Actions

Work Header

The Company of Another

Chapter Text

She wakes up in fits and starts to the heavy weight of an arm over her waist, and the muffled crying of a child. It’s soft and sniffling, little sobs that get louder and more upset as she lays there with her eyes closed. Another whimpering cry joins the first, but this one quickly turns into a wail. Loud enough that it makes the person next to her shift and groan, their hand slipping off her waist as they turn over, grumbling.

 

“Petunia, shut them up,” the strange man groans.

 

Petunia. A man she doesn’t know, a bed that’s too big and too soft. Her last memory of smoke and fire, of screaming, of the blistering crack of the house around her. Her niece clutching at her neck and sobbing so hard she wretches down the front of her shirt. The half open window, too big for her, but just big enough for a child. The firemen below, shouting, but she can’t hear them, the cracking of wood, the groaning of the house, the raging fire. She drops her niece out the window, onto the tarp. She’s safe — safe — The fire burns around her, the air dark with smoke. Then… nothing. 

 

The two children keep crying.

 

She gets up.

 

And stops with her feet on the floor, the wrongness of what she’s seeing makes goosebumps break out on her skin. Her limbs are longer than she remembers, the skin of her hands paper white, her feet long and elegant underneath the frilly, floral nightgown that reaches her calves. She looks back at the bed to the large lump burrowed beneath the blankets. All she can see is thin black hair peeking out from the blankets.

 

Two children, a large, black haired man. A woman named Petunia.

 

She drifts towards the crib and looks down at the toddler sobbing and screaming inside. Long, straight hair falls around her face, a washed out blonde that’s almost platinum. It’s not the brown she remembers, the mess of short curls she was forever thinking of shaving. Straight, blonde. 

 

The child is blonde too, with curly, cherub-like curls, and pale, watery blue eyes. He’s a chubby baby, all rolls and red cheeks. Very cute. He reaches for her with grabby hands, sobbing, “Mama, mama, up — up!”

 

Her limbs move almost without her permission, and she picks him up, setting him against her hip. He curls against her neck, snuffling and rubbing his snotty, wet face against the high collar of her nightgown. The other child is still crying, pitiful little whimpers that would tug at any decent person’s heart strings. But she feels like she’s floating, half out of her body, half crazy .

 

She follows the cries, looking around for the other child until she’s in the hallway outside the room. A large basket lays in the hallway, shoved against a wall and seemingly forgotten. A beautiful red and gold blanket is wrapped around a child that looks almost the same age as the boy in her arms. There must be a charm on the thing to stop the boy from escaping, because he’s sitting up and weeping but not trying to escape. His large, luminous green eyes are staring at her. There’s no way to describe it, the color is strange, too green. Unnatural. Like an emerald, freshly cut, glimmering in a child’s face. Abnormal.

 

There’s a scar on his forehead in the shape of a lightning bolt. The skin is irritated and red, like it was freshly carved into his skin.

 

She swallows and crouches down. The boy (Harry, Harry Potter , oh gods — why, why was she here) looks back at her, frightened, alone, put outside the bedroom like unwanted trash. Abandoned.

 

“Mama?” he says, lower lip wobbling. She shakes her head. His breath catches as he whimpers, “Dada? Paddy?” 

 

His father is dead, his godfather focused on revenge, abandoning him. All the adults in his life that should have taken care of him are dead, gone, abusive, or using him. 

 

“No, Harry,” she says gently. She reaches out and pulls him into her lap where Dudley is now sleeping. “I’m your aunt, your mother’s sister.” She swallows again. “Your Aunt Petunia.”

 

She’s a stranger to him, but he’s all alone in a strange new place, scared and upset, he clings to what he knows. An adult, a woman with a child, a parent.

 

He cries in her arms, little body trembling with hiccuping sobs as he latches his hands around her neck. The sharp bite of his nails presses into her skin as he grips at her skin. Eventually he falls asleep, exhausted from crying. Petunia sits on the floor of the hallway for hours, the heavy weight of two lives in her arms, until the first rays of the sun drift in through the hallway windows. 

 

An alarm goes off in the bedroom, and she hears the movement of the man waking up. Vernon Dursley getting up for another day of work. The husband of this body, a small-minded, vicious, brutal little man who hates everything and everybody who’s different or better than him. She braces herself against the wall, pushing herself up with a child on each hip. Her legs tremble from sitting on the floor for half the night, but there’s too much to do, too much she needs to change.

 

She walks back into the bedroom, Vernon thankfully in the bathroom, and goes for her closet where all her clothes are hanging. Petunia is a house-wife and Vernon brings home the money. A perfectly respectable arrangement if that was what Petunia wanted, but knowing what she knows of Vernon Dursley it smacks of misogyny. But the man’s useful for now. He’s got a good job, enough money and a lack of interest in the household as long as he gets three meals a day. She can work with it.

 

She dresses herself and the boys (Harry in some of Dudley’s older clothes that he never got to wear before he got too big), and heads downstairs just as Vernon gets out of the shower. She starts breakfast, bacon, eggs, hash browns, a big cup of tea the way Vernon likes it. The boys should both be on solid foods, so they get milk, more eggs, fruit and vegetables sliced up small. There’s only one booster seat so she let’s Harry sit on her lap. 

 

Dudley is mashing his way through his raspberries, his mouth stained red and half his breakfast on his bib when she hears Vernon coming down the stairs.

 

He grunts a good morning and starts to eat. He’s half-way through his bacon when he notices the little boy sitting in her lap.

 

“What’s the freak doing with you?” he grumbles, pushing his eggs around his plate.

 

“His name is Harry,” Petunia says calmly. She pops a piece of egg into the boy’s mouth. 

 

Vernon frowns at her, confusion in his beady eyes. “He’s a freak is what he is, just like your sister and her dead-beat husband. I still say we should just drop him at the orphanage.”

 

Petunia pauses, her gaze on her plate. Harry seems oblivious to the conversation happening above him, cramming a handful of peas into his mouth with cheerful abandon. She wipes her mouth with a napkin to give herself some time to think. What to say to such a hateful person? To convince him just long enough to tolerate, to turn a blind eye to how she’s changed?

 

“Well we can hardly do that when everyone knows, Vernon.” And they do, yesterday morning she’d screamed loud enough half the neighborhood peeked out their windows and saw the baby on their porch. Vernon and Petunia had spent all of yesterday arguing about what to do until they’d fallen asleep with exhaustion. She remembers that, the memory faded and vague in her mind. The emotions stripped from the recollection. Bits and pieces of Petunia’s life are coming back to her, washed out like old photographs. A life she hadn’t lived, a girl and a woman who’s life she’s stolen.

 

Not that it couldn’t happen to a more terrible woman. Still it’s a skin crawling, horrifying thing, to be in a body that isn’t hers. She takes a sip of tea.

 

“I’ll take care of him, you won’t have to do anything. His father was old-money, wealthy, mounds of gold my sister said.” She pauses and watches Vernon turn that over in his head. “We’ll raise him properly, and when he’s older…well.” She leaves the idea hanging, and lets Vernon extrapolate from there. It’s the best she can do for now, but she knows her husband.

 

He has a temper, and one day he won’t be able to stop himself.

 

“Well Pet, I guess you’re right. But I don’t want none of that funny business in my house, do you hear me? One freakish thing out of that boy and I’ll give him a good belting, you hear me?” He puffs his chest out, his thick mustache trembling as he speaks. He has Dudley’s watery blue eyes, icy pale and striking. It’s a good feature on a terrible man. She wonders what her own eyes look like.

 

“Of course,” she demurs.

 

She sees him off at the door, a boy on each hip as he gets into a shiny new car and drives away. She’s left alone at their house with the entire day stretching out in front of her.

 

It’s time to go shopping.

 

.

.

.

 

She wanders down the streets with Dudley in his stroller and Harry bound face out to her chest. The cheque book for her expenses is in her purse, and rolls of cash line the inside of her bra. She’s as prepared as she’s even been to make someone’s wallet hurt. That it’s her shitty new husband’s is only frosting on the cake. 

 

But she’s not stupid. She’ll need her own income as soon as she can swing it, and the cash she gets weekly for expenses is not enough to amass any wealth. She needs to be frugal.

 

Harry stares out at the world with curious eyes, twisting and turning, his feet thumping against her hips. Dudley’s sleeping, which is a relief. He’s a picky, clingy child that’s always crying. Petunia feels half out of her mind already and she’s only been a mother for half a day. 

 

The first store is a baby store where she picks up some simple toys, a stuffed lion that’s red and gold that Harry makes grabby hands for, a teething ring, some books, several more sets of clothes, another highchair, and finally a crib that also functions as a toddler’s bed. She writes out the cheque and let’s them ship it directly to her house. The price is astronomical for the time, but at least it’s not her money.

 

Children are expensive, and she expects Harry will be brilliant with nothing to stand in his way.

 

The second store is a thrift shop where she wanders around and buys nothing. The second shop is the same, but at the third one she finds a beautiful set of tongue and groove dressers made of a light wood, perfect for a growing child. She buys it and pays a bit more to have it shipped. At this point Dudley’s woken up and started fussing and Harry’s eyes are drooping. She switches them, her back aching from the strain. 

 

There’s a beautiful rocking chair, lovingly embroidered with leaping deer and birds fluttering through the trees that she gets for herself. For the long night’s she knows she’ll spend reading books and rocking a child to sleep.

 

The last stop is the local supermarket, with a brief stop at the bakers and butchers for fresh meat and bread. She stocks up on fresh fruits and veggies, internally shocked over the cheapness of it all. It’s a relief after spending money like water.

 

Both the boys are awake and babbling for lunch, getting more food on their clothes than in their mouth. Afterwards she puts them down to nap in the living room, surrounded by blankets and pillows so she can keep an eye on them. She goes through the house, looking everything over with a critical eye until she gets a feel for it. The attic beckons her, but Harry wakes up and is very put upon when he can’t find her so she shelves that for another day. 

 

A nanny, she decides grimly with two grumpy toddlers in her arms. She needs to get a job, find a lawyer, make sure she gets the house in the divorce and make money . All the things she needs to do seem insurmountable, the peak of Mount Everest, completely out of her hands. 

 

The doorbell rings as she lays on the ground playing blocks. Stacking them up high and letting tiny hands knock towers over with cackling laughter. For the next hour, she directs the delivery people up the stairs and into the nursery where Dudley usually sleeps. The other crib is nestled there and a mound of Dudley’s toys are shoved into the hallway for the new set of drawers. The rocking chair is put by window in place of a bulky armchair. 

 

It’s perfect. 

 

She treats the movers to a glass of lemonade (like a true house-wife, she thinks wryly) and closes the door behind them. As the children play in their new room, she cleans up, throwing several broken toys in the trash and several others into boxes for donation. No child needs three race cars.

 

Vernon calls, the corded phone ringing on the table, and tells her he’ll be going out for “drinks with the lads”. Which is fine for her, the less she has to see him, the better.

 

It’s late by then, so she makes dinner, feeds the boys, washes them up in the bath where half the water is splashed down the front of her shirt onto the bathroom floor instead of staying where it’s supposed to be.

 

She’s tired, half exasperated and one moment away from snapping at them before she catches herself. She lets out a breath — relaxes — smiles at Harry and Dudley and swoops them off to bed. Sitting in her new rocking chair, she reads them a new book about a little girl lost in a magical world. Dudley falls asleep first, with Harry not far behind him. When she settles them down in bed, it’s a relief. She’s free, for at least the rest of the night. Not a mother or a wife, just herself.

 

So she cleans the bathroom, changes into the softest, comfiest set of clothes in her closet, and curls up in her too big bed.

 

If she cries, her voice muffled in her pillow, if she screams and curses, and sobs for the life she had before, for the man she wanted to marry, for her sister, her niece and her parents. For her life , that was taken from her too soon, no one hears her but herself.

 

She falls asleep that way, exhausting herself until she falls into dreams where she wanders through a house where the hallways are never ending with doors that never open. 

 

Petunia wakes up to her husband bumbling into bed, stinking of alcohol, body odor and sex. Is this another thing this body used to ignore? It’s a boon, another mark she can use against him when she files for divorce. She’ll have to get something more concrete than a smell. A private detective maybe, to gather evidence. It’s the early 80’s, with cellphones in their infancy and home computers only used by hobbyists, ‘evidence’ would be harder to get without help.

 

She rolls out of bed and goes to check on the children. Both of them are asleep, Dudley blowing spit bubbles and Harry with his hands curled up next to his face like little paws. 

 

“I’ll protect you,” she whispers to him, tracing the chubby line of his cheek. She may not have asked for this, but when given lemons, she’d be damned if she wasn’t going to make lemonade.

 

She finds the camera in Vernon’s ‘study’, it’s bulky compared to what she’s used to, but she snaps pictures of both of them with steady hands. She’ll get them developed and add them to the family photobook. 

 

Bed beckons her, but she doesn’t want to lay in the same bed as Vernon. It’s better here, with the reassuring soft breath of the children. She opens the window blinds and sits down on the rocking chair. The moon is bright and a few stubborn stars sparkle in the sky.

 

She closes her eyes and sleeps.

 

Chapter Text

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! 

 

“Mamaaaa!!” 

 

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.

Chapter Text

It’s impossible!

 

The door to the cafe where Petunia met the most recent agent she’s tried to pitch her novel to swings closed behind her. Her fingers ache as she tightens her grip on her leather briefcase, contemplating throwing the whole thing in the river and being done with it. Ten different agents, TEN! She’d started at the best ones, then worked her way down to the middling ones, expecting at least one of them to bite, but here she is. Rejected again. 

 

It’s August now, almost September and she’s no closer to her goal than before, three months wasted. All she wants is to be independent, to have her own money and finally divorce Vernon. Is that so wrong of her? Is this the plot pushing her back onto the canon path?

 

She scrubs at her face and contemplates what exactly she’s doing wrong. Her novel is good, characters well rounded, plot air-tight, action engaging! But the 1980’s are so old-fashioned that the mere glimpse of modern sensibilities turns them away. 

 

But she doesn’t want to change her novel to suit the disgusting views of these asshole agents. Every single one of the ‘best’ are just old men who can’t stand a protagonist that isn’t a one dimensional sheet of white paper. 

 

Also a female protagonist? Fighting in a fantasy world without a romantic plotline? Obviously unpublishable. Who would read it?

 

Petunia clenches her jaw, then breathes slowly, gently, and relaxes her white knuckled grip on her briefcase. 

 

It doesn't help that she's a woman, writing beyond her position of romance novels and children’s books. The amount of times she’s been told she simply must use a pen name! A masculine one of course. She's sick of it.

 

One more set back, at this point she has enough rejection letters to start a scrapbook, what’s one more, or two, or a dozen?

 

She pulls a worn scrap of paper from her briefcase and scratches out another line. There’s only a few more names left on her list, less established agents that won’t be able to do as much, but at least they might accept her book. She finds a public pay phone, the cramped metal box sweltering in the summer heat, the paint chipping off the inside and various sex club posters plastered on the walls. 

 

She calls the number for one Elizabeth Miles, one of a few female agents in a long list of men, her sweaty fingers slipping on the buttons. After a few rings, a woman with a cockney accent picks up, greeting her. 

 

"I'd like to send in a manuscript." She tugs at the phone cord, listening intently to the submission instructions, trying to tell herself that maybe — maybe this'll be the one. 

 

A week later the landline rings while Petunia tries to convince Harry that really the eggs aren't so bad, try some please , god.

 

"No, no, no, no!" Harry chants, banging his hands on his highchair. The locked kitchen cupboard where Petunia keeps the cereal rattles as his magic tries to summon his favorite brand to his arms, but she’s learned her lesson from the last time. He’ll eat a healthy breakfast and that’s that!

 

Dudley’s a champion, half of his breakfast plate finished and only some of it lost down his front. It's Harry that's driving her crazy, only deigning to eat with all the dramatics of airplane spoons, funny faces and coaxing.

 

It's that damn James Potter's fault, she thinks spitefully as she deposits a small bite of egg into Harry's open mouth while he's distracted. She’s sure of it, Lily would never have indulged such a thing.

 

At least her dear sweet baby Dudley has pity on his mother and eats what's on his plate with gusto.

 

"Don't get your cousin's bad habits," she tells his sweet little face. He has jam everywhere, even his forehead, but that’s for her future self to deal with.

 

The phone is a welcome interruption, and Petunia leaves Harry with his own spoon, already prepared for the mess she'll see when she gets back. That's why the kitchen is tiled.

 

She picks up the phone, expecting it to be one of the other mothers on Privet Drive wanting to set up a playdate or Vernon telling her he’ll be late again. The man spends most of his nights off carousing now that Petunia has no time or inclination to cater to his whims.

 

“Is this Petunia Evans?”

 

“Yes, this is she,” Petunia replies, wincing as she hears a clatter and bang from the kitchen. Harry’s cute, giggly laugh sounds particularly ominous.

 

“My name is Elizabeth Miles. You submitted a manuscript several days ago, are you available to talk about it? I believe you have something special here. I would like to work with you.”

 

 “Yes, of course I’d love to come in and meet with you. Thursday? That’s fine — yes — see you then!”The click of the phone hanging up has never been so satisfying. The dial tone echoes in her ear and Petunia takes a moment to do a little happy dance, spinning her way back into the kitchen, a smile practically splitting her face apart. 

 

“Harry, Dudley! Guess what happened to your mama!” she calls, sliding across the tile and ending up right between the boy’s highchairs.

 

Dudley is drinking his milk, his plate empty besides for a scattering of eggs, practically angelic. Harry on the other hand is currently mashing his eggs and tomato slices into mush, his drink knocked to the floor. The glowing happiness inside of her doesn’t dim in the slightest, Petunia laughs and gives both the boys a smacking kiss on their foreheads.

 

.

.

.

 

Things don't get better right away. Vernon is still a looming uncertainty, a man who believes himself entitled to their marriage bed and all the 'privileges' that come with iI. Thankfully, his group of friends keep him busy visiting clubs and prostitutes, and getting high level sleeping narcotics seems to be a local passtime for the women in the neighborhood.

 

The days Vernon comes home, Petunia uses them liberally.

 

Petunia is tall and willowy, if she has to describe herself perhaps elegant or graceful. Her face is long and oval shaped with high, striking cheekbones and thin lips. With pin-straight blonde hair, she's a woman made up of lines. From what she can tell, being tall, thin and having legs for days is the ‘desirable’ look of the 80’s, which means that for the time she’s quite attractive.

 

Her best feature is something she doesn't remember from the books, a pair of pale green eyes like churning sea foam with long, almost transparent lashes. It's nothing like Harry's brilliant emerald eyes, but they're striking.

 

Not that it matters when the most she can be bothered to do most days is put on mascara and some lipstick before tackling two boys and writing boring advice column answers.

 

It's been a month since Elizabeth Miles agreed to work with her and there's been no updates. All she can do now is whittle away her time writing snappy responses to the people that write into her column. 'Petty Prose’ pays quite well, and her column has become quite popular, but it’s not near enough.

 

Also, if she has to tell one more woman that her husband's cheating, and she should get evidence and take him to court, she'll scream. 

 

The call comes early in October, a month and a few weeks after Elizabeth’s offer to be her agent. Petunia is folding laundry in the living room while Harry and Dudley play some sort of strange game that involves a lot of blankets, Harry’s lion plushie Rawr, Dudley’s teddy bear Grrr and lots of noise. 

 

"Dudley don’t pull Harry’s hair, it’s owie, honey,” she says absentmindedly, searching through the pile of clothes for a matching sock. The ringing of the phone is a welcome reprieve from her pile of laundry which never seems to end with two active kids in the house. The hallway has a full view of the living room, so Petunia leaves the boys to their game and answers.

 

“Hello, this is Petunia.”

 

“Hello, Petunia. It’s Elizabeth, we’ve got an offer! It’s from Sunlight Books, a rather small publishing company but they’re proposing a very good deal. Are you available for a meeting later today?”

 

Petunia almost drops the phone. “An offer? I — of course.” She listens to the woman, half dazed, a bud of excitement growing inside of her.

 

"An opening today? After lunch?" She checks her watch. "Yes, that'll be fine, see you then." She unwinds the finger she’s twisted in the phone cord and hangs up. A nervous tick, fidgeting. Before she would stick her fingers through her curls like a ring, but Petunia’s hair is thick and straight, and even with rollers any shape barely lasts half a day.

 

An offer!

 

She quickly dials up the number for Annie, the girl at No. 7 who babysits the boys when Petunia has to run errands. Thankfully, the girl isn’t in school right now and promises to come over to watch her kids while they take their nap.

 

After cleaning up, Petunia feeds them lunch, puts the boys into bed and reads them to sleep. Annie shows up promptly at 1 o’clock and Petunia rushes out the door after a frenzied fifteen minutes of dress up. 

 

Sunlight Books is small, but neat and clean. The door jingles as she enters, and the secretary is actually a young man instead of a woman. How surprising, but a good sign.

 

The man looks up from his paperwork and smiles at her. “You must be Petunia Evans, I have you down here for a 2 o’clock meeting. Your agent is Elizabeth Miles, is that correct?

 

“Yes, that’s right. Should I wait in the lobby?”

 

“No, I will guide you right inside. Ms. Miles is already here.”

 

The building is all woods, flowers on the window sills and the secretary leads her past cubicles of workers surrounded by reams of paperwork. Petunia doesn’t see one computer, she can’t imagine the misery of working entirely by paper. She does pinch herself discreetly when she sees the typewriters, she’s such an idiot! Why wasn’t she writing with a typewriter? Did she need to prove something to herself by writing by hand? Idiot, fool!

 

“Here we are,” the secretary says, opening a meeting room doorway with both hands.

 

Elizabeth is just inside dressed in a prim grey pantsuit, her hair a carefully contained riot of curls. She smiles when she locks eyes with Petunia.

 

“There you are,” she says and pats the seat next to her, “we are just waiting on a few people from Sunlight and then we’ll be starting.”

 

Petunia sits down next to her, rubbing her sweaty hands on her dress. She’s dragged a new outfit from her closet for this meeting, a dark green dress with a beautiful set of pearl jewelry the previous Petunia had inherited from her mother. Her hair is pinned up in a chignon roll, and she’s as prepared as she’s ever been to sell her own book. She’s got this. 

 

Two hours later, Petunia opens her mouth for the second time to thank the Sunlight Book representatives for their time and walks out of the meeting room arm in arm with Elizabeth, who Petunia thinks should be known as The Bulldozer.

 

“Well, that went well,” Elizabeth says brightly.

 

“Oh… yes,” Petunia responds a few beats too late.

 

“Give it about a year and you’ll have a published book and this will go far easier! I look forward to reading the next book in the series. I would begin working on it now, and maybe invest in a typewriter? Handwritten is lovely, but quite hard on the eyes, you know.”

 

Petunia nods agreeably and decides that all those agent rejects had been good for her. She’s found an amazing ally in Elizabeth Miles, someone who will be in her corner, fight for her and win .

 

“Thank you, Elizabeth. Truly,” she says softly.

 

“You’re a good writer, Petunia,” her agent says, “funny, fresh and innovative. It’ll work out, you’ll see.”

 

A flush steals over Petunia’s cheeks and she fumbles with her purse for want of something to say. In the future, she’s just one of many young adult authors trodding a path well worn by decades of better writers. She feels like a fraud.

 

Together they walk out of the building, Elizabeth waving down a taxi while Petunia clutches the book contract in one hand and her advance pay in the other. A taxi pulls up, and Petunia waves goodbye at Elizabeth. The door closes behind her agent, and Petunia’s left alone on the busy street, people rushing past her like an underwater current.

 

She feels like she’s in a fever dream, adrift at sea.

.

.

.

 

In the spring of 1983, she has just enough money to hire a private detective and a good divorce lawyer. The children are just a few months shy of three years old, and they only know the ‘man of the house’ as a loud, scary, distant ‘father’ figure that their mom/aunt keeps far away from them. 

 

When they grow up, they probably won’t even remember him, which Petunia counts as a blessing.

 

The divorce is loud, it’s messy, and she ends up with a black eye that gives her a leg up against the bastard in court.

 

She gets the house and several thousand in her bank account every month for child support. 

 

She loses the car, most of her meager savings, all her friendly relationships, and a husband.

 

Just for the last point, it’s worth every pound.

 

.

.

.

 

The summer passes, and Petunia spends most of her time visiting the beaches of Brighton with the boys and giving her input on the various parts of publishing a book. There’s several different cover options, quibbles over paperback or hardback, how many should be printed, advertising ideas, when it should be printed. It’s all exhausting busywork that Petunia wishes could just magically be completed without her input.

 

Harry and Dudley celebrate their third birthdays with a few small gifts and a cake, a far cry from last year when several of the other children from the neighborhood came over for the festivities. It’s amazing how quickly the boys are growing, two years on and the little babies who clung to her legs are racing ahead of her, unstoppable and adventurous.

 

Harry has exploded in a riot of words, barely capable of going a minute without talking and prone to fits of stubborn temper when things don’t go his way. Bright, vivacious and full of energy, he’s entirely different from the child Petunia remembers from the books. Only Petunia wishes he’d inherited some of Dudley’s mild mannered nature, for her own sanity. Her son is easy going, following at Harry’s heels off on great adventures to conquer the living room and every section of the house they can reach, but painfully shy with people he doesn’t know.

 

She loves them, both of them, with all her heart. But things aren’t easy. A single mother with almost no income, everything is tight and it’s all she can do to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

 

Her book, The Broken Crown , is slated for a December release to catch the holiday shoppers eager to grab something off the new release section for their nieces and nephews. Her only hope is that the initial sales are middling, just enough to justify keeping her on for the next book in the series. In celebration for her first book, Petunia takes the boys out for a big dinner at a restaurant and prays.

 

Two weeks after the release, Petunia busies herself with holiday decorating, opening up the attic for the first time to drag down the tinsel and bulbs. The tree is in the corner of the living room, dragged in by delivery people just that morning. It smells fragrant, of pine needles and sap, and fills the room with the scent of the holiday.  

 

They spend the morning decorating the tree and stringing lights until the boys fall asleep exhausted on the couch. While they sleep Petunia bakes some holiday cookies and finishes up the rest of the house.

 

In the afternoon, Harry drags Dudley and her out the door to build a snowman ‘the size of a house, auntie — mama!’, until all three of them are cold and shivering. 

 

“Hot choco, hot choco!” Harry chants, marching through the snow towards the front, his nose almost as red as his scarf.

 

“Marshmallows, marshmallows!” Dudley shouts basically in her ear at eardrum piercing levels. He’s hanging off her arm like a limpet and he’s much heavier than he was two years ago.

 

“Auntie, too slow! Hurry, hurry, hot choco now!” Harry yells from the front stoop, hopping back and forth in his snow boots.

 

“Well, if only I had someone to help me get to the door, Auntie’s so lost!” Petunia groans, dragging her feet in the snow. She hides her grin at Harry’s pouting little face.

 

“I’ll help you, mama,” Dudley says earnestly, “Come on, Harry! Mama needs help.”

 

Harry heaves a great big sigh, but runs through the snow to grab her jacket and drag her towards the door. Petunia laughs the whole way.

 

The phone is ringing when she stumbles inside with Dudley hanging off one arm and Harry dragging her by the coat. She struggles her way out of her shoes and Dudley’s and Harry’s, but by the time she gets to the telephone, it’s rung through.

 

Almost immediately it starts up again, the shrill ringing sounding urgent and impatient. Dudley is helping Harry out of his jacket with a series of seam-ripping tugs, but Petunia is content to let them rip a seam or two as long as they’re helping each other.

 

She picks up the phone on the second ring. “Hello, this is Petunia?” 

 

“It’s sold out! Petunia, it’s a hit!” Elizabeth’s voice shouted through the phone.

 

The phone falls from Petunia’s hand, clattering against the wall and bouncing on it’s cord. The muffled words of her agent barely reach her. She feels like she’s underwater, floating, the world muffled and silent around her. 

 

“Mama?” She hears, a little hand tugging on her skirt.

 

She looks down at Dudley, who has one arm still in his jacket, rosy red cheeks and snot dripping from his nose from the cold. Harry is one step behind him, looking at Petunia with big eyes, his hands clenched in the bottom of his sweater.

 

Petunia thinks of the last few months, of dithering in the grocery store deciding between meat or more beans and eggs to supplement. Of putting the boys to bed and crying over the account books, of clothes and shoes she washes and sews again and again because she can’t afford new things on just the wage from her column and the child support. 

 

She slides down to the ground and pulls Dudley and Harry into her arms, clenching them against her body, and pressing her wet eyes into their small shoulders.

 

“Mama, owie?” Dudley asks anxiously, patting her back with his little hand.

 

“Auntie?” Harry’s voice wobbles, as if he’s about to cry with her.

 

Her sweet boys, she’ll do anything for them. Voldemort, death eaters — she needs to learn how to shoot a gun.

 

“I’m okay, these are happy tears,” she chokes, pulling back and rubbing the tear tracks away. She smiles, touching the round cheeks of her babies. 

 

“Everything is going to be okay,” she whispers. And for the first time, she believes it.

 

Chapter Text

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.