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The Last Letter by Alopex
Chapter 1 : The Last Letter
 
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“Remember my last, Petunia.” All the shiny kitchen surfaces seemed to have absorbed the words that had once rung through the room. Having lain dormant for a year, they were now throwing the echo back at her. Or perhaps the echo was in her head. Either way, she couldn’t seem to escape it. She scrubbed furiously at the already gleaming sink, as if she could wash the echo away, but it thundered all the louder, beating like a pulse in her ears.

His last. Well, she knew the boy would have to come back next summer; no matter what Vernon said, she’d known it even before Dumbledore had reminded them of it tonight. Still, she couldn’t help but entertain a fleeting hope that the boy wouldn’t come back, couldn’t help wishing the boy had never come in the first place. It just wasn’t fair. All she’d wanted was a nice, quiet life, and she’d gotten stuck looking after him.

It was quite late; Dudders had gone on to bed, but she hadn’t been able to sleep. Pausing in her work, she listened and found the house’s stillness broken only by the hum of the refrigerator and the sound of her husband’s footsteps, a sort of muffled stomping emanating from the study. Satisfied that she would not be disturbed, Petunia set down her sponge, stripped off one of her rubber gloves, and fished in her apron pocket for the photograph she’d quietly retrieved a few minutes before.

A red-haired woman smiled out at of the picture, a happy baby cradled in her arms. As Petunia watched, the woman gave a little wave, and the baby kicked and gurgled. For an instant, she allowed herself to return the woman’s smile, but her mouth quickly fell back into its familiar, pinched lines. It was almost terrible to behold, how the woman and baby were frozen forever in the happy moment, in a vital and cruel imitation of life, blissfully unaware of the terrible curse that would rip them apart. She flipped the photograph over and read the neatly-lettered description: Harry James Potter. Born 31 July 1980.

The picture was the only one in the entire house that contained Harry. It had arrived with the last letter she’d ever gotten from Lily. The letter had come in the usual way, no messy, horrid owl flapping about and attracting the neighbors’ notice. At the time, she'd been so overwrought about the letter's appearance that she hadn’t appreciated Lily’s consideration.  In fact, she'd nearly burned the letter without opening it, but in the end, she hadn't been able to resist.

She’d hidden the letter from Vernon, of course, as he hadn’t known about magic then. Moving pictures and all magical things utterly offended his sense of propriety, and she’d never meant for him to know about magic. And so, the letter and photograph had remained hidden at the bottom of her nightstand drawer, like the guilty secrets they were.

Turning the photograph back over, she saw Lily’s bright smile again, and those clear, green eyes seemed to pierce hers with an almost physical pain. When they had been children, everyone had been captivated by Lily’s luminous eyes, so like their father’s. She’d been independent and spirited like him too, while Petunia favored their mother, both in looks and in temperament. But despite their differences, she and Lily had been so close then, best friends in a neighborhood largely devoid of other children their age.

It was that Snape boy who’d ruined it all, who had stolen Lily from her. Though she knew it wasn’t true, Petunia had often felt that Lily might never have gone to that school if she hadn’t met him. For a long time, she had dreamed that Lily would come to her senses and return home. She’d tell Petunia that the magic had all been made up, and they would be friends again, just like they had been before the Snape boy. 

Instead, Lily had returned home with a scruffy boy in tow, a James Potter. Petunia had disapproved of him immediately. For one, he’d gone to that school. For another, he had an annoying habit of ruffling his hair, and he wouldn’t stop telling awful tales about some Lord Voldemort. Yet, he’d been exciting and fun in a way that Vernon would never be, and she’d felt another rather vicious stab of jealousy toward her sister.

The kitchen door banged open. Petunia gave a little screech and snatched up her sponge, letting the photograph flutter into the damp sink.

“Vernon! You have me quite a turn! I thought you were in your study!” She exclaimed, squeezing her sponge tightly enough to send water dripping onto the spotless floor. She watched him warily, her eyes huge in her white face.

Vernon advanced further into the kitchen and stopped near the table. He stood, bouncing on the balls of his feet, breathing heavily. “I was,” he said. “And I’ve decided that Dunderdore was making it all up! Just what you’d expect from one of his kind. With him and the rest of his lot popping in and out of here like my house is a bloody railway station, why can’t that Lord Thing get in to the boy, then? Doesn’t make sense. That so-called protection can’t be worth a damn. I bet it doesn’t exist. The old man’s off his rocker. I tell you, we’d be a lot better off without that boy under this roof!” Vernon jabbed his finger toward the ceiling for emphasis.

The echo pulsed in her again: “Remember my last, Petunia.”

“It isn’t made up. He can’t get in because of the boy,” Petunia replied faintly, sinking into a chair.

“He can’t get in . . . of course he can get in! All the rest of that lot has! In and out like they own the place, sending ruddy owls every five minutes! See? No protection!”

“That’s because they weren’t trying to hurt the boy,” Petunia explained wearily, for what felt like the hundredth time.

“I never gave anyone permission to put bloody enchantments on my house! You see, Petunia? You see how dangerous these wizards are? No respect for private property, just come and do what they please, and never mind if I can’t do a bloody thing about it! Giving people tails, blowing up houses, giving people bruises with sodding bouncing glasses!” Vernon’s eyes bulged dangerously as he pointed at the side of his head. “I won’t have it, I tell you!”

“Don’t be silly, Vernon. It was all in the letter we got when the boy showed up on our doorstep, just like Dumbledore said. You read it. The enchantments are on the house. They protect us as well as the boy, so long as we’re all here. Think of Dudders. You remember last summer? Do you want those dementor things coming after him again just because you decided to break the enchantments?”

“No, of course not! But if that cock-and-bull story is true, and I’m not saying it is, then we are in serious danger because of that boy, and I intend to do something about it! Here! What do you think of that?” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a bright square of glossy paper which he banged down on the table. Petunia stripped off her other glove and pulled the paper toward her.

“Aaron Anderson’s Alarms. Guaranteed to bungle burglaries, curb crime, thwart thieves, and keep your family safe,” she read out.

“Yes, they’ve just put out a new alarm system. Supposed to be the best in the country. With all the danger the boy has brought down on our heads, we need to be protected,” he said with a maddening air of self-satisfaction.

“But Vernon, we have a burglar alarm already,” Petunia protested.

“Ah, but it isn’t number one in the country, now is it? I figure with this system, if it doesn’t keep that Lord Thing out, at least I’ll have enough warning to grab my golf club and give him a good crack over the—”

“Voldemort,” Petunia interrupted. The echo seemed to be pulsing more insistently than ever, and she pinched the bridge of her nose. “Lord Voldemort.”

He glared at her, his mustache rippling indignantly. “If the sodding alarm doesn’t frighten him off, I’ll give Lord Voldemort a good, solid whack with my six iron,” Vernon spat nastily.

“It’s no use,” said Petunia, looking up again. “You don’t understand about magic, Vernon. An alarm system won’t keep him out, no matter if it’s the best or not. The boy’s parents had the top security they could, and he still got in. Those magic enchantments will keep out a wizard better than any alarm system ever could. The boy has to come back next summer.”

“But you see what danger we’re in because of him? Remember the demented thingies?” Vernon pursued with a shrewd gleam in his little eyes. Petunia didn’t answer.

He continued, “Kick him to the curb and good riddance, I say! Those enchantments will end in another year anyway, right? Where will that leave us? What will we do then, Petunia?”

“I don’t know. But a new burglar alarm won’t change anything.” Petunia rose and returned to the sink, waiting with her back turned until she heard Vernon leave the room.

She reached down and carefully peeled the photograph off the bottom of the sink. The water had caused the inscription on the back to smudge a little, and Lily’s face was oddly blurred and distorted. This time, the green eyes that bore into hers were her baby nephew’s. Seeing her sister’s eyes in the boy’s face every day had always been like an indictment of her failure to respond to Lily’s last letter, her failure to send the picture of Dudley that Lily had asked for. Those eyes had served as a constant reminder to her of everything she’d wanted but couldn’t have.

And now, after so many years of wishing she’d never laid eyes on the boy, of wishing she’d wake up to find it was all a dream, and of hoping he’d simply vanish as if he’d never been . . . now that she knew she’d be seeing the boy only once more, she found the prospect frightening. He would take away with him the last reminder of that strange world she’d once longed to be a part of, but he’d also take away the barrier that kept it at bay. Voldemort. She shuddered. With James Potter’s stories running through her mind, the back of her neck prickled, and she suddenly felt watched.

Lost in her musings, she hadn’t been aware of the gradually increasing temperature in the room. Now she felt it like warm honey spreading through her, causing the prickles to recede, and she was surprised to notice that the kitchen was bathed in a silvery light. She turned away from the sink again. To her astonishment, a peculiar-looking, ethereal silver bird with a long tail was hovering above the table. As she watched, a voice emanated from the bird, though its beak didn’t move at all. “Don’t worry, Petunia,” it said. “You’ll be protected.”






"Remember my last, Petunia."  →  The text of the Howler Dumbledore sent Petunia in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  These are not my words; they belong to JK Rowling, as do all the characters mentioned above.




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