Why Can’t You Just Be Normal?
Petunia Evans admired herself in
the mirror. Lily’s old dance costume was a little big for her, but the pink
sequins and ribbons looked lovely with her blonde bun. Lily had hated this
costume; it clashed horribly with her auburn hair. Lily was a talented
ballerina, though, everyone said so. Petunia just couldn’t get the hang of all
the pliés and leaps, but she practiced every day
and next year she’d be in the ten-and-up class with Lily.
Hearing the mail drop through the slot,
she hurried to see if there was any mail for her. Seeing nothing interesting,
she returned to the playroom. Not ten minutes later, Petunia was interrupted
“Petunia, be a dear and go get the
post,” called Mum from down the hall. Petunia
sighed and ran to get the post. A strange letter, which had not been there
before, rested on top of the pile of bills and postcards. Petunia picked it up
and stared at it. Written in brilliant green ink on parchment of all things, was
Lily’s name and address. The envelope had no return address or stamp.
Petunia fought the urge to open it right there.
Instead she raced to the front parlor. Lily was sitting on the couch, talking
to her best friend, Mary Ann, on the phone. Petunia
had never liked Mary Ann. She was nice enough, but whenever she was around,
Lily started to pay less and less attention to Petunia.
“Lily, Lily! Look at this letter!” Petunia
rushed forwards, tripping over a book and landing on Lily’s lap.
“Petunia, I’m busy! Get out! Hold on,
Mary Ann. Petunia, leave me alone for once!” Lily jumped up and made
to shove Petunia out the door.
“Lily, I’ve got a letter for you. Maybe you’ve
got a secret admirer!” Petunia waved the letter in Lily’s face. “Miss Lily
Evans-” she began to read.
“Hey! That’s mine!” Lily made a grab
for the letter, but Petunia turned away just in time; instead her fingers
seized the frills on the sleeve of her dance costume. The sound of the ripping
fabric made both girls freeze in their tracks.
“Lily? Lily, are you still there?” came the
tinny sound of Mary Ann’s voice from the phone that Lily had dropped on the couch.
Lily and Petunia stared at the torn
sleeve, then at each other. Petunia fled the room and turned, skidding around
the corner in her ballet slippers, Lily close behind. She raced out the back
door and down the steps to the yard two at a time, and glanced back over her
shoulder at her raging sister.
“Look what you’ve done! That’s my dance
costume! You’ve ruined it!” Lily shrieked as she tore down the steps after
“You shouldn’t have grabbed at it! It’s not my
fault,” Petunia sobbed. She hurried outside and stumbled across the lawn,
blinded by her tears. Petunia had only wanted to show her the funny letter,
and now Lily was furious.
Their father had built them a tree
house two years ago, when Petunia was eight and Lily was nine. It was still a
favorite refuge. Now, Petunia scrambled up the rope ladder and pulled it up
“Petunia! Let me up now!” Lily jumped
up, trying to reach the rope ladder, but to no avail. Petunia curled up in the
farthest corner of the tree house, where she couldn’t be seen from the ground.
She didn’t move until she heard Lily give up and return to the house. Once she
was sure the back door was firmly shut behind her older sister, Petunia opened
Dear Miss Evans,
We are pleased to inform you that
you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please
find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment. A member of the
staff will be at the Leaky Cauldron in London at 12 o’clock noon on August 1 to
answer any questions you might have. Directions to the Leaky Cauldron are
Term begins on September 1. We
await your owl by no later than July 31.
Petunia’s mouth fell open. She
dropped the letter, and picked up the envelope warily. Another sheet of the
thick, heavy parchment fell out. It was a list of clothes and books required
for the school.
“‘All the clothing should carry
name tags? Students may also bring an owl or a cat or a toad?’ But that
sounds as if Lily would be going away to this- this school.” Petunia
said. “No, no.” Lily couldn’t go. And Petunia would make sure of it.
Petunia ripped the pages into tiny
scraps, as small as she could make them. She methodically went through each
bit and made sure there was no more than one letter on any one piece of
parchment. Then she scooped all of the scraps into her hand and climbed down
In the far corner of the garden there
was a heavy statue of a baby angel. Mum collected them. There were little
figurines all over the house. Petunia and Lily each had a baby angel with
their birthstone on it from their first birthdays. Petunia pushed the statue
on its side and dug into the ground beneath it. She buried the letter and
covered it with dirt. Lifting the baby angel back into place took all of her
strength, and she sat down, leaning her head against the statue, and remained
there until Mum called her in for lunch half an hour later.
Lily had forgotten all about the
letter by this time and was chattering away excitedly to Mum. Mary Ann had
invited Lily to her birthday party next weekend. Petunia glowered.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” asked Mum.
“Guess what?” asked Lily, not
giving Petunia a chance to answer. “I’ve got to shopping to get Mary Ann something
for her party. Want to come along?”
“Yes!” exclaimed Petunia.
Everything was back to normal.
* * *
That night, Petunia couldn’t
sleep. She kept thinking about Lily going away and never coming back or
turning them all into frogs. Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. She
crawled out of bed and tip-toed across the hall to Lily’s room, where she
climbed into Lily’s bed and drifted off to sleep once more.
Petunia woke with a start. Lily
was no longer beside her, and the room was bright with early morning light. A
few minutes later, Lily bounded into the room, irritatingly cheerful for this
time of morning. She had a half-eaten piece of toast in one hand, and a book
she was reading in the other.
“Come on, Petunia, get up and get
dressed. We’ve got to go to church,” Lily said. She pulled the covers down
and dragged a protesting Petunia out of bed. After they both had dressed, Mum
called Petunia downstairs to eat breakfast. As she was finishing her eggs and
toast, Lily shrieked from the front hall.
“Mum! I’ve got another one! That
letter that Petunia took, look! ‘Miss Lily Evans-’ they know where I sleep and
everything!” Lily ripped open the envelope and read the letter, gasping or
exclaiming every so often. Finally she showed the letter to Mum. “Oh, Mum, do
you think it could be true? That would be so cool! Say I can go!” Lily
pleaded. No one noticed when Petunia left the room.
‘It’s not fair! Why is there
another letter? Lily will go off and learn magic and leave me all alone.’ Petunia
locked the door to her room and crawled into her closet. Besides the tree
house, her closet was her favorite refuge. It was quite small, but very cozy,
and she had spent many hours inside crying after a fight with Lily or Mum.
This she began to do now, and would have stayed there a very long time, had
Lily not come upstairs to find her. Mum and Dad were shut up in their room
having a Discussion.
“Petunia, it’s a school for magic!
It says I’m a witch! Isn’t that the most amazing thing you’ve ever heard? I
can’t wait! I hope Mum and Dad let me go!” Lily kept talking, about the
required books and equipment, and especially, about having a real magic wand.
Petunia listened, and nodded, and hugged her big sister tightly while Lily prattled on.
* * *
When they returned from the Leaky Cauldron,
which led to Diagon Alley, even Lily was speechless. The moment they got home
she ran up to her room with all of her bags. By dinnertime she had read two
and a half textbooks, tried on all of her new clothes, and flicked her wand
around, causing sparks to fly all over her room.
Petunia had tentatively knocked on Lily’s door
shortly after Lily had gone through it, but was snapped at for her troubles.
She sat outside Lily’s room, leaning against the door and thought about
everything she had seen today.
Finally, Lily opened her door.
“Petunia, come here, I’ve got a surprise for
you!” Lily said excitedly. Petunia followed Lily into the messy room,
equipment and books all over the floor. The new trunk was propped up against
the bed, and on the desk was Lily’s new owl.
“Close your eyes,” Lily ordered, and Petunia did
so. “Now, don’t move. I’ll be right back.” Lily hurried across the room and
retrieved her surprise.
“Surprise!” Lily handed Petunia the large cage
containing the owl. “So you can mail me while I’m away! But she can be yours,
and you can name her and everything! And next year, when you come to Hogwarts,
you can bring her with you!”
“Oh, Lily! Thank you so much!” Petunia put down
the cage and flung her arms around her sister.
“Excuse me, girls, but it’s just about time for
dinner. If you’re ready, Petunia, you can go on down and set the table. Lily,
I want to talk to you for a moment,” Mum said from the doorway. Petunia
scowled, but went downstairs. Mum sat on Lily’s bed, toying with the latch on
the owl cage and didn’t say anything.
“Mum? What’s wrong?” Lily asked, sitting down
beside her mother and laying a comforting hand on her shoulder. Mum sighed and
turned to look at Lily.
“Sweetie, do you remember how you sometimes make
things happen… things you don’t mean to do? Looking back, I suppose it’s all
to do with this magic business. After the shock wore off, your father and I talked
it through. We realized that it was an indicator of your-- special abilities. But,
sweetie, Petunia’s never done anything like that. I don’t think she’ll be
going to Hogwarts next year. You don’t want to get her hopes up.”
Lily was astonished. She was used to being
better than Petunia, to getting everything. Still, she had never expected to have
so great a privilege and not be able to share it with her younger sister.
* * *
Lily was finally home from her first year at
Hogwarts. Petunia bombarded her with questions
about her House, about her friends, and about her classes, all of which Lily
answered readily, until Mum told Petunia to give Lily a chance to catch her
Petunia was thrilled with the tales Lily told of
Hogwarts. She imagined the whole school’s attention fixated on her as she is
Sorted, living in a dormitory with girls just her age, eating under the ceiling
of the Great Hall, seemingly open to the heavens, living in a castle, turning
furniture into animals and brewing potions, doing real magic.
She simply could not wait to join her sister in
the magical world. When Lily wasn’t looking, Petunia snuck into her room and
sat for hours, poring over magic textbooks and moving photographs. Every day,
Petunia watched anxiously for the mail, and every day, she was disappointed.
No Hogwarts letter arrived through the post.
Lily caught her at it.
“Don’t be silly, Petunia. It won’t come through
the Muggle post. Be patient,” Lily admonished. Petunia glowered, but stopped
checking the mail so frantically.
A few days later during dinner, as Petunia was
excitedly jabbering away about what classes she was looking forward to, and
which House she wanted to be in, Mum exchanged a surreptitious glance with her
husband, then turned to Petunia.
“Dear,” she said, but was interrupted by the
sudden appearance of a handsome, stately owl at the window. It didn’t peck at
the glass, but merely waited for someone to notice him. Petunia leaped up and
ran to unlatch the window. The owl soared into the room, dropped the letter in
Lily’s lap, and snatched a crust of bread. Then he perched on the back of
Lily’s chair, as if to read the letter over her shoulder.
Lily tore open the letter and skimmed its
contents. “We’ll have to go to Diagon Alley again, Mum. I need some new books
and things. Oh, Mum, can I have a broom? I’m old enough to try out for the
Gryffindor Quidditch team this year, and there’s one spot open for Chaser. That
awful Potter boy has his eye on it, but I’ll show him!” She waited, with bated
breath as Mum considered this.
“Well, dear, I don’t know. Your father and I
will have to see,” Mum began, but was cut short by Petunia. “Oh, Lily, do you
think I could have a ride on it? I want to play Quidditch, too!”
“Petunia, dear, that’s the thing. You see, I
don’t think you will go to Hogwarts. You have so many other talents that you
don’t need magic. You can stay home with Dad and me, and keep us company.
You’ll like that, won’t you?” Mum smiled at Petunia, who nodded mutely.
There was an awkward silence at the table. Everyone
was watching Petunia apprehensively. She stabbed her peas forcefully, avoiding
the gaze of everyone at the table. Suddenly, she leapt up from the table and
raced upstairs to her room.
“Petunia!” Lily followed her upstairs and
knocked on her bedroom door. “Petunia, open up. Talk to me.”
Petunia’s door opened and the owl cage was
shoved unceremoniously out into the hall, along with a stack of spell books and
parchment. Petunia refused to speak to Lily from then on. When Petunia was
forced to speak about Lily, she referred to her as “the Freak.” Lily was hurt,
but she was too excited about returning to Hogwarts to really try to repair the
damage. Lily and her parents went to Diagon Alley for her school supplies, but
Petunia refused to go with them.
The day Lily had to leave for school found her
waiting in the front hall for her parents. Petunia had again declined to come
to the station. Lily sat on her trunk and sighed dejectedly. When it came down
to it, she loved her sister and hated having true arguments. She heard
Petunia’s clomping steps coming down the stairs and looked up.
“Don’t g-go and leave m-me!” Petunia sobbed,
rushing into a surprised Lily’s arms. “I don’t want you to g-go off to that
school without m-me!” She lifted her tear-stained face to look at Lily.
“I have to go back. I love you, but I love it
there, too. I’ll come back for Christmas break, and I’ll bring you a present,”
Lily said, trying to console Petunia. Lily stroked Petunia’s hair until her
sobs became sniffles.
“Why do you have to go off to some freak
school? Why can’t you just be normal?”