Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.. I'm just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.

Chapter Five

Setting the Stage for the Epilogue

Petunia bit her bottom lip as she furiously scrubbed a miniscule spot on her kitchen counter that refused to come out. She could feel a bead of sweat dripping down her back, and her hair felt limp upon her forehead from the exertion. Everything had to be perfect – and she was going to ensure that it was.

She'd allowed herself a lie-in that morning, an event so rare that Vernon thought she must be ill. He'd surreptitiously offered her tea and toast so many times that she'd ended up shouting at him.

Of course, that only confirmed in his mind that she was ill, and she left him to his assumption. It served him right for slumbering peacefully through all the disturbances the previous evening. Petunia viciously swiped at the stubborn stain.

How could he have slept through all that?

She still wasn't certain what to make of it. Could it just have been some horrible nightmare brought on by mixing too many spices into her casserole, or had her dead sister and her cohorts really visited in the dead of the night? Somehow, she knew in her gut that it was the latter, and it made her shiver.

Dudley's future was at stake, and she had to do something about it. If it meant sharing him with this girl…this Deidre…so be it. She could do that.

Petunia wanted a grandbaby named after her, too. Lily wasn't going to outshine her again.

So, with determination in her heart, Petunia had dragged herself out of bed and sent Vernon off alone to pick up Dudley at school. Petunia had begun preparing the sumptuous feast that was now overflowing her kitchen. She'd gone to the market and bought several poinsettias in various colors. There really weren't that many left to choose from at this late date, but she had to admit that they did look festive.

Her mouth turned down as she remembered the lovely family home her nephew would one day have. That was the life Dudley deserved.

Remember, after you and Vernon are gone, Harry is the only living relative Dudley will have left. Their roles have gone complete circle, haven't they? If you don't encourage a relationship between them now, it's Dudley who will be left alone.

Her ghostly brother-in-law's smug words rang in her head, causing her to chop the vegetables faster, her breathing labored. How could it have come to this? She and Vernon had never wanted a second child. They'd given Dudley all the love they had to give, and after her nephew had been dumped on their doorstep, Petunia hadn't felt she had the energy to handle any more. She'd never considered the idea it would mean that Dudley would be alone later in life.

Of course, there was still his cousin…

Perhaps…just perhaps, her Diddy would be better off having that boy in his life after all. She wasn't certain how it came to this, but she in her grand scheme of how things were supposed to be, she'd missed a crucial detail.

Petunia sniffed heavily, the smell of the onions was getting to her more than usual today. Her throat closed as she continued chopping. While she'd been at the market, she'd purchased an abundance of fresh vegetables to add to their meal. Since her goal was to improve Dudley's future, she might as well try to prolong her and Vernon's lives as long as possible, too.

Your nephew appears very happy. Much happier than the way we left your son.

Severus Snape, vile as he was, was right. Harry would end up much better off than her Dudders. At least, he would if Petunia did nothing to change it. She stiffened her shoulders, knowing what she had to do. Vernon wouldn't understand at first, but she could always maneuver around him. That had never been very hard to do.

I'm here to do something you never managed – I'm here to help my sister's son.

Lily hadn't just been trying to help Dudley – her own son would also benefit. Petunia could do that, too. If it helped Dudley in the long run – particularly since it appeared it would help him even more – Petunia could smother her pride. It wouldn't be easy, but her distaste for her nephew's world couldn't overshadow her desire to see Dudley thrive.

"Petunia, we're home!" Vernon called as soon as the front door opened. He sounded tentative, uncertain of both her mood and her health.

"I'm in the kitchen," she called back, wiping her hands on her apron and hurrying to greet them.

Dudley stood next to his father, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his leather jacket and scuffing his foot on the floor. He had deep shadows beneath his down-turned eyes.

"Diddy!" she shouted, unable to contain herself. She was just so happy to see him healthy and whole, without a bottle in his hand. Flinging her arms around him, she squeezed, never wanting to let go.

"Hi, Mum," he said, shifting uncomfortably in her overly long embrace.

"Oh, I'm so happy to see you. This is going to be a wonderful Christmas. I've made all your favorites for dinner," Petunia gushed.

Vernon blinked, staring at her incredulously. He obviously hadn't expected her not only to be in good health, but in good spirits, too.

"Thanks, Mum. It'll be great," Dudley said dully.

Petunia bit back a sharp retort and forced a smile. "Go on and put your trunk up in your room. I'll meet you in the kitchen. Vernon, could you cut the roast, dear?"

"What? Oh, yes…of course," Vernon said, still watching her warily as he hurried into the kitchen.

Petunia followed him, laying out all her best dishes and placing a heaping pile on Dudley's plate. She situated bowls of carrots, green beans and parsnips in a circle around Vernon's plate.

Dudley came back to the kitchen, taking his place at the table without a word.

"How was the trip back, darling?" Petunia asked cheerfully.

"Fine," Dudley mumbled, stuffing his face with a large piece of roast.

"Lots of traffic, but we managed to make good time, anyway. Didn't we, sport?" Vernon asked, piling his own plate high.

Petunia reached over and added some of the vegetables to his plate.

"What's with all the rabbit food?" Vernon asked, eating what she'd given him anyway.

Petunia shrugged airily. "No reason we can't add something healthy to our meals. I bet they serve vegetables at Smeltings, don't they, Diddy?"

Dudley shrugged as if he hadn't really noticed. "A bit."

"So, what are your plans while you're home?" Petunia asked in an overly bright voice. "I suppose you'll want to see Piers and Malcolm and all your little friends."

"Yeah, that sounds good," Dudley said, glancing at the telephone.

Petunia took a deep breath, steeling herself for what she had to do. "I was thinking…it is a rather long holiday, isn't it?"

"Fortnight," Dudley said, shoveling more food into his mouth.

"A fortnight," Petunia repeated, unnecessarily refolding her napkin on her lap. "So…if you'd really like to spend some of the time with your friend from school…"

Dudley's head shot up, his eyes widening. A piece of green bean fell from the corner of his lip as his mouth hung open.

"I would," he said breathlessly. "D'you mean it, Mum?"

"What's this?" Vernon asked, looking between the two.

"Well, it's settled then," Petunia said, trying to ignore the constriction in her heart. "In fact, I think I'd like to meet your friend, too. Why don't you invite her here for Boxing Day? You can spend the weekend with us, then go on and visit with her family."

Petunia thought she'd got through that very well and silently patted herself on the back.

Dudley was thunderstruck. "Here?" he repeated stupidly. You want to meet Deidre? Here?"

"You want to bring a young lady home?" Vernon asked, his chest swelling. "She's from a good family, I hope."

"Of course, here. This is where we live, isn't it? I'll prepare the guest room for her. Marge hasn't visited in ages," Petunia said, biting her lip at that slip.

Vernon's face darkened. "Not since she ended up bobbing all over the ceiling," he said, grimacing.

"She really wasn't being very nice to Harry, though," Dudley said. "She never was."

"And why should she be?" Vernon demanded, his face now an alarming shade of puce.

Remembering his arteries, Petunia shoved a glass of water at him. "Not now, Vernon. We're talking about Dudley's friend coming to call. You go on and turn on the telly. I'll clean up in here," she said, nearly shoving him out the door.

Dudley still sat, rooted to the spot.

"Why don't I go call Dee then…you know…to invite her and all," he said, staring at Petunia as if she'd grown a third head.

"Splendid," Petunia said, smiling widely. She took another deep breath. There was just one more thing she had to do. "Oh, Dudley…"

He stopped at the door, his shoulders stiffening. He slowly turned back to face her, his expression wary. "Yeah?"

"Have you spoken to your cousin at all?" she asked, her tone clipped. She nearly dropped the stack of dishes she was holding, but she managed to get the words out.

"Er…no. Not since before, you know, we went into hiding and all," he replied.

"It's just that…well, it's Christmas, and sometimes people get in touch with those they've lost contact with over the year. I have an address where you can reach him. Somehow, the mail does get to him. I used it when he was at that school," Petunia said, using extreme effort to control the sneer that was fighting to get out. She could do this. She had to do this.

Dudley looked at her as if she'd lost her mind. "You…you want me to write to Harry?"

Petunia bit her lip. Was he purposely making this more difficult? "Well, I just thought you might like to send a card asking him how he's been. If you don't that's fine," she said, turning back to clean up the dishes.

"No! I do," Dudley said firmly. "I'd like the address."

Petunia, her back still to him, shut her eyes tightly. "Go on and call Deidre then. I'll get it for you."

"Okay," Dudley said, sounding as if Christmas had come early. "Thanks, Mum."

Petunia returned to the table and sank back into her chair, pouring herself the glass of sherry she'd been longing for. Raising it in the air she whispered, "I've done my part, Lily. It's in your hands now."

A/N: As you can see, it's a Potterverse Christmas Carol, so things aren't exact – just based upon the Dicken's classic. I can't see Petunia as ever being totally redeemed. JKR made a comment about Harry and Dudley and their families' getting together at Christmastime, and all of the kids hating each other. I wanted to explore how that might have happened. I just can't forgive Petunia for her treatment of Harry, and I don't think she'd do anything to help just him. If it's something for both he AND Dudley, however, well…

There are several people I'd like to thank for helping me get back into the swing of things on this one. My prebeta team – Jim, George and Ryan. You three were amazing, and each brought out our own unique points that added to the story. I loved working with each of you. And, of course, there's my Beta-extraordinaire – Sherilyn. Despite RL heaps of responsibilities, she managed to not only get this done, but insert her wonderful little insights along the way. I always enjoy working with her, and she always makes my stories so much more readable than I could have ever done alone. Thanks all! Merry Christmas!