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The Company of Another

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A year later, in the middle of December 1984, Petunia finds a brown trunk with a shiny brass lock covered in dust behind several boxes of old baby clothes she remembers shoving up here a few months back. Harry and Dudley are at the park with Annie so she can get the Christmas boxes down and get some cleaning done without her boys underfoot.

 

The trunk is wedged in tight between the beams of the attic and covered with dust and attic grime. She tugs it free with much groaning and swearing until it’s in the middle of the attic, entirely out of place with all the plastic bins and paper boxes. With the back of her hand, she wipes her brow. Dust must be smeared all over her face but she’s too tired to care. The rest of the attic yields no further mysterious looking items, only hoards of spiders and enough grossness to make her want at least three showers when she gets out of here. 

 

The mystery trunk is far less dusty after a few quick wipes. Petunia examines it critically. The original Petunia’s memories are faded things, more like stories about yourself that your parents tell you, vaguely familiar but hard to grasp, and this trunk inspires no particular memory she can dredge up. But it feels special — important.

 

"Open sesame," she whispers and grabs the lock. A quick stinge pricks her finger and she hisses, jerking it back. A needle sized drop of blood wells on her skin, and now she has to worry about tetanus! She grumbles and sucks the injury into her mouth as she opens the trunk lid a bit more carefully than before.

 

She almost chokes as she peers inside and finds a whole room

 

A magical trunk? In Petunia's house?!

 

"Crazy," she says, leaning over the lid and sticking her hand inside. It disappears far past where it should and Petunia's brain releases a series of panicked noises that she determinedly tunes out.

 

The depths of the trunk has a set of steep, untrustworthy looking stairs. An adventure into breaking her hip, she thinks grimly. But there's nothing to it, and she shakily climbs down them, holding the handrails in a vice grip until she reaches the bottom and feels solid ground beneath her feet again. Scattered around her shoes are a bunch of letters in a small heap as if they’d been thrown into the trunk only to land at the bottom of the steps. 

 

Everyone is made of heavy parchment with slanted cursive on the front.

 

Picking one up, she marvels at the weight of it. A parchment so thick should feel like something , but it's as light as a single feather and as unweathered as the day it was penned. It’s her name on the front, Petunia realizes. A nickname, but her name nevertheless. Tunny , it says in a messy, loopy hand. There must be dozens of letters here, all unread. And they must be from Lily, the only magical that would have bothered to send letters to Petunia Evans. 

 

Her sister.

 

Even just thinking of her brings a weird tightness to Petunia’s chest, a hollow, sickening swoop deep in her stomach. The faint ache of jealousy, perhaps, or love, mixed together in the original’s memories until she can barely tell them apart. She shakes her head and looks at the rest of the room.

 

It spreads out before her, a sliver of space tucked away in one little trunk. There’s a small bed tucked into a corner, gentle sunlight illuminating the cream sheets and the wooden floor. A large window frames the bed, a recessed alcove padded with pillows and sheets that overlook the rolling hills of the countryside. She can even see a small stream tucked away in a cove of silvery birch trees, and when she steps forward to open the window she can hear the chatter of birds and the rustling of the wind in the leaves.

 

She shudders and closes the window with a thud. 

 

A whole world, a place she’s never seen… if she found a door, could she even go outside into the soft looking grass, wander beneath those towering trees, dip her toes in the cool water? Does this place really exist or is magic twisting her mind, showing her an illusion powerful enough to fool all her senses?

 

It’s hard to think about.

 

She inspects the rest of the room, there’s a wooden bookcases filled with non-magical books, a bathroom and even a kitchen tucked away in the back. The cupboards are filled with food that magically hasn’t expired, and looks fit to feed an army. It’s a fully stocked bolt room. A person could live here comfortably for months if not years if need be. What is a trunk like this doing in Petunia Evan’s attic?

 

She turns around and heads back to the steps, kneeling down to look at all the letters. The wax seals are unbroken, the contents unread but not burned or thrown into the trash as Petunia might have expected her previous self to do. 

 

Still, this had never existed in the original books, she’s sure of that. Such an important memento of his mother, the trunk and the letters would have been incredibly important to Harry and thus brandished about as much as his invisibility cloak or that photo album.

 

Is this the world filling in the gaps around Petunia’s presence or another thing the original took away from Harry?

 

She gathers the letters in her arms and piles them into her skirt, looping the fabric around her hips and tying a knot to secure them. The climb back up is less scary than going down, but she feels better once she's out of the trunk and in the musty air of the attic.

 

The trunk… Petunia thinks she understands why it's in the house. Lily must have been worried about her sister and her family being targeted by the Death Eaters and sent this trunk over for safety. A safe house of sorts.

 

Well, it's Harry’s now, perhaps with a secure place to hide and plot he won't get caught where he shouldn't be at Hogwarts. As a mother, Petunia has learned to fight her battles, and nothing, not even motherly disapproval, would keep Harry Potter from mischief.

 

With the children still at the park, Petunia lays the letters out on her desk in the study, uncertain which ones are older, and… uncertain of what she’ll read. These aren’t for her, not really, but she’s the only one left to read them, the only one who can share this with Harry, so she takes a random one and opens it. 

 

"Petunia," she reads, "I know we haven't spoken much since mum's funeral but I thought you should know — James proposed. We’re getting married. Please come, for mum and dad if not for me. Love, Lily."

 

She opens another one. "Tunny, I heard you're getting married to that bloody twat Dursley! He's a bore and terribly sexist. I swear to you that he's the worst sort of man, let's discuss this more when I get home! Lily." In small font at the bottom is a PS with a short, half written sentence inked out. She can't make any sense of it and picks up another letter.

 

The letters span from Lily's fifth year at Hogwarts all the way to the end, and Petunia reads them slowly, lining them up chronologically. The last letter is the most terrible, written only days before Lily and James had gone into hiding.

 

"Petunia, sister, I'm afraid, so terribly afraid everyday,” Petunia whispers, “there is a madman tormenting the world, and he wants to kill Harry. We'll be going into hiding and I won't be able to write for a long time. I've always loved you even when I was angry, despite our differences. Keep this trunk close, it's been heavily enchanted to keep its contents safe from anything not of our bloodline. If anything happens, anything strange or magical, hide. I hope to see you again soon, but if I don't — live well and be happy. Love, your sister Lily."

 

The letter was never opened. Petunia sets the thick parchment down and puts her face in her hands, wanting to ask the original Petunia what the hell she’d been thinking. Why save the letters but never open them? Why keep the trunk upstairs in the attic? Why?

 

But there’s no one to answer. She’ll never know.

 

.

.

.

 

The same month, Petunia drives to the approximate location she remembers the Leaky Cauldron being in the faded memories of young Petunia. It’s the middle of winter, and both children and Petunia are bundled up in heavy jackets, mittens, scarves, gloves and hats. Through it all, one can barely tell there are children in all the clothes. It’ll have to be enough to hide Harry’s distinctive features, along with a dab hand at concealer. 

 

“Tell me when you see a pub called the Leaky Cauldron, okay darling?” she tells Harry after parking the car. Harry already has himself unbuckled from his car seat and practically flung himself from the car. Dudley is still frowning seriously at his sketch pad, his red crayon practically a nub in his fist.

 

“Yes, auntie,” Harry says happily, peering around at all the people walking around. They don’t get out often since Petunia only bought this old car for christmas (for herself really, grocery shopping without one is terrible ). Public transportation with two children is entirely too stressful.

 

“Ready, honey?” she asks Dudley. He looks up at her then back at his picture, but reluctantly puts it aside like it’s made of glass. She can barely make out what looks like a dragon, and maybe a little figure in the corner. She thinks it's a drawing of her book, and tries hard not to smile, a warm glow in her heart even as the cold air reddens her cheeks.

 

“Yes, mama,” Dudley says. He’s a shy but exuberant boy, the sulky, weepy sadness over his father getting remarried brushed away with the promise of a magical adventure. Dudley and Harry are thick as thieves, always getting up to mischief that can’t quite be explained away as normal. It drives Petunia spare, but she does the best she can to smooth ruffled feathers and pretend like everything is normal.

 

It’s not.

 

But the accidental (and not so accidental) magic is getting out of control. The last thing Petunia needs is the magical government getting wind of anything so here she is, braving the lion’s den as it were. A few books for Harry, some magical treats for Dudley, and, hopefully, some measure of sanity for herself.

 

Dudley’s pressing his face against all the window panes, exclaiming over all the things he wants to buy. Harry is dutiful and serious next to him, his head craning back and forth at the store fronts for any sign of the Leaky Cauldron. The first thirty minutes they don’t have any luck, so she tugs them inside a brightly lit bakery for some cocoa and biscuits. After warming up, they brave the cold again.

 

A block later, Harry tugs at her hand. “Auntie, over there! Across the road!”

 

Petunia looks across the road, but she can’t see what Harry sees. A whisper seems to tell her that there’s nothing to see, nothing strange at all oh no, now doesn’t she have someplace else to be?

 

“Nicely done, Harry.” She smiles at him, and he beams back at her. The other parents always tell her what a delight Harry is, that if it wasn’t for his brother, how could such a sweet child ever get up to mischief. Petunia thinks they’re all daft. Behind all of Dudley and Harry’s tricks, there’s only one mastermind and it certainly isn’t Dudley.

 

“Let’s go, let’s go!” Harry yells eagerly, pulling them to the crosswalk. “I wanna eat some magic candy!”

 

“Shhh,” Dudley hisses, “Y’know we can’t say stuff like that outside!”

 

Harry scowls and reaches over to poke Dudley’s ribs. Dudley scowls back and raises his hand to retaliate. If she lets them, they’ll poke each other to tears, she’s seen it happen before. “Stop that, no fighting or we’re going home and there will be no fun of any kind.”

 

Quicker than lightning, her boys become sweeter than angels, clutching her hands and walking silently across the street. She lets Harry lead them forward, and suddenly there’s a door, a pub, and the roar of people eating and drinking. The inside of the Leaky Cauldron is smoky and filled with the delicious smell of good food.

 

It is also completely and utterly strange. There are only a few people in the pub, mostly eating lunch or chatting over a few drinks at the bar. Some are dressed in robes like she’d expected, but others have the strangest, most eclectic wardrobe she’s ever seen. A woman in the middle of the room is wearing a full ball gown from centuries ago, including voluminous hair decorated with a bird who chirps and flutters in a small birdcage. The woman herself doesn’t look a day over forty, plump with a face full of freckles as she eats a scone and reads the paper, the pages turning without a touch of her hand.

 

Another man has a robe, carefully bedazzled with what seems like yards of fine lace trailing from his sleeves, the whole affair thrown over a pair of 70’s era bedazzled bell bottom pants. His companion wears a full suit made of dark wool that wouldn’t be out of place in a normal office if only he wasn’t also wearing a pointed hat with a large, sparkling purple feather that let out puffs of glitter that changed colors.

 

Petunia pulls Harry and Dudley closer to her body and winds her way through the scattered tables, trying not to gape at everything she sees. An owl perching on the back of a chair gives a shrill screech as they pass and Dudley clutches her hand with a whimper. 

 

“It’s okay, sweetie,” she whispers to him, clutching him a tad too tightly to her side, “it’s just a pet.” A huge pet with dangerous looking claws, she thinks grimly.

 

“Wicked,” Harry whispers next to her, craning his head behind him to look at the bird. Petunia despairs about him, truly. Dudley and her seem to have gotten all the common sense in the Evan’s family.

 

The barkeeper looks up from the newspaper, a set of glasses polishing themselves next to him. “Name’s Tom, what can I do for you today?”

 

She swallows, trying not to look too unsettled by all the blatant magic happening around her. She repeats her cover to herself, a non-magical woman with magical parents, recently divorced from a ‘muggle’, bringing her children to the magical world because one of them is magical. If people infer the last had something to do with the second to last, easier for her.

 

“Yes, could you please open the gates to… Diagon Alley,” she says slowly.

 

Tom looks her over and down at her boys who look back at him with eager eyes. Dudley is obviously over his scare, gaping at the floating glasses, while Harry is whispering ‘wicked’ to himself over and over as he looks around the room. 

 

“O’course, come right back here with me and I’ll getcha settled.” Tom beckons them with one hand, and they follow, leaving the washcloth to finish shining the rest of the glasses.

 

Harry and Dudley pull at her hands, eagerly rushing ahead after Tom, and Petunia almost resists, a strange, urgent voice inside of her telling her that once they go through that door, once she unlocks this path, she could never go back.

 

And what about Dudley, her son — good-hearted, happy, sweet . But normal, like her. And Harry would only get more important, special in the way little boys and girls all want to be special. Maybe she made a mistake, maybe Harry would take it all in, the praise, the glory, because she’s raised him differently.

 

But no, not her Harry. He’s a good boy, rambunctious and sometimes wicked but only in the way children tend to be when they’re different and know it.

 

“Mum?”

 

She comes back to herself and pursues her lips in lue of a shaky smile. Dudley stares up at her, far too empathetic to others, her son.

 

“I’m fine Dudley, let’s go shall we?” she whispers and steps into a small alleyway, an innocuous brick wall right before them.

 

The barkeeper takes out a thin, knobbly stick that looks rather rough hewn from a dark wood. A wand. He taps out a slow beat on the bricks and the wall opens like the teeth of a large animal gaping wide to swallow them whole.

 

The sight of a busy street filled with even more strange and unusual people greets them. Every sort of person fills the streets, and the streets are lined with shops of strange names and stranger goods. 

 

Tom wishes them luck and retreats back to his bar. Once they step through, the wall closes behind them and the whole of Diagon Alley is spread before them. It's magical and overwhelming, an entire world hidden away behind a dirty pub!

 

The three of them are obviously out of place, their thick muggle jackets and wide eyed wonder marking them out. But the bustling marketplace doesn't spare them a glance and Petunia clings onto the boys' hands as they get swept into the sea of people.

 

Thankfully, the walls of the wizarding bank are hard to miss and after pushing through the crowd, she stops on the steep marble steps with both the children still attached to her, thank god. She doesn't want to be the Petunia that lost Harry Potter, how embarrassing! 

 

"Mum, there's lots and lots of them!" Dudley whispers, looking out from the steps at all the shoppers. It seems like every magical person from Brighton to Edinburgh decided to show up in magical London, showing off a dizzying array of outfits and casual magic that made the boys crane their heads like meerkats.

 

"Lots," Harry says, his voice quiet and subdued, very unlike himself.

 

Petunia crouches down and takes hold of Harry’s shoulder. “What is it, darling?” she asks.

 

Harry looks back at her, his dazzling green eyes big and frightened. “Am I really like them?” he whispers.

 

“Yes, you’re magical, just like your parents,” Petunia tells him, running her hands carefully through his long mass of curls. He hates it when people touch his hair, so Petunia bargained with him (one of her proudest moments as a parent if she was honest). As long as he brushes his hair when it's wet, he doesn’t have to cut it. 

 

“What ‘bout Dudley and Auntie?” Harry tugs at her jacket sleeve and frowns up at her. “Are you magic?”

 

“No,” she whispers to him, to both of them, “no, your auntie and Dudley aren’t magical the way you are Harry. You have something special inside of you from your mommy and daddy, a magical seed right here!” She pokes his stomach and he breaks into a small, tremulous smile. Her heart aches for him, but this world is something he will have to face mostly on his own. She doesn’t have any power in his world, all she can do is prepare him the best she can. 

 

To give him a home he can always come back to. A place to rest and be himself. To love him.

 

“A little seed? Like an apple seed?” Dudley asks, squirming into the curve of her arm and leaning up against Harry. 

 

She laughs. “Yes, like an apple seed! Or like the little tomato seeds we planted in the summer. What did we have to do to make them grow up healthy? Do you remember?”

 

“Water ‘em!” Dudley says.

 

“Pull the weeds,” Harry adds.

 

“Yes, and what else?” 

 

They look at each other and Dudley points up at the sky hesitantly.

 

“That’s right! They needed sun, didn't they? And the dirt fertilizer, and special metal supports they could lean on to get big.” 

 

The boys nod seriously. “They were red and super nummy!”

 

“Yes! Because all of us worked hard together to make them grow up healthy. Just like the little magic seed in Harry’s tummy, we all need to work together so it can get bigger!” Petunia claps her hands together and smiles at them. Harry looks better, lively and full of energy again, the way he should be.

 

“And then Harry can eat lots of nummies all the time!” Dudley shouts. “Magic tomatoes!”

 

“Yeah!” Harry says, and jumps up the stairs, charging towards the bank. “Let’s go, we need money to make my magical tomato seed grow!”

 

“Money! Money!” Dudley chants, and chases Harry up the steps.

 

Petunia can’t help but laugh as she follows them up and into the bank. They’re a bit confused, but they have the right idea.