(Author's note: parts of the chapter are drawn from The Philsopher's (Sorcerer's) Stone, Chapter 1)
For the first time in weeks, Vernon Dursley felt warm. He had woken that November morning and found that the anxiety that had been weighing him down for so long had disappeared. He was loath to admit but, for a while, a part of him had wondered if it had been because of the responsibility-laden change that he was still adapting to in his life: fatherhood.
Not that Vernon Dursley was one to shirk responsibility, he would have anyone who asked know, but it was a thought that made a little sense to him as he looked out of the window of his house and sighed at the dull, grey sky. Looking down, squinting in order to see through the mist he had reluctantly gotten used to over the past couple of months, he was surprised to see that there was none surrounding his car. It did, he noted grimly, need cleaning.
He glanced over at his wife's dresser and frowned as he noticed a partially open jewellery box. It was one he knew she had not opened in a long time, a gift from her sister, and an uncomfortable thought nagged at him that it had been the cause of the strange noise he had heard during the night. The noise that had preceded the feeling that he shouldn't worry so much anymore.
An idea on how to surprise his wife came to him and he moved back to the bed and hummed to himself as he began to make it. 'It's the least I can do,' he told himself.
Vernon's wife, Petunia, was, to Vernon's mind, one of the finest women around and, as he smoothed down the last pillow, he looked around their bedroom and realised he didn't really want to go to work that day. He marvelled at the fact that he had somehow wooed her and, right then, he wanted nothing more than to spend the day with her and their son, Dudley. He smiled at the thought and stroked his moustache as he remembered the teasing and bullying he had often been at the receiving end of in his days at his old school, Smeltings.
'What would they say now?' he whispered aloud. He puffed out his chest and stretched his arms wide. 'Director of a successful business, married to a beautiful woman, father to a bright and healthy boy. A proper and normal life. Well done, Vernon, old boy. Well done.' He chuckled and closed his eyes for a few seconds to listen to the familiar sounds of his home and to think about the last few days.
Sunday had passed by uneventfully for the Dursleys. After a light breakfast and a long stroll pushing Dudley up and down their road in his pram – the mist, they felt, being too dense to risk going to the park – they had decided to spend the rest of the day at home. While Petunia had busied herself in the kitchen with preparing the Beef Wellington and a sherry trifle for dinner, Vernon had played with their son in the living room. Much to Petunia's amusement, she had found father and son asleep on the baby blanket, with Dudley draped over Vernon's belly.
Monday, as far as Mr Dursley was concerned – he was always 'Mr Dursley' on weekdays – had been a 'ridiculous day'. The depressive slump that seemed to have affected the whole construction industry in England throughout the summer – usually their busiest time – showed no sign of changing and he had spent the whole day trying to arrange telephone meetings over the rest of the week with long-forgotten clients in order to at least get some business in.
Tired and grumpy, that evening he kept telling himself not to be annoyed at the children running around in their silly masks. After he had parked in the driveway and gotten out of his car, however, he, secretly, was glad Petunia had hidden a couple of bags of sweets in his briefcase that morning.
'Thanks, Mr Dursley,' the kids shouted, muffled by their masks, and they dashed away, whooping and cheering and shouting, 'Trick or Treat, Trick or Treat, give us something good to eat!'.
He had stayed outside for over an hour and, with the dense mist providing quite the spooky atmosphere, he was sure the neighbourhood children had quite enjoyed the experience. He couldn't say the same for his suit, however. When he had stepped into the house he noticed, with some dismay, that the mist had dampened the material and he knew it would end up smelling.
Monday night had been dreadful. Dudley had refused to sleep and, judging by the sounds from their neighbours, it seemed that a number of the babies in their area had threatened to give their parents a sleepless night, too. Exhausted from his day in the office, and suffering from a headache, Vernon had tried to have an early night. Petunia had taken Dudley into the second bedroom when, suddenly, after the strange noise from the dresser, Dudley stopped crying.
Vernon opened his eyes with realisation and took in a sharp breath: all the babies had stopped crying. How curious.
Downstairs, Petunia fussed over Dudley, while keeping an eye on the slightly-sweet porridge she was making for her husband. Porridge and half a grapefruit had become Vernon's weekday breakfast since the new year and she had tried to keep it interesting now and then by adding things like chocolate chips – 'they look like stains' – and raisins – 'looks like ants are stuck' – but she knew it was for the best. The radio was playing a series of jingles in readiness for the news 'at the top of the hour'.
Dudley, now a little over a year old, was not a fussy eater – he would gladly eat a toy car if you gave him the chance – but this morning he had more of a preference to smear himself and his mother with soggy cereal. Petunia brushed back the hair that had covered Dudley's forehead and a thought, quite unbidden, came to her: what was Harry like?
For weeks now she had found herself wondering every day, sometimes several times a day, about her sister and her brother-in-law and the nephew she had never met, and last night had been the worst. Last night, as she desperately tried to calm Dudley and get him to sleep, something strange had thudded in her bedroom, and, as Dudley suddenly and quickly dozed off, Petunia had cried. She was absolutely convinced that she had heard her sister's voice, and then she had cried.
She glanced over at the telephone hanging in the hallway and then shook her head, resigned. She didn't have a number on which to call, it was always Lily who called her instead. The gooey wetness of the cereal Dudley threw at her cheek brought Petunia's thoughts back into the kitchen and she smiled at her baby and tried, again, to get more food in his mouth than on his face.
The floorboards at the top of the stairs creaked and Vernon made his way downstairs. He stopped in the hallway, picked up the receiver and listened to the beeps. He harrumphed, hung up the phone and walked into the kitchen.
'It's still a dull day, this Tuesday morning,' said the man on the radio, 'but I'm sure you'll all be glad to know that the mists that had been smothering the country for so long seem to have lifted overnight. Forecasters expect the cloudy sky to clear and we may even get to enjoy some sunshine. Not sure if any of us believe them yet, but it looks like things are getting back to normal, folks.'
'I suppose that's why Marge didn't call this morning,' said Vernon, as he drew back his chair and sat down. He prodded at the porridge Petunia had ladled out for him and made a face at Dudley. 'Didn't I tell her she was just feeling under the weather, Dudders? Didn't I tell her?'
Dudley screeched and giggled and Petunia rolled her eyes at her husband's joke. In the weeks before, with the mists the weathermen insisted shouldn't be there, there had been an almost overwhelming amount of anxiety experienced by almost everyone, so much so that Vernon's sister had bombarded her brother with phone-call after phone-call, urging him to go and stay with her. Vernon had refused, but he had, reluctantly, admitted to himself that it had sounded like a good idea. It had sounded safe. Now, however, everything seemed normal.
Hearing the news talk about a strange increase in owl activity, Vernon, porridge-laden spoon hovering near his mouth, looked at Petunia, who then turned to check the kitchen window. She smiled at him and said, 'It's probably nothing, dear,' and he nodded and continued with his breakfast. He remembered the three occasions on which owls had come to their house: the first being the day they had moved in, the second was when they had received the wedding invitation from Lily and her then-fiancé, James, and the third was a little over a year ago, the day the jewellery box had arrived.
Having breakfasted, Vernon untucked his tie and put on his jacket. Dudley squealed a little and began grabbing at his father and Vernon chuckled. 'Little tyke, always wanting me to stay,' he said and, careful of his son's messy hands, he kissed his head and headed for the door.
Just he reached for the doorknob, Vernon Dursley took in a deep breath and, convinced that that Tuesday morning was the start of something different, set off to tackle the world construction companies and their need for good drills. He had a busy morning ahead of him, he knew, but, as soon as he had stepped outside, his motivation, right then and there, was that he had his family to come home to and the sooner he was done at work the sooner he could be home.
He nodded and waved 'good morning' to his neighbours, got into his car, and backed out of the drive. Up above he saw an owl swoop down, as if coming in to land, and he leaned over the steering wheel to watch where it was going, his mind leaping to the times Petunia would receive messages from Lily by owl. As slow as he was driving, his car began to swerve as he craned his head to watch the circling bird. He quickly took control of his car and fought against his instincts and didn't jerk his head around to look again but took a deep breath and, his walrus-moustache flapping away as he did so, exhaled slowly.
Other things tugged at his attention as he drove to work but he dismissed them as soon as he saw them, especially with it being Halloween. 'She's right,' he muttered to himself every few minutes, 'it's probably nothing,' and he thought wistfully of the days when Halloween had been celebrated with ghost stories and apple-bobbing rather than the American import of dressing up in silly outfits and 'trick-or-treating'.
At work, after checking his messages and making sure Marge hadn't called, Mr Dursley put his mind to what had to be done. Drills. The morning ended up being more than just a good one. All the calls he had lined up the day before had turned into deals and everyone in the office was suddenly busier than they had ever been. Somehow, overnight, there were a lot of construction projects with a Christmas deadline. As lunchtime drew nearer, however, his mind wandered back to what he had heard last night and seen in the morning, and then further back to what Mrs Dursley had said the week before.
'Lily called earlier,' she had said as she struggled with feeding Dudley some mashed banana.
'Oh?' Vernon remembered saying, lowering his newspaper, and frowning.
'I thought you should know.'
'Of course, of course. And did she have anything to say?'
'Not really.' And that lunchtime, a week later, as he sat at his desk in his office on the ninth floor, Mr Dursley remembered his wife's eyes being wider than he had ever seen them before. 'She said she wanted to make sure that we were okay.'
'Hogwash,' he had said, snapping his newspaper back up and continuing to read about the persistent mist that covered most of the country and, in particular, the side column about certain helplines being stretched to their limit. 'Her good-for-nothing husband's probably broke so she called for a loan.'
'You're probably right,' Petunia had said, but the way she had said it, the distance he heard in her voice, had made Vernon lower his newspaper into his lap and look at his wife.
'Petunia,' he had said, softly, smiling involuntarily at how Dudley's head snapped round when he heard his mother's name. 'Dear, this is the third time your sister has called. If something was wrong she would have said so by now, surely.'
'Perhaps. Perhaps. I just… I just have a feeling. Dread. I know we're not yet on speaking terms,' she held up her hand to stop her husband from interrupting, 'and we won't be until James apologises, but I can't help feel that something is wrong. Her voice…' Petunia's voice trailed off as she picked up a cloth and wiped some banana from Dudley's face.
'You think it might be something to do with their son?' Vernon had asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
'James isn't like us. And Lily… Who knows how these situations work? But she would say something by now, surely?'
He knew from the way she looked at him that she needed his assurance, so he gave it as best he could. 'Of course, my dear. Of course.'
They hadn't discussed the matter since that evening but now, after the circling owl and seeing so many people dressed in silly clothes, as well as the news report on owls, Vernon Dursley could not help wondering if the strange goings-on were linked to his sister-in-law and her arrogant husband.
He tried to put the thoughts out of his mind and decided to make his way to the bakery across the road from the office. The grey sky had cleared and was now bright and blue and everything that had made him feel gloomy for so long seemed to have disappeared. The staff around him were cheerful and a few of them had even brought in cakes and buns that morning, 'just because'. Regretting not allowing himself to indulge earlier, Vernon gave in to the craving for something sweet to balance the months of porridge and grapefruit for breakfast.
Taking his newspaper with him so he could do the crosswords, he also did something he rarely did: he took his pen with him. He wasn't sure why, only that he had never been so confident before and that today he felt that he would be able to do both the quick and cryptic crosswords, in full, in pen.
And he did, and he felt a little guilty as he left the bakery clutching a large doughnut in a bag. Not because of the doughnut, although he kept wiping his moustache in order to get rid of any traces of the sausage roll and the pasty he had indulged in as well, but because he had done the crosswords in two other newspapers that he had found in the bakery. In pen.
His conflicting feelings of positivity and guilt vanished, however, when, exiting the bakery, he spotted a small group of cloaked people, huddled together and talking rather animatedly. He lowered his gaze and walked past them, singing, in a not-so-low voice, the nursery rhyme he had started to sing to Dudley in the evenings as he helped put him to bed, and blocking out anything he might accidentally overhear. His feet fought against him and his ears strained and tingled but, with his chest tightening as he held his breath, he persisted but, somehow, a word sneaked through: 'Muggle'.
The word made his neck tingle and his ears burn. It was a word he had not heard in a long while and Vernon now knew with absolutely certainty that his in-laws were involved with whatever was going on. 'Muggle' was what James had called him, on more than one occasion. With that, he decided that he had done enough at work for the day and that he needed to go home.
As he drove home, his mind leaped from one idea to another: that the strangeness of James and Lily had been discovered and the world had now changed; that owls were going to be used as weapons of war somehow; that their holiday to Benidorm would have to be changed to a Butlins one, instead.
He decided that he wasn't going to say anything to Petunia about what he had seen and heard, but when he pulled into his driveway he had an unnerving feeling that something was watching him. He shivered as he gripped the steering wheel, the engine running idle, and frowned as he decided, out of the blue, that he would learn how to fish so he could teach Dudley someday.
Suddenly tired, Mr Dursley got out of his car, locked the door and looked up at his house. They had bought it a little over four years ago and had made it into a home. Everything had been good. Things were going well. They had a plan: another six years to pay off the mortgage early and then they could start to enjoy life a little. And fish.
Another shiver passed through him and he spun on the spot, swinging his briefcase around, confused by the unnerving feelings that seemed to be bombarding him. He looked up and saw a strange grey cloud pass by. It hung lower than the other clouds, like a small pocket of fog, and drifted away quickly.
'Good day as well, Dursley?' shouted Neave, and Vernon shouted back, 'Yes,' and hurried into the house. Petunia was not home – on Tuesdays and Thursdays she was in the routine of taking Dudley to the playschool nearby – and Vernon changed into something more casual and settled in his armchair near the television.
He had never really watched 'day time television' but he hoped that maybe he would come across Anna Ford presenting the news. She had been one of his favourite presenters on the News at Ten, along with Alastair Burnet, and had been quite disappointed when she had left for TV-AM, but, as he flicked through the four channels, he could not find anything of interest. A little annoyed, he decided to try the radio instead.
'Disturbing news coming in from Godric's Hollow this morning, of a strange explosion in the old village.'
Vernon froze. He knew that name. He remembered their first conversation years ago:
'My family's from an old village out west,' James had said, and he pushed his fingers through his already unkempt-looking hair. 'You've probably never heard of it.'
'I used to be a travelling salesman in my youthful summers.'
'Really? I've never actually had to work.'
'Anyway, it's called Godric's Hollow. Lots of history and mythology, especially for magical folk. A Muggle like you, though-'
'No, you're right. Never came across it.'
Shaking, Vernon sat down at the kitchen table and covered his face.
Petunia had had a nice, normal day, she assured him over supper, but as she told him all about the latest goings-on in their part of Little Whinging, Vernon noticed a distinct lack of enthusiasm in her telling. He wanted to ask her what was wrong but held off from doing so, convincing himself, briefly, that she was likely tired and that she would tell him in time. He had wanted to tell her about what he had seen and heard, what the news had said, but then decided it would be better to wait until he was certain. It didn't help that his heart kept racing, however, nor that his mouth felt so dry.
It took longer to put Dudley to bed than normal, so the Dursleys decided to forgo their usual 8pm cup of tea. He wasn't crying like he had been the night before, so they took some solace in that. Just before ten, with Dudley finally asleep, Vernon went into the living room in order to watch the news. The main headline was that British industry, across the board, had experienced a sudden overnight spike in activity and investment. The weatherman joked that it was because of the misty period coming to an end, while the presenter determined that it was because of the parliaments of owls that had formed in hundreds of places across the country 'spreading their wisdom'.
No mention, however, was made of Godric's Hollow.
Petunia padded into the room just as the theme music for the news finished, and slumped onto the sofa. She closed her eyes and tilted her head towards the ceiling. She looked tired and Vernon suddenly felt at a loss as to what to do.
'I wanted to call her today,' she said. 'I wanted to pick up the phone and tell it to call my sister. I wanted to be able to do magic.'
Vernon muted the television and leaned forward in his armchair. He wanted Petunia to open her eyes but she sat there, slowly breathing in and out.
'I've been jealous of you,' she said, and she didn't have to say anything more. He knew what she meant.
I heard people mention "Potter", Vernon voiced in his head. I'm sure I heard them say their son's name. I heard them say that word he used to use.
I heard them mention Godric's Hollow on the radio.
'Maybe there's a way to get in touch?' suggested Vernon, softly. 'An owl or a magic post-box or a streetlamp in the middle of the forest.'
Petunia's mouth twitched and she took in a long breath and said, 'There is. There is a way, but I promised I wouldn't use it.'
'Some promises are made to be broken, Petunia.'
She shook her head, opened her eyes and looked at him. 'It was a promise to you, Vernon.'
Grunting as he pushed himself out of the armchair, he got up and sat next to her and took her hands in his. 'Then I free you from that promise.'
She smiled and kissed him on his cheek and nestled next to him. They sat like that for an hour, taking comfort in each other's company.
After the dishes had been done but before he switched on the downstairs alarm, Vernon stepped outside the house and took a look around. He walked down the short driveway and leaned against the wall. The cat looked up at him for a couple of seconds and then carried on looking at the end of the road.
'I don't know what's been happening,' he said, his voice barely a whisper, 'but I know something's wrong.' He looked at a cat sitting on their wall and smiled as he imagined that it was fighting an urge to look back at him.
He looked up at the sky and frowned as several shooting stars suddenly streaked across it.
'There is such a thing as magic,' he whispered, and he touched his cheek. 'I know that. I do. There is such a thing, but the magic out there… it doesn't belong here.' He looked back onto the street and, for a few more seconds, he stared at the cat, convinced that it had sat up straighter when he had said those words.
Mr and Mrs Dursley never really spoke to each other once they were in bed. Long ago they had both agreed that anything worth talking about should be done before turning in for the night, and so Vernon lay there, sorting through the thoughts in his head, oblivious of what was going on outside the bedroom window.
As the light from outside the window vanished, Vernon yawned and closed his eyes for a couple of seconds. When he opened them again, he didn't notice that it was only moonlight that was peeking through the curtains and not the light from the streetlamps.
As the tears of sleep trickled down from his eyes and tickled his ears, Vernon remembered a picture he had seen a few years ago, of Lily holding a trophy that looked like a scroll turning into a crystal chalice. He remembered how intricate it had looked and that he had wondered what on Earth 'Transfiguration Student of the Year' was supposed to mean. Most of all, though, he remembered there being a cat next to Lily and that it looked like the one sitting outside. 'Imagination,' he mumbled, sleepily, 'silly little thing.'
As sleep's siren call began to hum in his ear, Vernon had no idea that the cat outside was the same cat he had seen in the picture, and that the cat was actually a woman. He also didn't know that the woman was talking to a strange old man right outside, nor did he know that he was one of the subjects of their conversation.
Vernon stared at the ceiling and listened to his wife's breathing and knew, with some certainty, that she was pretending to be asleep. He stared at the ceiling and thought about the last few years: about meeting Petunia and falling in love with her; about her grief when her parents passed away and how he wanted to always be there for her; about his confusion at her confession that her sister was something quite different, and his realising that none of that mattered; about James and his arrogance and the anger he had felt towards him for the past few years; about how he had caught Petunia looking at him and his own sister; about her confession earlier and how he now knew for certain that she missed Lily.
What tugged at him most of all, though, were the words on the radio. He had only heard them once but they had rung in his head ever since. Those words, combined with everything else that day, had made everything feel ominous. The quiet before the storm, he thought to himself.
He thought about these things and others as the old man and the severe-looking woman talked outside. He thought about telling Petunia to invite Lily and James and Harry round for dinner, not knowing that, as he did so, the old man was telling the severe-looking woman the news that he had about Lily and James.
Vernon frowned in the dark as he heard the sound of a muffled motorcycle engine, and then turned, gently so as not to disturb Petunia, and closed his eyes, not knowing that on their doorstep, wrapped in blankets and accompanied with a note, slept Harry Potter. He didn't know that something in his life was about to change and that at that very moment, all over the country, people were meeting in secret and paying tribute to his baby nephew.
He snapped awake in the morning and found Petunia was already up. He touched her side of the bed and frowned at how cold it felt. He looked over at the cot and saw Dudley was still asleep and then, his back protesting a little, Vernon got up and looked across the hallway at the bathroom.
It was empty.
It was then that he heard a sob from downstairs. Gingerly, as he tried to avoid both the creaking floorboard at the top of the stairs and the one five steps down, Vernon made his way to the kitchen, and froze.
Petunia sat at the table, shaking. Her hands covered her face and she kept sobbing with a low, soft moan. On the table, wrapped in blankets, was a baby, and, between Petunia and the baby, were several sheets of unfolded parchment.
Vernon didn't say anything when he stepped over to his wife. He didn't say anything when he read what was written on the parchment. He didn't say anything when he glanced at the baby, and he didn't say anything as he let the pages fall to the floor and knelt down and put his arms around his wife.
Dear Mrs Dursley, née Evans
I have thought long and hard this past day about an appropriate way to start this letter and I realised, unsurprisingly, that Truth is of utmost importance.
A Truth that I will share with you now is that, to this day, I still have the letter you wrote to me all those years ago. I cherish it and it often brings a smile to my face and regret to my heart. I smile at your eager words and your desire to learn, and I regret not being able to invite you the world to which your sister had been.
Another Truth is that the baby that I have left sleeping on your doorstep is your nephew, Harry. He is not much older than your own son, I believe.
The third Truth I share with you is a painful one, and one that I am neither brave enough nor strong enough to tell you in person, and one I believe you will know to be true before even reading this letter.
Lily and James are no longer with us.
To say that my heart is heavy as I write these words is an understatement of what your sister and brother-in-law meant to me. As their teacher and friend, I have watched them grow and mature and blossom from excitable children to determined leaders. From playing pranks on their friends and colleagues to risking their lives for theirs.
I know that things were difficult between Lily and yourself in recent years. I do not know the whys and I do not believe that any of that now matters. I only know that Harry needs you.
Magic can do many things, and magic bonded by blood is magic that can protect, and it is that protection that Harry now needs. Protection that only you can give him.
I imagine, now, reading this, that you are shaking your head, but I assure you that you do have magic. The magic of love.
I ask you to love your nephew, if for no other reason than because you love your sister.
I ask you to look after him and give him a place that he can call home.
For a long time, the world of magic has been in turmoil. A Dark Wizard, calling himself Lord Voldemort, had brought about a reign of terror that threatened to engulf your world, too. Lily and James were among those who have strived against this wizard and his followers, and it was he, himself, who took them from us.
The scar on young Harry's head is, I believe, the result of Lily giving her life to protect Harry from Voldemort. On this, I give you three more Truths: Lord Voldemort sought to murder Harry; the world believes Voldemort to be dead; I do not.
These are the Truths that I am sharing with you, Petunia, and I do so with the hope that you will open your heart and allow Harry refuge and a home there. The magic Lily evoked protects Harry until he comes of age, so long as he can call your home, wherever it may be, his, too. It's a magic of blood. The magic of an aunt.
Please, look after him.