Fear in the Afternoon
Watched and sleeping all the sodden afternoon,
Listened until the creeping song began to moan
And sleeping stealthy sang along but did not mean.
And the slow blinds so drawn against the sun,
Or the sly yawn that signifies one's really sane,
And the clouds that fawn on sky and gather soon.
All this blots out the ancient ruined wall,
The twilight flute, the incense, and the Druid wail,
And this is NOW, and all, though final, still is well.
-- Clellon Holmes
It begins a reasonably normal morning. Dudley has slept through the night for the first time since they brought him home from the hospital. This is not necessarily normal, in the sense that it has not happened before in the Dursley household. But it is not abnormal as this is perfectly normal behaviour for a toddler, if perhaps a little later than one might expect. Petunia tightens her robe against the briskness of an early autumn morning and ducks out to collect the milk bottles. There is a baby that is not her baby on the front step. So she screams. Of course she screams; there is a baby on the front step.
How long has the baby been out there? Is it dead or alive? She scoops the infant up and it barely stirs. Her heart thuds heavily with relief at the slight movement though. Maybe it's hypothermic. There's a letter swaddled with the baby and it crinkles when she holds the child to her chest. Its breath flutters gentle against her cheek. She heads back inside where none of the very perfectly normal neighbours can see her with someone else's baby or worse, associate her with the piercing scream. She perches the infant on the settee, blocking it on either side with decorative cushions so it cannot roll. In the light of the living area she notices a huge pale scar stretching over the baby's forehead, like a negative cloud-to-ground lightning strike. Who could have hurt a baby like this? And from the look of the scar, so long ago? The baby must have been barely a newborn when someone inflicted such a horrific wound, surely. Petunia pats the baby's cheek gently and moves into the dining nook. The baby's eyes remain closed, its little rosebud mouth chewing on nothing.
Dudley Dursley is babbling in his highchair, Vernon Dursley has already left for work, Petunia Dursley sits down at the dining table and opens an envelope containing horribly familiar parchment.
Lily Evans Potter, youngest of the Evans girls, surprise witch of the family, Petunia's sister, is dead. Lily is dead. Lily's husband is dead. Lily is dead. Their son is sleeping on Petunia's couch after the monster that killed her sister and brother-in-law attempted to kill him too. Lily is dead. Petunia moves the letter away from herself so she doesn't wet it while she weeps. Lily is dead. Dudley smacks his chubby hands against the table of his highchair, confused at his mother's awful gasping sounds. Lily is dead.
When she finally lifts her face from her hands to shush Dudley and pass him another biscuit to chew on, she finds herself angry. It wasn't enough that they had to take her sister away for months upon months every year. It wasn't enough that Petunia couldn't come with her, to protect her baby sister like she had always done. It wasn't enough for them to have Lily, they had to go and kill her too. And then, of all things, leave Lily's infant son out in the fucking cold like he was a bottle of milk. Petunia counts the months. Who swaddles a fucking fourteen-month-old? Petunia hurries back to the settee to free her nephew of his ridiculous wrappings. His head still smells like milk. Lily would have still been alive the last time the boy was fed. Petunia sobs, choking on her grief. She'll have to get Harry some breakfast.
They have a quiet day, the three of them. When Harry (Harry Potter, Harry Evans, Harry Evans-Potter?), wakes with a soft hiccup, she introduces Dudley to him. The two clumsily play with blocks for hours together. Dudley speaks in a language of gestures, sounds, and poorly pronounced singular words while Harry, to Petunia's surprise, has a large grasp on a rather sophisticated vocabulary already. Petunia cries discreetly all day. They have pumpkin soup for lunch. Petunia keeps the curtains drawn.
When Vernon arrives home, he's so preoccupied with telling Petunia about his day that it takes him several minutes to notice that the infant in his wife's lap isn't actually his son. Despite the fact that Dudley is a pale, fair-haired cherub of a child and Harry is almost half his size and brown.
"What is that?" He shouts at Harry and Petunia.
"He's James and Lily's son, Vernon." Petunia's voice cracks on her sister's name. "They... they died last night."
"Well we can't keep it!" Vernon blusters, his face reddening.
"Harry." Petunia snarls. Not it. Harry. "I'm his only family. We're his only family."
"I am Harry!" Harry agrees.
"What if he's like them?"
"What if he isn't?"
"I don't want that child in my house!" Vernon actually stomps. Like Dudley does when he's frustrated with his inability to communicate effectively his wants and needs. Because Dudley is a small child. Petunia could laugh. What would Lily do right now? She'd probably charm something harmless and funny and scare the living shit out of Vernon. Much as it annoyed an adolescent Petunia, in this moment the adult Petunia wouldn't mind a few of her sister's magic tricks.
"I don't care if you don't want Harry to be yours, he most certainly will be mine." Petunia snaps, stroking Harry's hair gently to tell him she's not angry at him, no not at all dear boy.
"Would you look at him? He will be a stain on this very household." Vernon splutters, chest swelling in fury. Harry watches his uncle who doesn't want to be his uncle. Petunia wishes her husband wouldn't say such things in front of the child.
"You say another vile word about this boy and I will make you wish you'd never met me." She says. Vernon raises a meaty hand, over Harry's head, over Petunia's face. Petunia stands suddenly, tucking the child behind her on the settee, Harry makes a little noise of surprise that lodges itself in her heart. "Touch me, Vernon, I fucking dare you."
"Bang!" Shouts Dudley as he comes running into the room, clutching two chunky wooden soldiers. He holds one out to Harry. "Bang?"
"Bang." Harry smiles and Lily smiles out of his face.
The next morning, before Vernon leaves for work, Petunia gets up and cooks him his breakfast just as she has since they first moved in together. Two fried eggs, two slices of toast with marmalade and butter. A mug of strong black tea with three sugars. The newspaper unfolded and waiting on the table at the spot where her husband sits.
Harry and Dudley shared a crib last night. Petunia couldn't think of anything else to do and there was more than enough room in there for the both of them. She poked her head into the nursery early in the grey part of the morning and they were both still fast asleep, toe-to-toe in their pyjamas. Harry's a cloud motif set of Dudley's and Dudley's a pale blue as close to matching as the two boys could get.
Petunia sits at the table in silence while Vernon eats breakfast. He doesn't thank her for it. He picks up his briefcase and makes his way to the hallway. Petunia follows him quietly, in her slippers and robe.
"Now," Vernon turns and sneers at her, sticking a finger in her face. "No funny business, I'm telling you."
Petunia says nothing as she resists the urge to lunge forward and bite his finger. She imagines crushing the knuckle between her teeth. Snapping at him like a feral animal protecting her young. Vernon leaves.
Petunia Dursley prepares herself a quick cup of tea, white with no sugar, and then begins to pack. The only things she brings with her are those belonging to Petunia Evans, from before she married Vernon and became a different woman. She gives the boys breakfast when they wake and then they leave the house together. The three of them leave Vernon Dursley behind. They leave Petunia Dursley behind. Petunia Evans, Dudley Evans, and Harry Evans depart Surrey.
The last trace they have of Petunia Dursley is when she travelled to Godric’s Hollow to bury her family. A few magical faces linger around the town, in the graveyard, across from the Potter Cottage, but none approach her. No children belonging to Petunia Dursley are seen anywhere that day.
Despite the strong enchantments now around the building specifically to hide it away from mundane eyes, Petunia Dursley sees the house exactly as it is. The Muggle woman steps through the dark gaping hole of what used to be a welcoming front door. There is a black smell to everything. She can picture Lily throwing it open and greeting friends with a laugh, casting her face to the sky with joy, flipping her dark red hair as she led people into the house. Petunia sees the magical linework hovering where James Potter has died. Right where people would have taken their shoes off. Petunia takes in the living room, untouched, with its soft squishy sofas so different from the prim settees of her home in Surrey. Of the house in Surrey.
There are photos everywhere. They grin and laugh and dance inside their frames. There are photos of Harry from birth to what appears to be his first birthday, not three months ago. There are photos of Lily and her school friends, uniformed, casual, studying, flying, gathered together in brilliant clusters of light. There are photos of Petunia and Lily when they were young, somehow enchanted so they, too, moved. Petunia and Lily in the garden, both wearing watering cans for hats. Petunia and Lily on holiday in France, wearing matching pinafores and wide smiles. As she watches, the tiny versions of herself and her sister - both long dead - swing gently side to side, arms linked, as though the girls were waiting for the flash so they could run off again. Petunia and Lily and Severus, awkwardly in the same frame, none making eye contact with anyone or anything. Petunia on her first day of high school, shifting from one foot to the other. Lily and Petunia in Diagon Alley, shopping for Lily's very first magical supplies. Lily bounces slightly and Petunia is utterly still, as though her body were the only non-magicked portion of the magical photograph. Jealousy is a familiar feeling for Petunia but today she pushes it away. There's nothing to be jealous of this ravaged home.
Petunia leaves the living living room and goes and stands in the kitchen of the house for a while. It’s yellow and even the weak light filtering in on an overcast morning cannot dim the glow in the room. Harry’s little finger paintings cover the fridge. Some of them shift like snakes across the paper. There’s a single plate on the countertop and crumbs in the sink and a racing broom by the back door. Petunia takes the stairs up, though the bannister is just an ashy mess on the steps. She doesn’t spend long in James and Lily's bedroom. It smells too much like her sister, all green willow and faint woodsmoke and parchment and ink and love and light. In Harry’s nursery, where the walls are also yellow, Petunia finds the mark of her sister’s body. Glowing lines suspend her death in front of her baby’s crib. Petunia clutches the cot railing and cries over Lily’s shadow.
The bodies are at the local morgue. Petunia gathers all the photos and drawings and little mementos she can fit into the backpack she brought with her. Then she leaves the house and walks to find her little sister.
Petunia and a Muggle priest lower Lily and James into the cold damp earth.
When they try to track Petunia Dursley using a ring she left behind on Privet Drive, they find nothing. No one. When they try to find Harry Potter, they can't. They don't worry too much, yet, because if they can't find him then nobody else can either. Probably.
Harry and Dudley always have a shared birthday party. They each get separate presents, of course, but Petunia can only afford one cake, one set of fun food that costs significantly more (and is far less nutritionally valuable!) than the sensible food she usually purchases. She's still married to Vernon, legally, but she and the boys are living in the County Durham now. She's not spoken to the man since she walked out of his front door three years ago, and he's not been able to find her since. They move about every year, though they've stuck to the North East.
This year, Harry gets a dark green beanie and Dudley gets a pair of cobalt blue gloves. Both boys cheer at the gifts and happily blow out the birthday candles on their cake together. Dudley's breath involves a little more saliva than perhaps necessary but none of the three of them mind as Petunia slices up the cake and they dig in.
Petunia Evans has become Rose Evan, widowed mother-of-two. She gets some looks at how different Harry looks compared to her and Dudley, but she's perfected her acerbic tongue and hard gaze over the years. It deters most. She works at the local hospital, mopping the floors and cleaning the bathrooms. The more highly-trained staff clean the theatre rooms and deal with surgical hygiene. It's shitty shift work, but one of the other cleaners is also a single parent with a daughter and they coordinate together to juggle the childcare.
Her boys are her pride and her joy. Next year, when they're due to start school she'll pull from her cleaning job and start homeschooling them. It'll keep them all safer, Petunia thinks. Harry's certain abilities would be sure to draw attention anywhere else, and she can't bear the thought of either child being picked on like she'd been for being prudish and shrill or like Lily had been for being freaky and weird.
Petunia keeps them safe for many years. She knows she's not the smartest woman but she selects good textbooks and exercises for the boys to learn from. She teaches them, they teach each other, they all three learn together.
She hears Lily in her head sometimes, usually laughing at something the boys are doing, or when Harry’s magic flashes out in surprising ways. Petunia cried the first time she saw him do a magic trick.
They’d been living in an old block of heinously beige brick flats that all looked out on a central garden. The garden itself wasn’t much to speak of, just some grass and iceberg roses. But the fresh air did the boys good. Dudley had accidentally crushed a flower in his chubby little fist and was crying. Harry got a funny look on his face that usually said he needed the bathroom. As Petunia watched and Dudley wailed, the flower’s bruised petals righted themselves until a plump, unblemished white rose sat in front of them.
“Oh, just like your mother,” Petunia had murmured gently, stroking Harry’s head before ushering the boys swiftly back inside, desperately hoping none of the perfectly normal neighbours had been looking out of their windows right at that moment.
Dudley had been thrilled by Harry’s little trick. Lily whispered in the back of Petunia’s mind, Remember when you called me a freak? Petunia busied herself with preparing afternoon tea for the boys, slicing up some carrots to go with a bit of hummus. She wept in the kitchen while the boys ate and played inside. Lily had been one for charming flowers, too. Remember when I made your corsage for that dance with what's-his-name?
As he gets older, Harry’s magic tricks only happen more frequently. They become more significant than repairing a single flower. Petunia feels the discomfort in her chest that had once been a jealousy that she labelled fear when she was young. When her sister shone brighter than anything else in Cokeworth. Now, it actually is fear. Not of the magic itself, because Harry has never once hurt her, but of them. The magical world got her sister and brother-in-law killed. Even if the voice in Petunia’s head disagrees sharply. Petunia lost her sister because of them and their stupid goddamn war. She won’t lose her nephew.
The beige brick flat becomes too small for them around the time Petunia starts homeschooling the boys. That birthday, Harry accidentally sets off tiny fireworks above his and Dudley’s birthday cake. The three of them cheer until the sparks die down and then they cut up the cake. It's chocolate, much to the boys' utter delight.
At the end of the year they move to the outskirts of Darlington, into a proper little house. Petunia Evans becomes Wendy Evan. The government pays her to stay at home and teach her boys. They have a real garden out the back. Petunia and Harry spend their free time filling it with living things while Dudley races around with a ball. Eventually Dudley can usually convince Harry to join him, and the two boys will run around the garden like two perfectly normal boys, one more careful of the flowers than the other. That Christmas both of them get a pair of sturdy boots in their respective sizes. Petunia receives terribly bundled and shockingly wrapped piles of drawings from each boy. She puts them all on the fridge and if some of Harry’s lines wriggle on the paper she makes no comment.
When Harry accidentally turns an inanimate garden gnome into an animate garden gnome, Petunia decides to take action. Firstly, the gnome moves inside, because it is not perfectly normal to have an animate gnome running around one’s garden. Secondly, Dudley names the gnome Gnomey. It, unfortunately, catches on and the creature starts only responding to its... very descriptive name. Thirdly, Petunia realises that the more magic Harry wields, the more noticeable they will become. She doesn't know how they monitor such things, but she will not allow herself to underestimate these people. Not the normal ones, like Lily and James and their friends, but those who manoeuvred a pair of recently graduated, new parents (barely out of childhood themselves), to their deaths. They are the ones Petunia worries about. They wouldn't think anything of Harry's life if it gave them an advantage in their little war.
The rules at home become more defined. The boys listen as carefully as they can, within the limits of their attention spans, to Petunia's instructions.
Be as strange as you like inside the house (with the curtains drawn), but be perfectly normal when outside the house.
Magic inside the house, no magic outside the house.
Run as much as you want outside the house, but walk at a normal pace inside the house, thank you. Same goes for inside voices.
Take your shoes off at the door.
Please and thank you are always required.
Teeth must be brushed twice a day (Petunia can afford toothpaste but she definitely cannot afford dental surgery).
Going through Lily’s old letters feels wrong. Petunia doesn’t read them - she already knows who she’s looking for. Besides, she can only look at her sister’s handwriting for so long before her eyes start swimming with dark spots and she feels lightheaded.
James and Lily’s secret location was revealed by a filthy traitor. Petunia’s secret location is revealed by herself.
When Remus Lupin arrives at a small cottage outside Darlington, he is greeted at knifepoint. A tall, thin Muggle woman clutches the weapon in a trembling hand.
“How do I know I can trust you?” Despite the woman’s obvious fear, her voice is even.
“You can never know that, Petunia.” Remus responds, hands still tucked in his pocket. She appears to agree with him.
“You can meet Harry.” She steps back slightly from the door. “But I want your wand and I’ll keep the knife for now.”
The woman is clever if she considers a wand to be the weapon that it absolutely could become. "Very reasonable." Remus Lupin agrees to both of Petunia Evans’ terms and is invited into the house and offered tea. Black, one sugar.
Remus crumbles to his knees when he sees Harry. From behind the boy looks just like James, all brown skin and pointy elbows and curling hair spilling in every direction. When the boy turns Remus stops breathing because it’s as though Lily Evans is looking right at him once again.
“You have your mother’s eyes.” Remus says to Harry after introductions have been made. Dudley has also been introduced but Petunia has let him know that Remus is here specifically to help Harry. Remus’ comment is the understatement of the fucking year, but it’s the only thing he can bring himself to say. How else could he phrase looking into the face of a child and seeing the face of the person who understood him better than anyone, who loved him and expected nothing at all in return, who helped him to his feet time and time again? Who was dead in a grave on the other side of the country.
“He looks a lot like his mother, actually.” Petunia sniffs, knife still in her hands.
“Yes,” Remus agrees. “His colouring might be mostly James, and that hair obviously, but he looks just like Lily.”
Harry preens under their words, only slightly though, as Petunia gestures for him to join her as she addresses Remus.
“Mr Lupin, this war of your people’s killed my sister and her husband. That world of yours took her from me and took her from her son. I invited you here to ask two favours of you, of which I am not yet sure how I can pay you back, but I must at least pose them to you." She pauses, breathes to try and hold onto her composure. "Mr Lupin, I need you to hide us from all who would seek Harry. I need us to go undetected by any magical authorities who might notice Harry or his magic tricks.”
Remus' mouth quirks at Petunia's description of Harry's abilities. He can do that. It would take some work and some careful wording but Remus could cast something like James’ invisibility cloak over the home here and over Harry. The boy would not be found by any seeking him. Remus nods at Petunia.
“And I need you to help teach Harry some control, maybe some more magic. I’ve been homeschooling both the boys for the past few years, and I well intend to keep doing so, but Harry has different needs than Dudley. I can’t have him accidentally hurting himself or others.” She brushes a hand over Harry’s hair to reassure him he’s done nothing wrong. The boy’s distinctive scar, usually cleverly hidden beneath longish hair, flashes white on his forehead. Remus forces himself not to stare. “But he can’t go to that cursed school.”
A wry smile twists the scars on Remus’ face. Just days ago he wasn’t sure he’d ever see his tiny godson again and today he’s the only person in the wizarding world who knows of Harry’s location. Who's seen the wondrous little boy of James Potter and Lily Evans and Petunia Evans.
“I will do both of these things for you without payment.” Remus responds. Harry grins up at him. “But you must allow me a few days absence every full moon.”
Petunia blanches with realisation as she eyes Remus’ scars. It wouldn’t be the first time he lost a job because of his condition, but Remus is pretty sure his heart would actually stop working if Harry was taken away from him again.
“Please, Aunt Pet?” Harry chirps from her side, pulling on her hand gently.
“I… yes.” Petunia gives Remus a thorough once-over. She nods in agreement with herself. “Thank you, Mr Lupin.”
“My pleasure, Ms Wendy Evan, Petunia.” Remus’ eyes crinkle with amusement at the exasperation on Petunia’s face, so similar to her sister’s.
They can’t get Harry a wand, but he seems to do fine without one anyway. He and Dudley introduce Remus to Gnomey, who now wears tiny clothes that Petunia has knitted for him.
“And when did you do this?” Remus asks. Both boys look at each other and shrug.
“A few months ago?” Harry wonders.
“Yeah.” Dudley agrees. Harry’s cousin scoops Gnomey off the ground, from where he’d been trying to tie Remus’ shoelaces together. The Muggle boy and the magically animated gnome trot off to the kitchen, debating the best biscuits for dunking in mugs of tea.
“This is an incredible piece of magic, Harry.” Remus says, looking the boy in the eyes. I know, Lily says in his head. My boy, so clever - isn’t he?
Just like you, Lily, he thinks, just like you.
“I did it on accident.” Harry scratches the back of his neck.
“Do you think you could do it again?”
They try to send Harry Potter his Hogwarts acceptance letter. None of the letters can find the boy. When she finds out the reason why (that is, nobody knows where the bloody boy is!), Professor McGonagall gives Albus a verbal dressing down so vicious it has students and teachers alike avoiding her for a week. Nobody can find Harry Potter. Which was fine when he was four (Minerva McGonagall still disagrees with this also newfound-to-her information), but has caused some consternation now that the boy needs magical schooling. Now that it's time for him to rejoin their world.
Harry is still listed on the intake scroll, so they know he is still alive. They’ve just not a clue where he is, off being alive.
Remus thinks he should be terrified. Harry is twelve and already proficient at wandless and wordless magic. His corporeal patronus takes the form of a doe, and even the Lily in Remus’ head only manages to say, Oh. When asking the boy about which memory he used to create the spell, Harry tells Remus about the time he and Dudley tried to surprise Petunia with breakfast in bed, but they burnt the bacon and the hot oil had splashed a little on Harry and surprised him. Petunia had come downstairs to her two boys with pig snouts instead of their usual human noses. The three of them had laughed uncontrollably for the better part of the morning, each time dying down until one of the boys invariably snorted and all three were set off again. Their noses went back to normal after a couple hours but the laugh-sore bellies lasted the rest of the day.
Remus has many logical reasons for why he should be terrified of Harry Potter. His power, his connection to the Dark Lord forged by an abhorrent piece of magic. When they finish their lessons, Harry is always speeding out the door into the garden, leaving Remus to follow along behind should he choose to. The boy spends his free time talking and apparently trading jokes with snakes (yes, definitely a reason for concern). Harry creates bubbly cushions floating unobtrusively beneath the trees by the back fence as baby birds start to fledge (probably not a reason for fear, apparently Lily did the same when she was young). He has a funny sense of things to come that would make Trelawney proud ("Dogs, Uncle Re." Harry a fair bit younger than now had spoken his parting words to Remus the day before the full moon, then smiled to show his three missing teeth and the one that was wobbling disgustingly). Harry wields secateurs like a seasoned grandmother (definite reason for fear). He sends Remus home with bundles of healing herbs almost every time they have lessons and some of the combinations are surprisingly potent (he doesn't know how he should feel about this). Despite the child’s inordinate abilities, Remus is not afraid of his godson. Harry laughs at anything even tangentially related to farts (Dudley likewise). He is scared of storms. He eats like a hippogriff (Like his father, Lily comments in Remus' head, so gross). He is the first to arrive at the scene of a spider with a cup and piece of paper, taking the little creatures out to the garden while Petunia waits (hides) in another room. Harry is kind and clever and gentle and stubborn. He's the best of both his parents, the best of Petunia. Maybe someday the best parts of Remus will show through, too, though Remus mostly believes that to be an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Hogwarts DADA curriculum.
Lily and James would be so proud. If they were alive, Remus would never hear the end of the boy's antics (not that he would mind, of course). As it is, he wishes he could tell someone - especially them - about how amazing Harry is. But he can’t and he won’t, so Remus Apparates home and sleeps with fresh lavender in his pillow.
When the news breaks that Sirius Black has escaped Azkaban, Remus rushes to Petunia’s house clutching a copy of the Daily Prophet.
It’s not an easy decision, but the boy must go to Hogwarts. None of them like it, with Dudley the most vocal opponent, but Harry promises to write often and visit whenever he can. Dudley doesn't want to be left behind by his cousin, doesn't want to be forgotten, but mostly doesn't want Harry to be hurt, to be taken permanently from them. He and Petunia spend hours together, talking in low voices about complex and contradictory feelings, and how it was okay to feel whatever was being felt, as long as communication remained a priority. Remus and Harry occasionally joined these conversations, as Harry also had complicated feelings about leaving. Excitement, fear, regret, worry for his little family. Petunia only agrees for Harry to go if Remus takes up a teaching position at the school.
Remus doesn’t reveal Harry’s location, but he does make it possible for one particular woman to contact the boy. A letter arrives in the mail the very next morning, inviting Harry to Hogwarts “As a matter of great urgency.” Minerva McGonagall's signature is almost smudged on the parchment.
Remus takes Harry shopping in Diagon Alley for his supplies. They both keep their heads down. Harry buys a weird wand from a weird man. Apparently it's related to the wand used to slaughter his parents. Which is... something. It feels awkward in his hand so he keeps it in his pocket.
Petunia helps Harry pack his trunk. She organises his optometrist appointment and pays for a new pair of glasses with a bunch crumpled notes and several coins, even when Harry insists they could just put his updated prescription in his old pair ("Do you think they have optometrists where you're going, young man? I don't think so!"). She bakes muffins for him to take on the train. She buys extra bags of owl treats to have at home and to send with Harry.
Dudley runs around outside with the football a lot. He’ll be joining the team at the high school Petunia has enrolled him into. When he comes inside, he lays on the bed in Harry’s room and watches the boy read magical textbooks.
“I’m trying to catch up.” Harry explains. “I’ve never had to use a wand for magic before, what if I’m no good at it?”
“You’ll be okay,” Dudley smiles at Harry. “Promise.”
Gnomey won't speak to Harry and hides in Dudley's room until Dudley forces him out to say goodbye. Harry pats Gnomey on the head, slightly dislodging the knitted cap that's just a tiny bit too large.
"You take care of Duds, okay?" Harry pretends the gnome isn't crying. "You take care of Aunt Pet. You take care of Gnomey."
Harry’s hair covers his scar which otherwise stands out a bright white against his brown forehead. His robes fit well. He’s a head and a half taller than all of the first years that he’s waiting with for Sorting. He hears some people snickering, wondering if he got held back a few, or if he’s related to Hagrid - whoever that is.
Harry waits patiently as names are called. Children approach and sit on a stool in front of the entire school to have a weird hat put on their heads. The hat calls out a house name, children join their house. What if he’s too old for Sorting? Petunia had cried when they'd all dropped Harry off at King’s Cross. That had made Dudley cry and then Harry was crying and all three of them were looking pointedly not normal in the middle of the station. But none of them cared. Harry wouldn’t have minded if they went straight home, then. Just got back in the car and drove to Darlington and put the kettle on and maybe did some gardening later. But he left his family and found the platform between the platforms. He sat with Remus on the train and they both sent Patronuses through the carriages when Dementors boarded.
When the stern-looking witch in charge of the hat calls his name the entire hall falls silent. The only sound is the soft tap of Harry’s shoes against the stone floor and the rustle of robes as the eleven-year-olds move aside for him to approach the Sorting Hat.
He sees Remus at the teacher’s table. The man smiles at him ever-so-slightly and nods encouragingly. Harry sits on the stool and the Hat is placed over his head and eyes. It’s not even really a hat, surely, being this big. It’s basically a pointy talking sack to put over children’s heads.
“Hmmm… a bit late, are we Mr Potter, Mr Evans-Potter? Or should I call you Mr Harry Evan? Hiding, were you? No matter. I see great cunning in that. You’ve been clever to stay away from all this trouble here. But I see you’re not so afraid to join us. Cautious, yes, smart, oh yes, loyal, very… hmm. Are you brave, Mr Potter?” Harry doesn’t know whether or not he’s supposed to answer so he shrugs. “If not, you’re stubborn enough to make up for it… hmm. I guess I’ll have to say, GRYFFINDOR!”
The Hat is pulled off Harry’s head and he’s blinded by the sudden light of the Great Hall. The Gryffindor table shriek and bang their goblets. Other tables cheer, too. Harry stumbles to the Gryffindor bench closest to the Sorting.
“Will you be in our year?” A kind-looking girl with thick brown hair inquires. “We’re in third year.” She gestures to the others around her.
“I think so. I’ve been, uh, homeschooled up until this point so I have the basics but, er, probably have a bit of catching up to do.”
“What’s homeschooled?” A redheaded boy asks, his mouth full of potato. Harry smiles at him with recognition. There's a certain look to kids who have grown up eating a lot of sandwiches and surviving on love.
“What does it sound like, Ronald?” The girl rolls her eyes. “You learn just like at school, but at home. I would assume that it was for Harry's protection, given the dangers even this school poses.” The boy grunts in response and returns to his meal. Harry stares at the swaths of food before him and wonders what Dudley and Aunt Pet are having for dinner tonight. It’s probably pasta. On the Gryffindor table alone Harry can see three different pasta dishes all with different fancy sauces, amongst a multitude of other food.
The third years and some of the nearby second years make their introductions to Harry. The redheaded boy, Ronald (“Just Ron, cheers,”) is older brother to second year Ginny. She smiles shyly at Harry, who can't help but grin in return. They’re both younger than their brothers Charlie, Bill, Percy, Fred, and George, of whom two have already graduated and one is presently Head Boy. Fred and George levitate individual peas around the table as they eat and talk and laugh. Dean and Seamus both shake Harry's hand warmly and ask him if he'll be trying out for the Quidditch team. He knows from old magical photos that his father played as a Chaser.
"Oi!" A tall, sturdily-built seventh year shouts down the table. Ron identifies him to Harry as Oliver Wood, the Gryffindor Quidditch Captain. "You'd better be trying out for Seeker!" Harry stares at him. He doesn't even have a broom. "You're built for it, Potter!"
Harry has always loved having Remus as a teacher. DADA is fascinating and though most of what they’re covering is theory for now, Harry drinks it all in. Harry has no trouble listening to Remus' quiet explanations, his slightly rambling descriptions of the Grindylow which paces the water in its tank. Other student lean forward, trying to catch Remus' words while Harry takes notes in the shorthand he and Remus had developed together last year.
Harry doesn’t much enjoy having his death predicted by Professor Trelawney, but he can imagine Aunt Pet sniffing disapprovingly in the strange woman’s direction and that sets him slightly at ease.
"Don't stress about Trelawney, mate, she's honestly bonkers." Ron claps him on the shoulder as they descend the many stairs of the Divination Tower.
Professor Snape seems determined to catch Harry out on something, anything, so he’s glad he’s already done the first few week’s readings ahead of time. Remus' gentle potions instructions ring in Harry's ears, overlaid atop Professor Snape's taunting directions. Harry brews a perfect Antidote to Uncommon Poisons that even Professor Snape grudgingly admits is of above-average quality. Ron and Hermione beam at him from behind their cauldrons, but in his distraction Ron knocks several Doxy eggs into his concoction and causes quite the commotion.
Hagrid (apparently not Professor Hagrid) cries and hugs Harry in front of everyone during the first class. It’s quite embarrassing and a few of the Slytherins laugh at him. Harry loves meeting the hippogriff, though. His feathers are longer than Harry's forearm and softer than cotton. Buckbeak looks at Harry with a kind of deep understanding. Maybe Harry could visit Hagrid’s hut and see if he could spend more time with the animal.
Transfiguration is delightful. Professor McGonagall’s transformation in front of the whole class was amazing. Harry almost wishes he could show her Gnomey. He’ll certainly be writing to Dudley about his teacher who’s also a cat! And wording it much more carefully in his letter to Aunt Pet (“She’s not actually a cat, of course, that would be irresponsible from an educational standpoint, but she can transform into a cat.”).
Charms relies heavily on wandwork, which Harry finds clumsy and uncooperative, though he’s doing better than Seamus Finnegan who appears to singe his eyebrows in every single lesson. Professor Flitwick seems kind, though, and when Harry manages to wordlessly and wandlessly mend the patchworks they’re studying the Reparo charm with, the Professor praises him enthusiastically. And loudly. For the whole class to hear. Harry realises that Professor Flitwick doesn’t really seem to mind if Harry doesn’t do quite the right movements or if he says the right things when he still manages to successfully perform the tasks at hand. Hermione only looks a little bit jealous.
History of Magic is bizarre, taught by a ghost, and makes Harry wish for lessons with Aunt Pet again. She made history fun. She did voices if she could tell that he and Dudley were paying attention. Positive reinforcement, she'd called it. Harry missed cups of tea while they discussed causes and effects of certain events. He missed Dudley's snorts at historical figure's bizarre names. If only Dudley could meet some of the people in the paintings around the castle.
Harry’s favourite class above all is Herbology. In the greenhouses, it’s like Harry is back home with Dudley doing laps of the yard and he and Aunt Pet with their hands in the dirt. He feels a little lost in his other classes, even with the thorough curriculum Remus put him through back home. Harry doesn’t feel lost in the greenhouses. Professor Sprout notices, and lets him know he’s welcome to come by anytime he wishes. She has a few benches and plots in one of the smaller hothouses for student use. Harry starts a little tray of seedlings after Professor Sprout makes everyone spending their free time in the greenhouses put their hand in a weird little bag and pull out a handful of seeds. Harry writes to Aunt Pet about all the different plants, does little sketches as best he can, promises he has plenty to eat, and assures her that everyone is perfectly nice (even if they aren’t always).
Harry’s presence changes the dynamic of friendships that formed two years ago. His fame and unconventional approach to magic only unbalance his presence amongst people who don’t quite get it. Hermione is trying. Ron is nice, but also busy. Ginny is rebuilding herself from the husk she was left as at the end of last year (Hermione tells him about The Chamber, about the Basilisk still dormant under the castle, about the cursed notebook). Harry and Neville get along well, though Harry ends up getting into several disagreements with those who think it okay to pick on Neville.
Harry meets Luna Lovegood when she wanders into the greenhouses one afternoon, barefoot and missing her tie. She’s very weird. She’s not normal when she’s inside or when she’s outside, and she’s brilliant. They become fast friends. Harry tells her about Dudley and Aunt Pet and Gnomey, about homeschooling and Professor Lupin when he's Uncle Remus and the garden out the back of the house and the birds in the trees. Luna tells him about Nargles and the Quibbler and her father and their spindly towery house in the countryside and the things she paints on her bedroom wall and the fat bumblebees that have formed a hive in one of their kitchen cupboards.
Apparently Harry is the new Gryffindor Seeker. Third year, on a flying broom for the fifth time in his life, Harry plays for his house. The clouds hang low and heavy over the pitch and the whole world rumbles with the thunder. Harry can feel the electrical storm in his fingertips. He almost catches the Snitch several times, but it slips his grasp. He and the Hufflepuff Seeker, Cedric Diggory jostle their way upwards, through the lowest bank of clouds, disappearing from view. Diggory's broom is far better than the spare Harry's on but Harry is, apparently, his father's son. The boys bump shoulder to shoulder in pursuit of the tiny golden ball.
The Dementors seem to manifest out of the storm clouds. That, or in his singular focus, Harry doesn't notice them until it's too late. Cedric has disappeared and Harry is surrounded. He can hear someone screaming in the back of his head. He left his wand in the boy's changerooms because he's an idiot and because it was poking him uncomfortably no matter where he tried to store it. The screaming gets louder. The black shapes move closer. Harry's never made a Patronus in the presence of several Dementors while on a broom and lightheaded from all the screaming before. He finds himself struggling to think of a happy memory - any happy memories at all. His childhood turns grey and dull. The screaming continues. No! Please not Harry! I'll do anything, please! Harry starts falling. The Dementors follow. More screams join the one in Harry's head when he and the Dementors drop below the clouds. Not Harry, please not Harry! My boy, my baby, please no!
There's a woman looking at Harry from within Harry's own head. She has his face, just a bit lighter, covered in freckles. She has his eyes. She's smiling and her eyes crinkle like Aunt Pet's do. She has dark red hair, darker than any of the Weasley's. She whispers his name like it's a fragile thing. There's a sunflower in her hands, and it's... singing a lullaby, curling and unfurling its petals to its own rhythm. Don't please don't touch him! Light flows out from Harry's hands as he raises them between himself and the closest Dementor. He's still falling. He and Dudley are small, are bouncing on Aunt Pet's bed. It's so big and fluffy and excellent for bouncing. Harry can't see past the light that has blossomed out of his body, forcing back the Dementors. Petunia wipes the milk off of Harry's top lip with a fond smile, passes him the cryptic crossword from the newspaper. I'll do anything please just don't hurt him! Remus casts a Tickling Charm on Gnomey, which has Dudley and Harry on the floor gasping with laughter. In the centre of the light a huge doe steps into existence. As Harry falls through the sky she chases the Dementors away from him, away from the crowds of other students, away from the Quidditch players, away from the pitch in its entirety until the dark creatures return to their positions on the perimeter of the school grounds. The fine-boned deer bounds through the sky, trailing white light wherever she steps. Not Harry please, not my sweet Harry! Harry falls until he stops falling and everything fades back into the clouds.
When Petunia steps into the Infirmary, she sees the shadowy outline of her sister's body at her feet. There's a crowd of athletes and children in black robes around one of the beds. Remus sits closest to the cot in question. He stands when he sees her. Petunia can only take so much, she thinks. Most of the children clear out when she hurries to Harry's side. God, he's so tiny.
Harry's chest is barely moving with small, shallow breaths. His hair has been pushed back from his forehead and his scar glows like a vein of moonstone in rock. His eyelids are bruised dark, like the skins of blood plums. Petunia grabs her youngest boy's hand. It's cold. She looks down at Harry and she sees the bundle left on her doorstep. She sees those big Lily eyes staring up at her. She sees a tiny Dudley and even tinier Harry holding hands as they climb over logs, searching for frogs. She sees Lily reclining under a tree. She sees Harry in the garden, brushing his hair back from his face and peering up at her, his scar flashing in the sunlight and dirt on his cheek.
A very sensible, medical woman clears the rest of the children away from the immediacy of Harry's bed. Petunia looks up at her, equally expectant of good news as bad.
"He will be fine, Mrs Evans." The medical woman says. "He's just exhausted from the mental, emotional, and physical strength it took from him."
"But he fell a hundred feet!" Petunia exclaims, suddenly feeling very watched, very out of place, very Muggle.
"Professor Lupin here slowed the last part of his descent and caught him."
"Remus," Petunia grasps her friend's forearm with her free hand. "You saved him."
"He saved us all." Remus said, pulling out the most perfectly not normal photograph Petunia had ever seen. "No doubt he'll do it again."
"I certainly hope not." Petunia sniffs, but the disapproving impression is somewhat diminished by her actual tears.
"There were a bunch of journalists wanting to see his first game. There's a lot of magical footage of the incident."
Petunia stares at the photo. Harry is falling through the sky, a tiny figure plummeting. Her gut twists every time the image loops. Weird dark shapes loom ominously around the field, around Harry. As she watches, huge blossoms of light spill out of Harry's hands and a deer made of the same substance seems to step out of his chest and begin chasing off the darkness. Petunia remembers Lily telling her that her Patronus was a doe. At the time Petunia had thought, of all the animals in the world to conjure, a deer was a bit boring. How wrong she was. The photo makes her feel sick and proud at the same time. When she moves to return the photo, Remus presses it back into her hands, smiling wanly.
"There's no shortage of this particular image, let alone all the other ones from different angles and exposures." He says. "Take it, show it to Dudley, tell him that it's the happy memories between the two of them that allowed Harry to do this." He taps the light bursting from the boy in the photograph. "It's the happy memories with you, too, those are what power this spell."
Petunia stumbles a little as she leaves the Infirmary. And, of course, she almost walks into Severus.
"You!" Severus remarks, surprised.
"You." Petunia glares at him.
"The boy is as foolish as his father." The man sneers. "I'm surprised he can even levitate a feather, given it was you who raised him."
"You are as cruel as your mother." Petunia snaps, feeling herself return to buzzing summer days. Feeling left behind by her little sister. Feeling indignantly certain it was supposed to be the other way around. "At least I've tried to grow out of being a horrible child." Without waiting for Severus to respond, Petunia moves past him, marching back the way she came into this bloody castle.
She must have made a wrong turn somewhere, because she ends up in a corridor she doesn't remember seeing before. Petunia whirls in every direction, angry and scared as a wild creature, trapped.
"He will be okay, you know." A young voice says. Petunia spins to face a child in black robes, maybe one of the ones gathered around Harry's bed earlier. The girl is barefoot and her necktie has been tied into a ridiculous-looking bow. "Harry, I mean. He's just tired after everything he's done, today."
"Are you one of his friends here?"
"I'm Luna Lovegood." The girl smiles as though her attention is already elsewhere. "Harry and I both like the greenhouses and the hippogriff."
"He gardens a lot at home. It's a bit lonely doing it all without him." Petunia doesn't know why she, a perfectly normal Muggle, is admitting such things to a perfectly strange magical child.
"I know, he's told me all about gardening with you." Luna traces one of the flagstones with her toes. "And Dudley runs drills through the garden with the football!" She quotes.
Warmth kindles in Petunia's chest. Harry's proud of them. Even in the face of all this grandeur, all this magic, he still thinks it worth describing his aunt and his cousin to these magical people.
The girl, Luna, manages to lead Petunia back to the castle entrance. It's a roundabout route that uses none of the stairs and passages that Petunia entered through, but that's okay.
"Well, thank you Miss Lovegood. You are delightfully odd, and I see exactly why Harry is your friend. He is lucky to have someone like you in his life. Please put on some socks, though, you'll catch your death from the stones on the floor."
"Oh thank you for the advice Ms Evans, I didn't realise the floors were contagious." Luna smiles vaguely and drifts away.
She and Dudley sit on the sofa staring for a long time at the photo of Harry falling. It's magical and it's terrifying and it's everything that makes Petunia want to hide her boys away from the world. Harry's fine, and has already sent them each three letters apologising he wasn't awake to see Petunia, reiterating his perfect health, telling them just how much he misses them.
"He... he could have died, Mum." Dudley whispers.
Petunia slips the photo into an album of pictures it's too difficult to look at every day. The ones of her sister when the two of them were hardly on speaking terms. The ones with the filthy traitor in them. The ones of Ma, Da, Lily, and herself. They remind Petunia that she's the only one left.