What if, when Petunia Dursley found a little boy on her front doorstep, she took him in? Not into the cupboard under the stairs, not into a twisted childhood of tarnished worth and neglect—what if she took him in?
Petunia was jealous, selfish and vicious. We will not pretend she wasn’t. She looked at that boy on her doorstep and thought about her Dudders, barely a month older than this boy. She looked at his eyes and her stomach turned over and over. (Severus Snape saved Harry’s life for his eyes. Let’s have Petunia save it despite them).
Let’s tell a story where Petunia Dursley found a baby boy on her doorstep and hated his eyes—she hated them. She took him in and fed him and changed him and got him his shots, and she hated his eyes up until the day she looked at the boy and saw her nephew, not her sister’s shadow. When Harry was two and Vernon Dursley bought Dudley a toy car and Harry a fast food meal with a toy with parts he could choke on Petunia packed her things and got a divorce.
Harry grew up small and skinny, with knobbly knees and the unruly hair he got from his father. He got cornered behind the dumpsters and in the restrooms, got blood on the jumpers Petunia had found, half-price, at the hand-me-down store. He was still chosen last for sports. But Dudley got blood on his sweaters, too, the ones Petunia had found at the hand-me-down store, half price, because that was all a single mother working two secretary jobs could afford for her two boys, even with Vernon’s grudging child support.
They beat Harry for being small and they laughed at Dudley for being big, and slow, and dumb. Students jeered at him and teachers called Dudley out in class, smirked over his backwards letters.
Harry helped him with his homework, snapped out razored wit in classrooms when bullies decided to make Dudley the butt of anything; Harry cornered Dudley in their tiny cramped kitchen and called him smart, and clever, and ‘better ‘n all those jerks anyway’ on the days Dudley believed it least.
Dudley walked Harry to school and back, to his advanced classes and past the dumpsters, and grinned, big and slow and not dumb at all, at anyone who tried to mess with them.
But was that how Petunia got the news? Her husband complained about owls and staring cats all day long and in the morning Petunia found a little tyke on her doorsep. This was how the wizarding world chose to give the awful news to Lily Potter’s big sister: a letter, tucked in beside a baby boy with her sister’s eyes.
There were no Potters left. Petunia was the one who had to arrange the funeral. She had them both buried in Godric’s Hollow. Lily had chosen her world and Petunia wouldn’t steal her from it, not even in death. The wizarding world had gotten her sister killed; they could stand in that cold little wizard town and mourn by the old stone.
(Petunia would curl up with a big mug of hot tea and a little bit of vodka, when her boys were safely asleep, and toast her sister’s vanished ghost. Her nephew called her ‘Tune’ not ‘Tuney,’ and it only broke her heart some days.
Before Harry was even three, she would look at his green eyes tracking a flight of geese or blinking mischieviously back at her and she would not think ‘you have your mother’s eyes.’
A wise old man had left a little boy on her doorstep with her sister’s eyes. Petunia raised a young man who had eyes of his very own).
Petunia snapped and burnt the eggs at breakfast. She worked too hard and knew all the neighbors’ worst secrets. Her bedtime stories didn’t quite teach the morals growing boys ought to learn: be suspicious, be wary; someone is probably out to get you. You owe no one your kindness. Knowledge is power and let no one know you have it. If you get can get away with it, then the rule is probably meant for breaking.
Harry grew up loved. Petunia still ran when the letters came. This was her nephew, and this world, this letter, these eyes, had killed her sister. When Hagrid came and knocked down the door of some poor roadside motel, Petunia stood in front of both her boys, shaking. When Hagrid offered Harry a squashed birthday cake with big, kind, clumsy hands, he reminded Harry more than anything of his cousin.
His aunt was still shaking but Harry, eleven years and eight minutes old, decided that any world that had people like his big cousin in it couldn’t be all bad. “I want to go,” Harry told his aunt and he promised to come home.
Dumbledore’s letter to Petunia, tucked in Harry’s blankets, changed the face of the war—it kept the Boy Who Lived safe until he could go like a pig to slaughter.
But long before Dumbledore ever wrote to this bitter woman for the sake of her blood and her sister’s undying love, Petunia Evans wrote to him. As a child, she took the address off Lily’s Hogwarts letter and wrote to ask if she might go to school there, too.
The Christmas before Lily and James died, Petunia had sent them a vase, into their little hidden house with their crawling son and their loyal, frightened, not-so-loyal friends. Petunia still hated her sister, flighty, fierce, beautiful Lily, who loved too hard and forgave to easy. Petunia hated the way she had always felt faded in her sister’s light and she hated the way it had killed her.
This was hatred. This was love; it was something else entirely. This was a girl who was told she was not pretty, not brilliant, not magic; a girl who listened and decided that, alright then, that would have to be enough. That would have to be more than enough. That would have to be better, to be normal, to be plain and horse-toothed and to have too much neck. Her sister had left her for brighter shores and, fine then, Petunia didn’t want to follow anyway. That lived like a canker under her tongue all her life.
When the little Evans family got back to their apartment with Harry’s crumpled letter in his tiny hand and Dudley’s bigger ones empty, Petunia sat them both down, in their kitchen with its weird stain on one wall and the weird musty smell, and told them they were not allowed to hate each other.
Harry looked up from the summer school essay he was editing for Dudley and Dudley peeked under the ice pack he was holding to the swelling black eye he’d got convincining some local tough kids from behind the candy shop to give Harry his pocket money back. “OK, mum,” they chorused.
When Harry met Ron on the Hogwarts Express, Ron told him he had five older brothers and Harry said, “I have one.”
The letter in Harry’s battered trunk read ‘Mr. H. Potter’ and Harry signed his Hogwarts homework with that name every year he was there. When he introduced himself during the war, he said ‘Potter;’ when he joined the Auror’s office the name on his door was ‘Potter,’ because that meant something here.
But when he wrote home to the little two bedroom apartment where Petunia hung her hat and Dudley scowled over his exams, he signed his name ‘Harry Evans,’ because that name meant something to him.
Harry still wished for parents, for none of his bad dreams to flash green and cold. When Harry stood in front of the Mirror of Erised, his whole family still spread out in front of him, his mother was smiling at him, her eyes his own. Ron saw his own successes. Dumbledore did not see socks. Ginny Weasley would have seen a ten year old girl smiling like nothing in the world could scare her and she would have pretended furiously that she hadn’t seen anything but empty, beautiful skies.
Harry saw the family he wished he could have: his mother, father, grandparents; but his cousin and his aunt, standing there too, Petunia holding Lily’s hand and so many less lines around his aunt’s old eyes.
When Harry came home with pockets full of frog spawn, Petunia squealed and made him empty them out and do his laundry himself.
When he came in with new scars, new nightmares, Petunia got him a wizarding therapist she could barely afford (but that Harry’s vaults handily could), made sure the kitchen was stocked with warm milk and chocolate for shaking midnights, and had Harry teach her how to send Howlers so that she could fill Dumbledore’s office with her rage.
When Harry brought home the moving photo album Hagrid had given him, he showed it to his aunt. Petunia didn’t cry, not even when she ran her fingers over the image of James whirling Lily high in the air, his bowtie askew, her wedding dress arcing, getting caught in the bushes, dragging in the wet spring mud. Petunia and Vernon had not deigned to attend the wedding, but Petunia recognized the silver pin in her sister’s brilliant hair. Something old.
Her nephew curled into her side, eleven and mourning love he had had for one short year, love that would scar him all his life. “Can you tell me about them?”
"I didn’t know him," Petunia said. "Lily—Lily was everything I wasn’t. I don’t know if I knew her either."
Harry nodded, solemn. He didn’t push; the boy never pushed, except for other peoples’ sakes.
"She was beautiful," said Petunia. "She got mad if you stepped on flowers, because what if they had feelings.” Harry giggled. “She went after the boys on the play yard, when we were little, if they tugged on other little girls’ pigtails…”
Harry brought home other things too—a bushy-haired, buck-toothed girl and a freckled boy who shouted over the telephone—very improper. Mrs. Weasley though Petunia was quaint, stiff, a little sharp. Mr. Weasley thought she was fascinating, and Ginny thought she was hilarious, the way those lips would twist, spit out something polite and damning. The twins tried to prank her once. They didn’t do it twice.
Harry wrote home and whenever he mentioned that people called Hermione ugly or shrill something in Petunia seized up with fury; whenever he wrote that people called Ron stupid, not kind, not loyal, not practical, Petunia would cast her eyes over to Dudley, frowning over his homework, and want to set things aflame.
Mrs. Weasley sent Dudley a warm, soft sweater, every Christmas, that fit him perfectly. Petunia sent Hermione sweets and beautiful quills. She sent Ron packs of clean underwear and a football poster the first year (she meant well) (Harry had to explain it, once he stopped laughing). After that, she sent Ron sweets, too, and little trinkets: a good knife, a portable chess set, a silver lighter Ron would carry in his pocket beside Dumbledore’s Put-Outer, all through the days of that last war.
Every year, dropping Harry off at King’s Cross Station felt a little less like sending him off to die. He came back with new terrible stories for her to pry out of him, about two-faced professors and giant snakes, lost girls and blood on the walls, but he came back. He wrote letters and sent them by the owl she made him keep out on the little balcony. Dudley stopped needing to defend him from bullies, even at a weedy twelve, but he escorted Harry to the little candy store anyway.
When Harry was at school, Dudley wrote him letters, slowly, painstakingly, and told him about his new tutor and about the kids he was mentoring in his after school program. Harry wrote back about his awful DADA teacher (Petunia sent Howlers) and theories about what was trying to kill him in Hogwarts that year (Dudley didn’t tell Petunia about these, just wrote back, had tea at Mrs. Figg, with Hestia and Mundungus and all the others who had watched over Harry’s childhood, and asked them the questions the professors wouldn’t answer to Harry).
Every time Petunia dropped Harry off at 9 3/4, people stared. “It’s just ‘cause I’m the Boy Who Lived, auntie,” said Harry, but Petunia knew they were looking at her wrist watch, her pantsuit, her craning neck, all the ways she did not belong.
Remus Lupin was suspicious; Lupin had heard stories about Lily’s older sister and all the sharp things that had dropped off her tongue. When he met Harry on the Express, Harry had his mother’s eyes, his father’s hair, hand-me-down clothes and he dropped under the dementors’ sway faster than anyone Lupin had ever seen. But the boy’s clothes were precisely mended and when Harry woke up he dug through his own bag, pulled out a bar of chocolate, and said, “My aunt sent me with some, in case of nightmares.”
After Lupin’s forced resignation, Harry invited him home for tea. Petunia was stiff and Lupin was shabby, but he shook her hand very properly and called her “Ms. Evans” until she told him to call her Petunia. When he finally got her to laugh, she didn’t sound like Lily but she was, for an instant, just as pretty.
Up to and after his death, Petunia considered Sirius with a kind of fierce, shrill suspicion, the way she did with lurkers on street corners or children who didn’t pull up their pants all the way up over their boxers. But she quite liked Lupin. They went to the unemployment agency together, whenever their latest temp jobs had fallen through.
The Weasleys invited her to the Quidditch World Cup, in Harry’s fourth year, but Petunia twisted her nose and declined. She let them take Dudley though. It took her that whole year to decide whether or not she regreted that—letting her boys go alone into a place that hated half of Harry’s blood and all of Dudley.
She decided two things: one, they had not been alone; and two, she didn’t regret letting them go (Dudley still lit up when he talked of Ireland’s Beaters), but she did regret not gritting her teeth and going with them. She wanted nothing to do with wizardry, with freaks and frog spawn and people who said her sister’s name in hushed reverent tones. But this was not about them. It was about her family. For that, she could deal with even newt eyeballs in her breakfast cereal.
When Voldemort returned, they tried to keep Harry in the dark all summer— Petunia sent Howlers beside Harry’s politer, anxious letters. They tried to take him away for the second part of the summer, and Petunia refused to let Harry go alone.
"You’ll be safe here," Nymphadora Tonks reassured her, eyeing the clean-scrubbed bareness of their apartment with wariness and nostalgia.
"This ain’t a war for Muggles," said Moody and told her eight ways they might die bloody.
"If he is my son, then he is my son," said Petunia, and she and Dudley packed their things. When they reached Grimmauld Place, Tonks knocked over a coatrack under Petunia’s disapproving gaze, and Molly Weasley came out and hugged Petunia tight. She had known Lily Potter— remember. Petunia had lost a sister in the war and people like Molly, Arthur, Minerva, Lupin; they had lost a beautiful young friend.
They holed up in there with Sirius, who never grew on Petunia. When Petunia was frustrated with Lupin’s moping or Molly’s frenetic energy, or the way Dudley tagged along behind the twins, Petunia would go tug the covering down off the portrait of Sirius’s mother and they would scream at each other until Petunia felt her stomach settle.
When the war came, when the Order of the Phoenix rekindled itself, Dudley joined up. He worked as a messenger thoughout the war, ran missions that didn’t require spells, but did require a pocket of joke shop tricks and a tendency to be underestimated and overlooked.
Wizards looked at him and thought Muggle, thought the worst of Muggles. They made assumptions about Dudley the way they did about Ron’s smudged nose, Hagrid’s big frame and kindnesses, the way Dumbledore played the senile old fool until you got too close.
Dudley had big fists but clever fingers. His mother and her craning neck had taught him how to look. Being the kind of boy who people thought was stupid had taught him the importance of listening to everyone in a room. He was one of Fred and George’s radio’s best informants.
Petunia was harsh, shrill, a long way from kind, and she always had at least one wizard in her spare bedroom that year, at least one hidden message on the tip of her tongue and a Portkey under her sink.
When Harry went to his parents’ graves in Godric’s Hollow, it was the first time in either story, but this time he knew who had buried them. Harry was almost twenty and Lily had been barely more than that when she died. Harry thought about dying and he thought he could stomach it.
Hermione was warm at his elbow, brilliant and loyal and good; Hogwarts was full of hurting, stubborn, fierce children; in a back alley somewhere Dudley was pretending to be a lost Muggle, dropping intel in with the coins he paid Mundungus Fletcher for a stolen trinket. For that— Harry could see standing up in front of the cradle and telling the Dark Lord to take him first.
But he also thought about his aunt, barely more than twenty, who would have stood here and watched her sister, bright and better and insufferable and lovely, drop into the earth. There had been no one else left to bury them. Petunia had missed Lily’s wedding, but not her funeral.
Harry thought about what it would be like if Dudley didn’t come back from a mission, his big hands and bravery left discarded somewhere in the dirt. Petunia had buried her sister in wizarding soil. Where would she bury her sons?
Harry could imagine dying, but he couldn’t imagine burying Ron, or Hermione. He couldn’t imagine burying Dudley. They were in the midst of war, magic and mayhem and monsters, but Harry had one big brother and Dudley would always be bigger than him. He would always be the thing that scared the bullies away. Petunia had had one little sister, and Harry wondered if she had once thought Lily would always be unbreakable.
Petunia was not at the last battle, when her second son died in the woods, when he came back. She was not a witch. She could not use the Floo, call the Knight Bus, or Apparate. The Portkey under her kitchen sink would take her to a safe place, but she was not looking to be safe. Harry had left her and Dudley one of the DA’s little coins, which glowed bright, a call to battle. When no one answered their telephone calls or Dudley’s radio or showed up to Apparate them in the right direction, Petunia got her hat and her coat and they started driving north.
They pulled up in the smoking aftermath. Dudley had driven the last stretch while Petunia did crossword puzzles fitfully in the passenger seat. Tom Riddle’s body was a lifeless husk. The elder wand was snapped. Molly Weasley was weeping in the Great Hall.
Petunia crunched up the walk in her sensible running shoes, a hand on the pepper spray in her purse just in case. She didn’t use it on any stray Death Eaters, but she almost used it on the exultant crowd she found gathering around Harry, trespassing into his personal space as though something good might rub off on them.
Harry didn’t push, because the boy only pushed for other people. Petunia could be other people; she waded through the crowd and dragged Harry off to someplace where he could sit and shake and nibble on the chocolate she’d dragged out of her purse.
When wizards got in their faces to demand an audience with the Boy Who Lived and Died and Lived, Dudley shouldered them out of the way. Harry felt like a ten year old behind the dumpsters again, scared, bruised, loved, and he clung to his big brother’s hand.
Petunia grew old with laps full of grandchildren with pockets full of frog spawn. Petunia never stopped shrieking when they smeared it on her couch, and they never stopped tumbling into her life with sticky palms, making her purse her lips to hide her spreading smile.
This world did not want her, her shrill voice, her craning neck, her magicless hands that had held Harry’s and Dudley’s for years, looking both ways before they crossed busy streets. This had never been about the world.
Harry’s first son was named James Sirius, and his daughter Lily Luna, but his second son was named Evans.