Petunia considered the situation. Two extra guests for the next few weeks, without warning. There was enough food in the house, but she'd need to make an extra trip to the store soon. And they would need somewhere to stay . . . Ron and Harry could share his room, no issue there. They'd likely prefer it, in fact. But Hermione?
Dudley was hauling in two of the trunks with little effort. He was a strong lad, and balance was likely the only reason he hadn't managed all three at once. "Leave those by the stairs, Dudley. They'll be fine there for now."
Harry and his friends were standing by the door, giving each other odd looks. They still didn't wish to say anything around her, hm? Well. Magic or not, she'd need to set out the rules. She narrowed her eyes at them and pointed to the living room. "All right, if you're to be staying here, we need to set a few things straight. Into the living room now, you can take the couch."
Ron rolled his eyes and muttered something she couldn't make out. Hermione elbowed him. Harry spoke up. "All right, Aunt Petunia. C'mon, it's not as if she can actually try something on us."
That riled Petunia slightly; but there had been no venom, and it was true enough. So she simply pointed once more. "Couch. Now." Finally, thankfully, they listened and settled in on the couch, Harry seated in the middle. She took her own seat in the armchair opposite and watched them for a moment. The years had passed by faster than she realized. It was unsettling, in a way, to realize her nephew was grown, almost an adult. And that was the point of this, wasn't it?
"Some ground rules will be required," a pause at their expressions, and she sighed. "Nothing like that. I've no wish to face down any of your friends who've offered threats in your defense. But as long as you're under my roof, there are a few things I want to make clear. There will be no magic unless absolutely necessary. You might not be in trouble with your kind once you're seventeen, but if you have any respect for the aunt who kept you safe all these years, you won't be leaving the neighbours with enough to gossip about for the next decade."
Harry turned to each of his friends, then back to her, and nodded. "Fair enough. I trust you'll be giving us enough to eat? None of the crazy diets for Dudley that the rest of us need to put up with, or deciding there's not enough for all of us and we need to share a plate?"
A twinge of guilt, there. Had she really been horrible enough for him to expect that? "You'll be getting proper meals, of course. All of you. But unless one of your friends has a real allergy, I won't be catering to you. You'll have to be happy with the same food as the rest of us are eating."
At Harry's nod she continued, "And as you're seventeen, I want to make it clear that there will be no hanky-panky during your time here. Ron, you'll be staying in Harry's room – you can use Dudley's old sleeping bag. Hermione, the spare bedroom is yours. Vernon and I are in the next room, so don't think we won't hear any of you trying to sneak around. Do I make myself clear?"
Harry was blushing slightly, but seemed to be attempting to hold back laughter more than anything. Ron, meanwhile, had turned beet red and had gained a sudden interest in his shoes, while Hermione had buried her face in her hands; what skin was visible was glowing red.
The worst of the details sorted out, Petunia shooed them off to get unpacked and took opportunity of the brief respite to collapse on the couch. It would be a long few weeks.
After all the details had been settled, the clearance firm had dealt with the furniture, the fees of the realtor and lawyer paid, the last tiny debt cleared, and each charity had received its due, Petunia found herself boggling at the resulting numbers. After her careful budgeting while living away at home, it was a shock to the system to realize each sister now had an additional six thousand pounds ready to be deposited in their bank accounts.
To be fair, Petunia did entertain a brief fantasy of spending the next few years relaxing in moderate luxury and having a lavish wedding before settling into a comfortable life of Vernon providing for her. But she was a practical girl, and she still didn't wish for her diploma to find no more value than the paper it was on.
She had considered seeking a position in a more budget-friendly area, somewhere she could find a cheap flat with few rats. But with her bank account swelling . . . she had more than enough for first and last month's rent, and a salary in London would bring her enough to cover the rent of a moderate flat.
Purchasing a London paper at a newsstand in the train station, Petunia set to work on the short ride. By the time she arrived, she had circled the more promising options in the housing section. It was getting late, so she made her way to a hotel.
Remembering she was in a new city and would need to adjust, she first purchased a couple of maps, one of the streets and one of the Underground, and a guide. The hotel was nice but not overly classy, one she could easily indulge on but didn't wish to get used to. Spreading the maps out on the bed, she marked each location mentioned in the ads and worked out a route for the next day. The rest of the evening was spent trying to get a feel for the city by reviewing the guide and maps. With the public transit system at her disposal, a car was unnecessary. This was rather cheering, as she had never really enjoyed driving all that much and didn't wish either her residential or employment options to be limited to which were in close proximity to each other.
The next morning she was relaxed and refreshed, and set out with no small amount of eagerness to find her new abode. This faded over the next few hours, as few of the choices that seemed so nice on paper were worth a second glance. Rats running about when the landlord was showing her about in the first. A subway tunnel situated close enough that she was advised to store her breakables securely, and while they didn't object to pets it would be a bad idea for her to keep fish. One flat she didn't even stay long enough to make a decision on. When she had paused on the sidewalk to check the address, a man in a long black robe brushed past and vanished into an alley. Petunia felt a shiver run down her spine. This wasn't a place she ever wished to return to. A morbid question flashed through her mind of just why the previous tenant may have left, but she set it aside and set off to the next address. Only five remained on her list by 4:30, but Petunia didn't feel comfortable bothering a potential landlord if it were getting late enough that they might be in the middle of dinner when she came by. She'd see this last flat, then investigate the others tomorrow.
And – wonder of wonders – it was perfect. A safe neighbourhood, her own bathroom, clean rooms, and reasonable rent. The view showed only the blank brick side of the building next door, but she could live with that. She informed her new landlord immediately that she was quite interested in renting, and with some further discussion of conditions and settling on various details, the deal was finalized.
The next day, she set out on her job hunt. Resumes in hand, she was well-armed and by the day's end she had landed her first interview. Newly-minted secretaries were in high demand, and it took less than a week's legwork to find a position that suited her well.
The months sped by, as they often do when one has a full schedule, and Petunia was settled comfortably in her routine. The tiny window ledge, though there was no view beyond it, did offer more than enough space for Lily's owl to land and an exceptional degree of privacy. Letters were exchanged on about a monthly basis, and while neither sister was free to discuss all the details of their work, there was always something to say. Letters from Vernon came at more regular intervals, always sweet in a somewhat clumsy way. He wasn't the poetic sort, but Petunia felt thankful that, at the very least, he hadn't tried to woo her with limericks.
In her spare time, Petunia would work on the plans for her wedding to Vernon. It would be a tasteful event, no question there. She was rather glad he agreed that a flashy affair would be far too tacky – weren't compatibility signs like that an indicator that your relationship would be a success? A simple white dress and a quiet church wedding would suit them just fine. Neither had ever been regular churchgoers, but both specifically avoided going to the good old C of E. Compatibility again, there!
Before she knew it, there was only a month to go before the big day. She gave her two weeks' notice and said her goodbyes at the office. She had gotten along well with them, and at the farewell party a few half-joking comments(she hoped) were made that they'd find a place for her if things didn't work out with Vernon. The things from her flat were boxed up easily enough, and there will always inevitably be a brother of a friend of a coworker or something along those lines with a truck who is happy to help you move for a few pounds and money for petrol.
An owl from Lily confirmed that she fully intended to be there as maid of honor. Despite the differences they had had, Petunia couldn't imagine anyone else standing with her on her big day. Vernon and his mother greeted her at the train station; Vernon with a kiss, Mrs. Dursley noting her blush with approval. Petunia was certainly accustomed to Vernon's kisses, but public displays of affection were still somewhat alien to her.
Petunia double-checked her reservations and arrangement with the florists and caterer before heading to the dress shop for her final fitting; more than ever, she was glad she had planned ahead. At the dress shop was a wonderful surprise – Lily was waiting for her. There was much glee and hugging between the sisters.
Beaming, Petunia said, "You're here already! Oh, Lily, it's so wonderful to see you again. Considering how busy you mentioned you've been, I was worried you wouldn't be able to make it."
"And miss my own sister's wedding? Petunia, I called in nearly every favour I had to ensure I had this week off. My work might keep me busy, but I'm here for you." Lily gave her sister a reassuring smile.
Petunia gave Lily another hug, but they were interrupted by the on-duty seamstress. "If one of you is Petunia Evans, you'll need to hurry up. I can't wait here all day, you know."
Ducking her head in embarassment, Petunia flashed a smile at Lily before heading to the fitting room. "We'll be able to talk later – just wait until you see my dress!"
Waking from her memories, Petunia realized it was time to start dinner. She considered for a moment asking her new houseguests to help a bit in the kitchen, but then had a better idea. Heading up the stairs to her son's room, she knocked before entering.
"Dudley? Would you like me to show you how to make a simple dinner? You'll be heading off for university soon, and I know I can't look out for you forever. . ." She looked at her son, truly concerned for him for the first time in what felt like ages.
Dudley paused his computer game, considered it a moment, then nodded. "Sure, Mum. I've put it off long enough."
Petunia paused to look at Harry's door, where the trio had been talking quietly since they arrived. They probably wouldn't want to be disturbed until dinner.
"Well, Dudley, we'd better get started. We don't want to keep your father waiting."
Exchanging a small smile, mother and son made their way down the stairs.