Chapter 1: Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down
Petunia Evans is three years old the first time she shows signs of magic.
But these signs go unnoticed, because Mr. and Mrs. Evans are busy running after two small girls, and they are muggles. Perfectly normal, mundane people from the suburbs of Birmingham. Contentedly lower middle class. Their house is small but neat, with a little garden in the back and a view of the river. Glenn Evans works at an auto factory, and Violet Evans looks after the house and their two daughters.
Everything is well-ordered and regular. Petunia grows to like this. She likes order because it helps calm her down when her thoughts begin to clutter up like a horde of gnats, gnawing at her brain. She likes knowing that Daddy will be home for supper at five o’clock sharp, and she and Lily must absolutely turn their lights off by eight thirty, or Mum will be annoyed. It makes her feel safe. She counts the flowers on her curtains every night; twenty six. A nice, soothing, even number.
Lily has no interest in order. Lily is older than Petunia by one year, three months, and twenty three days. Lily is beautiful. She was a beautiful baby, a beautiful child, and though Petunia does not know it yet, will become a beautiful woman. Lily is beautiful because she exists outside of Petunia’s systems. Lily has red hair, which is quite rare, but she inherited it from Mum. Lily has green eyes. Again, quite rare, but they are identical to Mum’s. Lily has many more freckles than Petunia, but they are mostly confined to her arms and legs, not her face.
Petunia loves Lily dearly. But Lily does things like not come when Mum calls them in for dinner, preoccupied with the game, while Petunia drops whatever she is holding and bolts for the door. Lily is late, constantly. She takes ages to get dressed, and spends forever in the bath, daydreaming and singing to herself. Petunia cannot stand to sit in the bath for too long. The water is dirty almost instantly, and the thought of it coating her skin once more makes her want to squirm and shudder. Lily doesn’t tie her laces properly, and then complains when she trips. Lily knows three curse words, and whispers them in Petunia’s ear even as Petunia squeals and tries to drown them out.
The curse words are as follows: shit, wanker, slut. Even Petunia knows what the first one means, and Lily says wanker is a word for a bad man, and slut a word for a bad woman. Lily says this, so it must be true, because Lily is quite clever. Certainly more clever than Petunia, who enjoys the ordered nature of school but not most of the exercises. Still, her penmanship is impeccable. No teacher can deny that, although they are always disappointed with her, having had Lily first. That the younger Evans cannot live up the elder is seemingly absurd, in their minds. Lily will go very far, they tell Daddy and Mum. She must absolutely take the exams for university. She will make something of herself, something proper and right and beautiful.
For Petunia, well, there are always secretarial courses, or failing that, perhaps a nice boy. These are the sixties, of course, and there is only room for one exceptional girl in the Evans family. Petunia is alright with this. At least, she ought to be. Why would she want to be an exception? An exception is nothing to be proud of. Exceptions do not keep the world turning. It is all the people who do as they are told and who know their place whom society rests on.
Petunia tries to take comfort in this. She is important. She will matter. People need secretaries, don’t they? “Of course they do, love,” Daddy tells her. “You’ll be just fine, Pet. Can’t all be best in class, can we? I wasn’t.” And then he will laugh and ruffle her hair, and Petunia will scowl and shake a little but accept it, because he means well, despite how much she hates it when people touch her hair.
Daddy calls her Pet, and Mum calls her Petunia because she says it’s a beautiful name, and Lily calls her Tuney. Petunia always writes her full name: Petunia Mary Evans. Mary after Mum’s mother, who died during the Blitz. Petunia Mary Evans. If possible, Petunia would like to marry a man with a last name that has seven letters, so her full name will be balanced. Petunia Mary Allsopp, for example. Or Petunia Mary Baldwin. Or Petunia Mary Chapman. There are many possibilities. Lily’s full name is Lily Jane Evans, so she should marry a man whose last name has four letters. That will be more difficult. Alan? Barr? Cook?
Were Lily not so accepting of Petunia’s many rules, Petunia would probably hate her. Lily thinks some of Petunia’s rules annoying, others funny, but she has never mocked Petunia for them. She has never mocked her for washing her hands so often, or asking three or more times whether or not Mum locked the front door, or arranging all their dolls in a specific order that can never, ever be changed. “Oh, Tuney,” Lily just says, dramatically, blowing out her bangs, but she smiles while she says it, in that warm, soothing Lily-way that makes Petunia feel special, like she is who Lily loves best.
But that’s a lie. Lily loves Daddy best, and that isn’t fair because Petunia is the one who looks most like Daddy. She has his thin blonde hair, the color of ‘cornsilk’, Mum says, and ‘dirty dishwater’, Linda Edison at school says. Petunia fears that one day it will start to fall out and you will be able to see the shine of her scalp, same as she can see Daddy’s. She has his pale blue eyes too, watery and sharp at the same time. Daddy notices everything, just like her. He’s only learned not to say it. Petunia can’t help her questions and her comments and ticks, but she must or she will be a little freak all her life.
Lily has a face like a heart and shows all her teeth when she smiles, straight and white. Petunia’s face is longer, narrower, and she never smiles with her teeth, because it makes her look like a frightened horse. No one would ever compare Lily to a horse. Lily could be a model. Lily could be on the telly. Lily has stains on all her clothes and never tucks her blouse into her skirt and has runs in her stockings and wears down her shoes much quicker than Petunia but she doesn’t have to be careful, because she is so lovely. She doesn’t have to button herself up, tuck herself in. Lily can simply be, with no adjustments, no second thoughts.
Sometimes Petunia feels as though Lily is the initial flow of water, straight and true, and she is the remaining trickle at the very end. The last drops from the tap before you turn it all the way off. The leftover. Mum and Daddy wanted children for ages, and then they had Dale, but he died before he was one. He had weak lungs. Then, finally, three years later, they had Lily. She was all they needed, all they wanted. They just wanted something to love.
Then, entirely by accident, came Petunia, a year later. An unnecessary addition. Petunia tells herself that she is necessary, because otherwise the family would be three, not four. But it’s five if you count Dale, so she tries not to think about him and his little headstone in the cemetery. He was a boy, he had apple cheeks and blonde curls, he would have been Lily’s big brother. He was important. In her dreams, he is tall and strong and he lifts her up on his broad shoulders.
Petunia wishes she were tall like Daddy, like Lily, who is the tallest girl in her year, but the one thing she has of Mum is that she is short. Easily overlooked. Lily Evans’ scrawny little sister, clinging to her like moss on a stone, like ivy on a wall. Like dirt on a kitchen counter. To feel like dirt is the very worst feeling in the world. It makes Petunia want to curl up and die. It makes her say nasty things, although she would never, ever curse. It makes her want to hit and scream and pull up green grass the color of her older sister’s eyes.
Lily’s best friend Severus makes Petunia feel like dirt. He’s a skinny, greasy thing, who only smiles when Lily looks at him, and who only ever acknowledges Petunia with a curl of his lips. Petunia hates him. She hates the way he always watches them from the bank of the river when she and Lily ride their bikes past, hates the way he manages to secret Lily away, whisper and laugh with her, tell her things that make Lily silent and tense on the bike ride home.
Lily says Severus has a horrible home, that his father is a vile, nasty man and his mother not much better. But she knows better than to invite him back for supper, because Daddy doesn’t like Severus Snape any more than Petunia, and even Mum, who is unfailingly kind, always watches him warily from their front stoop, wiping at her hands with a rag.
Petunia wishes Lily would be normal, and make friends with one of the girls on their street. Trisha or Susan or Debbie, any of them. Instead these girls cackle when the Evans girls go by, because they are oddballs who hang around Spinner’s End and act like boys. That’s Lily, not Petunia. Lily is the one who got into a scrap when some older boys were throwing rocks at little Micky Hale. She punched Tony Walcott straight in the gut, left him doubled over and gasping in surprise, then turned on her heel and stalked away. Petunia watched with their bicycles, feeling the growing stab of anxiety in her stomach, which culminated in her bursting into angry tears on their way home.
“Why couldn’t you just leave it alone?” she demands, being nine and frightened, because now Tony Walcott and his mates might come around their house and throw more rocks, and it will upset Daddy and make Mum worry about letting them out to play. This might ruin the whole evening, because Lily will argue with their parents, and Petunia will grow more and more discomfited until she runs into their bedroom and throws herself on the bed, counting back the surge of fury.
Lily, being ten and outraged, glances over at her in indignation, curls blowing in the breeze as they swiftly pedal home. “Tuney, they were going to hurt him!” Lily always has to be the hero. Lily always has to be the one to do something. To lead the charge, to steal the scene. Lily always has to make Petunia watch, her one-girl audience to the great show of Lily Jane Evans’ incredible life.
“It’s not our business,” Petunia says, and purses her lips together. They never even talk to Mickey Hale. He’s just a little boy with taped up glasses and a bowl cut. Lily’s never said a word to him in her life, but now she will because she thinks he need protecting. Now Tony will go after him even worse, because he got saved by a girl.
“It’s everyone’s business if someone needs help,” Lily snaps, and doesn’t speak to her for the rest of the ride home, although she’s over it by the time they sit down for dinner. She can never stay angry at Petunia, or anyone, really for long. Lily’s anger is white hot and blinding, but it passes just as quickly as it comes.
Petunia’s anger is different. Cold and slow, it pools in the pit of her stomach. It bides its time and drips out at the worst moments. Lily is quick to forgive. Petunia is not. She is not as generous with her feelings, because they are precious things, and she can’t afford to waste them the way Lily does. She might run out. She might dry up. She might wither and die.
Petunia drips magic the way she drips anger. Sparingly. Subtly. Nothing overt or obnoxious. Nothing that attracts the stares of other children or the suspicion of adults. Just things that help her. Her dolls line back up after the football Lily was kicking about ruins their perfect symmetry. Her bed makes itself while she brushes her teeth meticulously. Tea that is slightly too hot or too cold settles to the perfect temperature. Magic maintains the realm of order she has built around herself.
Severus Snape explodes the summer when Lily is eleven and Petunia ten. He has been asking after a letter for months, ever since Lily’s birthday at the very end of January. Lily thinks it’s all some running joke, but it makes Petunia nervous. Why would someone write a little girl? Why would Snape know about it? Why would he expect it? Why does he get more and more upset, when the letter doesn’t come? She stands in the sand and silt by the river, taking small, slow steps. She wants to wade in, but she cannot stand the way everything sticks to her bare feet.
Lily is talking to Snape, and finally he says, loudly, fiercely, almost snarls it, “It’s her, not you.” He is furious. Petunia stops. The water is lapping at her pale white toes.
“Sev, what are you talking about?” Lily asks worriedly. “What.. what about Tuney?”
“I thought it was you, I was so sure- but it was her, it’s been her this whole time,” he snaps. “I- I’m so stupid!”
“No, you’re not,” Lily assures him, “come on- what are you talking about? What’s wrong?”
“I thought you were like me,” he mumbles, and the pale blonde hair on the back of Petunia’s long neck stands up. “But you’re not- you’re not magic, you’re not a witch. It’s her.”
The river’s edge suddenly surges up and over Petunia’s feet, splattering up around her ankles with a gurgle, and she shrieks and scrambles backwards, nearly falling down.
“Tuney’s not- Tuney’s not a witch, Sev,” Lily sounds caught between laughter and exasperation. “Don’t be silly. Is this some game? Come on, just tell me-,”
Petunia turns to face them, eyes burning, a strange ache in her throat, and rasps, “I am NOT a witch.” The sand underfoot feels loose and unstable. She feels like she might sink right through, and plummet down into the center of the earth. They are both staring at her. Snape in bitter fury, Lily in concerned shock.
“You are,” he sneers, “not that you deserve it. You act like a muggle. You look like a muggle. It should be her, not you-,”
“Stop it,” Petunia hisses, curling her skinny, witchy fingers into her faded skirt. “Stop it, stop it-,”
“What’s a muggle?” Lily demands. “What is going ON, Severus?!’
“I’m a wizard,” he says through gritted teeth, “magic is real, and I’m a wizard. I can do things muggles- people without magic, people like my dad, and your parents, and-,” he pauses, and his fury blossoms red and ugly in his sallow cheeks, “and you- things muggles can’t. And she’s a witch. It’s not- it’s not fair, it should be you,” he turns to Lily beseechingly, locking his hand in her own.
Lily, for once, pulls away and looks to Petunia. “Tuney?” she asks, slightly wavering.
“Stop LYING about me,” Petunia spits at him. “I’m not- I’m not a witch, you- you- you dirty freak! I’m not like you, whatever you are! I’m normal!”
“You won’t even be a very good one,” he retorts hotly, “someone like you won’t last a year at Hogwarts.”
“What is Hogwarts?” Lily shouts in frustration, hands on her hips. Her trousers are rolled up and the hems are caked with dried silt. “Severus, stop it! Petunia-,”
“You think I’m a freak?” Snape hisses at Petunia, taking a step towards her, too-big coat hanging off his shoulders. “You’re no better. Even worse, maybe. My mum’s a witch. It’s in my blood. You’re just a little mud-,”
A branch of the tree whose shade they’re standing in, stretched out over the river, cracks with an almighty snap, like a clap of thunder, and plummets to the ground between Petunia and Snape. It comes very close to hitting him, and sends up a small cloud of dust that clings to her. She swats at her skirt and shudders away from the massive branch and bursts into angry tears.
Distantly, she hears Lily tell Snape, in as close to anger as she’s ever directed at him, to just go home and leave them alone. And when he protests, his sneers fading to whines, she ignores him, stepping over the branch, and pulling Petunia close, wiry arms wrapped around her. Petunia sputters and sobs denials, resting her head against Lily’s chest, and only calms when her sister begins to hum, her breath evenly blowing out against Petunia’s flushed forehead.
By this time next year, Petunia has her letter.
Chapter 2: She left a trail of happiness and misery
Petunia sits on the sofa with her knees pressed firmly together and her nails digging crescents into her palms, resting on top of her thighs. It is a warm July night, and the the roses outside are in full bloom. She is sticking to the sofa’s vinyl cover.
Lily sits next to her, an arm around her shoulders. Lily’s curls are almost down to her waist, and sticking to her shoulders and neck with sweat. Petunia has always worn her hair short and bobbed and pulled back with a headband, but it’s too hot for headbands. The fan in the sitting room has stopped working.
Lily is twelve and has just gotten a scholarship to go to a fancy private school an hour away. She boards during the week and comes home every weekend. She says she’d just as soon go to the local public secondary school, but Lily is a horrible liar.
Petunia wishes she’d take better care of her uniform. She has a maroon cardigan with a neat navy crest and a matching tartan skirt that comes down to her knees. Lily says it goes horribly with her hair, but it brings out the deep green of her eyes.
They see Snape much less, but Petunia knows Lily writes him, and he writes her. Lily has been telling Petunia all sorts of things about this school she’s supposed to go to, all heard from him. It’s called Hogwarts and it’s in Scotland and no, there are no pigs. There’s four houses and Slytherin is the best one and everyone there can do magic. Everyone there is a freak. Like Snape. Like her.
But Petunia is not a freak, so there must be some sort of mistake. Just because things happen around her doesn’t mean it’s her fault. But in the past year the steady drip of magic has grown to a surge, and even Daddy and Mum have begun to take notice.
She should have gone flying off her bike last month, but instead she ended up on her feet again, somehow, not a scratch on her. Mum says it’s a miracle, but Daddy looks less sure. She’s overheard them talking about it, while Mum does the dishes and Daddy smokes a cigar with the back door propped open.
“You’re being paranoid, Glenn,” Mum had insisted in a low, worried murmur. “Reading too much into it- I don’t care what Lil’s been rambling on about. She’s a perfectly ordinary little girl. A bit of a nervous Nellie, maybe-,”
“No,” Daddy had said curtly, “Vi, there’s something going on there, and I don’t know what.”
Petunia, eavesdropping in the hall, one of her favorite activities, had padded into the bathroom and thrown up her supper in the sink. Then she’d scrubbed it clean in frantic silence, fighting back tears.
Now a woman named Minerva McGonagall is here to tell them all about how unordinary and freakish she is. Of course, she doesn’t use those words specifically. Professor McGonagall, who looks more and more peeved each time Daddy refers to her as ‘Mrs.’, is a tall woman in green with black hair pinned back in an old-fashioned bun. She’s dressed far too warmly for the weather, in an outfit one might see on an elderly woman, not someone who can’t be much older than thirty five.
“And you're the deputy headmistress,” Mum repeats uncertainly, unable to take a seat, instead hovering nervously besides Daddy’s armchair, “of this school?”
“Yes,” says McGonagall, rather primly, which is part of why Petunia can’t help but like her, although she ought to detest her. “And the head of Gryffindor House, as well as being the professor of Transfiguration.”
“Transfiguration?” Daddy asks with a frown. “Isn’t that some religious-,”
“It would be quite difficult to explain at the moment, and I am sure you have other questions,” she says, and looks to Petunia. The severe line of her mouth softens somewhat. “This may be a more difficult adjustment for you than others, coming from a non-magical family, but I assure you, Hogwarts will welcome you just as any other student.”
Petunia does not want to be welcomed by this freak school. “Do I have to go?” she asks, trying to sound proper, not petulant, and failing. “I don’t- I don’t like magic. I don’t want it.”
This prompts a dry smile from McGonagall. “Unfortunately, magic does not go away, even if we do not desire it. You must learn to control your abilities, Miss Evans, or they will control you.”
“She’d be in danger if she didn’t go?” Daddy demands, leaning forward a little in his chair like he's watching a match on the telly.
“Oh,” Mum frets, “this is ridiculous, Glenn, she’s not-,”
“Yes,” says McGonagall, with no hesitation, “to both herself and others. Hogwarts is like any other school, Mr. Evans, with lessons and homework and holiday breaks, but every one of our students has powers that most muggles- that most people,” she corrects herself, “could not comprehend. If they do not learn there, than where? Your daughter is a witch.”
Mum and Daddy believe McGonagall's a witch, at any rate. Any doubts were put to rest when she turned into a cat and back, prompting a shriek from Petunia, an excited gasp from Lily, and Mum almost fainting. Daddy seems to have taken it in stride, more or less, and Petunia knows it is he who will decide whether she stays or goes.
“Alright,” he says then, with a slow nod. “It’s a good school, you say?”
“The very best, if you ask me,” McGonagall raises her chin with pride.
“And she’ll be with other kids her age? Kids like her?”
“Of course. Some will be from similar backgrounds; there are many muggleborn students at Hogwarts.”
“And she’ll have a future when she gets out? There’s… there’s jobs she can do? Witchy things, things she can make a living off of?”
McGonagall inclines her head. “So long as she applies herself to her studies, she may grow up to be an excellent witch, with many career prospects.”
Daddy nods again. “Alright. She’ll go.”
“Glenn,” Mum whispers, but he shakes his head. When Daddy gets that look in his blue eyes, lean and sharp, there’s no arguing with him. He massages the lines on his weathered forehead, and exhales long and slow. “We’re doing our best for Lily, and we’ve got to do our best for her, Violet. I don’t like it any more than you do.”
Mum wants to argue, Petunia can tell, but Mum has never been the type to contradict anyone in a position of authority, nevermind her husband and a strange, stern woman who says she’s a professor, and sounds like it as well.
“You’re doing the right thing,” McGonagall assures them, and says she will be back in the morning to take them to get Petunia’s school things, which can’t be bought in muggle shops or via catalogue.
Petunia sits cross-legged on her bed and counts the flowers on the curtains, but there is no comfort in the number twenty six tonight. “You’re not even a little excited?” Lily asks, braiding her thick hair. The envy in her voice is as rich as butter, and spread just as haphazardly as Lily spreads anything. “Come on, Tuney, it’s like something out of a book. You’re a witch! You and Sev, you’re going off to this magic school-,”
“I don’t want to go,” Petunia snaps, wrapping her arms around herself. “Especially not with him.”
Lily pauses, softens, and comes to sit beside her. “I know you don't get along, but he apologized-,”
“Only so you’d talk to him again,” Petunia mutters under her breath, but her sister ignores it.
“And he promised me he’d look out for you at school.”
Petunia wrinkles her nose and purses her lips, glowering at Lily. “I don’t want him looking out for me; I don’t want to GO. I don’t want to be a witch, I want to be normal, and go to normal school with everyone else.”
“But you can’t,” says Lily. “Don’t you see, Tuney? This is who you are. You aren’t normal. You’re amazing. You’re not like everyone else. Not like me, or Mum, or Dad.” She is earnest and wide-eyed and open mouthed, and Petunia wants to slap her.
“You just wish it was you,” she accuses, and know she’s struck true from the way Lily immediately goes red as her hair and recoils.
“That’s not fair,” she protests, “of course I wish I had magic. But that doesn’t mean-,”
“The one thing I have that makes me different, and you want it,” Petunia says viciously. “If you can’t go, you’ll just bother me about it, so you can pretend it’s you.” Her mouth tastes sour and hot, and she turns away, curling up on her side.
If it were Lily who’d gotten the letter, and not her… Petunia would be heartbroken, and unable to forgive her. Lily’s right. She’s not being fair. But she can’t help it, because she’s terrified. Everything will be different now. She won’t be steady-Freddy Petunia, wild Lily’s meek little sister. She’ll be someone else. Someone she doesn’t know, or want to meet.
This has evened the scales. That doesn’t mean Petunia likes it, but she is grateful for it. For once she has something to lord over her sister. For once she has the advantage. Lily is pretty and clever and witty, but she is not a witch. She is not special. Petunia thinks for a few moments that Lily might cry, and while her sister sniffs, her guilt throbs in her gut, until, she rolls back over to face her.
Lily wipes at her eyes, takes a deep breath, and says, “Tuney, please. I don’t want to fight about this. I know you’re scared, and you don’t want to go, but I promise I’ll write you so you won’t be homesick.”
Petunia splinters a little at the rawness in her sister’s voice, as if she’s ill, and nods silently. Lily lays down beside her, and they sleep in the same bed, hot and restless, and wake up tangled in each other’s limbs in the morning, sore but dry-eyed. Petunia puts on her very best sundress, combs her hair, and only asks whether or not they locked the door four times before they leave for London.
It’s a cloudy, sweltering day in Diagon Alley, and while Petunia had to march soldier-like through that awful, grimy pub and was ready to crawl out of her skin when they had to stand in an alley full of trash bins, it’s impossible not to be overwhelmed with awe for wizarding London. The people are strange, the shops even stranger, and Lily looks as though she’s in an amusement park, unable to keep the exhilarated grin off her face, while Mum clutches her purse a bit tighter and stays close to McGonagall, who is almost amiable as she shows them around.
They get her uniform first, which Petunia is dismayed to learn will be all black. She looks terrible in black, like a washed out little ghost. Still, McGonagall is not the sort of woman who looks willing to tolerate impassioned pleas against the dress code, so Petunia gives up the struggle and sullenly submits to the witch in the robes shop, who tuts over how skinny and small she is for her age, but does compliment the pink clip in her hair.
The girl beside her being fitted for robes as well is just as short, with strawberry blonde hair pulled back in two pigtails. She’s coated in freckles, and has a gap between her front teeth. Her favorite color is red, as evidenced by her maroon dress.
Later, she will become Petunia’s first friend besides her sister, and her best friend at that. For the time being, she is squabbling with her harried looking mother, and two younger siblings. In seeming frustration, she turns to Petunia and sticks out her hand. “I’m Marlene McKinnon. Are you starting in September too?”
After a moment’s stare, Petunia shakes it, haltingly. “Petunia Evans.”
Marlene’s mother, a stout blonde woman with worried eyes but an easy grin, has turned to greet McGonagall and sympathetically ask Violet if she’s a muggle as well; “Mel didn’t tell me until after the honeymoon! He said he worked at a hospital- I thought I was getting a doctor! That’s men for you-,”
“Yeah,” says Marlene, unperturbed by Petunia’s standoffishness, “well, at least you’re the first in your family to go. I’ve got two older brothers there already. One’s a prefect, the other’s in detention every other day.”
“I want to go too,” Marlene’s little sister is complaining to Lily. “I can already do magic!”
“If you count making the lights flicker a bit, Mona,” Marlene rolls her brown eyes, and jerks her head at the two younger children. The little boy is determinedly picking his nose. “Monica and Malcolm.”
There isn’t much of a choice in the matter; the McKinnons accompany them to the rest of their stops, the aforementioned elder brothers making an appearance as well. The siblings make up a spectrum from auburn-haired Michael to coppery Matthew to strawberry blonde Marlene to sandy blonde Monica to towheaded Malcolm. They’re loud, aggressive, and rambunctious, full of stories and jokes and sidelong glares at each other when interrupted.
Petunia should dislike them immensely, but Marlene always looks at her intently when she speaks, as if whatever is coming out of Petunia’s mouth is very crucial, and never ignores her in favor of Lily, not even once. So Petunia feels something like begrudging tolerance, although the older boys already seem keen on teasing her, and Matthew is already trying to impress Lily, ‘muggle’ or not.
Marlene is effortlessly confident and self-assured, like Lily, but not in the same manner. Marlene is blunter, less patient, and quick to mock everything and everyone. When she tells Petunia she must absolutely get an owl, Petunia listens, although she has never liked birds, and tentatively picks out a little one whom Marlene immediately dubs Basil. Marlene’s cat is a big orange tom named Maurice whose fur Petunia can already see coating every inch of her uniform.
The wand shop, however, is something that must be tackled alone, and Petunia slips inside by herself, hands in neat fists at her side. The air is thick and dense with dust, and her breath comes in little stilted hitches as she stands by the dirty window, looking at the old man behind the counter, who is staring back at her. His eyes are shining in his skull, and she blinks nervously, folding into herself as he comes around the counter.
“Now you are not one I recognize,” he says solemnly, peering up and down at her. “Muggleborn, then?”
Petunia bristles but nods.
“Fair enough,” he says, “arms out, if you please.”
A tape measure comes whistling out of his pocket, sliding along the length of her arms, fingers, legs, and even her nose. Petunia twitches and flinches in turn but says nothing, hoping to get this over with as soon as possible. She doesn’t want a wand, doesn’t see how waving a stick around will make her a proper witch, but McGonagall says it’s non-negotiable, and that Garrick Ollivander is the best wandmaker in Britain.
“Right or left-handed?” he asks, retrieving the tape measure and sidling into the stacks.
“Right,” mumbles Petunia, rubbing at her bare arms. The shop is oddly chilled, despite the heat of the day outside. Perhaps it’s some sort of enchantment. She doesn’t care. She wants to run back out into the sunlight. But Ollivander returns with a stack of boxes, and hands her the first wand.
“Willow, unicorn hair, 12 and ⅓ inches, springy,” he says a bit skeptically. “Let us see, then.”
Petunia looks from the wand to him.
“Wave it,” he says impatiently, and she does. Nothing happens. “Again?” he suggests, sounding doubtful, and Petunia gives a more forceful wave, which sends papers on the counter flying into the air.
“Hm,” he says, “rather half-hearted. We can do better, can’t we? Hawthorn, unicorn hair, 10 and ½ inches, supple.”
This time her wave produces a loud bang and the smell of acrid smoke.
“Well,” he coughs, “third time’s the charm, perhaps. Hawthorn, dragon heartstring, exactly 13 inches, rigid.”
Petunia feels different with this wand. It’s hard to explain, but the others might as well have been pencils, like she were playing pretend, although that was always Lily, not her. This feels… it doesn’t feel like pretend at all. She waves it, and a shower of golden sparks cascade down, glimmering among the dust motes. Petunia is transfixed as they waver and disappear.
“Very good,” Ollivander praises, although it’s unclear whether he’s congratulating her or himself. “Now, you don’t seem the type for dragon heartstring, at first glance, but perhaps… well, we shall see. You’ll notice the decoration on the shaft, and hawthorn… well, hawthorn is a very interesting wood, isn’t it? Capable of great healing… and great destruction. They seem to seek out the…,” he pauses to look down at her, “conflicted among us. I would warn you, that if mishandled, hawthorn has great potential to backfire, with dire consequences.”
“Backfire?” Petunia repeats skeptically, “like a car?”
Ollivander simply looks at her, and adds, “An excellent wand for dueling, should you ever be so inclined.”
She pays and hurries out, and after showing it to a highly interested Marlene, who already has her own wand; ivy, 12 and ⅕ inches, unicorn hair, ‘supple and knobby’. McGonagall seems pleased with her choice, or as she phrases it, the ‘wand’s choice’, and Lily is quietly jealous for the entire train ride home.
Petunia has a uniform that needs to be washed and pressed, all her textbooks, quills and parchment and a cauldron, of all things, a little sleeping owl in a cage, a wand in a box that she never intends to remove it from, and Marlene’s scribbled address on a scrap of paper.
“I’ll see you on the platform, then,” Marlene had said in lieu of a goodbye, as if it was inevitable.
September 1st. Today is Wednesday, July 28th, 1971. In a month and three days she will be standing on a platform, waiting for a train, trying not to cry, trying not to scream at the crush of people around her. The train arrives at eleven o’clock sharp, but the platform is 9 and ¾. Why couldn’t it be 10?
Why couldn’t she just be normal, and nice, and pretty? Instead she is an acid-spewing freak about to be shipped off to God knows where to become a witch. And Lily wishes it were here. And the only person she will know at school besides Marlene hates her. And Mum still loves her, but she’s frightened of her all the same.
And she’s not simple, dull, Tuney Evans anymore, with her crisp white socks and her thin-lipped smiles and her angry blue eyes. She’s something more, something that can’t fit into the systems Petunia’s used to relying on. How can you organize a wand and cauldron? How do you confine spells and hexes?
You can’t. You don’t. And that’s why, despite the billowing black robes and the daunting hat, she feels raw and naked and wounded in them, like an opened scab trickling blood and pus. There is no plaster to slap on her. All she can do is bleed.
Chapter 3: And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing
Petunia stands in the middle of King’s Cross as men in suits and women with handbags bustle by, and contends with the barrier some thirty feet ahead. Her heart is pounding tumultuously in her chest and it physically hurts so much that she thinks she might faint.
She is flanked on one side by Lily, who is nearly hopping from one foot to the other in an attempt to keep herself quiet, and Mum, who is nearly as terrified as Petunia but only barely holding it together under the veneer of her Sunday best and modest lipstick. On the other side, there is Snape, who has been nearly polite to her all morning, and his skinny mother, who always hunches her neck and shoulders in anticipation of a phantom blow and whose smiles redefine ‘grimace’.
Petunia once overhead Daddy say that Toby Snape smacks his wife around, and while she’s never met Mr. Snape, she certainly believes it. Eileen Snape carries herself like a sodden rag that’s been wrung out and tossed aside. She wears no makeup and pins her dark hair back from her long face. Her eyebrows are nearly as thick as her son’s.
In contrast, Mum is soft and wavering and rounded, with an almost childish pouting mouth that Petunia inherited, a snub nose, and more and grey appearing in her short auburn perm. She wears pastels almost exclusively, and her hands have always been baby soft. She even smells of baby powder, because she puts it in her shoes. Petunia loves that smell. She resists the urge to cling to Mum now, to burrow into her chest, because this is the beginning of the end, right here, and she can’t afford to be weak.
She wishes Daddy were here, but he had to work, even if he got time off the day they saw Lily off at her school last year. Petunia knows he loves Lily more, because she is his special, longed for child, but she thinks he loves her best. Lily doesn’t need that much reassurance or comfort. Lily is self-sufficient, less fragile. Petunia has to be handled with care, especially by someone with rough, calloused hands like Daddy. He said goodbye to her this morning, and she got up early to do, blinking in the pale light of the kitchen as he smoothed back her hair and pressed a dry kiss to her forehead.
“Now, don’t let them push you around, yeah?” he told her, with a slight smile. “You might be a little thing, but you’ve got the Evans spunk. Just be polite and find some nice girls to be friends with, Pet. You’ll be alright. Try and write when you can, and we’ll see you for Christmas. It’ll go by in the blink of an eye!”
Petunia had nodded tiredly, and he’d wrapped her in a wiry one-armed embrace before kissing Mum goodbye and going on his way. She hadn't’t cried. She was determined not to cry all day. She would only let herself cry once she had somewhere private to do it, like a lavatory or a closet.
“So it’s… just straight on through?” Mum asks weakly.
Mrs. Snape nods. “Severus, go ahead,” she says, in the same clipped, wary tone she always uses with her son.
Petunia doesn’t blame her. If she had a boy like Severus Snape, equal parts sullen and spiteful, she’d be wary too. He’s an angry boy, and Petunia is an angry girl so she shouldn’t judge, but angry boys show their anger with holes in the wall and slammed doors and bruising grips. Angry girls simper and hiss and back-handed compliment and ultimately put on a smile, even if they are seething inside.
Severus looks to Lily. “Want to run it with me?” he asks, and Lily, thoughtless in her excitement, as if it is Christmas morning and this is her first gift, bubbles, “Yes!” She latches onto his arm, he nearly grins, and they walk briskly towards the barrier, then pick up speed, and Petunia braces for the collision- but there is none. They are simply there one minute, and gone the next.
Far more haltingly, Petunia, her mother, and Mrs. Snape follow, although Petunia almost swerves away at the last moment. The only thing stopping her is Mrs. Snape’s iron grip on the trolley, and for that she is oddly grateful. Going the barrier doesn’t feel like anything, which is almost worse, because that means the apprehension and dread is still there, even after she is on the other side, staring at the crimson train before her.
It is 1971, and the baby boom is in full effect. Platform Nine and Three Quarters is packed with children and their parents, all in various states of anxiety, relief, and dysfunction. There are mothers on the verge of a breakdown, fathers who look like they’d rather be anywhere else, exasperated teenagers, belligerent younger siblings, squawking owls, panicking cats, the occasional croak of a toad, and someone has just dropped their rat, causing a brief panic and crowd surge before a sprightly eight year old snatches it up,
Petunia is hemmed in on all sides, and desperately wants to dart back the way she came, but more people are pouring through the barrier. Mum is both mesmerized by the train and the people and their flowing robes in all the colors of the rainbow, and holding Petunia’s shoulder so hard that her fingers are going to leave marks.
Petunia jerks away, looks to Lily, who is in hushed conversation with Snape, and before she can truly descend into a nervous breakdown, someone yells, “PETUNIA! OI, PETUNIA EVANS!”
It is Marlene, of course, who else would it be? Still, Petunia cringes at the stares tossed her way as the short girl bounds over to her, surprisingly solo.
“There's so many of us, Mum and Dad just have us go through the barrier on our own,” Marlene shrugs. “Mike went to put my stuff on the train and Matt’s… somewhere.” She scowls as an elbow collides with her back, and sneers after them, “Yeah, watch it, why don’t you?”
Petunia is relieved. Marlene will take control of the situation, and all Petunia will have to do is follow her. Mum looks a bit disconcerted, and Snape is already giving his mother a cold peck on the cheek in goodbye. Mrs. Snape leans down and whispers something to him, then lets him go. Whatever it is, he brushes it off and turns back to Lily, who is gazing at the train in open longing.
“We’ve got to get a compartment, then,” Marlene tells Petunia, and waves at Mum, “nice seeing you again, Mrs. Evans.”
This is happening too fast. Petunia looks from Marlene to her mother, torn, but she can’t stay in this crowd and she’d have to say her goodbyes soon anyways-
“It’s alright, Petunia,” Mum says bravely, because she is brave, after all, having waited for Daddy to get back from war and seeing them pull her own mum out of the rubble of a bombed house, and burying Dale in that little plot. “You’ll be fine. Give Mum a hug and kiss, then.”
Petunia hugs her too tightly, tight enough to hurt, and kisses her on the corner of her chin. “Bye, Mum,” she says, and thinks that this is the first time she’s said it and not sounded like a little girl.
“Goodbye, love,” Mum breathes out shakily, “be a good girl, alright? Mind your manners, and try and have a bit of fun.”
Petunia nods tightly, and then Lily is saying, “Oh but you’re not going already?’ in distress. It’s obvious Snape intends to stay on the platform until the absolute last second, squeezing in every ounce of conversation with Lily before he has to leave. Petunia knows it will just make her even more anxious to stand there and listen to them. Snape wishes more than anything that it were Lily getting on that train with him. And so does Lily.
Then Petunia lets go of Mum, turns to her sister, and freezes. Lily stares back at her, and for a second it’s almost as if they’re not sure whether to embrace or gouge out each other’s eyes. There’s something wild and frenetic in the air between them, something that wants to scream and cry and pull hair. Then Lily bridges the gap and nearly lifts Petunia off her feet with her hug, breathing in her ear, “You’ll be brilliant, I know it, so you’ve got to be brave, Tuney.”
“I know,” Petunia whispers back, although she doesn’t know, but Lily is warm and solid and smells like the honey toast she ate for breakfast. Her blouse is wrinkled and untucked and Mum says when she goes back to school she’ll have to start wearing a training bra. But she is Lily and Petunia may hate her six ways to Sunday, but she still loves her more, in countless ways.
Then Lily sets her down and Petunia relinquishes her grip on her sister’s slender shoulders and Marlene, looking a bit bemused at all these theatrics, with the world weary, yet sophisticated air of a middle child used to being shuffled about and passed, leads Petunia onto the train.
There they spend nearly five minutes trying to ascertain which compartment is in the exact middle of the car, and another minute of Petunia dithering over what side to sit on, but she gives into human frailty and chooses the side facing the platform. Marlene flops down in the seat across from her with a practiced groan of relief, and Petunia presses up against the window. Lily sees her and jumps up and down, waving, until finally Severus catches her attention again and she sways to a halt.
“His mum’s a Prince,” Marlene tells her, “or was. My dad went to school with her. Very Slytherin, those people. Heard they threw her out, ‘cause she married a muggle.”
“Why?” Petunia asks, although she knows why. Why do people care about anything? Appearances. Fear. Greed. Loyalty. Obsession. Lots of times, obsession.
Marlene huffs, “Same reason muggles don’t want their daughters marrying black blokes. They don’t like muggles, don’t trust them. Think we should take everything over.”
“So why haven’t they?” Petunia scowls. “Witches, I mean. If they’re so powerful.”
Marlene smirks. “I dunno. Probably ‘cause there’s so few of us, compared to them. We’d win, maybe. Dunno how long that’d last. After all,” she nods to the crowds outside, as more and more students flock to the train, “they used to burn us.”
She’s right. If Petunia had been born fifty years ago, maybe Mum and Daddy would have tried to have her committed. Fifty years before that, thrown her out on the street. Fifty years before that-
Well, maybe she is a bit lucky, in a way.
Marlene counteracts roughly half of what Petunia’s heard second-hand about Hogwarts from Lily, from Snape. “Gryffindor’s probably the best house,” she snorts, “in terms of doing great things. That’s the one I want, anyways. Dad was in Hufflepuff, and so is Mike, but Matt got Gryffindor like Grandpa. I’m not patient enough for Hufflepuff, definitely not clever enough for Ravenclaw,” she counts off on thick fingers, “and not ambitious enough for Slytherin, I’m really lazy, you know?”
“It goes by what you’re like?” Petunia asks shrilly, and Marlene grins at her ignorance.
“Look, don’t worry about it- the Hat has to put you somewhere.”
“The Hat?” Petunia can already tell she’s not going to like this. She hates hats. They serve no purpose except to frizz up her hair and they never keep her ears warm, anyways. She stares in infuriated disbelief as Marlene explains the practice, and then shakes her head. “I’m not doing that.”
“Well, it’s that or they make you fight a mountain troll,” Marlene shrugs, then bursts out laughing at Petunia’s squeal of outrage. “Just don’t worry about it, alright? Everyone does it. We’ll be fine and dandy.”
But Petunia is going to worry about it, although she is distracted as the conductor yells out the last boarding call and begins to snap shut the train’s doors. She presses up to the window once again. Snape and Lily hug one last time, a blur of black and scarlet, before he reluctantly breaks away and scurries on board the train at the last moment. The gears lurch to a start underneath them, and the train begins to slowly pull away. Petunia stares at Lily and Mum, who huddle together to wave and smile, although their eyes are glassy.
Then Lily suddenly begins to run, keeping pace with the train for a few glorious moments, her red hair streaming out like a banner unfurled behind her, pale legs pumping up and down under her shorts, trainers slapping against the ground-
And then the train rushes away and she is gone, an orange blur in the background. Petunia, for the first time in her life, is what might as well be the only Evans in the world. The only Evans in this world, at least. She sinks back down into her seat, wavers on the edge of tears, and begins to count the spots in the carpet under her breath. Marlene, to her credit, tolerates this with remarkable good-nature for a temperamental eleven year old girl. It seals their fledgling friendship, that she won’t question Petunia’s peculiarities or sour faces.
They have just left London and Petunia has stopped counting when the compartment door, which Petunia insisted on closing all the way, unable to stand it being only half shut, rattles open. Two boys are in the doorway, snickering to each other. Petunia is instantly on edge, because both are loud, tall, and on the verge of handsome- boys who will most certainly be good looking young men in several short years.
The slightly taller, lankier one has black hair down to his shoulders, like Snape, but his hair falls in curls and his cheekbones are sharper, his chin stronger, like something out of an old oil painting. The shorter one, with a rounder face, is also black-haired, but his is a tangled mop that has clearly recently been cut to no avail, and his smile is slightly less haughty. They both have odd eyes; the taller one’s are grey, the shorter one’s are hazel.
“I s’ppose this compartment’s taken?” asks the shorter one, although it’s obviously not a question he plans on hearing confirmed. The taller one smirks and leans against the doorframe languidly.
Petunia looks frantically to Marlene. She has never done well with boys like this. At best, they ignore her. At worst, they sneer and snicker her name and repeat everything she says in mockery. They make her feel small, and shabby, and incredibly infantile.
Fortunately for both of them, Marlene McKinnon was not raised to duck her head and blush meekly when confronted with handsome boys with cocky grins. “Depends,” she retorts, “are you gits, or are you alright?”
“Well, Sirius?” asks the shorter one. “Are we gits?”
“Me? We Blacks don’t produce gits. Pricks, maybe,” Sirius snorts, and then looks between the two girls. “How d’you feel about pricks?”
The other boy bursts into laughter. Petunia flushes red, and hates herself for giving him the reaction he was looking for. He grins directly at her, and she pointedly looks away.
“A Black, are you?” Marlene comments, narrowing her brown eyes. “I’ve heard about your folk-,”
“Oh, come off it, he’s alright,” the shorter boy is quick to reassure her. He sticks out his hand. “James Potter.” He doesn’t say his name; he proclaims it, the pride dangling from his tongue.
Marlene takes a bat at it, and shakes his hand. “Marlene McKinnon. I reckon galleons do jingle in the same purse,” she says snidely, but not nastily, and James Potter looks as if he’s not sure whether to be offended or amused, before settling on the former, and sitting down beside her, stretching out his long legs.
To Petunia’s dismay, Sirius Black sits down beside her, casting a look over her faded white blouse, with flowers stitched into the color, tucked into her baby blue skirt. “Let me guess,” he says, “Rosie Posey?”
Petunia stiffens, draws herself up, and snaps, “Petunia Evans, actually. It’s polite to ask first, before you make a game of it.”
James makes a choked laughing noise, and Sirius looks momentarily stunned at her sudden transformation from timid to superior. Then he sneers, but there’s too much teeth in it, and says, “Well, Pe-tun-ia, some of us like games.”
Were it just Petunia and the two boys, she would have curled up against the window and wanted to die, but Marlene is there to say, with open, triumphant scorn, “Yeah, I see the prick bit now,” and so the tables, while rattled, never quite manage to turn for the rest of the train ride.
Chapter 4: People gather around her and she finds it hard to stay alive
Petunia has always liked lines, but not this one. She stares at the back of Marlene’s freckled neck, willing herself not to vomit as the first years walk single-file into the Great Hall. She is glad they’re in a line, not a cluttered clump, but at least she could hide in a crowd. There is no hiding now. And it’s impossible to see any of the faces of her fellow first years in this position, although she momentarily glimpses Snape’s lank hair up ahead.
Potter and Black are already calling him Snivellus, and found it hysterical that she knew him. Of course, she was careful not to say anything stupid like ‘we grew up together’, because that’s not at all true- they grew up in parallel, her in a small, pleasant-smelling house, him in a filthy hovel. Her with parents, him with violent ghosts. The only link between them is Lily, and that’s tenuous at best. Snape can’t seriously think Lily will want anything to do with him in a few years, when she’s got boys lined down the lane and he’s the same gangly, greasy shadow, skulking about.
Petunia can’t wait for the link to be severed. She made it clear what she thinks of him, more out of self-preservation than loathing, although she does loathe him. It’s quite clear James Potter and Sirius Black are going to have the run of the school, or the very least the run of the first years, and she’s not stupid enough to align herself with someone they already dislike.
Potter is a spoiled, coddled thing with the arrogant innocence of a boy who’s always been assured that he is a precious gem. Black is perhaps worse because while clearly aristocratic, with the haughty lilt to his voice that he’s already trying to smother, he does not have the air of someone who’s been spoiled or sheltered. Rather, he’s angry. Even when he’s smiling, he’s angry.
Petunia felt as though she were sitting next to a live wire on the train. Make no mistake, Potter’s got his temper, brash and bold and slightly smug, but Black’s the type of boy who doesn’t yell, but roars. His rage is adult, not Potter’s childish tiffs. And Petunia wants nothing to do with either of them.
They might not make her skin crawl the way Snape does, but they do set her on edge and flinching away from their boisterous gestures and loud jokes. They don’t frighten her, not quite, but she’s frightened of what they might think of her, these boys who talk a mile a minute and decide who’s alright and who’s a freak. She doesn’t want to be a freak, even among freaks.
But they seem impressed with Marlene and her refusal to look fazed by anything that spurts out of their mouths, so Petunia hopes she’ll be safe from mockery via association. She was never bullied at school, not quite, but she was never well-liked either. The other girls found her annoying and distanced themselves accordingly, and the boys found her an easy target, something to poke and prod and make shriek and jump and squeal.
Now she resists the urge to hold on to the back of Marlene’s robes like a baby following her mother. All she has to do is put one foot in front of the other, but it’s hard, since she’s still wrapping her head around being in a literal castle on a cliff. Petunia has never been in a castle before now, She expected it to look like a museum, somewhat. Instead it looks disturbingly alive, lived in, in a way nothing this old should appear. Marlene said there are ghosts, and she’s determined not to see any, or she’s convinced she’ll just faint. But the hall-
Petunia gapes up at the stars twinkling in the indigo sky above, and hisses in Marlene’s ear, “It’s fake, isn’t it? There’s a ceiling, isn’t there?”
Marlene just snickers and says nothing, and Petunia squints up at the floating candles for another few moments, transfixed in dread and something else. The ‘something else’ frightens her, because it’s something Lily would feel at a time like this, a little thrill deep inside, like something’s woken up.
It’s very close to excitement, of a wild, primeval sort, and it terrifies Petunia. She doesn’t belong here. This world wasn’t made for girls like her. It was made for girls like Lily, who have always had stars in their eyes. Petunia’s eyes are too small and watery for stars. But inside, she is thrumming all the same. The Hat is singing, but she barely hears it over the rush of blood in her ears.
The four long tables must seat at the very least a hundred each, likely more. From where she is, all the students look the same, pallid and tanned blurs in black robes and hats. But the banners hanging above the tables are clear to her, and she glances from lion to eagle to badger to serpent and back again. The sigils mean nothing to her, but there are four, and what appears to be an equal amount of students at each table, which is reassuring.
That means there’s a place for everyone, even her.
Petunia can’t quite make out the hat, but McGonagall begins the Sorting with “ABBOT, JANE!”, and she braces herself. Evans isn’t very far down the alphabet. Marlene has pointed out how jealous she is multiple times; “There’s always loads of M’s, it’s so stupid-,”
Petunia doesn’t see what there is to be jealous of. She doesn’t know how she’s going to make the long walk up there, sit on a rickety stool, and endure the entire school watching some filthy old hat being crammed on her head. She’ll die of mortification and nerves on the spot, before it can even scream out a house, as it’s doing for Jane Abbott right now. She scampers over to Hufflepuff, the yellow and black house, and “ACKERLY, MARILYN!” takes her place.
Sirius Black is the second student to be sorted into Gryffindor, but you would think he was the first, from the jaunt of his walk over to the house of scarlet and gold. There is scattered applause, but aside from that, a disturbing silence, ringing out deadly. Marlene gives a little huff of disbelief, and whispers back at Petunia, “There’s never been a Black in Gryffindor. They’re always Slytherins, always.”
Petunia wonders what that means for this Black, who appears to be barely restraining a grin. He doesn’t look very concerned, so why should anyone else be? But two pale blondes in Slytherin have turned round to stare at him, and Petunia watches his expression contort into something less jovial and more spiteful, a baring of teeth. The blondes turn away, and Petunia is distracted by the hat finally deciding on Ravenclaw for Nancy Boot, after two minutes of silent deliberation.
Some of the students are sorted immediately, as soon as the Hat touches their head, like Samantha Bulstrode, the first girl to go to Slytherin. Others, like Russell Donoghue, take minutes and minutes. Petunia estimates at least twenty five first years have already been sorted by the time McGonagall reaches the Es.
She would have liked to keep exact count, but her nerves are throttling her, and all she can do is stare helplessly down the line of students. Marlene is growing more and more restless as the minutes tick on.
Roland Earl and John Eastchurch go to Ravenclaw, slapping each other on the back as they do so. Phyllis Eldridge gives a little stiff smile when the hat screams “SLYTHERIN!” after barely thirty seconds on her blonde head. Julius Ellsworth and Paula English follow each other to Hufflepuff, all relieved grins.
Then Anthony Escarra runs up from the back of the line, and Petunia knows it will be her soon. The Hat declares Anthony a Gryffindor in less than a minute, and then McGonagall calls out, “EVANS, PETUNIA!”
Petunia is rooted to the stone floor, and dozens of heads whip around to stare at her, before Marlene forcibly prods her out of line. She marches up to the hat, arms flat at her sides so no one will see them trembling. It’s just a hat. All she has to do is sit there.
But it’s not just a hat and everyone is staring at her and she nearly trips as she reaches the dais, before shakily scrambling up onto the stool. The stool is hard and warm the last person to sit on it and her legs dangle uselessly. She feels like a rag doll, and tries to let her vision blur so she can’t see everyone looking at her as McGonagall places the Hat on her head.
“Hm,” says the hat, low and rumbling, inside her head, and she gives an involuntary, silent yelp. “Now, this is quite interesting,” it continues, and Petunia is still trying to wrap her head around the fact that it’s not speaking, there is no voice in her ear, but she can hear it all the same. “You are a difficult one,” it admits, rather dryly, for a scrap of fabric, “a certain slow cunning to you, and determined and ambitious as well-,”
I don’t want Slytherin, Petunia thinks wildly. She will not spend the next seven years as the same house as Snape, who has yet to be sorted, but who is clearly dead set on the house of silver and green. I won’t fit in. I want Gryffindor, if Marlene’s going there. I don't want Slytherin.
“Your mind,” the hat says mildly, “is far more flexible than you assume, child. But... well, now I see, what a brave little thing you are- and not afraid to speak your mind, are you? Hardworking to boot, and all these numbers… Ah well. You’d do quite well in Slytherin, but I think it had better be… GRYFFINDOR!”
Frozen in shock and relief and dread, Petunia slips limply off the stool as McGonagall sweeps the hat off her head. She glances up at the woman, who gives her the barest hint of a smile, and nods sharply in the direction of the Gryffindor Table. Petunia walks over it as if wading through mud and sits down slowly. Sirius Black sits three places down on the opposite side, already regaling a few other boys with some story about having seen the Giant Squid in the Black Lake. Petunia spent the boat ride in a state of terror and nearly fell into the frigid water scrambling out at the end.
He spares a momentary glance in her direction, looking a little surprised, and she stiffens and refuses to look back at him. Nearly ten minutes later, Marlene joins her, the Hat having taken all of five seconds flat to sort her. Marlene is bouncy and grinning, laughter burbling up out of her as she looks up and down the length of the table, then arches an eyebrow at Petunia. “We made it, huh? It’s all up from here,” she promises, then waves at her brother Matthew, who greeted her entrance into Gryffindor with raucous whistles.
The sorting finishes exactly forty minutes after it started, Petunia having checked the watch on her skinny wrist compulsively throughout. By now her stomach feels cavernous and booming with hunger; she nibbled at candy on the train just like everyone else, but Lily has always had more of a sweet tooth than her. Petunia likes things that make her feel full, and comforted, the ebbs of hunger and loneliness vanquished.
After the headmaster’s odd remarks, which no one else seems to consider odd, the table is suddenly flooded with food, and Petunia jerks back, then watches warily as everyone else immediately begins to dig in. Won over by the smell, she heaps potatoes and Shepherd’s pie onto her plate, and listens to the rapidfire conversation between the first year Gryffindor girls, who have all huddled together into one demanding, defiant, destructive lump. Nearly all of them are used to having the command of any discussion, and so there is plenty of bickering.
This leaves Petunia to turn to the unusually quiet girl on her right, who is very tall for a first year, with chestnut brown hair pulled back in a long ponytail. In that sense she reminds Petunia of a horse, although she has a round, open face, and luminous brown eyes behind her glasses. “Mary Macdonald,” the girl mumbles politely around a mouthful of lamb chop.
“Petunia Evans,” Petunia rejoins, sawing at her turkey. Mary looked similarly disturbed at the appearance of the food, so she hazards a guess. “Are you…”
“Normal?” Mary asks with a wry smile, and Petunia titters nervously. “You too?”
“My dad almost didn’t let me come,” Mary scoffs, “Mum and I had to beg for hours and hours. He thinks it’s all some big scam, even after they delivered the letter and everything.”
Petunia rather wishes her father had put up more of a fuss. But she can’t think of Daddy right now, or she’ll lose her appetite entirely. “I… I didn’t want to go.” It should be ‘I don’t’. Her mind hasn’t changed just because there are stars twinkling above her and the food is delicious.
“I never got on with anyone at my old school,” Mary says with measured caution, clearly not saying all there is to say about that, “least of all the nuns. And getting a wand was pretty spiffy.”
“I hope they don’t expect us to know spells right off the bat,” Petunia frets, but there is an immeasurable relief at having someone to talk to who understands, who is normal, who knows none of this is true, none of it can be true for the rest of the world. It’s like a waking dream she’s expected to participate in. A required game of make believe. Only everyone believes it.
But the food is for the most part normal enough, and there is ice cream for dessert, and there is little about even Petunia’s foulest mood that cannot be solved with sherbet. She’s not sure if she likes the girls she’s surrounded by, but their names cling to her; snide Janet and sophisticated Sharon and mouthy Debra and coy Cindy and belligerent Anisha and cheery Pam…
They would all be great friends with Lily, Petunia is sure. As it stands, she is both intimidated and aggravated by their boldness, their confidence, the way they posture and cackle like hyenas when one cracks a successful jibe at another. These are girls for a new generation, and these are girls who know things, things Petunia doesn’t know. Things about magic and boys and clothes and power. Lucy Thorne is even wearing mascara, fluttering her eyes dramatically to show it off to Brenda Waters.
They’re repulsive. They’re magnetic. Petunia wants to tear them down as much as she wants to slip into their proud ranks, because they are young lionesses, testing out their roars, examining their claws. And if they are lionesses, she is a stray cat, bone thin and with fur falling out in patches, hiding in the wake of their prowl. But occasionally Marlene catches her and pulls her and Mary into the discussion, and when Agnes Sharp asks a rude question about her name, tells her she’s got no right to talk, with a name like Agnes.
Petunia is nodding off but ready to bolt at the same time when two prefects, introduced as Frank and Alice, rouse themselves to take the first years up to the dormitory. Petunia is inclined to like Alice, who is round-faced and bobbed, with pretty blue eyes. Frank is clearly besotted with her, and she is happily oblivious, chattering away to the first year girls as if they are already good friends, although the difference between fifteen and eleven seems like an insurmountable canyon to Petunia.
She knows she won’t remember the way to the common room, so she doesn’t bother to try. The moving staircases momentarily jolt her awake, but she’s still half asleep by the time they get to the picture of the portrait… which moves… and sings falsetto… and causes Petunia to retreat to the very back of the herd as they clutter inside.
The Gryffindor common room is very red and very warm and smells faintly of cinnamon. Petunia trails a hand over an overstuffed armchair before Alice directs them to the cramped stairwell on the right. They are left to find their own rooms via where their belongings have been deposited and Petunia finds herself with Marlene, Mary, and Dorcas Meadowes, a dark-skinned girl with a cool stare and immaculately painted nails. The four regard each other for a moment by their chosen beds, before simultaneously moving to unpack.
Petunia carefully spreads out her childhood quilt, embroidered with pink and white flowers, over the bedcovers, and wishes desperately she could break down and cry, but she can’t, not with three of them in the room with her. She didn’t have much more privacy at home, but it was different with Lily. Lily is her sister, Daddy and Mum are her parents. They understand her, or at least attempt to. She barely knows anyone here.
In the end, she waits until everyone has fallen asleep; Marlene makes a valiant attempt to stay up late chatting, but is snoring by time Petunia’s watch reaches midnight. She curls up in the windowsill. This is the highest she has ever been in her life, looking out into the vast darkness of the highlands, a tiny speck in a tower window. She presses her hand up against the cold window and thinks of her empty bed at home. Mum is probably crying and Daddy is probably comforting her, poorly, and Lily is probably sitting in their room, wanting to be anywhere else, anywhere at all.
She retreats to her bed eventually, and wishes for Lily’s too-hot, sweaty summer embrace, and the rush of the dirty river.
Chapter 5: Catch a bright star and place it on your forehead
Petunia has always liked school not because of her teachers or classes, but because of the routine. She’d biked the same route with Lily every morning, and the same route home every afternoon, rain or shine.
She’d liked organizing her desk and the fresh pencils and paper she got every year, and squeaking her new shoes on the tiled floor. She’d like knowing exactly when each lesson began and ended, and eating lunch at the same time every day.
She’d been a model student in terms of behavior, never sent home with notes about her daydreaming or chatting away with a friend during a lecture like Lily, although even when Lily was being scolded it all managed to be rather complimentary of her; ‘Lily is a lovely, outgoing girl, but she must learn to pay closer attention to the lesson-’.
Petunia had never gotten notes home, but she’d never gotten high praise either. Her grades were fine, but not particularly impressive. Her best subject was maths, while her sister’s essays were fawned over.
Hogwarts is not like any school Petunia has ever heard of. There is breakfast and lunch and dinner and classes, each lasting one hour. Getting to said classes is another matter entirely. Petunia is certain she would have had a full nervous breakdown had she not had Dorcas Meadowes to rely on.
Marlene doesn’t particularly care about being late for class and is often sidetracked by things that she finds intriguing and Petunia finds terrifying, such as moving suits of armor, talkative portraits, or nosy ghosts. It takes Petunia a full month, truth to be told, to stop shuddering at the mere glimpse of Nearly Headless Nick.
Mary is almost as anxious as Petunia about getting to class on time, and so it is Dorcas who guides them through winding halls and up and down flights of stairs that leave Petunia breathless and jelly-legged, given their tendency to move.
Dorcas is a pure blooded only child who quite frankly tells them she would have preferred Slytherin, her father’s house, and that if they can’t get to bed at a reasonable hour on week nights she shall have no qualms about jinxing them, once she learns some proper ones.
But Dorcas, while stand-offish, condescending, and disarmingly well put-together for a girl of eleven, is not one to follow when she could be leading. So Petunia is endlessly grateful to her for making sure Marlene is not leading them in the entirely opposite direction, or straight into the path of Peeves. Petunia is quite convinced he’s a demon, not a poltergeist, and the thought of running into him alone and being pelted with God knows what makes her hands clammy.
She is such a tight knot of anxiety for the first week of classes that it’s a wonder she gets any homework done at all. But to her utter shock, she… well, she rather enjoys some of it.
Potions isn’t very different from cooking, and Petunia has been helping Mum with supper since she could walk. Defense Against the Dark Arts seems important, and Petunia has always preferred to be over-prepared, if anything, so she throws herself into studying gnomes and doxies and imps.
Charms is nearly fun, although she’s loathe to admit to enjoying any form of magic, and while she can’t stand Herbology or Astronomy- one has repulsive excuses for plants, the other is at midnight in some dusty tower, as if they’re a pack of heathens- Transfiguration is her absolute favorite.
She preens when she is among the first to turn her match into a needle, although Potter and Black are not far behind, and Black swipes her needle off her desk to poke whingey little Peter Pettigrew with. They seem to have teamed up with pale, quiet Remus Lupin as well, who looks slightly less like a worn down scarecrow when in their company.
Much later, Petunia rather blames Remus for nearly everything, as were it not for him she might never have gotten mixed up in the whole mess- that mess being the Marauders and their nonsense and everything that follows.
But first there is their first Flying lesson, which the Gryffindors all attend together, all thirty six of them, just as they do all their other lessons. Marlene is rather giddy at the sight of the brooms laid out for them, and Mary seems enthused as well. Petunia is relieved that Dorcas seems just as reluctant as she.
“I really don’t see the point in it,” she drawls as they hurry out into the late summer sunlight, “it’s not as if we’ve all got some desperate urge to try out for the Quidditch team-,”
Petunia has had Quidditch explained to her four and a half times thus far, and still has no concept of it, besides it being a bit like football, on brooms. She’s never liked sports. Lily was always the one willing to jump into the mix with the neighborhood boys and splatter new perfectly good jumper with mud. Petunia always stayed pinioned on the sidelines, too timid to join, too timid to leave, watching her sister’s face flush as red as the hair tumbling out of her bun.
“Speak for yourself,” Marlene scoffs, tightening her ponytail, “I’m trying out for sure next year.”
“How high can they actually go?” Mary asks in a hushed voice as they get into line.
Potter is regaling the rest of the class with the story of the time he got tangled in a muggle telephone line and ‘nearly electrocuted’.
“Yeah,” Marlene snorts, “and did you run into a pack of fairies later, on your way to meet the Queen?”
“Don’t be jealous, McKinnon,” he retorts, “just because you grew up flying on a mop-,”
Their squabbling is interrupted by Madam Hooch, a short, square, yellow-eyed woman in her sixties who teaches Flying. Several impatient commands later, Petunia studies the broom on the ground before her. “Up,” she says, feeling stupid. It’s a broom. You’re never going to catch her riding one.
This is the sort of thing Lily would throw herself into whole-heartedly, charmed by the sheer absurdity of it. Petunia can’t get over the fact that they actually ride on brooms, just like cartoons. It’s moving beyond ridiculous and towards unbelievable. Even Lily might think she’s making things up, although Petunia has only ever lied to save herself.
Marlene has gotten her broom to jump snugly into her hand on the first try, and Mary, slowly but surely, on the second. Even Dorcas manages it after a few moments, leaving Petunia to repeat “Up!” in increasingly desperate tones. Fortunately, the class is too big for everyone to be a witness to this particular humiliation, and Petunia has had several since she got here, but when Black leans over, stage-whispers “Up,” and her broom jumps into his free hand, his broom in the other, she snaps.
“Up,” Petunia hisses, and the broom jumps again and whacks him firmly in the face. Black blinks rapidly in shock, a hand coming up to rub hard at his nose, and Potter chokes back a surprised laugh. Lupin is snickering, although trying to hide it by staring up at the clouds overhead as if there’s a message for him, and Pettigrew is wide-eyed and open-mouthed, more than usual.
“Fourteenth’s time's the charm, I reckon,” Black finally tells her with a smirk, and to her relief, because she was half convinced he was about to pull his wand on her, tosses the broom her way. She clumsily catches it, and he snorts, but the look on his face is something approaching impressed. Impressed that she stood up to him rather than throwing a fit, she supposes. Impressed that she’s left a red mark on his face that will linger well into the evening.
Nevermind that Petunia is a shaking mess as soon as they actually have to mount the brooms and hover off the ground, which she barely manages. Potter soars up into the air almost immediately, despite Madam Hooch’s irritated yells for him to come down at once, and Black is quick to follow, Lupin and Pettigrew mere seconds later. The four of them zoom about whooping while the rest of the class descends into chaos, and Petunia is secretly glad, because it means she can get her feet back on solid ground.
In the moment, during her classes and at meals, surrounded by other children, she’s able to forget what’s paralyzing her on the inside. She only cries and broods in the bath and in the lavatory, when she is certain she’s alone, and no one can witness her crumbling.
It’s important that Marlene and Marcy and Dorcas and Potter and Black and all the rest- it’s important that they think her fussy and prissy and sharp and unwieldy as fine glass shards, maybe even ditzy as well, but never weak. Never a crier. There is nothing Gryffindors despise more than a crier. She cannot be little Tuney Evans here, always bursting into tears when things don’t go to plan or life’s irregularities confront her.
But nothing at Hogwarts is to plan, and by the end of her first week it begins to sink in that this is her life now. She won’t see her family or sleep in her own bed again until Christmas, and even then, after a few weeks she’ll be back here.
Hogwarts is too big, too hollow inside, too echoing. She feels like an insignificant smudge on its limestone and marble. Her robes could swallow her up, and maybe no one would notice. Her crest is always slightly askew, and her skirt wrinkled. She hates not doing her own laundry, hates having to shower at the same time as other girls, hates never being able to eat alone, hates falling asleep listening to people who are not Lily snore.
But then there are brief moments of something like exhilaration, when she realized her match had gone from wood to metal, when she feels the sparks flow from her wand, when she watches the owls come in with the mail, despite the fact she’ll have to wash her hands at least four times afterwards.
Still, her panic buds inside her all week until finally blooming, and she finds herself having a proper cry before supper on Saturday, until she realizes someone is retching in one of the stalls. They come out spluttering slightly, and Petunia stares at Remus Lupin, who looks just as horrified as she does, red-eyed and blotchy faced and sitting on the floor.
“This is the girl’s toilet,” she snaps after a moment of silence, and he nods jerkily. “What are you doing in here?”
He’s paler than usual, a skinny wraith of a boy with thin brown hair tired eyes. Something about his eyes unnerve Petunia; they’re older than they have right to be, on that young face.
“I… I felt a bit sick, and this was the closest bathroom,” he says after a moment, somewhat lamely. “Besides, no one’s ever in here, with the ghost and all.”
Moaning Myrtle, who Petunia has heard but not yet seen. She must be off in some other pipes, because for the time being the lavatory is silent, aside from the steady drip of leaky faucets.
“Are you ill?” she asks, to keep him from asking why she was sobbing just moments earlier.
Remus hesitates, then shakes his head swiftly. “No, I’ve just got… a weak stomach. I think I’ll skip dinner, actually.”
Petunia nods and says nothing, although an involuntary sniffle makes her feel even more ashamed. Of all the people to see her like this, it had to be one of Potter and Black’s best mates. The whole school will know she was weeping hysterically in Moaning Myrtle’s Bathroom, at this rate.
“I don’t think I’m going to dinner either,” she says in a small, cramped voice.
He looks at her for another long moment, then rummages in his pocket, and comes out with a wrapped square of chocolate, to her surprise. Silently, he offers it to her, and she takes it, scrambling up to her feet and smoothing down her skirt.
“It always makes me feel better,” he shrugs.
“Thanks,” Petunia says, picking at the foil wrapping, and then nibbles off a bite and follows him out of the bathroom, wiping at her eyes. Although it’s not her intention, she walks all the way up to the Common Room with him, and they eat chocolate and sit in silence, enjoying the fact that everyone else is down for supper.
Petunia really shouldn’t be friends with a boy like Remus, who may not be a troublemaker but who certainly enjoys their company. Really, she doesn’t think she should be friends with any boy at all, but Remus isn’t like other boys, in that he’s quiet and almost gentle in a wary sort of way, and that when he does ask what made her so upset, he does it without looking at her, studying his Transfiguration textbook instead.
“I… I just get sort of out of sorts, sometimes,” she says, haltingly, because there is no real word for what goes on in her head, “and everything is just… too much. Being around everyone, I mean, and being here, and…,” she trails off in dismay.
“I threw up twice before I even got on the train at King’s Cross,” he tells her matter of factly, and a tentative alliance is born. Things are often ‘too much’ for Remus as well, although Petunia does not know why just yet.
Of course, their hour of peace and quiet cannot last forever, and Petunia learns from Marlene that Diana Roach from Slytherin is swearing up and down she saw them coming out of the same bathroom and is convinced they were snogging each other senseless, but unlike an ordinary eleven year old boy, Remus laughs it off at breakfast the next morning when Potter cracks a joke, although he barely touches his sausage and eggs.
“I got completely lost, and Petunia had to show me the way back to the stairs,” he says dismissively, and convincingly, and Petunia perks up at his casual use of her first name, as if she is approved of.
Black casts a skeptical glance her way, and Pettigrew looks rather disappointed the rumor wasn’t true, but from then on Petunia has a leg up- she’s alright with Remus Lupin. If she’s alright with Remus Lupin, then she'll be bumped to the back of the procession, in terms of who James Potter is going after this week. At least he's equal opportunity, except when it comes to Snape, who Petunia is trying and failing to pretend doesn't exist.
But Black never comes completely off her case, although then again, by October Petunia is matching him insult for insult, with Marlene’s enthusiastic support and Mary’s laughter ringing pleasingly in her ears. Even Dorcas joins in on occasion, and the rest of the Gryffindor first years seem quite content to watch Potter and Black bicker with McKinnon and Evans.
Chapter 6: Now she walks through her sunken dream
Petunia wakes up to snow blowing in through the half-opened window and a nasty argument between Marlene and Dorcas. It takes her a few moments before she remembers what day it is; December 21st, 1971. Today the majority of the school will go home for the holidays. The thought alone makes her bolt upright in bed, shivering. Her roommates are busy packing; at least, Mary is bent over her trunk, while Marlene and Dorcas snap at each other, half-dressed and wired with frenetic, pubescent energy.
“Don’t see why anyone would bring an entire bottle of-,”
“It was from France, not that you’d know, Marlene-,”
“Can someone please close the window?” Petunia finally interjects waspishly, yanking the covers up under chin and breathing in the scent of her quilt from home, and Marlene gives a long-suffering gust of a sigh and slams it shut, while Dorcas rolls her eyes and finishes shrugging on her cardigan. Marlene runs down to breakfast, although she hasn’t even finished packing all her things yet.
“She’s been like this all week,” Dorcas sniffs, sitting down on her neatly made bed to put on her shoes, as Mary tries to wrangle her tabby, Ringo. who hisses and spits at every outstretch of her skinny arms.
“You’d be in a bad mood, too, if you were going home to three brothers and a sister,” Petunia says. She’s grown used to Dorcas, who has good intentions, even if it’s sometimes hard to believe, but Marlene and Dorcas are always at each other’s throats, unable to decide who will be the alpha female of their little pride.
Marlene is too reckless, Dorcas is too reserved. Marlene is too obnoxious, Dorcas is too snide. Their worst fight last month lasted for six miserable days, in which Petunia was tempted to sleep in the Common Room, and Mary looked as though she wanted to jump out the window. Marlene is used to being in charge, being the eldest girl in her family, and Dorcas is used to doing just as she pleases, having never been told ‘no’ in her life.
“Well,” says Dorcas primly, “I’m not, am I? But it’s not like my house is just a ball of fun, either. Father and Mother will have their friends from the Ministry over and I’ll be stuck with a bunch of little idiots drooling all over themselves like jarveys in the parlor while they take their port after dinner.”
Petunia has always rather liked Christmas, although it has always been just her and Lily and Daddy and Mum. She likes being given free reign to micromanage their small tree, and the eggnog Mum makes, and listening to records with Lily while Daddy falls asleep on the sofa and Mum washes the dishes after supper. They never get very many gifts, but Lily is always so excited, waking up at the crack of dawn long past when Christmas morning ought to have lost its magic, and insisting Petunia tiptoe downstairs with her.
Mary says nothing. Petunia isn’t really sure that Mary is even looking forward to going home all that much, even though she’s mentioned a little brother and sister. She hasn’t gotten a single letter either, although maybe that’s because her family, like Petunia’s, are all muggles. Still, Petunia made it a point to write Lily once a week, every Friday evening, and she always gets a response by Monday morning. Once she forgot and woke up frantic and tearful at two in the morning, berating herself as she hunched over a pad of paper, pen in hand, because she can't stand quills and the ink-stains make her want to scrub the tainted skin off her palms.
Petunia’s letters are short and clipped and overly formal. Lily’s replies are long, rambling, and spattered with jam and crumbs because she wrote them while eating. Sometimes she includes song lyrics or quotes. Petunia always has to throw away the letters and scrub at her sticky hands as soon as she’s done reading them, but she appreciates the sentiment all the same.
She looks at Mary, who is silent and sullen and tired, rubbing at her eyes as she locks her loudly meowing cat in his crate, and suggests they go down for breakfast. The train is pulling into Hogsmeade at eleven, and it will be a proper mess trying to get on it in anything approaching an organized fashion, since the professors seem to have mostly washed their hands of the students, who have been restless and distracted all week.
The Great Hall is rowdier than usual, but the first years at the Hufflepuff table are unusually quiet, and crowded around a weeping girl with honeyed blonde curls and a face full of freckles. Marlene informs Petunia and the others, as they take their seats, that Gonetta Applebee’s uncle was killed last night by Death Eaters.
“They ambushed him and two other aurors- one of the others was Jerome Harper’s dad, so his mum took him home in the middle of the night,” she tells them, swallowing her toast crust.
“What’s an auror?” Petunia asks, staring at Gonetta’s shaking shoulders as she buries her head in her arms. Lavinia Kettleburn and Kathleen O’Flaherty are at her sides, speaking to her quietly and rubbing her back.
“Like a wizard bobby,” Marlene says. “Matt reckons he wants to be one, but he hasn’t got the grades for it. They only take the best.”
There’s a sudden peal of laughter from the Slytherin table, and Petunia whips around. Julian Mulciber, a tall, thick-necked third year who’s always got a few first year boys trailing him, has just cracked a joke, his eyes trained on Gonetta. Leon Avery and Philip Wilkes are sniggering loudly, while Evan Rosier is trying to hide his smirk. Snape is sitting with them, and while he’s not laughing, he doesn’t look ashamed either, his lank hair falling in front of his waxy face.
Dorcas curls her lip in disgust and turns away, and Marlene pulls a face, but Petunia continues to stare, until Alecto Carrow, a stocky fourth year with stringy dark hair and a wheedling voice calls, “Something to say, Evans?”, eyes glinting in the cold sunlight pouring down from the ceiling. Her younger brother, Amycus, a third year, is snickering beside her.
“Yeah,” Potter calls back, from a few seats down, “when was the last time you washed, Carrow? Or is it family tradition, to be smelt from this far away?”
Alecto purples with rage, as Sirius Black howls with laughter and even a few of the older Gryffindors chuckle, but Malfoy, a Slytherin prefect who wears his white blonde hair tied back in a foppish ponytail, intercedes before either Carrow can retaliate, and Mulciber and his mates settle down as well under his cold stare.
“Malfoy is just as bad as them,” Black is saying in disgust, in between licking jam off his fingers, which almost makes Petunia gag, “he’s just smart enough to put on a good face in front of the professors.”
“Isn’t he with your cousin?” Remus asks mildly. He’s reading at the table, at least, before Potter snatches his book away. He huffs in annoyance but makes no moves to get it back.
“They’re betrothed,” Black rolls his eyes, demonstrating what he thinks of that. “Cissy’s besotted.”
“Carrows will probably join up straight away, soon as they graduate,” Potter mutters, poking at his porridge, “if they can even manage that.”
Petunia subscribed to the Daily Prophet in October, and since then she’s been faced with stories of Lord Voldemort and his followers what seems like every other week. Dorcas says they’re ‘a fringe terrorist organization led by a lunatic with a god-complex’, and Marlene describes them more vividly as ‘a bunch of idiot tossers who think they’re going to overthrow the Ministry by killing everyone who doesn’t agree with them’.
All Petunia really needs to know is that they think muggles are little better than animals, and muggleborns- mudbloods, because she heard that her third week here, when Connie Ibbott dropped her books and got in the way of a hard-faced older Slytherin coming down the stairs- ought to be stripped of their wands and thrown out of Hogwarts. But everyone says Voldemort- You-Know-Who- will be stopped soon, that the Ministry will stamp him and his people out by the end of ‘72.
She’s not so sure, because she knows Mulciber also gets the Prophet every day, just like her, and every day his eyes light up at the headlines; SIX DEAD IN PUB ATTACK, FAMILY FOUND SLAUGHTERED IN CAMBRIDGE, MISSING MUGGLEBORN WITCH’S BODY DISCOVERED. It’s something like a twisted, mottled sort of hope, on his face and the faces of a few others.
Petunia is doing a frantic last check of the room at ten thirty, while Marlene waits impatiently by the door with her bag. “They already took everything down to the station, Tu,” she says, but Petunia has to check every inch of the space around and under her bed and dresser not once but twice, before she straightens up, and buttons up her coat as she follows Marlene out. To her surprise, there’s a melancholy sort of feeling, to be leaving the common room for the last time this year- they won’t be back until after New Year’s.
But there’s a palpable excitement in the crowd of students walking down to the village, stomping through the snow in their boots and catching wet snowflakes on offered tongues. Roderick Cauldwell can’t stop going on about his family’s upcoming trip to Portugal, and Sharon Glover is anxiously discussing the Bowie album she wants for Christmas. The younger students are clearly anxious to be on their way home, and the older students are more reluctant, hands shoved casually in their pockets, ambling rather than rushing like the first and second years.
Petunia brushes snow out of her hair, which is now down past her shoulders, every minute or so, but she’s always liked snow. It’s so white and pure and clean, and there are no cars here to muddy it up on the side of the road. Snow piles up so neat and predictably. Once she and Lily spent an entire day making snow angels in the garden, not satisfied until they had an entire line of them from picket fence to picket fence.
Marlene says they’ll be allowed to visit Hogsmeade on the weekends come third year, since her brothers keep lording it over her. Petunia almost wishes Lily could see it; it looks like the inside of a snowglobe, all quaint and pristine and smelling of evergreen and woodsmoke.
She dozes for most of the train ride, having been too anxious about packing or forgetting something important at school the night before to have slept much, and even Marlene and Mary’s game of Exploding Snaps never really awakens her. When she does sit up and pick at the wrinkles in her skirt, the light of day has vanished and the train is moving through London.
The students exiting the train are much more subdued than they were getting on it, and siblings break off to greet their families. Marlene waves goodbye over her shoulder as she runs to greet her beaming parents and excited younger siblings, a brother on each side of her.
Dorcas straightens her smart purple hat, and marches off to see her mother and father, a serious looking couple dressed in similarly rich colors, who nevertheless embrace her, despite her protests, as soon as she’s in their reach.
That leaves Petunia with Mary, who nevertheless quietly says goodbye, and makes her way over to a strained looking woman with little boy who looks to be around eight, and a little girl of perhaps six.
“Tuney!” someone yells, and Petunia is ambushed from behind by Lily, whose crushing hug nearly sends them both toppling to the ground. She can distantly hear Black laughing at the sight of them; Petunia bright red in mortification, and her sister grinning obliviously, navy scarf askew.
“Hello,” she says, somewhat shocked; in only several months, Lily seems to have grown a good half an inch. She looks older than nearly thirteen; she’s filled out in ways that Petunia fears she never will. Lily doesn’t look like a little girl anymore; she looks like someone on her way to becoming a woman, and her smile is newly confident.
“I’ve missed you so much,” says Lily, “come on, you’ve got to tell me absolutely everything on the way home, alright? God, your hair! Tuney, it’s gotten long,” she laughs, tweaking a strand of it, and Petunia bats her hand away, but with no real anger. Somehow, she feels almost justified, as if she’s got the upper hand now that Lily is beholden to her exciting stories, and not the other way around. And Petunia does have exciting stories, about failed potions and duels in the corridors and secret passageways and melodramatic ghosts.
But then- “Sev!” Lily yells, and lets go of her, darting over to greet Snape, who looks distinctly sallow in the evening torchlight on the platform.
“Has Snivellus got a girlfriend at home, then?” Black asks loudly as she embraces him, and he promptly jerks away.
“Never would have thought you such a lady’s man,” Potter is saying with a smirk, and then abruptly stops talking, a first for him, when Lily whirls around, hands on her hips.
Her pretty face is tilted to the side in calculated disdain as she asks coldly, “Are you James Potter, then? I’ve heard about you.” Petunia has never heard warm, sunny Lily this slick and frigid with anger before. Snape is flushed with either embarrassment or satisfaction, potentially both.
Potter's eyes go wide and he is momentarily speechless, his mouth slightly agape, hair askew. Suddenly he is not Gryffindor's golden child, the up and coming prodigy, but a startled little boy. Remus raises a pale eyebrow in amusement and Pettigrew is snickering through his chubby hand.
“The one and only,” he finally says, but Lily has already turned her back on him, her dark red curls falling over her shoulders in graceful fluidity, and Snape is practically twitching with ecstatic joy as she links her arm with his and they walk back over to Petunia.
Black mouths something at her, but Petunia simply sniffs and ignores him, and when she glances back, pretty, fine-boned Narcissa Black, holding onto Lucius Malfoy’s arm, is calling sharply, “Sirius, come along, your mother’s waiting!”, and scowling, he obeys.
Potter yells something after Petunia, Lily, and Snape but it’s lost in the crowd. Fortunately, Snape has to go with his mother, who looks even more devoid of cheer than usual, her hands tucked into the pockets of her worn black overcoat.
Petunia clings hard to Daddy, who, despite his lean frame, is still capable of picking her up and kissing her soundly on the brow before depositing her back on the ground. Mum fusses over her as they cross through the barrier and hurry towards their train home, and Petunia is the happiest she’s been in some time for the rest of the night, although the more she talks of Hogwarts, the more she realizes how much she already misses it, even the parts that frighten her.
On Christmas morning, she wakes up not to Lily’s excited whispers but her crying. Petunia sits up in bed and stares at her sister, who is desperately trying to control herself, her knees drawn up under her chin. “What’s wrong?” she demands, gorge rising, but Lily just shakes her head.
Petunia sits next to her on the bed, and has the strange sensation of being the comforter and not the comforted. It feels oddly maternal, to have Lily cry into her shoulder, and not the other one around. Her sister’s sniffles and quiet coughs grate on her nerves, but she suppresses the urge to run out of the room and instead cajoles Lily into telling the truth, which has never been very difficult. Lily has always been exceptionally honest, with both herself and others.
“I just… I just wish I could be there with you,” Lily finally admits, and Petunia feels something like vindication, and hates herself for it. For once, Lily wants what she has, what she is. Instead she says nothing, and holds onto her sister, although her hands are cold and chapped.
Daddy gets her a brand new camera for Christmas. It must have cost close to fifty quid, and they don’t usually have that kind of money, especially for things like cameras. But he just smiles over his coffee, and shares a warm look with Mum. "I thought you could use it at school, take some pictures for your sister and us.”
Lily hugs him almost as tightly as Petunia.
Chapter 7: And the promise of tomorrow in her eyes
Petunia is almost certain that Remus Lupin is a werewolf, but she’s more worried about her exams. She was already flipping through books on magical illnesses in the library after break, but she knows that his illness is at its worst exactly once every month, and one morning when she couldn’t sleep, convinced she was going to fail an upcoming test in History of Magic, crouched on the stairs leading up to her room, she spied him coming back into the common room at dawn, bone pale and hollow eyed.
Had she been told that one of her good friends turned into a rabid wolf once a month a year ago, Petunia isn’t sure what she would do. Go into hysterics and demand to be withdrawn from a school that allowed fairy tale creatures to attend. But if Remus is the Big Bad Wolf, then what does that make her? The Evil Witch, gobbling up children and cackling on her broom? She’s not sure what to do with the information. She’ll have to confront him, of course, but her marks seem more pressing, when he clearly leaves the school for his transformations.
Petunia dislikes being the only one of her immediate circle concerned with exams. Marlene says she’s not ‘wasting her time worrying’ until they take their OWLs in fifth year, which are apparently the worst of the worst levels. Dorcas is naturally exceptional when it comes to everything, like Lily, so while she’s studying, it’s at a rather sedate pace. Mary says she’s already accepted that she’s flunking Potions and Transfiguration.
She should be studying with Remus, but she can’t, because he’s a werewolf, and she knows if they’re alone together she’ll say something, and it’ll be a catastrophe. Luckily, he’s busy tutoring Pettigrew, who can’t stop whining about how he’ll be thrown out for failing every course. Petunia wishes desperately that they would. She almost dislikes him more than Potter or Black, who, if they plan to fail, at least plan to do so confidently.
So she spends countless afternoons stuffed up with spring colds between the shelves of the library alongside an unlikely bunch of like-minded obsessives; Emmeline Vance from Slytherin, who has been on awful terms with girls like Samantha Bulstrode and Victoria Nott since she hexed Samantha for calling her father a blood-traitor, Kingsley Shacklebolt from Ravenclaw, who is head of their year in marks, followed by Dorcas, and Laurie Macmillan from Hufflepuff, who tells Petunia very seriously that it’s encouraging to see a student from a muggle background like her taking her studies so seriously. This prompts the mother of all eye rolls from Emmeline and a fairly exasperated stare from Kingsley.
Petunia is certain all three are much smarter than her, but there’s a certain smug feeling when Laurie caves and asks her for help with his transfiguration work. The term ends at the end of June, and exams take up the last two weeks. Most people have been studying since the beginning of May, and it’s hard for Petunia to look forward to her birthday when she has the weight of not three or four but seven tests bearing down on her.
Yet on the morning of May 23rd, 1972, Basil swoops down to her during breakfast loaded down with a gift basket from Mum and Daddy and Lily. There’s a matching set of earrings and a necklace, proper jewelry, not little kid dress up stuff, and Lily has painted her a little miniature of a pink petunia. Plenty of muggle candy, too, and a card, a little worn but with a kitten on the front. HAPPY BIRTHDAY PET, Daddy has written in all caps inside, and Lily has not one but two smiley faces under her loopy signature.
“Is it your birthday, Evans?” Potter leans over suddenly, squinting at the card, and then blurts out, “is that your sister, then, Lily?”
Petunia wrinkles her nose at him, not sure what he’s playing at. “You’ve got jelly on your tie,” she tells him.
He glances down, then shrugs. “Her name’s Lily?” he repeats, and Petunia snaps, “Yes! God, should I spell it for you, too?”
Appeased, he sits back down, and Black mutters, rather loudly, “Reckon you’ll have to stop calling her Red now.”
“Happy Birthday, Petunia,” Remus says, shooting Potter a look.
Petunia can’t imagine why Potter would be talking about her sister, whom he’s seen perhaps three times total, when they were getting on and off the train for the Christmas and Easter breaks, and doesn’t want to imagine why, anyways. Lily is as busy as ever at school, earning top marks and playing Titania in the spring Shakespeare production. But Lily also wrote in her card, See you in a turn of the moon, Lovely!, so perhaps the top marks and the starring role and the endless friends mentioned in her letters can be forgiven.
During dinner that night she realizes with a start that Marlene and Dorcas are nowhere to be seen, and Mary tells her, quite convincingly, that they’re in McGonagall’s office serving detention for their squabble in her class. This, of course, is a bald-faced lie, one that you would never expect from lamb-like, placid Mary, who grins with all her teeth when she brings Petunia into the common room after supper to be ambushed by the Gryffindor first year girls.
There are balloons and cake and a gaggle of giggling girls crowded around her. Pam Lane leads them in a rousing edition of Happy Birthday to her, Marlene makes her sit down and go nowhere near her textbooks and they eat cake, except for Debra Isaacson who is allergic to eggs, and Candy Driscoll makes them play Truth or Dare, which Petunia is absolved from, as the birthday girl, and Alice the prefect wards off complaints from the boys and any older students about the ruckus. They did something similar for Marlene’s birthday, which was just before Halloween, although Mary’s was too soon in the year and Dorcas was born in August.
Petunia sort of hates the concept of a surprise party, but being the center of attention for once- well, she rather likes that, even if she doesn’t like some of the girls there, like Agnes Sharp and Lucy Thorne, who can be nearly horrid when they put their minds to it and start poking and prodding at all your insecurities. But it is fun, and she does eat the cake, although it’s a little dry and she prefers strawberry cheesecake to chocolate.
That month’s full moon is the following Sunday, and although Petunia has not planned any great confrontation, it happens anyways, when she comes down into the common room at around midnight on Saturday, having just had a nightmare that she failed everything and they took her wand, to find Remus slightly feverish and sprawled out on the sofa.
He’s a tall, lanky boy, with spidery limbs, and his hair is limp in front of his eyes. “Be careful tomorrow,” she says, without really thinking, or, refusing to think at all. He stares at her, and opens his mouth and she says, “I figured it out at the end of March, but I didn’t want to say anything.”
He props himself up on a shaky elbow, face a glistening mask of horror in the fire light. “Petunia-,”
“You’re ill,” she cuts him off sharply. “You should be resting.”
“You’re ill,” she says again, and repeats it to herself as well as him. He’s ill. He has lycanthropy. No one is a werewolf by choice, the books made that clear enough. “You’ve got much more to worry about than me blabbering about it. Which I haven’t. And I won’t.”
“Not Snape,” he groans.
Petunia narrows her eyes at him. “Does he know?”
“No, but he’s… he’ll figure it out.”
Quite possibly the worst thing someone with a secret could have done, Petunia thinks, is befriend James Potter, the arch rival of Severus Snape. ‘Know thy enemy’ should be Snape’s middle name, and while Petunia has never seen Remus antagonize him, he’s never spoken in his defense either. Snape’s only defenders are his equally freakish friends in Slytherin, and Mulciber and Rosier are less about defense and more about upping the ante until even Potter and Black are uncomfortable.
“Then you ought to be very careful,” she says after a moment, and resolves to deface the passages she’s read in the library. Lily would be appalled with her for abusing a library book, but people are more important than books. Remus is her friend. He knows her dirty secrets, about how weak and frightened and hysterical she can be, and now she knows his. They’re even.
She sits up with him for half the night, before finally going back upstairs. On Sunday morning, he is no longer on the sofa, and she only catches a glimpse or two of him all day. They do not have another direct conversation about his… condition… for years. Petunia hates discussion unpleasant things just as much as he. But they share a silent, strained understanding. An understanding he doesn’t yet have with any of his mates. It makes her feel oddly privileged.
Exams come, as all tests do, and Petunia does very well in Transfiguration, decently in Charms and DADA, scrapes by in Potions and History of Magic, and as abysmally in Herbology and Astronomy as she’d predicted. Still, compared to most people she knows, not counting many of the Ravenclaws, her marks are good enough. And then it’s really just a blur of packing and tracking down misplaced belongings, of walks outside by the lake and huddling under the Quidditch stands to gossip.
The Marauders are in fine form and on the second to last day embroil themselves in a short duel with Snape and Wilkes, before Frank Longbottom comes tearing down the stairs to break it up; Snape’s clutching his mouth and Wilkes is trying to pry his locked legs apart. Pettigrew is covered in hives and Black’s got a distinguished looking slash on one cheek, which he wears like a badge of honor for the next two days.
Petunia is quite relieved to be going home, but oddly discomforted at the idea of Hogwarts emptying out of its students, that everyone is splitting off to their separate lives, some magical, some muggle. Dorcas will spend half her summer at some symposium on magical travel her mother is speaking at in Greece. Mary has a cramped flat and a father who drinks too much and puts his fist through the wall at least once a week to look forward to. Marlene has mock quidditch games awaiting her. Petunia has a summer of trailing after Lily and Snape through Spinner’s End.
But the train is there to take them out of one world and into another, and Petunia boards it all the same. She is desperately trying to reconcile the girl who got on this train in September with the one who will be stepping off it in June. She doesn’t think she’s changed, but she knows in her veins, perhaps the ones throbbing resentful blue at her thin wrists, that she has. She doesn’t hide away her wand or refuse to look at her textbooks anymore. Her hands don’t curl up in revulsion at the thought of point-me spell or an incendiary charm. When she casts magic, she can feel it tingling like nerves in her fingers. She likes it. She likes knowing it’s there, waiting for her to draw on it.
There’s something reassuring about it, about Hogwarts. It’s been there for thousands of years. It will be there in September, to usher her back in.
“Hey Evans,” Black says, shoving past her as everyone is hauling their things off the train.
“Yes?” she replies, without really looking at him, as Marlene makes her brothers get their luggage, and Dorcas tells Mary some sly, refined quip which brightens her out of her funk. There’s an almost optimistic lilt to her tone, which she knows is a rarity for her.
Black stares at her, having been eagerly anticipating a snappish response which he could mold to his liking. “Careful,” he finally says, “smile too much and people might start thinking you’re having fun.”
“Sod off, Black,” she huffs, and his grin is wide and feckless and oddly genuine, although she knows it’s not meant for her but her reaction. He lopes off to join his sour looking family, still wearing his Gryffindor tie with a shirt that was in fashion in perhaps 1928 at the latest.
Then Lily is there, torn between talking her ear off and patiently drawing Snape, still brooding over the humiliating duel, out of his shell. She settles for fixing Potter with a glare that could bring grown men to shame when he calls something after them, and draw Petunia close with one arm, taking Snape’s hand with the other.
“I’ve missed you two,” she says.
“What a filthy liar,” Petunia realizes she’s just made a joke too late, because Lily is already launching into a ‘who are you, and what have you done with my sister’ monologue.
Snape pulls his hand away, and, at a loss as to what to do in the face of two sisters communicating the way only sisters can, skulks off to his mother. Petunia might have watched him go triumphantly, but she’s too busy drinking in the sound of Lily’s pealing laughter, rising up to the brilliant sunset in the glass ceiling above them.
Chapter 8: But all the other flowers hung their heads and cried
Petunia is only here because she promised Marlene. It is the first quidditch match of their second year, and Marlene has been temporarily moved from reserve to first string because the Gryffindor keeper, Pete O'Brien, is in the infirmary after a dare gone wrong. Madam Pomfrey says he’s lucky to still have his nose intact.
Petunia has made it quite clear that she thinks Quidditch is ridiculous and watching it even more so, but Dorcas has been summoned home for a great uncle's funeral and won't be back until tonight, and Mary is sick in bed with a nasty cold.
So she reluctantly agrees to make her way down to the Quidditch pitch on a blustery, raw November morning. There is a very thin layer of snow crusted over the frozen ground, and a dusting on the stands.
Petunia quails at the idea of climbing the stands with the stiff wind billowing around the pitch, but if she wants to have any idea of what’s going on she’ll have to go higher than the first few rows. And she did promise Lily she’d take some pictures of a game in action.
It’s Gryffindor against Hufflepuff, and both houses have turned out in full force, with a good deal of Slytherins and Ravenclaws as well. Petunia manages to find a seat just behind Lizzie Nelson and Morwen Robins, who were wise enough to bring down a thermos of cocoa.
Petunia huddles into her peach colored scarf and adjusts her earmuffs, wishing she hadn’t let Dorcas cut her hair chin-length again last week, although she had asked her to, and wishing it wasn’t her time of month.
She got her period right after coming home from her first year, to her dismay, and was in a proper state all week, unappeased by Lily’s detailed explanation of having gotten hers the day after her thirteenth birthday, as if like clockwork. It figures that Lily’s would arrive right then and there, as if summoned as evidence of her becoming a teenager and therefore nearly a woman.
She’s distracted from the cramping and the cold air biting at her cheeks and nose by someone pushing their way down the row and into the seat beside her. Petunia promptly exhales sharply through her nose in disgust when she sees that it’s Black, bundled up in a long black coat and bearing frost in his long hair, as if he’d been rolling around on the ground, and cherry red in his high, aristocratic cheekbones.
“Cat got your tongue?” he asks her snidely as he breathes on his hands and rubs them together fiercely before shoving them back in his pocket.
The teams are shaking hands on the pitch, and Petunia fiddles with her camera. “Don’t you have your fellow delinquents to sit with?”
“Peter’s doing lines with McGonagall and Remus’ sick,” he shrugs.
She knows why he’s here; it’s not just Marlene’s first match, but Potter’s, who did make first string chaser, even as a measly second year, as well. He’s been raving about it all week, and she almost wants to see him get smacked with a bludger in the hopes of knocking some humility into him, although that’s unlikely. At least if she got a picture of it it’d give Lily a laugh.
Madam Hooch releases the bludgers and snitch and throws the quaffle up, and the game begins in earnest. Petunia watches as a chaser from each team goes up for the quaffle. Gryffindor’s captain, Lydia Driscoll, comes away smirking, the red ball tucked under her arm, Hufflepuff’s Naomi Smith shooting after her doggedly.
“Listen, Evans,” Black says.
“What?” she replies irritably, squinting through the camera lens and snapping a picture of Lydia dodging a bludger sent her way by a Hufflepuff beater.
“I know you know about Remus’...,” he trails off in frustration, before settling on, “furry little problem, alright?”
Petunia stiffens, and pinches her lips together, lowering the camera. No one is listening in; the stands are a sea of excited chatter and yells around them. He’s looking at her intently with those flat grey eyes, having drawn himself up in a very Slytherin manner, for someone who’s almost always in some shade of red.
He’s wearing a lion pin even now, roaring silently on his chest. But his face is a mask of cold severity, a distinctly Black look she’s only ever seen on his cousin Narcissa, when she’s displeased with something, or someone.
“If you ever breathe so much as a word about it to anyone else,” he says in a low, dark tone, that makes the hairs on the back of her neck prickle gently, “I’ll spend the next six years making sure you regret it every single day of your life, do you hear me, Petunia?” He enunciates her name in the same drawn-out, mocking manner he used when they first met.
The two of them stare at each other for a moment, exhaling puffs of warm breath into the cold air, and then Petunia slips her wand out of her pocket, levels it discreetly at him, and leans into his surprised frame.
“I figured it out months before you ever put two and two together, Sirius Black,” she hisses, furious in a way she’s never seen before, but she feels it now, like hot liquid pumping cleanly through her veins.
Petunia is the daughter of two gentle people, the sister to a gentle girl. She loves them and resents them in equal measure. She never has and never will be gentle, or soothing, or comforting. She is prickly and harsh and proud, and she will not be intimidated by the likes of him.
“So if you’re so clever, then I think you can figure out why I haven’t told the entire school,” she continues cuttingly, her wand prodding at one of the silver buttons on his coat. “And why I’m not going to. Don’t you ever threaten me again, or I’ll hex your smart mouth shut, and we’ll see how well you get on dueling with Mulciber then, do. You. Hear. Me?” she demands.
Above them, Gryffindor scores their first goal of the game, and the stands erupt around them. Petunia warily lowers her wand. He is still staring at her, until he finally gives a jerky nod of his head, and looks away, exhaling in shock.
They sit beside one another in silence, both too stubborn to move seats or leave the game. Hufflepuff’s seeker has just spotted the snitch, and Gryffindor’s is not long after her.
Sirius regains enough of his composure to cheer when Potter steals the quaffle from Hufflepuff’s Janine Kirby, and Petunia claps mincingly but genuinely when Gerald Li plucks it away from Potter and shoots at Gryffindor’s goals, a shot which Marlene triumphantly swoops down to block.
A bludger slams into Carol Johnson, who Marlene passes her save to, but Potter recovers the quaffle before Li can snatch it, and is neck and neck with Smith all the way up to the Hufflepuff goals, where he shoots and scores. Judy Kirke swipes at the snitch and misses, but manages to get in front of Velma Fronsac before she can grab at it, and on her second attempt Kirke catches it.
The game is finished in under just under twenty minutes, a resounding victory for Gryffindor and a humiliation for Hufflepuff. Petunia can already hear Laurie Macmillan’s ranting about it during their next study session. If you ask him, O’Clery should be replaced as captain with Li, who ‘seems to know one end of a broom from another, which is more than O’Clery can say’. No one has ever asked him.
Petunia has gotten several good photos, or at least, she hopes she has, and stands up, ignoring the roiling in her stomach from the crush of people around her, all trying to pick their way down from the stands. “Look, Evans, come on.” For Black, penitent still manages to be pushy, as he grabs her by the sleeve of her coat and scrambles up the stands, rather than down, despite her protests. At the top, she yanks out of his grip and narrows her eyes to slits as he clambers up and over the barrier. “This way’s quicker.”
A few people are staring back at them, and Lizzie Nelson is giggling obnoxiously. To go back down would be to admit defeat, so against her better judgment Petunia haltingly climbs up beside him. “Ready?” he asks, and before she can even discern what his plan to get down is, he propels them both off the stands, yelling, “Arresto momentum!”
What should have have been a forty foot drop to the ground is akin to sinking through water, although it’s still enough to make Petunia want to retch. Is this his idea of an apology? Pushing her off the stands? “You git,” she snaps as soon as her trembling legs hit the ground, almost folding under her. She swats away his apologetic, if shaking with laughter, hand and clutches her camera to her chest.
“You hate crowds, don’t you?” he presses, then shrugs in the face of her silent fury. “It would’ve taken ages to get out of there otherwise.”
“We don’t all use magic for every little thing,” she retorts, although they both know that’s not what she’s angry about, and he rolls his eyes.
“I- alright, I was a bit-,”
“A bit of a moronic ingrate?” she asks archly.
“Remus is one of my best mates,” he says fiercely. “I’m just looking out for him, we- we all are.”
She’d assumed that if Black knew, Potter had to, because James Potter may spend most of his class time mocking the lesson plans and coming up with elaborate excuses as to why he doesn’t have his homework, but he’s no idiot, that’s obvious enough, no matter what Snape sneers.
“Well,” she fusses with her scarf, “so am I. He’s my friend too, you know. Just because I’m a girl doesn’t make it any different.”
Black opens his mouth, shuts it, then opens it again. “Fine,” he admits, “I was out of line back there. You might be a stuck up little priss, but-,”
“Goodbye, Black,” she stalks off, unwilling to be a hostage to the rest of his unapologetic apology, and he yells after her, “But you’re properly terrifying when you’re irked, Evans! I almost shat myself!”
His crudeness makes her wrinkle her nose as she marches off, avoiding muddy patches because she’s trying to keep these boots looking brand new, but there is a certain, odd sense of accomplishment, at having successfully gone head to head with Sirius Black and made him, however temporarily, admit defeat. Not many people can say that.
Marlene is thrilled that Petunia came down to see her after the game, and talks her ear off all the way back up to the castle about the team’s strategy for this season and how Carol kissed Potter on the cheek for scoring so well for his very first game, which apparently made him go as scarlet as his quidditch uniform, and a million other things Petunia really doesn’t care about but will abide by, because Marlene is her friend, and friendship is a long-winded game of give and take.
She’s not sure if the others know that Black confronted her or not, but Remus seems to be giving him something of a ribbing at dinner that evening, despite his poor health due to the upcoming full moon, and when he catches Petunia’s eye he whispers something to Black, who socks him in the arm in outrage. Even Potter says something about ‘need a fresh pair of pants, Sir?’ which makes Pettigrew laugh so hard his pumpkin juice comes up through his nose.
“What’d you do, tell him off for something?” Mary asks her hoarsely, still stuffed up from her cold.
“You should put Black in his place more often. He’s been Mr. Mild all day,” Dorcas directs her with her fork, one eyebrow raised in approval.
“I think he actually sat down and read a few pages from his Potions textbook this afternoon,” Marlene agrees. “And this time it wasn’t to draw a dragon shitting on the ingredients list.”
Petunia just gives a little flippant shrug, sipping at her stew, the barest hint of a smug little smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Something like that.”
Chapter 9: I was living in a world of make believe
Petunia always regrets taking Lily to Diagon Alley, but she especially regrets it today. Petunia, for all the pride she takes in looking neat, well-fitted, buttoned up, loathes going shopping. She must get it from Daddy, because Mum and Lily could spend hours upon hours wandering through the market or a department store in the city, looking at this and that and flitting in and out of dressing rooms. Petunia hates the crowds, hates the queues, hates the grimy bathrooms and the yellowish lighting, and always manages to feel like she’s wasting money.
Shopping for school things is different, but Diagon Alley is more disorganized and chaotic, all winding streets and nonsensically laid out shops, than any muggle shopping district could ever hope to be. If Petunia hates shopping in Sainsbury’s, well, she can’t stand being in Diagon for more than an hour.
And with Lily, it is inevitably going to take much longer than an hour. This is the one part of the magical world that Lily can truly experience, and Petunia always feels like some wicked stepmother whisking her away from the ball if she prods her sister into matching her no-nonsense, efficient pace.
Petunia chose Arithmancy and Ancient Runes as her electives, although she think it’s ridiculous that they’re being forced to take at least two classes on top of their seven core subjects. But this means even more books to buy, and it’s not as if their meager pocket money translates into heaps of galleons and sickles. Petunia scurries around Flourish and Blott’s, list in hand, as Lily good-naturedly balances her stack of books in her freckled arms.
“If they’re already out of copies of Spellman’s Syllabary, I’m going to scream,” Petunia hisses under her breath, turning on her heel in frustration, scanning the shelves. It would be one thing if it were organized like a muggle book store, but this section appears to have been arranged… by colors. Lily found it quite charming, but then again, Lily isn’t the one whose education depends on finding the right textbooks.
“At least it’s cooler in here than outside,” Lily reasons, nudging a flyaway curl from sticking to her cheek with her shoulder, as her hands are full. “Do you think it’s some sort of spell, to keep the books safe?”
Petunia chooses to look over her sister’s hair, rather than answer her question. “You’ve got to cut it, Lily. It’s ridiculous.”
Lily’s curls are heaped up in a messy, sagging bun at the back of her head, held back with a pale green bandana. On anyone else, it would look absurd. On Lily, she might as well be a model on vacation in Italy, her wrinkled floral blouse hanging down gracefully around her faded shorts.
She’s lucky Mum didn’t see her leaving the house like that. Lily’s already gotten demerits for skirt-pinning at school, which she says is nonsensical, since her arms and legs are so long that ‘skirt must reach finger-tips’ puts hers much longer than the other girls. Petunia is not very sympathetic. It would be nice to have legs that made people want you to cover them up, or something approaching a chest.
“I look silly with it short, and you know it,” Lily retorts. “It’s not straight like yours- and you’ve been growing your hair out, anyways!”
Petunia has been letting her hair finally reach shoulder-length because the childish bob makes her look closer to ten than thirteen, and she’s sick of people asking if she’s a first year. Even Marlene has hips now, and she’s still shorter than Petunia.
While thinking of a clever response, she spots a familiar looking spine, and lunges up on her tiptoes to reach it- just before it’s plucked off the shelf by someone else. Petunia whirls on the thief, then groans internally, because it’s Black with the book in his hand, who else, and Potter at his side, grinning like a hyena.
Before she can launch into an outraged speech, Black tosses the book to her. “Don’t get yourself all worked up now,” he drawls. Petunia fumbles and nearly drops it, flushing crimson at their snickers.
Lily is as furiously quiet as ever when in the company of Potter, and takes a protective step slightly in front of Petunia, as if to block her from their grinning view. Petunia wants to tell her that she’s more than capable of handling these two, but Lily is completely unreasonable when she’s in her big sister line of thinking, a reasoning that apparently says that Petunia must be looked after and sheltered at all costs.
“What are you doing here?” Petunia finally blurts out, since Lily seems more focused on pummeling Potter with her unyielding scowl than actually saying anything.
“Preparing to case the place, so I reckon we’ll have to murder you before you can rat us out,” Potter says sarcastically. “No, Evans, we’re purchasing our books like good little schoolboys.” He turns far more earnestly to Lily. “I can carry that for you-,”
“No thank you,” Lily says coolly, raising her chin as he flushes.
Petunia rather likes seeing Potter like this, scrambling to regain his ego as Black looks on in silent amusement.
“Well,” he finally says after a moment, “what electives are you taking then, Ev- Petunia?”
Everyone there is well aware he’s only addressing Petunia by her first name due to Lily’s presence. Said witness is unimpressed, shifting from sandaled foot to foot as Petunia tells him in the flattest tone possible.
“Right- nice,” Potter glances at Lily, and musses his hair. “Care of Magical Creatures and Divination for me and Sir- I think Remus is taking Ancient Runes, or something. Peter hadn’t even decided yet, last I heard…”
It’s only then that Petunia realizes, looking directly at him for the first time, that he’s sporting glasses now, thin and unobtrusive, but glasses all the same. She sniffs, audibly, just to see the look on his face. He’s clearly self-conscious about them, at least in front of Lily.
Sirius is examining a book of jinxes as if it’s the most intriguing thing in the shop, before loudly snapping it shut. This stuns Potter out of his tongue-tied reverie, and he mutters, “Well- see you around then, Lily- Evans- Petunia?”
“Right,” says Petunia doubtfully, taking some of her books off of Lily, who says, quite clearly, “I very much doubt it, Potter.”
It’s only when they’re on their way to the register that Potter regains his nerve and calls, “We’ll see about that!” after them. Lily stiffens but doesn’t turn around, and Petunia rolls her eyes. “Just ignore him.”
“He’s absolutely insufferable,” Lily grouses as they stand in line. “I don’t know how you put up with being in the same house as him-,”
“Better with him than with Snape,” Petunia mutters. She’s tried to tell Lily what Snape is like at school, always huddled in some corner writing furiously in that book of his, or trailing after Mulciber, whose father’s in prison for torture, with Rosier and Wilkes and Avery.
“Sev doesn’t go around hexing people and laughing about it,” Lily says hotly, as Petunia steps up to the bored looking clerk and passes over her books.
“Oh, of course,” she sneers, going through her change purse, “he’s much too clever for that- he’s the one coming up with the curses, and then Rosier and Wilkes give everyone a free demonstration!”
She’d wager that's mostly why Potter hates him so much- a hex or a jinx is one thing, but Snape is unabashedly enthused at the notion of the Dark Arts.
Lily is silent until the books have been bagged and then takes on in her arms as Petunia heaves up the other. Petunia really doesn’t know what to say. It’s not that Lily thinks she’s lying- Lily never thinks anyone is lying, because the concept of not being completely honest and heartfelt is utterly foreign to her.
It’s just that Lily seems to think she exaggerates, and maybe she does, but it’s obvious to everyone where Snape and his ‘friends’ are headed. Even Emmeline Vance, who’s in Slytherin herself, said it; “Rosier carves the Dark Mark into every desk he’s ever sat at, because he can’t wait until it’s his turn.”
But while Petunia has told Lily a little about Death Eaters and dark magic and You-Know-Who, she can’t tell her everything, for fear of Lily telling Daddy and Mum, and them pulling her out. They wouldn’t understand. They can’t understand, because this isn’t their world.
How could Lily believe that her best friend is aiming to join up with a group that wants her own family dead? She couldn’t. And Petunia isn’t eloquent enough to put it to her in a way that would make her understand, understand that Snape’s not just ‘troubled’ or ‘misunderstood’ or ‘running with the wrong crowd’, although all of that might be true.
“I’ll talk to him about it,” Lily says, as they exit the shop and step out onto the bustling, sunlit street. “Alright? When we get back home. I wish I was there with you- I could help him- he’s really nice, Tuney, he is, he’s just- he’s never been good with making friends.”
Petunia would almost think her sister fancied him, but Lily’s always talking about some boy at school, George, so perhaps it’s just that this is the depth of Lily’s friendship. Waist-deep, because Snape was there for her when she was an oddball, a freak with no excuse, not like Petunia, whose strangeness was later justified.
Instead of responding, she scrutinizes her list, hunching her shoulder against the pull of the passerbyers weaving around her and Lily. “I think that’s it,” she declares after a moment, relieved. She wants to go home and lie down on her bed and count the flowers on the curtains and then maybe reorganize her trunk.
Lily’s face falls. “Oh, come on, can’t we stay a bit longer? Mum’s not expecting us back til dinner- we could get ice cream,” she suggests brightly, nodding down the lane.
Petunia wavers, and then, knowing there’s no chance of winning against the power of an elder sister, yields. “Fine.” Fortescue’s does have the best sherbet she’s ever tasted, after all. It will be worth it, even having to sit there and watch Lily carelessly drip French vanilla all over the table.
They are walking in the direction of Florean Fortescue’s when there’s a shout behind him them, and Petunia glances back to see Potter and Black approaching, Potter determined to redeem himself, Black the picture of haughty exasperation, hands shoved in his neat black trouser pockets.
She wonders momentarily about his brother, Regulus, who she never sees anywhere near the elder Black. But Regulus was sorted into Slytherin as soon as the hat touched his mop of dark curls; he looks like Sirius in miniature, but with softer, almost passive features. Petunia has never even heard him speak.
Lily is saying something over her shoulder as she stalks ahead, voice ringing with annoyance as Potter and Black get closer, but Petunia doesn’t hear it because she’s distracted by the glint of something metal- a mask?- in front of a shop several doors down. And then there’s a sudden shriek, the crowd seems to contract in terror and then surge away, like a wave, and a resounding explosion.
The blast throws Petunia back, and she collides with something, which promptly folds around her. People are screaming spells, but she can’t hear it, can’t hear any of it, because there’s a roar of static in her ears that goes on and on and her eyes are blurred with tears from the choking dust in the air. It seems like she’s falling because her stomach keeps lurching, and then she realizes, as if waking from a nightmare, that she’s not moving anymore.
Then her heart thuds again, and she can hear her pulse rushing in her ears, and has got their hands under her arms as they drag her back, haltingly, under a shop’s awning. Petunia scrambles up, nails digging into whoever it is, and stares at Sirius Black, whose hair and face are grey with dust. He says something, but she can’t hear him, until he says it again- “Petunia, are you alright?”
It’s clipped and controlled and not like him at all. She looks at him dumbly for a second, then gives a tiny nod. Diagon Alley is hushed and muffled, as if suddenly covered with heavy snow. Had this happened in muggle London, there would still be the sounds of traffic, or even approaching sirens. But here there is only the steadily growing murmur of shock and horror.
Petunia is suddenly hyper-aware of every speck of grit and grime on her skin, of the scratches on her arms and legs, of the dust on her lips, and almost crumples, but Sirius’ hands are hot on her shoulders, as if he’s afraid she’ll collapse if he lets go. “Good thing you weigh next to nothing, Evans- you knocked me flat,” he’s saying, and she notices how dilated his pupils are before- Lily. Lily was ahead of her, closer to the blast-
“Lily,” she cries, jerking out of his grip, but everything around her is white and grey. There is no trace of color to be found, and every form is clouded with dust and smoke. “LILY!” she screams, before it descends into rough coughing.
“James?” Sirius calls out from just behind her- his breath is warm on the back of her neck, and it’s the sudden tentative, boyish lilt to his voice that makes her tears track wet streaks down her filthy cheeks.
But then two shapes emerge clearer, and Petunia almost falls to her knees when she sees it’s Lily, an arm looped around James Potter’s shoulders, clearly avoiding putting weight on one foot, as he guides her to them. Lily’s face is wan and terrified, and Potter's glasses are fogged over with chalky dust.
“It’s her ankle,” he says, “but she’s alright- I’m fine, Sirius-,”
Petunia flies at her sister in a frenzy, clawing her into a hug and sobbing hoarsely. Lily is speechless for a few more moments, before she looks at Petunia, eyes darting back to where Potter stands, shaken, beside Sirius, who has a hand on his shoulder, and whispers, “Tuney, he- he did something, I should- the rubble-,”
“It was just a cushioning charm.” Potter should be smug, posturing as usual, but he isn’t. He looks stunned and frightened and his voice is low and utterly without pretension. He’s not proud or boastful. “Is her ankle…,” he trails off at the sound of a woman’s voice, drawing near.
A silver-haired, bespectacled witch rushes towards them, cloak and hat askew, and Petunia realizes belatedly who it must be when James chokes out, “Mum,” as she embraces him.
“Jamie,” she’s saying over and over again, “Are you- you’re not hurt?” Then her frantic gaze flits over to Sirius, and she embraces him as well, although he looks shocked. “You’re not hurt either? Oh, Merlin, you boys- you can’t imagine what I thought-,”
“Mum,” James interrupts her, “Can you look at her ankle?”
She turns to Petunia and Lily, face still creased in maternal concern, and then peers down the street. Most people have gotten to their feet, and two men who must be aurors on patrol are shouting back and forth to each other, while a woman calling, “I’m a healer, I’m with St. Mungo’s, let me through!” rushes to tend to motionless on the ground.
“It’s not safe here,” Mrs. Potter says briskly, and with a wave of her wand and a gasp from Lily, has her floating in the air, along with Petunia’s scattered bags. “Come along, to the Leaky Cauldron.”
The Leaky Cauldron is packed with patrons and people who’ve ran in from the street, most of them rushing out and into muggle London outside, but in a corner of the dining room Mrs. Potter does something that makes Lily go slightly green-ish and then relax, prodding at her ankle slowly in wonder. “It doesn’t hurt anymore.”
“That’s good, dear,” Mrs. Potter says, and then looks to Petunia with that same warm, yet sharp-eyed stare. She’s old enough to be Petunia’s grandmother, but she’s a slender, handsome woman all the same, despite her wrinkles. “You must be Miss Evans, then. Jamie and Sirius have mentioned you.”
Petunia is scraping at her arms with a wet dishrag from the bar, close to tears, and Mrs. Potter tuts, “Tergeo,” and the dust and grit and dried blood vanishes.
“Thank you- I’m Petunia,” she murmurs, ducking her head, and glancing over at Potter and Black, who are sitting beside each other, muttering back and forth.
“Pot- James,” Lily says, cautiously getting to her feet, and Potter’s head jerks up like a marionette. “Thank you,” she tells him, seriously, and he gives a hesitant nod.
Petunia thanks Mrs. Potter as well, who insists on apparating them home, or as close to home as she can take them, which is outside a library in Birmingham, before going back for the boys. That leaves Petunia and Lily to catch a bus back, and Lily stares out the window for a long time, before asking, “How often does that happen?”
“What?” Petunia asks, although she knows what.
“Are- are places getting blown up regularly?” Lily demands in a hushed voice. “Tuney- we could have been killed!”
“No, I- nothing’s ever happened in Diagon Alley before,” Petunia says hesitantly, digging her fingernails into her skirt. “There’s been some- some attacks, here and there, but-,”
“You can’t,” Lily is shaking her head, “you can’t be- this is dangerous, and if going to Hogwarts is putting you in danger-,”
If Lily takes this from her Petunia thinks she might kill her, although less than an hour ago she was hysterical over her sister’s fractured ankle. “Hogwarts is the safest place in the world,” she snaps. “You have no idea- it’s protected, Lily. Nothing’s going to happen to me there.”
“This is- I didn’t think it could be like this,” Lily sounds almost tearful. “I- Tuney, if something happens to you, Mum and Dad- they’ll go mad, really they will. You’re their baby.”
The bus shudders to a halt outside their neighborhood, and they get off, bags in their arms. The day has cooled down remarkably fast, and the breeze in the air is almost chilly.
“You can’t tell them,” Petunia says, deadly serious. “You can’t. If you do, I swear I’ll never speak to you again.” She’s certain she means it too, in that moment. Hogwarts is all she has. Magic is all she has. She’d face down a dozen Death Eaters if it meant that she could keep being this version of herself, this Petunia who can be brave and clever and fierce.
“I’m your sister,” Lily snaps, voice raw and crackling with frustration and anger. She’s not used to feeling helpless, or weak, or vulnerable. But those were all that Petunia felt, for ages and ages. “Your big sister, Tuney. It’s my job to keep you safe, and we almost-,”
“But we didn’t,” Petunia retorts. “We didn’t, did we? We’re fine. Everything is fine. I’m going to Hogwarts in three weeks, and nothing will happen there. Ever. Not with Dumbledore in charge.”
They go home, and Lily says nothing, and disappears over to Snape’s, while Petunia sits in her room and shakes the dust off her next textbooks out the window. Then she wedges herself in between the night table and her bed, which she hasn’t done since she was seven, and cries into a pillow, grinding her teeth into the fabric.
She can still feel the dust on her skin, in her nostrils, down her throat, so she takes a freezing cold shower and retches. Black’s fingerprints are embedded in her upper arms, painless bruises that she pokes at curiously afterwards, because she can still feel his frame curling around hers as they collided.
Chapter 10: And the girl in the corner is everyone's mourner
Petunia has never liked Hallowe’en. She never enjoyed dressing in itchy costumes or the silly parties they’d have in school or the melty, sticky candy everyone was busy shoveling into their mouths. It always made her uncomfortable, seeing people acting how they shouldn’t, how they wouldn’t any other day of the year.
Lily always loved it, but Lily loves those sort of drawn-out things, loves pretending to be something wild and dangerous and infused with mystery. Lily loves horror films and dressing up in costume and painting her face and carving jack o’lanterns.
Unfortunately, when one is a witch, one’s school tends to give special precedence to the holiday honoring the dead and magic. And when one’s best friend’s birthday is two days beforehand… Well, there’s no denying Marlene anything, especially not when she’s newly thirteen and buoyed by the combined power of burgeoning adolescence and a school celebrating itself.
“C’mon, don’t be stupid,” Marlene says impatiently, tapping her foot by the door, robes swishing dramatically around her ankles.
“I’m not going down,” Petunia is lying on her bed like a corpse, hands clasped over her chest. “It’s always so overblown… I’ll get something from the kitchens if I’m hungry, really.”
“I’ll get something from the kitchens,” Marlene mocks with a snort. “Yeah, right. You eat like a bird as it is. Don’t be such a sourpuss. It’s just one night. The ghosts’ll be hilarious-,”
“To some people, maybe,” Petunia says snidely, squinting up at her bed curtains, ignoring the anxious fluttering in her chest. “They’re disturbing, and Peeves will be going wild, and last year there were skeletons, real ones, Marlene-,”
Marlene gives a drawn out sigh, rapping her knuckles against the doorframe. “God, you sound like Dorcas, and even she’s down there already. Fine. Don’t come. Sit here and mope.” She turns to go.
Petunia is not moping. She has plenty of things to look forward to, like the first Hogsmeade weekend of the year on Saturday. So what if she doesn’t feel like being harassed by hordes of bats and spirits all night? Still, now that Marlene’s said it, in that declarative way of hers, that if Petunia doesn’t go she’s a mopey little stick in the mud- she gets up and stalks after her smug friend.
They join up with a crowd of fellow Gryffindors headed down from the tower for the feast, and they’ve just come down into the Entrance Hall when Marlene stops and turns to Petunia with a quizzical look. “Where do you reckon they’re going?” she mutters, jerking her head at a group splitting off from everyone else entering the Great Hall, where a lively fiddle tune is leaking out through the massive, opened doors.
Petunia doesn’t even have to ask who it is. She glimpses the back of Pettigrew’s blond head as he rushes after his friends, who are swiftly making their way towards the narrow stairwell leading down to the dungeons. Suddenly Petunia couldn’t be happier to be heading to the feast. The Gryffindor table will certainly be a lot quieter-
“Marlene,” she hisses in dismay, as Marlene starts after them, a smirk spreading across her face. She shows no signs of stopping, in spite of Petunia’s increasingly desperate rebukes, too paranoid to raise her voice in case a prefect overhears.
Furious, she darts after Marlene, tugging on the shorter girl’s arm. “Marlene, we can’t-,”
“We’re not forbidden from entering the dungeons, Tu,” Marlene rolls her eyes, pushing open the narrow door and pausing in the shadowy alcove. Petunia glances down the winding, cramped stairwell, and can just make out the sound of Black’s laughter, which is a good deal more sinister than usual with the added echo.
“But we’re supposed to be at the feast!” she argues, although she knows she’s already lost the battle. If Marlene wants to follow them down to God-knows-where, she will, and Petunia can either watch her go in defeat, or tag along in further defeat.
“Oh, so now Miss Goody Two Shoes wants to be at the feast,” Marlene snickers, starting down the stairs. “Merlin, relax. I just want to see what they’re up to.”
Nothing good, Petunia wants to yell after her, obviously, but instead finds herself scurrying down after Marlene, who acts as if they’re venturing down some pleasant woodland trail and not into the bowels of a very much haunted castle on Hallowe’en. Aside from the fact that they’re Gryffindors, and everyone knows the Slytherins have the run of the dungeons.
Her anxiety grows the further down they creep, although she’s trying to be a good deal quieter than Marlene, who lights up her wand as soon as they reach the bottom. “Lumos,” Petunia whispers, following suit, and they walk down a cold passage, listening to the steady drip of pipes and who knows what else.
Before long they hear some meandering, muffled conversation up ahead, and Marlene strides ahead boldly, Petunia hurrying in her wake, ready to sprint back to the stairs at any sign of trouble. Fortunately, it’s just- ‘just’- Potter and his merry men. “We’ve got company,” Black mutters as they draw near.
Potter looks a bit surprised to see them, and his shirt sleeves are rolled up like he’s ready for action, of some, likely morally questionable, sort. Remus looks like he’d really rather be anywhere else, and Pettigrew is looking like a deer caught in the headlights, still chewing something, likely swiped from the feast.
“McKinnon… Evans…,” Potter says jovially enough. “How can we help you ladies on a fine night such as this?”
“Depends what you’re skulking around down here for, Potter,” Marlene replies, although not as critically as Petunia would have liked. Marlene never fully endorses the actions of Potter and his friends, but she’s made it clear she rather enjoys seeing Snape ‘get what’s coming to him’ and Petunia can’t fully disagree.
“Well,” Potter reasons, “if we told you, we’d have to kill you.” Remus gives him a shove, and he amends it to, “er, politely send you on your way, I mean. Look, I hear this feast should be the best one yet, so why don’t you birds just fly back up there and partake in some of the festivities-,”
“You’re spying on someone,” Petunia deduces, correctly, from the scowl on Potter’s face and the slight smile on Remus’.
“Personally,” says Black, “I’d prefer to think of it as a little information collection, really-,”
“You’re spying on Snape,” Petunia accuses, and Pettigrew chokes, then coughs. Black wallops him hard in the back, both to relieve the spluttering and in retribution for giving it away.
“Snivellus spends a solid 90% of his education spying on us,” Potter shrugs, “so we thought we’d return the favor. Besides, it’s not just him- Mulciber and the Carrows are down here too.”
“Yes,” snaps Remus in hushed annoyance, “so perhaps we should keep our voices down, yeah?”
That’s all Petunia needs to hear. If she had a list of people she’d rather not run into in a darkened dungeon, Mulciber would probably head it, and Alecto and her idiot brother wouldn’t be far behind. She grabs onto Marlene’s sleeve. “Let’s go.”
Marlene shakes her off. “Don’t be a baby, Tu. We’ve got as much right to be down here as them.”
“Which is none,” Petunia says shrilly, “if a prefect finds us-,”
But they’re already moving on, and the options before here are to stand there and rant about how she’s never gotten a single detention or even lost Gryffindor any points, in three years, or to follow them. Reluctantly, she chooses the latter, even if the smart thing to do would be to make haste back to the stairwell and forget about this entire interaction.
It doesn’t take very long to locate their targets. Potter and Black are leading the way, with Remus and Marlene in the middle, and Petunia and Pettigrew in the rear. Everyone is at least sensible enough to have their wands out and at the ready, and Petunia supposes, shamefully, that maybe it is a bit exciting, to be running around in the dungeons at night, with people who are, if not all friends, at least not your enemies.
Suddenly Black comes to a halt, like a hunting dog that’s picked up and scent, and gestures towards a door that’s slightly ajar up ahead, a storeroom of some sort, or an abandoned classroom. The rest of them pause as well, before Potter takes the plunge and creeps forward to the doorway, leaning back against the stone wall for a moment before slowly pushing the door open, if it creaks, it does so quietly enough to be chalked up to a sudden draft, and he slips inside.
The rest follow suit, although Pettigrew whispers something about staying out in the hall as a look-out. Petunia is tempted to do similarly, but someone has to look after Marlene, senseless as she is.
The back of the room, which they’ve just entered, is cluttered with old desks, chairs, and shelves, and they duck down underneath them to remain out of sight, crawling forwards to the sounds coming from the center of the room.
Petunia realizes, after a few moments, that it’s a cat, yowling. She manages to catch a glimpse through some openings in the furniture- Alecto Carrow has the hissing, struggling cat by the scruff of the neck, while Amycus jabs at it with his wand, sniggering. Mulciber is leaning against a desk, thick arms folded across his chest in satisfaction, and Snape stands next to him, looking especially skinny compared to the broad-shouldered fifth year.
“We should shut it up,” Alecto sneers, and begins, “Si-,” but Mulciber snaps something at her and she falls silent, scowling.
“No,” he says, “I want to hear it. That’s how you know if you’re doing it right. C’mon, hold it up.”
Petunia glances over at Marlene, who is staring in confusion, clearly as at loss as she is as to what they’d need a cat for. Are they going to turn it into something? To her left is Black, who is tense with fury, although she’s not sure what’s set him, specifically. He seems to have some idea of what’s going on, but she can hardly ask- if any of them make any loud noises they’ll be overhead for sure.
Mulciber steps forward, raising his wand, and Petunia catches a glimpse of something on his forearm, a tattoo, before he says, with great pleasure, “Imperio.”
The room was quiet before but now it is deathly silent, as the cat’s yowls abruptly stop, like a toy switched off. It goes limp in Alecto’s white-knuckled grasp, before she sets it down on the ground, where it lays like a discarded stuffed animal, before jumping up on its hind legs. Mulciber is grinning, as it walks, human-like, in circles. The cat is clearly rigid in pain and terror, even though it’s not dead, and Petunia has no idea what he’s doing, only that he must be controlling it.
The other Slytherins are staring at it, Alecto with a twisted little smile of her own, Amycus in mute delight, like a child at the circus, and Snape with an unreadable, shadowed look, as if confronted with a perplexing experiment. “Stop,” Snape says suddenly, and Mulciber ends the spell. The cat collapses, shaking with exertion, on the floor, panting like a dog and mewling.
“Alright,” Mulciber says brightly, and Petunia suddenly hates him more than she’s ever feared him, because he sounds like he’s offering Snape a ride on his bike, “Your turn, then. Father taught me on rats first, but this’ll be better-,”
Potter or Black, either one, has had enough, and leaps up with a yell, “IMPEDIMENTA!”, which causes Snape to go momentarily rigid and drop his wand, just as Marlene shrieks, “Waddiwasi!”, and several dried out inkwells go flying through the air, one striking Mulciber in the stomach, another clipping Alecto in the head.
The Slytherins stand there in shock for a split second, before Snape snatches his wand back up, Mulciber roars, “You STUPID LITTLE BITCH!”, as the cat practically flies out of the room in terror, and Petunia ducks behind a cabinet, and then casts a Bat Bogey Hex on Amycus Carrow as he flees. He yelps again once in the corridor outside, so she assumes Pettigrew must have gotten him as well.
Alecto Carrow stands and fights a few moments longer than her younger brother, but Remus hits her with a jinx that makes her sprout fur all over her face and neck, and she runs out then, although Marlene sends a desk flying her way, which narrowly misses as it crashes into the wall.
Mulciber and Snape show no intentions of running for it, and Mulciber takes on Black and Remus at the same time while Snape and Potter square off, Potter trying to force Snape back into a corner. Snape casts something that causes Potter’s spell to backfire and send him stumbling back over a chair. He loses his wand as he hits the floor but before Snape can reach it Petunia yells, “Confundus!”, and Snape recoils as if concussed, face lax.
Mulciber is fighting dirtier, and his jelly-legs jinx sends Remus to his knees, before his face erupts in boils from Black’s spell. Potter has hit Snape with a hex that are sending his teeth growing straight out of his mouth as he gags and retches. Petunia is caught in the middle of the two separate duels, and is turning to help Remus when Mulciber hisses something that makes Sirius scream in pain and collapse.
Potter whirls around, white-faced, and Snape slams into him, knocking them both to the floor, where, wands forgotten, they start punching and kicking each other like generations of muggles before them. Petunia is still staring at Sirius, who screams again, with a shudder, as if doused with cold water, and then raises her wand to Mulciber, who is grinning through the boils, and snaps, “Diffindo.”
The charm slashes open his wand hand, and he howls in pain, just as Horace Slughorn, potions master and head of Slytherin house, comes rushing into the room with a breathless prefect and a terrified Peter Pettigrew at his heels. With a wave of his wand Snape and Potter are thrown back from each other, and Mulciber’s wand is yanked out of his bloody grasp.
“What,” Slughorn, who is portly and puffing and straightening his emerald velvet vest, clearly not pleased at having been dragged away from the feast, cries, “in Merlin’s name is going on down here?”
“That mudblood cut me open,” Mulciber shouts, jerking his head at Petunia, and Black is back on his feet in an instant, wand raised, before Slughorn disarms him as well.
“Language, Julian,” he snaps, and then, peering around at the rest of them, looking more alarmed than truly furious, “Severus, what are you doing here?” Everyone knows Snape is a favorite of Slughorn’s, mostly for his top marks in Potions. Now he says nothing, breathing heavily and staring at his feet.
In the end, he sends the Gryffindors off to McGonagall’s office, leaving the Slytherins with him, and they are all given weekly detention for all of November and docked 30 points each, to Petunia’s horror, and Potter’s squawk of, “But Professor, that will put Slytherin ahead!” They all know the chances of Slughorn seriously punishing Snape, at least, are slim to none.
“Perhaps you should have considered that, Mr. Potter, before you decided to engage in illicit dueling in a dungeon storeroom,” McGonagall retorts in her typical cool fashion, and then stares at Marlene and Petunia over her spectacles. “Miss McKinnon, Miss Evans, I sincerely hope this is the first and last time I see you in my office.”
“Yes, Professor,” Petunia says, blinking hard to hold back tears of embarrassment. Marlene is less affected but has the grace to look ashamed of herself, at least until they’re back in the common room.
“I had no idea you were so good with hexes, Tu, that was bloody brilliant,” she tells Petunia admiringly, who simply breathes hard through her nose, storms upstairs, and refuses to speak to any of them for the following week.
Chapter 11: But the hills that we climbed were just seasons out of time
Petunia loses Mum five days before the start of her fourth year.
It feels like having a hole punched straight through her chest, one that refuses to scab over, one that the wind whistles through. They found the cancer on February 12th, 1974. Mum stopped breathing on August 27th, 1974. One hundred and ninety six days of hell, Petunia thinks. Hell, because what Petunia cherishes most is her sense of control, and there is no control when her mother is dying, day by day, in front of her very eyes.
No one told her Mum had been feeling poorly since Christmas. She didn’t even know the diagnosis was terminal until she came home for the Easter holidays and saw with her own eyes how bad Mum was. Lily kept it from her out of love. Daddy kept it from her out of guilt. Petunia hates them both for it, and is perfectly vicious to them for the rest of her third year, refusing to answer Lily’s letters, and barely speaking to her or Daddy when she comes home for the summer.
At school, she only tells Marlene, Mary, and Dorcas that her mother is sick, and going to die, likely before the end of summer. Somehow, it gets out, although she is secretly grateful for that, because even Potter and Black back off in the face of the pain bubbling in her eyes and nose and throat. Petunia has not been a regular crier since she was eleven years old, but now the tears come again. She does poorly on her third year exams, and for once, doesn’t care.
Hogwarts is her world, but Mum is her everything, and there is no world without the one her mother built for her. Mum always understood her, even if she didn’t always like what she understood, even if she wished Petunia were more like Lily, more lively, more outgoing, more friendly and vivacious and pretty-
“I’m afraid you’re too much like me, love,” she told Petunia once, when she was clinging to her skirt, only five or six, red-faced and pinch-mouthed, wiping at weepy eyes. “My delicate little bird. You’ve got to be strong like your sister, darling girl. The world’s a nasty place.”
The world was a nasty place for Mum. She was born in 1924, four years before women could vote, six years after the Great War, to a quietly worn mother with a slap like a belt, and a father so shell-shocked he could barely hold a job. The baby of four, and the only girl. The next youngest, little Frank didn’t make it to seven years old, only a pleasant memory of a boy’s laughter as he picked her up out of her pram.
Kit and Ralph, her great strong brothers, her loyal protectors, died in the next war, one in the air, the other in a camp. Her mother died when she was sixteen, air raid sirens wailing. Only her father lived to see her married, and he died while she was pregnant with darling, doomed, Dale.
Mum was delicate, but only after years of being strong, years of holding on while everything was taken from her. Like finally letting go of something after your hands have gone numb and weak from holding on so tightly, no circulation in them. White-knuckled. She was content with letting Dad be strong enough for her, and God knows he was. He’s strong even while she’s wasting away, pretending not to know what’s happening, pretending they’ll get another Christmas, eventually.
“Love,” Mum tells her at the beginning of August, when they all knew it was only a matter of weeks. “I’m not frightened.”
Petunia can’t look at her, can only stare intently at the hospital floor, counting grey-green tiles.
“So you can’t be scared either, Petunia.”
She says nothing. She can’t be like Lily, who comes in bravely each day and sings and reads to Mum, lays with her head on her sunken chest, listening to each rattling breath. Mum disgusts Petunia, like this, and she hates to feel it, but she does. This isn’t her mother. Her mother was always soft and warm and solid. Not this. Not this monster it’s turned her into.
“My special girl,” Mum whispers.
“I’m not,” Petunia grits out. “I’m not.” A special girl would be able to save her. She did ask Professor McGonagall, would have gone to Dumbledore, to the Minister of Magic, if she had to, in order to save Mum. But McGonagall told her, kindly but clearly, that there was nothing they could do.
“I’m sorry, Miss Evans, that you have to endure this at such a young age,” she’d told her, offering Petunia a biscuit. Petunia chewed it and held it in her mouth until it turned to bitter sludge. “I know… I know what it is like to lose a loved one, to-,” McGonagall had hesitated there, and for a moment she wasn’t a formidable witch but an uncertain woman, uncertain and so very sad, “to wish you could have interceded somehow.”
But Petunia’s mother is still dying, then dead. ‘My special girl’ or not, nothing Petunia has learned at Hogwarts could have stopped that.
The last thing she says to Petunia is, “You look nice, Petunia.” Petunia stands at the side of the bed with its crisp white sheets, holding her mother’s cold hand in her own. Lily is on her knees, shaking in grief, her red curls spread out like a shawl over Mum’s chest and shoulders as she heaves with silent sobs. “Don’t go,” she’s murmuring faintly, “Mum, please, Mum, don’t go, Mummy-,”
Lily is fifteen to Petunia’s fourteen but for the first time Petunia feels like the adult, the older sister, the protector. Daddy is silent, sitting by the bed, and then Petunia lets go of Mum’s hand so he can say goodbye. “I love you,” she says, angrily, still faintly outraged, because it’s not fair, none of it.
Mum just smiles, and Daddy is crouched down next to her, talking to her in that low, thin mumble of his, promises and apologies and a thousand things you have to say when the girl-woman-wife you love is dying.
Lily doesn’t let go, even when Mum’s gone. Daddy has to pry her away and lift her up in his arms, shaking, because he’s not as strong as he used to be and she’s a tall, limber girl, but he carries her out of the room like a child, crying, and Petunia follows. She looks back once, but that’s not enough, so she does it three more times, and Mum gets smaller and paler each time.
The funeral is a very quiet affair. Friends from the neighborhood, men Daddy works with and their wives and children, and at least a dozen of Lily’s friends. Snape is there, and as much as Petunia truly loathes him, she cannot find the words to fault him for his silent, stiff, but present comfort to Lily, who he wraps an arm around as she cries silently in a corner of the vestibule while they carry the coffin out.
They are both wreathed in shadows, and Petunia doesn’t like to look at her sister and that boy like that, because for once Lily, in her grief and her black dress, when she has never worn black before in her life, does not look out of place by his side.
Marlene and Dorcas and Remus come. Mary cannot, but she calls and explains two days before, that it’s her dad, in one of his rages, and Petunia says, “Don’t. Don’t worry.” and lets Mary hang up before he catches her using the phone.
Marlene may be Petunia’s best friend, but she is a terrible source of comfort in a time like this. It’s alright, because she tries anyways, and Petunia could do with a shrill, awful laugh when all she wants to do is scream and wish Mum back and pull her hair out.
Mum made Lily cut off some of her hair before it fell out and Petunia has a few red locks pressed inside a book. Looking at them makes her sick.
Dorcas justs holds onto her, which is nice, because she always smells good, like fresh perfume and clean, sharp, detergent.
Remus has a card, signed, to Petunia’s surprise, by not just him but the others as well. Remus has the neatest signature, and Potter’s handwriting is almost worse than Pettigrews, but it’s Black’s name signed that takes her off guard, how elegant and almost feminine his signature is.
Remus is terribly awkward, as any fourteen year old male would be expected to be, but he does have chocolate, and after the funeral he and Petunia huddle on the back stoop and eat it, and say nothing, because everything that could be said has passed from his face to hers. Pain and recognition. As you are, so am I.
Petunia does not know where Lily is. She does not care.
“You can’t push her away,” Remus does tell her, as the sun finally begins to set. Were it a normal day, Daddy would be wary of letting her sit out with a boy for this long, but it is not a normal day, and after they got home Daddy dropped his keys down on the table by the door, took off his shoes as always, and went upstairs. If she goes inside, she knows she will hear him crying.
“I’m not,” Petunia snaps. “I can’t be around her right now. I just can’t, Remus.”
Right now Lily is Mum and Daddy and home and childhood and everything, a bundled up mess. Right now Lily is as broken and jagged as her, and neither of them is in any shape to smooth the other one out, to be the shoulder to cry on, the voice of reason. Right now they might as well be twins in their grief, because Petunia feels like a live wire, and Lily walks like a ghost.
“She’s your sister,” Remus says. “You- look, you don’t want to waste time being angry over nothing. I- families have to stick together, when things happen.”
Remus’ mother died in the spring of their second year. She was a muggle too. She loved Remus very much. His father has never been the same. Petunia knows all these things, and can see her own future playing out before her.
“I know,” she finally says, miserably. “I’m not… angry at her, not really.” It’s not Lily. It’s just… everything, and Lily has always been a massive part of her ‘everything’.
Remus nods, and squeezes her shoulder in his brotherly way. Petunia has been accused of being in love with him by Marlene at least five times now, and she knows what other people say, that it’s only a matter of time, but it’s never been like that between them.
She loves Remus, and she thinks he loves her, but they’ve always understood each other in a sense that’s purely platonic, but no less valuable than if it were a romantic connection. They’re often on the same wavelength, is all. They can sit and talk quietly until the first stars appear, and they do.
Lily climbs in through the window at midnight. There are leaves and grass in her hair, and Petunia suspects she and Snape went down to the abandoned lot that’s since become an overgrown field. She hopes they weren’t snogging. She hopes they didn’t have sex. She doesn’t want to think about it either way.
She and Lily have tentatively made up by the first of September, but that doesn’t change the fact that Petunia is running late for the train and a nervous wreck who bats away her sister’s embrace before barreling through the barrier with three minutes to spare. The conductor is making his last call as she races to the train, levitating her things on board behind her.
The Hogwarts Express is already moving as she collapses in an empty compartment, in no mood to hunt down her girlfriends, and tries not to think about the absence of a red-haired woman on the platform, waving goodbye. She curls up in a corner by the window and resolves to read some of The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self Protection. She’s barely four pages into it when the door rattles open and she looks up with a glower, expecting to see Marlene, who has yet to learn to leave well enough alone.
But it’s not Marlene, it’s Black, who’s taken to wearing jeans and leather, and who slams the door shut behind himself and sits down without so much as a ‘how are you?’.
“Get out-,” Petunia begins heatedly, ready to hex him out if she has to, because of all the people she has no patience for today, he holds the high seat of honor-
But he’s got a vicious mark on the side of his face; he was clearly struck hard by something or someone, and while the skin’s not broken, it will bruise badly and linger. She stares at him until he snarls wordlessly at her, then reverts back to his usual haughty demeanor, slouching stiffly, if that’s even possible.
“What happened?” she asks after a moment. This must be why he’s not with the rest of them. He doesn’t want them to see. Did he get jumped by Mulciber or Carrow?
“None of your bloody business, Evans,” he sneers, without even looking at her.
Petunia slams her textbook shut and stands up.
“Don’t,” he snaps, but she’s already in front of him, wand out. His hand shoots out and grabs her wrist, hard, she grabs onto his shoulder in retaliation, nails digging in, and as nastily as she hisses it, her “Episkey,” works all the same, mending the swollen mark.
They stare at each other. He’s tall enough, even sitting down, with her standing over him, that he’s not much shorter than her. He doesn’t let go of her wrist. She doesn’t remove her hand from his shoulder. Suddenly she feels like crying, although she should slap him. She doesn’t need this right now. She doesn’t need him to look at her like that right now. If he ever has before, she must have missed it.
Sirius pulls her down and kisses her, almost bashfully. She hates how timid it is, compared to the rest of him, so she kisses him back a bit harder, wetting their lips, but then jerks away like a frightened animal when he moves to pull her into his lap.
“I’m not like that,” she tells him, struggling to control her breathing, and the heat in her cheeks.
He swallows, Adam’s apple bobbing in his pale, graceful throat, and says nothing.
“Don’t do that again,” she says. It’s a filthy, terrible lie, but what else can she do? She’s not supposed to have liked it. He was being- he was being forward, being rude, being Sirius Black.
It could have been her, it could have been anyone. He’s upset and so is she. It was really nothing to do with either of them, just proximity and convenience. She tells herself this because the alternative terrifies her.
Sirius does not like ‘stuck up little prisses’ like her. He likes girls that will let him make them squeal and gasp in darkened broom closets and locked classrooms. Petunia is not one of those girls. He knows that, she knows that, everyone knows that. It was stupid, what he did, and she was even worse, kissing him back like that, like she was- like she was blazing, like she didn’t give a damn, like she was some kind of woman.
“You’re right,” he says hoarsely, when she takes a step back, retreats to her corner, still furiously blushing but stalwart in her condemnation of their temporary, shared lunacy. “I- I won’t.
“Good,” she mutters, although it does not feel good at all.
The train is in the countryside now. It’s a beautiful late summer day outside, but Petunia can’t focus on the scenery. “Who hit you?” she demands, when she’s had enough, which doesn’t take long.
“My mother,” he admits, in a low, defeated voice. She doesn’t like that voice, coming from him. “Really set her off, this morning. Not a fan of Levi’s and Doc Martens, that woman.”
It’s just like him to try to make some sick joke of it.
“And your father just-,”
“He’d have done the same, only she’s always been a bit faster on the uptake, my dear old mum,” Sirius grins, but there’s nothing to it. It disturbs her.
“They’ve got no right,” Petunia says, “to be hitting you for how you dress.”
“What?” he snorts. “Muggles don’t hit their kids?”
“My- my parents never.” They really didn’t. A spanking or two from Mum, but it always hurt her more than Lily. Petunia never got spanked. Daddy- Daddy just isn’t that sort. Said his dad coming after him with a belt never made him any more of a man, and only a coward comes home and hits his wife and little girls.
“It’s not just how I dress,” he says after a moment. “It’s everything, really. I think they could tolerate the Gryffindor bit if I was like Reg- if I was the perfect little heir, Yes Mother this and Of Course Father that. But I’m not. And I won’t be. Ever. They can leave him everything- the house, the money- I don’t care. I don’t fucking care.”
But he does care, of course he cares, because his voice swells and then breaks like a wave the way it does for some boys when they’re angry and it’s both alarming and mesmerizing, to listen to the pattern of his self-destruction. Petunia should avert her eyes, mind her own business, leave. She stays.
“You’re better than them,” she tells him, and it’s not a lie, because she can’t stand him half the time, but it’s only half the time now, since she knows- and he doesn’t know she knows, but she does- that her and Potter and Pettigrew change into animals once a month, to help Remus. They sneak out with him, keep him company, keep him sane and human, even when he’s not. And that’s a kindness she didn’t think any of them capable of.
He doesn’t believe her, but he’s looking at her, like he really sees her, like she’s not just Evans. She never wants him to look away, and she never wants him to look at her like that again, because it’s too overwhelming, it makes her feel like she’s drowning, it makes her feel like she’s flying.
“They can- they can go fuck themselves,” she says, and then bites down hard enough to draw blood on her lower lip, in penance. She shouldn’t have said that. Nice girls don’t say that. Daddy would be horrified. Mum would- Mum would-
But Mum’s dead and she’s never coming back and well, isn’t that just fucking- just fucking- it’s just fucking something, alright.
“Don’t talk like that, Evans,” Sirius warns her, but his eyes say, ‘Petunia’, like glass shards through her chest. “You’ll make me want to do something mad and kiss you again.”
Chapter 12: Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality
Petunia has always liked rain, especially in the springtime. There’s something fresh and clean about it, and it runs in rivulets off of her umbrella as she tramps through Hogsmeade with Dorcas. Petunia prefers Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley; it’s much quieter, much cleaner, and although it’s still frigid in April, there’s a green smell in the air, like spring extending its first tendrils.
Dorcas is already talking about OWLs, although they have over a year to worry about them. Petunia is known for her worried rambling as well, but Dorcas never manages to sound that worried. Rather, she sounds almost anticipatory of the entire thing, like a boxer looking forward to an upcoming match.
That’s just the type of person Dorcas is; always looking for the next challenge. She’s not as blatantly cocky as Marlene, but her confidence is efficient, subdued, and streamlined, like a well-oiled machine.
She even walks with precise grace, long strides that take her boots over puddles and mud, while Petunia edges it around it, grimacing. Dorcas adjusts her neat black umbrella slightly, and then nods in the direction of a nearby store. “Let’s pop in Tomes and Scrolls; I’m running low on parchment, and we’ve got that essay due on Monday.”
“Don’t remind me,” Petunia grouses, already dreading it. It’s for History of Magic and she knows she’s going to do, if not horribly, at least mediocrely. Somehow that’s worse than spectacularly failing.
James Potter writes a mock essay based off some comic book plot and he gets a terrible mark, but everyone laughs hysterically while he and the other Marauders take turns reading it dramatically to the class. Someone like her scrapes by on an essay about goblin history… and everyone just feels a bit sorry for you.
Petunia especially hates being pitied. She felt like everyone was walking on eggshells around her for the first month or so of school, knowing what happened to her her mum… except Sirius, but nust because she doesn’t refer to him derisively as Black anymore or glare half as much, doesn’t mean they’re suddenly the best of friends.
Neither of them have ever mentioned what happened on the train to anyone. She was convinced he would, and she’d have to deal with snickers and jokes about it for ages, but as far as she can tell, he’s kept mum. Even Potter doesn’t seem to know. Which is just the way she likes it. It was stupid and immature and mortifying, and it’s never going to happen again.
Dorcas keeps giving her knowing glances whenever they’re around him, but thus far Petunia has managed to dismiss any suspicion with an eye roll and a snide comment. They’ve just reached the shop when someone yells in their direction, and Dorcas whips around with a fierce look, Petunia internally steeling herself for some supremely unpleasant encounter with Avery or Rosier, when they both realize the boy running, more like slipping, across the street towards them is neither.
It’s Pettigrew, round face flushed pink and blonde hair in damp disarray. Petunia can count on one hand the number of times she’s seen him alone in the castle or in Hogsmeade, so this is a rare event indeed. He’s panting when he reaches them, and as he doubles over to catch his breath, Dorcas asks, “What is it then, Peter?” not unkindly. She has more patience with him than Petunia or Marlene at the very least, although he and Mary have always been friendly.
He straightens up and blurts out, “Mary- I- it’s- Mulciber and Wilkes are with her-,”
“They’re what with Mary?” Dorcas demands, letting her umbrella fall.
“They- I don’t know- just- thought I should get help-,” he is clearly shamefaced about not sticking around to help himself, but Petunia doesn’t care about that at the moment. Wilkes is a thug and a moron, but Mulciber…
Dorcas has already closed her umbrella, a steely glint in her dark eyes as she flips up the hood of her long coat. “Where are they, Peter?”
“By the shack,” he says miserably, shoving his hands into his jacket pockets. “Should I go with you, or-,”
“Hold my umbrella,” Petunia interrupts him brusquely, because Dorcas is already breaking into a jog, bordering on a run, in that direction, and she’s got no intention of being left behind. Peter steps under the awning of the shop, looking after them helplessly, umbrellas in hand.
Every puddle splash up onto her trousers makes Petunia flinch and shudder, but she’s too worried about Mary to stop and bemoan the fact that these trousers and her immaculate rain boots will be ruined by the end of this. Very few people are out due to the weather, and they go mostly unnoticed as they run down back streets and cut through several alleys between houses before they’re in the more isolated section of Hogsmeade that is home to the Shrieking Shack.
Half of Hogwarts is convinced it’s haunted, but Petunia and a few others know the truth of it. Still, it cuts an imposing figure, looming up into the grey sky jaggedly, in contrast to the other neat cottages. There are no homes directly next to or across from it, and it’s set back into the hills, overlooking the village. Petunia is winded herself by the time they’re straggling up to it, but Dorcas doesn’t stop, pushing open the rusted iron gate and calling out, “Mary!”
There’s a faint shriek from behind the shack, and Dorcas glances back at Petunia before they both sprint in the direction of the noise.
It is Mary, and Mulciber, and Wilkes, just as Peter said. Mary’s coat has slipped down around her elbows, and she’s thrashing in Wilkes’ grasp, trying to get her wand and headbutt him simultaneously in her struggle to get free. Her brown hair is out of its usual ponytail and matted to her face with the rain. Mulciber stalks closer, grinning sickly, wand out. “Calm down, mudblood,” he’s telling her mockingly, “it’s not going to hurt- much-,”
Petunia reacts faster than she would have thought, faster than Dorcas even, and screams, “FLIPENDO!” loud enough that her shrill voice echoes around the valley. The force of the spell doesn’t just send Mulciber stumbling back; it nearly knocks him off his feet, and he drops his wand.
Wilkes’ eyes go wide, and he lets go of Mary, who immediately breaks away, slips in the mud, and falls down beside Mulciber; she takes the opportunity to grab his wand and roll away as he scrambles to his feet, furious.
“Petrificus totalus!” Dorcas snaps, moments after dodging a nasty hex from Wilkes. He collapses onto the ground, arms and legs locked together, eyes bulging in his freckled face.
Mulciber is wandless, but that doesn’t start him from charging Petunia. Despite every instinct screaming at her to run, she stands her ground, and frantically casts, “Reducto!” on the stump just before him. It explodes in front of him, sending him to the ground yelping in pain from the splinters of wood embedded in his arms and hands, which he brought up just in time to protect his face.
She could have seriously wounded, even blinded him. She doesn’t care. She’s convinced he was either in the process of or about to cast an Unforgivable on Mary, and even if he didn’t, intent has to count for something, right? He should be- she wants to throttle him, even as he snivels and gasps in pain on the ground.
“Levicorpus,” Dorcas says swiftly, and Mulciber is yanked up into the air by his ankle, his coat and shirt falling down to reveal a nastily scarred midsection. Petunia stalks around him, still breathing harshly and red in the face, convinced this must be what seeing red is, because the rain is making everything bleed and drip around her, over to where Mary is sitting in the mud, face buried in her hands.
She doesn’t know what to say, so instead she gets the taller girl to her feet. Mary doesn’t look physically hurt, but there’s a wild, blank look in her brown eyes that unsettles Petunia deeply. At that moment, she doesn’t look quite human; she can’t seem to find any words, and her eyes aren’t focused on Petunia or Dorcas or even the boys- she’s just staring wildly, pupils dilated.
“You’re freezing,” Dorcas says remarkably gently, taking Mary’s shaking hands in hers. “Let’s get something to drink, yeah?”
Mary gives a jerking motion that might be a nod, but says nothing as Dorcas leads her around the side of the shack. Petunia stays where she is, wand in hand, staring at Mulciber and Wilkes. “You little fucking bitch,” Mulciber finally grunts hoarsely, “you’ll be sorry for this, you mudblood slag. You all will.” His square face is bright red and contorted in hatred.
Mary has left his wand in the mud, Petunia considers snapping it. He certainly doesn’t deserve one. Instead she kicks it away, into a puddle, and casts a boil hex on him as she forces herself to walk away. She catches up with Dorcas and Mary as they stumble and slip down the hill, and then make their way to the nearest pub, The Hog’s Head, which Petunia normally wouldn’t set foot in, except in dire circumstances such as these.
She shifts uncomfortably at a grimy table in the corner as Dorcas orders butterbeers for herself and Mary. Petunia asks for a water, unable to look away from Mary, who is digging her nails into the greasy tabletop, blinking back tears. “If you can’t talk about it,” Dorcas is murmuring to her, “that’s alright, Mare.”
That’s not alright, Petunia thinks. She wants to know exactly what happened so they can go straight to Dumbledore and report it and have them thrown out of school. It’s one thing for them to be tossing hexes in the halls at the odd non-Slytherin or defenseless first year. It’s another thing entirely to track someone down in Hogsmeade for the express purpose of- well, she doesn’t know what, but she thinks of the imperiused cat, and wants to vomit.
But she can’t force Mary to talk, and Mary doesn’t say a word until after the somewhat sleazy looking waitress brings their drinks.
“I’m so stupid,” she mutters, and Petunia and Dorcas both make wordless protests of indignation.
“You are not stupid,” Dorcas says tightly. “You were attacked-,”
“I’m a witch, aren’t I?” Mary demands. “What’s the point of having a wand if I can’t- if I just let myself get-,” she shakes her head and takes a quick sip of her butterbeer. “They just- showed up from out of nowhere and I tried to fight them, but Wilke silenced me and I couldn’t-,” her shoulders are heaving, “I couldn’t even scream-,”
The faint terror lingering in her voice makes Petunia’s water taste more like chlorine in her mouth. She can’t imagine how Mary must have felt, unable to cast a spell, knowing no one was looking for her or had seen what happened- except Peter. But she’s not sure if telling Mary that someone saw and didn’t intercede right then and there would make matters worse or not. Realistically, she’s not sure Pettigrew would have stood much of a chance against Wilkes and Mulciber, but…
“What happened,” Dorcas tells her, furiously but calmly, like a whirring fan on a hot summer day, working double time, “is no one’s fault but those sadistic bastards. We’ve got to tell McGonagall, or the headmaster-,”
“We can’t,” Mary says frantically, “you can’t, I won’t let you- you have to promise not to tell anyone, I’ll be mortified, I’ll never hear the end of it-,”
“No one is going to make fun of you for their- their sick, twisted-,” Petunia erupts in outrage, fingers curling hard around her glass of water, which she’s now noticed appears to be slightly stained, so she feels like ducking into the loo to vomit it all back up.
“It will just escalate things,” Mary insists. “You already humiliated them, and if we go to McGonagall or Dumbledore, it’ll be even worse.”
“They’ll be thrown out,” Dorcas retorts, slamming her manicured hands down on the table, which is as violent an action as Petunia has ever seen from normally unruffled future Minister Meadowes, “so it will only be worse for them-,”
“You don’t know that,” Mary snaps loudly, then lowers her voice, looking around in worry, although the pub is practically deserted. “Dumbledore didn’t expel the Lestranges, did he? And everyone’s heard about what they got up to at school. Now they’re on the bloody Ministry’s Most Wanted List.”
She has something of a point, Petunia reflects, but she still wants revenge, if not justice. Dorcas is adamant on reporting it, until Mary breaks down sobbing, and then she falters into silence. They stay in The Hog’s Head until Mary has calmed down enough to go back to the castle, and she spends the rest of the day in bed, facing the wall, her knees brought up under her chin.
Petunia knows they’ll likely never know exactly what happened, and that’s Mary’s truth to have. But she thinks about her friend, going home every holiday to a father who screams and sometimes hits, and being able to do nothing, all because of some stupid Statute, even though she could stop him, and of the hated, loathsome helplessness that might breathe. And then to not even be able to protect herself-
Petunia keeps Mary’s secret, although it’s still whispered about by nearly all of Gryffindor for the next few weeks, and she gives Remus enough veiled references that he ensures, in his quietly vicious, softly jagged Remus way, that the Marauders are giving Mulciber and Wilkes even more hell than usual for the rest of the semester.
Mary seems to be over it, mostly, although they all know about the nightmares she has now, the ones that make her writhe in bed and cry silently, and one day in May, Petunia glimpses her though a half-opened door in an dusty, empty classroom, practicing the disarming spell on Peter, who gamely picks his wand back up each time she knocks it from his hand. "Again," is all Mary says, long face intent in a way Petunia has only ever seen on her when she's stepping off the train and makes eye contact with her tired, beaten-down mother.
Chapter 13: The moon may be high, but I can't see a thing in the sky
Petunia is sitting in the back of Robbie’s cherry red Vauxhall Viva. Robbie is nineteen and in uni, and Lily has been dating him since March, so they are ‘quite serious’, as it is August now, and they are driving Petunia to Dorcas’ fifteenth birthday party, which is supposed to be an absolute riot, if Marlene secures that firewhiskey from her brothers. If Petunia were from a magical family, she could floo over like everyone else, but as she is not, and they won’t learn how to apparate until next year, car it is.
She doesn’t like Robbie. She doesn’t dislike him, either, as he’s not quite obnoxious enough to be offensive or crude, but he always has this amused air, like he knows a joke that she doesn’t. She really doesn’t know what Lily sees in him, but then again, Lily still counts Snape as one of her closest friends.
Although Petunia knows, and rejoices in, the fact that they’ve been quarreling fiercely since Snape realized that she had a boyfriend. Petunia’s sure he’d hate Robbie just as much were he a wizard, but the knowledge that Lily’s chosen some smug muggle studying history over him must sting something fierce.
And Robbie is smug, with a mop of dirty blonde curls and restless, heavily lidded eyes in his square face. He’s not much taller than Lily, and has got the stocky, broad-shouldered frame of a rugby player. Petunia is quite certain he’s slumming it; his Viva is brand new, and although he went to the same school Lily attends, he wasn’t there on scholarship. But he has a deep, reverberating laugh and smile lines around his eyes and he’s got two younger brothers that he’s nice to, and he can quote George Eliot.
Petunia has not been in muggle school since she was ten, and has no idea who George Eliot is, but Lily seems to think Robbie is perhaps the most enlightened man to grace Birmingham with his presence. “He’s not shallow,” her sister tries to explain it to her, several times, “he’s not just after- well,” she’d blushed, prettily, as always, “he’s a good bloke, Tuney. I really like him. He’s different from the boys at school. They’re…,”
Beneath you, Petunia thinks. The majority of the male population is beneath her sister. Lily will never have to worry about settling, because men are mad for her, and boys would die for her. Robbie is quite handsome, and Petunia flushed red the first time she met him, annoyed with his good looks. Of course, he’s a bit… well, she prefers a longer face, and sharper features. She’s always liked dark hair.
While Lily sings along to Rod Stewart, Robbie makes amiable conversation with Petunia, whose replies are as sullen as could be expected from a girlfriend’s plain younger sister. Robbie thinks she goes to an all-girls school near Glasgow. Petunia answers his polite questions as stiffly as possible without contorting herself into a pretzel of annoyance, and then he glances in the rear-view mirror and says, over the sound of Lily’s singing-
“If you’re ever looking for a date, I’d reckon you and Mark would get on well-,”
Mark is Robbie’s brother, gangly and pimple-ridden. Petunia wants to throw herself out of the moving vehicle. Lily’s singing sputters into bemused protests. “She’s too young to be dating anyone, Rob,” she says, scandalized, and Petunia debates kicking the back of her seat. ‘Too young’. She’s only a little over a year Lily’s junior, and her sister still treats her like she’s twelve years old and knobby kneed.
“I’m fifteen,” Petunia snaps, and Lily falters in embarrassment, having apparently forgotten that she is only the elder sibling by one year, three months, and twenty three days. Petunia could never forget something like that. It has been 350 days since Mum died.
“Oh, I know, you’re just-,”
Innocent? Ugly? Stuck up? Prudish? As opposed to beautiful, free Lily, who Daddy properly roared at last month when he caught her and Robbie sharing a joint in the garden. Lily and Daddy haven’t gotten along well at all since Mum died and Lily took it upon herself to be the woman of the household.
And if Lily is the woman than Petunia must still be a coddled little girl, and Daddy- well, without Mum, nothing is the same. He hasn’t gone through any of her things, and it will be a year at the end of August. Petunia leaves him be, and does most of the chores, not because Lily refuses, but because she’s rarely home during the day, always flitting in and out, avoiding Daddy and changing clothes and sighing dramatically as she storms up and down the stairs.
Dorcas lives near Coventry, so the car ride is barely thirty minutes. Petunia makes them park and drop her off down the street a ways, since letting a muggle drive right up to a magical residence is possibly not the brightest idea. She can already hear the rustling of clothes as she gets out of the Viva, slamming the door behind her, not that Robbie or Lily care.
She told them to be back at nine to get her, which they seemed to find hilarious, but the wizarding world is under a strict sunset curfew, given that the Death Eaters seem to commit most of their crimes at night. Just last week another family was attacked- Petunia knows them, because Valerie Neal is in her year, and now her muggle father and older brother are dead, butchered while she and her mum were visiting family.
Petunia knows that at least in some sense her family is safe simply because no one knows her, no one knows them. But Mulciber and Wilkes and Rosier tried to ambush her and Marlene on the train in June, and while they easily repelled them, none of them were tossing around innocent hexes or jinxes.
The Ministry’s wrong. Things aren’t getting better. People are dying more frequently, and in worse ways. They burned Valerie Neal’s dad and little brother, and not after they were dead. She can still see the moving picture on the front of the Prophet, of the sign in the sky over their house.
But it’s a warm evening in August, and it’s Dorcas’ birthday, so Petunia tries to put on something approaching a happy face as she pushes open the front gate and approaches the Meadowes home. It’s not a manor, but it is a large, well-maintained home, with exquisite shrubbery and flowers of every shape, size, and color in full bloom. The knocker on the door is a snake and badger intertwined, to her amusement, and it knocks for her, before the door flies open.
It’s not Mrs. Meadowes or Mr. Meadowes, both of whom Petunia have met before, both white-haired and dark-skinned and equipped with charismatic, charming smiles made for politics and persuasion, or even Dorcas herself. No, it’s Sirius, holding some fruity, girlish drink that’d get anyone else mocked incessantly, the little umbrella tucked rakishly into his hair.
His clothes are somehow more muggle than even Petunia’s, who is wearing a perfectly respectable lavender dress. It suddenly feels very frumpy and childish, and she folds her arms across her chest. They haven’t been on speaking terms since April, when he nearly got Snape killed and Remus exposed with his stupid little ‘joke’.
“Dorcas invited you?” she asks, nastily, as he raises his eyebrows and steps aside to let her into the house. The Weird Sisters are playing from the kitchen on the first floor, but upstairs strains of Bohemian Rhapsody can be heard.
“Yeah, I’ve heard I’m rather popular,” he smirks, but his face is discomfited. She has no idea why. Or, she does, but she’s not willing to admit that at times she had to sharply remind herself that she was furious with him, while she was ignoring him wholeheartedly those last few months of the term. The fact that he and Sharon Glover got caught half-dressed in the trophy room certainly made it easier to be infuriated with him.
“Mate, what are you-,” James Potter wanders gleefully into the foyer, already looking a bit tipsy, although it’s barely half past five, and then grins at the sight of her. “Tuney! You made it!”
She could kill Lily for referring to her as that in public, and him and his big ears for picking up on it.
“Did your sister-,”
“Her boyfriend dropped me off,” she cuts him off flatly, although she does feel a slight pin-prick of guilt by the way his face falls. Although really, it’s on him for still being besotted with Lily. It’s been years now. Girls are throwing themselves at him every week, and he’s still mooning over her sister.
Petunia skirts around the two of them as Sirius makes some sly comment, and elbows and forces her way through the crowd of people into the parlor, where the gramophone is warbling along and Derek Hopkins and Gwen Turpin are passionately kissing in an armchair and Dorcas is holding court while Marlene flirts shamelessly with Kenny Deschamps.
Petunia says her hellos and hands over her gift, a book about the history of Parliament, which Dorcas is fascinated by, and desperately wishes they were still twelve or thirteen. Then this wouldn’t be a party involving what seems like half their year. She hates things like this. She barely drinks and she doesn’t smoke and even if any boy got up the nerve or delusion to ask her to dance or just to snog in the guest lavatory, she’d verbally eviscerate him.
But she can hardly skip out, not when Dorcas is her friend and it’s the only party of the year, the only chance they’ll have to cut loose before OWLs. She walks into the kitchen and finds Emmeline, who, unlike Petunia, doesn’t look deeply uncomfortable with the entire thing but rather exasperated, as if she’s already tired of being fifteen.
“Have you seen the paper?” she asks Petunia in a hushed voice, leaning against the counter laden with cups of butterbeer and muggle beer and laden with platefuls of cake. “They say there’s been triple the amount of werewolf attacks, from January to now. You-Know-Who’s got them on his side. D’you know Phyllis Eldridge? They sent Fenrir Greyback after her cousins when her uncle wouldn’t cooperate. They’re still in St. Mungo’s.”
Talking about cannibalistic murderers isn’t much of a step above watching people snog and get progressively drunker, so Petunia eventually excuses herself from Emmeline’s dark, pensive train of thought- not that she can blame her; the Vances are top of the list of targets for having quite a few Slytherins, none of whom seem keen on joining up with the Death Eaters. Petunia would be grim too, if she shared a dorm with girls like Camille Montague and Janice Goyle.
Outside in the garden, Kingsley and Laurie are talking politics on the veranda steps, and she knows better than to get in the middle of that, which will be a heated debate within the hour, if not sooner. Travis Peakes and Rhonda MacDougal sitting by the fountain, sharing a pipe that produces sickly sweet smelling bright green smoke, and offer her a hit, then burst into hysterical giggles at the look on her face, practically collapsing atop one another.
She slinks around the side of the house, hoping to spot either Remus or Mary, although she’s not sure the former has even come, since he and Dorcas were never that close and he hates parties nearly as much as she does, and then she does spot the latter, sitting under a tree in deep conversation with a boy she doesn’t recognize at first, before she gets a bit closer and realizes with some alarm that it’s Dorian Pucey.
Petunia doesn’t know him well at all, only that he’s not friends with Wilkes or Avery or Rosier, and he doesn’t seem to like Snape much, judging by the looks on his face whenever he’s humiliated by James. But he’s- well he’s a Slytherin, and after what happened to Mary she’s shocked to see her talking to earnestly with anyone from that house, least of all a boy.
Then Mary glances up and sees her, and flushes, scrambling to her feet. Dorian looks annoyed, but says nothing, and nods when she murmurs something to him, before fumbling in his pocket and pulling out a packet of fags and an ornate lighter.
“What are you doing?” Petunia asks as Mary approaches, and then wonders errantly if they’ve been kissing- Mary’s brown hair is a frizzy mess, and she’s adjusting the collar of her yellow dress. It came off sounding more accusatory than she meant.
“Just talking,” says Mary, avoiding her prying gaze like a child refusing to look at their parent. “Oh, come off it, Petunia. We were just talking,” she repeats more defensively when Petunia purses her lips. “He’s nice.”
“Isn’t his uncle in Azkaban for-,”
“Yeah,” snaps Mary, eyes blazing, “and if my brother gets caught filching stuff from shops again they’re packing him off to a borstal, so I reckon we’re about even in that sense.”
Petunia quiets, ashamedly so, because the truth of it is that Mary is from the kind of family she’d turn her nose up at had they not been living together since the age of eleven.
“They’re not all like- like Mulciber or Wilkes,” Mary says after a moment. “Lots of them just want to keep their heads down and graduate, alright? It’s hard for him- Mulciber is always after him to…,” she trails off in something like fear.
“To join,” Petunia finishes it for her.
Mary nods tightly. “But he’s not- Dorian’s not like that. One of his grandmother’s is a muggle, for Merlin’s sake.”
“Just be careful,” Petunia warns her after a moment. “Especially… especially this year. If people see you together-,”
“Oh,” Mary is beet red, “oh, no, it’s not like that, he doesn’t-,”
But he does, if the way he’s staring after them in between puffs is any indication, and does Mary, from the mortified, hopeful look on her face.
Petunia, against her better judgement, leaves them be. She goes back to into the house, takes a few sullen sips of firewhiskey, realizes she’s going to start scratching her arms open if she stays in the increasingly messy kitchen a moment longer, and walks quickly upstairs in the hopes of escaping the crowd. Morwen Robins and Lizzie Nelson have arrived, and they seem to have brought along guests.
Upstairs, there’s a line outside both bathrooms, and one of the guest bedroom doors is bolted shut. Petunia is debating whether she wants to know what’s going on in there, or stand on line for what’s probably going to be a filthy scene in the loo, when Tim Hooper stumbles into her, nearly pours his drink down the front of her dress, and in lieu of an apology, settles for a drunken kiss.
There’s nothing malicious about it, he’s just an imbecile even while sober, and Petunia gives him a stinging slap and shoves him away when he lands on the corner of her mouth instead of her lips. “What was that for,” he slurs, and adds, pride ruffled, “silly little bint.” Petunia wishes she had a cup of something to throw in his face.
“Hooper, go find someone who likes being suffocated by your fat fucking tongue,” Sirius tells him, jovially and viciously at the same time, as he ascends the staircase, umbrella still in his hair, and cocks his head at Tim when he looks ready to say something back. Hooper settles for scowling deeply and brushes past him to stomp back downstairs.
Petunia stands on the landing, scrubbing at her mouth. She needs to clean it. Her fingers dig into the corner of her lips, and then Sirius hands her a cup, adding, “It’s just water, Evans, don’t get your knickers in a twist,” when she looks ready to shriek. It’s cold, and Petunia swirls it around with her tongue like mouthwash, as they stand on the landing and look down at the party.
“Dori’s really mellowed out since first year,” Sirius remarks, leaning on the bannister like an aristocrat overseeing his rowdy servants and lessers. Only he could act as though a battered bomber jacket were coattails. “Never would have thought she had it in her to throw something like this.”
“I suppose you go to loads of parties,” Petunia says acidly, swallowing the last of the water.
“I haven’t been out all summer,” he doesn’t turn back to look at her, and she suddenly, painfully wishes he would. “Over to James once or twice, but Father’s starting to catch on. Cursed the stairs to start wailing after midnight last time if anyone tried to go downstairs. Reg set them off sneaking out for one of his junior Death Eater meetings.”
Petunia’s not sure if he’s joking or not. “Your brother-,”
“Can’t wait to join their glorious ranks,” Sirius does turn to her then, and he sounds almost- well, bitter, of course, but genuinely aggrieved as well. “D’you know what’s really hilarious? My little brother looks up to Snape more than me. Now that’s a laugh.”
“He’s… maybe he’ll grow out of it,” Petunia reasons. “He’s only fourteen.”
“Yeah,” says Sirius, “yeah, maybe he will.” He doesn’t sound like he believes her, and she doesn’t either.
Neither says anything for a few moments, and then Petunia is so frustrated with all of it that she pitches the empty cup over the bannister. It hits Geoffrey Sauvage in the head, but he’s too drunk to even look up. Sirius burts into a short spatter of laughter, and then takes a step closer to her. He’s hot. She can feel the heat of his hands, lingering near her own.
“This is stupid,” she says. “Go find Sharon or something.”
“Sharon’s sick of my shite.”
So am I, she should say, wants to say, but she’s not, of course, because if she was truly sick of him, she’d stalk off with head head up and her nose in the air. She’s not sick of him. She missed him, missed hearing him laugh, missed meeting his eyes when one of her snide comments struck true, missed hearing him spit curses and hexes like they were nothing, like it was a song she really loved.
“Are we friends?” he asks, and his breath is breezing over her hair, which is the longest it’s ever been, halfway down her back, and carefully parted. She wanted it to look nice tonight, but it’s as limp as ever.
“I don’t know,” she hedges, “I- you’re just-,”
“Alright,” he agrees, and tilts her chin up to kiss her. Roger Summerby, coming back from the loo, wolf whistles as he passes them, but Sirius turns to block his view, and Petunia doesn’t think Roger knows that the short blonde girl Black is snogging up against the bannister is Petunia Evans, because that would be completely mad.
Petunia digs her fingers into his chest when she wants him to stop, although she doesn’t, her stomach is doing flips and her legs are weak and she wants to kiss him and she doesn’t care who sees- but they have to stop, because this is absurd. Once was bad enough. Twice, and a proper snog at that? That’s a disaster.
But disaster has grey eyes and tastes like sherry and ginger ale and smells like aftershave he probably swiped from his father. So this time Petunia steps away but doesn’t tell him not to do it again, although they both know she was the one who held onto him, she was the one who reached out first, and she is the one who will come find him, sometime, sooner or later, so they can be disastrous once more.
Chapter 14: And the stars look very different today
Petunia stomps out of the house, furiously buttoning up her coat. It’s Christmas Eve, 9:32 PM, according to her watch, fogged as the face is, and it is the worst Christmas Eve of her life. Last year was their first Christmas without Mum, and it was hard, but they gritted their teeth and got through it, like they were carrying something heavy and incredibly fragile. No one wanted to shame her memory.
This year is a different story. Lily and Robbie broke up at the beginning of November, and she’s clearly still not over it, judging by her moods. Petunia pressed her on what happened, and who broke up with who, but Lily just says it wasn’t going to work and it’s for the best. Of course, she says this while looking thunderous, so Petunia has her doubts about that.
But it’s not her place to pry, as much as she wants to, and hiding her secret relief is difficult. She didn’t like sharing Lily with a boyfriend. She didn’t write as often, and she treated Petunia like a baby who didn’t know a thing about boys. Petunia has wanted to tell her, several times now, that she does know a thing or two about boys, because she and Sirius have snogged on two separate occasions over the course of the first term of their fifth year. Once in an empty classroom, once in one of the bell towers.
The last time, she almost let him snake a hand up her shirt, and the thought still makes her flush. It’s so stupid. It’s not like- it’s just a physical attraction. As much as he has girls staring longingly after him, she knows it’s difficult for him to… well, he hides it all behind a haughty facade. That his family makes him feel worthless. Ashamed. A failure. Likely to be disowned. A foul stain on the house of Black - toujours pur. Petunia knows enough French to know what that means.
But he only talks about these things after or in between fits of senseless snogging, and in a low, tense voice that implies that he has shared this with very few- his mates, she suspects, and even then, perhaps only James, who he exchanges casual, brotherly affection with regularly. She thinks he probably spends more time around the holidays with the Potter family than his own.
She told him about Lily, mostly. And her dad. And mum. And then she started to cry about Mum, a bit, and she was mortified, knowing it’d make him uncomfortable, but he just held her, which she thought was very mature of him. The sound of his breathing, steady and even, helped calm her down the same was Lily’s always has.
It’s not as though they’re a couple or even going out. She doesn’t think anyone knows, although Marlene has stopped teasing her about Remus, and she ran into Dorcas coming back from snogging Sirius once, and she thinks her hair might have been a bit... askew. Still, Dorcas had only arched an eyebrow and pointed it out to her. Mary is probably too busy sneaking around with Dorian Pucey to care.
But now she’s home for the break and after several months at Hogwarts, the reality of a small, dark house with Daddy and Lily refusing to speak to each other is like a brick to the face. It’s not that they’re even upset with each other over anything in particular, but Petunia knows Lily rarely comes home for the weekend anymore, and Daddy never wanted her dating Robbie in the first place.
If they’re being truthful, he doesn’t want either of them dating, because to him they’re still his little girls. But now Mum is gone, and he’s responsible for both of them, and Petunia loves her father dearly, but relating to teenage girls has never been one of his gifts. He’s still grieving, and so are they, only his grief manifests in a short temper and an overwhelming protectiveness that is at times more smothering than anything else.
Christmas Eve supper was a disaster, of course. Lily has always been terrible at small talk when she’s in a bad mood, and tonight was no exception. Daddy would have been content to eat in silence. Lily wanted to put a record on. Petunia wanted to throw something at both of them. Together she and Lily managed to scrounge something up, but it’s nothing compared to what Mum used to cook for them.
Now Daddy is watching TV in silence with a glass of whiskey, and Lily is upstairs, locked in their room, probably plotting to never come home again. She issues daily reminders that she only has one year left before she’s off to uni. Of course, she has no idea what she wants to do, despite being good at everything. Daddy wants her to become a teacher, or nurse. At this rate, Petunia thinks Lily might apprentice as a welder just to spite him.
There’s no snow on the ground, but the cracked pavement is coated in patches of ice, which she makes her way around, or over, grateful that the wind has died down. It’s a calm, peaceful night, the moon faint overhead. They’re too close to the city to see the stars; at Hogwarts she and Remus have sat up on a few occasions and picked out entire constellations, despite her dislike of Astronomy. She misses the stars.
Mostly, she misses Mum. She misses the way things were. The war is still broiling over. There was an attack in London at the beginning of December; sixteen muggles and two aurors killed. You-Know-Who means to take down the Ministry, people are whispering, and what’s more, he’s getting closer and closer to it. How many aurors and witch watchers and hit wizards have died, over the past few years? They can’t train replacements quickly enough. People are leaving the country for France or Spain or even the states.
Petunia feels safe here, for now. The Death Eaters focus on well-known families, or known ‘blood traitors’, or prominent muggleborns. They certainly don’t have the time to be attacking random muggle neighborhoods. But eventually, they may. The Prophet claims You-Know-Who has hundreds of followers. Some of them entire families. She thinks about Snape often, and the fact that he lives only a few streets away.
He would never hurt Lily. She knows that, is confident of it, even, whatever his allegiance. He loves her sister. But his friends- and their friends- she doesn’t think they would share his qualms. Petunia is just another muggleborn to them, her sister just another muggle, and even worse, a muggle who is well aware of their world, who is desperate to find some place in it.
She finds herself down near Spinner’s End, overlooking the black, frozen river. Here fairy lights are few and far between, and there is the distant sound of drunken caroling. Petunia fingers her wand in her coat and wishes for- well, she doesn’t know what. That’s the problem. She doesn’t know what she wants. She’s not sure what to consider normal anymore. She’s never known a magical world without war, and she’s never known her world without the intrusion of magic.
She wants the war to end. She wants Lily and Daddy to stop fighting. She wants to… she doesn’t know what she wants from Sirius. She wants to get good marks on her OWLs. And she wants her mother back. She wants her mother back so, so much. A sob wrenches its way out of her throat. She hasn’t cried in months. But it’s too cold, so she blinks back the tears.
“Lily?” someone asks, very close to her, and she makes a sound like a strangled shriek and whirls around to find herself face to face with a stunned Severus Snape.
His expression immediately shifts to one of hostile, bitter loathing, and she knows she must reflect him perfectly. Neither of them are stupid enough to pull a wand on the other, but they both tense immediately. Petunia is hyper aware that a few steps backwards, and she would tumble down the bank and onto the ice.
Snape is shivering violently in the cold, his coat too big for him and threadbare, no hat or gloves. His hands are shoved into his pockets. There is a bruise on the corner of his face, and she knows immediately why he is wandering the streets on Christmas Eve. For a moment, maybe, he could be Sirius. They’re more similar than either of them know. But Sirius has friends. Snape only has allies.
They stare at each other in angry silence, breath misting in the air between them, and Petunia says, in a clipped voice, “Stay away from my sister.”
Snape’s gaze darkens, and his thin lips curl. “I don’t take orders from you, Evans.”
“She doesn’t need you hanging around,” Petunia says sharply, “and we have enough to deal with without you coming around-,”
“Lily wants to be with me,” he cuts her off, tone vicious and hopeful in equal measures. “You can’t stop her.”
“Not the way you want,” Petunia retorts, and knows she’s struck a nerve by the look that flashes across his long face. “Is that what you thought?” she continues, knowing she should walk away all the while, knowing there’s nothing to gain by goading him, but wanting to hurt him anyways, because she feels like her chest is a solid, frozen mass, about to crack in half. “What, did you think she’d come running to you after Robbie?”
She regrets saying his name, because Snape looks like he might hex her, Statute be damned, if not just hit her.
“That muggle,” he says, in a low, furious voice, “wasn’t worthy of her-,”
“But she’s a muggle too, Severus,” Petunia mocks. “You like to forget that. What would Mulciber or Rosier think, knowing you’ve been mooning over a ‘filthy muggle’ for ages-,”
“Shut up,” he says, quickly, furiously, “just shut up, Evans.”
“What happens when you join up?” she demands. “Are you just going to leave that out? They’d kill her. You know they would. They’d kill her without a second thought-,”
“Shut UP,” he snarls, hands out of his pockets. She can’t afford to glance down to see if he has a wand.
“Why is my sister the exception?” Petunia hisses, “because you think you’re in love with her? Because you’re obsessed with her? She doesn’t love you, Severus. She’s never going to.”
“SHUT UP,” he practically screams at her, spittle flying, “SHUT UP, YOU DIRTY LITTLE MUDBLOOD. You-,” he’s almost gasping for breath, like a fish out of water on the banks, floundering in his rage, “you don’t know anything. You don’t know me. You don’t know what I’m capable of- what the Dark Lord is capable of,” and here he sounds so passionate, so convinced, that any hope of shaming him out it has long since evaporated, “what’s going to happen- he’s going to change the world. Our world. Forever,” Snape spits.
“For once- for once, we’re going to be the ones who decide, and they’ll be the ones in hiding, on the run. Because that’s how it should be. How it always should have been.” He stares at her with pure revulsion. “You don’t belong in our world,” he says, “you never have.” His wand is in his hand, but he hasn’t raised it yet. His clenched fists are shaking wildly at his sides.
Petunia agrees with him. He’s right. She doesn’t belong. She never will. And there’s something hollowly familiar in his fury. He’s been punished for his magic all his life. And now he is going to punish everyone else in turn. She wants to cry and laugh at the same time at the irony of it all. There’s hundreds like him, if not thousands. He cannot possibly be the only one who’s known the hatred of muggle family.
“It should have been Lily,” his voice drops, “it should have been her. She was meant- she was meant for-,”
“Meant for you?” They both quickly turn, and there is Lily only a few yards away, coat only half-buttoned, scarf draped haphazardly, red hair a strange hue in the moonlight. Her face is a mask of cold fury. Petunia has never seen her look quite like this. She’s not sure how long she’s been standing there, looking down at them.
Severus looks as though he’s just come face to face with God. A terrible, vengeful god with chapped lips and worn down boots.
“Lily,” he chokes out. “I- Lily, please, I didn’t-,”
“No,” she says, hard and flat, and he is silent. “Enough, Sev. I heard enough. I’ve heard enough from you. I thought-,” she pauses for a moment, then shakes her head. “I thought I could help you. That I could help you be- be the way you were. Because the boy I knew was good. And clever. And kind. Always kind to me. But that’s not you. That hasn’t been you in a long, long time, Sev. I don’t know what happened to that boy. But I don’t think I can find him anymore.”
“I haven’t changed,” Snape protests, “Lily, come on- I’m still- I’m your friend! I’ve always been your friend! Your best-,”
“You were,” she interrupts him. “You were my friend. But I’m done. I’m done trying to pretend that the person you are at school is different from the person you are with me. Because it’s not. It’s just two sides of the same coin, Sev. And I can’t do it anymore. I don’t want to be your exception,” she says, and the grim acceptance in her voice is palpable as cold steel.
“I don’t want to be anyone’s exception. You’ve chosen your path. I accept that. But if you ever,” her green eyes are gleaming, “if you ever touch so much as a hair on my sister’s head, I will make you pay for it, filthy muggle that I am. That’s the path I’m choosing. Petunia,” and Petunia is already scurrying up the embankment to join her, “come on, we’re going home.”
Snape stands there mutely, and when he does yell, raggedly, “Lily, please, I’m sorry!” after them, it rings out lonely and hollow, and they are already halfway down the street.
Lily walks so briskly that Petunia struggles to keep up with, until they turn a corner and she abruptly stops under a streetlight and takes Petunia by the arm. “What is wrong with you?” she demands. “He- he could have hurt you! You can’t be out wandering around at night!” She is close to tears.
“He’s not the only one with a wand,” Petunia jerks out of her grasp, but stays where she is. “Were you serious, back there?”
“Tuney,” Lily says, aghast. “I’m your SISTER. Do you think I would ever choose anyone else, over you? I love you.”
Petunia looks at her for a moment, and then crumples, and buries her face in Lily’s frigid, damp peacoat. Her sister’s hair fans out over her like a veil, and the world seems very small once more, as it was when they were little girls, playing on these streets.
Chapter 15: You are all things to me, that's the mystery of you
Petunia really has Monica McKinnon to blame for the whole thing, since Marlene’s little sister is the one who overheard her and Sirius snogging and laughing in the gardens during the second week of sixth year, and now what seems like the entire school knows.
Especially Slytherin, since Monica is a Slytherin, which Marlene took as a personal offense, as if her sister had demanded to be sorted there just to spite her, and maybe she did, but Dorcas had reamed Marlene out for it and the sisters seemed to have reached some sort of accord since then.
Yet still, Petunia could strangle Monica, she of sandy blonde hair and snub nose and unusual skill in Potions. Monica is ridiculously popular in her own house for a second year from a family of well-known half-bloods, and Marlene always says, with a snide twist to her mouth, “She runs on pure charisma, Mona.”
To be fair, there is less of a reaction than Petunia would have expected- it’s not as if she wasn’t getting dirty looks and veiled threats from the likes of Rosier and Wilkes before, and at least now Mulciber is graduated, off to devote himself to terrorism and torture full-time, rather than just during his school holidays, as Sirius would sardonically put it.
Then there is Sirius, who refuses to refer to her as his girlfriend. It’s not as Petunia needs him to. She’s sixteen, not some silly child. If he wants to be a stubborn, arrogant git about it, let him. It’s not as if she imagined them playing house. She’s well aware that this is an adolescent infatuation and it’s not at all likely to last much longer, especially when they’ve only got two years left-
But suddenly now that they are no longer each other’s dirty little secret, he is almost reserved around her, and no amount of glares on her part are going to coax an arm around her shoulders or a casual reference to going out to Hogsmeade for dates.
“He’s scared,” Remus puts it to her mildly as they study in the library, not nearly as intensively as they had the year before, with Kingsley reciting lines while Emmeline furiously scribbled notes and Laurie bemoaned the fate of his Transfiguration OWL.
Petunia did fairly well- Outstandings in Arithmancy, DADA, and Transfiguration, Exceeds Expectations in Charms and Potions, Acceptables in Astronomy, History of Magic, and Ancient Runes, and and a Poor in Herbology, to her irritation. She was hardly going to allow herself a Dreadful, or even worse, a Troll.
Naturally, Remus and Dorcas collected Outstandings in nearly every subject, and James and Sirius did far better than expected, although she knows Sirius’ Herbology and Potions exams were rather a wash-out. Peter- well, Peter at least managed to pull an Exceeds Expectations in DADA and Transfiguration.
Marlene’s and Mary’s scores were middling, although Marlene did very well in Charms and DADA, and Mary brought in a much higher Potions score than Petunia ever would have guessed, and she did as well as ever in History of Magic, with her head for dates.
But now it is sixth year, what seems like their last reprieve before NEWTs and graduation and then- well, Petunia doesn’t know what then. It’s not like- it’s not like they’ll be headed off to uni. So there’s the matter of a job, and as for now, it seems like it’ll be arithmancer for her. She’s good at it, and she likes it, and there’s something appealing about the idea of people coming to her for well, anything.
She still thinks Divination is nonsense, of course, but the future can be easily mapped out- it’s just mathematics and probability.
“He’s scared,” she repeats doubtfully, as she flips through A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration. “He was never scared with Sharon Glover, or Pamela Lane, or Morwen Robins-,”
“That’s because he didn’t care what they thought of him,” Remus says mildly. “Or what people thought of them for being with him.”
“He should be concerned about his reputation, not mine,” Petunia snaps. “I’m the one polluting the sanctity of House Black-,”
“Well, Bruce Ramsey said something disgusting about you in Charms, and he developed two black eyes shortly thereafter,” Remus gives her a look, “so I think it’s clear who he’s more worried about.”
“How gallant of him,” Petunia rolls her eyes, although she’s secretly relieved- the truth is, Sirius might be a pureblood and she a filthy mudblood, but even more so, he’s a boy and she’s a girl, and it’s different. It just is. If he wants to tangle with every girl from here to Wales he’ll get claps on the back and admiring looks. If she gets found out for snogging one boy, and one with a ‘reputation’ at that, and suddenly she’s a naive idiot, and a little slag at that.
“Wonder how it feels to be number, oh, what could it be, fifty four?” Agnes Sharpe had sneered at breakfast last week. “I suppose you think you’re something special because he’s gone for someone with a neck like a giraffe this time.”
Lucy Thorne made a neighing sound under her breath, because she’s a moron who thinks giraffes neigh, Petunia supposed.
“That’s really bloody funny, Agnes, coming from someone with a face like a Great Dane,” Marlene shot back at her, nearly knocking the pitcher of milk into Lucy’s lap.
Agnes flushed scarlet. “At least I’m not falling into bed with every bloke who so much as looks at me, Marlene. Russ Donoghue’s been telling everyone how much you like to use that mouth-,”
“Unless you’d like detention with Filch this weekend, I’d recommend changing the topic,” Mary had cut in coldly at that point, prefect’s badge on her chest gleaming. They’d all been surprised- Dorcas had seemed like a shoe-in, but after some initial sulking, both had come around to the idea of it. After all, Remus had been picked for the boys prefect, and everyone had assumed it’d go to Jeff Frobisher.
Now Petunia sits in the library and wavers between appreciation for her not-boyfriend’s impassioned defense of her honor, and annoyance that her honor even needs defending in the first place. It’s not that she’s deluded herself into thinking she and Sirius have some sort of deep connection just because they’re attracted to each other and enjoy bickering and talking about their respective familial calamities, only- she feels more comfortable when she’s with him than she has any right to.
James thinks it’s properly hilarious of course, and has been going on about wedding invitations for ages. Petunia would counter with the letter she caught him reading devotedly- from her sister, of all people, Miss ‘James Potter is Utterly Beneath My Notice’, who then signed a letter written to him, ‘Best, Lily’.
James probably sleeps with it under his pillow for good luck. Petunia doesn’t know when this little correspondence started, but suspects it was over the summer after fifth year, when he tagged along with Remus for a visit to Cokeworth, and Lily actually laughed at his stupid jokes. Petunia is less annoyed about than she ought to be.
Potter has- well, he’s still always ready to hound Snape, but he has… matured. Somewhat. He’s certainly far less grating at sixteen than he was at fourteen, but maybe it’s just the fact that everyone has had to grow up quickly, because the war seems to be getting closer and closer by the day, and it’s been six years now.
“I think it’s good,” Remus says after a moment of quill-scratching on his parchment as he neatly plows through his Potions essay. “For both of you.”
“Dorcas thinks I’m absolutely mad,” Petunia arches an eyebrow without looking up from her textbook.
“Well- maybe a bit mad,” he amends, “but Sir’s completely mad himself, so- it makes sense, in a way, that you two would sort of- slot together well. He’d be miserable with someone who never took him down a peg when he got too carried away, and you-,” Remus hesitates with a sheepish smile.
“I what?” Petunia asks waspishly, but then he sighs, and she glances up to see Regulus Black stiffly making his way across the library towards them. She doesn’t bother tensing for a fight- Regulus is a new prefect himself, and furthermore, not the type. He may be as bigoted as Rosier, but he’s certainly nowhere near as violent, and furthermore, remarkably soft spoken for a wannabe Death Eater.
It’s difficult to take him very seriously as a threat; he looks like Sirius in miniature, although his dark curls are neatly trimmed and his face is softer, rounder, and his eyes slightly wider, as if always a bit taken aback. Petunia doesn’t think he’s as handsome as his brother, with his smaller, slighter frame and more androgynous features, but he’s been Slytherin’s star seeker since his second year, and doesn’t seem to want for female attention.
“May I sit down?” Regulus asks, his mouth drawn in a slight frown of consternation, like a disapproving father.
Remus glances at Petunia, and then shrugs. “Sure.”
Petunia snaps her book shut. “Hello, Regulus.”
“Hello, Petunia, Remus,” he says politely, adjusting his tie. While Sirius is frequently bedraggled and vaguely unkempt, everything about his younger brother is put-together and polished, from his slick hair to his shiny leather shoes. If Sirius is arrogant, Regulus is supercilious, but in the well-mannered upper class fashion that would never admit it.
For example, he would never refer to Petunia contemptuously as ‘Evans’, or even call her a mudblood behind her back, but there is something faintly pitying about his pale gaze, as if he can foresee some impending misfortune. And maybe he can, but Petunia is not about to quail under the grim stare of a skinny little fifth year.
“Is there something you wanted?” she asks.
“I don’t think your mates would be pleased to see you having a chat with a couple of Gryffindors,” Remus points out dryly.
Regulus flushes slightly. “I- I wanted to speak with you about my brother, Petunia.”
As far as Petunia is aware, Sirius and Regulus haven’t had a civil conversation since childhood. Sirius doesn’t antagonize his brother the way he does say, Avery, but his disdain is clear enough, and although Regulus is not the type to stoop to insults, the feeling is obviously mutual.
Petunia just looks at him, impatiently, but he seems hesitant to say anything with Remus right there, and while not visibly angry, still somewhat menacing due to the ‘I dare you’ look on his pale face and his lanky frame folded up into the chair. She exhales. “Remus, give us a moment.”
“Are you sure?”
“This won’t take long,” she says, and he looks wary but gets up anyways, and wanders into the stacks. She doubts he’s going very far.
“What,” she asks, or tells, Regulus flatly once he’s gone.
“I think it’d be best for everyone if you stayed away from my brother,” he says quietly, meeting her irritated stare with surprising calm.
“I didn’t realize you were Sirius’ keeper,” she scowls. “And it’s really none of your business what-,”
“No,” he interrupts her, not angrily, but forcefully, “but I don’t think you or he realize the repercussions. He’s already on very thin ice with our parents, and his…,” Regulus gives a slight tilt of his head, “dalliance with you isn’t going to help matters, once it gets round to them. Which it will.”
“Because you’ll be reporting back to Mummy?” she goads.
“We’re related to three quarters of Slytherin house, if not the whole school,” he retorts, “and it will be parlor talk sooner or later that the heir to the Black family is-,” he hesitates, “distracting himself with someone of your… background.”
“What a lovely way to put it,” she congratulates him, sarcastically. “Very eloquent.”
She’s more upset by his phrasing of ‘distraction’. As if she’s just an idle pastime, another fit of rebellion. It’s enough to make her stomach churn with doubts, and she tries to count the shapes in the wood grain on the table to calm herself. That’s not true. Sirius does care about her, at least as a friend. He’s not just- he wouldn’t use her just to infuriate his parents.
“Sirius will be of age next year,” Regulus says sharply, “and they’ll come for him.”
She doesn’t need to ask to know who he’s referring to.
“He can believe whatever he likes about muggles,” he continues, “but openly being with a-,”
“Just say it,” she snaps, “a mudblood. I think you can manage that, Regulus.”
He scowls. “I’m trying to protect him. It’s not going to be just- it’s going to be different once he’s out of Hogwarts, and if he’s not careful he’s going to paint a target on his own back. If you cared about my brother at all, you’d end this before it’s too late.”
“If you cared about your brother,” she hisses, “you wouldn’t be trying to get your Dark Mark before your sixteenth birthday.”
“My good reputation is helping to keep Sirius in one piece,” he snaps, the first sign of something like genuine anger, and he sounds very much like his older brother when he’s angry. He gets up. “Have a nice afternoon, Petunia.”
“Sod off, Black,” she retorts at his back, but his words sink in all the same. Sirius enjoys being in danger, loves making a mockery of people who want to hurt him, loves to goad people on- Rosier, Wilkes, Avery, Snape, his own parents.
But. This is a different sort of danger, because insults and curses are one sort of taunting, but snogging a mudblood in the gardens and laughing about it afterwards when furious Slytherins talk about bringing shame to his family- that’s another.
Petunia just isn’t sure if she wants to add even more fuel to the fire that is Sirius Black. Because part of her is frightened that one day he’s going to die with a defiant, savage grin on his handsome face, and it will be all her fault.
Chapter 16: The first cut is the deepest, baby, I know
Petunia doesn’t find out that Sirius was disowned over the Christmas break of their sixth year until the beginning of February. Regulus does an admirable job of keeping it under wraps, but eventually the rest of Slytherin realizes that the obedient second son of the most noble House of Black has been named the new heir, and before long it is a bitterly cold, snowy early morning in February and Petunia is waiting up in the entrance courtyard for the Marauders.
Specifically, she is waiting for Padfoot, and she’s not disappointed as four forms become clear through the morning fog; Remus is as exhausted and shaky as he always is following a transformation, but is grinning and laughing all the same, using James as a crutch of sorts, and Peter is still a rat, perched on Remus’ shoulder. Sirius pads along as his dog self on the other side, panting happily, at least until they realize who’s glaring at them, bundled in a winter coat.
“Sirius,” she snaps, and James exhales a whistling breath. “What’d you do now, mate?”
Padfoot whines. Petunia is unimpressed. She’s never liked dogs, although she’s willing to make an exception for just one. “Change back,” she says tersely.
Peter is hiding from her frigid wrath in Remus’ collar; the lanky boy grabs James by the arm. “C’mon, leave them be.” He casts Petunia a sympathetic look, and then says to the dog, “I did tell you it was a bad idea to hide it from her.”
Padfoot growls shortly.
“Tuney,” James says jovially over his shoulder, “I’ll be rather tiffed if you do end up brutally murdering Sirius, so let’s try for maiming instead, yeah?” At the look she gives him, he promptly turns back around and walks perhaps even faster than Remus’ long strides back towards the interior of the castle.
Padfoot licks at Petunia’s gloved hand; she jerks away with a sigh and hears him shift back behind her, his shadow falling over her when she turns round. Sirius has always been better with actions than words, and his arms wrap around her; he’s not wearing a coat, of course, and he’s going to catch his death standing out here in bloody flannel and ragged jeans tucked into his boots. She’s too upset to care.
“Everyone found out before me,” she dislodges herself from his arms, and looks up at him, narrowing her pale blue eyes. “Bloody- everyone, Sirius! Why didn’t you- barely a word from you all holiday, and when we did get back, you acted like it was all fine-,”
“What was I supposed to do?” he demands, “make a public announcement? Send Dumbledore a howler: ATTENTION ALL, I’VE BEEN OFFICIALLY DISOWNED BY MY LOVING PARENTS, PLEASE SEE REGULUS BLACK FOR ALL BETROTHALS, LADIES-,”
She hits him. Not really, it’s more of a weak smack to his chest, but she’d like to haul off and slap him. “Shut up,” she says. “I’m your-,” she hesitates, because she’s- well-
“My girlfriend?” he mocks, and she knows he’s only being spiteful out of defensiveness, but that hurts her as much as if he’d hit her back, and the flicker on her face must show it, because he instantly looks ashamed of himself. “Petunia,” he says in a much more subdued tone. “Look, I- it’s not that I didn’t-,”
“Why didn’t you come to me?” she asks, although she knows the answer. “I- I thought we- you could have just written, if you didn’t want to-,”
“Petunia,” he says, and for a few moments sounds older than her, like a grown man, although she’s always seen herself as more of the adult in their relationship. “Come on. Your dad would never have let the likes of me camp out on your sitting room sofa, alright? I went to James’. His parents- his mum and dad have always been good to me, and they didn’t ask any questions-,”
“I wouldn’t have asked questions,” she lies, because she would have, of course she would have, she’s outraged- he’s only seventeen, they can’t just throw him out like that, he’s their son, what kind of parents- what kind of mother kicks her own boy out of the house-
“I’m of age now,” he’s looking down at the snow, dirtied by his boots. “And it was- well, they didn’t actually blast me off the tree until I sent word from James’ that I wasn’t coming back this time, but- they probably already knew that much, after the row I had with Mother.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she snaps. “You’re- that’s your family, Sirius, they can’t just-,”
“I made my choice a long time ago,” he interrupts her curtly. “It can’t be that much of a shock, can it? I don’t- they never wanted me in the first place, so now Regulus can inherit the entire fucking thing, because Merlin knows I never wanted it anyways-,”
“What was your row about?” she asks angrily. “With your mother.”
He hesitates. Her gorge rises. “Sirius-,”
“It wasn’t about-,”
“Did Regulus tell them? About… about us?
He says nothing. She stands there, too shocked to feel the cold. She got him thrown out. Not intentionally, but- and maybe it was coming all along, and it probably was, it could have been any dirty little mudblood girl, not just her, but-
“Dear cousin Lucius made a really hilarious little quip after Yule dinner about making sure I didn’t have to worry about any prior attachments to interfere with ‘potential betrothals’,” Sirius finally says, “and I cursed him across the parlor and into the mantle- got a bit of a nasty concussion, he did, some blood in that albino hair of his, Cissy was absolutely furious with me…”
Petunia gapes at him in horror. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
“Yeah,” he shrugs, “well, they’ll put that on my tombstone, won’t they?”
This time she really does slap him, although she has to lean up on tiptoes to reach his face and he easily pins both her wrists with one hand after the initial shock. “Stop it,” he says irritably as she wrestles with him, kicking and shoving, and nearly lifts her off her feet. “Petunia, come on, calm down-,”
“You could have been killed,” she shrieks, and her voice whips across the quiet of the courtyard like a curse, “you stupid- you stupid fucking idiot, you could have- he’s a Death Eater, Sirius, he could have killed you right then and there, and you think it’s all some big joke, goading him on, taunting them all-,”
He lets go of her, and she almost stumbles back into a snowdrift. They back away from one another for a moment, both too furious to speak, before he unravels. “Have you ever considered that it’s my fucking life, and I’ll live it how I’ll like? I’m not going to just stand there and smile while Lucius fucking Malfoy has himself a nice little chuckle about rounding up a few mates to go kill my-,”
“I thought I wasn’t your girlfriend,” she spits hysterically, hands in fists at her sides. “And- you don’t even- you can’t keep doing this, looking for trouble, trying to- what are you going to do when you graduate, wage a one-man war against every dark wizard on your family tree? You’re going to get yourself killed, Regulus was right-,”
He freezes. “Regulus- what did my brother tell you?” he demands, taking a step towards her, towering over her.
She turns to storm off and he grabs her arm. “Petunia, what the fuck did he say to you- if he threatened you, I’ll-,”
“You’ll what?” she barks, whirling on him. “You’ll what, Sirius? Are you going to kill your own brother? Because I’m not going to be responsible for you-,”
“It’s not all about you,” he yells. “It’s not all bloody about you-,”
“IT IS WHEN YOU MAKE IT ABOUT ME,” Petunia screams in his face. “Do you have any idea- I’m MUGGLEBORN, Sirius, and you are a BLACK. When you’re with me, you’re making a statement- you’re making a bloody declaration of war, is what you’re doing, because your family-,”
“I don’t fucking CARE about my family,” he shouts back at her, his anger as raw and unbound as ever, like he’s vomiting it up in front of her, and it’s disgusting but she can’t look away. “Why can’t you just-,”
She breaks his hold on her and shakes her head. “No. You do care. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t- it wouldn’t be like this. You care so, so much. And you want to have it both ways- you want to use me to tell them to go fuck themselves, but you don’t want us to be- to be a normal bloody couple who does things like go on dates and-,”
“We could be dead in a year,” he says furiously, “and you want to pretend that everything is fine, you always want to pretend that everything is fine-,”
“I just want to know where I stand with you,” Petunia retorts. “Because I don’t know, and I don’t think you know either.”
“When I graduate,” Sirius tells her, soberly, the anger drenched from him, face flushed despite the cold, eyes burning like smoldering ash, “I’m going to fight. Whatever it takes, I’m going to fight them, and I’m not going to stop until they’re all fucking dead or Voldemort keels over, whatever comes first.”
Just him saying the name sends a jolt of terror through her, even though they’re safer here than anywhere else in the world. He is serious. This isn’t some juvenile boast or half-hearted vow. He means it. He’s going to go out there, and he’s going- he’s going to die, because they all die. They all do. Anyone who stands in their way, even inadvertently- they’re all dead. How many of their classmates have lost family just this year? A dozen, at least. Some people are already orphans.
She’s silent, and he just looks at her, until finally he says, hoarsely, “Is that it, then? You’re done?” It still manages to be vaguely accusatory, like he’s disappointed that she’s not baying for blood with him, not ready to charge out, wands aloft, to fight a losing war, a war that seems impossible to win, a war that is going to take and take until-
Until there’s nothing left.
“I-,” she’s close to tears, but her eyes are hard and dry, although there’s an ache in the back of her throat. “I don’t think we should… be together, anymore. I- we…” She wants to say, ‘you act like you have nothing left to live for, and that breaks my heart, Sirius, because I want to be something you’re living for.’
But that’s ridiculous. They care about each other, deeply, but they’re not… this isn’t that sort of thing. They’re not the sort- she’s not a girl you live for, and she certainly doesn’t want to be one you die for.
“I just don’t think it makes sense anymore,” she says weakly. “To keep doing this, when we’re… it’s not reasonable, to be like this, when we can’t even… put a name to it. I- you’re my friend, and I care about you, but it’s… it’s probably for the best that we just… call it off now, before it’s… too much.”
Sirius bites down on his lower lip, nods jerkily, and then stalks off through the snow, turning back into Padfoot as he does. She watches the large shaggy black dog lope away, and the tears come then, wet and hot and blinding. No. This was the right thing to do. She can’t let herself get so caught up in it.
He’s just a boy, it was just a silly teenaged fling, they never even- they didn’t even go that far, despite what everyone thinks. This way she’ll be able to… maintain some degree of distance from it all, when they’re burying him. Because that seems like less of a possibility and more of a likelihood with each passing month.
Chapter 17: And that sweet city woman, she moves through the light
Petunia is spending a muggy August day with Marlene, because God knows there nothing to do in Cokeworth, and she hasn’t been around Marlene’s since the summer before fifth year. The McKinnons reside in Greater Manchester, around near Rochdale, in a rambling old house with the roof sunken a bit in one spot and a chimney covered in ivy in the green of summer.
Petunia is usually torn between horror at the state of disarray the house is usually in, although she supposes that’s to be expected, with five children, and envy because Mrs. McKinnon is there, alive, and warm and motherly, something Petunia has not had since she was fourteen. She’s grateful that, in the wake of Mum’s death, Mrs. McKinnon made it clear in her harried way that Petunia was always welcome with them, regardless of how many mouths there were to feed.
Marlene’s eldest brother, Mike, is a healer like her father and has since moved out and into the city with his girlfriend, Karen, who Petunia vaguely remembers from her early Hogwarts years as a pretty muggleborn Hufflepuff. Matt has since graduated and is working at Quality Quidditch Supplies as well as, according to Marlene, attending suspicious meetings every other night, which she suspects is ‘some rebel group- Matt says you can’t trust the Ministry anymore’.
Monica is a fourth year now, and and Malcolm is starting at Hogwarts in the fall. Marlene thinks he’s a shoe-in for Ravenclaw, and Petunia is inclined to agree, given his habit of correcting every statement that comes out of someone else’s mouth. But the McKinnons are in general among the most peaceful families Petunia has ever been around, although she supposes she has only the Evans and the Blacks to compare.
That’s what they all envy Marlene for, the same way disowned Sirius and motherless Remus and fatherless Peter envy James- dysfunctional Petunia and lonely Dorcas and tired Mary orbit Marlene’s cheerful McKinnon sun, as hopeful evidence that even in the midst of a civil war, things can be normal and messy and kind. That the McKinnon have weathered this much- seven years of Death Eaters and attacks and wanted notices and curfews- must be proof of something.
And so the fact that an argument can be had in the kitchen is perhaps something to be celebrated, Petunia thinks somewhat snidely, watching Marlene and her mother bicker.
“Mum,” Marlene blows a stray lock of strawberry blonde hair out of her freckled face in irritation. “This is ridiculous- Tu and I have been planning this for weeks, you can’t just make us babysit-,”
“Really?” Mrs. McKinnon demands. “I can’t? Because last I checked, Marlene Sorcha, you live under my roof, in my house, and I am YOUR mother, so-,”
“But Mum,” Marlene says, flashing a triumphant look at Monica, who is glaring from the corner of the cluttered kitchen, “we were going to go to that concert at Albert Hall tonight, and she hasn’t got a ticket, so-,”
“Then you can drop her off round here before it starts,” Mrs. McKinnon snaps. “Really, Marlene, I’m not asking you to carry a cross here, just take your sister into the city for a bit while Mal and I go over to Oldham.”
“You can take her with you-,”
But Mrs. McKinnon wins out in the end through right of maternal fury, and Petunia finds herself torn between amusement and annoyance as she and Marlene take the Knight Bus into Manchester with a smug Monica, since the Ministry’s banned apparition into major metropolitan areas in light of all the Death Eater movement.
It’s not that Monica is so awful, only there’s nothing more exasperating when you’re seventeen than a fourteen year old, and they can hardly discuss Sirius or Lily and James or even Mary and Dorian Pucey, who are still secretly, silently besotted with one another, if what Dorcas overhead in the tapestry corridor right before the end of last year is anything to go by.
Petunia casts critical glances at Marlene’s scarlet jumpsuit and suede cowboy boots as they weave their way through the crowds. “What?” Marlene asks, narrowing her brown eyes, and then laughs suddenly. “Don’t give me that look, mother dearest.”
“I’m dressed perfectly fine,” Petunia argues, smoothing down the front of her patterned vest. She’s dressed sensibly, thank you very much- just because she doesn’t run around looking like Stevie Nicks-
“You’ve got a great arse,” Marlene observes, “and if you’d just ditch the skirts for once and put on some denim-,”
Petunia is on the verge of trying out a wandless hex- she’s seventeen now, after all, and the Ministry can’t breathe down her neck about underage magic anymore-
“Alright,” says Monica briskly, brushing her bobbed hair out of her face. It reminds Petunia of when she wore her hair short, oddly enough, although she’s kept it midway down her back for a while now. “I’m going to look around by Deansgate, don’t wait up.”
“Fine,” Marlene scowls. “Meet us outside St. John’s at five. And I swear to Morgana, if you’re late, Mona-,”
Monica is already walking off, penny loafers tapping against the curb.
“She’s a bit mature, isn’t she?” Petunia asks, watching her go.
“Fourteen going on twenty four,” Marlene snorts. “D’you know she has a little boyfriend already? Some Ravenclaw. Calvin something. Mum and Dad would freak if they knew. Mal’ll probably rat her out soon as he’s sorted.”
Petunia tsks as they cross the street; a waiting motorist sticks his head out the window to meow at Marlene, who makes a rude hand gesture and keeps walking.
“So what about you and Black, then?” Marlene asks impatiently. “You still haven’t made up? No desperate letters from the Potter household?”
“There’s nothing to make up,” Petunia says stiffly, knowing the slight strain in her voice is evident. “We were never really a couple to begin with, and now it’s done. You’ve seen him- he’s not exactly throwing himself at my feet in tears.”
On the contrary, he’s back to working his way through every girl in their year and the one below, although she supposes her slate’s not quite clean herself- she went out on a date with Laurie in June, although she was bored silly. Laurie Macmillan is her friend, but he’s not someone she’d ever want to spend an afternoon flirting in the The Hog’s Head with, nevermind snog.
“The actions of a man scorned in love,” Marlene says with mock sagacity. “You’ve absolutely ruined him, Tu. He’s condemned to a life of debauchery-,”
“Like he wasn’t before,” Petunia mutters, ignoring the awkward pang in her chest. She’ll be over it by the time they graduate. He already is. She ought to think about finding someone- someone steady and reliable, with a good Ministry job, who will treat her decently and doesn’t have a raging death wish or listen to the Sex Pistols on repeat. Someone with short hair and who actually buttons up their bloody shirts, and shines their shoes.
“You two were good together,” Marlene adds. “Even when you were at each other’s throats. He used to make you so angry, back when we were little kiddies- you’d get all red and puffed up, all indignant,” she snickers. “And him! Whenever you snapped at him he’d look like this kicked puppy, with those big grey eyes.”
“What about you?” Petunia demands, somewhat unkindly. “You never stick with anyone longer than a month. Mordy Smith was good looking- and very decent,” she adds, narrowing her eyes. Mordecai Smith is the sort of boy to open car doors and pull out chairs like a gentleman.
Whenever Sirius held a door for her, he did it somehow sarcastically, with an exaggerated flourish like it was all some great joke. It did make her laugh though, sometimes, the way he mercilessly mocked everything, be it muggle or magical.
“Mordy’s looking for a sweet girl to make Mrs. Smith promptly after graduation,” Marlene rolls her eyes. “I set him straight. He was looking for a cup of pumpkin juice. I’m a bottle of firewhiskey.” She hesitates a moment. “I just don’t see the point, really.”
Petunia frowns. “The point of what? Dating? I mean, really, Marlene, you don’t want to get a reputation-,”
“For being too easy?” Marlene challenges. “It’s a bit late for that, Tu. And as if I give a damn! I mean, come on. We’re in a war. We’ve been in a war for years. People are dying or winding up in St. Mungo’s left and right, so I really can’t see what it matters who I shag or go out dancing with. We could all be dead tomorrow, so why worry about settling down? I’d rather live it up while we still can.”
“The war won’t last forever,” Petunia says quietly, looking away at the bustling shopfronts, the happy, oblivious muggles inside, the rush of traffic. But it’s going on a decade now, and while they’ve replaced Jenkins with Minchum for Minister, not much else has changed. The Ministry is still standing- barely. They say there’s Death Eaters spying in nearly every department, and God forbid one wind up in the Minister’s office.
“It’ll last until someone takes him down,” Marlene argues, a dark look passing over her usually wry face like a shadow. “That’s the way it was with Grindelwald, my dad says, and it took Dumbledore to beat him. Reckon it’ll be the same this time.”
Petunia has a hard time picturing Professor Dumbledore, the eccentric and white-bearded, dueling You-Know-Who. But they say he’s one of the most powerful wizards alive, and his name is revered nearly everywhere. Although, if he could defeat Voldemort, wouldn’t he have already?
“Listen,” Marlene says now, as they cross into a slightly quieter area of the city, near the riverfront. “The meetings, the ones I told you about, that Matt goes to. Well, he’s been telling me a bit about them- it’s a secret society of sorts.” There’s a bold lift to her voice and frame, the way she always gets when on the verge of doing something mad and reckless.
Petunia frowns, instantly wary. “What are you talking about?”
“They’re bringing the fight to the Death Eaters,” Marlene says eagerly, “instead of just waiting for them to attack, like the Ministry.”
“Crouch has been going after them,” Petunia counters, “it’s all over the Prophet-,”
“But this is different!” Marlene exclaims, coming to a halt down by the quay, where boats rock gently in the water. “They have people from all over, regular witches and wizards, even some squibs, working as spies, fighting You-Know-Who, and it’s working. They could win this. For all of us-,”
Petunia is suddenly weak in the knees, as the breeze ruffles their hair, racing up the river. “Marlene,” she says furiously, “you can’t. Whatever you’re thinking- you can’t just join up with some fringe group- you sound like Sirius! Or James!”
“Because I’m a witch, and not a wizard?” Marlene snaps. “I’m not going to sit home tending the fire and darning socks. I’m a good duelist, Petunia. And so are you. You handed Avery’s arse to him back in May-,”
“Because he was harassing some poor girl,” Petunia cries, “not because I go around looking for fights- this is- we’re not aurors, Marlene! We’re not meant to be going out on the frontlines-,”
“There’s no middle ground anymore,” Marlene’s voice is flat and final. “We all know that, Tu. It’s either one side or the other. And I’m not going to let them decide for me. Candy Driscoll just lost near her entire bloody family last month- you saw it in the papers, didn’t you? The Driscolls didn’t want any trouble, just wanted to be left alone. And now they’re all dead.”
Petunia says nothing, because she doesn’t know what to say. She can understand Sirius, who treats life like a game of gobstones, or James, who’s always seen himself as the hero, wanting to rush out to fight after graduation, but Marlene has always been practical, impulsive, certainly, but within reason. She’s still struggling to find an appropriate response- disapproval? Anger? Begrudging acceptance?- when they hear it, a distant series of bangs and a few initial screams.
And then the roar of panic, several blocks away. “Mona,” Marlene gasps, and grabs Petunia by the hand, apparating them to the nearest memorable spot they passed, outside a library. They’re clearly closer to the site of the attack, as crowds rush by and traffic stalls in the streets, drivers honking and yelling in confusion. A few dark shapes fly by overhead.
Completely disoriented, Petunia darts across the street on Marlene’s panicked heels, looking around frantically for any sign of Monica. Deansgate is by no means a small area, and she could be anywhere up the avenue. They run by a few abandoned shopfronts before stopping- there are several cloaked figures up ahead, dueling with what must be aurors, and two of the figures apparate away after one falls.
Marlene is already turning a corner, but Petunia stops her. “That’s Kingsley Shacklebolt’s father,” she hisses, having recognized the barrel-chested, dark skinned man, and calls out tentatively, “Mr. Shacklebolt?”
Royce Shacklebolt quickly makes his way over to them, face drawn in concern, wand aloft. “You girls need to get out of here,” he says immediately. “It’s not safe; we don’t know how many there are, and we’ll have to quarter off the entire district, as this rate-,”
“We’re looking for my sister,” Marlene interrupts him, “she was around here, her name’s Monica. Monica McKinnon.”
Her normally confident and assured voice is shaking, just a bit, and Petunia is already preparing herself for the worst. Monica is only fourteen, practically defenseless-
“We’ll keep an eye out for her,” Mr. Shacklebolt is assuring Marlene, when Petunia hears a familiar voice.
“Auror Shacklebolt!” She hadn’t expected to see Alice Goodman again, never mind in the middle of Manchester during a Death Eater attack, and in dark blue auror’s robes as well, but there she is, round-faced, short-haired Alice, with her big blue eyes. She has an arm wrapped around Monica’s trembling shoulders; she’s ashen-faced, but unharmed.
“MONA!” Marlene practically flies at her, and Petunia exhales in relief.
“Goodman, get them out of here,” Mr. Shacklebolt tells Alice curtly, and then as another explosion sends up a plume of smoke several streets away, apparates off.
“You’re an auror?” she asks Alice incredulously- she’s four years older than them, was Head Girl during her seventh year and Petunia’s third, but is still so young looking, so soft.
“In training, but nearly,” Alice says, smiling at the sight of Marlene and Monica but still alert, “now come on, then, we shouldn’t be out in the open like this.” They hurry down two more blocks, the sounds of screams and shouted curses and spells fading behind. Monica is silent but still pale, and Marlene has a death grip on her wand.
Alice gives up on summoning the Knight Bus for them after a moment, tells them to apparate home instead, unlawful or not. “The Ministry is already here anyways,” she says grimly, and then looks to Marlene. “Stay safe, and tell your brother I said hello, will you?”
Marlene nods after a moment of shock. When they appear in the middle of the dusty gravel road outside the McKinnon home, Petunia hangs back with Marlene as Monica runs up to the house. “I think she’s with them too,” Marlene says, as Petunia fights to control her stomach.
“With who?” she finally grounds out, bracing her hands on her legs and forcing herself to breathe in and out slowly.
“The Order of the Phoenix.” Marlene smiles slightly hysterically, choking out a sputtering laugh.
Chapter 18: By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down
Petunia has had enough after three straight days of Mary skipping class. She barges into their room, Dorcas not far behind- Marlene insists she’s staying out of this, and is down below in the common room playing Exploding Snaps with Remus. “I’m not much of a disciplinarian,” were her exact words, and Petunia is forced to agree. It’s hard for Marlene to rebuke anyone for anything without coming across as a bit of a hypocrite.
Mary has never been as diligent about her schoolwork as Petunia or Dorcas, although she’s always gotten decent marks, but to skip class at all is entirely unlike her, unless she’s ill, and for three days in a row? When they have NEWTs at the end of the year? Something catastrophic must have happened to make Mary resort to spending all day moping in bed.
Dorcas suspects she and Dorian finally broke it off, but Petunia is not so sure, seeing how distraught he’s looked over at the Slytherin table during meals. Unless she was the one to initiate it, and Mary doesn’t really seem the type. It would have been easier to let go of Adrian years ago and find someone who doesn’t have relatives in Azkaban and who won’t get her killed, but the two of them keep finding a way back to one another.
Petunia is queerly jealous. Dorian is willing to fight for Mary- she can’t say the same for- well, it doesn’t matter now. It’s a drearily cold week in November, they’ll be done with the first semester of the term soon, and graduation will be here before she knows it. And then she’ll only have to see Sirius whenever James is around Lily… which will be often.
She’s truly not sure when James and Lily became ‘official’, but they went on several ‘not at all a date’s this summer and she walked in on them furiously snogging in the Evans kitchen right before school started, and to her disbelief, they continue to exchange long winded, passionate letters full of inside jokes and middling poetry.
Once Lily sent some biscuits she baked, and James reacted as if he’d won the lottery. Petunia has no idea how they intend to continue this when Lily is muddling through her first year at UCL and James is still at Hogwarts, but they appear to be running on pure force of will at this point. And perhaps force of attraction.
“Mary,” she snaps, throwing open the curtains and letting pale November sunlight puddle into the darkened, drafty room. “You’ve got to get up.”
Dorcas folds her arms across her chest as she sits down gingerly on the edge of Mary’s rumpled bed. “I really think you should see Madam Pomfrey,” she begins, before Mary tosses the covers back and sits bolt upright in bed, long face red and blotchy and eyes swollen, hair a frizzy mess.
“I don’t NEED to see Madam Pomfrey,” she says angrily, “because I KNOW what’s-,” she hiccups, and bursts into tears.
“Mary,” sighs Dorcas, and pulls her into a firm embrace, stiffly stroking her back. The look she gives Petunia is knowing.
Petunia is completely lost. “Then what’s wrong with you?” she demands in exasperation. It’s not at all like Mary to be this overwrought and emotional. She’s always been the steady, reliable one- even logical Dorcas can get temperamental, but Mary is generally collected-
“What do you think?” Mary sniffles, and Dorcas sends a more insistent look Petunia’s way.
Petunia stares at both of them, before frowning. “Don’t say you’re-,”
“I’m pretty bloody sure of it!” Mary shrieks into Dorcas’ embrace, shoulders heaving.
“How long has it been since your…?” Dorcas asks delicately, extricating herself from Mary.
“It’s never late,” Mary cries, “never, and the last time we- I think it was on Hallowe’en-,”
“Oh for God’s sake,” Petunia says, and has to turn away so she doesn’t berate a hysterical teenage girl. This is why she never let- this is why she and Sirius never went beyond snogging and heavy petting and some unbuttoned shirts and hitched up skirts, because boys are idiots who’ll say just about anything to get you to…
Well, it’s not as if the infirmary is distributing rubbers, is it, and while there’s potions for that sort of thing, most people don’t have enough confidence in their brewing abilities to trust themselves to get it right. Petunia isn’t going to pretend to be Miss High and Mighty about chastity and abstinence, but she hasn’t gone and gotten herself pregnant, has she? Even Marlene has managed to avoid any scares, thus far.
“Have you told him?” Dorcas is asking Mary, frowning.
She shakes her head tearfully. “He’ll be- he’ll be so upset with me, this isn’t… we were going to leave together after graduation-,”
“Well,” Petunia says, resisting the urge to say much more about their supposed elopement plans, “you’ve got to tell him, he’s the father, he has a right to know, and you’ve got to write home-,”
“Are you mad?” Mary snaps. “And chance my dad reading it? He’ll kill me!”
“It doesn’t matter,” Dorcas interrupts, “once you start showing, they’ll ask you to leave school, and you’ve got to have somewhere to go.” She hesitates. “But Mary, there are- well, there are witches who could take care of it for you. My mum- my mum and I would go with you, some weekend.”
Mary starts crying anew, and Dorcas looks to Petunia, who scowls. What are they supposed to say? Assure her that everything will be alright? They’re in their last year, she’s never going to be able to sit her NEWTs at this rate, there’s a war going on, in case anyone’s forgotten, and Mary is pregnant with a Pucey’s illegitimate child.
“What’s this about, then?” Marlene is standing in the doorway, face set in that determined look she gets, although it’s obvious she’s surmised exactly what’s going on. She looks from Dorcas to Petunia and jerks her head. “You two, out.” They sidle past her as she marches over to Mary and scrambles up onto the bed beside her, and Dorcas closes the door behind them.
“Best to let her handle it, I think.”
“What’s she going to do?” Petunia demands.
Dorcas shrugs. “She’s a big sister, isn’t she? She’ll think of something.”
“How could she be so stupid?” Petunia asks in a hushed voice as they hurry downstairs. “The whole dormitory’s bound to find out, sooner or later, and- she’s a prefect! I mean, can you imagine what McGonagall will say?”
Dorcas frowns and grabs her by the hand as they walk quickly though the crowded common room and out the portrait hole, waiting until they’re halfway down the corridor before speaking. “At least she’s not Head Girl.” That’s true enough. Dumbledore selected James, of all people, who wasn’t even a prefect, but is now suddenly Head Boy and quidditch captain, and Emmeline Vance. Maybe it was an attempt at inter-house unity, since Emmeline is a Slytherin.
“But,” Dorcas says sharply, “you’ve got to lay off her. She doesn’t need you throwing a fit on the top of the fit she’s throwing herself. She’s been hating herself over it for days now. It’s not healthy.”
“It’s not healthy to be having a baby at eighteen, either,” Petunia counters, but flushes a bit anyways. “I’m not trying to- I don’t want to be awful to her, but you have to admit it was ridiculously stupid of her.”
“She didn’t get pregnant by herself,” Dorcas snaps. “He’s just as much to blame, Tunia. With any luck, he’ll put that Slytherin charm of his to good use and not come across as an absolute prat when she tells him.”
They start down a staircase, slowing as it moves along the wall. Petunia keeps an eye out for that stupid vanishing step that’s been trying to kill her since first year. “Do you think he’ll… you know, do the proper thing?”
“And marry her?” Dorcas exhales. “Maybe. If they were planning to run off anyways… it might be for the best, if they make themselves scarce, if she does keep it.”
Petunia opens her mouth, then shuts it, pursing her lips.
“She’s got to make that decision herself,” Dorcas reminds her.
“I know,” she snaps. “I just- ugh, it’s- why did it have to be Mary? She’s got enough to worry about, with her dad and her mum and her siblings-,”
The staircase comes to a halt, and they get off at a lower floor. Peeves is nearby, harassing suits of armor, so they turn a corner down a shadowed passage. “This is why I’m not bothering with any of it,” Dorcas says after a moment.
Petunia sniffs. “Please, Dor, we’ve all seen the way you look at Kingsley-,”
Dorcas swats her, although her dark eyes glitter in the torchlight. “I mean it! I’m- and he’s-,” she sighs. “We’re on the same page in that regard. There’s too much… going on to get wrapped up in relationships right now, and I’ve got to focus on my future. Everyone does.”
“Hard to have a future,” Petunia says darkly, “if you’ll be a mum by next summer.”
“People have still been having kids for the past seven years,” Dorcas reasons, “Death Eaters or not.”
Once Petunia would have been expecting, even eagerly awaiting, being done with secondary and finding someone to settle down and start a family with. Now… even if she does find someone else, she doesn’t think… she doesn’t feel comfortable with the idea of bringing children into this. How could anyone? There are too many widows, and too many orphans.
At dinner that evening, Marlene and Mary are both present, although Mary is still pale and picking at her food, Marlene sitting next to her protectively, like a mother with her child. Petunia watches at the end of the meal, as people begin to leave, as Marlene and Mary wait near the entrance, Marlene looking thunderous, Mary looking like she might vomit.
Dorian Pucey trails after a few mates, and his strides slows as he sees them. Mary looks at him for a moment, and then rushes out, and he glances at Marlene briefly before following. When Petunia and Dorcas catch up with Marlene, she’s peering off in the direction they’ve gone. “Trophy room,” she predicts, and then starts off for the stairs. “If she’s not back in time for her prefect rounds, I’ll go get her.”
“What’d you tell her?” Petunia asks. “In the room, I mean.”
Marlene shrugs, and lowers her voice, since Agnes Sharp and Lucy Thorne are tittering nearby.
“That my mum got pregnant with Mike when she was eighteen and my dad still in training to be a healer. And that if they could work it out, with her a muggle and all, I figured she and Pucey would find a way.” She pauses. “And that if she did decide to get rid of it, I’d come with. No offense, Dor, but you’re not exactly bedside manner material.”
“None taken,” Dorcas admits, for once unperturbed at an insult from Marlene.
Petunia has no idea what Mary and Dorian figured out, if they figured out anything at all, but she is remarkably calmer for the rest of the week, and tells Petunia, during the Gryffindor versus Ravenclaw game that weekend, while they watch Marlene keep the goals and James show off and try to ignore Sirius cheering raucously two rows below, that she’s not coming back after the holidays.
Petunia looks at her. Mary bites her lip. “He’s got family in Dover- magical, but decent people. Not purists. I’m going to stay with them while he finishes out the year, and then we’ll… we’ll see,” she sighs.
“His parents,” Petunia begins cautiously, as James scores a goal on Patrick Sampson, and the stands erupt into cheers around them, Gryffindor flags waving frantically.
“His mum’s a halfblood, and his dad won’t be happy, but it’s really only his uncles we’ve got to worry about. So after the baby… after the baby comes, we might go across the channel. His family’s from France originally, they still have friends there.”
“You should stay there,” Petunia says, squinting up at the overcast sky, which looks like it’s threatening snow. She can just barely make out Marlene, balancing on her broom recklessly, taunting a nearby Ravenclaw beater. “I’m serious, Mary. It’s safe there, you won’t have to worry about… just, you’ve got to think of yourself. And the baby.”
“I know,” Mary whispers. “I just- my mum won’t leave my dad, and David and Sarah… they’ll miss me so much.”
They’d miss you more if you wound up dead, Petunia thinks, but doesn’t dare say it. Instead she tentatively wraps a skinny arm around Mary’s shoulders, and squeezes, hard but affectionately, fingers digging into her friend’s coat. “We’ll miss you too.”
Mary blows out of a puff of warm breath into the cold air, and leans her head against Petunia’s. “Yeah. I know.”
Chapter 19: All in all you're just another brick in the wall
Petunia has never attended one of James Potter’s birthday celebrations and is at a loss as to why she’d be invited- she supposes they are friends, of a sort, by now, and he is dating her sister, but really, James’ idea of birthday fun has always been raising hell with the Marauders, not a restrained-in-comparison evening at the The Three Broomsticks, even if they’re all old enough to drink.
Still, she’s mature enough to not refuse the invitation, if only because she doesn’t want to deal with Potter’s whining or concede this battle to Sirius- she’s going to prove that they can attend a get-together in close proximity to another without acting like jealous children. She’s been on two dates with Frank Gallo, and he’s still fooling around with Brenda Waters. And that is fine, because they are both adults who have moved on with their lives.
Remus seems less than convinced, but has thus far kept his peace about it as he and Petunia walk down the blustery path to the village, the sun sinking low behind the mountains. They are technically sneaking out- everyone’s supposed to be back in the castle by sundown, even on Hogsmeade weekends, but really, they’re seventh years and it’s only a few short months until graduation, and one can imagine the professors have other things to worry about.
“So what did she say?” he asks distractedly, fiddling with the buttons on his jacket as they brace against the cold late March wind. Everyone knows spring won’t truly arrive until May- these are the highlands, after all. “That witch you wrote, about the apprenticeship.”
Petunia bites her lip and gives a mincing shrug. “That’d it’d be dependent on my NEWT score in Arithmancy, of course, but if I maintained my good marks up until graduation she’d consider taking me on.”
Hypatia Mortimer runs one of the more high-end Arithmancy businesses in England, and purportedly caters to a rather exclusive clientele, who are very willing to shill out galleons to have their fortunes mapped out in a very mathematical fashion. An apprenticeship with her is no small thing, and Petunia knows it’s ridiculous to hope but she does, because she’s never been the clever one, never been praised for her talent, at least not before Hogwarts, but Professor Vector thinks she has real skill.
Petunia has never seen herself and ‘skilled’ in the same sentence, but she could almost believe it, almost believe herself to be worthy of a Mortimer apprenticeship and an illustrious career, because she’s intimately familiar with numbers and what they mean to people. What they mean to her. Her nails are digging into her bare palms, and she releases the sigh she didn’t know she was holding in. “So that’s that.”
“You’ll get it,” Remus says, quietly confident, and then snorts. “If anyone should be worrying about career prospects, it’s me.”
“You’re brilliant,” Petunia objects, scowling at him. “Don’t be silly.”
“I’ve got a bloody red W stamp across my records that says otherwise,” Remus retorts, with no real anger, only a bitter sense of humor. “I can’t see myself holding down an office job, can you?”
Petunia hesitates. “No, but- there’s still plenty of options out there, you know! You could write for the Prophet, or become a magizoologist, or-,” she flounders, “you could even teach! Here,” she nods back in the direction of the castle. “Dumbledore would hire you, and you’d be good at it- you already tutor loads of people, and they all like you-,”
“And once it got out that one of the professors at Hogwarts was a werewolf,” he counters, “they’d have my head on a pike.”
Before Petunia can continue the argument, they’ve reached the village and run into Dorcas, Kingsley, and Emmeline, and joined the throng heading into the pub. The Three Broomsticks is reasonably busy for a Sunday night in early spring, but Petunia immediately makes out the sound of James’ strident laugh as they make their way to the back of the room. Then she stares, because he’s not only laughing with Sirius and Peter, but with Lily as well.
Lily, who jumps to her feet at the sight of Petunia, cheeks flushed with delight, and wraps her in a fond hug- they haven’t seen one another since the winter holiday, after all. Petunia breathes in the familiar scent of Lily’s shampoo and then glares at her sister. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
“I know,” laughs Lily, “but James apparated round to get me- didn’t even tell me he was coming-,” she aims a playful swat at James, who is successfully pulling her into his lap, snickering, “just showed up out of nowhere- you gave Gina a fright!”
“I am extremely terrifying, in addition to being extremely good-looking,” he’s smirking, and Lily pecks him on the lips. They’ve been, for the entirety of their relationship, so freely affectionate with one another that it almost turns Petunia’s stomach, but given how physical Lily is and how exuberant James usually is, it’s not much of a surprise.
Sirius’ laughter has died down- he’s looking at her, and Petunia gives a cold, polite smile and a wave to Peter, who looks a bit knowing as he sips at his butterbeer. Then Remus slips past her to join them, and she finds herself seated in between Dorcas, talking animatedly on one side to Kinglsey about job qualifications, and Emmeline, who seems rather bemused to have been invited at all.
Petunia expresses her sympathies to her, for having to be a Head alongside James, and Emmeline just rolls her eyes. “I’m just glad Urquhart didn’t get it- he was certain he was in good standing for it, on account of being an insufferable prick, I suppose.”
Petunia laughs- Alan Urquhart is extremely ingratiating- and then looks around the tables shoved together a bit- half the Gryffindor quidditch team is here as well, by the looks of it, and in high spirits from a recent win against Slytherin. “Have you seen Marlene?”
Mary isn’t here, of course- she’s off to Dover and four months pregnant by now, but she writes often, and seems to be in good spirits. Petunia can’t say she’s glad about for it, but she is glad that Mary’s safe, and as happy as can be expected when you’re eighteen and pregnant out of wedlock, although she knows she and Adrian are hoping to marry before the baby comes.
“Yeah,” says Emmeline, arching an eyebrow. “Talking to Alice and Frank, in the corner booth.”
Petunia’s head whips around, and sure enough, it is Alice Goodman and Frank Longbottom, tucked away in a dim booth, discussing something with Marlene. It must be serious, because Marlene’s drinking cider, not fire whiskey. When she notices Petunia staring, she casually waves her over, and frowning at Emmeline, Petunia gets up.
“It’s good to see you again,” Alice tells her when she comes over, smiling in a hopeful manner, and Marlene tugs her down to sit beside her. Alice is playing with something, and after a confused moment Petunia realizes it’s an engagement ring, and Frank grins proudly.
“Asked her right at New Year’s.”
“It was lovely,” Alice squeezes his shoulder, and then looks back to Petunia, then glances at Marlene.
“Are you here for James’ party?” Petunia asks after an awkward moment of silence.
“Yes and no,” Frank offers a little sheepishly, running a hand through his dark, curly hair. He has a roundish, open face, just like his fiancee- they both look younger than they are, like they’re fresh out of Hogwarts rather than young Aurors.
Then Petunia remembers what Marlene said, that summer, about Alice and Matt and the Order of the Phoenix, and pins her friend with an accusing look. “You turned James’ birthday party into a recruitment?”
“Oh no,” Marlene says, raising her hands in defense, “listen, Tu, this isn’t all on me- James was all over it as well, thought it was a great idea- he’s already committed, and so has Sirius.”
“Of course they have,” Petunia says in exasperation, “they’re bloody mad-,” she stops herself, because she’s not going to fight this out with her best friend in front of Frank and Alice.
“We’re not pressuring anyone to join,” Alice says quietly, “and we’re not asking everyone, either- the Order isn’t for everyone.”
“Can’t be for everyone,” Frank frowns. “One wrong word, and it’s all our lives at risk.”
Petunia is unreasonably infuriated with them. Is the life of an auror not enough? They have to tack on additional danger by being part of an underground resistance movement as well? “Aren’t you worried about… spies or something?” she demands, craning her neck to look around the loud pub. “We’re right out in the open!”
“We’d look more suspicious packed away in some dark cellar,” Frank snorts. “Better to hide in plain sight- that’s how the other side works. And besides, I think the barkeep’s more concerned about you lot getting pissed and trashing the place than anything else.”
Well, Petunia could do with a drink now. Is is too much to ask for one normal, sane night? Where they don’t have to talk about the war and You-Know-Who? She should have stayed in to study for her exams.
“The Order needs people,” Alice says earnestly, having finally stopped toying with her ring. “Clever, brave people, who are willing to put themselves in danger for the greater good. People who can be counted on to do what’s right.”
“Well,” Petunia sniffs, “I don’t know where you heard that I was the type, but- I mean, really, I’m not- I’m just keeping my head down, you’ve got to understand why I wouldn’t…”
It’s not that she’s a coward. Or maybe she is. If she’s a coward for not wanting to die, for not wanting to watch her friends and family die, than so be it. If she’s a coward for wanting to keep what she loves safe, rather than sacrifice it as burning fodder for a fire that could be stomped out at any moment…
“You’re a skilled duelist, from what I’ve heard,” Frank says, and then adds, almost kindly, “and a deeply loyal friend. You’ve gone toe to toe with a Mulciber before. Not many witches can say that.”
“When I was thirteen-,”
“Please,” Marlene snorts, “you’ve never backed down from any of them. Never. You and Dorcas saved Mary-,”
“They were hurting her!” Petunia exclaims, and then shuts her mouth to suck in a calming breath. “That’s different. We were…I’m not a fighter, not really. I’m good with some hexes and curses, yes, but that was only- only when I felt like I had to do something, or-,”
Alice has a knowing look on her face. “We’re all here,” she says, “because we knew we had to do something, fighters or not. Not everyone in the Order’s an experienced duelist. We have healers, potioneers, curse breakers-,”
“Arithmancers?” Petunia asks more snidely than she meant to, because she does like Alice, no matter how annoyed she is.
“You’d be the first,” Frank concedes with a small smile. “But what we’re saying is, we need all the help we can get. Now more than ever. We can turn the tide of this war, and soon. People are tired of feeling terrified all the time, feeling trapped in their own homes.”
“We’ve all got wands, haven’t we? When people stop being scared,” he says insistently, leaning forward a little, like a proper revolutionary, passionate and convinced of the strength of the cause, “they start being angry, and that is when the Death Eaters have reason to worry. Because there’s far more decent wizards and witches out there then there are dark ones.”
Petunia is perhaps not as convinced as she should be, but he does make a good argument, and she waves for a moment. This is mad. She’s Petunia Evans, not a soldier battling against dark magic. How many nasty hexes of her own has she cast, during her time at Hogwarts? But- she is angry. Angry that she’s always been looking over her shoulder, waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the next attack.
Last time Marlene’s sister could have been killed. The time before that she and Lily could have been killed. Next time-
“What,” Petunia snaps out of it, stops folding the napkin in front of her into a smaller and smaller, perfect square, to pinion Marlene with her stare. “What about my sister?”
Marlene looks nearly frightened. “Well- I mean- it’s just- she heard about it from James, of course, because he’s incapable of keeping anything from his pretty girlfriend, and Lily- I suppose she wrote Dumbledore himself about… getting involved, even though she’s a muggle-,”
“Dumbledore’s in charge of all of this?” Petunia nearly chokes on her own tongue, and then- “Lily’s JOINED?!”
Marlene shushes her frantically, and Frank looks vaguely guilty, while Alice glances away.
“She’s a muggle-,”
“A muggle who knows more than some wizards about our would,” Marlene shrugs helplessly. “She can’t fight, sure, but she’s… well, she is good at chatting people up, you know?”
Petunia shreds the napkin square in front of her in a matter of wrathful seconds, gets up, and stalks over to where a helpless with hysterical laughter Sirius and Remus are encouraging James to get through the chorus of Celestina Warbeck’s latest hit. Lily is shaking with mirth, head of red curls buried in her arms.
“Potter,” Petunia snaps furiously, wand already out, and for his eighteenth birthday (albeit one day early) James Fleamont Potter is presented with a bat-bogey hex worthy of a charms award. Petunia leaves the party later that night with an older sister torn between defense of her embattered boyfriend and firewhiskey-induced amusement, and a scrap of paper with an embellished gold phoenix and an address and date.
Chapter 20: She thinks time is a concept by which we measure our pain
Petunia gets the owl while she’s washing up after breakfast- it’s a sedate late July morning, and she’s feeling remarkably at ease for someone who’s just started her new job as Junior Most Apprentice at Mortimer Arithmancy Solutions, and is due to attend her very first Order meeting tonight.
But it is the weekend, and she’s still getting used to the realization that she’s not going back to Hogwarts in another month or so, because she’s graduated, with a joint party held by the McKinnons for her and Marlene and everything.
It’s still odd to her. Hogwarts was her new normal for seven years, and now it’s gone, the slate wiped fresh anew. There will be no more uniforms or classes or shrieking books or irritating portraits or lazy afternoons by the lake or giggly evenings in front of the fire or rushing up and down the moving staircases or shivering in the Quidditch stands or walks down to the village or snogging Sirius in some dark alcove, trying not to let the fine layer of dust on everything distract her-
Then again, change is good, isn’t it? If she learned anything from her time at Hogwarts, it certainly ought to have been that. It’s not the end of the world just because she’s not defined by her year and house anymore. She’s eighteen. She has- or she should have- all the time in the world. Daddy says as much. Things are better now, between him and Lily and her, although maybe it’s just because Lily’s finally moved out entirely, and absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Of course, Petunia is still sworn to secrecy that Lily’s not in fact living with friends from uni but with James and Sirius, because Daddy would… not take that well, although he seems quite fond of James and even willing to tolerate Sirius’ Sex Pistols tee shirts and motorcycle. God, the bloody bike. It’s probably because he’s a terrible apparater, but Petunia wouldn’t put it past him to roar past Grimmauld Place on it on occasion, just to stick it to the estranged clan.
Petunia doesn’t mind living at home. It stands to reason that her sixty year old father could use some help around the house, and she senses that finding a reasonable flat somewhere with Marlene would do nothing but heap extra stress onto her life.
Marlene is desperate to move out, of course, but her copy editor job at the Prophet says otherwise, and Petunia thinks she’s being a bit melodramatic, anyways- she really only has to contend with three other people in the house, with her eldest brother newly married and Monica and Malcolm still in school.
Washing the dishes is as calming to her as it always has been, and sometimes she likes to imagine that she can smell lingering traces of her mother’s perfume in the cramped little kitchen. But maybe that’s just the roses wafting in from the garden. Daddy’s been taking excellent care of them for these past four years. She jumps a bit when an unfamiliar grey owl clatters in through the half opened kitchen window and onto the counter.
Basil is still just about the only bird she’s very fond of. Wrinkling her nose at the little feathers drifting down into the sink, she gingerly takes the note from it. In Marlene’s familiar rushed, looping letters- Boy, born this morning, come as you are. Petunia sighs, and then smiles.
Mary must be pleased to finally have it over with, at any rate. She absolutely despised the last few months of pregnancy, although Petunia can admit she did look rather pretty, maternity gown or not, at her and Dorian’s wedding at the end of June. At least they did things properly… in a sense.
She fishes around for a pen in the kitchen drawers and writes her response, then hands it back to the owl and finishes washing and drying, humming a bit under her breath. When she’s done she aggressively scrubs down the counter, twice, this way and that, and then washes her hands vigorously as Daddy comes in. “Did she have it yet?” he asks in bemusement, sitting down with a faint groan.
“Yes,” says Petunia briskly, drying off, “a little boy. I’m off to see the newest Pucey, then- are you sure you’ll be alright for lunch?”
He waves a hand at her good-naturedly. “I’ll fend for myself, Pet.”
“Alright. I’m going to fetch Dorcas, then- I’ll be back in time for dinner.”
He frowns, as he always does, taking in the muggle travel calculations, which say that’s a three hour train ride to Dover, and then realizes with a sheepish look. “Pretty convenient, that appearing thing.”
“Apparating,” she corrects him, politely, and presses a kiss to his wrinkled cheek before dashing upstairs to get her shoes and coat.
“Don’t forget your gift!” he calls after her.
She wasn’t going to, but she plucks up the bag anyways on her way out, and steps round the side of the house to apparate away. She hates it, but she’d might as well get used to doing it regularly now, if she’s really going to be doing Order business soon, which seems like it might necessitate a quick getaway from time to time.
Mary looks exhausted, but a small, tender smile plays at her lips whenever she glances down at the infant sleeping at her chest. Petunia isn’t all that familiar with babies, having no younger siblings or little cousins to remember at that stage, but she assumes that as far as babies go, little Adrian is a sweet one, even if he’s hairless and his face is cherry red.
“Was it awful?” she asks Mary in a hushed voice, sitting on the edge of the rocking chair by the bed. Dorian is stress-smoking downstairs in the kitchen, and she caught a glimpse of Marlene indulging herself. Dorcas has run out to get a bottle of wine, to ‘properly celebrate’ even if Mary insists she can’t drink yet.
Mary nods. “But it was quick. My mum…,” she pauses there, and Petunia realises with a jolt that Mary has not seen in her mother in nearly a year, nor her siblings, and it’s one thing to lose family to death, but quite another to lose them to circumstances. “My mum had a hell of a time with Sarah, I remember,” Mary continues, voice hitching a little. “I was six. I held her before my dad, even.”
Mary’s younger siblings are muggles, normal, just like her parents. Petunia has met them a few times; David is fifteen and lanky, with a head of ash blond curls and a dimpled smirk, and Sarah is twelve and painfully shy, even more quiet than Mary was at her age, with chestnut bangs that shadow her eyes and a habit of biting her nails.
Petunia glances down at the floorboards. “Does she… know you had the baby?”
Mary gives a weak laugh. “I’ll send a letter. Maybe a picture when’s a bit bigger.”
Petunia’s mother will never meet her grandchildren, either, if she ever has any. She takes Mary’s hand in hers for a moment. “It’ll get better.”
“Of course it will,” Mary sighs. “Now that I’ve got my boy.” She presses a kiss to Adrian’s downy head. “And nothing’s going to hurt him.”
“Of course not,” Petunia agrees, but thinks they ought to get across the Channel sooner, rather than later.
She unveils the gift, a hat and mittens knitted by the combined effort of her and Lily. “We used yellow, because we didn’t know whether it’d be a boy or a girl,” Petunia says, still annoyed with Lily’s somewhat more shoddy work on the mittens, but Mary seems touched all the same.
“Thank you,” she murmurs after a moment. “You didn’t have to go to the trouble.”
“Well, a baby is a baby,” Petunia replies briskly. “That’s something to celebrate, right?”
She stays until close to five, migrating between the upstairs bedroom and the kitchen, only accepting a small glass of sherry, wondering at the anachronism of a baby being born and half the visitors to the young mother fighting in a war.
Not that she’s seen any real action yet, but sooner or later, she will. And it will be different from a courtyard duel, where she could be reasonably sure no one was genuinely out to kill her, if only because they didn’t want to be expelled.
When she returns home, Daddy isn’t watching telly or tinkering around in the shed. Instead he’s sitting in the kitchen, heating up leftovers from the casserole she made last week, when Lily and James dropped by for dinner. There’s a pensive, guarded look on his face, and she’s wondering if he’s thinking of Mum again, although she knows he must think about her constantly. “Couldn’t wait for me?” she asks, half-joking, half-waspish.
He looks up at her. “There’s trouble in your world, isn’t there.” It’s not a question.
For years Petunia has shrugged away, sidestepped, and ignored queries about the magical world from her father. She’s determined that he never know about any of the attacks, or people like Mulciber or the Carrows at school, or You-Know-Who. But now she freezes in the kitchen doorway, and her silence says everything.
“Petunia,” he says. “Are you involved… with it? Is there fighting? Is that where you flit off to?” He pauses. “Does Lily know? And her bloke?”
“Dad,” Petunia whispers. Not Daddy. “I… it’s almost over. The trouble. We’re winning.”
It’s not true, but what else can she say? She can’t tell him the truth of it. He’d never let her leave the house again, and his utter inability to stop her would crush him. It’s disarming, to know she is inherently stronger than her father, that even if he locked her in her room she could easily escape with a flick of her wand. It feels unnatural. The parent is supposed to have power over the child, but he has only ever had that which she allows.
He gives a little nod of disbelief. “Listen to me,” he says then, as if she is small again and being scolded for something, although that was always rare, because a serious tone from either parent always made her heart drop into her stomach, and it still does. “I can’t lose you. Either of you. D’you understand me? I lived through one war, Petunia. That was enough. I’m an old man now. You think you’re untouchable, when you’re young, but you’re not. You’re not.”
She has not seen him cry since Mum’s funeral but his eyes are wet and watery blue now. When did he get so old? He looks smaller, somehow.
“Don’t make me bury you too,” he warns, voice hoarse. “I won’t have it, Pet. Not again.”
“You won’t,” she promises. “I’m safe. I’m careful. You know I am.” She has always been his careful little Pet, wrinkling her nose at the unpleasantries of life and brushing off her skirts. She’s wearing trousers now, though. It’s not practical anymore, to be going around in a skirt and flats. Hard to run like that.
“Lily’s not,” he says tightly, and she has no reassurance for that. Lily has never been careful about life. She welcomes its bumps and surprises, both good and bad, splashing in puddles and climbing trees and leaping off swings while Petunia cringes and gasps and looks away, never wanting to see her fall.
They eat dinner together in silence, and after she washes up, she lies to his face about where she is going, and she thinks he knows, but he’s too tired to confront her about it. That breaks Petunia’s heart, a bit, but she is eighteen now, and a broken heart is far from the worst thing that can happen to someone like her. That knowledge, at least, has some cold comfort. There are far worse things than hurt feelings and long silences, lurking in the shadows.
Chapter 21: I watch the birds fly south across the autumn sky
Petunia has been on two Order missions before this, one solo, tracking down a squib informant, so despite having only been an official member for a little more than three months, she’s insulted by the idea that she needs backup for his outing, and doubly insulted by the fact that it’s Sirius, of all the people to pair her up with. She’d even rather James, as annoying as that would be, since it’d mean discussing Lily the entire time.
Dumbledore has to be mad, and she nearly told him as much, headmaster or not, but he just gave her that ‘wiser and older’ look he must have perfected decades ago, and she found herself lacking the energy to raise a fuss.
It’s not as if they’re a couple, her and Sirius, and they haven’t been together in any sense of the word since they were sixteen, and now they are eighteen, he nearly nineteen. And obviously she’s long since over it. They were hormonal adolescents, both in a state of near constant upset and aggravation, and they needed an outlet. They’re adults now, and can be expected to be around one another without acting like fools.
But old habits die hard, and she can’t stop herself when he meets her in Bristol at the agreed upon place, a quiet back street with his stupid bloody bike. “Where’re you going to put that?” she demands, hands on her hips, struggling to keep her voice down, although the only other sign of life that dim autumn night is a stray cat scrounging for scraps in a bin.
Sirius grins and offers her his helmet. “In the sky.”
“We agreed to apparate,” she snaps, curling her lip as if he’s just offered her a rotten fish. “They’ll hear that from a mile away-,”
“Not if we’re high enough,” he snorts. “And I’ll land her long before we get close. Apparating is more of a risk; we don’t know just where they’ll be. We could apparate straight into a trap.”
“Yes, well, speaking of traps-,” Petunia points an accusing finger at the bike. “That’s a death trap, right there.”
He rolls his eyes as if she’s being ridiculous, brushing some of his mop of long hair out of his face. He’s grown it out to the point where it honestly could use a ponytail. Petunia is torn between derision and attraction to the sheer impracticality of it, which disgusts her. It’s not her fault he’s handsome. The least he could do is dress a bit more subtly now that they’re soldier-spies and all that.
“Right,” he says, “well, you like statistics, don’t you? I’ve been on it loads of times, never had an issues, James has taken it out-,”
“Dear God,” Petunia says, raising her eyes to heaven.
“Lily’s been on it,” he insists, “she loves it-,”
At that Petunia makes a noise close to a muffled shriek, snatches the helmet from him, and scowls. “Fine. Kill us both. Marlene can write up our heroic obituaries for the Prophet. Killed in flying motorcycle crash. Lovely. Very noble.”
“Just put on the damn helmet,” he orders, retreating to his Black haughtiness when threatened.
Petunia reluctantly does so, buckling it under her chin. It’s slightly too big for her. All that’s left of her will probably be her head, still intact, separated from the rest of her maimed body. How wonderful. “What about you?” she asks snappishly as he straddles the bike, trying with great perseverance to not glance at his arse.
“I don’t even wear it half the time,” he shrugs his shoulders, without looking back at her.
This is why we broke up, she wants to retort, because of your constant, inadvertent suicide attempts, but that’s old news and it’ll just make both of them angry and bitter all night. And as annoyed as she is with him, they do have to watch one another’s backs. Very carefully, she climbs onto the bike behind him, doing her best not to brush up against him.
After a moment he says, clearly amused, “You will have to hold on, you realize? Unless you actually intend to plummet from the sky just to spite me.”
She gives an indignant huff and very delicately grasps his shoulders. She can feel the tension in them, buzzing just under her fingertips like an electrical current. He always felt like this, when they were in school together. He was always humming, under the skin. It was like snogging a live wire. It was exhilarating, sometimes, and stomach-wrenching, other times.
“Have it your way, then,” he mutters, revving the engine and kicking off. The bike shoots up into the air, the wind is knocked out of Petunia, which is good, because otherwise someone might have heard her screeching bloody murder, and she immediately wraps her arms around him, propriety be damned, he’s going to kill them both-
The cold air rushes against her face and the bikes soars up past roofs and chimneys, power lines, and further up into the sky, until the buildings become smaller and smaller underneath them. For someone who enjoys flying, it’s probably thrilling. For Petunia, who never did get used to broomsticks, it’s excruciating.
“Changed your mind, did you?” Sirius asks smugly once they’re set on a certain altitude, having to yell over the wind.
In response she digs a nail into his neck, and he winces. “Alright, calm down, I’ll go a bit lower!”
He does so, if only by a dozen or so feet, and Petunia refuses to look down for fear of being sick. But the lights of the city fade as they fly out over the suburbs and then the countryside, and by concentrating on his presence in front of her, she manages to fight back most of her terror and nausea. She counts the worn marks on the back of his jacket instead, and gets to twenty three just as he starts to descend.
That’s even worse than going up, especially with how fast he’s going, and Petunia grits her teeth as they land shakily in a field, entire body stiff and aching from clinging onto him so hard. Which she’s sure he enjoyed, conceited prick that he is. He dismounts first, and reaches back to steady her, since she seems on the verge of toppling over like a board into the grass.
Petunia bats his hands away as she stumbles off the bike, fixing him with a vicious look. “Apparating is more of a risk,” she mocks shrilly. “You-,” she would say more, but there’s a brief flash of light in the distance, towards the treeline, and they both go silent and draw their wands.
Rosier is supposed to be meeting someone here tonight, and that’s all they know. Petunia hopes it’s not Snape, because Sirius probably won’t be willing to stay hidden and observe, which are their orders, and then she’s going to have to both cover his arse and take care of Rosier, something she’d much rather avoid.
They find cover behind a fallen tree lying across a ditch, and Petunia strains to pick up the low murmur of voices nearby. She has an excellent memory, which is a great boon to the Order, because she doesn’t have to worry about writing things down or somehow recording them with her wand without being discovered.
Rosier’s talking to someone, an older Death Eater whose voice is unfamiliar, about another meeting in Leeds; Petunia knows McGonagall was present in that, in disguise as her animagus form. They’re also discussing an upcoming attack- she’s trying to make out if the surname is Jones or Jonas- when a dog, probably a farmer’s, starts howling nearby and they stop talking abruptly.
Petunia glances over at Sirius, whose face is still as marble, clutching his wand, and tries to silently warn him not to make any sudden moves. There’s a sudden rustle of leaves, and a paranoid curse from Rosier sends a crow flying, cawing into the night sky. Petunia’s breath hitches slightly; this is not a good position to defend themselves in, and listens to the crackle of footsteps close by.
Sirius suddenly grabs her, her knee specifically, his long fingers digging into her leg, and Petunia jumps, smacking her head against the tree trunk and sending a few errant twigs flying in the process. “There,” Rosier yells, and Petunia scrambles around, wand raised, but Sirius apparates them both back with an ungodly loud crack to the field.
She doesn’t have time to yell at him; Rosier and the other one will be on them in moments, and she instead jumps on the bike even before him. “Can you-,” he begins uncertainly as he scrambles on behind her, locking an arm around her waist.
“I know how a motorbike works,” she hisses, although she’s really not all that sure, but she does know how to start it, and gets them up into the air just as Rosier bursts out of the trees. His companion sends a hopeless curse after them, but they’re too far away, and Petunia keeps a death grip on the bike, taking them higher than even Sirius had before, and landing in the first empty lot she spies, once they’re over Bristol again, minutes later.
There they both look at each other, on the verge of blaming one another for it, before Sirius says, “It was Jones. They were talking about the Jones’.”
Petunia exhales, and then nods. “Right.” She looks around the dark lot warily, listening to the distant clash of traffic, and thinks of Christmas morning with Mum and Daddy and Lily. “Expecto patronum!” Her patronus, a crane, materializes, silvery and faint, and she whispers her message to it, before sending it off to Dumbledore.
Sirius watches it go with an odd look on his face, and then murmurs, “I’ve never seen your patronus before.”
“Well,” she folds her arms across her chest, “there it is.” A crane, long necked and pale, winging through the air. She supposes it could be worse, but Marlene’s is a border collie, which seems a good deal more… pleasant. Sirius’ is a great black hound, of course.
“I would have guessed you were some type of bird.” He smiles, although it’s more restrained than usual, no gleam of teeth.
“Yes, hilarious,” she rolls her eyes, and starts to walk away, because she’s not getting on that bike again tonight, if ever, but he catches her by the sleeve of her coat.
Biting the inside of her cheek, she glances back at him warily. “I’m tired, Sirius-,”
“You’ll get a drink, won’t you?” he presses. “C’mon, don’t you think we deserve one?”
She wrinkles her nose. “We nearly had them tripping over us-,” He lets go of her sleeve, frowning, and she feels badly, somehow. “I… fine. Let’s go for a drink, then. Just one,” she warns him, as he raises an eyebrow. “You’re not getting me pissed.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he snorts, his arm brushing against hers as they walk, gravel crunching underfoot. “Besides, I’ve never even had a drink with you. Think it’s a bit odd, don’t you?”
“Why in Merlin’s name would we ever go out for drinks together, on any other occasion?” Petunia is amused, despite her better impulses.
“I’m very fun to drink with,” he raises one finger, “you said we were still friends, I’ll remind you,” he raises another, “and we’ll have plenty reason to drink soon enough,” he raises a third.
She stares at him. “And why would that be?”
“James’ gone and bought a ring,” Sirius says in a delighted stage whisper, and yelps when she smacks him. “I’m serious, Petunia!” He then has a good chuckle at his own pun.
Petunia is still reeling as they step onto the sidewalk. “He can’t be thinking of proposing. That’s mad, they’ve barely been together a year.” Then again, James Potter is nothing if not mad, and despite it being well past the honeymoon period of any relationship, he and Lily are still devoted to one another. Petunia doesn’t believe in soul mates, but she does believe in mutual, codependent, insanity
“You know,” Sirius muses, smirking, “he did once tell me while utterly plastered, spring of fifth year, that he was going to marry your sister one day.”
Petunia’s not sure what to be more offended about; the notion of James as a brother-in-law, or the idea that in the end, this will be yet another victory attributed to him. Then she imagines Snape reading the announcement in the paper, and a hysterical laugh bubbles up in her throat.
“Lily’ll say yes.”
“Well spotted,” Sirius snickers. “D’you think she’ll want a spring wedding, or will they rush it in time for Christmas?”
“Don’t,” Petunia warns him, but giggles a little, guiltily, herself. It’s absurd and foolhardy and utterly fitting for her sister. Lily would be the type to plunge into marriage, just like she plunges into everything else, eager and unafraid and convinced of her own success.
And she’s laughing for other, more selfish reasons, because the blend of neon street lights cast an eerie rainbow across Sirius’ face and if she is willing to pretend for a few hours, they could be, if not a couple, a pair of normal friends walking about a city after dark, not looking over their shoulders, talking about a wedding and fools in love.
Chapter 22: How can the light that burned so brightly suddenly turn so pale?
Petunia is the one to find Daddy, on an unseasonably warm evening in early March, when she comes home from work. He is lying in his favorite armchair, the one he watched telly in and told stories in and bounced her and Lily on his lap in, a daughter on each knee. He looks peaceful, and for a few minutes she believes he is just in a deep sleep, which helps later. Then she notices his chest is still, and when she touches his hand, it’s cool, and she knows, although she quickly feels his pulse anyways.
She’s only turned on the sitting room lamp, and the rest of the house is dark and quiet as she sinks down onto the couch, trembling, and starts to weep. It hurts less than when Mum went, not because she loved Mum more but because this at least was sudden, and she didn’t have to witness it. She’s glad she stayed late at work, although she’d never admit. She’s glad she wasn’t here to witness it, if he said anything, made any sounds, tried to get up of his chair before giving in.
Her father is sixty years old. He was born in 1919. It’s not unusual for a working class man of his generation to die early. Petunia knows this. If he had to go, this is the way he would have wanted to- without much fuss, without causing them any undue worry or grief. He died in his own home with the radio softly playing in the kitchen, not a sterile hospital bed with machines beeping all around. He didn’t even make it a decade without Mum, and he’s happy now.
One good thing, Petunia supposes, is that since she knows ghosts are real, has seen and spoke to them, albeit very uncomfortably, she knows there is an afterlife. Or something. There is something after everyone’s lives. She desperately hopes that wizards and muggles go to the same place, when they die. She ostensibly believes in a heaven and a God but she has not regularly attended church since she was ten. Still, she has to believe he and Mum are together now, and happy.
And they would be happy- Lily and James set a date for the wedding just last week; August 19th, 1979. They say it will be easy to remember. And Daddy was happy. They all went out for Christmas dinner, Lily and James and Petunia and him, after they told him they were getting married. Of course, they glossed over the part where James was planning to propose on Christmas Eve but Lily found the ring by accident and then, sly girl that she is, surprised him when he came home by getting down on one knee.
Petunia still thinks James ought to have asked for Daddy’s blessing, if not permission, but Lily said it was antiquated nonsense and that she didn’t belong to anyone but herself, which was true, but Petunia knows she was looking forward to walking down the aisle on her father’s arm all the same. Her ring is garnet, her birthstone, on a gold setting. It’s expensive but simple which is just Lily’s taste and Petunia is quietly relieved that James knew her well enough to not have to ask her younger sister for help.
But all the wedding plans seem silly now, because Daddy is gone, and Petunia realizes with a sudden jolt that she is an orphan. Her parents are both dead. It’s just her and Lily now, the only Evans left. The small house seems cavernous and strange. She is nearly nineteen and the last scrap of her childhood, her father, is gone. Petunia’s tears ebb and stop and she just sits there, imagining she can hear Daddy’s breathing for a few minutes, until she glances over at him again and the tears start anew.
She sends word to Lily and then telephones the nearest funeral home, the same one they used for Mum. Daddy will want a simple service, nothing over the top, and his headstone is already engraved- it’s the Mum is buried under. He’s been picked up by the men from the home by the time Lily arrives, tearful and in denial. James is not far behind, and catches her up in his arms when she looks at Petunia and starts to sob.
Petunia makes tea for them. Lily is speechless and shaking, and James looks close to tears himself, despite having only met his future father-in-law a few times, and their united show of grief is too much for Petunia, who has never felt more cold and alone. She goes upstairs and cleans the bathroom for want of something to do, something to keep herself occupied, and refuses James’ offer for her to stay with them.
She’ll have to sell the house, of course, but for tonight, it’s still her home, and however unfair, she feels she has more of a right to it than Lily. Lily may be the eldest child, but Petunia knows it will be she who is handling all the details, she who will do the organizing and write the notes and call people. She likes these things, they calm her down, and so she doesn’t resent Lily for it, but she does want to do them by herself.
James takes Lily home, and leaves Petunia to her cleaning, promising to be back over first thing in the morning. Petunia finishes scrubbing down the small bathroom and then moves downstairs to the kitchen. She is furiously mopping the floor when there’s a scratching noise at the back door, and she pulls out her wand, lighting it. It’s Padfoot, snout pressed mournfully up against the screen. She opens the door.
“I’ve just mopped,” she says, and to her relief her voice doesn’t shake.
Padfoot turns back into Sirius, sprouting up before her eyes, and says, blankly, as if he’s reciting a poem, “Regulus is dead. He was missing, the past few days. They killed him, for trying to leave.”
“My dad just died,” Petunia whispers, and they crumple into each other in shock and grief. She drops the mop. His boots squeak across the floor and she buries her face in his chest and he lifts her up by the waist and sets her on the kitchen counter as she cries into his jacket and he runs his hands through her hair and shakes with his own loss.
They are like that in the darkened kitchen for some time before she wriggles down and peers up into his face. He has dark circles under his eyes and his hair needs to be combed and she thinks she sees the glimmer of a piercing in one of his ears and his clothes are wrinkled but she takes him by the hand and leads him out of the kitchen and upstairs. The stairs groan softly in acknowledgement of their pain and their combined weight.
Her room has not changed, aside from some dolls and other old toys being stored away, in nearly a decade. In this sea of pale pink walls and white furniture Sirius sits on her creaky little twin bed and watches while she shrugs out of her navy blazer and kicks off her slippers and starts to unbutton her modest skirt.
“What are you doing,” he mutters at last, when her skirt is down around her ankles and she is peeling down her pantyhose. The kitchen is not fully cleaned and she still has to dust the furniture and wipe down the windows but her fixations are drowned out by how much she wants him.
“I want to,” she whispers, confirming the wild look in his grey eyes and takes his hand to lead it downwards, for once the one initiating things, the one asking. He does not pull away, his breathing hitches.
“We shouldn’t.” He does not pull away. His hand is burning hot, as if he’s feverish, or maybe that’s her touch, not his. Does it matter?
“I know,” she breathes, and then he stands up and shrugs out of his jacket and she holds her arms up like a child as he pulls off her camisole. They shouldn’t. This is disrespectful and inappropriate and mad. But she wants to anyways, because he is here and they are both freshly torn open and if they are going to bleed together, then they might as well derive some twisted enjoyment from it
Perhaps someone more sensible and noble and chivalrous than Sirius Black would have stopped this insanity, given her his jacket and consoled her while she cried and told her that this is no way to cope with the death of her father or his brother, that sex is a beautiful, sacred thing that should be reserved for a time when they are both in a better place, emotionally, and officially committed to one another, but-
But he is not so sensible or noble or chivalrous and that’s why she wants him, more than she ever has before, more than when she was fourteen or fifteen or sixteen and they were flush with adrenaline but pinioned by insecurities and fears. She’s not afraid right now, she can’t be afraid, and she’s never been afraid of him, only afraid for him and the bed is too small for both of them but it doesn’t matter.
He has a rubber on him, which does matter, because even in her grief Petunia is not so thoughtless, and although there is no one to hear them the house is full of ghosts, both hers and his and so they are nearly silent the entire time except for the end because he gasps, “Pet,” in her ear and she digs her fingers harder into his shoulders in response and sobs aloud, only it’s not all sadness this time.
When they’re finally finished with each other he stiffens as if considering leaving, as if ashamed of what they’ve done, so she locks her legs with his and clings to him like a child to keep him there. She is selfish and proud and horrified all at once because she has always been a good girl, in most senses of the word, and had you told her a few years ago she would lose her virginity at 18 years, 9 months, and 11 days to Sirius Black in her childhood bedroom hours after the death of her father and his brother she would have either laughed hysterically or fainted.
In the morning she feels swollen and sated but ravenously hungry, and makes herself a cup of tea and him a cup of coffee, which he prefers, and they sit at the table in silence, her in a dressing gown and him in his pants and nothing else, until there is a knock at the front door.
She opens it after Sirius has taken the stairs two at a time to put on some clothes, and is faced with Lily, James, and Mrs. Potter, smiling sadly at her. Her hair has gone more white than silver by now, and her face is lined with wrinkles, but the eyes behind her glasses are as keen as ever.
“You poor, dear girl,” she says softly, and Petunia steps aside mutely to let them in. Euphemia Potter, who insists Petunia call her Effy, just as Lily does, has brought an entire English breakfast tucked inside one likely charmed wicker basket. Sirius comes downstairs somewhat guiltily with his shirt on inside out before Petunia tells him, and no questions are asked while they eat, not even by James.
Later that day Petunia walks down with her sister to the little rusted out swingset and slide overlooking the river where she and Lily and sometimes Severus Snape used to play. Lily sits down on the swing, curls falling in her face. Petunia looks at the slide that once seemed an insurmountable peak. The rush of the river remains the same as it was ten, twenty years ago.
“He was happy,” Petunia says after a moment, for once the first to speak. “He liked James, a lot, Lily. He was happy for you two. That’s all he wanted, for us to settle down and be happy.”
“James is looking at a place in Godric’s Hollow,” Lily murmurs, without looking up at her. “It’s a sweet little cottage. The garden’s overgrown, and it needs a fresh coat of paint, and a new fence, but…” She gives a helpless little shrug.
“It sounds lovely,” Petunia swallows. “I can’t wait to see it.”
“He’s with Mum now,” Lily exhales. “That’s what matters. They’re together, and I know they’re… watching over us.”
“Of course.” Petunia buries her hands in her pockets. It’s much colder today than it was yesterday.
“Do you love Sirius?” The question takes her aback completely. Lily is looking up at her now, expression unreadable.
“I-,” Petunia stammers- how can she- there’s no way to- you can’t measure- “Yes,” she says, almost coughing it out. “I think so. Yes, I do. I don’t- we’re not like you and James, it’s not easy for us, but-,”
“It’s not easy for me and James,” Lily is looking at her with the eyes of an older sister, a gaze Petunia hasn’t seen in some time. “I know it… seems that way, but we… we’re very different people. We don’t agree on everything. Sometimes,” she almost smiles, “we don’t agree on anything.”
“But we… we want to be together, because he- he makes me happy, like I can… like I can breathe more fully when I’m around him, and I never want him to go away, even if we fight or get angry with each other. I want to be around him as long as I can, for as long as we have. And when you know that, I don’t think the rest of it matters so much.”
Lily stands up, the swing rattling behind her. “If you love him, Tuney, you need to tell him. Life’s too short to second-guess things like this.”
Petunia nods after a moment, and for the first time in years, initiates an embrace, wrapping her arms around her taller sister and pulling her close. “It’s just us,” she mutters.
“I know,” Lily soothes, and she smells like fresh, clean things, like spring. “It’s been just us for a long time, Tuney.”
Chapter 23: The night is young and full of possibilities
Petunia wakes up on her sister’s wedding day to grey skies and the sound of rain pattering on the windows. Had it been her wedding, this would have sent her into a conniption, especially since the forecast said it’d be clear and sunny, but since this is Lily, it’s all waved off with a smile and a laugh. Her sister, free-spirited Lily who at the age of thirteen declared she was never getting married, to Mum’s horror and Daddy’s bemusement, is positively giddy on her wedding day.
The wedding is to be a very small, quiet affair, held in Godric Hollow’s little church, with the reception at the cottage, which James and Lily have only just begun to move into, in the evening. Lily isn’t even having any bridesmaids, just Petunia as her maid of honor, while James has Sirius as his best man. Petunia feels badly for Lily in that she couldn’t really invite any of her muggle friends to a wedding full of witches and wizards, but Lily doesn’t seem to mind.
“Are you sure,” Petunia repeats dolefully for what must be the hundredth time, as Lily tugs a brush through her red ringlets, “you don’t want to wear any more makeup?” It’s not as if Lily, who glided through adolescence with nary a splotch or blemish on her heart-shaped face, really needs to wear any, but most brides do a bit more than paint their nails and apply a little lipstick on their wedding day.
“No,” Lily says, examining herself in the mirror, “this is fine.” She turns to Petunia, smiling brightly. “Shall I get dressed, then? You look lovely, Tuney.”
Petunia is wearing a pale green, almost Grecian style sleeveless dress which would have been perfect for the warm August afternoon that was promised. Now she can already picture it sodden. She shifts from sandaled foot to sandaled foot, and fixes Lily with a dry look. “You’re still a dirty liar, you know. Even on your wedding day.”
Lily laughs at that, and makes a face. “Don’t be silly. Though I wish you’d wear your hair down.” In contrast to Lily’s cascading curls, which Petunia convinced her to grow out again after she cut her hair to her shoulders last year, Petunia’s blonde hair is pulled back and up in a knot at the nape of her neck. There’s no sense competing with her sister there.
“And I wish you’d wear a veil,” Petunia retorts- what is the minister going to think? But Lily says it’s stuffy and ridiculous, and she’d only have it on for the ceremony anyways. Even if the dress will look odd without it- her jaw drops a little when Lily extricates the gown from the wardrobe- that is most definitely not Mum’s dress, the one she married Daddy in, in 1946.
Lily is biting her lip. “I… oh, don’t be angry, Tuney. It just… it didn’t suit me, and,” she hesitates, ‘I think you were meant to wear it, after all.”
Petunia stares at her. She’d been silently jealous of Lily for being the elder sister and therefore having the right to wear their mother’s gown, carefully stored for thirty-odd years now, but… She looks at the dress on the hanger Lily is holding. It’s a lacy, ruffled, prairie-esque number, with a high neckline and long sleeves, but which still manages to come across as light and airy, due to the sheerness of the sleeves and neck. Plenty of people would look like idiots in it, but with Lily… well, it just might work. It’s certainly not a dress you wear a veil with- far too bohemian.
“You might as well hold a sign with the year on it in all your pictures,” she can’t help but snipe, giving it another critical once-over, but then adds, “well, go and put it on, then. When did you buy it?”
Lily flushes as she slips out of her dressing-gown. “June. I didn’t set out to… I saw it on a shop window, and I just thought I’d try it on for a laugh…” Petunia comes over to help her with the sleeves and zip up the back, and they both turn and peer into the mirror, their difference in height less pronounced than usual due to the slight heel on Petunia’s sandals and the fact that Lily is barefoot.
A pallid blonde like Petunia would look swallowed up by the dress, but with Lily’s vivid hair and eyes, she’s something approaching a fairy princess of sorts. It’s a perfect fit, better than Mum’s gown, which was slightly too tight in the chest and short in the skirt for Lily. Petunia wraps an arm around Lily’s waist, and her sister beams, eyes shining.
“You look beautiful,” says Petunia, who presses a dutiful kiss to her cheek, and then darts across the room. “I know you like surprises,” she says, coming back with a box. “So I have one for you. Tell me if you hate it,” she threatens.
Lily gives her an exasperated look. “I’d never hate a gift from you-,” she gasps when she opens the box, and carefully lifts out a crown of calla lilies and white roses, faded blue ribbon trailing down the back. “Petunia! This is gorgeous!”
“Well, you’d never catch me dead with flowers in my hair,” Petunia is thrilled she likes it, even though she knew she would, but does a decent job at playing it off, hands on her hips, “but I thought it’d suit you, since you didn’t want a veil. The ribbon is from Mum’s bouquet, so that’s something old and something blue. And your shoes are borrowed from Marlene-,” she glances over at them. Her best friend and her sister have identical foot sizes, and very similar taste in shoes.
“And my dress is something new.” Lily pulls Petunia into an embrace a bit too careless for an almost-bride, and Petunia yelps, “Careful with the flowers!” before Lily places it atop her head.
She winks playfully. “How do I look, then?”
“Stunning,” Petunia says truthfully, then glances over at the clock. “Now put your shoes on before we’re late to the church.”
Despite the summer rain and the puddles outside, they arrive just on time, and the irony that Lily is walking down the aisle to ‘Here Comes the Sun’ is lost on no one. She might as well be a ray of light, glowing as she is, and Petunia walks beside her, knowing it should be Daddy, but accepting that for today, she is more than enough.
James looks close to tears at the altar, and she’s surprised to see he’s wearing a muggle suit; Sirius must have talked him into it. She’s unsurprised to see Sirius not in dress robes but a tuxedo, and has to fight off her own blush so as not to take away from the bride, although poor chance of that.
Petunia is utterly unsurprised by the reading Lily underlined for her in their family’s old King James Bible. She glances out across the small audience. Marlene and Dorcas are sitting with Remus and Peter in the first row, across from James’ parents, and Marlene flashes her a discreet thumbs up, which Dorcas promptly prods her for with an elbow. Petunia meets Remus’ eye; he looks paler than ever in a dark, slightly too big suit, but he gives her a faint smirk.
“Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame,” she begins carefully and pointedly. She hasn’t read like this since Sunday school.
Sirius is grinning at her openly out of the corner of her eye. “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.”
He reads after her, from an entirely different verse, slightly more haltingly.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.”
When he finishes reading, he looks over at James, and something unspoken passes between the two of them, and for maybe the first time Petunia truly understands that James is more than Sirius’ best friend, he’s his brother, the only family left to him, just as Lily is the only family left to her.
The chapel erupts into raucous applause when the minister pronounces James Fleamont Potter and Lily Jane Evans man and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Potter, and they kiss passionately, as if it’s the first time, heedless of the gleeful audience.
Petunia takes Sirius’ arm as they follow them out of the church, and they share a quietly confident look that comes from being an acknowledge couple for the first time in their lives. She moved into the flat he used to share with her sister and new brother-in-law just before her nineteenth birthday, and while she wouldn’t say living with Sirius, who has a very different idea of ‘neat’ from her, is easy, she has yet to regret it.
The rain has lightened enough that the garden is not a complete mud pit, as Petunia had feared, and James and Lily duck, laughing, under the wands held aloft raining down sparks by the guests as they enter the tent set up for the meal and dancing. Petunia even spots Professor McGonagall, looking pleased as the cat that caught the canary, observing her former students make fools of themselves.
Petunia supposes James is lucky Lily likes to dance just as much as he- and is good at it- although maybe it’s the other way around. Petunia is dragged onto the dance floor again and again, first by Sirius, who is eager to tell her how James was ‘weeping like a baby all morning’, then by Marlene, who brought Kingsley as her date, which is likely driving Dorcas up the wall, even by a tipsy Peter, who is a terrible dancer but not much worse than Petunia, who finds herself laughing anyways.
In a stroke of vengefulness, she in turns gets Remus to dance with her towards the end, and then prods him when he turns out to be a far better dancer than one would suspect from his gangly frame. For once they don’t discuss any of their past Order missions, although they’re a frequent duo on those, and instead talk about (or Petunia talks about) the pretty witch working in the stockroom at Slug and Jigger’s with him that she thinks (and he strongly disagrees) that he should ask out for dinner after work some night.
The night winds down far too quickly, to Petunia’s almost dismay, although she usually loathes things like this, not being overly fond of crowds, dancing, drunk people, or loud music. But the guests have places to be and often, Order of the Phoenix business to conduct, since the war hasn’t paused just for the sake of one wedding, and the trickle out one by one until it is just Petunia cleaning up in the tent with Sirius looking on.
“Your sister’ll kill you if she finds out you were cleaning into the wee hours of the morning,” he says as she vanishes stains from the table cloth.
“My sister is enjoying her wedding night,” she retorts with a small smile.
“Yeah, let’s hope so,” he snickers, and stands up with a groan. “At least they finally went and did it.”
Petunia raises an eyebrow. “Got married,” he amends, and points a reproving finger at her. “Who put such filth in your mind, Miss Evans?”
She mock-curtsies to him, because she’s not entirely sober herself, and they both seize with laughter. When she’s recovered some, she adds, “I suppose you’ll miss flying around on that damned bike with him.”
“Lily could never forbid him anything, least of all me,” Sirius drawls, and then pulls her away from the mess. “C’mon, last dance of the night with me, how about it?”
“The band left,” Petunia snorts, a hand on his chest, but he hums anyways and dips her, which makes her gasp and step on his foot in retaliation. “Oaf.”
“Priss,” he whispers in her ear, and then kisses her. She kisses him back, listening to the steady drip of the rain, and wishes it could always be like this, days and nights where they’re not worried, waiting up for news of someone, hoping the next body found won’t be James’ or Marlene’s or each other’s, times when they don’t have to constantly be on guard.
“Maybe we should do it sometime,” Sirius says, straightening his tie, when they’ve relinquished their hold on one another. His finger marks are indented into the sides of her dress; she plays with the material.
“Do what, exactly?”
“Get hitched,” he’s joking, of course, but the look in his eyes isn’t all tipsy amusement, and she glances away. Yes, he’s just a bit drunk and making a joke of it. Dating seriously and living together is one thing, marriage is another, and while she doesn’t begrudge Lily her perfect, rainy day wedding, she doubts she could pull it off with nearly as much patience or grace.
“We’d both have to be mad for that.”
“Damn our sanity,” he mutters, and she reaches over and squeezes his hand briefly. The fairy lights are still twinkling all around them, but a few are flickering erratically. Her feet ache.
“Let’s go home, Sirius.”
He pulls her close again and they disappear with a quiet pop, like bubbles fizzing in champagne.
Just as a warning to current readers, there are less than 10 chapters left in this story, so we're in the final stretch here.
Chapter 24: Imagine all the people living for today
It’s seven days into the new year when Petunia finds out about both her sister’s pregnancy and the prophecy. Lily at least has the good sense to be straightforward with her and get James out of the house before she invites her over for tea on a bleary, cold day with an inch of snow on the ground, carols on the radio, and decorations still up on every street.
Petunia is only recently back on her feet after taking a nasty curse from a Death Eater in Appleby just after Christmas, and is glad for an excuse to get out of the flat and away from Sirius’ tense attention. She’s physically fine, just a bit weak and tired, and still forbidden from apparating by Benjy Fenwick, who spends his days at St. Mungo’s as a mediwizard and his nights with the Order.
That leaves the Knight Bus, which she has only taken once before, and it’s not any better the second time, either. After regaining control of her stomach she plods along wearily to the Potter cottage, pushing open the quaint little white gate and up the freshly shoveled walk to the door.
Lily’s love for Christmas is unparalleled; Petunia enjoys decorating for the holidays as well and she and Sirius even got a small tree this year- or, he brought one home over his shoulder to surprise with, and while she complained about pine needles on the carpet, they both knew she was secretly pleased.
A festive wreath hangs on the door and there are fairy lights in the bushes. A wind chime warbles in a nearby, bare tree. Petunia knocks crisply and waits until she hears the padding of feet down the stairs. Lily opens the door, her hair pulled back in a loose braid over her shoulder, wearing a baggy jumper that likely belongs to James. She looks tired and a bit pale, but Petunia attributes it to post-holidays fatigue as she steps inside, taking off her coat.
“James is out shopping for dinner tonight,” Lily says casually, as she hangs up Petunia’s coat. Petunia has never known a man to go shopping for dinner in her life, and her look must say as much, because her older sister adds, with a wry smile, “Stop it, Tuney, he likes to cook! And he’s got all his mum’s old recipes.”
The elder Potters passed away in September, barely a month after the wedding. Dragonpox; it was quick, not entirely unexpected, at their age, and they went together. James was heartbroken, but he seemed mostly back to his normal self when Petunia saw him for Christmas dinner. They all ate together; her and Sirius and Lily and James and Remus and Peter, crowding the small dining room and talking over each other.
“That’s… nice,” she says, reluctantly, because it is, and of course Lily’s marriage will not be a carbon copy of their parents’ marriage, it’s a new decade, and things are different now. Lily may have left uni for the time being, but that’s only until the war’s ended. Petunia can’t see her sister playing house wife when there’s a big wide world out there she’s yet to see.
She follows Lily into the sitting room, where the tree still stands, gift bags and boxes underneath, and glances at the stockings on the fireplace mantle- L and J. They must have filled each other’s. Lily sits down on the sofa and Petunia takes a seat across from her in a chair that reminds her of one of the ones from the Gryffindor common room, which seems about a lifetime away right now.
Then she notices Lily’s hands are shaking slightly as she pours them tea. Her sister has never been one for shaking hands and trembling tones. Lily doesn’t frighten easily, nor despair easily. Someone’s dead, Petunia thinks, and she’s brought me over to tell me in private. God, who is it? Her stomach clenches painfully, like a muscle cramp. “Lily,” she says, quietly and harshly.
“I’m pregnant,” Lily manages to hand her a cup without spilling anything, but Petunia promptly drops it, and it shatters onto the hardwood floor.
“Shit!” She’s never sworn in front of her sister in her life, she’s only ever used that language in front of Sirius, and he’s the one who wormed it into her vocabulary in the first place- Petunia pulls out her wand and cleans up the mess, and then glances back at Lily, who is sitting, there, frozen, except for the hands fluttering in her lap, playing with the end of her braid. Her hair’s grown longer since the wedding, past her chest now.
“How?” she finally manages to say. She doesn’t know why she’s asking- how does anyone get pregnant?- but it’s a good deal easier to keep it from happening when you’re nearly twenty one and married than when you’re eighteen, like Mary was, and still in school.
“We didn’t plan to,” Lily says, almost plaintively, “of course, we didn’t want to wait forever, James wants a big family-,”
Petunia scoffs aloud at that- it’s one thing to want a big family, and another to plan for one when you could be dead tomorrow, or the day after that- “Does he, now?”
“Yes,” exclaims Lily, “and so do I, eventually! I want our children to grow up with siblings- like you and I did, and it’s not easy for James, being an only child, not having any family left anymore besides me…,” she runs a hand along her braid in consternation, “we just didn’t think it’d be quite this soon.”
“How can you-,” Petunia could restrain herself with Mary, who came from a broken home and was just a child, really, at the time, who desperately wanted affection and approval, but this is different, Lily is a grown woman and her sister, she’s supposed to be the responsible one- “You can’t have a baby right now,” she snaps. “You gave up that life when you went and joined an underground resistance group, Lily!”
Is she being willfully obtuse? You don’t get to have it both ways- or, you shouldn’t, at any rate. Lily could have stayed out of all of this, even if she wanted to be with James, she could have stayed in uni and worked on her degree and not joined up with people she owes nothing to and given up any semblance of a normal life and then gotten married on a whim, and now she doesn’t get to try to have the life of a young wife and mother at the same time.
Who’s going to watch the baby while everyone’s off on Order business? How are she and James going to be of any use when they’re sleep deprived and exhausted from staying up all night with a screaming infant? What if they’re attacked? How are they going to defend themselves and a baby, nevermind the fact that Lily will be useless in a fight, not having magic-
“I’m not going to sacrifice my life to fear,” Lily declares, a bit more firmly, and then adds, “and you don’t… you don’t understand, Petunia, there’s… there’s more to it then that.”
“What more could there be?” Petunia demands shrilly. What? Is she expecting twins? She’s not even showing yet, although the sweater is probably helping with that, even if she was-
“There’s been a prophecy.” Lily’s voice is very quiet, and there’s a strange look in her green eyes.
Petunia has never put much stock in Divination, and she’s certainly not about to now. And Lily is just the sort who would have taken it, had she been at Hogwarts. She was always into that sort of thing when they were little girls, fate and destiny and soul mates and all that rubbish. Seeing signs in the clouds and in rain puddles on the road.
“A prophecy about what?”
“About the baby.” Lily’s hands have moved from playing with her hair to resting on her stomach, even if there’s nothing to rest on… yet. “And about You-Know-Who.”
Petunia recoils slightly as if slapped. “What?” she almost hisses. What in Merlin’s name- what kind of prophecy would have anything to do with Lily’s unborn baby and Voldemort? Is this some kind of sick joke? The two things might as well be polar opposites. In two years of working with the Order, Petunia has yet to actually see Voldemort, but she’s been places he has, and the feeling… it’s indescribable, but it’s something like dread, and wrongness, all mixed up.
“There was a prophecy made by a seer,” Lily says calmly, more calmly than she likely feels and more calmly than Petunia could ever feel, “to Dumbledore. It… referenced a baby born at the end of July, to people who’d ‘thrice defied’ Voldemort.” She hesitated. “I… I’m due July 27th, Petunia. And James… James has… rejected them… three times-,”
“This is mad,” Petunia stands up abruptly, heart racing, shaking her head, “you can’t- this is nonsensical, Lily, you can’t seriously believe this-,”
“Dumbledore believes it,” Lily says sharply, remaining seated but looking up at her, “and he says You-Know-Who thinks it’s us. Our baby. My baby,” her voice trembles slightly at the end of the sentence.
“There’s plenty of magical babies due in July,” Petunia snaps. “Even if it is true, which- seers are wrong all the time, Lily!” It has to be wrong. It has to. Lily is her sister, not some player in some… cosmic joke. She’s not… she’s not going to give birth to some hero, some Messiah figure, she’s not a legend in a folk story, she’s a normal young woman, she’s Petunia’s sister.
“It’s a boy,” Lily murmurs, and Petunia’s objections die away.
“You don’t know what your baby is,” she says, coldly.
“The child in the prophecy is a boy,” Lily is deadly serious.
“You could have a daughter.” There is a distinct chill creeping down Petunia’s spine.
“I could,” Lily says softly. “But I don’t think I will.” She glances down, blinking hard. “We only found out at the end of November.”
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Petunia snaps.
“Because I knew you’d take it badly!” Lily exclaims, throwing her hands up. “God, Tuney, what was I supposed to say? ‘I’m having a baby destined to overthrow the monster trying to take over the world?’ Both our worlds?”
“Don’t say that,” Petunia says quickly. “We don’t know that.”
“Petunia.” Lily’s expression softens a bit, and she reaches for her hand, but Petunia has paced over to the mantle. “This is… I’m scared, and so is James, but we can’t… this is a good thing, isn’t it? We love each other, and we’re having a baby, and that baby…”
“No,” Petunia’s words twist into something like a sob before she can control them, “no it is not, Lily, because that baby won’t be picking up a wand for another eleven years, and we can’t- we are not going to last another decade of war. We just aren’t. We don’t have the numbers, we don’t-,”
“It doesn’t have to mean he’s going to kill You-Know-Who,” Lily gets up and comes over to her, laying a hand on Petunia’s taut shoulder. “Maybe… maybe there’s another way, maybe something else will happen once he’s born-,”
“He’s not going to crumble into dust the second you have this baby,” Petunia retorts tearfully, and massages her forehead as Lily wraps her arms around her.
“James and I are going to have to go into hiding,” she whispers. “Here. With the baby.”
Petunia manages to stem the flow of tears long enough to look at her sister. She has no words. Plenty of people have tried to hide from Voldemort. Plenty of people who were far less of a target than her pregnant sister, her defiant husband, and their unborn, prophesied hero-child. She stares into Lily’s expression; her sister is pale and worried and near tears herself, but her eyes aren’t terrified but determined. It’s unsettling.
“I don’t care what happens,” Lily tells her in a hushed, fierce voice. “He’s not going to take our baby. I don’t care if every Death Eater in Britain shows up on our doorstep. I am going to have this child, and we are going to be together, and no one is going to take him away from me or James.”
War takes and takes and takes. It takes children and mothers and fathers alike. It takes squalling infants in their cradles and sobbing toddlers and shrieking children. Petunia knows this, but her sister is so convinced that the smallest part of her almost believes it. That Lily can keep this child safe through sheer strength of belief. That Death himself could not pry this baby from her arms, once it is here.
Petunia almost believes her.
Lily steps back, and smiles a little, some of her old confidence already restored. “You will be his godmother, won’t you?”
Chapter 25: I caught a glimpse from the dreams of children
Petunia prays for a niece, not a nephew, prays like she hasn’t prayed in years. She dreams of a little girl with Lily’s red curls and bright green eyes, toddling about and smiling James’ grin up at her. The little girl Petunia dreams of is not a hero or chosen or special in any way, beyond her parents’ inherited charm and cleverness.
She is utterly normal and the war is over and she grows up happy and loved, with a mum and a dad and many aunts and uncles. Sirius is in her dreams as well at times, lifting the girl up on his shoulders and spinning round with her while she shrieks with giggles. Maybe it’s less about the concept of a niece and more about hope that they’ll all come out this unscathed.
But the baby is, of course, a son.
Lily gives birth in a cottage packed with Order members all on the lookout for a surprise attack, and Petunia spends the seven hours Lily is in labor in a state of near blind panic, scrubbing dishes in the sink until her fingers are raw and swollen and Marlene forces her to sit down with a cup of tea. They can’t even risk a midwife- what if Voldemort’s gotten to one- and bloody wizards don’t believe in bloody hospital births.
She knows if she sat in with Lily she’d just unsettle her sister even more with her fretting, and besides, James Potter does not subscribe to the notion of men waiting quietly outside while their wives are in labor, and is glued to Lily’s side, for once a force of calm in the face of her gasps and screams of pain drifting down the stairwell.
Harry James Potter is born at 11:31 PM on July 31st, 1980. ‘As the seventh month dies’ indeed. He has a full head of jet black hair, a perfectly round face, and while Petunia has never been particularly enamored with babies, she supposes he’s a rather pretty one. She can almost believe, as Lily gazes down at him, enthralled, while he suckles at her breast, and James lies next to them on the bed, red-eyed with exhaustion but looking like a delirious religious fanatic, that this was all it took to defeat Voldemort.
The birth of one seemingly flawless child. No Death Eaters burst in through the door as the cord was cut and Harry was swaddled. Voldemort must know the child has been born, but he can’t know where he is. Sensible people would have fled the country months ago. Lily and James, obviously, are far from sensible. But the hours of Harry’s existence tick away, and there is no attack, no threat to his safety, and Order members leave one by one.
“We should go home,” Sirius tells Petunia as the sun rises on August 1st. She is sitting on the stairs, leaning against the bannister. Lily and James are sleeping upstairs, in the blissful, delusional euphoria of new parents. Right now, they truly do believe nothing could ever hurt them or their son, because he is perfect, and that’s all that matters. “Let them have some time alone.”
She wants to argue with him, wants to declare that she is not leaving Lily’s side. But there is every ward and seal and spell imaginable on this house, and as sleep-deprived as she currently is, she’s not much help herself. “I have work in three hours,” she says hoarsely as Sirius tugs her gently to her feet.
“You’re not going in,” he snorts.
“I can’t just-,”
“You can, and you will,” he leads her out the front door and into the dewy summer morning. It’s cool and warm at the same time and the garden is in full bloom. “I think Mortemer will understand, what with you helping to save the wizarding world and all.”
Petunia hasn’t helped to save anything, but she doesn’t argue with him, sagging into his side as they shut the front gate behind them and apparate away.
Harry is christened on August 17th, 1980. He is four hundred and eight hours old. He is a remarkably peaceful infant; there’s barely a cry out of him the entire time in the chilly little chapel, the same one his parents were married in roughly a year ago. Petunia vaguely remembers Lily being described as a very content baby; she was always the high-strung, fretful one.
Petunia had expected Lily to be a glowing new mother, smiling beatifically like a stained glass image with her son at her breast. Instead she is tense, pale, and harried in a way Petunia has never seen her before; it’s unnerving to witness optimistic Lily in the grips of the baby blues, squabbling with James and continually glancing down at Harry as if to make sure he hasn’t disappeared right before her eyes.
“You can’t be that surprised,” Marlene reasons later, “really, Tu- she’s just had a baby, that’s stressful enough, she and James never really got the chance to be newlyweds, and she’s got a damned prophecy breathing down her neck.”
“She was excited enough before the birth!”
“Of course she was,” Marlene rolls her eyes, “she was putting on a brave face for her husband- and you. D’you really think this is how she envisioned the birth of her first child going? She’s practically a prisoner in her own home- can’t risk taking Harry out, can’t go anywhere herself…”
Now that Harry has been born Lily and James are on the equivalent of house arrest, and James has been strictly forbidden from any missions, even in disguise. Petunia knows about his ridiculous cloak, mind-boggling as it might be, and if he ever gets himself killed under that thing she’ll bring him back just to strangle him with it.
But she suggests he and Sirius go over to Remus’ for a drink anyways, after the christening, because as dangerous as it might be Lily clearly needs a break. He looks about to argue with her, but casts a wary glance at Lily, who seems on the verge of either tears or screaming, rocking a drowsy Harry methodically in her arms while squinting at the time on the kitchen clock, and agrees.
As soon as they’ve left, Petunia holds out her arms for Harry and Lily hesitates a moment before handing him over. Petunia sits down, adjusting her hold on him so his head is supported, and looks at her older sister worriedly. Lily runs her hands along the skirt of her dark green dress over and over again, and without really looking at Petunia says, “You realize that you’re not just godparents in the religious sense.”
Petunia frowns. “Well, I’d figured as much, Sirius has flipped open a bible exactly once in his life- at your wedding ceremony.”
Her dry half-humor does not have its usual effect on Lily, whose voice grows a bit more shrill, “You’re in the will, both of you, so I need you to understand that if- if anything does happen- I want him with you two. Not anyone else. We can’t-,”
“Lily,” says Petunia, affronted, “you shouldn’t be thinking about this-,”
“That’s now what you were saying nine months ago.” Lily sounds almost… well, Petunia can’t remember the last time her sister was truly angry with her, and suddenly realizes the luxury of that, of always having been the incensed one, the aggressor and not the victim.
“Yes,” she replies cautiously, “but he’s here now, and it’ll just stress you even more, to-,”
“I can’t even put him down in his cradle and step away,” Lily explodes slowly; her hands fly up to her face and her shoulders heave violently, her voice crackling like electricity with nothing to conduct it, “I can’t even sleep, because I’m so afraid I’ll wake up and find him dead. I don’t trust half the gifts we got- what if something’s cursed, or poisoned?”
“I’d worry about visitors, only we can’t have any except you and Sirius, or Rem and Peter- can’t trust anyone else, what if they’re imperiused, what if He’s gotten to them, what if it’s a trap-,” she chokes on her own words and wipes at her mouth frantically.
“I spent the entire fucking labor waiting for You-Know-Who to appear in the doorway, Petunia! How can- how can I look forward to him smiling at me or laughing or rolling over or crawling when it could be- it could be anytime, any moment- this must be hell, because no other mother wakes up every day knowing there is absolutely nothing she can to protect her own son.”
“And James,” she goes on, and Harry whines in his sleep in Petunia’s arm as if recognizing his father’s name, “he’s determined to go on as if- as if it’s completely normal, to be trapped in your own home with your baby- only he’s not trapped, is he? With that stupid fucking cloak!”
Her voice raises to a shriek that peters out into wrenching sobs. Petunia wants to go to her, but her arms are full with her nephew, so she watches, helpless, as Lily slowly regains control of herself, and straightens up a little, face flushed and gaze low and ashamed, as if she’d just screamed every obscenity known to man.
“You must think I’m a monster,” she says shakily after a moment. “I’ve got a loving husband and a beautiful little boy and a nice home and I’m screeching my head off like a madwoman.”
Petunia doesn’t know what to think. The last time she saw Lily this angry was with Severus, and that was a righteous wrath, not… this. She doesn’t blame her sister for it, knows she’d be far worse and far more vocal about it were she in her shoes, but she… she can’t relate to it because she doesn’t understand.
For the first time in ages she and Sirius are the stable, solid couple who know where they stand with one another, and they’ve found a comfortable rhythm of cohabitation and sex and easy smiles and laughter, even when it’s punctuated with anger or fear or grief. She doesn’t know what it’s like to be married or to be a mother.
Lily seems older now; she’s as beautiful as ever, even nine months pregnant she was still gorgeous, rounded in all the right places and looking like some pagan goddess of fertility, not the whale she complained she felt like. But her eyes are older. Old eyes in an unlined face. It reminds Petunia of Remus. Suddenly Lily doesn’t seem just a year her senior anymore. Lily has a husband and a child, responsibilities Petunia has yet to shoulder. Lily seems like a woman, not a girl, although she’s only twenty one.
“I don’t think you’re a monster,” she says at last. Harry has still slept through all of this, to her shock. This boy will sleep like a log when he’s older. Lily always did as a child, whereas Petunia would jolt awake at the crack of dawn, her anxieties already thrumming away. “I think you’re human, and tired, and overwhelmed, and frightened. Go up and have a nap. I’ll stay with Harry a bit.”
“I can’t,” Lily says, but her mouth opens and shuts at Petunia’s razor sharp look.
“You can,” Petunia insists. “Just for a little while. I’m fine. I’ve got him.”
Doubtfully, Lily casts a few glances back as she slowly goes upstairs, and Petunia plasters on a reassuring smile until she’s gone. Then it disappears, and she scowls down at the slumbering infant. “This is all your fault, you know,” she tells him in a hushed, disapproving tone. “Couldn’t you have waited a few years? You and that bloody seer. Driving your mum and dad mad, and me along with them.”
Harry sleeps on, oblivious, and she sighs under her breath. “I know you can’t very well help it, but I’m allowed to be tiffed with you, young man. Very inconvenient and impatient, you are, just like your father.” She’s never seen a baby picture of James, but Lily swears up and down he looks just like him as an infant, and not just the full head of dark hair.
“So,” she continues, quietly, “I hope some of your mum rubs off on you as well, or you’ll be a little hellion in a few years, and I’m not going to be aunt to some devil child. You’d better grow up big and strong very quickly. Then she’ll worry a bit less about you, I think.”
Petunia knows she doesn’t feel the rush of pure love that Lily must feel for this baby, but she does feel… the slow ache of duty to him, as her flesh and blood? She’d do anything for him, although maybe not happily, and she’s already dreading the influence Sirius might have on a toddler, with that mouth of his.
“I’d really hoped you’d be a… a Violet,” she confesses to her nephew. “It would have been a big relief for everyone. And I don’t know what they were thinking with that name of yours. Harry. Like a little old man.” Tentatively, she dips her head down and breathes in the peculiar baby-scent of him. At least infants at this age, particularly when sleeping, are for the most part fairly clean.
“But,” she says, “you do look like a Harry, I suppose, so it suits you. I’m Petunia, by the way. Your aunt. Your only aunt, so we’ll have to get used to each other, because neither of us are going anywhere.” She strokes his curls with a finger. “D’you hear that? Never.”
Chapter 26: The hurt doesn't show but the pain still grows, it's no stranger to you and me
Petunia likes working with Dorcas because Dorcas always has a plan, and she generally keeps to it. Dorcas doesn’t like taking risks or leaving things up to chance, and Petunia is usually of the same opinion, so on the whole, they play things safe. Dorcas likes to get in and out of places unnoticed, avoid an actual fight if they can, and in general, not take any heroic stands.
Tonight is no different; the Order suspects Death Eater activity at an abandoned manor house in Hampshire, but are wary of sending everyone in, in case it’s some sort of trap. Thus Petunia finds herself probing the edge of the grounds with Dorcas and Edgar Bones, searching for any apparition or disapparition spells.
“There’s nothing,” Dorcas says at last, face drawn and taut. She glances at Edgar, who is a handsome family man, with a pretty wife and three little children. He’s also an exceptional duelist. “You should stay here, patrol the area. Petunia and I will check out the interior. If we all go in and there’s trouble, we’ll be trapped. This way if anything happens, we’ll have back-up.”
He looks on the verge of arguing over it, but then nods tightly. “If I hear or see anything, I’ll let you know.”
There are few things Petunia dreads more than building checks, particularly large buildings, but they don’t have much of a choice. It’d be nice to have more people with them, but the Order forces are small enough that they can’t afford to send more than a few on missions like these. Having all of them in one place is a recipe for disaster, an open invitation for Voldemort to try to wipe them all out in one go.
The front door is sagging off its hinges, and the foyer is in ruins, furniture smashed and a once grand staircase crumbling. Dorcas is looking a motionless oil painting on the wall. “Muggles lived here,” she murmurs to Petunia, who stares up at the politely smiling family in the painting. Secluded aristocrats. Has anyone noticed they’re missing?
The parlor is in slightly better condition, but covered in a thin layer of dust, and Petunia almost jumps back when a mouse scurries out from under the piano. “Homenum revelio,” she casts with every new room, and breathes a silent sigh of relief when the spell turns up nothing. The best case scenario is that the Death Eaters are long gone, and all that’s left to them is broken furniture and shattered glass.
There’s a body in the kitchen, but Petunia knows that before she even sets foot inside, from the smell. Dorcas only steps in briefly, and then back out, expression grim. “Cook or housekeeper, probably. Can’t be more than a week old.” They retrace their steps back to the stairs, and carefully pick their way up them with the use of a few hover charms, to avoid falling through the broken steps.
The upstairs floors are in worse condition. A few rooms have been ransacked and burned, and the halls are littered with debris, lamps overturned and paintings torn off walls. Petunia thinks there’s something deeply humiliating about the whole thing; this was once a meticulous, lavishly decorated home, a source of pride for the family who lived here, proof of their legacy and status. Now it’s all debased and ruined, likely on purpose.
Voldemort’s followers see it as an insult, muggle displays of wealth and power. In their ideal society, muggles would be little more than slaves, with no rights or property of their own. They’d be the ones forced into hiding, as Snape told her once, furiously. These grand houses would belong to wizards and witches.
Most of the rooms are impossible to enter without moving rubble out of the way, and that’d make too much noise. But at the end of the hall one bedroom is clear, and Petunia immediately turns away when she sees the charred remains by the window. She doesn’t want to know who that once was. Dorcas squeezes her arm in brief comfort as they back out, wands flickering.
“We should go,” Petunia whispers to her. “There’s nothing here. They’re long gone-,”
There’s a faint sound from the floor above. They both freeze, and then, although Petunia’s legs are leaden, make their way towards the stairwell to listen. There it is again. It sounds... It sounds like a child, crying. They exchange startled glances and quickly climb up the stairs, trying to stay quiet, but… Could a child have escaped the attack and been hiding here for weeks?
The crying is louder on the third floor, and coming from a room at the end of the hall. Dorcas looks at Petunia again, and they silently break into a near run, creaking floors be damned. Petunia reaches the doorway first and cautiously pushes open the battered door. It’s a nursery, with a crib and a little cot and plush rug, stained with blood and dirt.
The crying is- she stares blankly at the worn rocking horse by the window seat, gently swaying back and forth, weeping like a little child. It’s enchanted to cry. Someone enchanted it to sound just like a terrified child. Someone-
They hear the telltale cracks, a floor below. Whoever set this up knows they’re here now. Petunia turns in speechless horror to Dorcas, who wavers for a moment with something like… like regret, not shock or rage, as if she’d been hoping against this, but- they couldn’t have known, they had to investigate, they couldn’t just leave a child to die-
A silvery tortoise appears in front of them, wavering in the darkness of the nursery. “It’s Him,” says Edgar Bones’ strained voice, and then the tortoise disappears. Petunia grabs Dorcas by the shoulder to apparate, but nothing happens.
“They’re already cast an anti-disapparition,” Dorcas mouths, barely audible, and Petunia then realizes that there’s no hope. They can’t apparate away. It’s Him, it’s Voldemort, he’s killed far more accomplished wizards than the two of them. They’re going to die here, in an abandoned manor on a cold February night. She can’t even recall her last conversation with Sirius, with Lily. Did she tell them she loved them? Did she-
Dorcas murmurs something under her breath, and her spell washes over Petunia, who recoils in shock. When she glances down at herself, she can’t see her own body, and she stumbles backwards, looking up at Dorcas in panic, who whispers, “Stay here,” and walks out, not bothering to cover up the echo of her footsteps, into the hall. A disillusionment charm. She’s close to invisible.
Petunia makes to dart after her but collides with a translucent shield Dorcas leaves behind, more complex than a simple protego, and try as she might she can’t remember the counter to it. She slams her hand up against it in desperation, but all she can do is watch breathlessly as Dorcas strides down the hall, wand aloft.
Voldemort stands there at the end, flanked on either side by the witch Petunia knows must be Bellatrix Lestrange… and Severus Snape. Bellatrix is alight with sick joy, practically dancing in place as Dorcas approaches evenly, while Snape looks more gaunt than ever before, and shows no such satisfaction. He must remember Dorcas from school. They were never friends, of course, but they weren’t enemies, either.
“Miss Meadowes,” says the man that was once Tom Riddle, now with skin like wax, and bloodshot, hungry eyes. “We’d hoped for more of a gathering of your friends.” He sounds vaguely disappointed, and Petunia realizes they had wanted to ensnare more than two Order members, had been trying to draw in others to the manor. Their trap succeeded, but not as well as they’d wanted it to.
“I’m sorry to disappoint,” says Dorcas, as restrained and polite as ever, high-society Dorcas who rarely bats an eye or raises her voice, impossibly brave Dorcas, who stands mere yards away from the Dark Lord himself and refuses to cower or quail. Petunia presses against the shield again, but it’s no use, and what Dorcas intends begins to sink in. She wants them to think it’s just her.
Petunia should retreat inside the nursery, break open a window, and run for it, find Edgar. She can’t. She doesn’t. She is squandering the chance Dorcas has given her, but she can’t leave the friend she’s known since she was eleven years old to face Voldemort alone… even if that’s exactly what is happening.
“Don’t you think,” says Voldemort, voice somehow rasping and smooth at the same time, too high and yet bone-chilling, “that a witch of your prodigious talents is wasted on Dumbledore’s band of mediocrity?”
Bellatrix Lestrange giggles queerly, laughter bouncing off the walls. Snape is silent, watching, as he always has.
“That charm was the definition of mediocrity,” Dorcas replies clearly, as if debating something with a professor back at Hogwarts, not confronting You-Know-Who. “You won’t win the war with enchanted toys.” She’s looking at Bellatrix, whose laughter dies away, and who raises her wand, but stops at a single look from Voldemort.
“I agree,” he says, and his tone turns almost… conciliatory. “Join me, and improve on past mistakes, Dorcas. You come from a noble line of purebloods. You can redeem your family in my new world. Our new world. You’ll have a place there. You’re very clever, for one so young. I can show you magic you could only dream of. Real power. Your father was in my house; he would be proud, would he not?”
Dorcas is silent for a moment, and then her voice raises slightly, and Petunia knows- well, Petunia knows what will happen before it does, from the proud, unyielding shape of her friend, as she stares Death in the face. “My father would never forgive me for following a coward like you, Riddle.”
“YOU DARE-,” Bellatrix shrieks, stalking forward but Voldemort is faster, what might be fury flickering quickly across his face as he raises his wand.
Dorcas yells something, and Bellatrix Lestrange’s curse shatters in a flash of golden light, but the other curse aims true, and then Dorcas falls. Petunia screams but no sound comes out from her throat; it’s more like a harsh gasp, as if she’d just been socked in the stomach, and she takes one step back, then crumples inside the nursery as the spells Dorcas left behind, her shield and the disillusionment charm, dissipate.
There is silence aside from harsh breathing, and then Voldemort says, “Bella, to me. Severus, search the rest.”
Petunia stays where she is, sprawled on the floor, numb, Dorcas falling in her mind over and over again, and waits to die. She should get up and run, or better yet, get up and fight. She’s dueled Death Eaters before, she’s killed at least three, but- the heat of battle is one thing and none of her friends were dead then. It’s just Snape. Voldemort and his second in command are gone.
Dorcas would want you to fight.
She gets to her feet as Snape appears in the doorway. She’s never faced him in a duel before, and she knows his skill with curses, but she at least owes it to Dorcas- to Lily and Sirius and Marlene- to put up a fight, regardless of the fact that he could easily call back his lord to kill her himself.
But he does nothing, just looks at her. Petunia is shocked at his inaction, and although she has a spell on the tip of her tongue, simply looks at him as well. His expression is… conflicted. Why isn’t he… He’s always hated her… Oh. She is still Lily’s sister. Petunia is certain that were it James he had just come face to face with, Snape would not hesitate the way he currently is, but she isn’t James, is she? “Severus,” she says hollowly, and to her shock, he lowers his wand.
“Get out,” he tells her, voice cold and flat. “Now.”
He doesn’t turn his back on her, and that’s wise of him, because Petunia’s not sure she would hesitate to kill her sister’s old friend the way he hesitated to kill the woman he loves’ younger sister, but he allows her to escape. So she does.
Edgar is wounded from a brief duel with Rodolphus Lestrange, but he can walk, albeit leaning on Petunia for support. He does not have to ask where Dorcas is. The look on Petunia’s face is enough.
Chapter 27: There has to be an invisible sun, that gives us hope when the day is done
Petunia later comes to use Dorcas’ death as the marking-point. The war itself doesn’t change, but the nature of it does. As 1981 goes on, the Death Eaters begin to prioritize attacking the Order’s members directly, rather than just attacking muggles or ‘blood traitor’ families.
There are less clashes in muggle neighborhoods or magical villages or darkened forests and more attacks on magical homes, usually in the dead of night, which cannot be predicted the way assaults on muggle areas were.
Dorcas dies at the end of February. Caradoc Dearborn, a grizzled Welsh wizard with a fierce beard and warm smile, goes missing two weeks later, and is never heard from again. Wry, mustachioed Benjy Fenwick is brutally killed in mid-April, with barely enough left of him to bury.
Edgar Bones, his wife Matilda, and their three children are all found dead in May. The oldest boy was only seven, his sisters six and four. Their small coffins are hard to forget. The Prewett brothers go down in June, taking multiple Death Eaters with them.
But before all of that, there is the loss of Dorcas. Grieving for Dorcas is different from grieving for Mum or Daddy. Petunia knew Mum was going to die months and months beforehand, and perhaps that was worse than Daddy or Dorcas, who were here one moment, gone the next. And as painful as Daddy’s death was, he was sixty years old, having raised his children and retired. He lived his life.
Dorcas… Dorcas never quite got that chance, never got the chance to work her way through the ranks of the Ministry, never got the chance to settle down with anyone, to marry or have her own children or live out her twenties. She was six months shy of her twenty first birthday. Petunia carefully sorts pictures of her on the bedroom floor for the funeral.
The very first picture she has of Dorcas is as an exasperated twelve year old, sitting neatly on the Gryffindor common room couch while Mary slouches on one end and Marlene bounces gleefully on the other. The very last picture she has of Dorcas is from New Years, 1981.
She has a drink in her hand; she always held her drinks like a businessman, Petunia thought, and her legs are crossed. There’s an almost sly look on her face as she smiles at someone past the camera. Holiday lights flicker in the background and other people move in and out of the frame.
Somewhere in between those two pictures is a girlhood that Petunia and Marlene and Mary witnessed but Mr. and Mrs. Meadowes did not. Eleazar and Bernice. Petunia was introduced to them years ago but sees them in person for the first time in several years at the funeral. It’s a quiet, sedate affair.
Bernice Meadowes has the exact same shade of rich brown skin as her daughter, but her features are rounder, softer, less striking than Dorcas’ high cheekbones and proud, straight nose. She had Eleazar’s almond-shaped eyes and stately bearing, as well as his height. Both Meadowes are restrained in their grief, neither openly weeping, but stretched thin and aged with sadness. Dorcas was their only child. Their only other relatives are distant cousins. She was their legacy, their hope and pride for the future, their ambitious, courageous daughter.
7,507 days. That’s how long Dorcas existed. That was her reign on this earth as the most mature, most competent of Petunia’s friends. The one who never started anything, but was more than willing to finish it. The one they all envied and looked up to in equal measure.
Her open casket is filled to the brim with flowers from her mother’s greenhouse, and she is dressed in best dress-robes. The only blessing of the Killing Curse might be that it leaves the body unmarred and unmutilated. Dorcas’ eyes have been closed, but her expression is one of grim focus. She looks like a noble queen being laid to rest, having not quite achieved all her aspirations for her monarchy.
Mary is still in France with Dorian and Adrian, and can’t attend- even traveling back for the wake and funeral would be a risk, with the current state of things. Marlene sits beside Petunia for the service, and as Petunia holds back tears, Marlene seethes at the injustice of it all, as she always has. Petunia’s worst fear was most likely Marlene secretly resenting her for years to come, for surviving when Dorcas did not, but Marlene doesn’t have that spite in her, only rage.
Petunia wishes she could feel that anger. She thinks she would, if she hadn’t been there, if she’d had the news broken to her instead of witnessing it happen. If any of them weren’t going to make it through the war, Dorcas would be last on the list. Dorcas was always the cleverest, the most talented, the one with a level head.
She’d never lost of a duel, never even come out of a fight injured. But all of that vanished. She was no match for Voldemort. That’s what should really sting. That someone like Dorcas could have their life tossed away with such ease. That she could be there, proud and undaunted and refusing to cower in the face of evil, and then gone. Dead on a dusty floor.
She is buried in the Meadowes family plot, on a hill overlooking their house, which will be covered with wildflowers come spring. The winter sun glints off the grey slush on the slick, muddy ground around her grave.
DORCAS CLAUDIA MEADOWES
BORN AUGUST 8TH, 1960
DIED FEBRUARY 26TH, 1981
BELOVED DAUGHTER AND FRIEND
TAKING HER BY THE HAND, HE SAID, ‘LITTLE GIRL, I SAY TO YOU, ARISE.’
The Meadowes are religious people, and Petunia faintly remembers the Biblical story about the little girl brought back to life before her grieving parents’ eyes. The child is not dead, but sleeping. It must bring some comfort to them. She wonders if that will be on her headstone someday.
If there is anyone left to bury her. They’ve all had close calls. They’ll all have closer. Lily and James cannot attend the funeral either, but send flowers, a magnificent arrangement that will no doubt slowly fade away on some end-table.
Harry is seven months old now, crawling around the cottage in a manner that alarms only Petunia, happily teething, and dragging himself up on his father’s trouser legs. Dorcas met him once, and to Petunia’s surprise, easily picked him up and set him on her hip, swaying gently around the kitchen. She would have expected Dorcas to be uncomfortable around babies, or dismissive of having children so young in general, but she just smiled and hummed.
Sirius was friends with Dorcas as well, but he didn’t know her the way Petunia did. He didn’t spend seven years in close quarters with her, didn’t know her habits, like tapping her toothbrush resolutely on the sink, or how she preferred honey on her toast, rather than jam. He doesn’t try to offer platitudes, just lies next to Petunia on the sofa, often as Padfoot, his head on her lap.
They move flats in April; better safe than sorry. Petunia is the only one bringing home a regular paycheck, but Sirius has enough money from his late uncle Alphard that they can afford a slightly nicer flat. She throws herself into mindless decorating, agonizing over the placement of knick knacks and what colors the drapes ought to be.
Sirius puts photos on the mantle. In the center is one of them at Lily and James’ wedding, oblivious to the camera as they dance, but on either side is one of the Marauders and one of Petunia, Marlene, Dorcas, and Mary. Unpacking takes them an entire week, despite neither having much in way of personal possessions.
They finish on a drizzly evening, and order take-out. Petunia picks at her noodles under the dim kitchen light while going over some charts from work, until Sirius calls her into the sitting room. “Something fell under the radiator,” he says sheepishly.
Petunia stares at him, rubbing at her tired eyes. She has a presentation tomorrow on some wealthy couple’s stock prospects, and an Order meeting this Friday. “Then just summon it.”
“Can’t if I don’t know what it is,” he points out, and she rolls her eyes before getting down on her hands and knees to worm her far smaller hand under the radiator to grab it. Her fingers close around something cubical and unfamiliar, and she pulls out a little velvet box. She glances up at him in confusion.
“What’s this, then?”
He tugs her up by the wrist and grins, and she looks from the box to him. “Oh, Sirius-,”
“I was thinking a long engagement,” he gives a little shrug. “Figure you’ve got enough on your plate without planning a wedding, but-,”
“Just open the bloody box!” she snaps, through the hand over her mouth, and he does so.
It’s her mother’s engagement ring; a thin silvery band with a tiny diamond; her mother’s initials are carved into it, and she traces them with her thumb. Sirius doesn’t put it on her, just looks at her with that dogged hope he displays sometimes. “Your dad gave it to me a while ago,” he says quietly. “I was just as surprised as you are. Never thought he was that fond of me, to be honest-,”
She leans up and kisses him, one hand on his cheek, the other closed over the ring. “Of course he was fond of you,” she says after the ring is on her finger, only slightly too big, “although, I’d think he’d rather you had shorter hair.”
Sirius runs a hand through his hair in mock offense. “Another reason to put it off, then. Wouldn’t want to cut this majesty.”
Petunia sniffs and leans into his side. “But not for too long.” It’s hard to articulate it. It’s not that she’s going back on everything she said about how eloping was ridiculous and the idea of settling down and starting a family was irresponsible.
She knows Sirius is in no more rush to have a child than she is. They’d be awful parents right now. But she’s come to some sort of acceptance, she thinks. That if… if there isn’t any definite end to the war, no light approaching at the end of the tunnel, no final battle just around the corner, then…
Then what’s the point of wasting time waiting? An entire generation can’t put their lives on hold, bating their breath, waiting for the next blow, for years on end. At some point they have to come to terms with the reality of the situation.
Petunia doesn’t like it, but she would also like to be married someday, war or not, and if he thinks sooner or later… than so does she. They stay up late talking, her charts forgotten. “How long have you known?” she asks him, her head on his chest, counting every ebb and flow of his breath.
“Known what?” he murmurs, hand lazily stroking her hair.
“That you wanted to get married. I didn’t think you’d…” Well, that’s not strictly true. She just had thought, if he did ever want to, it’d be years and years from now, when the war was over, when their lives could do with a bit of turmoil and excitement. A spur of the moment sort of thing, although this was arguably very spur of the moment. They hadn’t even talked about it, beyond their mutual bemusement at the idea of marrying so young.
“Oh, around sixth year,” Sirius says all too casually.
Petunia cranes her neck back to look at him. “Sirius, we broke up in sixth year.”
“Yeah,” he smirks, “that’s when I knew.”
She props herself up on an indignant elbow. “You knew you wanted to marry me when we had a screaming match in the courtyard and didn’t speak to each other for months?”
“Well, I thought if I was going to get married to anyone, it’d be to the tiny girl screeching in my face about not getting myself killed for her sake.” He’s still smirking, but she can see the truth of it in his grey eyes, as frank and direct as he’s ever been with her. They promised no more white lies to save face quite some time ago, after all.
“You really are quite mad,” she tells him, dropping her head back down onto his chest.
“It’s a mad world out there, love.” His hand resumes stroking her hair, and she closes her eyes in order to cling to this slice of brief contentment for a little longer.
Chapter 28: When I get home it's late at night, I'm black and bloody from my life
It’s an unreasonably muggy night in July, and Petunia is more uncomfortable than tired. Reconnaissance is just as tense as fighting, and even if she and Marlene escaped notice, it doesn’t mean sweat wasn’t beading down her back the entire time they were sat in the back room of some steamy Manchester pub. Her hair is matted to her neck, but there’s a cool breeze rippling across Rochdale as she and Marlene walk down the quiet gravel-gone-to-dirt road.
“You should just stay over with us for the night,” Marlene yawns, grabbing Petunia’s wrist to check her watch. “It’s almost two in the morning- you can send word to Sirius so he doesn’t worry.”
The offer might be tempting were Petunia not so particular about sleeping in her own bed, and not on the McKinnon’s pull-out, in a house full of nosy people who she will then have to stay for breakfast with in the morning. Marlene’s family has always been good to her, but she’d rather the relative peace and quiet of her own flat, Sirius snoring beside her and pipes rattling in the thin walls or not.
“Don’t be silly,” she says instead of the truth, “I’m not going to impose on your parents like that.”
Marlene rolls her eyes, shrugging off her jacket and tying it around her waist. “Tu, you’ve never ‘imposed’ on anyone in your life, if anything, you could be a bit more…” She trails off suddenly. “Do you smell smoke?”
“No, I…” But Petunia does, wafting on the wind. Marlene’s leisurely pace breaks into a run, and Petunia is hot on her heels, as much as her feet ache from being on them half the night. The treeline breaks and they falter, panting, on the edge of McKinnon property. The grass is up to Petunia’s knees. The air feels hot and stiff, like an engine is thrumming nearby.
Petunia has seen many Dark Marks, fresh ones roiling in the sky above, old ones crumbling after hours on display. Up until now, she has been fortunate enough not to see one over the home of someone she loves. The McKinnon home is in flames, windows licked with red and yellow. Beside her, Marlene apparates the distance from where they are standing to the house so fast that she splinches several fingernails.
“Expec…” Petunia struggles to get the charm out for a moment before giving up. She won’t be able to; she doesn’t have the frame of mind or the focus. There’s no other way to call for help without a fireplace or owl available. She doesn’t feel the paralyzing terror she felt with Dorcas. She feels nothing at all, like a hollow jar.
She apparates closer to the house, and makes her way through the entrance; the door is hanging off the hinges, blackened. She hovers in the doorway, unsure of what she’ll find inside, what to do. Death Eater attacks rarely leave survivors. From where she is standing, she can see one body at the foot of the stairs. Petunia lets her vision blur on purpose. It’s a man, either Marlene’s father or one of her brothers. She doesn’t want to know who.
The only sound in the house is the crack of flames growing louder; the fire was started on the second floor; and Marlene’s hoarse, coughing sobs from the kitchen. Petunia wants to run away from this. It’s an intimate, domestic sort of hell. Everywhere she looks, what was once a happy home, worn down by love and worry and togetherness, is blackened and scarred. Pictures lay shattered on the floor. Furniture is overturned in the living room; the McKinnons must have put up a fight. Petunia cannot imagine them cowering in fear. There is blood on the stairs.
She steps into the living room. There is no mistaking the body slumped over the cracked coffee table; Petunia looks quickly away from Matt, then forces herself to crouch beside him and feel his limp wrist for a pulse. He’s cold, despite the heat of the room. His long hair obscures his eyes, but his shirt is soaked with blood. She straightens up, stomach heaving, eyes watering from the smoke. This means the body on the stairs is Melvin, Marlene’s father. The healer. Her eldest brother Mike moved out years ago.
The kitchen light is flickering wildly. Petunia stands in the doorway, arms wrapped around herself, unable to avoid staring at Marlene, who is on her knees on the tiled floor, holding her mother. Maggie McKinnon would not have stood a chance, muggle that she is. Was. Her eyes are wide and staring up at the ceiling; her face face is red and swollen. Her corpse looks nothing like the cheerful, chatty woman Petunia knows. Knew.
Right beside her is Monica; she must have been trying to shield her younger daughter with her own body. Monica’s wand lies a few feet away, broken on the floor. She only graduated last year. She was an apprentice potioneer. Her short blonde hair is soaked with blood along her scalp, and there are vivid cuts and bruises on her bare arms. She lies not flat on her back like her mother, but in a heap. Her girlish nightgown is ripped along the hem; her feet are cut up from broken glass.
“Mum,” Marlene retches, and moves as if to stand and drag her mother’s body up with her. “Mum, please, get up, MUM, Mummy, please, don’t- I can’t-,” she looks up at Petunia frantically. “I can’t,” she says again, as if surprised, and sinks back down to the floor with a low, feral howl. “Oh God, no, please, PLEASE, oh God, fuck,” she lets go of her mother and reaches a shaking hand towards her younger sister, then freezes.
There’s a low sound, like a moan, from outside. Petunia crosses the slick floor before Marlene can, and throws open the back door. Marlene’s youngest sibling, sixteen year old Malcolm, is lying in the dewy grass of the garden; he must have made it out of the house before collapsing.
But he’s alive. Barely. Petunia drops to the ground beside him, swiftly turning him over; one of his eyes is… She doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to see out of that again, and he’s littered with bruises and blood-stains, as well as a badly broken arm and a smashed up nose. Petunia peels up his shirt to check his torso; he may have broken a few ribs.
Marlene has stumbled over to the door, and is leaning against it as if faint. “Is he-,”
“Marley,” Malcolm murmurs faintly, and she bursts over to his side.
“We have to get him to St. Mungo’s,” Petunia whispers. “Now.”
“I can’t leave them- I can’t, they’ll burn,” Marlene shakes her head, “I can’t let them burn, I can’t-,” she breaks off, bringing her bloody hands up to her face.
Petunia looks at her, glances back down at Malcolm’s shallow breathing, and apparates him away. They materialize in the mostly empty lobby of the hospital, where Petunia calls out, “Death Eater attack, help him!” and apparates away again as the witch at the front desk begins to run towards them, leaving Malcolm behind.
She materializes in the alley beside the building she and Sirius live in, and runs up two flights of stairs before making it to the floor, and pounding on the door, which flies open immediately. Sirius, disheveled and exhausted, stares at her in shock, grabbing her hands, but she cuts him off before he can even form words. “The McKinnons have been attacked. Contact the Order for me, I can’t- I can’t form a patronus right now.”
He pulls her inside the flat and does so, and then she apparates them both back to Marlene’s house. Marlene has dragged her mother and sister outside, and Sirius pales at the sight of them, before barking at Petunia, “Stay out here,” and rushing in to help Marlene get her father and brother.
Around this time Michael McKinnon and his wife, Karen, Marlene’s sister-in-law, appear, and at the sight of his mother, father, and younger siblings’ bodies in the grass, Mike screams and almost falls to his knees, only held up by his tearful wife. Marlene is sitting in the grass beside Melvin’s corpse, a hand on his chest as if to will him to sit up.
“Michael,” Petunia says to Marlene’s brother, “Malcolm’s alive, he’s at St. Mungo’s-,”
No sooner are the words out of her mouth then Mike struggles to his feet and turns with Karen, and in one fluid motion, they both disappear. “Mikey, don’t go,” Marlene sobs after them, like a little girl, but they’re already gone.
Petunia turns back to the sight before her. Sirius has taken off his jacket and laid it over Mrs. McKinnon; he strips off his shirt as well and puts that atop of Monica, slowly, as if moving through water. Petunia robotically lays her own jacket on top of Mr. McKinnon. They deserve that much of a dignity, however small.
She goes to Marlene, and holds her tightly as her friend unravels.
“This is my fault,” Marlene whispers hatefully. Petunia knows who the hate is directed towards. Herself.
“This is not your fault,” Petunia says, “Marlene, please, you have to know that-,”
“They’re DEAD BECAUSE OF ME!” Marlene screams, shaking her off, crawling away from her, entire frame dry-heaving, but nothing’s coming out of her mouth except more. More words. “ME AND MATT! WE DID THIS! TO THEM! ALL OF THEM!”
“You didn’t do this,” Sirius crouches down near her, but Marlene bats away his hands like a hissing, spitting alley cat, shrinking into herself in her grief and rage. “Marlene, this wasn’t-,”
“I should have been here,” Marlene sobs, “I should have been here with them, why wasn’t I with them, God, I could have saved them, I could have- I should have been at home…”
She should have. She was supposed to be home tonight. Petunia was originally supposed to conduct the recon with Remus, but there was a last minute change of plans. It was decided Remus was needed elsewhere, and Marlene offered to accompany Petunia. It could have been a solo mission, might have been smarter to do it on her own, but she wanted someone there to watch her back.
So Marlene went with her tonight into the city, and was not home for the attack that single-handedly killed over half her family. Both her parents, Matt, who she was always closest with, and Monica, her only sister. There are no words. Petunia was present in the aftermath of the Bones attack, but she and Edgar were never close friends, only polite acquaintances. She was horrified by what was done to him, his wife, his little children, but-
This is different. The McKinnons were practically family. Are family. Marlene is- Marlene is her best friend, her sister in all but blood, and now everything has been ripped from her. In the span of one night. When they left hours ago, Marlene still had a mother, a father, a brother, a sister. She still had a home. It wasn’t perfect, but it was her family. Her childhood house. Her life.
Malcolm has recovered enough to see visitors three days later. He’s already been interrogated by Aurors, and Petunica has sicced Sirius and Remus on more than one Prophet reporter looking for a grisly front page story. Now she stands beside Emmeline Vance, who carefully takes notes for their own records. Malcolm speaks in a flat, distance affect, focusing on the plant on his bedside table.
“There were five of them.”
“Were they all men?” Emmeline asks quietly. There are very few female Death Eaters, but they need to know if Bellatrix Lestrange was present or not. She often is, for these sort of attacks.
“Yes. One was Welsh. Another was Russian, I think. He had a bad accent.”
“Do you know what time they broke into the house?”
Malcolm still will not look at them. The eye patch stretches across his face. He’ll likely always have to wear one; his left eye is gone, and the scar stretches down to his chin. He looks very young and very old at the same time. His thin, adolescent face is worn and grey.
“I’m not sure. Around midnight, maybe a little after. I was in my room reading. Mum and Dad were talking downstairs with Matt. Mona was brushing her teeth.” A slight tremor rings through the last statement.
“Did they say anything?”
He’s silent, and then, “They said that Matt should look… should look Dad in the eye and apologize, because he’d brought this on us all. And they… they were looking for Marlene. The… the leader wanted to... ,” his Adam’s apple bobs in his throat, “he wanted to do things to her.”
Emmeline and Petunia both stiffen minutely.
Malcolm continues. “Then Matt charged him, and… they killed him first. Then Dad shouted at us to run, but- but the Welsh one killed him. And then a spell hit me and I blacked out on the stairs. When I woke up they were gone, and the house was burning. I tried to get out, and the next thing I remember, I heard Marlene screaming and then I was here.”
“Thank you,” says Emmeline, after a moment of quill-scratching. “Your family were all good, brave people, Malcolm. They didn’t deserve what happened that night.”
He says nothing. “Marlene wanted me to tell you that she’ll be back tonight,” Petunia says, digging her nails into the back of Emmeline’s chair. “With Mike and Karen.”
Karen McKinnon, nee Powers, is pregnant. Not showing yet, but she told Petunia in aside the other day. Petunia doesn’t know Karen well, but assumes the woman had no one else she felt she could tell. Mike or Marlene, who’ve just lost everything? The news might be a comfort at some point. But not right now.
Petunia files out of the room with Emmeline, and reunites with Sirius in the corridor. She has nothing to say to him, only wraps herself around him, trying to disappear into his rumpled shirt. He lays his stubbly, unshaven chin atop her head.
“This can’t…” he trails off.
Can’t keep happening? It will. Can’t happen again? It will. Can’t happen to them? It may very well be them next. His cousin is Voldemort’s second. His dead brother was a defector. She’s a known mudblood. They are both Order members. Most of Marlene’s family weren’t involved. Only her and Matt. They’re still dead just the same.
Not tonight, not tomorrow night, not even next week, but their time is running down. All of theirs. Petunia can feel it, and knows he can as well. It wasn’t them on July 12th, 1981, but it will be them eventually. All the numbers agree. Petunia’s beyond hoping against hope that they somehow make it through this.
She just doesn’t want it to end like that. A burning house, blood on the stairs, a Dark Mark triumphant above them. She’d give anything, right now, for them to go out fighting together. Let their home still be theirs, until the very end. She just wants to die angry, not terrified. She just wants them to still be them, at the end. Slain, not slaughtered.
Chapter 29: It's been a good year for the roses; many blooms still linger there
Petunia has walked up these stairs a thousand times, but never like this. If she just stares straight ahead, she can pretend everything is normal. It’s not like the McKinnon’s home. There is no fire, the cottage has not been ransacked. Pictures still hang on the walls, the stairs are intact.
Everything is just as it was three weeks ago, when Petunia last visited. Excepting the right corner of the second floor, where the roof and three sides of the walls have been blown apart. It looks as though a bomb went off, like something you’d seen in a war documentary. A fierce wind is blowing in through the empty space.
Petunia stands there in the hall, staring out into the chasm, and then slowly edges her way into what was the nursery. And then takes another, incredulous step, because Harry is sitting up in his crib, staring at her. She doesn’t… she had assumed he was dead, assumed they were all dead, although this can’t… something went wrong.
No. She rocks in place slightly and struggles to hold onto herself. Just a few moments longer, so she can work this out in her head. Many things went wrong. The Fidelius Charm was broken. You can’t torture the information out of the Secret Keeper, so Peter turned, then. Either just tonight, or he was an informant all along.
She doesn’t… Sirius suspected Remus, which seemed impossible- Remus would never- but she never would have expected Peter either. She and him were never close, but they were friends. He loved James and Lily like the siblings he never had. Loved Harry. It’s an assertion of fact, not a theory on her part.
She’s only twenty one but she knows what love looks like, and she knows what hate looks like. This is what war does to them. It drove Sirius to suspect one of his best friends, a man he’s loved like a brother for years, and her to be never suspect Peter, who had his flaws, of course, but none any greater than hers.
So that went wrong for the Order, and right for Voldemort. But there is no Dark Mark above the house. No triumph in the streets or all-out assault on the Ministry. Instead a toddler is sniffling, a lightning-shaped brand on his forehead on his forehead, half a house has been blown up, and the floor is littered with ashes. Whose?
Lily is lying by the side of the crib, on her side. All Petunia can see is the red of her hair, the pale blue of her dressing gown. Her pale, bare feet. There is no blood. Petunia should wail and scream and go to her, but she can’t. If she goes over to her sister’s corpse, she will have to accept that it is a corpse at all. Then it will be real and not a particularly vivid nightmare.
She should call down to Sirius, who has not moved from James’ body, tell him their Harry is alive and seemingly- aside from the mark on his brow- well, but she can’t. She can’t speak. If she speaks it will come true, it will be true, Lily will be gone and the world will end. It had ended before for Petunia, has ended over and over again since a letter was pressed into her hand declaring her a witch and a freak, but this will not be an apocalypse she can come back from. She stays where she is, staring at the mobile above the crib, blowing merrily in the wind.
Harry gives a hiccuping sob and stands up, chubby fists gripping the crib bannister. He blinks at her. “Mama,” he says, not despairingly- he’s fifteen months old, he doesn’t understand death, he can’t comprehend that his parents will never smile or hold him or kiss him again, but questioningly, demandingly. He is fifteen months old and he wants his mother.
“Mama!” he declares, and Petunia takes one step forward, then another, and leans down and picks him up. He’s heavier than he was the last time she held him, and sits uneasily on her bony hip. She should rock him, hold him close, sing to him, do anything, something. She does nothing. She stands there with a struggling toddler in her arms, and then turns and walks out of the wrecked room.
She leaves Lily behind, because she can’t- she can be Harry’s aunt, or she can be a dead girl’s sister, and right now she cannot do both. She comes down the stairs almost silently, aside from Harry’s flailing and cries, and stands there at the base, looking at Sirius, who has gotten to his feet.
“Harry,” says Sirius, but he’s not looking at Harry, he’s looking at Petunia. He looks like a man of fifty, not one nearly twenty two, in that moment. His face is gaunt and long and his eyes are flat and dark. She’s seen that look on men who think they have nothing left to lose many times, Death Eaters and Order members both. She’s seen it on Severus Snape and Rodolphus Lestrange and Leon Avery and now she sees it on Sirius.
She knows what he’s going to do. She wants to scream at him, demand he obey her, plead with him, break down and cry. She just looks at him, holding their godson. “Don’t,” is all she says. It sounds like a threat, not a tearful plea. She doesn’t sound like someone who just lost their sister. She sounds like a shrill harpy, not a traumatized young woman. She doesn’t feel quite human, feels like an animal, relying on instinct and nature.
“I’m sorry.” He’s not sorry, he’s a filthy liar, he’s glad of this, glad there is something he can do. What can she do? Hold Harry and weep. What can he do? Hunt down Peter. She thinks he must derive some small, sick joy out of that. At least there is a remedy for a little bit of his pain. An instant fix- vengeance. Like slapping a bandage on a wound.
Then he’s gone, and she runs out of the cottage after him as the motorbike starts up and races up into the sky. It’s Halloween- was Halloween, it’s the stroke of midnight now. The sky is black and velvet, the ground is bare and cold. There’s nowhere to go. Petunia holds onto Harry too tightly; he wants to be set down, and he wants out of the cold. “Want Mama!” he insists.
“No,” says Petunia, as if denying him a treat. No, Harry, you can’t have that, it’s not good for you. You can’t have your mama, she’s not good for you, she’s dead.
“Petunia!” She jolts back in fear- she can’t duel with a baby in her arms- but it’s just Hagrid, standing at the gate. “Dumbledore sent me,” he says gravely, and then his bearded face breaks at the sight of Harry. “Bu’ he’s alrigh’! It’s a…” He falters. What is it? A miracle? No. Miracles don’t look like the mark on Harry’s head. That’s the sign of a curse that was meant to leave no mark.
“Can you take him?” she asks. “He’ll freeze, I’ll go get a blanket.” Hagrid takes Harry from her, who roots himself into the half-giant’s wiry beard, and Petunia goes back into the house.
She stops in front of James’ body. His eyes are closed; Sirius must have done that. His glasses lie broken on the floor nearby. She crouches down and mends them with her wand, before tucking them into her coat pocket.
James is wearing a thin tee-shirt and sweatpants. In death, he looks like a teenaged boy, several years younger than his actual age. The expression on his face is one of troubled concern, from the firm set of his mouth, as if he has urgent business to attend to, a problem to sort out.
Petunia studies the length of his body, and for a wrenching few seconds sees him as Lily must have, animated and vibrant and handsome, from his strong jaw to his long limbs. He’s in need of a shave, although Lily never minded beards on men, not like Petunia. Maybe she should say something, but there is nothing to say.
He doesn’t even have his wand on him; it’s on the sofa. Part of her perhaps resents him for failing to protect her sister. He should have been prepared. He should have known better. He should never have gotten Lily pregnant in the first place. But she can’t be angry at a dead man; she can try, but she knows ahead of time that it will all be in vain. James made his choices, just like everyone else.
She goes back upstairs, and some small part of her expected Lily to have moved, to have sat up, rubbed at her eyes as if waking from a long nap, and sleepily ask where her son is. Of course Lily hasn’t. That was a child’s fantasy, a hope that that was all some trick, one of the games they’d play as little girls.
Lily would be Sleeping Beauty and Petunia could be the gallant Prince and wake her with a kiss. Only they never played princess games, because Lily didn’t want to be the beautiful damsel, the girl Petunia idolized, she wanted to be the knight on horseback, charging to the rescue, or the dragon, spitting fire.
Well she is not a princess or a knight or a dragon. She is dead, and Petunia, who once felt like the wicked step-sister, is alive. Lily is dead. The sentence doesn’t make sense. It feels foreign and fuzzy inside her mouth. Lily is dead. How can that be? Flowers bloom, they don’t- well they shed their petals and die, yes, but they don’t freeze overnight. Or perhaps sometimes they do.
She sits down beside Lily on the plush rug, perfect for child learning to walk, and forces herself to look into her sister’s face. Lily’s green eyes are open and staring in horror at something beyond Petunia, beyond this house. She is not a peaceful, slumbering princess. She died terrified and panicked, while her child watched. Her hands form stiff claws, grasping for something she can no longer hold, or maybe to ward off an evil that died with her.
Voldemort is dead. Petunia knows that. Whatever specks left of him are on the floor and walls of this room. Voldemort is dead and Harry is alive. The war is over. Wars don’t end when the tyrant dies, but without their leader, the Death Eaters will scatter to the four winds. She knows them. The majority will not attempt any desperate last stand. The wizarding world is about to become a far safer place. The muggle world as well, although they’ll never know it.
But she doesn’t care, because Lily is dead. Lily is dead and the war is over. Would she trade the lives of hundreds, thousands, just to have her sister back? See them all crushed under the weight of a dictator if she could speak to Lily one last time, breathe in her scent, feel the warmth of her embrace, laugh with her? Of course she would. Lily’s life ostensibly matters less than the people who have now been saved by her sacrifice, but Petunia would see them all dead just for another moment with her sister.
Petunia holds Lily’s cold hands. “Stupid girl,” she says. She feels old and Lily is perilously young, in death, just like her husband, little more than a child. A child who died saving a child. “Stupid, silly girl. I told you.” She is scolding a corpse. Perhaps she’s mad now. It’s not unheard of. She’s in shock. Of course she is. But she still needs to say it.
“I told you,” Petunia says, as her eyes prick and sting, “I told you to stay away from James, I told you not to go out with him, I told you to stay in uni. I warned you, didn’t I? Told you you were in over your head, delusional, playing at heroics. I told you getting married so soon was foolish. I told you you couldn’t have a baby.”
Lily is silent and hard, a mannequin. This isn’t her sister, her sister is gone, this is just her shell. Does it matter? “Everything you did,” she tells not-Lily, “everything you did, what did it lead to? You’re gone. We promised Daddy. I promised Daddy. I swore we’d- you were supposed to live, that was all you had to do, stay alive, and you- you couldn’t. Couldn’t manage that?” she whispers. “Perfect Lily? Top marks, brightest in her year, couldn’t even manage that?”
No, the reply that cannot be spoken is. No. I couldn’t. I tried, but I made all the wrong choices, took all the wrong paths, but they were right for me, Tuney, and you know that. You know I’d do it all over again, and that’s what hurts. I’d choose this ending every time. I’d die for a world that isn’t even mine, people I owe nothing to. A world that didn’t want me. Or you. I died for you. Can you stomach it? Can you tolerate it, Tuney? You knew the chances. You and your counting and organizing. Can you straighten me up and sweep me away? Of course not. Silly, stupid girl. I’m gone.
Petunia lets go of her sister’s hands, and stands up. She has to get Harry’s blanket, everything he’ll need. She has to go back down there, step into a world without the Dark Lord, without her sister. She has to tell Dumbledore it was Peter who betrayed them all, not Sirius, or Remus. She has to pray Sirius isn’t on a suicide mission. She has to live, somehow. A neat little list of chores, with no foreseeable ending.
#1: Cry for your dead sister, you cold-hearted bitch.
Chapter 30: Stars in your eyes, little one, where do you go to dream?
Petunia tries to break down the remainder of the year into smaller, more manageable pieces. James and Lily are buried on the 5th, side by side in St. Jerome’s cemetery. Petunia would have preferred to see her laid to rest with Daddy and Mum and Dale, in Cokeworth, but Lily never belonged there. And the thought of her sister’s grave being mere streets away from Snape’s childhood home is enough to dissuade her.
Petunia picks out the gravestone and sorts through the gifts- flowers and sweets and cakes and cloaks and toys- all of which come in addressed to Harry, because the world owes him a great debt. Petunia wants to world to fuck off. She does not see Sirius for nearly a week because after cornering Peter, half a street got blown up, and twelve muggles are dead. The Ministry has declared Peter dead as well, and are trying their to best to pin all of it on Sirius.
But Dumbledore believes her, and while the public could easily believe that a Black might turn traitor, the idea of Lily Potter’s muggleborn sister covering for a Death Eater is harder to imagine. Petunia insisted on being present for the Fidelius Charm, and now is glad of it, and even more glad of it when Dumbledore uses a pensieve to show her memory to the court.
This comes just after Lucius Malfoy lies through his very white teeth on the witness stand about having been imperiused and seeing Sirius at Death Eater meetings, and the look on his handsome face would be almost amusing, were it not taking every ounce of Petunia’s self control not to curse him from across the room. Malfoy, of course, still escapes imprisonment.
Petunia sees Narcissa in the waiting area once; she sits very straight, with her son in her lap, a little blond boy who clings to his mother and ducks his head shyly. Petunia has Harry in her arms; he is still asking after his mama and da, and Petunia can only explain that they are not coming back so many times to a one year old. She looks at Narcissa, and Narcissa Malfoy looks back at her, seeming as if she wants to sneer but not having the energy for it.
“How old is your boy?” Petunia asks instead, politely, primly, as if Narcissa’s husband did not just attempt to have her fiance thrown into Azkaban. “He’s a handsome one.”
“Seventeen months,” says Narcissa, after a moment. “Draco.”
Petunia thinks Draco is perhaps the most absurd name she’s ever heard, and she’s heard many, but she’s too tired to be cruel. Her hair is lank and her skin feels dry and too tight and her clothes are baggy on her; she’s barely eaten as of late. “You’re very lucky,” she tells Narcissa Malfoy, nee Black, instead. “He looks just like his father.”
Narcissa’s grey eyes indicate that she’d been afraid of that.
Sirius is released, although the Prophet is still speculating that the whole thing is some sort of long con in which he will attempt to raise Harry Potter to to be the next Dark Lord, and they meet with Dumbledore a week later.
“When your sister died,” Dumbledore says, “her sacrifice initiated an ancient form of magic, a bond of blood. So long as Harry remains with you, Petunia, her last living relative, he will be protected. No harm will come to him while he is in your home. The bond will only break once Harry comes of age.”
Petunia doesn’t need to be persuaded to take in her nephew, but she purses her lips all the same. “Protected from what?”
“He’s not gone,” says Sirius roughly. They’ve barely spoken at all. It’s too painful. She can’t even look at him, some days. He believes Peter is still out there. Petunia doesn’t care whether he is or not. Peter’s master is dead. Or something approaching dead.
“Of course he’s gone,” she snaps, “that was the whole point, Harry killed him-,”
“Only time will tell,” says Dumbledore. “I do not think we need fear Tom Riddle’s return anytime soon. Nor do I think he has been completely eradicated from this world. His influence and his followers live on. The suffering of the Longbottoms is proof of that.”
Petunia has considered if what happened mere days ago to Alice and Frank happened to Lily, and has decided she’d rather her sister dead and buried then living mindlessly in a tucked away ward of St. Mungo’s. “What about Peter?” she asks, reluctantly.
“Peter Pettigrew, if he still lives- and life is a good deal more dangerous for rats than men,” Dumbledore adds, with a look at Sirius, who seems about to roar, “has doomed himself to a life of fear and shame, in the shadows of our world. Peter acted as he did out of desperation and terror, and no small amount of lust for power and above all, protection.”
“They trusted him,” says Sirius. “James loved him like a little brother-,”
“It’s over,” Petunia snaps. “That’s all we need to know. Harry will be safe, and it’s over.”
Dumbledore does not contradict her there. “Harry is already regarded as a celebrity,” he comments. “He will be showered with attention and praise as he grows. It would be enough to turn any boy’s head.”
“I don’t want him raised around wizards,” says Petunia, quickly. “We’re moving back to Birmingham, near where I grew up. He’ll go to muggle school, before Hogwarts.”
Sirius doesn’t agree with her, doesn’t see the point of pretending the most famous wizard of all time is anything close to normal, mundane, but he is Petunia’s sister’s boy, and so she has the final say on these matters. He’ll just have to accept that.
Dumbledore nods. “Then I look forward to seeing him in ten years time.”
Petunia doesn’t like Albus Dumbledore, but she does trust his word, so that’s something.
Sirius and her don’t know how to talk about it, don’t know how to process it, so Sirius drinks and she seethes and they pack their things and look for a small house in a respectable neighborhood, per Petunia’s demands, because she will not raise Harry in an artist’s loft in the bohemian district of the city. They fight often, but not the way they used to, all raised voices and slamming doors, but quietly, coldly, while Harry sleeps.
Christmas is a miserable affair, but Mary returns from France with her husband and son, and Petunia visits Marlene, who is living with her remaining brothers and sister-in-law in Manchester. They distract themselves by cooing over Mary’s son, Adrian, who’s three now, and Harry, and Karen’s pregnant belly, and Petunia decorates the Christmas tree at home with Lily’s ornaments while Sirius watches, glassy-eyed.
Remus is distant, and Petunia can’t really blame him. He and Sirius have a horrific row that is only mended after New Year’s. She resigns herself to this winter. There is nothing to be done to make any of them feel better. She can no more magically fix things than she can will the snow away and force the trees to bud new leaves.
Lily would have turned twenty three at the end of January, and James twenty two at the end of March. Petunia manages to get Mary alone in early April. Her father has died. Drank himself to death. She’s reaching out to her estranged mother and siblings again. They go visit Dorcas’ grave, and sit on a bench nearby, without their respective children.
“I feel guilt, mostly,” says Mary after a moment. She’s different from her years in France; fluent in two new languages, French and Spanish, sun-tanned and pleasantly weathered, hair lightened and eyes darker. “That I got to raise Adrian with his father and be… well, happy, and you all were fighting a war.”
Petunia should say ‘it’s not your fault, we were all just kids’, but she can’t. “What happened happened,” is all she can say. “There’s no sense crying over spilled milk.”
Mary smiles bitterly. “I don’t even know how to speak to Marlene anymore. How can I? I’ve got a husband and son and a mum. David and Sarah are both fine.”
“Before you got pregnant, you lived through hell,” says Petunia. “With your dad, and all. You didn’t deserve to go through that all over again. Living in fear. Always worrying. You had your war, Mary, way before any of us did.”
Mary sighs a little. She’s cut her hair into a fashionable bob with bangs. She seems sophisticated now, something she never approached as an awkward, shy teenager. She doesn’t hesitate as much when she speaks, or mumble. Dorian seems possibly more in love with her than he was before.
“Dorcas would want us to still be together,” she says. “She’d be calling us fools left and right, if she were here.”
“She’d tell us to get our heads out of our arses,” Petunia agrees. “War’s over, time to move on.”
“Easier said than done,” she and Mary both mutter at the same time, and exchange an amused, weary look.
Petunia quits her position at Mortimer’s in May. She slams down a stack of flyers in front of Sirius at breakfast one morning. They can’t live off his inheritance forever, and she’s sick of him bringing home dead rats in his mouth as Padfoot. “You’ve got the exam marks for it,” is all she says, and leaves him to it.
They fight less when he’s hired on as a cursebreaker for Gringotts. Maybe the travel helps, and her being busy establishing Evans Arithmancy. By July, he has a collection of new scars and permanent sunburn on the back of his neck, and she has taken to holding meeting with clients while Harry plays quietly in a corner with the kitten, which they found when they were packing up the rest of the things in the cottage. Crookshanks, Lily called him once, for his bandy legs.
They hold Harry’s second birthday party in the garden of the new house. He plays with Adrian Pucey and pokes at little Meg McKinnon, Michael and Karen’s baby girl, named after her grandmother. Sirius and Remus go for a long walk round the block, and Petunia takes that for a good sign. Marlene even laughs at some joke cracked by Malcolm, and drinks red wine with Mary.
McGonagall and Hagrid stop by, and Harry shrieks with giggles, riding on Hagrid’s shoulders, while McGonagall and Petunia seriously discuss the latest edition of Transfiguration Today. Scholarly research has been fairly lacking for the past decade, with people more worried about staying alive than discovering new spells.
For once Petunia does not rush to clean up at the end of the night. She sits on the back stoop with a sleeping Harry passed out in her lap, and when a big black dog comes around the corner, does not jump up or scold. Padfoot lays down at her feet, chuffing gently. She prods at his thick fur with her bare toes. The night is warm and sweet-smelling. The sunset was spectacular. The garden is going well, especially the roses, although the lawn’s in need of a trimming.
“D’you remember Dorcas’ fifteenth birthday party?” she asks Padfoot. “We went outside barefoot in the grass at the end, and it felt just like this night. You were absolutely drunk,” she continues, “but you picked me up and threw me over your shoulder and we fell down in the grass and just laid there for a while to look at the stars. Lily was annoyed because I was much later than I said I’d be.”
He licks her foot and she laughs without feeling the accompanying rush of pain for the first time in months. Harry’s head lolls against her arms. He has such wild curls; it’s already a struggle to keep it combed and neat. “I’m glad we did that,” she says. She gets philosophical when she’s tipsy. “I’m glad we just laid there for a bit. You know? We didn’t know then. But it’s as if we did.”
Sirius sits sprawled at her feet then, and grabs her hand to kiss it. “I think we knew,” he says. “I did, anyways.” She holds his hot hand in her own for a few more moments, and then they get up to put Harry to bed.
Next chapter will be the epilogue and the actual ending.
Chapter 31: These are the days of our lives, they've flown in the swiftness of time
Petunia doesn’t have time for this. She raps hard on the door a third time. “Harry! UP! NOW!” Exhaling through her nostrils in frustration, she listens to the tired groan on the other side of the door. “We’re going to be late! Get UP!” She jiggles the doorknob and throws the door open, stepping into the darkened room. Harry rolls over in bed, pulling the covers over his head.
She glowers in his general direction before striding over to the window and throwing open the curtains, bought when he was five and decorated with tiny, blinking owls. Morning sunlight streams into the room, and the sound of neighbors leaving for work and mowing their lawns can be heard. Harry mumbles something.
“It is,” Petunia checks the watch on her skinny wrist, squinting, “9:07 AM. We need to leave by ten, I want us there early- Harry!” He’s drifting off again. She flicks her wand at the bed, stripping the covers off. Harry blinks balefully up at her. “Get. Up,” she enunciates threateningly, before turning to his wardrobe. “You still have socks in here- really, Harry, you’ve got to learn to pack your own things, you’re not a little boy anymore-,”
“Mum,” he says. She hears him sit up from the creak of the mattress. Petunia has learned to tamper down on her reactions when he addresses her as his mother- it’s natural, he doesn’t remember his parents, her and Sirius are the only mother and father he’s ever known- But it still feels like a betrayal, of course, although she knows Lily would never hold it against her.
She glances back at him; Harry looks just like James at eleven, in terms of his hair and thin frame, but he as Lily’s eyes and smile. “It’s going to be fine.”
“Of course it is,” she says, scandalized he’d even insinuate otherwise. “So long as you get a move on!” She tosses a pair of socks at him; Harry catches them deftly, and grins at her.
“Get dressed quick, or there’ll be no breakfast for you,” she warns him, and leaves the room swiftly before she does something silly like hug him tightly or cry. This isn’t any surprise. He’s eleven, he’s going to school, just like every other witch and wizard in Britain. She just… it all seems to have gone by very quickly.
She marches downstairs, quickening her pace when she hears raised voices in the kitchen. “MUM! Ella’s teasing me again!” Sirius has improvised a human shield between the two combattants, one of whom is shrilly mocking the other: “Mummy, Ella’s teasing me,” but he can only do so much in the face of childish wrath.
“Both of you, sit down at the table,” Petunia snaps; Alfie is dripping bacon grease on the floor she just mopped yesterday, again. “Cedrella, how many times must I tell you to leave him alone?”
Ella curls her lip; she’s really rather good at it for a girl of eight, and tosses her blonde ringlets over her shoulders. “He’s being obnoxious, Mum.” Petunia thinks her daughter is a far prettier little girl than she ever was; she has Petunia’s light hair, only thicker and curlier, her father’s haughty face and grey eyes, and a certain imperious edge to her voice that brings to mind both Lily Evans and Regulus Black.
Alfie slumps into a chair, distraught. He’s a bit sensitive, which Petunia blames herself for; he’s obviously inherited her tendency to overreact and catastrophize, but he’s generally a bit more optimistic than she remembers ever being at seven. She thinks he looks just like Sirius, and Sirius thinks he looks just like James, which isn’t genetically possible, but…
The only non-Black feature Alfie possesses are his mother’s pale blue eyes, currently widened in outrage. “Ella said I was a baby,” he accuses, taking another vengeful bite of his bacon.
“You’re not acting like a baby,” Sirius says reasonably, “you’re acting like a seven year old, just like your sister.”
“I’m eight!” Ella snaps.
“Eight year olds don’t tease their brothers,” he lies easily, and heaps some eggs onto her plate. “They quietly eat their breakfast and give their stressed mothers a break.”
Petunia loves her children, and is glad she had them, because while she is not living the life of a docile homemaker that she envisioned as a little girl, she did always want to be a mother, but sometimes she regrets that they are only a year apart. It seems to have become a recipe for disaster ever since they learned to speak.
Ella huffs but doesn’t raise any more of a fuss, and Petunia busies herself with pouring both of them their orange juice while exchanging looks of ‘they’re only acting up this early because they’re upset Harry’s leaving’. Ella and Alfie are aware Harry is their cousin, not their biological brother, but they both treat him as the latter.
They were thrilled to help him pick out his school things a mere month ago, they are less thrilled at the prospect of him actually going to said school. There’s three years between Harry and Ella, and four between Harry and Alfie. Harry is a loving older brother, even if they sometimes irritate him, but it will be difficult for all of them to adjust to having just two children in the house.
“You should sit down,” Sirius tells her in a low voice, “you’ve been on your feet since seven.”
“If I sit down I’ll never get up again,” Petunia mutters back, but takes a fortifying sip of coffee. She blames Sirius for no longer being able to function without caffeine. He is off work for today, and she isn’t going into the office until this afternoon, so the children will be all his; they don’t start muggle school for another few days. Besides, they’re usually all over their father when he is home; he’s leaving on the 12th for ruins in Brazil.
Sirius is a good father, if a very indulgent one. Petunia finds it difficult to blame him, given his own childhood- of course he’d never want to forbid his own children anything, to never make them feel ashamed of who they are. It’s just that he has the luxury of being the relaxed parent, while she is the one who generally enforces the rules- and she has many.
It’s not that she’s worried about them being spoiled, although they do technically ‘come from money’. Sirius is the only remaining adult Black, and so everything has been inadvertently left to him, even that awful house in London, which Petunia refuses to set foot in. Their children- the new generation of Blacks, filthy half-bloods or not, will never want for money. Petunia kept her maiden name, not out of spite, but because she uses it for business and ‘Petunia Black’ sounds like a horrid perfume.
They named their children after some of Sirius’ only decent (disowned) family members- Petunia couldn’t bring herself to name her first child Lily, so it was Cedrella Violet, and then Alphard James a year later. She always wanted a son and a daughter, one each, a perfect little family behind a white picket fence. They don’t have a fence, they have hedges that could be trimmed better, and nothing is perfect, but it’s better than it was a decade ago.
No, Petunia is strict with the children because she’s afraid. She doesn’t want them out of her sight, doesn’t want them talking to strangers, doesn’t want them attracting attention. The majority of those who would wish them harm might be in Azkaban, but- better safe than sorry. They don’t realize, this new generation. They don’t understand what things were like not too long ago. They’ve only ever known peace. Is this what her parents felt like, raising her?
Harry finally comes downstairs, disheveled but dressed, and takes a seat between his cousins, who immediately start jockeying for his attention. “Is Uncle Remus still meeting us at the station?” Harry asks as Petunia hands him a plate full of food. Harry reminds Petunia of Remus a bit; he’s quieter, thoughtful, not as outgoing or attention-seeking as James always was.
“Yes,” she says, “and Marlene might drop by to see you off.” He brightens; Marlene has always been the fun aunt, acting more like a big sister than anything else, stealing him away for the day to do this or that, telling him outrageous stories about Petunia as a teenager.
She goes to look over his trunk one more time; his owl, Hedwig, is sleeping in the cage a-top it. He has all his textbooks, his cauldron, his uniform, his wand- she’s still unnerved by that Ollivander, truthfully- and no broom, as much as he protested it. Sirius and her were never mad for Quidditch, but Harry is, just like his father, and he’s been giving Petunia miniature heart attacks in the air for years now.
“Can we take the motorbike to London?” Alfie is asking eagerly in the other room, and Petunia rolls her eyes to herself as she finishes rummaging through the trunk- before her finger skim something. She picks up the album and flips through it, pausing at the first picture- Lily beams up at her, hands cradling her small pregnant bump. James steps in and out of the frame, waving. On the bottom of the page, in a child’s scrawl, Harry has written: Lily and James Potter, 1980.
Not ‘my parents’ or ‘Mum and Dad’. They must feel so distant to him; of course Petunia has told him all about them, but Harry always looks at her as if she is telling an interesting story, a fairy tale. For him, life has always been here, not at Godric’s Hollow, with them, not with his mother and father.
This life, with the people who taught him how to ride a bicycle (Petunia) and ride a broom (Sirius), who enrolled him in school and read to him at night, who sat up with him while he was sick and took him to the seashore in the summer. The people who let him put the star on the Christmas tree and watched him play outside.
But he is taking their pictures with him, so that’s something, at least. He must feel some attachment, however vague. Petunia sets the album back in the trunk, locks it, and stands up, ignoring the strain her back. For God’s sake, she’s only thirty one. The children aren’t even teenagers yet, thank Merlin. She doesn’t want to imagine what she’ll be like in three years, when Ella goes.
King’s Cross is packed, and Petunia insists that Ella hold Sirius’ hand and Alfie hold hers, as much as he wants to jerk away. Harry walks in front of them with his trolley, looking around curiously at the muggles staring at them and the other Hogwarts students approaching the barrier. “Come on, don’t slow down,” Petunia says quickly, as Platform 9 and ¾ draws closer. “We don’t want to look too odd.”
Sirius snorts at that, but it was his choice to wear a dragon-hide coat on today of all days. Vain man. Harry glances back at her as the metal barrier comes into view. “How do we get through?”
“You have to run it,” Petunia is steadfastly ignoring the scene playing out in her head, a little blonde girl watching a stringy, dark-haired boy and a beaming redheaded girl run through the barrier together.
Snape teaches Potions at Hogwarts now, through some machination of Dumbledore’s. Petunia has briefly warned Harry that one of his professors did not get along with his fathers (James and Sirius both) in school and will likely be cold. At best, Snape will be cold. If he so much as glances at Harry the wrong way, Petunia will be in Dumbledore’s office so fast-
Harry is picking up speed, and vanishes through the barrier. Sirius and Cedrella are right behind him. Alfie tugs impatiently on her hand. “Mum, come on!”
“Coming, darling,” she says, grateful for a small, warm, sticky child-hand in her own, grateful that he hasn’t let go yet, and dashes forward with her youngest. Then they are on the platform, and she instinctively pulls her son close, packed as it is, children laughing and yelling, parents fretting, animals rattling their cages. There’s a lightness to it that she doesn’t quite recall from when she was a girl; people are talking about the price of school supplies, not the latest attack or leaving the country.
She’s had more nightmares than usual, lately, and sometimes they send the children running in, startled by the sound of their mother’s shrieks. Sirius is always quick to reassure them; “Mum just had a bad dream, but it’s alright, I scared the monster away.” They don’t know, about the war. They can’t know. Harry knows his parents were killed by a dark wizard, but not the exact circumstances. It’s better that way, surely. He’s just a boy.
Remus is making his way over with a wave, and Marlene isn’t far behind. She’s been seeing someone seriously lately, a muggle. Petunia was surprised, not that the man wasn’t a wizard, but that Marlene seems to be taking this relationship… well, like it might be something more than a quick fling. He was a soldier too, apparently. In the Falklands.
“Now,” Sirius is telling Harry, to her alarm, “if you happen to see a little git by the name of Malfoy… tell him that I’ve got a few words for his father-,”
“Sirius,” she hisses, and narrows her eyes at Harry. “You just keep your head down, alright? Don’t go looking for trouble with anyone- honestly, Sirius-,”
“Don’t go looking for trouble,” Marlene echoes with a smirk. “Ah, from the mouth of Petunia ‘rapidfire hex’ Evans herself…”
“You hexed people?” Ella sounds suitably impressed. “Mum, I didn’t know you even knew any-,”
“What she’s trying to say,” Remus cuts in, although he’s clearly holding back a chuckle, “is that you should try to get along with all your classmates, Harry, regardless of… family history.”
“Well,” says Sirius, “maybe not all of them, eh?”
“Most of them,” Remus amends.
There’s a family chattering nearby, and Sirius nods in their direction, “How about those Weasleys, then? They look like they’ve got a boy your age, Harry. Don’t want to ride the train alone.” He grins at Petunia, and she knows he’s thinking of their first train ride. Prat.
Harry looks like he’s on the verge of hesitantly approaching the boy, a tall, lanky redhead, coated in freckles, arguing with his brothers. She realizes this is all happening far too quickly, and lets go of Alfie’s hand. She pulls Harry into a hug, pressing a neat kiss on top of his mussed hair, and tries to smooth said hair in vain before he jerks away. “Mum!”
“Be careful,” she tells him seriously, “and listen to the professors, d’you hear? Do all your homework, and make sure you eat. And do NOT go wandering around after curfew. Owl us when you get there.”
“Yeah, we’ll want proof of your Sorting as well,” Sirius jokes, “because if it’s not Gryffindor-,”
“If it’s not Gryffindor it won’t matter at all,” Petunia assures him, although she privately thinks it will be Gryffindor- Harry’s got a noble streak to him, just like his mother, and no amount of scolding could ever diminish that. “Just be safe.”
He has to be safe, he’ll be at Hogwarts, the safest place in Britain- but she can’t help but worry all the same. His scar is barely visible, hidden by his bangs, which is how she likes it. She wants him to be just Harry, not Harry Potter. Just Harry, who calls his aunt and uncle Mum and Dad, who loves his family very much, who is going to be fine, and normal, and hopefully bored.
Sirius pulls him in for a sound hug himself, and Marlene does the silly handshake she invented with him when he was seven. Remus puts a hand on his shoulder and tells him something Petunia doesn’t quite catch; she’s too busying trying to hold back tears. Then Harry is off, hands shoved in his pockets as she shyly approaches the Weasley boy.
“He’ll be alright,” Sirius says confidently. “He’s a good kid, Pet. He’ll do well.”
“Mum, don’t cry.” Ella is suddenly painfully sweet, burying her little head in Petunia’s coat. “We’ll send him loads of letters.”
“Yeah,” says Alfie excitedly, “Harry said he’d take pictures of his common room. And the lake! And the forest! And the dungeons, because there’s supposed to be secret treasure down there-,”
Petunia slipped her old camera in with his things at the last moment. She puts her hand on Ella’s head, stroking her ringlets, and squeezes Alfie’s shoulder with the other. Marlene is making some joke to Remus about a couple of older students dangling out of the train windows, and the sun is shining down through the glass ceiling, and everywhere Petunia looks, children are smiling.
The parents, of course, look less enthused, and for a split second she catches the eye of a clearly muggle woman, staring worriedly after her daughter as the girl climbs aboard the Hogwarts Express. “Bye, Mum!” The girl calls back, waving gleefully, and the woman schools her expression into a smile. “Goodbye, love!”
Petunia smiles through her watery eyes at the woman, as if to say ‘it will be alright, you’ll see’. After a moment, the woman smiles nervously back. The girl, of course, has disappeared aboard the train in a flash of red curls shining in the morning light.
Thank you all for taking this journey with me. This was my first Harry Potter fic, and I continue to be happily shocked by all the attention it's received.