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Defining Moments by eHPF
Format: Short story collection
Chapter 5: Petunia Dursley: Something Lost
Petunia Dursley: Something Lost
She wasn't quite sure why Lily was on her mind when she woke up that mild November morning. She lay in bed listening to Vernon's rumbling snores, watching the sunlight that filtered through the curtains and sent splashes of gold onto the walls. Through the shutters, she could see slices of a perfect blue sky. What a beautiful day, she thought. Why did it have to begin with her? She swung her legs over the side of the bed, searching with her feet for her soft pink slippers. As silently as she could, she tiptoed across the pastel carpet and shut herself in the bathroom. She ran a hot bath and got in, leaning luxuriously against the side of the tub. She had read in Tattletale Magazine that hot morning baths were a favorite hobby of Helen van Hopper, the famous actress. Silly, she thought, drawing the sponge over a bony arm, why would anyone list bathing as a hobby? And anyway, who cares what actresses' hobbies are? She set down the sponge with a satisfying plop. Not Petunia Dursley, that much was for sure!
No, Petunia had always been the levelheaded, sensible one in the family. She prided herself on her lack of curiosity, her common sense, and above all, her precision in everything she did. Take the house, for example. A visitor would be hard-pressed to find a single hair on the living room sofa or a speck of dirt on the floor. She liked to think that the house was a reflection of herself: perfect, glowing, and immaculate. Even as a child she had liked to keep her belongings neat and tidy. Lily was always the careless one, strewing dolls and wildflowers all over the house as though it were a rubbish bin for her convenience.
There she went again, thinking about her sister! Petunia shook her head in disgust and drained the tub with a sharp yank. She dried herself off and put on a peach crepe dress, matching heels, and the pearls Vernon had given her for their third anniversary. A large, frilly apron was tied over the entire outfit before Petunia set off to her housework. She took a broom and a dustpan and swept the entire second floor, pausing only to check on Dudley with adoring eyes. Her precious cherub was still fast asleep in his cot, his rosebud mouth fastened securely over one ear of his teddy bear. Petunia had been delighted to see what wonderful features he had inherited from herself and Vernon. The child had her dark blond hair and blue eyes, and she thought his shoulders and strong chin were exactly like Vernon's. What a handsome man he would become!
Her parents had never been able to see what a remarkable child he was. The last time she had seen them alive, all they had done was criticize Dudley and the way she was raising him, insisting that she was spoiling and overindulging the boy. And of course - because they hadn't been able to help themselves - there had been the inevitable comparisons to perfect Lily who had a "knack for motherhood" and her Christ child with his halo of golden light. That was one of the few times in her life Petunia had ever flown into a rage. She had practically thrown her parents out of the house and had refused to speak to them for months. Petunia flattered herself that she was a very tolerant woman - hadn't she sat there for twenty years, listening to them compare her to Lily? Hadn't she swallowed her hurt and anger at always coming up short? She had long ago learned to bottle her resentment deep inside, but she refused to let them throw her son on the scales and measure his worth the same way they had always measured hers.
Petunia began attacking the windows with a self-righteous vigor, violently scrubbing the glass and wishing she could do the same to her memories. Why, of all mornings in the blessed year, had they chosen to haunt her today? Vernon had an important client coming for dinner and she hadn't even dusted the bookshelves yet! She heard her husband get out of bed and took it as her cue to start breakfast. She set aside the rag and went downstairs, turning on the oven to make biscuits and heating the kettle for coffee. Spreading plastic down on the counters (floury surfaces were such a nuisance), she began kneading dough and moistening it with cream, the same way she and Lily had watched their mother do it so many times.
"Would you girls like to try?" her mother asked, smiling down at them. She pulled two little stools on either side of her so they could reach the counter. "Petunia, you can go first if -" But Lily grabbed a ball of dough with greedy hands, always ready to be the first, the best.
Instead of reprimanding her, their mother laughed affectionately and stroked the shining red hair. "Want to use the rolling pin?"
"No, Mummy, Tuney can have it," she said stoutly.
Petunia took it and began rolling out her ball of dough. When she looked over, Lily was already cutting into hers with the floured mouth of a glass. She began rolling faster, trying to catch up, but that only made the dough break apart.
"You're rolling it too much, Petunia," her mother pointed out, reaching over to help. "Here... see how Lily made hers?"
Conscious that she had somehow failed, Petunia jumped quickly down from the stool to hide her red face. "I'm bored. I'm going out to play." As she walked out the door, she could feel Lily's eyes on the back of her neck.
Later, when she was sitting on the swings by herself, Petunia heard footsteps and turned to see her sister carrying a plate of buttered biscuits. "Here, Tuney. I made these just for you," the little girl said shyly, holding them out. "I hope you like them." Without waiting for a response, she put her arm around Petunia's neck and lowered her voice confidentially. "They're extra special. Because I love you."
Petunia pulled open the oven and slid the trays inside, shaking her head in exasperation. She could not stop thinking about Lily! What on earth was wrong with her today? Maybe the room had been too stuffy last night and she had woken up with a fever. It was unusually mild for November. She made a mental note to keep the windows open tonight, even though the Smiths next door probably had the same idea and would probably be arguing about their no-good daughter again tonight. Not that a woman like myself would be interested in their dirty laundry, she thought, cracking some eggs into a bowl, but it must be the most terrible thing to have a daughter like that! She wondered if the girl had been sent to the headmaster's office for bullying again. Mrs. Smith had been talking about it on the phone with her friend last week, and she had also mentioned something about finding cigarettes in the girl's room. Petunia shook her head sadly. A tragedy!
Dudley began squalling from upstairs and she dropped her cooking utensils, hurrying to change his diapers. "Good morning, my precious popkin!" she cooed, kissing his feathery blond head. "How is my sweetums? How is my Dinky Winky Duddledums?"
He made the most adorable noises and tugged on her hair. "Hunwyyy!" he shouted.
"Yes, yes, my angel, Mummy is going to feed you now," she reassured him. She scooped him up in her arms and carried him down to his chair in the kitchen. "Here is your applesauce, my Ickle Diddykins!" she sang, setting a small bowl in front of him that he immediately upset. What an energetic, cheerful little boy he was!
"Dake!" yelled Dudley. "Mummy, dake!"
"Cake for breakfast, Diddy love? But -"
The child began screaming, big fat tears rolling down his face, and Petunia felt her heart melt. She went over to the refrigerator and pulled out some leftover chocolate cake, cutting out a generous slice for her baby and watching him dig in eagerly. "That's my sweet boy," she murmured, stroking his soft downy hair. What would she ever do with herself when he went off to school? Thank goodness she wouldn't have to worry about it for a few years yet!
"Come on, Lily," urged Petunia, tugging nervously on her plaits. "We'll be late for the bus!" She checked the watch that had been a sixth birthday present from her parents, tapping her toes impatiently.
Lily stumbled down the stairs in her brand new shoes, looking as uncomfortable in her crisp school uniform as Petunia felt. "I was kissing Mummy goodbye!"
The two girls hoisted their book bags and left the house, joining the growing queue of children at the corner bus stop. Lily stared at the older students with wide eyes.
"You're not afraid, are you?" scoffed Petunia.
"No," the little girl said defiantly, moving further away. But when the school bus began approaching them from Cherry Lane, Lily moved closer to her sister again.
Petunia looked down at her small, anxious face and softened. "Want to sit together?"
Lily's face brightened. "Yes, Tuney!"
"It's all right. Don't be afraid," said Petunia, taking her sister's hand in hers. "I'm here with you. I'm here."
The biscuits came out of the oven, piping hot and cooked to a golden-brown perfection. Petunia began setting the kitchen table, laying out marmalade and butter and trying to keep her mind on the task at hand. She was beginning to wonder whether she were really ill. Don't be stupid! she scolded herself. You can't be ill, the Westons are coming tonight and the study isn't clean! She knew that the Westons would not be coming into Vernon's study anytime soon, but she simply could not enjoy the evening knowing that one room in her house was untidy.
Dudley had finished his cake and was now clamoring for a piece of the bacon frying away on the stove. "Yes of course, my darling Duddydums," cooed Petunia, dropping three or four large pieces on a plate for him.
Reaching over, she flicked on the little television set that sat on top of the refrigerator. There was nothing good to watch this early on a Monday morning, so Petunia settled for an entertainment talk show. Oh well, it's noise at least, she thought, stirring the scrambled eggs around in the pan. It's not like I care about their sordid affairs! The host was interviewing a supermodel who was simultaneously announcing her divorce from her husband and her pregnancy with another man.
"The shameless tramp!" muttered Petunia, thanking her stars that she was a respectable wife and mother far away from the likes of loose supermodels. She stared at the beauty's platinum blond hair, wondering what kind of dye she had used and whether they sold it at the regular supermarket. She supposed not.
Petunia knew from the first moment she laid eyes on him that the boy was trouble. Lily thought no one knew, but sometimes Petunia heard her climb out her bedroom window to go see him. Her room was right next door and she could see them on the lawn. The boy grabbed Lily's arm eagerly and they set off together for their little hiding place in the woods. He always came for Lily - never for Petunia. Because she wasn't special, he said.
"You mean because I'm not weird like the two of you!" she had snapped right in front of Lily. Later on she had apologized, but things between them had never been quite the same. Petunia could never forgive the boy for taking her sister away.
One night she waited until the two of them had left before climbing out of her own window. She knew where the secret place was, having followed them once before. Very quietly Petunia tiptoed through the trees and watched them.
The boy was touching Lily's hair! Running his fingers through the river of shimmering copper, the hair that Petunia had always loved to brush. She would never love it again after this; she would only envy it.
"Your hair is - it's like magic," he exclaimed, then drew his hand away shyly. "I know you'll fit right in at Hogwarts, Lily."
"But how do you know I'll get in?" Lily asked.
"I just know," he insisted. "You're special. You're a witch, a wonderful witch. We'll go there together and have such fun!"
Lily beamed. "And Tuney? Could she come with us, Sev?"
The boy's face darkened and he shook his head determinedly. "She's not like you and me, Lily," he explained. "She's just a Muggle. She thinks we're weird."
"She didn't mean it -"
"Yes, she did. And besides," he added, lowering his voice, "I don't want her to come. I just want to go with you."
Vernon's heavy tread sounded on the stairs, jostling Petunia from her reverie. "Good morning, dear!" he thundered, giving her a hug and a kiss. "Smells delicious down here. Is that bacon you're eating, Dudley my boy?" He laughed and picked his son up. "Real food for a real man, eh, Junior? That's my boy! That's my son Dudley!"
Petunia watched the two of them together, her heart full. Vernon Dursley had been the first and only human being who had ever loved her best; he had chosen her from among everybody else for his own. He appreciated her and he worshiped their child. She couldn't have asked for a better husband. "Good morning," she said, placing some eggs and bacon on a plate for him. "How did you sleep?"
"Like a baby!" he chortled, sitting down and dandling Dudley on his knee. The boy giggled and tugged at his mustache. "You like it, don't you? Well someday, little chap, you shall have one. And you shall be every bit as good-looking as your old man - yes you will." He smacked a kiss on the child's head and set him down again, turning his attention to the plate of food.
"Tuck in, darling," said Petunia encouragingly, picking a piece of lint off his shirt. "You'll be home with the Westons at six o'clock sharp?"
"Yes, I'm picking them up and driving them straight here," he confirmed, his mouth full of scrambled eggs. "I boasted a great deal about your cooking, Petunia my love, so mind you make that roast the same way you always do."
She swelled with pride and kissed his receding hairline. "Bless you, Vernon. Of course I will."
Petunia stomped into the restaurant lavatory, trying not to cry because she knew Lily was right behind her. She dumped her purse on the counter and pulled out her lipstick, swiping it on half-heartedly.
"What was that all about?" demanded Lily, hands on her hips. "Why all of the antagonism towards James? Hmm?"
She remained silent, trying not to meet her sister's blazing green eyes in the mirror.
"Petunia Evans, don't you dare ignore me when I'm talking to you!" Lily grabbed her shoulder and spun her around. "Why do you hate my boyfriend? I'm always polite to Vernon!"
"Because he's so bloody perfect and you're so bloody perfect! Because every time you're around, I disappear!" shouted Petunia. "That's why!" The tears were flowing and she could feel her mascara dripping off her lashes. "I chose tonight to announce that Vernon and I are getting married, and nobody gives a damn because you and perfect Potter always have to have the spotlight, don't you!?"
Lily stared at her with wide eyes. "Petunia, I'm sorry -"
"Save your apologies, Lily. It's not your fault anyway," she said, wiping her eyes. "Mum and Dad couldn't care less about me. One of the happiest moments in my life, and they don't even care. Sometimes I wonder if they'd notice me if I were dead."
"Don't say things like that!" Lily snapped. She grabbed a tissue from her dress pocket and wiped her sister's face with it. "I didn't ask Mum and Dad to play favorites. Do you think I like it any better than you do?" She sighed. "They're happy for you, I know they are. It's just that they don't see me that often, you know?"
Petunia sniffled. "I suppose. I'm sorry I blew up at you. And I'm sorry I've been so horrible to James."
"That's more like it," agreed Lily, grinning, "now I'll actually consider being your maid of honor." She pulled Petunia into a fierce hug. "I know we've sort of fallen out over the years, what with me being at school at the time. But no matter what, you'll always be my sister, my Tuney that I love with my whole heart." That got them both crying this time.
"I love you too, Lily. I don't understand you, but I really do love you."
Lily stroked her hair. "Shh, don't cry anymore. I'm here with you. I'm here."
"Petunia, are you all right?" Vernon tore his eyes from the television and stared at her. "Are you crying, dear?"
She dabbed at her eyes with a corner of her apron. "No, of course not!" she replied. "I was cutting an onion for the, ah, omelette. Will you excuse me, Vernon?" She swept out of the kitchen and shut herself in the downstairs bathroom. Her legs were trembling so badly, she had to lean against the sink for support. Damn you, Lily, she cursed her sister, breathing shallowly. Something didn't feel quite right; these memories and pent-up feelings must have come from somewhere. Maybe Lily was still trying to make amends. Maybe she was still hoping Petunia would talk to her and had resorted to witchcraft when her calls and letters hadn't done the job.
"Leave me alone, Lily!" Petunia quavered. "Your - your voodoo doesn't scare me!"
She half expected to hear her sister's voice or see her face in the mirror, just like in those Friday night matinees that Vernon loved so much. To her immense relief, nothing magical happened and there was silence except for the distant sound of the kitchen television.
"I won't have my family associating with a murderer!" She sank to the floor, cradling her head in her hands. The day she learned of her parents' death was a day she would rather forget, but this memory - like the others she had seen this morning - was too overwhelming to be denied. She let it wash over her, eager for it to be over.
The sisters were facing each other from opposite ends of Petunia's living room. "I already told you what happened!" Lily said desperately. "I saw him! He came to Mum and Dad's house..."
Petunia glared at her. "Start from the beginning!"
Lily took a deep breath, fighting to stay calm. "James and I went to Mum and Dad's for dinner at around six. We were all sitting in the dining room when the front door burst open." She was shaking so badly that she had to grab a chair for support. "A man came in wrapped in a cloak. James and I somehow knew that it was him before he even made a move ... there's just this - this darkness that surrounds him..."
Petunia gripped the mantelpiece so hard her knuckles turned white. "And then?"
"He pointed his wand at me and asked me where Harry was," Lily whispered. "He thought Harry was with us, but we had left him with Sirius back at Godric's Hollow. He wanted the baby and I told him I would never tell." She sat down and put her head between her knees as though she were about to be sick. "It happened so fast ... he killed Dad -"
"No!" Petunia moaned, feeling faint.
"James starting fighting him," her sister continued in a hopeless voice. "James told me to take Mum and run, but I couldn't just leave him. There was a flash of light and I saw Mum fall to the ground. I've never seen her lie so still ..." She sobbed. "By then, he had realized that Harry wasn't with us. I was angry, I wanted to kill him with my bare hands. James managed to stun him but he knew we were no match for him. He grabbed me and we Apparated back home."
It was quiet for a long time before Petunia spoke. "It's your fault," she whispered.
Lily looked up at her, her beautiful face streaked with tears. "What?"
"It's your fault!" Petunia screamed. "If you hadn't visited them, if you hadn't been a stupid cow, they would still be alive! You brought that - that criminal there and now Mum and Dad are dead! You murderer!"
"No, Petunia, please listen to me," begged Lily, dropping to her knees. "Please, please..."
"You are the one to blame! You killer!" shrieked Petunia, backing away. "If it weren't for your magic ... if you weren't a freak!" She pointed out the door with a shaking finger. "Get the hell away from me. Get out of my house and away from my family this instant!"
Lily was sobbing uncontrollably, shaking her head. "Tuney, I love you! Don't do this! You're my only sister -"
"You're no sister of mine. Get out," Petunia ordered, shaking with fright. She half expected the cloaked man to appear in her home at any instant. Dear lord, her son Dudley was napping upstairs alone! "Get out!" she shouted again, wild with terror. This woman in front of her was a stranger; maybe she had always been a stranger and Petunia just never saw it. She would bring ruin and destruction to the quiet life Petunia had begun with her husband and son, a quiet life in which she was first - in which Lily did not belong.
Lily didn't wait for another word. "I love you, Petunia. So, so much," she said softly, her eyes filled with the deepest sadness. "I don't know if I'll ever see you again, but I hope you'll forgive me someday. Goodbye." She disappeared into thin air, leaving nothing but an empty room and a hollow feeling in her sister's heart.
The seven months that followed had brought letters from Lily, phone calls that Vernon answered only to say that his wife was out, and a large birthday card when Dudley turned one in June. Petunia had thrown them all away and now she flung herself on the bath mat and wept and wept, thinking of everything that could have been - and might still be - between the two of them. But she could not forgive her sister for taking their parents away. Lily had killed them as sure as if she had been the one holding the gun - or magic stick, or whatever the freaks used. Lily had ended their lives before Petunia had a chance to say what she had been holding inside all of these years, before she could tell them how much they had hurt her and how much she hurt still. They were gone forever, lost to the very daughter they had preferred, the daughter whose strangeness they had always accepted unconditionally at the expense of the other. It was ironic, really.
Petunia took in a few deep, shuddering breaths before rising to her feet and washing her face. She looked at herself in the mirror and saw a woman who had everything yet still wanted for so much. Slowly, she left the bathroom and returned to the kitchen. Dudley was crawling on the floor and playing with an assortment of pots and pans, and Vernon was finishing his breakfast and snorting at a commercial for cheap cars.
"Would you like some coffee, dear?" she suggested, trying to sound normal.
"Yes, please. And would we happen to have any milk?" asked Vernon, flipping the channel. "I looked in the refrigerator and we've run out."
"It must be on the doorstep. I forgot to bring in the cans this morning," Petunia replied. She wiped her hands on her apron and walked to the front door. The milk cans were stacked neatly to one side and she reached for them.
It was then that she noticed the basket on the doorstep. There was a soft flannel blanket inside and something was moving. A tiny pink hand emerged from the folds and there was a soft gurgle. Cautiously she moved aside the blankets and looked into the rosy-cheeked face of a baby. The shock of black hair swept a high forehead on which was emblazoned a zigzag scar, an ugly red against the pale skin. But what caught her attention immediately were the eyes, a perfect almond-shaped pair of bright green. "Oh my God," she whispered. But why would Lily's child be on her doorstep? And on the very same day that she had been plagued by memories of his mother!
There was a letter tucked into the blankets and she reached for it, all the while staring into the child's eyes. He was looking at her without a hint of fear or curiosity. It was as though he knew exactly who she was and why he was there. Petunia tore her eyes away from his, unnerved, and turned her attention to the letter.
To Mrs. Petunia Dursley,
My name is Albus Dumbledore and I regret to inform you that your sister, Lily Evans Potter, and her husband James have been killed...
That was all she had time to read before the ground rose to meet her and the world turned black. When she regained consciousness, she was lying on the sofa in the living room. Vernon stood over her anxiously, fanning her with one of the throw pillows.
"Petunia! Are you all right?" he demanded.
"Yes, yes," she said impatiently, trying to sit up. "Where is the boy? Did you -"
Vernon pointed to the basket on the coffee table. "What does this mean, dear?" Vernon ventured, gesturing to the letter. "It says here that your sister has been murdered, Petunia! - and that we are responsible for her son."
She gazed up at him, shocked. "Vernon, no! We can't raise him with our son! You know what his parents were like, you know what kind of people they associated with!"
"Apparently we are ordered to keep the boy until he comes of age," her husband said softly, scanning the letter.
Petunia shook her head desperately. "No!" she repeated. "Whoever killed Lily killed my parents, and they'll likely come for us as well!" She rose to her feet and stared down at the baby, who looked right back at her with his unusual eyes. "It's this child that the man wanted," she whispered. "That's what Lily said. Don't you see, Vernon -"
"But listen, Petunia," Vernon interrupted, clearing his throat and reading part of the letter aloud. "I know that you will have strong reservations about raising him as your own. You know by now that the murders of James and Lily and of your parents are connected to the child you see before your eyes. Through a miracle of love, the fact that your sister died to save her son has given him a powerful protection. This protection may live on only if he resides with another who shares her blood and who was deeply loved by her - you yourself."
Petunia closed her eyes.
"As long as you keep this child beneath your roof, as long as you give him a home, you and your family will also be protected. I give you my word, and the word of Albus Dumbledore is not to be taken lightly," Vernon continued. He snorted. "This Dumbly-dor thinks a great deal of himself. How do we know we can trust him? Who is he, anyway?"
"A great and powerful wizard," Petunia answered without thinking. She turned a deep red when her husband glanced at her. "That's what Lily said anyway," she added hastily.
Vernon put his hands on her shoulders and looked straight into her eyes. "Petunia, this is your decision. What should we do?"
It was a while before she could find her voice. "The letter says nothing about loving him," Petunia said. "We are to give him a home for the purpose of protection only. He is here on our charity alone. There is no question that our Dudley will take precedence in everything. He is our son; this boy is nothing more than a burden to us. His parents were freaks of the worst kind who got themselves in trouble with dangerous criminals. They got themselves killed and they got my parents murdered. We won't have any of that under this roof."
Vernon nodded fervently. "Quite right, my dear."
"His mother is dead to me," she continued, her voice quivering only slightly. "From now on, he has nothing to do with her. What I decide today is for our family's safety and well-being alone. He is an albatross, but if it means that we'll be safe from murderous psychopaths, then so be it."
Vernon looked at her expectantly.
Petunia cleared her throat. "The boy will stay."
A/N: Thank you very much to NevillesSoulmate who made the beautiful chapter image. Thank you to everyone at eHPF, especially our leader Jessi who started this collaboration - it's a real privilege to write alongside all of you.