Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Back when Mr Vernon Dursley first courted Miss Petunia Evans - only the whole business was not as romantic as the word implied, but already Petunia had had it with romantic fancies, she had had it up to here - she put him to the test in coy little ways.
That first Easter Saturday spent with his family, Petunia, already done up, in the wing chair with a magazine of Marge's, Vernon getting ready for their dinner at the downtown steakhouse. "What's your star sign again, honey?" she called as he sprayed his aftershave. "Would you like me to read you your horoscope?"
From the bathroom, there came a noncommittal and horribly inconclusive grunt, and then Vernon appeared in the doorway. Didn't even know this moment was significant, didn't he? That he would have to prove himself.
"Only it told me," said Petunia to that sceptical face, bravely hanging on, "it told me that Pisces - I'm a Pisces - should be careful handling sharp knifes today? And us going to a steakhouse, isn't that almost spooky?" She gave him her most vacant smile.
"Silly girlish nonsense, no offense, dear," Vernon said gruffly. "You're better off following the stock exchange."
Or later, during one of their non-romantic dates - appointments? - when they had coffee at a department store before she had dragged him into a hole-in-the-wall bedding shop. The shop window had announced a shipment of fancy high thread count Egypt cotton sheets, and Petunia felt that one of the vectors her life ought to be taking was towards the ownership of long-lasting quality bedding products, monograms extra. Vernon, of course, agreed. He said with cars and interior he would never go cheap.
Next to their comprehensive bedding selection (Petunia scoffed a bit at the dolphin-and-sunset designs), the shop also sold a fair range of soul-soothing falderal interior items - bowls full of potpourri, fragrance lamps, peridot paperweights - and among the more unwieldy exhibits was a huge amethyst geode. She had to use both hands to lift it.
"I thought we could put that in our bedroom, it'll be lovely on the dresser," Petunia said, reading the hand-written note stuck to the bottom. "Says here this absorbs harmful energies. What with you grinding your teeth all night -"
Vernon regarded her in a way that made her stomach drop. Had accidentally scared him off for good with her feigned interest in esoteric swizzle? But she had a deep and thoroughly unexamined need to be sure of what he was, and what he was not. Petunia had no interest in being surprised by late-onset dabblings in homeopathy, vegetarianism, or pushing wine glasses around.
But fortunately, at some point in his own upbringing Vernon had internalized the notion that girls were sometimes silly because of the way they were wired and therefore he had to be even more sensible all the time. His own sister Marge, though, gave the distinct impression she had never been silly in her life, not even as giggling teenager, not even as a staggering toddler.
"I'm not having that rock in my bedroom," Vernon said. "Put up a nice painting of a sailing boat or some old geezer in a hat, that'll cheer the place right up. No rocks, though."
It was The Moment. Petunia stared him right in the eye. "Marry me," she said, for once breaking all rules.
Was that how Lily felt all the time? she thought, so brave, yet so giddy, yet so on top of it all? Then was shocked at her own daring.
So in a way she was relieved when he didn't accept right then and there between the semi-precious rocks and the potpourri bowls. But he did ask Marge to help him pick out a ring and proposed a week later under proper circumstances, and she said yes.
Later, she even told him that her parents did not, in fact, die when their taxi crashed on the way to the South-East England Shrubs and Bushes Competition. Instead they went hiking to the Himalayas and fell off a cliff.
Their last postcard got here after they did. Four scribbled lines that sounded reasonably happy, she supposed, two adventurers on the adventure of their lives, Lots of love, Mum & Dad, though of course true adventurers could never be happy where they were. She knew that Vernon, who made all the right noises when she told him, understood the point completely: this was what happened when people went off on adventures. They left others behind.
(Sixteen year old Lily had not understood the point at all, having rushed into a grand adventure of her own. Petunia understood she had taken one of those toxic concoctions that her kind was so fond of and that was why she was so detached at the funeral, because of the beetle's eyes and frogspawn and essence of some garden weed or other. Then Lily had gone back to that school of hers and left Petunia in that big empty house to get rid of the souvenirs from all continents, the dried fertility snakes, the ornamental drums from a market in Ulan Bator, the flutes made from eucalyptus wood, the Irish rune stones, the tie-dyed baby suits from California; her parents had unfortunately been fond of touristy knick-knack.)
Much much later, a week before their wedding, she told Vernon about the weird stuff and her sister. He passed that last test in flying colours, said he'd always thought Lily was a bit of a hippie.
She was overwhelmed that he was indeed as pragmatic as she had hoped, the least romantic soul she could have possibly found this side of London, and that he treated courtship like a business relationship, with none of the frilly pink hearts of her girlfriends' boudoirs. That left space for her, finally, only for her - a wide open space that she could fill with long meaningful glances and well-dosed giggling, and, after half a bottle of wine, crude jokes about his drill company that neither of them had thought her capable of.
She knew now that Vernon would never, ever, leave her to be somewhere more exciting, in that one place where she could never follow.
And hadn't that last point been made exceedingly clear.
And in the here and now, there is Dudley. Sixteen months old and a right bundle of joy, even though at this moment he is also a mite unhappy on top of all the joy. It is six-something in the morning, the sky behind the bedroom window still pitch-black at the tail end of a chilly November night, and Dudley is already crying. He is an early riser and will later be a conscentious, hard-working man, just like his dad.
His dad is turning over in his sleep, letting out a grunt that sounds remarkably like "healthy lungs, atta boy", while she sweeps up Dudley from his brand-new baby bed. He's wailing away at some unknown upset that only children can sense. There's something about waking up in the dark, maybe about waking up at all, and none of the eight words he knows can explain this to his mum, so he cries and cries and cries.
He may also be just hungry, he's growing so fast, and after all it's an almost sensible time for breakfast anyway.
She watches Dudley closely, always. She has no idea - and no-one has explained it to her - whether the weirdness is genetic; she's not even sure whether their those people about genes. But if Dudley has the weird gene, he hasn't shown any signs, like Lily had when she had fallen off the changing table at six months old and bounced right back with a giggle.
Of course she can't test Dudley for traces of the unnatural in the same way she tested Vernon. The very thought that Dudley may fall off some place higher than a footstool makes her breathe all funny, and so he has never got an opportunity to fall. If there were ever any sparks, any toy cars that suddenly honked, she would have noticed. They may have dodged that particular bullet after all.
When they'd bought the house, she thought there may be two children one day, one for each nursery; sometimes in these early morning hours the thought still comes up, like now, when she passes the second bedroom, Dudley up in her arms. But it's wearing on her, all this watching, all this worrying, in addition to all the crying, the feeding, the changing, the countless sunrises she has watched from a nursery window. It is probably the reason why Lily and her kind have been creeping into her thoughts more often lately, even before yesterday rolled around with all the owls and the strangely dressed people.
And she has so much love for Dudley that she surely can't share with another because it would mean she'd have to love Dudley a little less, so she got herself the coil. Between that and Dudley growing up as normally as a boy could, no-one will ever leave her again because of another place that is more fun.
She carries Dudley downstairs so as to not disturb Vernon, who is a busy man all day and has a right to sleep at night. She carries him from the corridor to the living room and then back to the corridor and back to the living room and into the kitchen and makes him bob up and down until he appears a little less cross at being awake. She says that she loves him and that it's going to be a beautiful day and much better than yesterday and that there's going to be breakfast in a short little while but she has to get in the milk first.
"Nom," says Dudley and beams. "Nom, nom, nom, nom!"
"Dudley, you learned a new word! Has Dudley learned a new word? Say it again, nom, nom!" says Petunia when it registers through the haze of tiredness. As soon as she has got the milk in, she can get her coffee. It might be word number nine for her baby book, but she has to look up if syllables count.
"Nom, nom, nom! Want nom!"
At least he's not crying anymore. But something is a little off. Petunia could swear she can hear a child crying now, and not far away like back in the summer when everyone had their windows open, but up close. And it's not Dudley, who is still demanding nom. It's close.
One-handed, Petunia operates the coffee maker. She has made it three years without any weirdness. She has hardly even thought about her sister, merely glanced at the card announcing Harry's birth the summer before last (it had a tiny moving picture on it, a black-haired baby in an egg-yolk yellow romper suit kicking his legs), and then she put it away into the box that contains the few weird items she regretfully owns. She's not going to start hearing voices now.
While the machine makes reassuring gurgling noises, Petunia places Dudley in his playing pen where he can't possibly escape, though not for lack of trying, the little rascal, and gathers the crate with the empty milk bottles.
"Nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, mummy, nom!" Dudley yells, pulling himself up on the bars to stand, and his chanting drowns out the strange crying a bit. Oh, how she loves Dudley.
She opens the front door and screams. But only for a second, because of the neighbours. It turns into a whimper.
Then, in one movement, she puts down the milk crate and sweeps up the bundle of blankets lying there, and the compelling force of this instinct surprises her. Instances of raw feelings are usually reserved for Dudley. She will have to think abouth this, later. She overshoots the movement, he's lighter than Dudley to whom she is used, he feels strange in her arms, like time has moved backward.
Inexplicably, the child wrapped up in the blankets has been asleep, but he starts crying now. She doesn't know how she could have heard him crying before he actually made a sound, but she knows instantly that the child in her arms is her nephew Harry, which would explain this, and that something terrible has happened. Like when the phone rang five years ago and it turned out to be the British embassy in Nepal and they told her there'd been a mountaineering accident. This time, they could have called first, couldn't they?
She shoos. She rocks. But the little boy in the blankets has just woken up, alone and confused, and he wails as if the world has ended. Maybe it has for him, how much does a child his age understand? She is pretty sure that Dudley understands a good deal more than he lets on. But Harry is a month younger and who knows what they have or haven't taught him.
At least the boy feels warm, and isn't it just like those weird people, leaving a one-year-old outside on a concrete doorstep in November for God knows how many hours in just a few blankets, could have rung the bell at least, the child could have frozen, the neighbours could have seen, he could have crawled away, on the street, anywhere. He could have been taken by the milkman, who looks shifty, and why didn't the milkman notice a little boy wrapped in blankets?
Maybe this is another of those weird survival tricks. Maybe his folks are the kind of people who would throw a child out of a window, confident that it will not be hurt, or worse: to decide if it's worth keeping... she shudders. A letter flutters from the blankets to the ground, but she doesn't have a hand free just now.
She can't have been standing on the doorstep for more than a minute, but Dudley is wailing again from the kitchen. Now Vernon is coming down the stairs in his pyjamas, a serious breach of his morning routine. She opens her mouth to explain all this - why Dudley is in his playing pen all alone and crying instead of having breakfast, why she is stepping into the corridor clutching a different and also crying child, a stranger - but there is no explanation at hand except for her conviction that something terrible must have happened, and that is the kind of mystical knowledge that fortunately doesn't fly in the Dursley household, so she just says, "There's a letter on the stairs, it had better explain all this."
She carries crying Harry past a rather confused Vernon and into the kitchen, where she puts him into the playpen next to Dudley, and they clash from the first second, crying horribly out of tune. It makes her ears ring, so she picks up Dudley and puts him into the high chair. Her day is all topsy-turvy now and it's not even bright outside yet. She resents it deeply.
Sensible Vernon brings in the milk as well as the letter. She takes a bottle from him, goes through well-rehearsed motions, measuring cup, pot, electric stovetop. Then she remembers that she will need more milk than usual because Harry will want to eat once he's done crying, and she pours in more milk. As she watches the pot so it won't boil over, Vernon is reading the letter.
Petunia usually adds the semolina by feel, but now she doesn't know how much semolina goes into that much milk, how much sugar. It is all wrong, it is all too much at once. She gets out a different measuring cup, pours, whisks. So much attention for a pot of pudding.
Vernon is done reading.
She spreads out some of the semolina pudding into a flat bowl so it can cool efficiently, and blows on it for good measure. Dudley is not happy about the longer than usual wait. "My sister," she says when she runs out of patience. "I expect that she is -"
She looks up at Vernon. "And that husband of hers." She understands.
"I knew it," she says, "I knew it would come to this, but she wouldn't listen -" Petunia is feeding spoonfuls of semolina pudding to Dudley, who finally stops crying. Harry is still at it in the playing pen, though, but none of them has any attention left for him right now.
Vernon nods. This comes from a shared understanding that adventures are bad for you, full stop, and so Petunia doesn't have to explain what Lily had told her, after the days of the frog spawn incidents were over, after the long-winded tales of dungeons and real dragons, after the millions of photographs of laughing, waving schoolchildren in girly clothes, with Lily pointing out all her weird friends.
It must have been around the time of the funeral, back when they thought they could make up after all. Apparently even Lily had realized by then that some of the goings-on in the other world were a bit questionable, or maybe it was just the first time Lily mentioned it. Turned out that Lily had not been as universally popular over there as they had all thought. Turned out there were even weirder folks who wanted people like Lily dead or at least gone because apparently she wasn't weird enough for them.
And then Lily had gone back there, rejected Petunia and reality one last time.
Petunia is feeding Dudley another spoonful, and another, then takes a look at the pot. Suddenly, there's only one third or so left. It will have to do for Harry, she's not making more, she never even asked for this. She takes Dudley out of the high chair, puts him into the playing pen with a bottle of juice, takes Harry out of the playing pen, puts him into the high chair, gets a different spoon, and tries to feed him the rest of the pudding. It isn't working so well.
"Good grief," she says. "Does he ever stop crying?"
Vernon, still engrossed in that letter, grunts that he doesn't know.
He's not particularly interested in the pudding. There's still tears on his little face, he's not growing calmer, the way Dudley reliably does. He must learn that he won't get their attention by crying. Back to the playing pen? But that's where Dudley is.
"We can't keep him, of course," she says, now that the shock is slowly wearing off, and Vernon, bless him, lets out a sigh of relief that he had apparently been holding in.
He'd have taken Harry on for her. It breaks her heart, the goodness of this man. The pudding runs down Harry's chin, of course Lily would have a fussy eater for a child. It's just one more little thing.
"I thought he had a godfather," she says. "Why can't he stay with him?" A godfather who's weird like him, who could buy him weird stuff, all the broomsticks and weird spinning stones and useless watches that don't show the time, like Lily used to have; and give him toad entrail soup to eat, or nightshade puree, maybe he'd like that better. Petunia thinks everyone would be much happier that way.
"Says nothing about no godfather in here," says Vernon.
"I haven't seen her in three years," says Petunia. "Haven't even thought about her, really. Bet she didn't give a hoot about us anyway, she never called. And now this!" She says this as if to defend herself in advance for something she is about to say. "Does the letter say anything about a -"
She pauses. The pause is punctuated by Harry, who is still sobbing from time to time and who seems to have given up on eating completely despite the spoon still hovering in front of his face.
"About what, dear?" says Vernon, gentler than even she, who has an admittedly fond view of her husband, has thought him capable of.
"A funeral," she says. "I'm not even sure they have them, but -" Maybe they just throw their dead into the sea. She gets a paper towel from the dispenser to dab at Harry's chin.
"No," says Vernon. "Doesn't say anything about a funeral. Says everything's been taken care of, though. Well, we can imagine how that one's going over. Dropping children in front of other people's houses, that sort of thing. Probably leaving the inheritance out on the street for people to pick through."
Petunia thinks of the long, lonely months after her parents' death, which she had spent sorting, filing, investing, selling, and overall keeping busy. "Just like them," she says. "All tangled up in your business all the time. Anyway, it can't have been worth having kittens over, of course there's Lily's half of my parents' house but I don't think Lily ever made a lot in that job she had and as for that good-for-nothing Potter - bet they blew what they had on that try-too-hard wedding."
Her own wedding had been a sober affair at the town hall, in her second-best dress because her best dress had been chewed up by one of Marge's bulldogs, with Marge - showing no signs of a guilty conscience - as a maid of honour and a carefully chosen subset of their relatives characterised by being sensible and hard-working. As was repeatedly assured to them by their wedding planner, they had exactly the normal amount of flowers and an average dress and a sensible cake. They could have afforded more flower arrangements or a fancier dress or an even bigger or more decorated cake, but that money would be more sensibly put towards the down payment for the house in Privet Drive that they had laid their eyes on.
Naturally, Lily's wedding invitation arrived the day after they got back from their honeymoon in Brighton. In curly, girly handwriting, it asked everyone to wear whatever they thought they looked stunning in and bring a bowl of their favourite food for the potluck. It had been seen as a huge affront in the Dursley home.
"I bet I still have that stupid sparkling card somewhere -" says Petunia, and then her brain switches back to the present, "- who did you say signed the letter?
"One A. Dumbledore," says Vernon. "He also claims that he is sorry for our loss."
"God-damn Albus Dumbledore and his phony god-damn sorrows," Petunia hisses, and Vernon looks surprised, possibly because up until now he hasn't known his wife is capable of either cursing or hissing.
She looks from little Harry, who is still sniffing, semolina pudding all over his face, to little Dudley, who is in all likelihood preparing a right royal tantrum because the top of his juice bottle came off and no-one has paid any attention to him in at least five minutes, the poor nipper. She will have to brush two sets of little teeth, later. Change two sets of diapers. Get two one-year-olds to take their naps. Buy more diapers before the weekend rolls around. Change their milk order because they'll need more milk until this is sorted out. Cancel Dudley's toddler group this afternoon because she can't leave Harry alone and bringing him is out of the question.
"You had better get ready for work," she says. It is still very early for Vernon to go to work, but she is offering him a way out, even if it is a way out that doesn't involve breakfast. He accepts in a hurry, and thankfully. She is Petunia, she tends to matters of the house, even though what she is planning is likely not to meet her husband's approval.
Her coffee, when she gets to it, is stone cold.
Of course Petunia doesn't get around to putting her plan into action until the afternoon, when Dudley is thankfully napping and it is only Harry still being fussy. Why he's holding on to her when he won't let himself be consoled, is beyond her. He doesn't want to be put down, either. It is like he's going out of his way to be difficult. He is calling out from time to time, "Mummy, mummy," but of course he doesn't mean her and there is unfortunately nothing that she can do about his mummy.
She's tried smiling at him for a while but it didn't work, he never smiled back once, and then her face hurt from grimacing and she stopped. She's tried finding out if he can walk holding her hand, something that Dudley has mastered three months ago, but that didn't work either. A late bloomer. Of course.
In Vernon's and her bedroom, she tries to sit Harry down on the bed, but he won't have it so she decides to be lenient just this once, and holds him with one arm while she reaches into the back of her meticulously tidy wardrobe with the other. Thank goodness she already has strong arms from carrying Dudley around.
There, all the way in the back and disguised as a box of cheap jewellery, is her weird items box, which right now contains a handful of photographs from Lily's and her childhood, an old map showing a handful of places that other, newer and more detailed maps don't, a few shiny gold coins of that weird money, the sparkling wedding invitation, Harry's equally sparkling birth announcement, and a flecked oval rock like a fossilised egg, which her parents had said was the calling stone. She takes the latter out.
Her parents had received this after Lily had got herself enrolled in that weird school of hers. They had said it was the only way of contacting Lily at school, since the Royal Mail obviously (obviously! she huffs) wouldn't deliver there. Her parents had happily put up with the owl droppings on the window sill. Petunia had only ever used it once before, just after that phonecall from Nepal, and then never again. She'd tried selling it with the rest of her parents' stuff, seeing as how she wouldn't be needing it, but it had always turned up again in that very box and that had spooked her too much to keep trying. So into the back of the wardrobe it was.
Her letter contains only a handful of carefully chosen, no-nonsense imperatives. One-armed, she awkwardly turns the calling stone around in her hand, and then a string appears at the pointy end, and before she can pull it, Harry grabs it. A weird melody plays, like a thousand tiny bells ringing in the wind. She's heard this much too often when growing up, her parents wrote to Lily every Sunday. At once, (and how did it get here so fast?) a grey, fluffy owl taps on the window. She lets it in before the neighbours see it.
In her arm, Harry makes a sound that hasn't been part of the admittedly restricted repertoire he's displayed so far, a sort of happy gurgle. Finally, something he recognizes, and that of all things. "Owlie," he blubbers, once, though it may just have been "Owie" but that doesn't make any sense because he's not hurting. Dudley would have just said, "Birdie."
Or maybe he would have screamed at it like a normal person. If Harry stays, they have their work cut out for them, Petunia thinks. She sits him down on the bed after all, while he watches, wide-eyed and finally silent, as she's tying the letter to the great dirty bird's outstretched foot.
Before she sends the bird on its way, she looks out of the window, left, right. The coast seems clear of nosy neighbours, but then, there have been an awful lot of owls lately, and Petunia has an inkling this is all connected to why Harry is sitting on her bed instead of playing with his own parents. "This is for Albus Dumbledore," she says to the owl, feeling silly, and the owl nods pompously, or maybe she's just imagining this, and is off into the grey afternoon.
And Harry is still here. She watches him.
Petunia had closed her heart to Lily years ago. At the time, she'd thought she was stuck in this bleak reality, but now she knows she is just rooted, and that this reality is the only thing that makes sense. She only regrets that Lily isn't around so she can point out to her that she had been right and Lily had been wrong.
She'd give a lot to be able to do that, though she would not give Dudley, or Vernon. She has turned out to be right. Lily ought to have come back. Now Petunia's heart is closed to Harry, too, it must be. So much would come rushing in if it weren't, she may explode.
"I can't raise you as my own," she says.
Harry doesn't look at her, only at the window, and starts crying again now owlie has gone.
(The response follows promptly on that very same afternoon, even before Vernon gets back from work, and she has a feeling Albus Dumbledore is doing this on purpose, out of courtesy for her. Albus Dumbledore must be a soft-hearted old geezer, not like her Vernon, not like him at all.)
It is a few days later. Petunia has been up for two hours, first with Dudley who needs lots of affection these days, then with Dudley and Harry, who is just fussy, and then finally Vernon has woken from the combined crying and come downstairs for a breakfast of bacon and sausage and baked beans and eggs, but he isn't as chipper as usual. It is a good thing that he's up early, because she has a surprise to spring on him as well, and she hopes this will be the last surprise for a long, long time.
"I will be needing the car today," she says, setting the steaming plate in front of him. "Do you mind taking the bus?"
She hardly ever drives, and if she does, then only to the grocery shop, but only if Vernon is busy on weekends. The long drive ahead of her is already making her nervous. A hundred and twenty miles to go there, a hundred and twenty miles back, she's marked and memorized all the stops she'll allow herself. But she'll feel safer going by car, nothing is going to be too weird or scary when there's a large grey Volvo in the picture.
Of course Vernon minds, he hates taking the bus, he hates not being in control of the vehicle he is sitting in, he hates waiting at the bus station for a bus that is late, he hates standing in the bus because all seats are taken, he hates being brushed against by strangers who might have headlice or body odour or tattoos. He could have said no, and Petunia wouldn't have gone. It's as easy as this.
"What are you planning?" he asks.
Petunia sighs soundlessly. "The funeral is today," she says by way of explanation, almost casually. "It is in a place called Godric's Hollow. Where the wedding took place. I don't think trains go there."
The wedding they didn't attend. They even went to Mallorca to have a proper excuse, flight tickets non-refundable, so sorry. After all, Lily had feigned a proper excuse when it came to her attending Petunia's wedding, had landed herself in some hospital or other not a year out of that school of hers, no doubt on some adventure or other, and Petunia wasn't going to let her have the upper hand.
"Didn't think so," Vernon says. "Of course they wouldn't have trains."
They do, actually, is what Petunia thinks, but what's the point of saying it out loud? So they have trains. Or maybe they just have the one train that takes children away from their families. Big whoop.
Vernon tries a different angle. For Vernon, he's being very subtle. "What about Dudley?" he says. He doesn't even ask how she knows of the date, or the time.
"I fixed it with my friend Yvonne, from the toddler group," says Petunia. "She's looking after him for the day."
"He'll be screaming all day," says Vernon. "Little rascal."
"He's very attached to his mummy," Petunia says fondly.
There's a pause. "What about him?"
"I'm taking him, don't I" says Petunia. "I mean, they're his parents, he won't understand of course, but I suppose it's only - " The nerve of them! she thinks. That she had to deal with that messy owl business just to find out when her own sister would be buried!
"Are you bringing him back?" Vernon says, chuckling at his joke. They both know he's half serious.
"There must be one of their lot who's willing to take him in," says Petunia. "That husband of hers, he must have parents, or relatives, or something. And I'm pretty sure the boy does have a godfather. There's been some mistake, I bet that Dumbledore wasn't looking properly, or maybe he just threw him at the most trustworthy people they could find in a hurry."
"Wait a minute," says Vernon. "That does sound almost sensible."
"From the lot of them, I'd call that suspicious." Petunia sighs. "He doesn't belong here. It'd be best for all of us."
She swallows, and busies herself with making coffee. That weird world has already taken her sister. She feels deep down that maybe it is not the best for Harry to go back there, but the very least she has to do before putting up with this is to find Dumbledore, and press him for all the information that he has left out of that cryptic joke of a letter. If this is not a mistake, if Harry is indeed better off with Vernon and herself and Dudley, than she must know why. Because then there's still a choice to be made, and it is not up to Dumbledore or any of those weird people.
"The petrol tank is full," says Vernon. Of course, he keeps such good care of his car. "The atlas is in the glove compartment. You want me to wash it before you go?"
He would only have had to say no.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Walking out into the driveway this morning, Petunia feels her neighbours's stares on her. Here she is, with a child that isn't hers, it is going to attract talk. And she's already in a bad mood, because someone has put an anonymous note through the mail slot, complaining about the increase in crying, and can't she control her son. Dudley! As if he would ever deserve such a thing.
Petunia throws the tote bag containing extra diapers, baby wipes, baby food, grown-up food and a change of clothes for Harry onto the backseat, and straps Harry into the safety seat on the passenger side.
"Just so we understand each other," she says to him before she closes the car door on him, and then pauses, maybe it is already weird to argue with a child that is exactly that: incapable of understanding, but she plunges on, "this is the first time, and more importantly, the last time, that I leave Dudley alone for your sake."
Harry just stares at her with big eyes. At least he's not crying today, but she has a feeling tears are just around the corner.
Laboriously, she makes it out of the driveway without bumping into anything, and even then it's going slowly, jerkily, she hasn't used any gear above the third in years so it is not at all smooth sailing. But the Volvo is forgiving. She stops twice to consult the old map from her weird items box; Godric's Hollow is on there, somewhere off Bristol, though it isn't on any of the proper maps, and later on it also doesn't turn up on the road signs. Typical.
She stops at a petrol station to change Harry's diaper, and later on when she has left the motorway, stops at a grocery shop to feed him baby food from a glass jar that the shop clerk has grudgingly microwaved for her, and asks for directions to Godric's Hollow, which the shop clerk has never heard of. All the while he's looking her up and down, trying to find something to judge. "He's not my son," she wants to say, "mine is back home," but that would even weirder than whatever the clerk has accepted as reality, because then she would be going to a place that doesn't exist with a child that isn't even hers. He may even call the police and then what? She downs a caffeinated soda, all this driving is exhausting.
Usually it's Vernon who drives. She is so used to watching him in the driver's seath that she knows exactly what he would say at every moment. He hates drivers who go slower than he does, because they make him do risky overtaking manoeuvres and because they have no regard for anything but their own little bubble. He hates drivers who go faster than he does, because they're tailgating him, and who do they think they are with their fancy Benzes and BMWs. He also hates drivers who go at the same speed as he does, because they should just get out of the way. He notably hates the petrol prices, which are always rising no matter what you do, and he would have had an emphatic face-to-face with that shop clerk, staring at his wife.
As she drives, she finds she feels the same way about other drivers. Vernon is merely more articulate at voicing his feelings. Petunia just tuts disapprovingly in Harry's general direction.
"And aren't you a little young for a funeral", she says when they pass the exit to Chippenham, "I mean, aren't we all, wasn't Lily, only twenty-one and already -", her second coke has made her feel quite giddy, yet, at the same time, a dark cloud passes over her thoughts - "already a mother, I mean, and now this".
Inwardly, she chokes. Harry is exactly that. Very, very young. Apart from the three Dursleys, he is probably the most innocent casualty in this whole ordeal. This is something that maybe she does understand, somewhere deep down.
He stares at her with those big bright eyes and she almost rear-ends the pathetic little VW Golf in front of her - and isn't she glad there's finally something she can blame on Harry. They're exactly like her eyes. Lily's eyes. How can she look at them from now on until he is eighteen and out of the house? When Lily left her and never looked at her sideways again?
"I'll find you someone who wants you," she says, before the dark cloud passes, "and then we'll all be happier."
He couldn't have possibly understood, but there it is, his tiny, high, wretched voice, saying "Mummy? Daddy?" And then he starts crying again. Can a child understand so much? He's probably just being fussy again.
The remains of her last nerve fray under the sound. Strange children crying will do that to you.
She's a few minutes late because she missed the last exit, sign must have been stolen by the local youth, damn rascals, should be made to work instead of lying around all day, stealing signs, smearing graffiti on walls, piercing the top of their ears, and the boys, too. When Petunia thinks these thoughts it is as if Vernon is right here with her, and that is a very comforting thought because otherwise she would feel very, very alone right now.
At first glance, Godric's Hollow is not as bad and wrong as she has envisioned it, with crooked little huts and one-eyed witches and ponds full of frog spawn and who knows what else. Where she enters from the twisty country road, there are even streets full of parked cars. The Volvo is easily the biggest car here, though. It's like a ship she sails in, colours flying high. She's sure everyone is staring at her again.
On the other side of the village, where she's headed towards a chapel, the cars diminish and there is a very distinct undercurrent of the strangeness. Nothing that would have been immediately obvious to any of Petunia's neighbours on Privet Drive, though they'd have turned up their noses just the same: strange intense smells wafting through the air, not only cabbage but also toffee and freshly cut grass and some of them foreign spices. There are little hole-in-the-wall shops selling things no-one in their right mind could possibly want - empty old cardboard boxes, herbs that you would neither want to eat nor make tea with, ridiculously polished and overpriced household items; also - and she can't help but laugh here - amethyst geodes and plenty of other rocks.
Some of the doors have no handles, most of the houses have no letter boxes or mail slots. Many gardens have shrubs and bushes she's never seen before, some of them three feet high and in full bloom, now, in November; obscenely big and plentiful fruit - and up until Dudley's birth Petunia has been a very thorough gardener. She hopes to take it up again some day. But she will never be able to compete with these.
It's cheating, that's what it is. When no lice will touch your roses, and your morning glory grows so fast you can watch, and your dishes do themselves, and giving birth is probably entirely painless. Petunia calls cheaters as she sees them.
There's also signs of celebration, as if Halloween has come late and mislaid all its ghosts on the way. Garlands in the trees, rainbow-coloured confetti on the streets, flags hanging from the windows. But no people.
She parks the Volvo on the curb in front of the chapel, gets out, and straightens her dark skirt and jacket, puts on a raincoat and a shawl. Feeling a bit sticky from the long drive, she checks her hair and lipstick in the car mirror, then walks around the car, and unstraps little Harry from the safety seat. Of course he's only just fallen asleep when they passed Bristol. Now he blinks groggily at the world at large, at the November drizzle in particular.
The Volvo looks as out of place here as one of those oversized pumpkins would look in her own front garden. The car doors close with a reliably sober sound. Petunia breathes out, channels her inner Little Whinging. She's just happy she brought the car.
Then she spends another increasingly desperate minute trying to flatten little Harry's hair with a comb from her purse. It doesn't yield, as Dudley's or her own would, it's completely unfamiliar and strange. He's squirming under her ministrations, making unhappy noises.
"It's your parents' funeral," she says, "try to make an effort." Of course he doesn't.
Petunia, as a matter of fact, does not understand a lot of things, or rather: does not want to understand a lot of things, because a lot of things are clearly nonsensical. But as she slips silently into the chapel - and what denomination is this anyway, certainly not Anglican -, little Harry in her arms, she understands something.
She does not belong here. And this is no teenager cutting a hole in her jeans, or a neighbour not washing their car every Saturday - all things she also does not understand. This is big. A very big, very solid community that she is not part of. No wonder she hasn't seen anyone outside, there are at least two hundred people gathered here to honour her sister and that husband of hers, and none of them turns around to look at the latecomers (except for a handful of very alert looking men and women in long blue overalls who are standing by the door, whom she only notices later; they are a bit hard to make out and remember and she's getting a headache just from trying).
She has seen Albus Dumbledore once before and she has not forgot him one bit. Now he looks up, in the middle of the speech that has his audience so transfixed, to pierce her, and only her, she supposes, with that intense, clear blue gaze of his that she can still remember after all these years.
Petunia is so surprised she immediately sits down in a free spot at one end of the very last row, little Harry in her lap. Still no-one is looking at her, as she has feared, except for some of the blue-clad security men (and, apparently, women) and, arguably, Albus Dumbledore. She tries listening, but Harry is squirming. That voice washes over her, that powerful voice that gives the impression of meaning to the simplest of words.
So she understood that one thing, but she still doesn't understand the rest of it. It is a speech of triumph he makes, as well as of loss, and how dare he. How dare he.
You took her, she thinks, you took her and now you bury her and that husband of hers, and you dare call them heroes! But whether they're called heroes or losers they are gone either way, and maybe if he had the courage to call them losers no-one else will try and follow their lead, which has ended right here: in an open coffin, surrounded by mourners, with an orphaned and unhappy child in the back row. And for what.
She should stand up and say that much. But as time moves forwards, Petunia sits there, transfixed against her will. In her arms, little Harry has stopped moving around so much. Such is the magic of these simple words, that deep and strangely soothing voice.
Something stirs, something she hasn't felt since she was a young girl - that there was a place where she longed to go, a place worth going, anywhere but here, the way her parents always looked to be elsewhere, like India, like Newfoundland. Like Nepal, unfortunately. But they could board a plane and go there. Petunia couldn't. That is what she feels now.
Of course. Albus Dumbledore is charming. He was charming the last time Petunia saw him, when he spoke of persecution and hatred and persuaded Lily to come back despite them. Lily, believing that there was something waiting for her besides death.
She presses Harry to her, as in reflex, but he isn't having any of it, he cranes his neck to stare at Albus Dumbledore the way toddlers sometimes do. It somewhat breaks Petunia's attention, she also looks to see if Albus Dumbledore's concentration falters under the green-eyed curiosity now directed solely at him. He must recognise those eyes. And now, when the weight of her sudden and alarming open-mouthed reverence has lifted, Petunia listens. Really listens.
She hears terrible things.
Of course there've been allusions in the letter, but somehow her eyes have always passed over them in a hurry when she read it, and read it again, because surely not even they would just spring something like that on her and her family. She remembers Lily had mentioned it before, but that world was not real so it didn't matter. But now -
A mass murderer, a scarecrow of a man, after little Harry, murdering Lily and that husband of hers because they do not get out of the way fast enough. Harry survives, the scarecrow vanishes, apparently into thin air, a bunch of henchmen still to be rounded up, this strange world supposedly saved at a terrible price.
(She looks down on little Harry, on the bandage she has put over that still-healing cut on his forehead. She is expected to tell him how he got it one day, yes? She doesn't think so.)
And Albus Dumbledore, obviously prone to distributing responsibility and terror on too few and, in her case, entirely the wrong shoulders. Bet he hadn't expected her to listen this carefully.
"After all," says Albus Dumbledore, it sounds like closure, she really must have been late, what with the road signs and all, "the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." He looks at his audience, and each member of the congregation looks back, as if these were more than empty words that weren't helpful.
He should rightfully falter under Petunia's contempt. He doesn't.
"The people who love us are truly immortal," he continues. "We can be kind because they have taught us kindness. We can be brave because they have taught us what is at stake. They shaped the world that we continue to live in. That we continue to shape."
Lily, creeping into her thoughts more often in the last few days than she did in the last three years, and that is not immortality, she wants to shout. That is just stubbornness, a little sister that is gone forever and still teases her about it. Her little sister. Let her rest already.
Her thoughts truly take on strange shapes, she thinks, as Albus Dumbledore's voice continues. "Lily and James faced the world - as it was - with courage," he says, "so that we, blessed as we are by being loved, might face the world - as it is - with hope."
He falls silent. If Petunia were to drop a pin from her hair it would echo throughout the chapel, though of course none are loose. It lasts for a few long moments. Then, in the first row, a huge man blows into a handkerchief the size of a picnic blanket, a sound like a trumpet, and the shockwaves have hardly subsided when a child begins to cry.
Engrossed as she is, it takes Petunia a few confused seconds to realise it's Harry. She still doesn't know how he can understand at all, his vocabulary isn't that extensive yet. Still, right now, right here, he chooses to go for the two words he uses most, which are "mummy" and "daddy", and at that very moment she knows he does understand, and cries for what, deep in his soul, he knows he has lost forever in a very practical way, musings of Albus Dumbledore on the nature of death notwithstanding. They don't matter much to a one year old orphan.
Heads turn toward her. Eyes widen, as the recognise not her, but the child that she is holding close to her, that a sudden and strong instinct makes her want to protect against those prying eyes. There's mumbling.
"Merlin's Beard -"
"It's him, it's little Harry -"
"That poor child -"
"Why is he with that Muggle?"
She's been called that before, though not often. There was never much opportunity. All right, she thinks, show's over. No hope to see here. She gathers him up, quietly says her excuses, and steps outside. She knows they want to follow, to take what is rightfully theirs, and she knows none of them will dare to do that under the nose of Albus Dumbledore, despite all his words on bravery.
It's still cool outside, but the rain has ceased and the wind has picked up. Single rays of sunlight are breaking through the cloud cover. She knows she shouldn't have come to Godric's Hollow at all. She should drive back immediately, but the thought of driving another hundred and twenty miles right now, with Harry in that mood, is daunting.
Harry belongs with these disconcerting people, that much is clear, but right now the last thing she wants to do is hand him over to them - so convinced is she that they are greedy, want to claim him as their saviour, maybe see if he's got another few tricks up his sleeve. She's not really sure if they are really to keep him out of harm's way when they so readily accept him as a hero instead of what he is: a one year old that terrible things have happened to.
The Volvo seems a million miles away. Albus Dumbledore, she thinks. She must speak to him before she leaves. For some reason she is sure this is her last chance for a long time to come, and if she misses it, she is stuck with Harry and with all the worries and without answers until he is eleven, at which point she will be stuck without Harry and also without answers, but still with all the worries.
In the churchyard, a good distance away, she finds a park bench that is mostly dry, and sits down on it, straight-backed and stiff. Harry in her arms is still crying. Maybe he is hungry. She rummages in her purse, finds a shortbread, tries to feed it to him. It goes so-so, which is to say badly but not as abysmal as some of the other times. At least he's busy. At least he's not only crying.
He is going to be an unhappy child, she thinks. A sullen teenager. She's heard orphans often geht hung-up about it, he'll make their lives miserable, take his moods out on them. He may even bully Dudley. These things show early, she knows.
"Mind if I sit with you?" someone asks behind her. Scottish accent, voice so soft she is not a hundred percent sure whether it's a man or a woman.
Actually I mind very much, Petunia doesn't say. She doesn't say anything, just waves her hand and he sits.
"My name is Remus Lupin," he introduces himself formally, as she leans forward to pick up the half biscuit Harry has dropped. "I am a friend of Lily's and James'. You must be Petunia, Lily told me about you." His voice is tight, as if it takes great effort to stop it from shaking.
"I would appreciate if you called me Mrs Dursley," Petunia says primly, only now looking up. She doesn't shake the offered hand.
"I'm sorry," says Mr Lupin - and what kind of name is that anyway. Some posh Latin or something, like all those parents these days calling their boys things like Alexander and Rufus and, she shudders to remember, Severus. But when she looks at him, he doesn't look posh at all; a lot younger than she expected,about Lily's age, untidy hair that goes past his ears - is this one of their things, having strange, untameable hair? - and dark robes that are, while clean and freshly pressed, obviously too big. She figures he must have borrowed them. He looks like he's been crying a lot, and recently. Vernon wouldn't be caught dead crying.
Harry looks up from his biscuit to skewer him on his bright green gaze. "Moony?" he says after a while.
"I'm afraid he's not making much sense most of the time," says Petunia, but she doesn't either of their attention.
The shadow of a smile on that strange man's face. For a fleeting second, the child is beaming up at him. But it passes.
"I wasn't aware he could smile," she adds. Of course he would smile at near strangers but not at his only family, she thinks. The hugeness of the task in front of her; anyone would do the same.
"I am sorry to disturb you," Mr Lupin says, finally looking at her, though if he were sorry, why would he be here disturbing her, "but I couldn't stand the service any more and I fancied a chance to see young Harry again." The way he says it, she knows what he means: to see Harry one last time before she takes him away into safety. The way he just accepts it; the lot of them must be so used to just accept Albus Dumbledore's whims and fancies.
She nods in order to signal she has heard him.
"Mind if I hold him for a moment?" he says.
Petunia regards him for a moment. Granted, he looks a bit like a vagabond and not very trustworthy what with the hair and the too big robes and the youngness, but then, their kind always looks a bit windswept. Petunia hands him the boy. Lupin takes him, carefully, as if afraid to break him. Clearly he is not used to handling children. Harry, unconcerned with that, settles in comfortably. There's none of the reservation, the downright antagonism, she usually sees when he's with her or Vernon, and something rises in her. Resentment, or bile.
"You're not the godfather Lily wrote about, are you?" she asks. "Oh wait, you aren't, his name was different, another one of these fancy Latin ones -"
She sees him wince before that mask of control settles once again. "I'm not the godfather," he says simply, stroking the hair of the little boy who, for the first time in her presence, is showing something resembling cheer. "Though, as it turns out," he adds, "I rather wish for Harry's sake that Lily and James had chosen differently. Why are you asking?"
She ignores the question for the moment. "I expect you were close to the family?" she asks.
"I used to be," he says, looking down on Harry, not at her.
"You like him, and want to see him grow up well?"
"Naturally," he says again, though this time more carefully.
"Take him," she says.
"Take him?" Suddenly he looks alarmed, and also a little hostile. He's judging her, she knows, sizing her up and immediately deciding that Dumbledore has made a terrible mistake in leaving Harry down on her doorstep, because she will abandon him on a playground one day, or at a petrol station, or with perfect strangers she met on a park bench.
"Take him," she says again. "He doesn't belong in the real world. He belongs here. His plushy lamb goes bah when he thinks I'm not looking. The fence of the playpen vanishes into thin air and he's off, once he crawled almost all the way to the garden -"
"Crawled?" interjects Lupin.
"Just surprised," says Lupin. "I thought he'd skipped crawling and went straight to walking, at least James always complained. Drove him crazy looking after the boy -"
"Well, he sure never made a step on his own at our house!" says Petunia. "Letting himself be carried around all day - I have a son of my own and he's a handful all by himself, I don't mind telling you, and here's little Harry crying all the time and too lazy to walk, and all sorts of stuff may happen to him, and how in hell am I to protect us against a human scarecrow with a stupid French name -"
Of course the young man picks that last bit of her tirade to grace with a response. "Didn't Dumbledore explain that?" he exclaims.
Petunia scoffs. "Oh, I bet he reckons he did. Personally, I thought it was all complete hogwash."
Of all reactions, she hadn't expected patience. Mr Lupin gives the impression of having extensive experience in talking people out of ideas he finds outrageous. "Don't you think Dumbledore knows quite a bit more about -"
"I don't know what he knows!" says Petunia. "I bet it's a lot. But all he wrote in that pathetic letter of his is that just because you lot can't find this Voldypants means he's gone but for some reason Harry still needs protection, and excuse me if I think something's missing from there."
"I'm afraid I can't take him in," says Mr Lupin, completely side-stepping the explanation of Dumbledore's elusive information politics she had hoped for, looking down sadly on little Harry in his lap as if he is already regretting what he's saying. Harry is contently working on the complete disintegration of his biscuit, murmuring "Moony" now and then.
"Why the hell not?" says Petunia. "He likes you. You know him. That's far more than we have going for us."
"You want to know why not?"
There is a long pause. The bells from the chapel are starting to ring, a low, vibrating sound, almost a moan of pain. Those bells must also be of the weird sort, she thinks, their sound going right into that part of the brain that doesn't like to think.
"When I came to Hogwarts," Mr Lupin says, finally, "you know, the wizarding school -"
"Yes, I know -" she interrupts, and wonders what exactly she has said to deserve him launching into his life story. He could have just said he doesn't have the money to raise a child, she'd believe that in an instant.
"When I came to Hogwarts, I had no-one," he says. "See, I grew up quite isolated, I was an only child and then I was sick very often, so my parents taught me at home until I was eleven."
"Are you sick now?" she asks. "Because frankly I don't want to catch anything, it's enough with Dudley bringing home all those bugs from toddler group all the time." Maybe this is the reason he doesn't want Harry, she figures sharply.
"I am perfectly healthy today," says Mr Lupin, possibly regretting he has started this.
Or not. "Go on, then," she says politely.
"I didn't expect to find friends at Hogwarts, frankly I didn't even know what they were good for," he says. (Dudley has no problems making friends in toddler group, she thinks fondly.)
"And then I found three," he continues. "In my first year, I met James and the others, and I was surprised and a bit bewildered to be dragged into the greatest friendship a lonely eleven-year-old could hope for, and even more surprised and bewildered to find it lasted all the way - up until the end. Then James and Lily got married, and it felt like more than friends. It became family because by then we were all stuck with each other. It has remained family."
Three and one, that makes four, unless mathematics work differently here, and she wouldn't be surprised. Yet the man is alone. "So where are they now?" she says. Maybe one of them is the elusive godfather. Maybe one of them can take Harry.
"Three of my friends are dead," he says with an effort, staring not at Harry, but off into space somewhere.
"And one - ", there is a miniscule pause, "- one is facing a lifetime in prison for betraying two and killing the third." He breathes out, a silent sigh. "So in all honesty, I find it a challenge to get out of bed every morning, let alone take care of a little child." He turns to look at her, meets her unforgiving stare, looks away. "I wish things were different," he says as an afterthought.
So, mathematics work the same here, but friendship doesn't. And Lily spoke so highly of her friends. Apparently she wasn't particularly gifted at picking them.
Petunia moves away from him a bit, in case this, too, is catching, but she does not think she is capable of catching this. She lost her parents, and now her younger sister, and somehow she always functions, finishing her studies, taking care of her relationship and now her marriage, caring for one toddler, then suddenly two. There wasn't a day in her life when she did not make it out of bed. Something about the way her mind works makes it impossible for her to ever, ever get lazy.
"Strange," he says, "Sirius up in Azkaban but I am the one who feels they are following me around."
Now that did not make any sense, but it does stir her interest. More henchmen? "Who is?" she says.
He doesn't seem to notice her resentful confusion, but he does notice the uncomfortable pause eventually. "I'm sorry," he says. "A dementor is -"
"One of them strange fairy-tale fellows, I suppose," says Petunia.
"They guard Azkaban," Mr Lupin says. "It's the wizarding prison. They feed on happiness until there's nothing left."
"Your lot played no role in the Geneva Convention, did you?" she says, thinking Vernon would like this, he always says criminals are coddled too much. She expects Mr Lupin to be puzzled, but he's not.
"Unfortunately not," he says; admitting this looks painful. "Who knows what crevice of hell the dementors crawled from, they are among the worst you could encounter. Of course Muggles can't see them, they just despair for no reason at all."
Petunia thinks. It would explain so much. It is sort of embarrassing, but she's not going to see this fellow again, is she? And she must know. So. "Was there one in the chapel just now?" she asks.
He looks at her, surprised. "Why are you asking?"
Petunia shrugs nonchalantly. "Because for a moment there I got a bit overwhelmed - anyway, there was no reason at all, I mean, it's not like anything changed just then."
"No," says Mr Lupin. "No dementor there. I wish there was. A dementor I could fight."
"No dementor," she says, and at this moment she accepts something. Just a small little fact about the world as it is now.
And then, as she said, for no reason at all her eyes begin to water, and she's crying, and sniffing, and she knows these are the only tears that she will ever shed over Lily. It's not just Lily, it's herself stuck with little Harry who she did not want and is not sure what to do with, Harry who does not smile and does not walk and is so unlike Dudley who she knows and loves, and this world with its scarecrows and henchmen and dead little sisters who never did anything wrong except for maybe being too round-eyed and adventurous and trusting, all this just around the corner from her safe little house on Privet Drive, what would she give to be back there right now, and even strange Mr Lupin with his sad tale of friends lost forever, and things following people around and sucking the happiness out of everything. And Mr Dumbledore who talks about facing the world with hope.
She feels Mr Lupin pat her on the shoulder awkwardly. "There," he says, though she can hear he's also sniffling already. This leaves Harry the only non-crying person in the vicinity, how's that for a change.
"Here, take this," says Mr Lupin and presses something into her hand. Petunia blows her nose on her meticulously laundered hankie before acknowledging the item; it is a chocolate bar, individually wrapped. It looks a lot like the sweets Lily used to bring home; Petunia eyes it suspiciously, it may jump away, or was that something else?
"Thanks," she says stiffly. "I will save this for later." You strange, sad man, she thinks.
"Eat it," he says. "It helps." He isn't having any, she notices. He isn't allowing himself even this small, laughable comfort. She reaches out and takes Harry from him, who, a bit surprised, doesn't start bawling immediately.
"How can it be worth it?" she says.
Mr Lupin may be just as surprised at having Harry taken from him by that woman who wanted nothing more than to be rid of of the child. "I'm sorry?" he says. She bets he is.
"How can it be worth it?" she says, again. "Say, a little girl gets a letter inviting her to wonderland and she gets there and it is all wand waving and sugar quills and Mallory Towers come true, and later it's prejudice against children like her and human scarecrows and dementors and betrayal by her best friend and death, how is that worth it? Why did she never look back? We are her family, too."
Mr Lupin looks taken aback. "Yes," he says finally, "sometimes I wonder as well why so few of them choose to go back to the Muggle world."
"That is very helpful."
"Lily, though," he says. "She was an adventurer. This life was her biggest adventure yet, and she loved it fiercely."
It takes her a while to figure out that this was meant to be comforting. Maybe it even makes him feel better, and suddenly she is furious.
"Good day, Mr Lupin," she says.
If he is shocked by the sudden, rude farewell, he doesn't show. He must realise there's nothing more left to say, or maybe he's just on drugs. "Good day, Mrs Dursley," he says, nodding. "Harry." He squeezes his tiny hand.
Lily was on drugs after their parents's death, she remembers. She was the same way, strangely solemn, always close to tears but seldomly crying, and so hard to annoy; in all ways different from before. Petunia is glad the real world has pills for that kind of thing. She had some of them then; all better, no magic, just good old chemistry; but that is one thing she's never told Vernon.
She watches Mr Lupin amble off to re-join the congregation that is slowly moving toward an open double grave in the distance. The sun is already setting on this Thursday in early November, and Petunia realises how cold she is on her park bench. Then a shadow falls over her.
"I am afraid the burial is not for Muggles to see," says the deep voice of Albus Dumbledore. "I would be delighted if you let me accompany you to your carriage."
"It's a car," says Petunia testily. There he stands, a head taller than her even in her shoes, and clad in outrageous, ornamental robes of deep violet. And that beard! She looks him up and down. Does no-one here know how to dress for a funeral? Petunia does. She even found an old dark-blue romper suit of Dudley's for Harry to wear. And that Mr Lupin at least made an effort.
The trouble with sizing up Dumbledore is, he always stares back.
"Indeed," says Dumbledore. "The grey 245 out there? Great model. I swear if I didn't have Fawkes I would have a Volvo."
"Vroom vroom," interjects Harry, and giggles.
Approval of the car by one of their kind seems to taint it. And Petunia doesn't know what a Fawkes is but she is pretty sure it is not the newest Opel, either.
She gets up, Harry in her arms. The boy must be getting tired, it is nearly time for his nap. But usually he gets even fussier when he's tired; not now.
"I can't say I'm not disappointed," she hears Dumbledore say in a conversational tone as they walk down the winding path, and she's a bit surprised, for some reason she'd expected more niceties. "There we leave him on your doorstep, at your mercy and compassion, and the first thing you try and do is to hand him back." He looks at her in a seemingly friendly manner. "Why?"
"He is a child," says Petunia. "It's not like asking your neighbours to water your lawn over the weekend!"
"On that we are agreed," says Dumbledore. "Harry is, indeed, a child. Which makes all this -" a grand sweeping gesture that seems to incorporate at least the churchyard, if not the whole word -"infinitely more tragic."
There is much uncomfortable silence. It is as if Dumbledore has manufactured it on purpose. They have almost reached the kissing gate that leads to the road where the Volvo is parked before he speaks again.
"He can't stay in our world," he says. "It is most important that you understand this."
"Why not?" she demands. "He is an orphan who needs a home, but not on Privet Drive. I - we would all be happier. I watched him. He's all Lily's, nothing like us -"
"I must say," says Dumbledore, "that I do not understand - and at my age this is something that is hard to admit... I do not understand this at all. When we last met, I got to know you as an adventurer in her own rights, you had found a world and you demanded your way in there, and no-one is sorrier than I am that we cannot teach all children. Now to meet you again, with all this resentment toward our world - tell me what has happened, Petunia."
"Oh, I don't know," snaps Petunia. "The world that killed my sister and then abandoned her only son? Nothing happened. I simply grew up. I saw past my fancies."
Dumbledore comes to a stop in front of the gate, his expression pained. "Your perspective on us, while not unexpected, does hit harder than I had thought it would," he says. "Thank you. But how can we be abandoning him, if we leave him with you? I understand you have a son that you love very much."
"It's not about my son, it's about him," says Petunia. "He doesn't belong -"
She is starting to feel like a broken record. Is nothing getting through to him?
"Countless families have offered to take him in," says Dumbeldore. "The Tonks' did. The Malfoys did, for some inexplicable and possibly not entirely selfless reason. So did the Weasleys, but they just had their seventh kid so it might get crowded. But the fact remains that he is not safe here. Neither from the hero-worship nor from the more sinister attention of the last of Voldemort's followers, who I think may be holding a grudge." He pauses for clarity. "A long lasting and particularly nasty grudge, I am sorry to say."
He sees the question on on her face as she makes her way through the gate he's holding open for her.
"Do not worry," he says. "Harry is perfectly safe with you, I assure you that much." Of course. He's seen the question but has chosen to answer a different one first.
"That's not what I wanted to ask," she says, the Volvo finally in her field of view. "I have my own family to think of and I will always - always - put them first."
He regards her with an unreadable expression. Is he considering snatching little Harry out of her arms after all?
"I assure you also," he says, "that your family is perfectly safe with Harry."
"On your word?" she says.
"On my word," he replies.
She does not know what Albus Dumbledore's word is worth, but she does know that he prides himself on it. Lily always spoke very highly of him. And that's really all she has to go on.
An adventure, then.
"I have to head back to the ceremony now," he says. "I hope, when we see each other again, it will be on happier grounds."
They arrive at the car, which someone has decided to decorate with a garland made of flowers and origami cranes.
"You lot seem happy enough," she says, snatching it off the Volvo's shiny bonnet.
"These are strange and confusing times," he says. "I am sorry for your loss."
Dumbledore holds out his hand. She is compelled by a sense of the appropriate to take it. It feels like she seals something by shaking his hand - a contract, her fate. Then Dumbledore turns around and leaves, up the winding path towards that open grave, and now he really looks like an old man.
There is also a card behind the windscreen wipers that came with the garland, it shoots sparks when she opens it, and reads "Good Luck Harry Thank You For Everything". She throws it on the ground, where it faintly glitters, Harry's eyes following it all the time. She straps him into the baby seat.
Harry cries all the way home.
That Saturday, at breakfast, Vernon had said gruffly, "If he stays, he'll be needing his own room, we can't make Dudley share any longer." Then he had set out to clearing out that roomy cupboard under the stairs, bringing box for box of dusty linen and porcelain and foreign rocks from her parents' house into the cellar, before putting up Dudley's second baby bed from his second bedroom. The cupboard will do as long as Harry is small.
That afternoon is the first time she's managed to get both of them to take their naps at the same time, possibly because they don't get the chance to wake each other by wailing. Vernon always has the best ideas, she thinks fondly.
It's the first chance she gets today of peering through the curtains, and she fleetingly remembers a time when she was still pregnant with Dudley and there was no Harry, how she'd loved to just look out of the window for hours, watching the rain fall on the asphalt of Privet Drive.
"Someone's moving into that empty house on Wisteria Walk," she calls over to Vernon, who is reading the newspaper in his shirtsleeves. "And they're bringing in one, no two, no three of them cat baskets!"
"Anything odd?" he calls over.
"Not that I can see," she says grimly. "And I would know, wouldn't I. And honey -"
There it is, right in the driveway, shiny in the sunlight, glittering unnaturally even for a car that has just been washed. The Volvo that made this strange journey with her. The garland, she thinks.
"Yes, dear?" says Vernon.
"That car is almost as old as Dudley. Let's sell it."