She was looking at Harry like she had never looked at him before. And all of a sudden, for the very first time in his life, Harry fully appreciated that Aunt Petunia was his mother's sister. He could not have said why this hit him so very powerfully at this moment. All he knew was that he was not the only person in the room who had an inkling of what Lord Voldemort being back might mean. Aunt Petunia had never in her life looked at him like that before. Her large, pale eyes (so unlike her sister's) were not narrowed in dislike or anger; they were wide and fearful. The furious pretense that Aunt Petunia had maintained all of Harry's life--that there was no magic and no other world than the world she inhabited with Uncle Vernon--seemed to have fallen away.
Petunia sat upright in a plump armchair made for slouching, her hands folded tightly in her lap and her eyes staring straight ahead. Vernon's snores roared at her from down the hall, and though her expression of solemn patience never swayed she winced internally. Hestia had always been rather good at silencing his snores, allowing the two women and occasionally Dudley to chatter the night away without interruption. But neither Hestia nor Dedaelus were around to wave their wands on this unusually cold and dark night, and so Petunia and her son received the full effect of the patriarch's rumblings once more.
Perhaps Dedaelus's magical fire weakened when left to fend for itself with no magical presence, or perhaps it sensed Petunia's mood and reacted accordingly. Either way, the shadows of the parlor seemed to deepen and a chill crept into the room far too easily. Dudley had wandered off to the room he slept in well over an hour before, muttering about finding something on the wireless to listen to. He was just as nervous as Petunia, but while she became a statue in the face of such a wait, he turned fidgety and restless. She would never say it aloud, but she was glad to be rid of him. Being alone gave her time to think.
Her eyes flicked to an old clock on the mantle; it was nearly half-past five already. She released a small huff as her gaze returned to the brick she had been watching for the past seven hours. It had not changed in the slightest during this time, something for which she was quite glad. Her life had changed far too much in recent days.
Petunia did not ask for much more than simplicity in her life. She wanted a simply spotless home, a simply loving husband, and a simply brilliant son. She only wanted to lead a simple, wonderful life like all of the other housewives on Privet Drive. And her sister being a witch had always complicated her life, even after their marriages and especially after Lily's death. For upon her sister's murder at the hands of Lord Voldemort, Petunia had been saddled with a child she could not control. She had tried; goodness, had she tried. But everything from the boy's hair to his actions to his eyes were beyond her reach to maintain. His hair, so like his father's; his actions, so abnormal so much of the time; his eyes…his mother's eyes…
She would never admit it to her husband and son, and certainly not to Harry, but she had found it difficult to discipline him. No matter how angry she got with the boy, all he had to do was look at her with those green doe eyes and her heart broke all over again. And, she mused silently, she probably overcompensated for her inability to get angry at him. It was no wonder the boy hated her, considering that she gave him hours of chores and allowed Vernon to beat him and lock him away just so she could keep from seeing her baby sister's eyes looking back at her.
And when the letters had come from Hogwarts, Petunia had felt the stirrings of jealousy once more, but she quickly recovered; after all, she was more than happy with her life as a housewife of a successful businessman. She didn't need to have a magic wand to get what she wanted. Vernon, on the other hand, had refused to let the boy be happy. He wanted to keep him underfoot and crush the very life from him. Petunia was sure if she hadn't soothed her husband's anger, Harry Potter would have died years before he even knew he was a wizard. She was glad to see her nephew go to Hogwarts, and glad to see him return unharmed.
As Harry had gotten older and begun to look more like the James Potter she remembered, Petunia had gradually realized that he was entirely unhappy. This, in turn, made her entirely unhappy. When he had returned from school after his fourth year away, he had seemed to be twice his age at least; Petunia had only seen her sister's eyes look so haggard once, and she had never seen her sister again.
And then she learned the reason for Harry's unhappiness and generally distraught nature: the person who was largely responsible for his circumstances (and though she hated to say it, Petunia's herself) had somehow come back from the dead, and though Harry had never said as much, she had immediately suspected that he had tried to kill her nephew on the night they had met. And her simple life had been complicated more than ever before, what with trying to make sure her own family stayed safe while maintaining a normal environment and worrying about her nephew's safety.
This had continued for nearly two years, until the afternoon that Harry had informed Petunia and Vernon that Albus Dumbledore had been murdered and that his world was in an all-out war with himself and Voldemort at the epicenter. Vernon had screamed and carried on about his job and his son's schooling and their pretense of normality. Petunia hadn't said a word for over an hour after hearing the news. Once again, Harry had spared his aunt and uncle of details, but she knew he was not running away. He would be fighting, and no matter how hard she screamed for him to hide away like his mother, she would never have convinced him to listen.
And so, after much screaming and packing and fretting, Petunia and her husband and son had left their home on Privet Drive. Petunia had not imagined that she would ever become friends with the frumpy witch and embarrassingly strange wizard who accompanied them on Harry's request, but Hestia and Dedaelus had wormed their way into her heart. She and Dudley had listened intently as they learned about the Wizarding World for the first time, both wanting to soak up as much knowledge as possible. Vernon had mostly stayed cooped up in the bedroom, reading Muggle newspapers provided by Dedaelus and gaining weight.
It was in this cottage that Petunia had really learned about her nephew for the first time. He had never mentioned the Sorcerer's Stone to the family, nor had he said anything about a basilisk. Petunia had never made the connection between Sirius Black and his godfather. She never would have guessed that someone as young as Harry could have seen three people murdered before his very eyes and stayed sane, especially when one of the victims was a friend and two of them father figures to the boy, but he had done it.
Petunia had learned about her sister, as well. Lily had always been bright in primary school, surely, but Petunia hadn't realized that she was a remarkable witch as well. Her sister had never told her that she was a Prefect and Head Girl; Petunia would have had that in common with her sister, seeing as she played leadership roles at her own secondary school. She hadn't the slightest idea that Lily showing her magic tricks was illegal, and now realized that her sister was not showing off as much as trying to include Petunia in her life.
Tonight, Hestia had been in the middle of regaling Petunia and Dudley with tales of her own days as a Chaser on Hufflepuff's Quidditch team when Dedaelus had burst into the room. "Hogwarts…fighting…You-Know-Who!" he had squeaked. And Hestia had leaped to her feet, smiled at Petunia and Dudley, and run off into the night with Dedaelus. And all had been silent since then.
And Petunia had been sitting in the same chair, staring at the same brick in the wall, ever since.
All of a sudden, the room filled with light as the first beams of sunshine shone through the window through a tiny break in the clouds. Petunia actually did wince as the sun hit her eyes, and she raised a hand to block it. As she did, a most peculiar smell wafted through the room. She gasped as she recognized her deceased sister's favorite perfume, some magical scent that Petunia had always loved and pretended to hate. She could almost see Lily flipping her hair over her shoulder and grinning broadly. "It's over, Tuney. We won."
The smell and image faded almost as soon as they appeared, but they were soon replaced by the reek of blood and Dedaelus as he Apparated into the room. This drew a shriek of alarm from Petunia and a cry from Dudley's room, as Hestia and Dedaelus had always emphasized that the house could not be entered except through the front door, and only then by people Hestia's charms allowed for.
"Dedaelus! What on Earth--?!"
"I am pleased to announce that You-Know-Who is vanquished, Dursleys!" the petite man cried as Dudley ran into the parlor. "He is dead, and now we must rejoice! For the Dark Lord lies cold and dead on the floor of Hogwarts, and witches and wizards and Muggles are all safe from he and his followers!"
"You're sure?" Dudley asked excitedly.
"Oh yes, quite!" said Dedaelus. "The battle ended nearly five minutes ago, right as the sun came up."
Petunia and Dudley both cheered, but the former's gaiety was short-lived. "But where is Hestia?" she asked. Dedaelus's eyes lost a bit of their joyful light. "Where is she, Dedaelus?"
"There were…many casualties in the battle," he murmured, his gaze dropping to the floor. "Hestia was grievously wounded shortly before You-Know-Who called a reprieve in the battle, and despite the best efforts of our side…"
Petunia fell back against her chair in shock. Dudley stumbled forward and put a large hand on the chair back to support himself. "She's…dead? But she's a witch…she could fix any injury…"
"There are some things even magic cannot repair, Dudley," Petunia said quietly. "Your cousin's scar, for example." Her dread grew at the mention of her nephew. "What about Harry? Is he alright?"
Dedaelus wiped his eyes on his sleeve and smiled. "Harry Potter is the one who killed You-Know-Who. He appeared to be dead, and the Dark Lord presented him as such, but it was a trick! He is alive and doing well, from what I could tell before I came here."
Dudley chuckled under his breath and Petunia felt a sudden surge of tears at the news. The Boy Who Lived lived on, it seemed.
"Oy! If you lot have time to be sitting around shouting, you have time to get my bacon and coffee!" Vernon's voice thundered down the hallway, interrupting the bittersweet moment. "You've woken me early!"
Dedaelus swelled in anger, but Petunia shouted before he could. "You can bloody well wait, Vernon."
Dudley laughed, Dedaelus smiled, Vernon cried in anger, and Petunia just smiled.
Several days later, the Dursleys were settled back at Privet Drive. It had been ransacked, presumably by Death Eaters, but Dedaelus had managed to round up a few members of the Order to help sort it out for them. Vernon had returned to work almost immediately, though none of his suits fit him owing to his large weight gain, and Petunia and Dudley had tried to adjust to Muggle life once more. Petunia found herself missing Hestia desperately, for in the blond witch she had found an irreplaceable companion. It did not seem possible that someone so lively could have died.
On this morning, like most mornings since she had gone into hiding, Petunia occupied herself by cooking. She was just mixing up a pomegranate and blueberry yogurt topping when the doorbell rang. Dudley beat her to the door as she wiped her hands on her apron.
"Can I help…Harry!" Petunia gasped and dashed to the hall. Her nephew was indeed standing in her doorway, his black hair shining in the sun. He was smiling, though it looked utterly forced, and seemed to have his arm around someone who was blocked by Dudley's bulk.
"Oh!" Petunia opened her mouth to invite him inside, but her voice refused to speak. Dudley offered for her, and Harry nodded and came through the doorway, leading his guest behind.
"Thanks, Dudley. Good morning, Aunt Petunia." Harry looked older than he had a year before, though his hair was as haphazard as ever. His eyes, however, sparkled with the light of youth. Petunia smiled as she saw Lily in them. "I take it Uncle Vernon is out?"
"At work," she answered curtly. "Would you like some tea and biscuits?"
"Er…" Harry blinked at her, and she realized that she had never so much as asked him if he wanted a drink of water before. Her nephew had lived with her for sixteen years, and she had never asked him if he wanted or needed anything. Her cheeks burned. "Thanks."
If Dudley noticed the awkwardness, he said nothing. "And what's your name?" he asked the mystery guest. As the party made their way into the kitchen, Petunia glanced back and saw a mane of long, red hair that was even more vivid than Lily's had been. "I'm Dudley."
"It's nice to meet you, Dudley," the girl said, though her voice suggested otherwise, "and you, Petunia. I'm Ginny Weasley."
The name brought Petunia and her son to a stop. Not only had the Weasley family wrought chaos and destruction on Number 4, Privet Drive upon their first encounters with the home, but this particular Weasley name had come up in one of Hestia's stories. This was the girl who, at the age of eleven, had been saved from a basilisk in the bowels of their school by a twelve-year-old Harry. The appearance of this young woman, who looked to be seventeen or so, made Petunia appreciate just how young her nephew had been at the time.
"Right," said Harry. Petunia realized she had been staring at Ginny, whose face was now contorted into a frown. "Ginny is my girlfriend. You've met her father a couple of times, I believe. Do you remember Arthur, Aunt Petunia?"
Petunia nodded and turned to busy herself with the kettle as to hide her face. Arthur Weasley had once destroyed her sitting room. "Yes, I remember him vividly."
Dudley coughed. "It's wonderful to meet you, Ginny," he said, "though I didn't know Harry here was dating anyone."
"And why would you? I wasn't under the impression that you were ever close to him," Ginny said lightly. Petunia could tell that the girl was incredibly angry about something, and she was afraid that she would go off any time.
"Well, no, we aren't, but Hestia told us what she knew about him. Like that whole Tri-Wizard thing and the Chamber of Secrets, for example," explained Dudley. "She told us how Harry saved you, but she didn't mention that you started dating him after."
"We didn't start dating back then," said Harry hurriedly. "We dated for a month or so last year, until Professor Dumbledore died, and we've just started up again now that everything's over."
Petunia turned to get china from the cupboard and clicked her tongue. "Harry, you didn't stop dating her because you were going to fight, did you?"
"Yes, he did," said Ginny. "He thought it would keep me safe. Pretty pathetic, right?" When Petunia turned around, she was surprised to see the witch smiling at Harry. "As if I wouldn't be in danger because of my name and bloodline."
"Well, he did bother to force us all into hiding," chuckled Dudley. "What are we to him?"
"The only blood family I've got," Harry said quietly. Petunia nearly dropped the last teacup at his voice, tremulous as it was. "Ginny's family and Hermione have always been a better family than you, by far, but blood is blood. You're my mother's sister. That means something, whether we want it to or not."
Petunia's blood ran cold. "Excuse me," she gasped and practically ran from the kitchen. How could he have known--he couldn't have--could he--
How did Harry know the very last words Lily had ever spoken to her sister?
She fled to her bedroom and threw open the closet doors, forcing the clothes to the sides and digging for her lockbox. When she found it, her hands shook so badly that she nearly couldn't enter the combination. Finally, it opened, and she rifled through the papers to find her most cherished ones. Dudley's report cards…the letters from Albus Dumbledore…Dudley's birth certificate…Harry's guardianship forms…her marriage license…aha! A large, pink and green envelope found its way into her trembling fingers.
The letter had been read so often that it only curled at the edges now. Petunia's eyes went straight to the last paragraph, which was the part of the letter that she needed to read now to assure herself of her sanity."Tuney, I do miss you, so much. Things are getting very bad on our side of the war. We're losing, and losing badly it seems. Sometimes I feel like things would have been better if I had never met Severus Snape and Professor McGonagall had never arrived to deliver my Hogwarts letter, or even if I had declined the invitation. You wouldn't hate me so much then, and my life wouldn't be in such danger. But I would also have never met James and his friends, and I certainly wouldn't have had Harry. I love all of them desperately, and they're absolutely irreplaceable. But Tuney, you're my sister. That means something, whether we want it to or not. Maybe if this war ever ends we can see each other again and try to resolve the past. Until then, I'm afraid any communication between us will be impossible. I'm sorry.
My love to Vernon and Dudley,
"Aunt Petunia?" Petunia jumped and realized that she was still sitting on the floor in her closet. Harry was crouched next to her, looking thoroughly alarmed. "I'm sorry if I upset you--"
Petunia let out one choked sob at the sight of her sister's eyes looking at her with such concern, and threw herself at her nephew as she lost control of herself. He stiffened at first, but eventually his arms wrapped around her and patted her awkwardly on the back.
As she cried, Petunia imagined Lily's perfume once more and thought she heard her sister's soft sigh. Harry took in a deep breath. "That's odd," he muttered.
"What is?" she croaked.
"I just smelled pumpkin and treacle tart… And I could have sworn I heard Mum…"
Petunia pulled back and met his eyes. "What do you mean?" she asked severely. "You've heard Lily's voice before?"
Harry nodded, his brow furrowed. "Yes, several times. It's a long story, but…"
She felt her expression soften, and she wiped her eyes. "I've got plenty of time. Let's get back to Dudley and your Ginny."
Harry smiled, and Lily's eyes twinkled with the same joy that Petunia had seen so often as a child. And for the first time, Petunia fully appreciated that Harry was her sister's son.