The thing is, the woman she was before knew about Harry Potter, who didn’t? But the books, the movies — they were part of her childhood. An important part, sure, she’d taken the sorting house tests, watched the movies in theaters, lined up outside the bookstore to buy the next volume the night before it was released. A hardcore fan, that was her.
But she hadn’t reread the books for over a decade, hadn’t seen the movies, nothing . Some of the major plot points are still there, how Voldemort haunted Harry’s steps every year, how he returned and the wizarding world burned. But she doesn’t know enough, will never know enough when Harry’s very life hangs in the balance.
What can she do? She’s not magical, she can’t even divorce her husband! The fate of the wizarding world, of her world, rests on her shoulders. On Harry’s shoulders.
Petunia stares at Harry, who is chewing on the ear of his well-loved lion plushie, and tries not to question her sanity over the way the lion had jumped out of his crib and into his arms. She knows magic is real, she just saw it happen right before her eyes, but she still wants to explain it away, to rationalize it as a trick of her imagination.
“Harry, darling, did you want your lion? Is that what you were telling Auntie?” Petunia says gently.
“Mhmm,” Harry sniffles around the ear in his mouth. His cheeks are flushed and his eyes watery, Petunia wants to give him anything he wants just so he won’t cry again.
“Auntie’s sorry she didn’t know, next time can you roar like a lion for Auntie, so I know? Like this.” She roars like a lion, showing her teeth and generally making a fool of herself. But Harry giggles, clutching the lion to his chest and letting out his own tiny roars, and laughing so hard he almost can’t breathe. Petunia laughs with him, taking him in her arms and rolling across the floor roaring the whole way.
Dudley looks up from his train set with squinty eyes, as if not quite sure what to make of the two fools rolling around on the ground.
On a pass, Petunia snags him around the waist and pulls him into the lion pile, roaring and rolling until the boys are exhausted with laughter, half asleep in her arms. She sings them to sleep and lays them down in their cribs, tucking the lion into Harry’s arms and Dudley’s teddy bear next to his body.
Vernon is still at work, and most days he stays out with his buddies at night, drinking and fooling around with prostitutes most likely. It’s just as well, Petunia doesn’t have the energy to deal with him, there’s too much to do.
The her before , the woman who’d died suffocating to death in agony… she’d been a writer. Not wealthy or well known, but prolific and good enough to eat well and not worry about her future. It’s the only thing she’s ever done, and Petunia had quit her job when she got pregnant, under Vernon’s gentle persuasion. Between working as a secretary and writing at home where she can be with her children, there’s no contest.
The children are in bed, and Petunia has an hour or two of time. The unfortunate thing about being in the early 80’s is that computer’s…. Well they don’t really exist in a normal household like the Dursley’s. She’ll make do writing by hand, even if it is going to take forever. For her first novel she’s not going to reinvent the wheel.
Her other self — well, her world is gone now, but her books are still there, finished in her mind and waiting to be written out again.
It’s a start.
Her life takes on a rhythm. Wake up, get the children ready for the day, make breakfast, see Vernon off, household chores while the boys play, lunch, nap time, writing, waking the boys up, playing, dinner, bedtime, more writing, her bedtime. Vernon is the only unwanted hiccup in her otherwise nice structured day. Sometimes he’s home, making a nuisance of himself, other times she barely sees him for days as he drinks and schmoozes with his bosses.
Writing a novel is all well and good, but it takes time. Time to write, time to pitch, time to publish, time to get paid. It’s time she doesn’t have. She needs an income her husband doesn’t know about, a separate bank account, connections she doesn’t have. So a month after she settles into her new life, Petunia leaves the boys with their babysitter and heads to the local newspaper office for an interview.
The door lets out a little jingle as she opens it, a rush of warm hair hitting her cold cheeks. The woman at the front desk looks up with a professional smile. “Hello, this is the Weekly Word’s office. How may I help you?”
“Hello, my name is Petunia Dursley. I’m here for an interview with Mr. Wittleton at 10 am.”
The secretary checks the schedule, and gives a little hum. “I have you right here Mrs. Dursley. I will just give Mr. Wittleton a ring and he’ll be right with you.”
“Thank you,” she responds and takes off her coat as she waits. It doesn’t take long, and she’s called up and sent deeper into the building. The secretary leads her through dozens of dull grey cubicles to a separate office with big glass windows. After a knock on the door, a man’s voice calls for her to come inside.
Petunia enters, and tries not to feel nervous when the door closes with a click behind her. She’s in her ‘Sunday best’, a soft green blouse with a black skirt and matching heels. Her straight hair is pinned up and she’s wearing Petunia’s best set of jewelry. She’s as prepared as possible and it still might not be enough. But she needs to try, any income is essential when she has nothing but the scraps Vernon leaves for the household funds every few weeks.
“Mr. Wittleton, I have a column idea for you,” she says, getting right to the point. Weekly Word is her first choice, a medium sized newspaper that is only published once a week. She can get the column written and out of the way to focus on her novel and the boys.
“What are you pitching to me, Mrs. Dursley?” Mr. Wittleton leans his head on his steepled hands, eyeing Petunia with a vague sense of disdain. Considering that the sea of desks Petunia had walked through had been full of men, with only a few women, she could guess why. Misogyny isn’t anything new, but it’s always unpleasant to bear.
“I’ve read Weekly World myself, and found that there is little there that peaks my interest — as a woman. It seems a shame that the newspaper is missing half of a paying demographic.”
“And how would you change that?”
“An advice column, for women, written by a woman. Every week, several questions submitted by readers will be answered by me.” She smiles. “You’ll find I have a unique view of the world that will attract readers, if only to gossip.”
Mr. Wittleton furrows his brow and leans back in his chair, the hinges creaking. “I would like to see some selection of your work.”
“Of course. I’ve made some mock samples. Several questions and my responses.” She pulls a folder out of her briefcase and slides it over the table.
Mr. Wittleton takes the folder and glances through it perfunctorily. After a few pages, he pauses and reads through a question. He glances up at her, surprised. He turns back to the beginning and reads through her sample questions slower, humming a few times before closing the folder.
“You have quite a sharp tongue and a quick wit, Mrs. Dursley.” He looks at her with a bit more interest than before. “Well, I just happen to be missing a columnist for the Life Section on page 5. I’ll give you a one month contract, if you do well, I can consider making you a full time hire. What do you say?”
“Six months,” she says, clenching her fists and taking a gamble.
Mr. Wittleton sits back and looks her over. He laughs. “I like someone with a bit of fire. Three months.”
Petunia smiles. “You have a deal, Mr. Wittleton. I look forward to working with you.”
The both of them rise from their seats and shake on it.
“I will have the contract ready in a few days, leave your number with my secretary and she’ll call you to come back in. Happy cooperation.”
Riding a euphoric high, Petunia floats out of the office and heads home with half of a terrible weight off her shoulders. Being a columnist at a local paper will be enough to start up a little egg fund for herself and the boys, money Vernon won’t know about. Money she’ll use when she divorces his ass and tosses him in the trash where he belongs.
A good lawyer will be expensive, she needs to keep the house, and get child support for Dudley. As a single mother with two kids, the expenses will be ridiculous. This job is only the beginning of her long term war plan.
She sits on the bus, watching the strange, old-fashioned world roll past outside her window. This universe is very similar to her own, similar enough that she can predict a little bit of the future. If she can just do enough , maybe she can change Harry’s fate. As a mother, how can she live with herself if she doesn’t try?
The bus slows to a stop, and she gets off, avoiding the mushy puddles of dirty snow at the sidewalk corners. At Number 2, a group of children are playing together in the snow, rolling snow to make snowmen and throwing snowballs. She blows on her freezing fingers and keeps walking past all the identical houses to Number 4.
“Hello, my darlings, I’m back!” Petunia calls as she walks into the entryway, shucking her shoes and draping her coat up on the rack. She can already hear the pattering of small feet racing from the living room, and the voice of the babysitter, a teenager from a few houses over named Annie, calling for Dudley to go slower.
Annie appears in the kitchen doorway with Harry on her hip as Dudley runs full tilt towards the door.
“I did it!” Petunia shouts, picking Dudley up as he crashes into her and tossing him into the air.
Dudley giggles and shouts, “More, more!” Petunia smiles and throws him up again, before crushing him to her chest and spinning in circles to the sound of his giggling laughter. She feels euphoric, as pleased as punch that something is finally, finally , going her way.
“Un, ah, ah!” Harry shouts from the babysitter’s arms, leaning towards Petunia with grasping hands.
“Come here, darling.” She laughs, stumbling forward to take Harry into her arms. They’re too big to carry at the same time, already one and a half years old and growing like weeds. She holds them close anyways, their chubby arms around her neck and their baby babble filling the air.
She’s truly happy for the first time in months, buoyant on success, eager for the future. Her arms tighten around her boys, her sons , and she starts to cry.
In May of 1982, Petunia throws down her pen on top of the desk, collapses backwards in her chair, and actually tears up with relief. Finally, it’s done!
No more burning the midnight oil hiding away in the third bedroom turned office, no more cramped hands and late nights trying to get as much done as possible before bed. The worst of it is done and all that’s left is finding an agent and a publisher.
But she’s confident in herself, she’s browsed the young adult fantasy genre of this world and it’s stale and old fashioned with barely any female protagonists. Even Tamora Pierce, her favorite author as a child and one of the pioneers in writing female protagonist fantasy adventure books, hasn’t yet hit the shelves. And who knows, she might not exist in this world.
All she has to do is find a publisher willing to break ground and plunder the wallets of a new demographic of readers!
Petunia groans, hauling herself to her feet and going into the nursery. Dudley is standing in his crib, big tears running down his flushed cheeks as he sobs for her. Her little baby is such a mommy’s boy, he hates it when she’s not within his eyesight. Petunia doesn’t dare think about what’s going to happen when the boys go to kindergarten if he keeps this up.
Harry is quieter than his cousin, standing in his crib and making little hiccupping sobs that tear at her heartstrings. Usually she’s reading in their nursery when they wake up so they don’t have a chance to miss her, but they’ve woken up early today.
“Hush, darlings, I’m here,” she croons, picking Dudley then Harry up in her arms. Soon they’ll be too big for her to carry at once, but now she holds them and walks around the room, humming until they quiet.
Harry’s small hand is clenched on her bicep, his sharp nails flexing against her skin like a kitten kneading a blanket. It’s a habit of his whenever he's tired, setting his hands into her skin and flexing until he falls asleep. Just like how Dudley can’t go anywhere without his pacifier.
The two of them are a little grumpy from waking up early, so Petunia changes their diapers with a lot of singing and peekaboo games, puts them in clothes that can get dirty and hauls them downstairs to celebrate.
If the kitchen is the worst for wear after two exuberant boys dump sugar and flour all over the floor, and if the cookies are chocolate chip, almond, raisin monstrosities, none of it matters.