In the reflection in the mirrored wall, Petunia caught sight of herself in her new, extravagantly expensive powder-blue evening gown and perfectly matching pumps, hair twirled into complicated curls and frozen in place with hairspray, diamond earrings and necklace and ring catching the light from the chandeliers. The May Day Party held by Grunnings Plc for their senior staff and most important customers was not your traditional spring carnival with madrigals and May Queens and dancing round the maypoles, oh no—there was dancing, but only on the parquet floor of the George and Mary Hotel in central Glasgow, and all those in attendance did their utmost to forget that such things as forests and fields and folk customs existed.
The golden hands of the enormous clock above the double doors of the ballroom pointed to exactly eleven, and the dancing was only just getting started. She shook her head at Mr Trengdon from Sales at his request to take to the floor—she would dance as she was expected to do, but wanted to save her breath for Vernon's boss and two or three of the biggest customers of Vernon's department. Provided, of course, the men were in any condition to dance, she thought as she glanced at her husband amid a gaggle of other men, busily getting themselves paralytic with the free champagne and beer and whiskey. She started that way with the intention of finding out.
"Petunia, what a lovely dress!" trilled Mrs Clangbury, the wife of one of Vernon's subordinates, herself holding her third or fourth champagne flute. Thus thwarted, Petunia squeezed out a smile that anyone should have been able to spot as insincere and sipped from her own glass. The drink had warmed in her hand and for an insane second she toyed with the thought of taking out her wand and re-chilling the liquid.
"Have you tried the duck liver pate?" Mrs Clangbury asked. Her dumpy shape tilted as she leaned forward anxiously. "It's simply to die for. And the ginger carrots!"
"No, I…" Petunia began but the words turned into a frightened yelp at the sudden sensation of having an invisible live coal dropped down the front of her dress. Gasping with the pain she sought for a table to put down her drink and, failing, shoved it at Mrs Clangbury before hurrying out of the ballroom as fast as her heels would allow. Reddening slightly under the puzzled and disapproving looks from the other guests she pulled out of the recesses of her dress the chain on which dangled Arthur's silver sickle and yanked it from around her neck.
The ladies' room was, mercifully, almost deserted and she flung herself into a stall, heart pounding. The spot between her breasts where the coin had rested still stung although the pain slowly dulled into the intense discomfort of rubbing a strong detergent on one's skin. When she shrugged the dress off her shoulders it revealed a rising blister. The sickle was still searing hot to the touch, but that was hardly the topmost of her worries.
"Oh no," she muttered, panic rising. "No, no, no, please no…" Arthur was in danger somewhere out there, right now, just at this minute. He might get hurt. He might be hurt already. He might be… no, he was alive, had to be if the sickle was still hot. He had said it would go freezing cold if he… She flinched from the word and sank down onto the cover of the toilet seat.
Ten months. She had not seen him, not heard from him for ten long, dark, suffocating months, not since that kiss in the pub, since she had torn herself away from him and run. Every now and then she had spotted his name or the names of his children in the Daily Prophet—perhaps she should have cancelled her subscription but could not bring herself to do that, because then she would have had no news at all—and each time it filled her with renewed pain and longing. In recent months, though, the paper had been full of muddled poppycock confusing the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore's followers with Death Eaters and dark wizards.
She poked at the sickle with a cautious finger and got another burn for her trouble. What could it be? The coin had never grown this hot before. It had at most been warm enough to be uncomfortable but never scorching like this, not even when it had flared up the first time just after they left Privet Drive. She could only hope Arthur was not alone, that he had his friends by his side—and Molly, who he claimed so adamantly was better at fighting battles than he. Her jaw tightened. What could she do, herself? Petunia racked her brain for ideas. How could she help? What should she be doing? Arthur, he reminded herself, had specified Nothing, absolutely nothing, and that was about how much use she would be in a fight. She had no idea whether calling for Muggle backup would help or hinder—or even where she could tell them to go. She let out a frustrated snort.
When she stepped back inside the ballroom on slightly wobbly legs, Vernon was still pickling and ingratiating himself with his boss and customers. As she neared the corner they had staked out, Petunia registered only distantly that one of the customers seemed to be leading Mrs Clangbury to the dance floor.
"I don't feel well, I'm going home," she said in a low voice, bending close to Vernon, almost choking in the fumes from aftershave and alcohol. "I might be coming down with something."
"Now?" he frowned and scoffed. "Well, if you must."
"Yes, now," she answered frostily. "But do go ahead and enjoy yourself, and try not to wake me when you get home. I'll take a taxi back."
Vernon let her go with no further remarks. He was clearly satisfied with not having to escort her, no more than she was at not having to endure his inebriated complaints and to pretend to be listening to him.
At the house, all the lights were on and music was blaring on the stereo. Petunia ground her teeth. Her head had begun to pound painfully and she was really not in the mood for some unsanctioned party of Dudley's, who would have expected them to stay away until the early hours of morning. She marched straight into the living-room, yanked the power cord of the stereo out of the socket and, about half a dozen of Dudley's friends staring at her in amazement, silently pointed at the door. One by one they got up and filed out, some with muttered apologies, the two most thuggish ones in worn leather jackets throwing murderous glares in her direction. One blessed soul took his and a few friends' beer bottles through into the kitchen before slipping out the door. Dudley tried to follow them out but Petunia yanked him back inside by his leather vest.
"You're not going anywhere. Clean up this mess," she ordered curtly and headed upstairs, ignoring the pitiful "But Mo-om…!" from her son.
The burn on her chest was now throbbing with pain in time to her racing heartbeat. The sickle was still scalding to the touch, but, she discovered, did not heat anything other than her flesh—at least there was no danger of it setting the house on fire. She stripped off her finery and showered, careful of the burn, and then sat in her nightgown staring at the sickle, wishing it could tell her what was happening. She turned on the television for news, but the only item of even remotely possible interest was an enormous thunderstorm that was reported to be ravaging the Highlands; she had come to find that Muggle media tended to interpret flashes of light and loud noises in the sky as thunderstorms even when they were caused by much less natural phenomena. Like magic.
She was still awake when Vernon crashed through the front door at four thirty but buried herself under the covers and pretended to sleep until his breathing beside her deepened into drunken snores. Then she got up, padded into the kitchen and paced back and forth with a mug of tea in her hand and periodically poked the sickle to make sure it had not gone cold.
And then, at half past five, it did. She stopped dead and grabbed the coin in her trembling hand—yes, the scorching heat was gone, replaced by… by… was it the chill that heralded the worst? Or just the normal temperature of silver? Certainly it was cooler than she had felt it before, but not icy. Surely not icy. She pressed her hands to her mouth to still her gasps of fear, and the metal warmed at her breath.
At seven thirty she climbed up into the enormous but cluttered attic only to discover that the Daily Prophet failed to be delivered at the usual time. She climbed over trunks and boxes to the window she always left open just a crack, wide enough to admit a smallish owl, and stared over the sleepy roofs and gently waving trees in the early morning fog.
At nine fifteen she finally spotted the post owl and soon unfolded a still-warm copy of the Prophet onto her lap. Wide-eyed, she read the headlines.
Great Battle At Hogwarts—Many Feared Dead
All Death Eaters Killed Or Arrested
Harry Potter Hero Of The Day
She let out an involuntary squeak, then, as the message sank in properly, whooped in triumphant laughter. She got up and, still laughing, leapt in the air in a silent victory dance, hugging the paper to her chest and crying at the same time. It was over! The war was over, the dark wizard had been defeated, maybe permanently this time—and, what was most important, Arthur was out of danger. And Harry, apparently, although in all honesty he did not feature largely in her joy.
The paper said no more than that both sides had suffered casualties and that Hogwarts Castle had been ruined in the fighting but promised a special free edition of the Evening Prophet that would have more details. Thus her morning and early afternoon passed in a fog of distraction, albeit a happy one. Dudley slept until noon, took his lunch up into his room and sat in front of his computer the rest of the day. Vernon, suffering the after-effects of his binge on whiskey and champagne, merely groaned and sweated in bed and certainly noticed nothing out of the ordinary in her demeanor.
The Evening Prophet special issue was delivered at three, but the details did not live up to their promise. It gave a sketchy account of the battle with some pictures of the castle, not completely ruined as the morning's news had implied but quite badly damaged, and of the combatants—she took out a magnifying glass but recognised none of the faces, unless two tiny figures hugging in the background of a picture of the main doors were Arthur's Ron and that Hermione girl. Everyone interviewed by the reporters sung the praises of Harry and his friends—and, she discovered to her delight, the entire Weasley family, listed alongside a string of other names. "Out of respect for the families of the deceased, the Daily Prophet will not release a list of casualties before the next of kin of all victims have been informed," said the paper, frustratingly.
Sunday's paper was again full of the battle and of the reactions of the wizarding world, from Gringott's goblins to Diagon Alley patrons to patients at St Mungo's. Petunia devoured every word, crouched on a bookcase laid on its side in the attic, brushing off all demands of the rest of the family with "Cleaning! Don't come up!"
The largest headline in Monday morning's Prophet, when Petunia retrieved it from the attic after Vernon had left for work, read
LIST OF CASUALTIES FROM BATTLE OF HOGWARTS
Arthur's silver sickle was still firmly room temperature as it had remained since dawn on Saturday, so Petunia did not expect any great surprises when she turned to page 23 for the list of names, but her heart still thumped painfully against her ribs again she scanned down the list for the W's.
No Weasley, Arthur. She heaved a great relieved sigh and sank into her customary kitchen chair, but the satisfied smile fell from her face when she saw the names that in fact were there:
Weasley, Morgana (Molly)
She stared at the list, struck dumb at first, unable to quite believe it… and then the lines blurred as her eyes filled with tears. Poor Arthur. Poor dear Arthur, what hell he had been through while she had sung to herself and celebrated! She sat still for a long time, forming barely half a coherent thought.
The doorbell rang, and she started and wiped the tears off her cheeks. Who could it be at this hour? Dudley was ensconced in his room, listening to music; she could hear the pounding of the rhythm through the wall, although she had repeatedly asked him to wear headphones. Vernon was at work and he had his own keys. Still reeling from shock, Petunia blew her nose and went to open the door, only to halt in thunderstruck astonishment at who was standing outside.
Her mouth began to form the first syllable of his name, when she noticed the other person on the doorstep and managed to switch names mid-utterance.
Arthur and Harry stood out there, together, in the flesh, broomsticks in hand. Petunia yearned to fling herself into Arthur's arms but because she couldn't, she grabbed her nephew in a fierce hug instead.
"You're all right!" she exclaimed and clutched him tight. Behind his back, though, her eyes were on Arthur. She held out her hand and he gripped quickly, mutely.
"Uh… Aunt Petunia?" Harry hesitantly hugged her back. She gave him a final squeeze and detached herself. Harry nudged his glasses higher on his nose, looking confused but pleased. He had grown in height and in width, and although he would never be as muscular as Dudley, the annoyingly scrawny, sickly-looking boy had matured into a young man more like his father than ever. He wore clothing that was neither from the Muggle world nor from the wizarding one, ordinary jeans and a loose pullover in Gryffindor colours.
"Come in," she said, opening the door wide and leading the two of them into the living-room. "I'm so glad to see you." Although not as glad as she would have been to see only Arthur.
"Aunt Petunia—where did you get that?" Harry blurted in astonishment. Only then did Petunia notice the Daily Prophet she still clutched in her hand and felt her face redden.
"I… I placed an order some time ago," she stammered. She stuck the paper in the bookshelf and decided not to explain further.
"So you already know," Harry said after a small silence. "That it's over."
"Yes, but is it?" Petunia asked. Now that she finally had someone to ask, she found that she had dozens of questions. "Last time, afterwards, there were Death Eaters who refused to yield, there were… well, they talked of giants rebelling, and that sort of thing."
Harry's eyes widened and he was apparently struck speechless by the fact that she knew the word Death Eater. Silly boy, he already knew she read the Daily Prophet, and he certainly should know this wasn't the first time she went through this.
"The giants were wiped out this time, we think," Arthur said. His voice was husky and he sounded tired, deathly tired and old. "A few minor dark wizards are giving us trouble, yes, but nothing we can't handle. So we came to tell you that you can go back home, if you want to."
Home. Petunia sat down heavily on the edge of the overstuffed sofa. That was right, she would get to go home. Somehow the thought had not even occurred to her.
The house on Privet Drive had been sold off through an agency and this nondescript house in a suburb near Glasgow with an unpronounceable name was supposed to be her home now. They had lived here for almost a year, but some boxes still sat taped shut in the neglected attic and Petunia had kept intending to refurbish the kitchen and the living-room. The entire house had a temporary, ad hoc feeling, and Petunia had never felt at home here. Vernon loved being in charge of a bigger, more important department than his old one, and she had thought it was merely a matter of time before she settled in, too… but throughout this horrid year that had not seemed to be happening.
"Oh…" she stammered and wrung her hands, not daring to hope. "I, uh, need to talk to Vernon, of course."
"Of course," Arthur said colourlessly.
Petunia's heart went out to him. "I, I, I'll put the kettle on," she stammered and dashed into the kitchen before her grief got the better of her. She busied herself with the tea, taking her time with the pot and the leaves, while Arthur and Harry talked in low voices in the living-room. Then there was a series of light creaks as someone climbed the stairs, and Arthur appeared in the kitchen doorway alone.
"I sent Harry upstairs to greet his cousin," Arthur said, but was barely finished before Petunia rushed to him and folded him in an embrace.
"Arthur, I read the paper, I'm so very very sorry," she whispered. "It's terrible!"
"Pet, don't…" Arthur sobbed and hugged her back hard. "Please. I need to keep myself together for a little longer. My family…" His voice gave out. They held each other in silence until the stairs creaked again with a descending tread. They parted reluctantly, both hurriedly wiping their eyes. They were just in time—Harry pushed open the door a mere second after.
"Are we going, Mr Weasley?" he asked. Arthur and Petunia exchanged surprised looks.
"Your aunt's just got the tea ready," Arthur said. "And I think she mentioned biscuits…?"
"Get the cups from that corner cupboard, Harry," Petunia said and was about to tell him to go fetch Dudley, but her son exhibited his finely-tuned ability to sense available food and appeared in the hallway at his cousin's elbow. Petunia thought again about Arthur's lost son and had to bury her face in a lower cupboard, pretending to dig for chocolate biscuits.
"Where are you staying, Harry?" she asked her nephew over tea, not from any real interest but simply to fill a silence that was less awkward than sorrowful.
"We're just off to the Burrow, I'm to stay with the Weasleys," Harry replied with a nod towards Arthur. "But I've been thinking of getting my own place soon."
"You're welcome to stay as long as you want, you know that," Arthur said.
"Yeah, but it's sort of time."
"Got a girlfriend?" asked Dudley and bit into a biscuit. He was becoming less nervous by the minute; food always helped, bless the boy.
"Yes, actually," Harry said, and the small but delighted grin that lit his face was pure Lily. Petunia had never seen it before and her heart jumped. "Her name's Ginny. Ginny Weasley."
Petunia choked on her tea in a not very ladylike manner.
"And you're staying at her house? Wicked!" chortled Dudley. "Why would you want to move out?" Petunia shot him a furious glance. Harry blushed and avoided looking at Arthur, or her.
"She does have several older brothers with her best interests at heart," Arthur said with quiet humour and sipped his tea. The look that passed between Arthur and Harry was full of warmth and the camaraderie of all they had faced together. Petunia bit her lip, suddenly feeling jealous and isolated.
Harry, of course, misunderstood her reaction. His face pinched shut.
"I really don't care if you don't approve of my girlfriend, Aunt Petunia," he said, defiant and angry. "We won't be darkening your doorstep, I promise."
Arthur's jaw dropped open. So did Dudley's. Petunia grimaced. She knew all the things she should say—please do visit, I'd love to meet her, I'm sure she's very nice—but Vernon would want nothing to do with any of it he would scream his face purple if anyone so much as suggested that any of the Weasleys visit, or Harry either. She stayed silent.
"Harry." Arthur set down his teacup and looked at the boy reprovingly. "That was unfair."
"Unfair?" Now it was Harry's turn to be surprised. "Unfair? Me? She's the one who…"
"Harry, that's enough!" said Arthur firmly but calmly. "Show respect to your aunt in her own home."
Harry fumed but, fortunately, fell silent. Even Dudley seemed abashed.
"I think we should be going," Arthur continued, drained the last of his tea and rose. "P-Mrs Dursley…"
"Yes?" Petunia squeaked and stood up, too, and swallowed through a suddenly dry throat.
"Don't hesitate to contact us if you need help with anything."
"Thank you." She wanted to say so much more, but Arthur seemed to understand without words and nodded.
"My regards to Uncle Vernon," said Harry with a drop of acid in his voice. "Mr Weasley, I'll see you at the Burrow." He rose, collected his broomstick, and with no more ado and a loud BANG he Disapparated. Dudley let out a small whimper and fled into the living-room, afraid again.
"Write to me," Petunia whispered. Arthur nodded and extended a hand, which Petunia grasped briefly in both of hers. What she wanted to do was kiss it, but this was nothing like the time or place for it.
Arthur's Disapparition made only a small popping sound compared to Harry's, leaving Petunia in the deserted kitchen to clear the table.
One cup—her own—slipped through her trembling fingers and smashed itself against the tiled floor. Petunia stared at it blankly while somewhere inside her rang a silence like the hush after shutting off a vacuum cleaner.
It's over, she thought, without knowing what, exactly, she meant—the war, perhaps. The world? I'm going home. She snatched a broom and a dustpan from the corner and swept up the porcelain shards. Then, with a firm step, she walked straight out the door, barely pausing to put on a coat, and drove straight to the nearest estate agents'.
"I have wonderful news," Petunia announced that night as soon as Vernon returned from work and they were all seated at the dinner table. He gave a halfway interested grunt and forked up steak and chips drenched in gravy, just the way he liked it.
Petunia continued: "Harry came by, and…"
"Harry? You mean Harold Storsson from Marketing?"
"No—no, Harry, our Ha-"
Vernon growled. "Potter!" Petunia flinched. "I thought we were done with that brat!" Vernon went on. "What did he want?"
"He came to say that it's safe for us to go home now."
"What do you mean?" Vernon barked. "We are home, aren't we?"
"Home to Little Whinging. We're out of danger," Petunia said and continued hurriedly, before Vernon could interrupt her again: "Anyway, I went to the estate agents today, they made some calls, and apparently that white house on Magnolia Street is for sale. Remember the one with the arched portico and the lilac bushes? Just at the Privet Drive crossing?"
"Why would we go back to Little Whinging?" Vernon demanded. He shook his head. "You're not making any sense. We're finally moving up in the world. This house is a lot better than what we had there, better than that white monstrosity, too. Smith and Clangbury live right around the corner. We couldn't have them over for dinner if we lived in Little Whinging, could we?"
The pit of Petunia's stomach descended into her feet. Vernon saw nothing wrong with having a bigger house and giving dinner parties to his colleagues, superiors really, every month or two. Organising them, and cooking and cleaning before and after, had in fact been Petunia's main occupation in all their time here. Of course he wanted to stay.
"Dudley has no friends here," Petunia said tentatively. "Do you, pumpkin?"
"Uhh… I've go' fwens," Dudley said through a mouthful of steak and peas.
The dear boy, he did not understand what she was trying to accomplish here. Petunia swallowed a frustrated sigh and stared at her plate, pushing a few peas around while her stomach churned at the thought of eating.
"I don't like living in Glasgow," she said quietly. Her voice sounded strange in her own ears. "It's cold up here, and people talk strangely. I've lived in the South all my life…"
"Time for a change then, wasn't it, dear?" Vernon said, not really listening to a thing she said. "'Ere, Dudley! Leave some chips for the rest of us!" Vernon's satisfied chuckle at Dudley's attempted capture and emptying of the bowl of chips crept up Petunia's spine like a stray rat. Vernon went on to talk about his day at the office and to offer what he probably thought were golden tips about job hunting for Dudley, and there was no bringing back the topic of moving. Petunia tightened her jaw and refused to weep, even when Vernon had the bright idea of giving an ad-hoc dinner party the following weekend for three or four other couples, his work mates of course.
The dinner party preparations kept Petunia busy, and it was a full day before she had the first moment to herself. The evening saw her climb up into the attic, the sad, cluttered space that it was after the neat and cosy nest at Privet Drive. At least it provided her with a place to practice magic and to be alone.
Glasgow, which had previously been only boring and strange, had suddenly become a prison and she was itching to be gone from the North, back to Little Whinging, or London—or even Cokeworth. She snorted at the thought of returning to that wilderness of sooty pipes and blackened houses, if it was even there anymore. Her eyes came to rest on the locked wardrobe that stored her books on magic, her cauldron and her wand, and she thought about whether, now that the war was over, Arthur could, or wanted to, continue to teach her or... or if he might be a part of her life otherwise. Instantly she was ashamed of her own thoughts. What kind of person would even think that of a man who had just lost the wife he loved? Best stay with other topics.
How could she make Vernon want to move back South? Material comforts would not help, since life up here was so much cheaper that the price they could get for this house would buy them a place not much bigger than 4, Privet Drive. Perhaps the London office of Grunnings could be persuaded to give Vernon a better job—but then, he had just started here, relatively speaking, and Petunia was in any case in no position to influence his superiors. Dudley seemed not to be cooperating, not realising he would be much better off in London. Vernon had no hobbies that could not be indulged in Glasgow as well as in London. In short, nothing was likely to motivate him to leave this ghastly city.
The tea she had carried up had gone cold, and with a wan smile she took out her wand. She set the mug on a side table, checked a book for the spell and wandwork, took aim, and carefully said the words of the warming spell.
The mug exploded, spraying boiling hot liquid around the attic and across her shins. She gave a muffled scream and stumbled back against the wardrobe.
"What the devil was that?" Vernon bellowed, his heavy tread making the stairs squeak as he climbed up.
"Nothing, nothing, I'm sorry!" She grabbed an old pair of socks from a box and wiped at her stinging legs. "Just dropped my tea, that's all!"
The door below the attic stairs opened. For a second Petunia froze in sheer terror. Vernon would surely not squeeze himself into the narrow stairway? But from the huffing and puffing sounds and the complaint of the boards of the stairs, he was doing just that. Petunia dove after the remains of the cup, collecting shards in bleeding hands. Then she realised she was still holding her wand, and shoved it into the cupboard along with the spellbook just in time before Vernon opened the attic door.
He took a minute or two to catch his breath while Petunia stood stock still, wondering if she should go downstairs herself in the hopes that he would follow and concluding that she dared not leave Vernon up here alone. When Vernon's breath had steadied and the purple shade of his face had lightened just a little, he straightened and peered around the attic. His expression darkened as he took in the piles of boxes, haphazardly stowed junk, the seat by the window where Petunia came to read the Daily Prophet, and the trunk.
"It's a mess up here. I thought you'd been cleaning up," Vernon said and sat down on the corner of a storage box. It gave way under him and he hurriedly stood up again. "Not a bad space, though. I've been thinking, we need a home movie theatre, to have entertainment at our little soirées. The Smiths have one, and remember how much fun their last party was? This is just the place! It's perfect." He gestured with pudgy fingers, painting visions in the air. "Put the canvas there, and the projector can hang from the ceiling beam there. A bar in the corner, and six or seven comfy chairs…"
"I… I… I don't think that's a good idea," Petunia stammered, horrified. "I… it… the… the stairs are too steep. If there's a bar up here, people won't be steady enough to climb down…"
"We'll have the stairs enlarged!" Vernon exclaimed. "We can widen them, and extend them a bit into the upstairs hallway. Yes, that's it. I'll call the builders in tomorrow, they can start drawing up plans. You'll have a new room to fix up in no time. Paint the walls, maybe? A really deep carpet, a red carpet, don't you think?"
For the rest of the evening, Vernon went on to describe the elaborate plans he had conceived for his movie theatre and performed satisfied calculations of how well his new, higher salary could support the project. That night, she lay sleepless beside him, staring into the darkness. She would lose her space in the attic, the space that had never been more needed than now when every single task in her formerly comfortable life felt like a burden. She thought about her wand and her books and wondered how best to keep them from discovery. Perhaps put them in one of the storage boxes? But where would the boxes go? And where would she go to practice? Maybe she should just take the risk of carrying the wand on her person…
I can't live this life.
The thought rolled into sight like a dustball, caught in a draught, from behind some closing door. Her heart squeezed into a tight fist. Live here, up North, in this house where no place was hers? Not practice magic? The idea was unbearable. Then how could she live? With Vernon, and without magic, in the South? She rolled the thought around her head, tasting it. No, she decided. Not without magic anymore, yet how to fit Vernon into that life? Vernon, who abhorred the thought of magic, feared and hated its practitioners... and would fear and hate her if he ever found out. He already loathed all her relatives.
She sat up with a gasp and regarded his sleeping, snoring form. Her husband, in fact, already feared and hated her, hated what and who she was, even without knowing it. Even taking into account her curse, whose effects had now faded, Vernon was hardly innocent of making her hate and very much fear that part of herself, too, for years, and more than anything she found she was terrified that it would happen again. She wanted to be able to see herself as a good person, an interesting person, to be valued for all the things that she was. Like Arthur always had.
No, don't think about Arthur, she told herself sternly. This is between Vernon and myself. Yet the fact remained that Arthur was the one who had awakened that part of her, whose eyes when he looked at her had held no careful discrimination and no reserve, only eager delight—and made her feel worthy of it. Vernon, on the other hand, belonged to those who had shut away that part of her and nailed down the door.
I can't live where I'm hated and feared.
She got up as silently as she could and ran into the bathroom. Her trembling hands found the light switch. The tiled floor was cold against her bare toes. She locked the door and leaned against it, panting. Was she really thinking this? Was it really happening?
When did I become this person?
Three days later, on Friday, Petunia knocked on Dudley's door.
"Dudley? Duddy, dear?"
There was a hasty scramble from inside that went on for a while. Then a flustered Dudley opened the door.
"I need to talk to you."
They sat down, Dudley on his bed, Petunia in his desk chair. She measured her son with her gaze. Large and healthy, finding his own niche in the world, just about to turn eighteen and become officially an adult. Where had all the years gone? It seemed only last week that she had changed his nappy, put plasters on his booboos, defended him against all comers in the playground and sung him to sleep.
"Dudley, darling," she began. "You know your father doesn't want to go back South."
Petunia paused, collecting courage. "But I do."
Dudley's eyes went wide.
"And I am."
Dudley's eyes widened more.
"I'm leaving today. I think your father may not like it much, which is why I'm not telling him in advance. I'm… afraid of what might happen."
Vernon did not scare her. His words could be hurtful, but she knew she could survive them, and he had never, ever lifted a finger against her. What she feared was her own reaction. She still had no idea if she could fully control the magic she had been learning and would not take any chances on having Vernon splattered all over the blue floral wallpaper of the living-room.
"Please give this to him when I've left." She handed Dudley the letter she had written, Vernon's name in her neat print on the envelope.
"But mum—you're—you're getting a divorce?" Dudley's lower lip quivered.
"So it seems." She moved beside him and put an arm around his wide shoulders. "Diddums, I'm so sorry. You know you're welcome to live with me when I find a place of my own. In the meanwhile, stay with your father, do as he tells you, and I'll ring you every day."
"Where are you going? Are you going to live with Harry?"
Petunia snorted in disbelief. "What? Hardly. I'm going to London first, and then… I don't know. But I'll ring you tomorrow. Okay?"
"Okay," muttered Dudley. When she was halfway out the door he added: "I'm gonna miss you, mum."
"I'm going to miss you too, Wuddy," she said through tears. "But we'll see each other soon, don't worry. We'll spend the next holidays together, you'll see." She closed the door hastily to hide her face.
Vernon was off at work and would not be back before six, expecting the house to be all in readiness for Saturday night's party. In fact, the house was in readiness, all the food was stored in the fridge, the nice china taken out and the silver polished—only Petunia would not be there.
She called a taxi and went outside to wait for it. Her mind was empty of all thought, and no nostalgia ambushed her when she shut the door behind her for the last time.
When taxi pulled up to the kerb she picked up her two suitcases full of clothes, a few special, cherished issues of the Daily Prophet, her jewellery, some photographs, her magic books and cauldron, and her wand. Not much luggage, she thought, from a whole lifetime. At least it was easier leaving this house than it would have been to leave the one on Privet Drive. The thought startled her, the realisation that even if they had never moved, she still would have left.
She took a deep breath of fresh spring air and stepped into the taxi.