The Sugar Quill
Author: Antonia East (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Sacred to the Memory  Chapter: 2. Petunia
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May 1982

May 1982

 

Petunia hated trains. Public transport was so, well, public. Just about anyone could walk into your carriage and sit near you. And the sorts of people that used them! On the two hour journey Petunia had been subjected to the company of a teenage girl who spent most of the time fishing about in a grubby make-up bag, an unkempt man in a dubious coat who was absorbed by what appeared to be a highly amusing book - his sudden bouts of laughter had startled both Dudley and Harry into crying - and a middle-aged mother who had given up attempting to discipline her uncontrollable, rampaging squall of children, and whose magazine (glossily detailing the sumptuous wedding of a soap star) Petunia had surreptitiously tried to read over her shoulder. Nor was Petunia quite sure why she had chosen to spend the beautiful May day cooped up in a train with two toddlers, especially when she could have been gardening under the kitchen window listening to Mr and Mrs Ramsay next door, who had taken to having the most enthralling arguments.

 

Nevertheless, once Vernon was safely off to work, Petunia had packed Dudley and Harry into their double pushchair and caught a taxi to the station. Almost three hours later they reached the place where she’d never been before, but which had been increasingly calling to her. She frowned as she trundled the buggy through the gates; she’d had to ask directions from the most appalling old busy-body at the Post Office who had looked at Harry very curiously, much to Petunia’s displeasure. Inspecting the quiet, green churchyard, she headed briskly to a corner where the stones were unweathered and stopped beside a certain grave. She was here. It was true, then. The proof was before her, black and white, engraved into marble, buried but not hidden in the earth. It was the first time she’d seen the place. They hadn’t wanted to mix with ‘them’ at the funeral. She read the inscription on the gravestone and sniffed. Put up by one of ‘their lot,’ no doubt. She scanned it again for any sign of abnormality. She was still unsure as to what she was doing here. She knew she didn’t want to be here and that Vernon would be perplexed and annoyed if he found out that she’d come. And yet, here she was. Dudley, thankfully, was asleep. She gazed lovingly at her blonde, perfectly spherical two-year-old son. Her eyes slid to Harry and met, with a shock, Lily’s unblinking gaze staring back at her. She wished the boy didn’t have her sister’s blasted eyes. She turned back to the pale stone.

 

Lily’s eyes were lit up with excitement. The small figure was bouncing on the kitchen’s tiled floor. At each spring into the air, her hair fanned gloriously out like the sun’s rays, only to flop about her face when she hit the ground. On top of her head, the fringe that was growing out was tied in a top-knot, which bobbed up and down like a guttering flame as she jumped. It was Lily’s fifth birthday. The table was laid, and, at one end, gaudy paper and mysterious shapes formed an enticing pile of brightly-wrapped parcels.

 

“Come on, Lily, sit down and eat your breakfast, then you can open some presents,” Mrs Evans tried to persuade her daughter.

 

“Don’t want any breakfast!” Lily giggled, mid-bounce.

 

Already seated at the table, Petunia tutted loftily.

 

“Come on, birthday girl!” Mr Evans cajoled, scooping Lily up and spinning her in his arms while she giggled madly, before plonking her down on her chair, where she started munching the honey sandwich that had been put on her plate.

 

“That’s right, eat your breakfast, and you’ll grow tall and strong.”

 

Lily paused.

 

“Like Petunia?” She pronounced her sister’s name properly, enunciating all the syllables.

 

“Just like Petunia.”

 

Petunia, meanwhile, had finished her bowl of cereal and had slid from her seat to examine the presents. A scowl was screwing up her face.

 

“What’s the matter with you, Miss Grumpyknickers?” Mr Evans asked his elder daughter.

 

“Lily’s got three more presents than I did.” Petunia had celebrated her seventh birthday in February, three months before.

 

Mr and Mrs Evans exchanged pained glances.

 

“Darling, yours were bigger,” Mrs Evans said. “Your bicycle was a big present. Lily’s got three little ones instead.”

 

Petunia pouted.

 

“But it’s not fair; Mrs Barnsley’s given Lily a present. She didn’t give me one.”

 

“Petunia, Mrs Barnsley hadn’t come to live next door when it was your birthday,” Mr Evans said.

 

“But Lily still got more presents,” Petunia moaned. Her lips began to quiver.

Mrs Evans slipped out of the room.

 

At the table, Lily stopped eating.

 

“Presents now?” she asked. Mr Evans eyed Lily’s half-eaten breakfast.

 

“Not till you’ve finished your sandwich, poppet.” He turned back to Petunia.

 

“All gone,” said Lily, laughing. Mr Evans turned around again.

 

“Now, Lily, I…” He took in the empty plate. He scanned the table, and then checked the floor beneath Lily’s chair.

 

“Lily, where’s your sandwich?”

 

“Gone!”

 

Mr Evans searched Lily’s person for the remains of the food, but his small daughter was right; the sandwich had indeed gone.

 

“All right then, Lily, when Mummy comes in you can open your presents.”

 

Petunia’s frown grew.

 

The door opened, and Lily rushed to her mother, squealing. Mrs Evans held something behind her back.

 

“For me?” Lily was dancing about.

 

“No, this is for my special big girl.” Mrs Evans handed a present to Petunia with a flourish. “Happy Unbirthday!”

 

Petunia reached out for her present, as Lily was called over to her father to begin unwrapping her pile of gifts. She unwrapped it slowly, making it last, unlike Lily, who was tearing paper and scattering it about the kitchen gleefully. It was a book called “The Green Fairy Book.” Petunia looked at it, disappointed. She had to read books at school.

 

“This was mine when I was a girl,” Mrs Evans said, flicking through the pages. “I used to love the stories, and always…oh yes, Lily, darling, it is pretty. Wasn’t that nice of Mrs Barnsley?”

 

Petunia eyed the rag doll that Lily brandished in front of her mother and watched sourly as both her parents made a fuss over opening a large cardboard box, which contained the present from Granny and Grandpa. She left the room; her parents wouldn’t notice. They didn’t care about her. They only loved Lily. She didn’t want to stand by and watch Lily get all the attention. In the bedroom she shared with her sister, Petunia sat on her bed and glared at the fairy book. It had a material green cover with no pictures. The cover was faded. It wasn’t even a new present!

 

“Petunia, are you going to come down?”

 

She ignored her mother and turned back to the book.

 

“There were once a King and Queen who had two daughters. The first daughter was tall and fair, but the youngest daughter was lively and beautiful, with hair that shone like the sun at noon, and eyes that shone like the stars at night. She was so happy and pretty that everybody in the Kingdom loved her. Now, the wicked elder sister grew very jealous of the young Princess…”

 

Petunia ripped the page out of the book and crumpled it up into a ball before hurling the book across the room.

 

“Petunia?”

 

Lily stood in the doorway, a delighted expression on her face, having run up to share some new treasure with her sister.

 

“Look what I got!”

 

Lily bowed her head to show her the Alice-band she was wearing. It was velvet, with LILY written in different colours on it, and decorated with flowers. It was of the type that was worn by some of the popular girls in Petunia’s class at school, and something Petunia had coveted for weeks.

 

“That looks really babyish,” Petunia snapped.

 

Lily’s face fell.

 

Bitterness caused Petunia’s breath to quicken, her hands clenched into furious fists. Lily had always been the golden girl; she had been the clever one, the pretty one, the happy one. Obviously, her parents had loved her far more than Petunia and it had been Lily’s fault they died, getting their family involved with that lunatic murderer.

Lily had discovered the fairy book, years later, gathering dust on the bookshelf. She’d loved the stories of beautiful younger sisters, peasant girls who had married handsome princes, or enchanted princesses rescued by the courageous younger sons of various millers. She’d expanded her collection of fairy tales and had seemed to her sister to prefer dreaming about them to being a part of the real world. Of course, soon after that, Lily had left the real world completely. She’d been the one who was magical, and although Petunia had ever since thought of that world with a horrified shudder, a part of her had always been bitter that again it was Lily who had that particular talent.

Petunia had avoided having anything to do with that world, although she’d met many of ‘them’ at the wedding. The wedding where Lily had married her handsome prince. It was such - such a fairy tale. Petunia’s eyes focused on the grave in front of her. How could she still be jealous of someone who was dead? And yet the years of bitterness and resentment were still there. Lily had swanned off, got herself murdered, and left Petunia to nurture her son when she had Dudley to look after. Petunia scowled at Harry, still sitting motionless in his seat. She would never forgive Lily for forcing her to house a budding…one of ‘them.’ Petunia’s bony jaw stiffened with resolve. She would do all she could to stop Harry developing…‘that.’ She was sure that if her parents had indulged Lily less, her sister would have remained normal.

 

“Happy Birthday, Lily,” she said, glowering at the headstone.

 

Dudley awoke with a start and began to howl, which set Harry off.

 

Diddy Duddykins, don’t cry,” cooed Petunia, fishing in her bag for some sweets to pacify her son. “Stop crying, you horrible child!” she snarled at Harry.

 

Walking quickly out of the churchyard, she didn’t turn to look back. She’d be back in Little Whinging in time to put Vernon’s supper on.

 

 

A/N: ‘The Green Fairy Book’ does exist, but the extract from it was made up.  It was one of my books when I was little, and I remember there being passages like that in it.  Being a big sister I can sympathise with Petunia’s indignation when it comes to the beautiful younger sibling in fairy stories.

 

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