The Sugar Quill
Author: Complessatissima  Story: Merrily He Rolls Along  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.

“What the ruddy hell do you mean, you thought you’d use your imagination

 

 

Thank you, ivy, for your enthusiastic and eye-opening beta reading, and for saving me from my own cyber-illiteracy! I truly appreciate all of your thoughtful help.

 

 

I offer this little character sketch as a service to any of you who just might be anxiously anticipating the release of HBP: if you read my piece, you will be ten minutes closer to July 16th!

 

 

 

 

*** Merrily He Rolls Along ***

 

 

 

 

“What the RUDDY HELL do you mean, you thought you’d use your imagination?”

 

“I j-just thought, it was, well, an idea, you know...f-for boosting sales. If I could just explain...”

 

“In case you’ve forgotten, I am your boss. If you want to use your imagination in my department, you can go and find yourself another job. Is that clear?”

 

“Ye-yes, of course, Mr Dursley, I-I’m sorry. I simply wanted –”

 

“We. Make. And. Sell. Drills,” Mr. Dursley enunciated as if addressing a naughty two-year-old. “In case you need to be reminded. Drill production does not require daydreaming, creativity, or imagination. Stick to facts, and get it finished before I arrive at the office.”

 

“Y-y-yes, Mr Dursley, depend on it.”

 

“Britain didn’t become great because of bleeding creativity!” He punched the carphone button to hang up, nearly spraining his finger. Jumped-up young show-offs who can’t remember their places. Imagination, creativity... what is this world coming to?

 

Vernon Dursley’s morning commute was shaping up nicely. The dull grey cloudcap was beginning to burn off, and the June sun could be seen peeping through and shining down onto the rows of rooftops in Little Whinging. The company car’s motor was humming, and the hardworking and upright –and, at the moment, slightly purple-faced--manager from Grunnings had just finished his first carphone call of the morning. Always good to make contact with the office, first thing:  keep his underlings on their toes.

 

First turning, onto the main road. Since he’d started at Grunnings, all those years ago, he’d never once varied his route. The routine comforted him, as did thoughts of his success. He’d gotten where he was in life through hard work and dedication to his company, and he knew he was the envy of his neighbors – his status, his perfect wife, the most pride-inspiring son to carry on the Dursley name, his new company car, his respectable position – he and his family had everything they wanted. Oh, yes, he told himself firmly – perhaps a bit too firmly – they were perfectly content, and they had everything they wanted.

 

As he drove past the gym where Dudley had trained last summer, he indulged in a satisfied smile. What father wouldn’t, with such a son? The pride of Smeltings; such a fine young man, his Dudley. And in a few short days, Dudley would be home.

 

That reminded him: Petunia would be putting Dudley on a special training diet, first thing, and most probably that meant that Petunia would be extra strict about Vernon’s diet, too. He made a mental note to stop for a sticky bun at the bakery across from the Grunnings car park. But even as he thought of it, he remembered his dear wife’s wish: she did so want him to slim down a bit and be elegant, since Grunnings’ all-England managers’ conference and gala dinner was only a month away. Not that she hadn’t reassured him, angel that she was, that he already cut a dashing figure. Perhaps he would skip the bun... he did so want to please her, especially because lately he sensed that she had been a trifle uptight...

 

The carphone rang. He saw on the display that it was her. Almost as if she’d read my mind he thought, before chastising himself: mindreading didn’t exist, after all. He took a deep breath to clear his own mind from such thoughts, and punched the button.

 

“Hello, Petunia, love.”

 

“Hello, Vernon. Lots of traffic this morning?”

 

“The usual. Anything new?” Hardly likely, since he’d only left the house ten minutes before.

 

“Actually, yes. Good news.”

 

Good news? He tried to remember if anything scandalous was going on at the neighbors’. :“What is it, dear?”

 

“Marge called.”

 

“And?”

 

“She’s not coming to visit next week as planned.”

 

“Well, why the sudden change?”

 

“Something about not being able to reschedule her electrolysis appointments.”

 

“Oh, that’s good news, dear.”

 

“It certainly is, Vernon,” was the dry rejoinder.

 

“About the electrolysis, I mean, dear. My poor sister, it’s about time she—”

 

“Vernon, if you really want to know, I meant that her not coming is the good news.”

 

“Now, Petunia,” he began, in his sensitive, pacifying way. “She’s not that bad

 

“Oh, it’s not her, Vernon, it’s that horrid bulldog, drooling all over my floors, digging up the garden... why, last time she visited in the summertime…”

 

There was a pause on both ends of the line. Vernon could have screamed. That damned boy: they hadn’t seen him since last August, and still he managed to work his way into his poor aunt’s thoughts. Still, Vernon didn’t have the courage to bring up those things directly.  After all, maybe she had only wanted to complain about the garden. Maybe she hadn’t been thinking about the freaks at all. He cleared his throat and quickly thought of a cheerful comment to lighten her mood. “Petunia, did I mention to you that the Grunnings production estimates for next trimester are due out today?”

 

But she continued with clenched teeth and as if she hadn’t heard him: “Not that Ripper is as bad as that wretched owl I put up with every summer.”

 

So she had been thinking about those things, after all. She had been bringing it up lately, as the summer approached, or rather, not bringing it up, just sort of semi-implying it. The coming of summer tended to be hard on Petunia, and no wonder: the freaks always turned up and ruined things in the summer. And they seemed to be getting more and more creative at it, with each passing year, almost as if they throve on it. He felt himself begin to shake with rage at Petunia’s sister and her lot. Was it too much to ask for his family to have a normal, quiet, dignified summer?

 

He realized that the silence on the line was continuing. Evidently, a topic more cheerful than Grunnings’ production estimates seemed to be required to distract her, and Vernon fished around for a moment, before exclaiming, “Well, maybe it’s best this way, if Marge postpones her visit. After all, Dudley’ll be coming home from Smeltings, and it’ll be just the three of us, as it should be.”

 

Damn! Even that comment would bring her train of thought around to a certain nephew who would be back the week after Dudley. He heard her sigh, then say resignedly, “I hope you weren’t offended by my not wanting Marge here, but you are right, Vernon, that with Diddykins coming back, it’ll be good being alone, just the three of us.”

 

Blast those boring, law-abiding neighbors of theirs.… Why couldn’t something, anything, happen right now, next-door, to get her mind off things? But there wasn’t time for him to think up any distraction for the light of his life, since he had come to that intersection near the filling station, where the phone usually faded out, and today was no exception, although, in this case, the predictability brought him no comfort. She would call him at lunchtime, as she did ever day, but still: was it too much to ask for a man and his wife to have a nice, quiet conversation without being cut off? “Ruddy mobiles, ruddy phone company, that’s what we get for going multinational, no quality service…”

 

As he lost contact with Petunia, he pulled into the filling station, as he did every second Thursday. There was enough wrong here to distract him from the darkest of thoughts. The foreigner working at the pump surely came from a country where cars were a rarity, and came so close to scratching the paint that a lesser man than Vernon Dursley would have given him an earful – if he’d thought there were any chance of being understood. He left the windscreen so streaked that it looked worse than before he’d begun washing it, and, after the sloppiest oil checking on record, slammed the bonnet hood with a clang to waken the dead. And he was so slow! Vernon held himself back as long as he could, being a gentleman, but when he went to pay, he felt that a tirade was necessary.

 

Approaching the cashier, he unleashed his righteous anger: “What is this country coming to? Petrol prices up to the stars, ruddy foreigners everywhere, and honest, hardworking Englishmen, on their way to earn their daily bread, made to submit to unthinkable incompetence!”

 

The cashier simply smiled, apologized, and wished him a good day. Vernon did not smile back. But as he slipped his credit card back into his wallet, he glimpsed his photo of Petunia and Dudley, and the thought of what they all meant to each other calmed him. It was good to keep things in perspective, and Vernon prided himself on being a rational man.

 

Back on the road, it was more of the usual: never a policeman around when there were tickets to be handed out. Another one of those hoodlums passed him on a motorbike, so fast it seemed as though he were flying…No! Motorbikes didn’t fly! He almost opened his mouth to remind himself to stop it!, but he would never actually talk to himself, of course…still, with all that abnormality that had poisoned his home all these years, could it be any wonder that his thoughts kept returning to…?

 

Enough! Somehow, without realizing it, he had begun pulling great tufts of hair from his moustache. Don’t let it get to you…

 

A deep breath. He was rational, and he was calm. A well-respected pillar of the community didn’t let himself get riled up in the face of insignificant matters that had no bearing whatsoever on his life. Besides, if his mind drifted to thoughts of that lot every once in a while, he knew quite well that there was no one to blame but the cause itself: raising that ungrateful bit of abnormality had put a strain on them all, in so many ways. But as he drove on, Vernon felt proud that he was not letting it get to him: he would not allow a perfectly good start to the day to be ruined. Not even the old-fashioned green car that slipped past him in the traffic could perturb him, although, as he shifted gears, he wondered how it had managed to pass him when there was hardly room for his own car…. It was almost like…

 

Like nothing! It’s perfectly normal!

 

Fortunately the next red light helped in giving him a distraction: there was a new espresso bar opening up on the corner. “Hope they all enjoy wasting their money,” he grunted, noticing the small crowd that had gathered, and not realizing that he was talking to himself. “Why anyone would rather drink that rubbish instead of a good cup of tea is beyond me.”

 

Heartened by his little beverage-based reflection, Vernon let his thoughts jump ahead to the evening, when he and Petunia always enjoyed a quiet cup of tea together. Being generous as always, he thought of what he might do to cheer her up this evening. Maybe he could surprise her with…

 

No, she hated surprises as much as he did.

 

But some flowers might be nice. After all, she had had a hard week, shopping for all of Dudley’s welcome home presents, on top of her usual work. And work she had had indeed, all these years…. Raising two instead of one, he knew, had been practically like raising twins. It had been hard on her, never being able to devote enough attention to Dudley. And yet, Dudley had turned out perfectly, despite all the hardships: why, look how he had bounced back after those Dementoid things…

 

You’re doing it again, so stop it!

 

Vernon’s moustache was taking quite a beating this morning.

 

He forced himself to think of a time when that unnaturalness would no longer taint their existence. When the runt was finally old enough for them to kick him out, then things would look up, surely. He had been planning something for a while now. He knew how much Petunia envied the other women in the Smeltings Mothers’ Club, the ones who knew all about computers. (Petunia never complained about this, of course, since it was in her nature to bear her burdens with a smile, but he knew her well enough to know how she felt.) He would have Dudley’s second bedroom redone once it was empty, and make it into a nice little studio for her. She could take a computer course, and learn all about all that modern, on-line stuff. And the window in that room looked down on the street, so she wouldn’t miss anything new going on in the neighborhood. That would be perfect for her: his Petunia had such a curious mind, such a need to branch out and be in touch with the whole world. As soon as the boy was gone, they could do that. He would remind her of that this evening, if he could find a gentle way to bring it up without straining her nerves.

 

He went on planning good things. Once they were rid of the costs of raising the ungrateful brat, they could live better, he was sure, and he looked forward to it. After all, a decent, hardworking man like him liked to have something to show for all the years of toil and sacrifice, and Vernon wanted to pamper his dear wife a little. They would buy that holiday home of their dreams in Majorca, settle comfortably into middle age, and live their dignified, stable, perfectly normal lives as nature intends people everywhere to do.

 

Summer was upon them, and summer would bring Dudley, in just a few short days. Vernon thought of summer, and tried to relax and think of the good things the season would bring. Time with Dudley, perhaps a short holiday, and later a visit from Marge. The Grunnings gala dinner, in a month’s time. The prospect of a couple of huge drill orders, that might let them shop for real estate in Majorca earlier than they could have expected. Yes, there would a great deal going on, as there always was in a family of their status, and he would not let his life be disrupted this summer. Of that much he was sure, as a principled and reasoning man. He would dwell on the good things, and not worry about the weirdoes. As long as they took the boy and left right away, who cared what sort of nasty surprise they would spring on him this time? After those Dementoids last time, it was anybody’s guess, but as long as his family wasn’t harmed, he admitted that it was almost worth a visit from that lot, to be rid of Potter. They could take him and get the hell out, quickly, and without any fuss that might attract the neighbors’ attention. Just so long as…

 

Not again! Stop mentioning them! His principles were wavering. To make matters worse, the people in the next car had seen him muttering to himself, and that made him feel almost ridiculous, not a word often associated with Vernon Dursley, to be sure.

 

The dignified manager took a deep breath, and calmed down. He was in control, and maintaining this perfect control, he arrived within sight of his company.

 

He pulled into his reserved place in the Grunnings car park, took his briefcase, got out, and locked the door. The workday stood before him with its promise of hard-earned satisfaction. He would go into the office and continue having a good morning, with no distractions. He would yell at his underlings, take some phone calls, yell some more, look through the new production estimates, and get matters off his mind.

 

Matters? What matters? How could he get something off his mind that had no influence on him in the first place?

 

He convinced himself quickly that it was so, and walked in, ignoring the furtive looks the employees were giving him: it wasn’t the first time he had walked in with tufts of his moustache missing, and, at any rate, no one would actually dare mention it to him.

 

A good morning commute did wonders to clear your mind and make you feel on top of the world.

//
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