Disclaimer: I do not own either the Harry Potter series or any of its characters.
Set in Petunia Dursley's point of view shortly after Harry goes to Hogwarts. She often thinks about her own childhood and remembers things, whether she wants to or not.
I hope you like it. Have a nice day.
Of Acrobats and Shampoo.
No matter how long ago it was, the past never feels like it is dead. You can still remember in perfect detail the happiest days of your life as though they had only just happened. As if you'd just walked in to the room directly from the place where it happened.
You remember when you were young and life was made of climbing trees and digging in the garden with her; with Lily. The sun filled days went on forever and when night eventually fell, it did so instantly, cutting the day cruelly short, even though in your child's mind, you knew the night had always been coming.
The whole world revolved around the back garden of your family's semi-detached in Surrey. You were completely oblivious to the turn of the Earth and the expanse of the universe, and even if you knew, you doubted you'd care.
The grass was cool in the summer beneath your bare feet and the individual blades would sneak between your toes and lightly tickle the delicate skin it found there. You and your sister would beckon the girl next door over the fence to play in the flower beds, no matter how many times your mother had told you not to look for earthworms near her hydrangea.
You would laugh together, the sound carrying across the lawn, but not covering the gentle hum of cars passing the front of the house. You'd be delighted when you found a worm, its wriggling segregated body smooth to the touch, but scream and jump back, because you were children and female and felt it was expected of you to be afraid.
Your favourite game was always make-believing. You, Lily and any number of friends could get lost in imagination.
The whole afternoon could pass in the blink of an eye, and you would spend it exploring the jungle, travelling through space, or riding horses in a show. You could be anyone, go anywhere. You were an actress, an astronaut and an acrobat in one day.
Your favourite was the acrobat. You could fly gracefully through the air on the trapeze, bounce gracefully on a trampoline and perform stunts to make the crowd gasp. You were loved and skilled and admired and you adored every second of it.
You used to smile when you remembered the past. You don't anymore. You still remember, of course. You just don't smile.
The past comes back to you in flashes, the smallest things setting you off.
The washing line brings back the memory of that time when you tried to take it down, having managed to overuse your skipping rope so much, that the gentle fraying had eventually given way, and the rope had snapped in two. You had been distraught, but it was amazing how resourceful you were, even before you knew the meaning of the word.
You had only been young then, perhaps five or six, and Lily younger still. You had managed to detach one end of the line from the hook on the side of the house by standing on the chair from the patio. The problem started when you tried to untie the thin cord from the tree at the side of the garden. It was just a little too high, and you couldn't reach, even by standing on the chair.
You tried though, the chair wobbled dangerously on the uneven ground below the tree but you didn't take the warning fate was giving you. You pulled yourself up and onto the fence separating your home from your neighbours until you were precariously balanced on the thin wood of the fence.
The girl next door (Michelle, you remember suddenly, her name had been Michelle) and her family had been out somewhere, and it was just you and your young sister in the garden. In her anxiety, Lily had bitten the skin around her nails until the cuticles bled and had whispered frantically for you to get down before mummy saw you but you ignored her, leaning over a little further to try to untie that stubborn knot.
Whenever somebody falls, be it downstairs, over a stray object in their path, or indeed, off a fence, (even, as you have discovered, in love) there is always a moment, in which the stomach lurches in the most alarming manner, when they can see what is about to happen, as clearly as if it had already happened.
That is what happened to you. You could tell; you knew you would fall, but you had no idea how to stop it. You waved your arms madly, like a small, human-shaped windmill, in a desperate attempt to gain your balance to no avail. You fell forwards onto the ground in your garden, Lily screaming throughout your tumble.
As the ground rushed towards you, you saw your father come barrelling through the open French windows, running towards you but you knew he'd be too late. Before the impact with the ground, you brought your arms up to catch yourself.
Had you not done this, you probably wouldn't have spent the next few weeks with your left arm in a plaster cast.
And you never pretended to be a circus acrobat again.
The washing line is only one of the things in everyday life that brings the memories flooding back, each individual recollection clamouring for your undivided attention, bouncing up and down on the balls of their feet insistently and refusing to be ignored.
You stand in the shower and squeeze the shampoo onto your open palm, the bottle making a satisfying squelch as it expels the honey-scented, gel-like substance.
It is the most innocuous of circumstances and your mind flicks back twenty years to when you and Lily stood in the garden, Lily clutching your mother's shampoo in her hand and giving her acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize.
It was a while after the washing line incident, as it became infamously known. You know because your arm was no longer in a cast and Lily's hair is longer in your mind. The fingers clenched around the bottle still bear the evidence of her habit of chewing the skin around the nails, so it wasn't too many years after the broken arm because your mother had managed to rid Lily of that tendency before she turned nine.
She was too young to understand fully what the Nobel Prize was, but she knew it was good, and she liked to pretend she'd won it. You sat at the ground at her feet, playing the devoted fan, knowing that when it was your turn to play, she would do the same.
The prize changed when it was you, you take the bottle from her and the pair of you were instantly transported from a prestigious lecture hall to a theatre where you were being acclaimed for your wonderful performance in the latest play. It didn't matter which one, only that you were the leading lady and you were the best.
The game was ended abruptly when your mother came out of the back door, leaned against the white painted door frame and glared out at the pair of you. The effect of this glare was lessened, however, by the fact that a small smile broke over her face a moment after she saw what you were doing, and that it was exceptionally difficult to be intimidated by a woman in a bathrobe who was dropping water all over the patio from her damp hair.
She had clearly been annoyed at having had to get out of the shower when she realised her shampoo was conspicuously absent but hadn't reprimanded you for your game. You had dutifully handed the bottle back, you and your sister wearing identical sheepish expressions that disappeared the moment your mother did.
The summer came when Michelle and her family moved away, to Essex you think, and you clung to each other and swore to keep in touch and be friends forever and ever. You and Lily were sad for a while but failed to realise the event for what it was. It was the first sign that the world was imperfect and that nothing lasted forever.
You lost that girl's address long ago.
Life went on. You carried on, pestered your parents for a swing set for the garden, and squealed with delight when your father opened the curtains covering the French windows on Christmas morning to reveal a readily erected pair of swings side by side on a single red frame. The wonderful sight was completed by a large white bow tied around the left leg of the structure.
For a while you played on those swings every day. First thing in the morning after breakfast you'd run out before school and play for as long as you could before you absolutely had to leave for school or else be put on the late register.
Then, as soon was school was over, you'd be out again, playing in the garden, nearly always dedicating some time to swinging to and fro, laughing with Lily.
As time passed, the time allotted for the swings gradually decreased. The seats became chipped and the chains became rusty and you became bored of that swing set.
Still you didn't catch on to the point. Time itself was telling you in a thousand little ways, trying to warn you that things change.
In everything through those years, time whispered in your ear, always following you, telling the same message - Nothing stays the same, little girl. Prepare yourself.
But you pressed on regardless. Your games spread through the years, the seasons were swallowed up by chasing and digging and running and skipping.
It was the best life.
Looking back, your childhood merges into one big game, you can't recall where one year ended and another began. You have no idea where it all went. Maybe if it wasn't so happy, it would have lasted longer. But you had the happiest childhood of anybody. It is a well known fact that happy times pass faster than sad ones. You would have been willing to trade some (not all of it, just some) of your happiness for a bit of sadness if it meant the overall experience would have lasted longer.
As it was, it passed by too fast, it's not fair.
You didn't realise it wouldn't last forever. Nobody warned you.
You should have another chance. You should get another opportunity to memorise each second. If you'd have known you'd never be that happy again, you would have committed it all to memory.
All your excuses go unnoticed. Nothing can be done about it now.
Everything was good when you were young. Your idyllic spot in life was to be envied. You were adored by your family, your best friend was your little sister and the problems of the world were a million miles from your home in the peaceful south of England.
The world was yours and hers; yours and Lily's and nobody else mattered. When you were young.
It is, however, the tragic fact of life, that as much as you want it to, nothing lasts forever.
Days, months and years come to an end.
The leaves on the trees, so fresh just a few short months before, fall from the trees one by one, to carpet the ground below.
Relationships are born and relationships die, sometimes before their time.
Beloved pets pass on.
Plants are slaughtered by the onset of frost in winter...
Children become adults.
And it all happens too fast.
For you, your childhood ended one September when your sister was eleven years old. When Lily left for that... school, it signalled the end. Your carefree life was over and as she waved goodbye from the train window, beaming broadly, you couldn't help but feel that it couldn't have meant as much to her as it did to you.
She didn't even think twice about leaving you. You wanted to go with her, even wrote to ask but were rejected. Politely, but rejection is rejection no matter how anyone dresses it up. You were bitter in the September she left, you admit, and she didn't come back in the October break (something about a club she wanted to get involved in and the first meeting was during that break) but as Christmas approached, you were becoming more and more excited to see her again.
After all, that was what the world was about wasn't it?
Family was important, and nothing could challenge the connection you had with Lily. She was your best friend and it was stupid of you to feel threatened.
So she returned, your Lily, but the reality of her return was nothing like the fantasies. Gone were the days when you ran together down the garden, racing to see who could reach the apple tree at the end of the lawn first. Instead, Lily acted as though she couldn't wait to get away from you. She spent her time practising magic or alone in her room, reading her books so she could learn more magic to practise.
Each time she came back from school, it was the same. Still, your favourite game had always been make-believing and even after years passed, you could still pretend in your heart that one day, everything would be like it was before. Michelle might not return, Lily might be a witch, and that wouldn't change, but surely you and your little sister could try to recreate that closeness you once shared.
But it never happened.
Her life grew, and you suppose you couldn't blame her for that. It was only to be expected that she make new friends and gain new ideas at that wonder of a school of hers.
You blame that place for taking her away from you.
She never came back after her last year at Hogwarts. She moved in with her boyfriend and her friends and, although she called now and then, you were too angry to ever call her back.
You regret that now.
You're sure you would have gotten around to it eventually but before you were ready to not be angry with her, she had been killed, and you were asked to raise her son.
When you opened the door that morning to see a baby lying in a basket, you screamed. Naturally. And he opened his eyes.
The first thought, the very first thought, even before wondering what a baby was doing on your front doorstep, was that he had her eyes. Before the scar on his forehead, before the messy tuft of black hair that could only be his father's, you noticed her eyes in him. And close on the tail of that thought, was the realisation of what must have happened.
You didn't even need to open the letter nestled next to him – Harry – to know that your little sister, the girl with the bleeding cuticles and high pitched scream when a worm wriggled into view, was dead.
That put an end to that make believe game. You couldn't pretend she would come back to you one day.
Games were for children anyway. That doesn't mean you couldn't yearn for that time when it was acceptable for you to pretend.
You took Harry in, although regrettably did not treat him as well as you should have done. Looking back, you think it was partly because you were still angry at her. For leaving, for not coming back, for putting herself in danger so knowingly, for dying, for so many things that really weren't her fault.
Despite what you said to Vernon, however, you don't think you would have ever put him into an orphanage, even if you didn't have the warning from the Headmaster of Lily's old school.
He was her son, and all that there was left of her. In his genes lived the girl who pretended to win the Nobel Prize before she even knew properly what it was. The girl who swung beside you, both of you trying to swing right over the pole while secretly fearing you would actually succeed. It was such a long way to fall for two little girls, and you knew gravity wouldn't let you fly.
You might resent Harry for having some of her features and not being her, but you don't think you'd have let him go to an orphanage.
Ten years after he was dropped on your doorstep it happened again. That school took another member of your family and you were angry. That place was dangerous, it had cost Lily her life, and they hadn't closed it down?
You had been asked to keep Harry near you, to keep Lily's son safe and now they were going to take him to the school that had been the source of his mother's death. That just didn't make sense to you.
You directed your anger, fuelled by Hogwarts and the Wizarding World at large, in Harry's direction. He was young, he didn't understand, but he came out of the world that had killed Lily and was living proof of her involvement in the thing that had destroyed her. Had Lily not met Harry's father, not met James Potter, she might have come back to you after all and she might still be with you.
Magic had taken her from you, and now it seemed set to take her son. You would always hate that world for what it had done to you and your sister and your anger was fired at anyone vaguely connected with that world.
Vernon had leapt on your perceived hatred with relish and had rejoiced in the fact that you were 'normal.' In the end it was easier than you thought it would be to pretend you hated your sister.
Pretending still played a part in your life, because it made the world easier to bear. Even knowing games were for children, make-believing still played a part in your life and you both cherished and hated the connection with the carefree child you were.
You still miss those summer days that happened both long decades and short hours ago. You can't tell which sometimes as so often do you relive them in their vibrant glory, against your will at times.
You smile when you see children on the street enjoying their youth as much as you did. That was probably why you let Dudley get away with murder as a child. You wanted him to enjoy his childhood as much as you did. You and Lily were pretty much given a free reign, possibly because you rarely stepped out of line anyway so punishment was unnecessary more often than not.
You used to watch the children, when you took Dudley out. You sat on the bench, alone in the park, ignored by the other mothers with their faultless hair and manicured nails because you didn't fit their profile of a perfect mother.
You turned a blind eye to Dudley's throwing sand at the little boy in the sand pit in an attempt to make him leave so he could play by himself. After all, he wasn't doing serious harm.
With nothing else to do, you watched the children playing and wished with all of your heart you could once again feel the happiness that only comes with carefree childhood.
They swung and ran and played and, even when they fell, they jumped right back up and carried on going. There is nothing in this world quite as resilient as children. They just bounced up and carried on. You couldn't help thinking that resistance to the hardness of the world should increase with age, not decrease. But it seemed you were still learning. The world kept surprising you.
You had little doubt that it always would.
You watched those children and wanted to shake some sense into them whenever they sat down for a rest. They didn't understand how fast their childhood would pass and there was no time for them to waste.
Someday, you wanted to tell them, everything will change. It's just the way things are. And holding tighter to your childhood will only make it hurt more when it is invariably taken from you. You can't stop it. And there comes a time when you have to stop playing those games of your youth because the pain that hits when you realise you are no longer a child will be too hard to bear. But not yet.
Don't stop yet.