The Sugar Quill
Author: Szandara (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Meet Petunia  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Summary: in the first chapter of OotP, we caught a glimpse of a different Petunia

Meet Petunia

 

By Szandara

 

A Summer-After-Fifth-Year Story, Featuring Revelations, Correspondence Old and New, Fried Eggs, Flashbacks, and a Rather Large Plot Bunny.

 

 

 

Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his universe, and any and all profits they may generate, belong to J.K.  Rowling, their creator.   I’m just speculating about the bits she hasn’t written down and shared with us.  No fame or money in it for me, at best I’m hoping for feedback from readers.  Thanks!

 

 

 

Dear Hermione,

 

So far, so good.  I've been back with the Dursleys a week and it looks like they've decided to leave me alone.   They don't actually talk to me, but they haven't yelled at me or made me do a lot of chores, either.   I'm still cooking breakfast, though—after the third day I decided I was much better at it than Aunt Petunia.   I need to write to Ron's mum and dad and thank them for that whole thing at the train station, it really made a difference.

 

It helps to finally understand why I'm stuck here, and to know what's going on.  And I'm getting the Daily Prophet, which is good.  But I'm still feeling awful about Sirius.  I spend way too much time lying in bed thinking about him, about the times we had together—not that there were very many of them—and all the things I never got to ask him.  It's NOT FAIR.   But fair has never been a big factor in my life anyway, so I guess I should know by now not to expect it.   It's funny, what's really bothering me most is I never got to talk to him about my mum and dad.  Maybe I'll get a chance to talk to Remus someday, if he doesn't die first.  Sorry, I know I'm being morbid.  

 

Maybe it would be better if I was doing chores, at least I'd have something to think about other than who's going to die next.  Sorry.  I guess I'll go do some yard work or something.  Do me a favor and don't show this letter to anybody, ok? I hate it when everybody's worrying about me, and I really am all right.  I can't help thinking about this stuff, though, and I thought maybe you'd understand, because you seem to know about feelings and stuff (at least you could figure out what was going on with Cho, when I had no clue!)

 

Please write back.  Have a good summer.

 

Harry

 

He leaned out the window, watching Hedwig fly away.  

 

 

After mowing the grass and weeding all the flowerbeds, Harry was hot, sweaty, and hopeful that he might actually manage to sleep that night.  He carefully removed his muddy trainers before entering the kitchen, which was spotless as usual, and was drawing a glass of water from the tap when he heard the kitchen door swing behind him.  Conditioned by years of abuse, he stiffened.  Although Uncle Vernon had not spoken a word to him since he came home, he had spent his life with the Dursleys in a state of permanent flinch, expecting shouted commands, nasty comments, or blows from Dudley.  That expectation had rarely been disappointed. 

 

But his tumultuous departure from Privet Drive the previous summer had shifted the balance.  His Aunt Petunia had shown that she knew more about the wizarding world than she had ever said, and had insisted on letting him stay when Uncle Vernon wanted to throw him out.  He turned to see her watching him, a curious look on her face.  It wasn't her usual dislike, or anger.  It was as if she were about to face a Hungarian Horntail and was trying to gather, or at least pretend, courage.

 

“Harry.” She paused.   She rarely had used his name when he was growing up, generally referring to him as “Boy.” “Harry, I wanted to....sit down, would you?”

``

Harry checked the seat of his jeans for mud before sitting at one of the gleaming table.  Petunia adjusted the plastic flower arrangement so that it was perfectly centered, folded her hands, and looked at him, seeming to make up her mind.

 

“Harry, I wanted to thank you.”

 

That was a surprise.  “Oh, the, um, the garden? No problem, I just needed something to do—”

 

“No, not the garden!” That sounded more like her usual snappish tone.  Petunia took a deep breath.  “No, for last summer—for saving Dudley's life.”

 

That was an even bigger surprise.  He had expected that if the subject ever came up, he would be berated for endangering Dudley by bringing him into contact with that horrible magic.  At best, he had thought, they would pretend it had never happened.  But to have one of the Dursleys recognize what he had done, and thank him? He'd have bet Galleons to garbage that would never happen.

 

“Oh.  Yeah.   Well, I couldn't—I wouldn't have left him there for them.”  He wasn't sure what to say, since 'you're welcome' didn't seem quite the thing.  He hadn't had this awkward a conversation since the Three Broomsticks with Cho.   “Um, so yeah, that's ok—I guess I'll go shower now...”

 

“Sit,” his aunt barked.   Then Petunia sighed, shook her head.  “I mean, please...this is hard for me.  But Vernon's at work and Dudley's out with his little friends and I have to...I need to...” She took a deep breath.  “Apologize.”

 

It was a good thing he'd followed her instructions to sit. 

 

Petunia got up from the table, busying herself at the sink.  Harry was too dumbfounded to move.   She was making tea, he noted.   Again, as it had last summer while owls swooped in and out of this very room, it struck him that this was his mother's sister.  They had grown up together.

 

“Aunt Petunia?”  She stilled, but did not turn to look at him.  “Could you...tell me about my mother?” 

 

Her body stiffened, and he knew he'd gone too far.  She turned, slowly, and he braced himself for her anger.  He wasn't going to get anything he needed from her, he should have known better.   But her voice was so quiet he could barely hear it.

 

“I loved Lily.”  Were those tears in her eyes?  “And I hated magic, because it took her away from me, and then it killed her.  I hated James Potter, too.  He did the same thing! First he took my sister away from me, and then he got her killed! And all that was left was you, and you look just like him!” By the time she finished the sentence, her voice had risen to a shriek.

 

The kettle whistled in response, but Petunia stood still, hands over her face, her shoulders shaking.   Harry had no idea what to do with a crying woman, but he could handle a teakettle, so he finished making tea while Petunia took a tissue from the pink plastic dispenser on the counter and wiped her eyes.  Harry placed her cup on the table—milk, one sugar, the way she liked it.  

 

“Thanks.” She tried to smile, failed.  “I seem to be saying that rather a lot, today.  Must seem a bit late to you.”  She sat.  “Well, don't just stand there, get yourself a cup and sit down!” The usual sharp, snappish Petunia kept breaking through her attempts to treat him like a person.  Weirdly, Harry found this reassuring.  It seemed more likely that this was really his aunt and not someone using Polyjuice Potion in some elaborate plot against him.

 

“As I said, this isn't easy for me.  But while you were off at school, well, I had a hard year.” 

 

'Let's compare, I bet mine was worse,' Harry thought sarcastically. 

 

“After you were gone, I couldn't stop thinking about my sister.  I even pulled all her old letters down from the attic and read them again.  I had to hide them from Vernon.”

 

“You have letters from my mum? You never told me!” Harry was starting to feel angry again, but he managed to calm himself.  He knew that if he shouted at Petunia he would never learn what she could tell him.

 

“Well, of course not!  They were all about magic, and that school, and I was trying to protect you from all that!!”  Petunia's hands shook as she put her teacup down.   “And Vernon thinks I destroyed them all.   He's so afraid of anything to do with magic.   And those people at the train station didn't help, I can tell you!”

 

“They care about me,” Harry said quietly. 

 

Petunia stared at him.  “Do you have any idea how hard it was to convince Vernon to keep you? I cared about you enough to risk my marriage.  Vernon almost left me when I insisted on letting you stay! If it hadn't been for Dudley, he would have been gone.  But I gave you a home! I kept you safe from—from THEM!”

 

Harry was boiling with a decade's worth of things to say.  It wasn't a home, it was a cupboard under the stairs and Dudley's old clothes, and I wouldn't have gotten that much if you hadn't been worried about what the neighbors would say.  But before he could speak, her next words silenced him.

 

“I loved Lily,” she whispered.  “But she was gone, and I had to live with Vernon.  He's—he has very strong opinions.  He said if you were going to stay, he would make the rules, and there would be no magic in this house.  And he—we—we thought that if you never knew about it, about your parents—then we'd be safe.” She took a sip of tea, her eyes not meeting Harry's.  “I had to go along with him, or he'd have sent you to an orphanage.  And that old man told me you'd be killed if you left us, that a powerful...” She paused.

 

“Wizard,” supplied Harry.  “Professor Dumbledore—that's the old man's name, by the way—says fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.  Your sister was a witch, I am a wizard, and a very powerful wizard has been trying to kill me since I was a baby.” 

 

“Yes...” whispered Petunia.  “I know more than you think about all that magical rubbish, Lily used to tell me about it.  Lily loved it, and I was so jealous, I didn't know why she was a witch and I was just...ordinary.  The only person who ever thought I was anything special was your uncle, and he hated it, so I stopped talking about it.”

 

The front door slammed, and Petunia jumped.   “MUM!” Dudley's voice shouted from the hallway.   His voice sounded muffled, which was explained when he entered the kitchen with blood streaming from his nose, staining his white t—shirt.

 

“Dudders!! What happened!” Harry grinned at Dudley while Petunia had her back to them, wetting a cloth at the sink.   He hoped he knew what had happened—one of Dudley's punching bags had gotten a good shot at him. 

 

“Fell,” Dudley muttered, holding the wet washcloth to his nose, while his mother fluttered around him.  Harry, knowing their conversation was over, silently began clearing away the tea things, then went upstairs to shower.  He had plenty to think about.

 

 

Petunia heard the door open, and felt a sense of dread.  She lay very still in bed, wishing she could disappear.  The shouting began, as it always did when Dad got home this late, this drunk.  I ought to be used to this by now, thought Petunia, I'm fourteen.  Four more years and I'll be done with school, I can get a job and get out of this house.  I wish I could have gone away to school, but Mum can't manage.   Without me, this madhouse would be even...

 

Her door opened just a crack, and the shouting voices were clearer for a moment—”You drunken fool, I don't know why I EVER—” and then it closed and Lily slipped in next to her. 

 

“Can I stay, Pet? They've started again, and I can never sleep when they're yelling.” Petunia moved over to make room for her nine—year—old sister.  She felt a need to protect her, even though Lily never seemed afraid of anything. 

 

“Sure thing, Lilliput.” It wasn't quite true, what Lily had said.  Even with her parents at their noisiest, with dishes crashing and her father stumbling against the stairs, she could drift off to sleep in the safe enclosure of her sister's arms.  It was Petunia who lay awake.  If I ever get married, she thought, it'll be someone reliable and steady.  He'll have a real job and wear a suit, and won't drink up all the money.   I'll have a nice normal house with a lovely garden.   My life won't be out of control like Mum's.   As she always did when her parents were fighting, she began decorating her imaginary house, designing flowerbeds and choosing curtains. 

 

But next morning, Mum was smiling, although a cheap blue glass vase that had sat upon the mantel was gone, Petunia noticed.  She made a mental note to hoover the lounge after school, as there were sure to be shards of glass in the carpet.   She'd never understand how after all these years, her mum could still forgive her dad, still be taken in by his charm.  Sure, he was a good dancer, and when he was in a good mood no one could be more fun.  But Petunia also knew how unreliable he was.  Dad sincerely meant every promise he made, but kept very few of them.   In the past few years, she'd begun finding his tendency to break into song in public more embarrassing than amusing.   He'd been an actor, and a singing waiter, and now seemed to drift from job to job, with lengthy breaks between, mostly spent in pubs.  Lily could still be taken in by his smiles and songs, his occasional extravagant gifts, but she was a child, quick to forget.  Mum was dreamy and romantic, reading novels half the day, good at making up stories but useless at fixing Petunia's school uniform or getting anywhere on time.   There were times when “don't fret, it'll all work itself out, love” just wasn't enough of an answer any more.  Petunia had begun to see herself as very different from her parents, stronger and more practical, more in touch with the real world. 

 

“Margaret, you are absolutely my second-best friend, but my big sister Petunia will always be my best friend.” Petunia was at the bedroom door to tell Lily it was time to send her young guest home.  Dinner wouldn't stretch to a fourth person tonight.  Overhearing her sister’s last sentence, she smiled.  Lily was the pretty one, the clever one, but Petunia was the practical one, the one who held the family together.  She took pride in that.  For a moment, the title of Lily's best friend, coveted by all the ten-year-olds she played with, was Petunia's.  She'd definitely have to come up with something special for Lilliput's eleventh birthday.

 

 

Dear Mum, Dad & Petunia,

 

School is going well.  Professor McGonagall says I have a real talent for transfiguration.  Yesterday, we were turning teacups into turtles, and mine was the only one that didn't have a flower—patterned shell.  My friend Phoenicia says...

 

Petunia put the letter down.   Teacups into turtles! Why in the world would anyone want to do such a ridiculous thing in the first place? But her parents seemed to think it wonderful.  Rereading Lily's letters (written on parchment, a silly affectation) had replaced the telly as their favorite form of entertainment.  They'd barely noticed that she had recovered all the sofa pillows in a lovely floral print.   Now that was a good bit more useful than turning turtles into teacups, or making feathers float in the air, but you wouldn't think it to listen to them!  And what sort of weirdos would name a child Phoenicia?

 

She turned toward the mirror and began brushing her hair, regarding her reflection critically.   She prided herself on facing facts, and she knew her teeth and her chin were both a little on the long side.  Still, Vernon seemed to like her well enough.  She’d been seeing Vernon for only a few months, and it was rather nice having a boyfriend of her own.   Vernon was a bit dull—always going on about his uncle’s drill company and his plans for his career there—and he hadn’t much of a neck, but he was solid and sensible.   He showed up when he said he would.  You always knew what to expect from Vernon.  

 

 

 “Vernon, before the wedding, there’s something I have to tell you.”  Petunia nervously twisted her engagement ring, a tiny but quite correct diamond solitaire.  “About my sister Lily, the one who’s been away at school?

“Art school, isn’t it? Lot of rot, that.   She’d better find a rich husband, if she wants to be mucking about with painting and such.” Vernon snorted.

 

“It’s not an art school.  She’s…well, she’s a witch.”

 

“Well, if you don’t like her, you don’t have to see her.  Once we’re married, we can invite who we like, or not, y’see? Just as well not to have artsy types around the place anyways, we want to have friends who’ll do my career a bit of good.  Not to worry.” He leaned over and placed a small, damp kiss on her cheek.

 

“No, you don’t understand.  It’s not an art school she’s been going to, it’s a magic school.  My sister can do magic.  She’s a witch.” Petunia was sweating, but Vernon let out a laugh.

 

“Ha! Magic! You can’t pull my leg with that foolishness! What, next you’ll be telling me she rides on a broom and wants to turn me into a frog, eh? Now be serious.” He looked at her face and the laughter stopped.  “No, really, Petunia, what’s the matter?”

 

Lily chose that moment to enter the lounge.  “Oh, sorry, am I interrupting? I’ll just go upstairs.”  But her older sister gave her a pleading look, and Vernon laughed. 

“Petunia’s just been pulling my leg with some foolishness about you, Lily.  Says you’re a witch and you can turn me into a frog!” He gave Petunia a fond, indulgent smile.  Petunia looked at Lily. 

 

“I really thought—he ought to know before the wedding, Lily.  Could you———show him something? Something small?” Lily smiled, pulling a thin stick of some sort out of the rather odd cloak she wore.  Vernon sat back, with a smirk.  Let the girls have their little joke, he thought.  Lily was one of those flighty bohemian types he hadn’t much use for, but after their marriage he’d see that Petunia was kept away from her influence. 

 

“Are you quite sure?” Lily asked Petunia.  She nodded, her lips a tight, thin line, her arms crossed over her chest.  Lily shrugged, aimed her wand at an easy chair, and spoke a few words Petunia didn’t quite catch.  The chair seemed to waver, stretching and shrinking at once, and a moment later an oversized blue rabbit stood in its place.

 

Vernon began to laugh.  The rabbit, about the size of a large dog, cantered up to him and began licking his hand, and his laugh went up about an octave, as he scrabbled frantically backward into a corner.  Lily stifled a giggle and turned the rabbit back into a chair, then set up a quick silencing charm so the neighbors wouldn’t be worried by Vernon’s hysterics.  After several minutes of Petunia’s attentions, he was quieter, but remained curled in the corner in a fetal position, whimpering, “Mad…going mad…the only explanation…I’m going mad….losing my bloody marbles…”

 

“You’ve got to do something, Lily!! Please!” Petunia, though calmer, was nearing hysteria herself.   Lily put an arm around her.

 

“Of course I will, Pet.   I know you thought you should tell him, and I do think honesty with one’s husband is usually best, but he can’t handle it, can he? Some Muggles can’t, that’s all.” Petunia glared.  “Sorry, I know you don’t like the word Muggle, but it’s truly not an insult, it’s just faster than saying ‘non—magical person.’  And I have to say, Vernon’s the least magical person I’ve ever met.”  She patted her older sister’s thin shoulder, and Petunia sighed deeply.  “Actually, we’d best wait for James, he’s coming for tea and he’s much better at Obliviate than I am.”

 

“Oblivi——what? What are you going to do to him?” Petunia said, alarmed. 

 

“Don’t worry, Pet! It’ll just take away his memory of this whole afternoon, you telling him, the rabbit, all of it.  He’ll never know that it happened, and you can let him keep thinking I’m an artist.  That way if I do anything that seems unusual to him, you can just call it ‘bohemian,’ and he’ll make that little snorting noise….oh, don’t cry, Pet, it’s going to be all right, I promise.”

 

James, typically, found the whole thing highly amusing, which set Petunia’s teeth firmly on edge, but he helped Vernon to the couch before pointing his wand and saying “obliviate tria hora!”  Vernon was surprised to find he’d fallen asleep for the entire afternoon, and Petunia managed to stiffly thank James for his assistance.  They left almost immediately, and she heard a roar of laughter as she closed the door behind them.  Petunia turned and regarded her fiancé, facing the fact that her marriage would not be built on a foundation of total honesty.

 

 

Dearest Petunia,

 

How are you liking married life? It was a lovely wedding, and I hope you’re not still angry at James—no one could actually see the frog except Vernon, and he did apologize.   I’m so sorry they don’t get on, they got off on the wrong foot and Vernon just seems to be the sort of person who can’t appreciate James’ sense of humour.  James is a bit more fun—loving, like Dad.  

 

Well, enough of me going on about my boyfriend! I would love to visit you sometime soon, when school lets out and I promise I won’t mention Hogwarts or magic in front of your husband!  I’ll pretend to be very sensible, really—I know he thinks I’m flighty, but if you love him, that’s good enough for me, and I do want him to like me.

 

The parchment in Petunia’s hand was faded and cracking at the folds.  Lily had visited a few times at Privet Drive, but she and Vernon had never managed to be more than polite to one another.   And in drawing closer to Vernon, she’d pulled away from Lily.  Life with Vernon, she’d found, was easier if you agreed with him, or let him think you did.

 

 

A few years later, Lily and James were married in a quiet registry ceremony, followed by a restaurant dinner with her parents, Petunia and Vernon.   Petunia declined to attend the far larger and more festive reception at James' family estate, since she clearly couldn't bring Vernon, and one didn't, after all, go to weddings without one's husband.  Besides, who would want to be around all those freaky types? Anything at all might happen. 

 

She couldn't always avoid visiting her own parents, whose haphazard style had become increasingly distasteful to her.   Still, there was a certain satisfaction in comparing her brand—new semi—detached home to their messy London flat.  Privet Drive never had slovenly piles of books and papers on the floor or unwashed glasses and plates in the sink.  Lily seemed to be there frequently, never noticing the mess, helping her mother in the kitchen, showing off by setting the plates to wash themselves with a wave of her wand.   Too lazy to do the real work of washing up, Petunia thought privately.  She was glad to see that Lily was so happy, though.  While James' family were all wizarding weirdos, at least they had money, and he was a generous husband, she noted with approval.  Lily seemed to do as she liked, never having to ask him before she spent money, even on gifts to make her parents' lives more comfortable.  Vernon felt that people ought to “pull their own weight” and since he was the wage—earner, he had the final say on their spending, as was only proper, if occasionally frustrating.  But she was welcome to come and cook her mum and dad a good, nutritious meal and clean their flat when Vernon was off on a business trip.

 

Her mum was at the grocer's and she was in the kitchen one day, scrubbing the burners on the cooker, when she heard the flat door open.  Lily's voice was high and tense, James’ was low and soothing, and she couldn't help listening.

 

“We'll just leave a note for your mum and be off to St.  Mungo's, all right, love?  He'll be okay, I promise.”  The sofa springs creaked.

 

“Poor Remus—I can't imagine! Attacked by Dementors? How did they get away from Azkaban? Or was he there?” Lily was weeping.  Who was Remus, Petunia wondered? And Azkaban, and dementos?

 

“That's what worries me.  They were nowhere near Azkaban—it was a raid on some suspected Death Eaters in Yorkshire.  Sirius asked Remus to come along as backup, because he wasn't sure he could trust Wilkins...so he was lurking in the forest, ready to step in if Sirius signaled him.”  James sighed.  Petunia imagined he was running his hand through his perpetually messy hair, which seemed to be a habit with him.  “Anyway, it was only one Dementor, but it came up behind him and Remus couldn't seem to manage a Patronus.  Of course Sirius forgot that Sunday was the full moon, so Remus was still pretty worn out, and Remus didn't say anything...idiots, both of them.  But he managed a shout, and Wilkins shot off his Patronus—he does a lovely winged horse—and got rid of it.”

 

Lily's voice was still thick with tears, but she was clearly trying to sound cheerful.  “At least we know about Wilkins now, that's got to be a relief to Sirius.  Hard enough being an Auror without even knowing if your partner's a Death Eater...but I'm terrified, James.  I wouldn't say this to anyone but you, but what if we don't....”

 

“We'll win, Lily.  We have to.” James sounded confident and determined.  “You don't have to come to St.  Mungo's, love, I know you've been up all night.  Frankly, you're in no shape to Apparate, and I don't know that Remus will be up for too many visitors anyway.”

 

“I suppose you're right.  And mum's expecting me.  I'll stay here and have a nice cup of tea and I'll see you at home tonight.  Please be careful, love.” The last sentence had a strained tone; Petunia knew her sister well enough to hear fear and exhaustion under the words.   She waited through a longish silence, which probably meant snogging, and then the door closing behind her brother-in-law.

 

When she entered the room with a pot of tea, Lily was pacing tensely.  She turned, and uttered a brief shriek of surprise upon seeing Petunia.  

 

“Oh! Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know you were here!”

 

“Obviously.” She put down the teapot.  While her response was curt, Petunia could see the little sister she'd always tried to protect, and for the first time in several years, she reached out her arms and Lily ran into them for a hug.  The embrace was familiar and Petunia realized she'd missed her sister, or maybe just the days when her sister had needed her and looked up to her. 

 

“So sit down, have a cup of tea, and tell me what's the matter, Lilliput.”

 

 

Harry stared out of his bedroom window, unconsciously stroking the cardboard box on his lap.   There was only one other lit window on Privet Drive, the night was still and a few ragged clouds concealed the half—moon.   It had been a very odd week.  It still seemed surreal that his aunt was talking to him like a person, at least when they were alone in the house.  She was terse but polite when Uncle Vernon was around, but different when he was at work, as if she was trying to be kind, but didn't quite know how.   At least she wasn't giving him the fawning, baby-talk treatment that Dudley received, which Harry had envied until he'd gotten old enough to find it nauseating. 

 

Late that afternoon, she'd actually knocked at the door of his room, and while she'd given Hedwig's cage a disgusted glance, she'd managed not to make her usual remark about “that filthy bird.” Instead, she'd held out the box in her arms. 

 

“Harry...I thought you'd like to read these.   They're the letters Lily—your mum, I mean—sent me from school.”  She put the box on the bed beside him.  “Vernon's got a business meeting tonight, so I'm taking Dudley out for pizza.   There's leftovers in the fridge.  Don't make a mess.” She turned to leave.

 

“Thanks, Aunt Petunia.” He hadn't eaten.   He had spent the past seven hours reading and re-reading the pile of letters in the box.  He knew his mum's handwriting now.  Knew she'd loved transfiguration, befriended a house-elf named Zimpa, had a best friend named Phoenicia who had a Muggle mum and a wizard for a dad.  He knew about Lily's two-week stay in the infirmary wing after a potions accident, the fashion for purple hair in her third year, and her secret crush on a cute, popular boy named James.

 

He pulled the topmost letter from the pile and re—read it, for the fifth or maybe the fifteenth time.

 

Dear Petunia,

 

I'm so mixed up! I thought maybe since you're older you'd know more about boys and you could help me figure out what I'm feeling.  Remember I told you about the boy I liked, James? What I don't understand is how I can still like him when he can be such a complete git and a bully.   When I talk to him alone, in the library or the common room, he seems like such a nice person, but he's got this nasty streak.   Not to me, I mean—but there's this other boy he doesn't get on with, and they're always hexing each other and playing tricks on each other.   I don't know who started it, but it's been going on for years now.  Anyway, today I saw James do something really awful to him, he was just plain mean, and I told him off.  Now he'll never like me.  And I know I shouldn't want him to, but I do.

 

How can someone be so nice and so awful at the same time??  I know there's a good person underneath all that, I've seen him be really kind too.  Severus—that's the other boy—just seems to bring out the worst in him.  He's not very nice (Severus), he's really rude and sarcastic most of the time, and he and James are always competing for the best marks.  But Severus isn't a bad person either, really.  We've actually talked once or twice, and I think he's just defensive because he used to be rich and now he isn't, and there are all these awful rumors about him and his family.  So he always thinks everyone's out to get him.  And I have to admit, when it's James, he's right. 

 

James just has always had it easy.  His family's rich, he's smart, he's a good athlete, he gets away with things that anyone else would get into trouble for, why wouldn't he be arrogant? I just wish he understood that it's how you treat people that matters, not whether you win at sports or get the top marks or have expensive clothes.  Well, that's what matters to me anyway—lots of people think he's wonderful.  Maybe he has to have something awful happen before he gets it, I don't know.   But then, Severus has had awful things happen to him (his dad died a few years ago) and it hasn't done his personality much good. 

 

I guess what I'm asking is, can people change? I suppose he's the sort of person who could go two ways—he could turn into the good person I've seen, or he could let his mean, bullying side take over.   But then that's true of all of us, right? I really want him to be good, because I liked him, and I thought he liked me too.  But I can't be in love with a bully.  I won't. 

 

Anyway—write back and tell me all about you & Vernon.   And don't show this letter to mum & dad, okay?  I love you, Pet.

 

Your Lilliput

 

Can people change?  His mother's question stayed with him, and he found himself thinking not of his father, nor of Snape, but of Aunt Petunia.  The stern, snappish figure of his childhood had called his mother Lilliput.  Had been called Pet.  Had given him this box of letters.  He shook his head.  Snape had turned out a bully.  And his dad...he rummaged in the box for another letter.

 

Dearest Pet,

 

Congratulations!  I'm so happy for you! I don't feel like I got to know Vernon all that well when we met, but I'm sure we'll be great friends once you're married.

 

Harry snorted.

 

I guess romance is in the air.  Remember that boy I told you about? Well, James and I wound up sitting by the fire the other night in the common room.  He'd just lost a sports match and was feeling down about it.

 

Harry had noticed that after the first year, Lily only talked about magic, her lessons, and Quidditch in letters to her parents.  She kept details of the wizarding world to a minimum when she wrote to Petunia. 

 

Well, we wound up talking for hours and being really honest with each other.  He's not as arrogant as he seems, when you get him away from his friends, and he really listened to me.   I told him that I couldn't respect a bully, and he seemed really taken aback, like he wasn't used to being criticized.  He said—and these are his exact words “I want to earn your respect, Lily.” I think that with things that are going on—well, it's too complicated to explain, but everyone around here is taking life more seriously.  We'll all be graduating in just a year and we have to decide about our futures, nothing is just fun & games any more.

 

Well, here I'm getting all earnest again and what I really wanted to tell you was that James and I had our first kiss! (and our second and third, but then I had to send him off to his dormitory!) He's very good-looking, but I think he's also turning into the sort of person I might really love.  I hope so. 

 

Do write and tell me more about Vernon.  Are you planning to tell him about Hogwarts and all ? I'll help explain it if you like.   If he's to be part of the family he should be in on all the family secrets!

 

Love and hugs,

 

Lilliput

 

 

Harry slept through breakfast the next morning, and the house was quiet when he went downstairs to the kitchen.   Petunia was at the table with a gardening magazine.  She looked up.

 

“Good morning, Harry.”

 

“Morning,” he yawned.   He began to fix himself some breakfast.  “Want an egg while I'm at it?” Strangely, he felt almost comfortable with her. 

 

“No, no, I've eaten already.” She put down the magazine.  “I noticed your light was still on when I came in last night.”

 

“Yeah, sorry.  I was reading....I fell asleep with it on.” He paused, egg poised over the pan.  “Thanks for letting me read them.  I've always wondered what my mum and dad were like.”

 

“I never much liked your father, to tell the truth.  He always seemed to be laughing at me.  He was the sort who never took anything seriously.   But your mum said he did, when it counted.  She told me she loved his joking, he could always put her in a good mood when she was worried or upset.   And she was very worried, toward the end of her….  She said there was a war going on, with an evil wizard, and it was very dangerous!  Well, of course I had a hard time believing her.  I mean, no one in the normal world knew about it, it just seemed ludicrous to me.  An evil wizard running around Britain killing people...  So I brushed it off.”

 

Harry stayed at the stove.  She was more likely to talk like this, he had found, if he wasn't actually looking at her. 

 

“She phoned me, just after you were born, and told me James' job had gotten a lot more dangerous, and they were going into hiding.  I could tell she was afraid, and I was afraid too.  I didn't want any wizards coming looking for her at my house, after all.  I was pregnant with Dudley, then.” Petunia stood.  “And then one night, there you were on the doorstep, with a letter, and she was dead.”  There was a tremble in her voice, as if she was trying not to cry.

 

“She'd made me promise, to look after you.  Vernon was furious.  But there was a letter from that old Mr.  Dumberman...”

 

“Dumbledore,” said Harry, turning off the heat under his eggs. 

 

“It was on parchment, and it said your parents were dead and you were in mortal peril unless we kept you.  You can imagine Vernon’s reaction.   In the end, Mr.  Dumbledore had to come to the house and explain it all to him, and he wasn’t at all happy.”

 

“I know,” Harry responded.  “He’s terrified of magic.   I thought you were too.” He scraped the eggs onto a plate and sat at the table.  

 

Petunia looked at him.  Halfway to being a man, she thought, regarding his height, the width of his shoulders.  She’d paid more attention to him this summer, trying to understand him.  She’d put so much energy into ignoring him when he was a boy, because that was what Vernon wanted.  She’d never really let herself see her sister’s son, only an intruder with a frightening, dangerous potential to disturb the happy surface of her life.

 

“You’ve got to understand, Harry.  I have never, ever spoken about Lily to anyone.  I made myself forget about her.  I didn’t let myself miss her and I didn’t let myself mourn her.  I’ve always had a lot of self-discipline.   And this past year—I simply couldn’t do it any longer.  Maybe it was because of Dudley, that he had to see those horrid creatures and I almost lost him too.  But I kept DREAMING of her and I couldn’t STOP!” She put her head down.

 

“Yeah, I know what that’s like,” Harry said softly. 

 

She lifted her head and looked at him.  Her hair was mussed, her eye makeup smudged.  She looked younger, softer than he’d ever imagined she could. 

 

“I’ve always let Vernon have his way.  Always done things his way.  Well, you know what he’s like.” Harry nodded, wondering if she could see the hate he felt.  He’d realized, while reading the letters, why he’d been so angry about his dad being cruel to Snape.  It was the sort of thing Uncle Vernon would have done.   “I wanted a nice house, and a peaceful life, and to get that I had to give in to Vernon.  I had to be what he wanted me to be.  And he didn’t want me to like you, because he was afraid of you.”

 

“You didn’t have to.” Harry was angry again, as he’d been so often the past year.  Suddenly, he didn’t want to let Aunt Petunia off the hook.   All those years in the cupboard, all those years of being treated like dirt while Dudley was pampered and coddled… “You had a choice.  You could have stood up to him, you could have treated me like a person.  You’re doing it now!  Why couldn’t you have done it then, when it mattered!”

 

“Because I’m afraid of him, just like he’s afraid of you!!” shouted Petunia.  “I’ve always been terrified of his rages, and terrified of being alone, and so I let him run me! I couldn’t stand up to him and I couldn’t leave him! I’m as trapped as you were, except you got away to that school! Just like she did!” 

 

They were both standing now, tense with emotion, shocked by the unprecedented honesty of their exchange.   Harry looked down at his plate of half-eaten eggs. 

 

“Professor Dumbledore once told me, it’s what we choose that makes us who we are.   You chose to stay with Uncle Vernon and do what he wanted you to do.  And he chose to be a bully.   My mum said she couldn’t respect a bully.  Well, I can’t either.” He turned to leave the room, and Petunia sank down in her chair, her head in her hands.

 

 

Dear Hermione,

 

This summer has been, without a doubt, the weirdest of my life.  Not only has Aunt Petunia actually thanked me for saving Dudley from the dementors last year, she’s told me loads of stuff about my mum and dad.   No, really.  It’s like Voldemort suddenly started, I don’t know, volunteering as a healer at St.  Mungo’s or something.

 

I’ve always hated her and Uncle Vernon, and I’ve been afraid of them, but I never really saw them as people before now.  Well, at least her.  He’s still a fat bullying git with all the sense of Neville’s toad.  But she’s been really different.  It’s a bizarre feeling, sometimes I’m almost sorry for her.   I don’t think she ever tried to see me as a person before, either.  I just reminded her of things that scared her or made her unhappy. 

 

I guess what I’m asking is, can people change?

 

Hedwig hooted softly in his ear, and he put down his quill to give her an owl treat.   The full moon hung outside his window, and he thought sadly of Remus, locked in the basement of Grimmauld Place.  He hoped Snape was still making the wolfsbane potion for him.   That brought another thought to mind, and he resumed writing.

 

I guess Dumbledore thinks so.  After all, he trusts Snape, and Snape used to be a Death Eater.  Maybe being around Dumbledore helps Snape stay on the right side, and being around Uncle Vernon made it easy for Aunt Petunia to be so horrible.  Maybe that’s why so many Slytherins are Death Eaters—if everyone around you thinks it’s the thing to do… Anyway, I’m glad I have you & Ron for friends.  I feel like if we stick together, it’ll all turn out ok. 

 

Show this letter to Ron, if you see him before I do.  Hope to see you later on this summer.

 

Harry

 

 

//
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