating wispy white hair, tiny square glasses, and a sincere dedication to the style of argyle.  As a classroom authority, he was calm, fair and seemed genuinely interested in seeing his students succeed.  His classroom was a mix of hastily painted walls and bright, eye-catching educational posters that were mostly geared towards the older students.  The room had been unused until just a few weeks ago, and now housed seventeen students, ranging from Year One to Year Six.  Mr. Pritchard was surprisingly adept at handling a multi-leveled class and he was well liked by nearly all of his students.  But no one really cared about Timmy the Nose Picker’s opinion anyways; Mr. Pritchard was brilliant.

She did not, however, like this idea.  At all.

“Good news, everyone.”  She muttered sarcastically to Harry, who turned to grin half-heartedly at her.

Yeah, this sucked and it hadn’t even happened yet.  Heather scanned the form, her lips tightening into an unhappy frown when she realized that there really would be extra costs, no matter which club they decided on.

Meaning she couldn’t just indulge in some late-night forgery.  Damn it all.

“Heather, Harry, please stay behind a moment.”  Mr. Pritchard requested as the last bell sounded and the students all began to abandon ship. 

The twins- who together had one, entirely functional and entirely uncool knapsack- very slowly gathered their things, drawing the process out as long as they possibly could. 

In that time, two other students stayed back ad had questions answered, another one came running back in to grab something they forgot, and Mr. Pritchard started marking some essays.

Damn.  She had hoped he would have somewhere to be and change his mind about needing to speak with them.

“Mr. Pritchard?”  Heather asked reluctantly as she and Harry very unwillingly dragged themselves towards the man’s desk.  Not an overly difficult task, as they were the only Year One students in the advanced course, and their little worktable was the first workstation on the right side of the room, just in front of the man’s obviously battered metal desk.

“Ah, I was beginning to wonder if the two of you had forgotten about me.”  The man said wryly as he peered at them knowingly over the top of his thin spectacles.

Heather poked Harry in the side when he started to squirm guiltily.

The teacher sighed after a moment of heavy silence had passed by without the twins cracking under the subtle pressure and straightened up, leaning his elbows on the desk and lacing his fingers together so he could use them as a chin rest.  “I realize that your inclusion in this advanced class was….rather problematic, for your Guardians.”

Understatement.’  Heather thought crossly.  ‘Vernon’s still angry about it and Petunia is trying to convince everyone else that we’re a charity case.  That we’re being given special treatment or something to that effect.

“And I know this new requirement might cause you some, ah, discomforts at home.”  He continued on gently, his hazel eyes kind.  “That is why I would like to suggest you choose the Surrey Youth Tennis League’s option.”  The man smiled at them and gave them a cheeky wink.  “My wife manages the Little Whinging Sports Club that’s over on Rowan Bend, you see, and because of that, my daughter-in-law is the sponsor of the tennis after-school activity in the handout, will be hosting club meetings there.”  The man’s smile dimmed a bit, but his voice was steady and entirely devoid of any trace of manipulation.

Well, any that the suspicious Heather could detect.  She didn’t believe Mr. Pritchard to be some sort of child-preying monster, but better to be cautious all the same.

“My daughter-in-law, Sarah, came from a home that was…ah, less than wholeheartedly supportive, shall we say.  “  He pursed his lips together in disapproval for a brief instant before he wiped his expression clear and shifted, so that his chin was resting on an open palm.  “While I am in no way advocating child labor, I know my wife and Sarah would be more than happy to cover any of the additional costs of the program, should you two be willing to help with some small tasks- such as running messages to customers or the like.”

“That would be amazing!”  Harry blurted out, eyes wide with astonishment as he bounced on his toes excitedly.

Her mind shot straight into overdrive, trying to pick apart motives and possible outcomes and such, but when Harry turned his shining eyes on her she just-

Well, she figured she could find enough passive-aggressive ways to make Mr. Pritchard’s life miserable for the next half a decade if this situation went sour.  No need for her to rain her brother’s parade with her adulthood-reinforced misgivings, not when she knew there were plenty of good people in the world who just wanted to help in whatever little way they could.

---XXX---

During the walk home Harry alternated between nearly skipping with anticipation about the tennis thing and moping at their homework load.

Heather was slightly hesitant about the former and deeply amused at the latter.  Due to being put in an advanced course, the twins already had nightly homework- not a lot, but enough- and Dudley made a big deal about loudly proclaiming about how didn’t have such a thing.

Usually while sitting in front of the telly with a tub of ice cream or some other treat.

When they rounded the corner to Privet Drive, Heather stopped and tugged her brother towards the side of the walk.  “Listen, little brother.” She said, injecting her voice with enough seriousness to get Harry to stop daydreaming and listen to her.  “I’ll talk to Aunt Petunia about the activity thing when I get her to sign our homework, ok?”

Harry’s expression grew mutinous.

“I know, I know!”  She placated, giving him a quick hug before she placed her hands on his shoulders.  “You want to rub Dudley’s face in it.  We finally get to do something cool way before him.  Trust me, I want to rub his nose in it too!”  Heather actually did.

Dudley was a spectacularly bratty child with nearly zero chance of discipline.  The only thing that bound the three kids together were Petunia’s naptimes, but since he had started school Dudley had become much, much more unbearable.  The boys got along for about an hour a month, unless Harry was winning at Mario Bros or Duck hunt, then it was more like, fifteen minutes, tops.

And she had already used up that quota for that foreseeable future, what with her conversation with Petunia and then leaving all three boys together with no mitigating influences for the better part of an entire day.

“But, if we brag about it and he goes running to Uncle Vernon, chances are that Uncle will forbid us from doing the activity we want out of sheer spite.”  Heather finished gently, trying to make her point without upsetting her little brother too much.

Harry sighed sadly and stepped forward so he could bury his head in the juncture of her neck.  “I hate it.”  He whispered softly, and Heather was upset to note that there were tears dampening her shirt.  “I don’t know why they’re so mean to us.  We didn’t do anything!”

“I know, little one.  I do too.”  Heather soothed as she wrapped her brother up in a fierce hug, angry at her own helplessness in this situation.

If she just-

No.’  Heather commanded herself sternly as she slammed the metaphoric door shut on that line of thought.  ‘That isn’t productive.  Focus on the things you can do, not impossibilities.’

“But-“  Heather started, gearing up for the umpteenth reiteration of the same thing she had been telling him for as long as he’d been aware of just how terrible the Dursleys treated them.

Harry was annoyingly intelligent sometimes.  He’d known that the Dursleys were in the wrong since the first time Petunia had broken out the ‘if you were a good boy, like Dudders then maybe I’d hug you too’ line and Heather had come positively un-fucking-glued on the woman.  No matter how much Heather had tried to distract him in the aftermath of her fiery breakdown, Harry had insisted on an explanation.

He’d been about four at the time.

“I know, I know!”  Harry cut her off irritably, pulling back and roughly scrubbing the sleeve of his shirt over his eyes.  “Hating them for being terrible people just hurts us, but….” 

Harry’s helpless, frustrated look broke her heart all over again.

“Hey.” She said with a smile, reaching over and ruffling her brother’s hair affectionately.  “It won’t be this way forever.”  Heather grinned at him and tipped forwards.  “You want to know a secret?”

Despite his recent bout of tears, Harry was instantly alert.  “What secret?” he asked somewhat interestedly, wiping away his tear tracks with his hand.

Heather grinned like a cat that ate the cream before its master discovered the missing Canary.  “Well…..”  She drawled teasingly, leaning back on her heels and grinning at her brother’s pout.

“Well?  What?! Tell me!”  Harry whined after about two seconds of silence, shuffling closer and sticking out his bottom lip in an obvious and transparent attempt to influence her into telling him her tantalizing bit of news already.

“Hm?”  Heather pretended to contemplate his outburst for a long moment before she flashed him a quick grin and took off running.  “I’ll tell you if you beat me back to the house!”

“No fair!”  Harry yelled after her, tripping a little when he went to start chasing her.  “Cheater!”

---XXX---

Harry did not, in fact, beat her back to Number Four.  He did, however, laugh and was in a much better mood- if not a bit sulky about losing.

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