Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Summary: Lily left empty places behind her. A story about family, loss, memory, and the passage of time. (Contains familial dysfunction, mention of war and related issues, and offscreen canon character deaths.)
Author's Note: This story was written for RemixRedux 7. It is based on "Points Where All Shadows Meet," by osmalic. (community . livejournal . com / snape_after_dh / 24874 . html ) The original story was written for the snape_after_dh livejournal community, which means it takes all DH canon about Snape's childhood acquaintance with Lily and Petunia into account... and then gives one other canon element the finger. In other words, Snape faked his death. *grin*
Aside from that element, "Cast a Long Shadow (We All Meet in the End)" meshes almost seamlessly with everything I have previously written about Petunia. Also, I have now created enough backstory for her that I have a bizarre urge to write a semi-comedic romance wherein bank-teller!Petunia meets drill-salesman!Vernon, they flirt awkwardly, she introduces him to her disapproving parents, he introduces her to his unbearable sister, she wonders how to broach the topic of her little sister's magic, and everything is very cute and silly. Then Voldemort brutally murders Mr. and Mrs. Evans, Vernon is horrified by the revelation that magic is real, and Petunia thinks she's lost him... until he comes back and they get engaged, the end. But I am not going to write that story.
Anyway, thanks to Vicky for the beta! All remaining canon goofs, grammar mistakes, continuity errors, implausible characterizations, bad dialogue, boring passages, and Americanisms are my fault, not hers.
Cast a Long Shadow (We All Meet in the End)
Petunia is late to Lily's wedding.
This is half intentional. Until she left the frame shop, she wasn't certain she'd go at all -- but family is family, freakish or not, and she's never been one to leave obligations unfulfilled. She reaches down and touches the package lying on the passenger seat of Vernon's car. Perhaps she ought to have decided sooner, arrived earlier, tried to catch Lily alone in her dressing room and... not apologize, never that, but rebuild a bridge across the gap between them.
Or perhaps not. Petunia likes her current life; there's no need to complicate things.
She parks the car and steps out, slipping the small, flat package into her purse and settling her hat at an attractive angle. The church looms over the asphalt lot, a black heap of stone backlit by the weak April sun. The steps look high and forbidding, and the single eye of the rose window seems to frown in disapproval.
Petunia glances aside, nervously, and notices an equally dark figure sitting on the grass between the steps and a decorative shrubbery. A man, dressed all in shabby black, pinching a cigarette in between brown-stained fingers. As she walks closer, she notices that his hair is long and greasy, his nose sharp and hooked, and his skin sallow. His eyes are black and cold, and he is staring at Petunia as if sheis the distasteful person in this equation.
He moves the cigarette to his lips, breathes deep, and exhales smoke up into her face. You don't belong here, the gesture says. You're not wanted. You don't matter. You're not special. Go away and leave Lily alone.
She recognizes him now. "You," she says. "That Snape boy, from Spinner's End. Are you still lurking around Lily as if she hung the moon?"
His face curls into a sneer. "You are...?" he says, pretending not to recognize her, trying to make his voice cool and superior. A strange scent hangs about him, mixed in with cigarette smoke: flame and spices, crushed green plants, and a hint of rot and salt and metal. Just like a freak not to bathe properly, Petunia thinks -- or perhaps just like Snape. He had always been grubby. She wants nothing to do with him, wants him to go as far from Lily as humanly possible.
She introduces herself nonetheless. "Petunia Evans. Lily's sister."
Snape stands, dropping his cigarette to the grass and grinding it out with his boot. Petunia scowls at the arrogance and untidiness. "Ah," he says. "The Muggle."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Petunia snaps. She loathes that word. It implies that magic is normal and anyone without it is a freak, when every scrap of decency and logic proves the equation runs the other direction. She knew that from the beginning, and Snape -- childish, slovenly, rude -- is doing nothing to change her mind.
Snape gestures theatrically toward the church and asks, "Are you sure you'd rather stay here and chat with 'that Snape boy' instead of watching your sister's wedding? I'm sure you'll find some of your kind there." An ugly thread of laughter runs through his voice.
Petunia sniffs. Whatever reaction he's seeking, she refuses to indulge him.
He sighs. "Muggles," he says, loud and slow as if talking to a simpleton. "With-out ma-gic. Muggles."
Petunia bites her tongue to stop herself from shrieking at him. Yes, her sister is a freak. Yes, Lily is marrying another freak. Yes, their wedding guests are probably more freaks than not. Does Snape think Petunia is an imbecile simply because she has no magic, because she refuses to be taken in by the delusion that having magic is somehow good and desirable?
She clutches her purse to keep from slapping the smirk off his face.
Suddenly bells peal in the steeple, a deep, tuneless brazen clangor, echoed by a jumble of voices raised in excitement. Petunia turns toward the building. Snape mirrors her action.
She thinks of what to say. "If your kind is inside, why are you out here? With me?"
Snape's face goes pale and tight; his eyes dart left and right as if he's trapped in a corner instead of standing out in the open. As if she were the freak who might pull out a stick of wood and upend the laws of nature to humiliate him, instead of vice versa. Petunia nods to herself. Good. That's how he ought to feel. He was no good as a boy, he was no good that time Lily tried to pass him off as her boyfriend, and he's still no good as a man.
Snape draws himself together, turns his back to the church, and pulls out another cigarette. He lights it with nothing but a snap of his fingers, smirking all the while. He thinks he's being intimidating.
Petunia feels nothing but disgust and lets that show. He's weak, nothing more than a petty bully, trying to scare her off and make himself feel less pathetic.
She knows the signs.
The church doors burst open and the first wave of people spills out over the threshold, circling Lily and that lowlife, James Potter. Someone tosses rice into the air and instead of falling, it floats, suspended in a canopy.
"Disgusting," Petunia says. Don't Lily's hangers-on realize they're in public. Don't they realize anyone passing by might see? Idiots, all of them -- childish, selfish idiots. Like Snape. Why can't Lily see the truth of this topsy-turvy world she's embraced? Why couldn't she be normal?
Lily spins in Potter's arms, laughing; her lacy white skirt flares and swirls, and her veil slides down her long red hair. As she settles to a stop, she spots Petunia and Snape at the foot of the stairs. Her eyes widen. "Tuney?" she shouts. "Is that you down there? Did you only just arrive?" Beside Petunia, Snape draws in a ragged breath and steps into the shelter of the shrubbery.
"And who is that with you?" Lily asks, kicking off her shoes and dashing down the stairs. Potter trails at her heels like an eager puppy. They're so young, both of them -- far too young to marry, Petunia thinks with a hot rush of protectiveness. But nobody ever changes Lily's mind when she's set on something, and she's been set on Potter since the year after she threw Snape away.
A snapping sound and a rush of air signal Snape's disappearance. Petunia walks toward the stairs, shoving down her annoyance at his cowardice and her fury at Lily for embarrassing her in front of the crowd of freaks at the top of the stairs.
"I almost didn't come at all," she tells Lily, "but I wanted to give you this." She slips the package from her purse and hands it to her sister. "Congratulations, I suppose."
Lily's face is a study in mixed emotions: underlying joy, confusion, wariness, tentative gratitude, a hint of embarrassment. "Oh. Thank you. And I'm sorry I yelled -- that was rude, wasn't it?"
"But who was that standing next to you?" Potter asks, stepping forward and wrapping his arm around Lily's waist. "He Apparated, so he can't have been your guest." He exchanges a secretive look with Lily, whose face darkens. "Was he bothering you? Did you see his arm?"
"We don't mean to pry," Lily adds, "but after what happened to Mum and Dad--"
"Stop," Petunia says.
Lily ploughs over the interruption. "Tuney, I don't want to disturb you, but it's for your own good. We're going to have a war, if we're not having one already. Please let me come put protection charms around your flat. I'll even put some around Dursley's house." She reaches out with her free hand, touches Petunia's shoulder. "I couldn't bear to lose you too, not to Volde--"
Petunia slaps her. "I said no! I won't have any magic around me, and don't you dare think spells would make me safer. All they'd do is draw attention. I'm not part of your world, and I don't care what madness you freaks get up to. Just leave me out of it."
Potter's wand is drawn and pointed at Petunia's forehead, but Lily clamps her hand over her new husband's arm and shoves downward, spoiling his aim. "No, James," she says. "This is between me and Tuney."
Potter mutters and tugs Lily closer to his body, as if she's a prize for him to hoard. I'll protect her; you're nothing but a bug on the pavement compared to me, the gesture says. She's mine now.
Petunia glares at Potter. He doesn't own Lily. Nobody can. Lily is the one who claims people, who wraps other people's lives around her whims and wishes, regardless of what anyone else wants. Lily is the one who keeps control.
Petunia knows. She's been trying to cut that tie for years now, but Lily keeps reeling her back in. She thinks Snape knows too. Potter will learn soon enough.
"Your mystery guest never told me his name," she says now, which is both true and deliberately unhelpful. She hides a smile at Potter's annoyed grimace. "And the only thing I saw on his arm was his shirtsleeve. Get back to your reception," she tells Lily. "I have better things to be doing."
"Vernon's waiting?" Lily asks, slyly.
For the first time today, Petunia's smile is real. "Yes," she says. "Vernon's waiting."
As she turns away, she hears the sound of tearing paper. Lily is unwrapping her present.
Lily arrives at the church two hours early, while Petunia is fussing over the floral arrangement on the altar. Everyone else has gone across the road to the parish house to clean and dress, but Petunia's taking the time to be certain everything is just so. She looks a mess, still in her ordinary housedress, face unpainted, hair hanging lank and loose over her shoulders. Lily, of course, is picture-perfect even in a green plaid sundress and white sandals.
"Tuney!" Lily warbles, spinning on her toes as she takes in the decorations. "This is gorgeous! A little heavy on the pink, maybe, but gorgeous. I love the drapery and the candles. Did you do it all yourself?"
"I had some help -- Eloise and Millie from the bank helped put everything together, and Vernon's sister carried the vases in from the car," Petunia says, hastily winding her hair into a bun and fixing it in place with a bruised rose stem, "but yes, it's my design. I want everything to be perfect."
"I think you've managed about as well as humanly possible," Lily says, and Petunia fights not to flush with pleasure at the compliment. She doesn't care about Lily's opinion -- she doesn't -- but Lily's confidence and cheer are infectious as always, and it's next to impossible to break the habit of years.
"Thank you," Petunia says. She pauses, considers. "Is Pot-- is James here too?" Lily accepted the terms of their truce, swore on their parents' graves that neither she nor Potter would use so much as a breath of magic in public. Petunia can be polite in return.
Lily shakes her head. "I told him to stay home. You don't know each other, not really, and the one time he and Vernon met, well..." She trails off and shudders, exaggerating the gesture until a reluctant smile creeps over Petunia's face at the memory of two grown men screaming at each other like toddlers. "Besides, this is your day. I figured I'd keep as many annoyances away as possible."
"Thank you," Petunia says again.
Lily fidgets. "Erm. While I'm on the subject of unavoidable annoyances, I can't stay for the reception -- there was another attack last night, and James and I have to meet with some people to talk about it. So here's your present, early. Open it now?" She offers a small, flat package, an oddly tentative smile on her face.
Petunia accepts the package, slides off the magenta ribbon, tears open the silver paper. She uncovers the back of a gilt picture frame, its lines simple and spare. She turns it over.
Two little girls stare back at her from a bench in the middle of a park, holding hands. The taller one is thin and long-faced, with thin blonde hair and a blue skirt tucked neatly over her knees. The shorter one has red hair and a heart-shaped face, and her smile is nearly bright enough to make the grass stains on her arms and legs fade to nothing. After a moment the red-haired girl twitches, slides sideways on the bench, and prods the blonde girl in the shoulder with her free hand. The blonde frowns, but the redhead jumps to her feet, tugging on their joined hands, and the blonde surrenders with a sigh and a smile. They run out of the frame together.
"I still have the original," Lily says softly. "Thank you for that, by the way -- I thought we'd lost everything with Mum and Dad. But I thought you'd like a copy, too."
There is no way in the world Petunia can accept this. She won't keep magic in her life. Not now, not ever. Even if she wanted to, Vernon would never tolerate anything so unnatural in his house. "I can't--" Petunia starts.
"Don't worry, Tuney," Lily says. "I cast the charm myself. I had to, of course -- since the picture wasn't taken with enchanted film, the only way to animate it was to use my own memory of that day -- but I added two extra features. First, it's always silent. Second, you can turn it off. Just touch the frame and say, 'As you were,' and it will be us on the bench, quiet as mice." She strokes her finger along the gilt and demonstrates.
"And if I wanted...?" Petunia trails off, unsure how to finish the sentence.
Lily understands. "Touch your face or mine through the glass and say, 'Remember.'"
"Remember," Petunia says, tapping the photograph. This time her image is the first to move, turning on the bench to frown at something out of sight behind the trees. "I don't recall doing that," Petunia says. "Are you certain you used the right memory?"
Lily's face twists in a combination of annoyance and amusement. "Yes. Apparently someone else was in the picture, hiding behind the oak tree. Do you remember Severus Snape from Spinner's End? When I animated us, I caught him as well. It shouldn't be a problem. He tends to stay out of your way." She laughs. "You used to intimidate him so badly -- did you realize that? I think he thought you might snatch me away like a dragon kidnapping his fairy-tale princess."
Petunia thinks about the angry young man lurking outside Lily's own wedding four months ago. Still hiding in the bushes, still mooning over Lily, still resentful at the persistence of their family connection. "Funny," she says. "I always thought he was going to snatch you away from me." And he did. Maybe Snape didn't get to keep Lily for himself, but he certainly stole her away, ripped her out of Petunia's world forever and made Lily think her magical prison was a palace fit for happily-ever-after.
Nobody ever seems to remember that fairy-tales are as cruel as they are beautiful. Parents kill and abandon their children. Sleeping Beauty wakes and finds her whole world crumbled to dust while she slept. Rapunzel's prince falls from a tower and blinds himself with thorns.
Petunia doesn't like fairy-tales. She doesn't trust them. Fairy-tales never tell you that there's a price for breaking nature's laws -- a price Petunia never wants to see Lily pay. They've both paid enough already.
"Thank you," she says. "Snape aside, it's a nice gift."
"I'm glad you like it," Lily says. "I just wish Vernon..." This time she trails off.
Petunia crumples the silver paper in her hand. "I don't. He's a good man, a fine man, and he's right not to trust magic. Sometimes it's pretty, but it's always cheating. And cheaters never prosper. You know that."
"Magic is not cheating!" Lily says, color rushing to her cheeks. Her green eyes snap with old frustration. "Magic is perfectly natural, Tuney -- it exists, so it's part of nature, so by definition it can't be unnatural. I can't believe you're still jealous after all these years!"
"I AM NOT JEALOUS OF YOU," Petunia shouts. "I never was and I never will be! Why would I want to be part of a world that's falling apart? Don't you read your own letters? Attacks every week now, people dying left and right, not a lick of organization or common sense amongst the lot of you."
She shakes the photograph in Lily's face. "I have a good job, a safe job. I'm marrying a good man and I'm going to have a good life -- a house, a garden, a family. I have everything I ever wanted. What do you have? That good-for-nothing Potter and death tiptoeing closer every day, that's what! And that's all. So tell me, why should I be jealous?"
Lily is silent. Slowly, multicolored sparkles collect in her empty hands and drift into the air, dancing over the flowers like bewildered fireflies. The effect is beautiful. Petunia stares at the blatant display of magic and refuses to admit to the longing twisting in her gut. It's an impossible dream and the price would be too high regardless.
The price is always too high.
"That's why," Lily says, releasing her spell. "That's always been why." She bites her lip and looks away, running a nervous hand through her hair. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come, not when I knew we'd only wind up fighting."
Petunia folds her arms. "So leave."
Lily draws her wand, closes her eyes, and vanishes with a brief crack of sound and a rush of displaced air. Petunia brushes a stray wisp of hair out of her face, from where the breeze pushed it, and looks at Lily's present. Two girls sit on a park bench and whisper jokes into each other's ears, holding hands as if they'll never let go.
"As you were," Petunia says, and sets the memory aside.
Petunia doesn't go to the funeral.
Three days later, though, she begs Eloise to let Dudley and Harry play with Piers for the afternoon and tells Vernon she's visiting Millie to ask about how she manages her twin daughters -- she can already tell that caring for two children will be exponentially more difficult than one, especially with all the problems that will catch up to Harry sooner or later. Petunia's beginning to think she may not be able to go back to work the way she'd planned to once Dudley was in school. She can't afford to be out of the house; she has to be home to watch Harry, to make sure he doesn't hurt or trick Dudley, to make sure nobody from that mad world steals him like they stole Lily.
But she doesn't go to Millie's house. She drives to Godric's Hollow, parks Vernon's car across the street from the small country church, and slips through the kissing gate into the graveyard. James's family has lived and died in this village for centuries, Lily told Petunia once, and without any strong Evans family ties, Lily agreed to be buried at her husband's side. Lily laughed as she spoke, expecting to live for decades yet.
Lily's time is all gone now. Used up. Paid in full.
Petunia rests her hand on the gate, gathering herself. Then she strides off between rows of headstones, aiming for the back south corner of the yard where the witches and wizards keep their crypts and graves.
The yard is moderately well kept. Headstones have been allowed to molder, but none have fallen or cracked; the grass is neatly clipped; and the occasional trees and shrubbery have been pruned to keep their branches out of the paths. Petunia pauses now and then to study an inscription or make note of a particularly well-preserved design. When she and Vernon buy their own headstones, she wants to be certain the inscriptions will last, not wash away in a bare handful of decades.
She's running her finger along a marble groove when she hears a male voice shouting hoarsely to her left. Petunia edges around the nearest crypt, keeping her body close behind a fat yew tree, and peers toward the Potter family plots.
A tall, lanky man stands over Lily's freshly turned grave, fists clenched and black hair whipping in the November wind. "How could you do this to me?" he shouts. "I did everything I could. I left you alone -- directed raids away from you -- cast protection charms around your house -- begged Dumbledore to keep you safe. What was the point if you're dead?
"Why didn't you fight? Why didn't you run? Potter was never worth the soles of your shoes, and what did the brat matter? You could have had more children! What was worth dying, Lily?"
He falls to his knees and buries his hands in the cold, bare earth. "I didn't mean to turn his eyes your way," he says, his voice breaking. "I didn't mean it, I swear. And I made up for that -- I did -- I betrayed the Dark Lord and sold all the secrets I knew to Dumbledore. Wasn't that enough? Couldn't you have stayed?"
Petunia recognizes him with a shock: Severus Snape, Lily's worshipper. He was a nasty, selfish, whining sneak when they were children; a nasty, petty would-be bully when she spoke to him at Lily's wedding; and apparently now an evil, delusional murderer to boot.
"Dumbledore won't let me die," Snape continues. "He says I have to help him protect your son. Potter's son doesn't need protection. He doesn't deserve it -- he killed you! Him and the Dark Lord and Dumbledore and Potter, they trapped you here and made you think you wanted to be trapped. Why couldn't you see, Lily?" His voice trembles, sinks to a whisper. "Why couldn't you ever see me?"
Petunia stands frozen behind the yew, watching as Snape lowers his head to the ground and sobs -- harsh, choking sounds torn from a raw, unwilling throat. His life is in tatters. His sun is gone.
Petunia can't bring herself to sympathize.
Eventually, Snape raises his head and brushes dirt from his hands. "Goodbye, Lily," he says. He draws his wand and conjures a wreath of Lily's namesake flower to lie at the base of her headstone. Then he flicks his wand again and vanishes with a crack of air.
Petunia waits another minute, then walks forward to her sister's grave. It's Potter's grave too, of course; they share a white marble headstone. The engraving gives their names and the dates that bracket their lives, all twenty-one years they spent on earth. An epitaph is carved underneath: The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
Petunia kneels and traces the inscription with the tips of her fingers, feeling cold stone and sharp edges against her skin. She wonders who chose the words. Not Lily. Lily is never-- was never so portentous or arrogant. Even if she'd wanted to be serious and philosophical, her words would have spoken of love, not war and death. And James Potter, lowlife that he was, always seemed too optimistic to want his grave to speak of death more than its mere function necessitates. Somebody else chose the epitaph. Somebody else is sending a message.
Petunia is obviously not the intended recipient. But it's shameful. Lily was murdered. Isn't that enough violation? Why couldn't her grave, at least, be her own? This, Petunia thinks, is a perfect example of everything wrong with the magical world.
Petunia stands and turns half to the side, looking over the graveyard, eyes unfocused. "I told you so," she says to Lily's absence. "I told you nothing good would come of magic. But you never listen to anyone, do you? Did you, I suppose I should say."
She clasps her hands, chafing them to ward off the chilly air. "That Dumbledore person gave your son to me. He ordered me to protect him, to keep him safe until that mad world comes and pulls him in to their rotten little war." She snorts. "I'll do it. I would have taken him anyway -- family is family -- but if someone wants to bribe me to fulfill my obligations, I won't say no. The money will be useful."
Petunia turns back, glaring down at Lily's grave. "But I won't give him to that Dumbledore maniac. I won't have magic in my house. I won't invite a war to my doorstep. I didn't want your son -- I didn't want anything to do with you and your world -- and I will do everything I can to stamp out whatever freakishness you passed on to him." She pauses, clears her throat. "He has your eyes. And I know he's going to be handsome, like you were pretty. He's going to overshadow Dudley just like you always did to me. Well, I won't stand for it. I'm going to make him ordinary if it kills me."
She leans forward, traces her hand along the top of Lily's headstone. "I'll keep him safe. He'll hate me, but I don't care. I won't let magic steal anyone else from our family. I won't let your world murder him, too. I promise, Lily."
The grave is unresponsive, nothing but the rustle of wind through pine needles breaking the silence. Petunia scolds herself for expecting anything else. Magic is cheating, but not even magic can cheat death -- no matter what the epitaph's writer thinks.
She stares at the headstone one last time, then pulls a tube of lipstick from her purse. 'Lily Potter,' the carving says, as if none of Lily's old life mattered at all, as if she had no existence separate from the wizard she married.
Petunia scribbles Evans in faded rose, with an arrow pointing down between the two halves of Lily's carved name.
Then she turns on her heel and walks away.
Petunia almost doesn't know about Harry's wedding until after the fact. She has no contact with her nephew anymore -- not since their last visit, the month after she and Vernon returned home from hiding -- but apparently Dudley has kept in touch. And Dudley has been invited.
He only tells Petunia because he wants advice on appropriate wedding gifts.
He drops by on the tail end of a tea party. Petunia, Eloise, and Millie have been commiserating about their children -- Millie's daughters are off at university and never remember to call or write; Piers is constantly unemployed and Eloise is starting to wonder where he gets his money; and while Dudley is making good money as an automobile mechanic, Petunia can't help wishing he'd start bringing home girls instead of burying himself in his work. "I wonder if he feels he isn't good enough," she tells her friends as she clears away the remnants of tea and finger sandwiches. "Until I met Vernon, I never felt like anyone saw me for myself; I always thought they were comparing me to somebody else and I didn't measure up. I try so hard to make sure Dudley knows he's special, but I don't know if he believes me anymore."
"Oh, Petunia," says Millie with an indulgent smile. "Your Dudley's a fine young man. If he hasn't found someone yet, it's only a matter of time."
"There's no harm in waiting a bit," adds Eloise, gathering her hat from the mail table. "Didn't your sister marry young? And look what happened to her."
Petunia is speechless. Fortunately, Dudley unlocks the door and distracts her friends before the silence becomes noticeable. He shuffles from foot to foot in the doorway, looking flushed and embarrassed as Millie and Eloise coo and pat him on the shoulders. After a minute, Petunia takes pity on her son and tells him to help himself to tea and sandwiches while she sees her friends out.
When she returns to the kitchen, Dudley is sitting at the table and turning a finger sandwich around and around on a saucer. His teacup sits to his left, likely staining a small ring into the wood. Petunia fetches another saucer and slides it under the cup.
"How are you?" she asks.
Dudley looks up from his sandwich and sighs. "Fine. Can't a fellow stop by to see his mum without getting interrogated?"
"In your case? No. What's the problem this time?"
Dudley picks up the sandwich, stuffs it into his mouth, and chews rather than answer. Petunia waits. Bribery isn't an effective tactic with Dudley anymore -- not without Harry to serve as a counterweight -- but she's found that guilt works fairly well as a substitute. She stares at her son, willing him to speak.
Eventually he does. "Harry's getting married next week," he says. "He asked me to stand as a groomsman. I said yes."
Petunia sets down her teacup and looks out the kitchen window. Bright June sunlight dances over her garden, illuminating flowerbeds, grass, and the occasional butterfly or honeybee. If she tries, she can imagine Harry on his knees out there, grubbing through the weeds and muttering under his breath. She can imagine him younger, gawky and sunburned, sprawled out with a broken toy truck watching Dudley and his friends horse around with a hosepipe. She can imagine the one time Lily visited before her death, holding Harry in her arms and talking fast, faster, fastest as if her life depended on Petunia listening, leaving her sister with a box of secrets and the sinking certainty everything would go terribly wrong.
Lily married young because death was hanging over her. Harry finished that unnatural war; what need does he have to rush?
"The thing is, I can rent a suit and find my way to the church, but I haven't a clue what to buy Harry as a wedding present," Dudley is saying. "I thought maybe a toaster oven, but then I remembered about the-- the magic, and I don't know if they even need one." He shrugs, looking strangely helpless for such a strong, solid young man. "What do you get somebody who can make whatever he wants out of thin air?"
"That's not how magic works," Petunia says before she can censor herself. At Dudley's skeptical glance, she sighs and searches for the right words to explain. "My sister once told me that things made only from magic don't last very long, not once the person who casts the spell stops paying attention to it, which makes you wonder why they bother conjuring in the first place. And things changed by magic have a tendency to change back after a while, only they do it unevenly so they usually break instead of going back to the way they started. So those freaks--"
"Mum, would you please stop calling them that?" Dudley interrupts. "It's rude."
Petunia thins her lips in disapproval, but she nods. She can humor her son. "Those people still need to buy or make what they need, but they can use magic to put it together, just like normal people can use either our hands or use machines. So Harry won't need a toaster oven, but he might need a set of pots and pans or a good china dinner service." She picks up her teacup and turns it around and around in her hands. "Not all gifts need to be useful, of course. Harry's fiancée might appreciate a nice album for her wedding pictures, or something like that."
Dudley beams and slaps the table, rattling the saucers and the plate of finger sandwiches. "Mum, you're brilliant! I'll go buy one now."
Petunia stares at the garden again as Dudley rises from the table and carries his teacup and saucer to the sink. As he's about to leave the room, she says, "Wait one minute. I have something else for you to give him."
"But you hate him," Dudley says, sounding confused.
"He's still family." Petunia sets her teacup carefully on the saucer and hurries upstairs, then up the ladder into the tiny attic. She put the picture away after Lily died -- there was no sense in reminders of false happiness, not when she had to stay strong and stamp out every dangerous trait Harry might display -- but she couldn't bring herself to throw away the last memento of her childhood.
She pushes aside the trunk of Dudley's infant clothes, opens the box of miscellaneous knick-knacks, and draws out the gilt picture frame. The glass is dusty and the photograph is dim and blurry in the light of her electric torch, but when Petunia touches the image and whispers, "Remember," the two girls still come to life. A small boy in frayed trousers and an oversized coat darts out from behind a tree and the girls chase him around the bench, laughing and smiling without a care in the world.
She gave Harry the box of mementos Lily had left for safekeeping, but she kept this picture. This wasn't for Harry, not part of that just-in-case collection of junk. This is Petunia's own memory, her wedding present, her reminder that Lily hadn't always been a freak or an invisible weight around Petunia's heart.
But she doesn't need it anymore. She spent years with Lily's voice whispering in her mind, criticizing her every move. She's laid that ghost to rest. She likes her life. She likes her husband, her son, her house, her garden, her friends. She doesn't need to worry about magic. She doesn't need to remember.
Petunia wraps the frame in one of Lily's old dresses -- the ones she'd saved in case she had a daughter -- and stuffs it into an empty box. Then she carries the box down to Dudley.
"Tell Harry this is from me," she says. She doesn't bother writing the instructions for freezing the picture. Harry isn't afraid of magic, after all. Harry has no sense of shame.
"Okay," Dudley says, still sounding confused. "Er, d'you want me to wrap it? Or give him a message?"
Petunia shrugs and rinses dust from her hands in the kitchen sink. "I don't care about wrapping and ribbons. As for a message... tell him I never hated him, not exactly. I hated what he brought with him. This is the last of that baggage. I hope he finds a use for it and comes to a better end than his parents."
"I won't remember all that," Dudley protests. "Write it down, Mum."
Petunia dries her hands and shakes her head. "No. It doesn't matter. Just tell him I think he needs that picture more than I do. Now shoo, Dudley. The frame shop by the train station is still open until six, and they sell some very nice photograph albums."
Dudley takes the hint and sees himself out.
Petunia opens the back door and walks into her garden. She turns, slowly, searching her memory. Lily stood right... there, in front of the lilac bush. She set Harry on the grass and let him toddle on unsteady legs while she used magic to expand the box of things she wanted Petunia to hold until the war's end.
"It's only just in case, Tuney," Lily said as she picked the box up from the ground and held it out. "We'll be perfectly safe, I swear -- we're having a friend cast a Fidelius Charm on us and our house -- but just in case, I want you to have this. If James and I die, I'm not sure who'll get custody of Harry. Sirius ought to, as godfather, but I don't know if I trust him to be that responsible. So I'm asking you to help if you can. You don't have to love Harry, or even get close to him, but I'm giving Sirius your phone number and asking you to give him advice if he calls. And give these things to Harry when he's old enough. That's not too much to ask, is it? Please, Tuney -- do it for me?"
Petunia took the box. Two weeks later, she took Harry as well.
"I couldn't make him normal," she says now, her low murmur covered by the drone of bees and the whisper of wind in the lilacs. "I couldn't keep him safe. But he's alive, Lily. He's getting married. Is that good enough for you?"
She imagines Lily's wry smile. "I suppose it'll do, Tuney," Lily might say. "I wish you'd managed to love him, but maybe that was too much to ask. In any case, he's happy. Are you happy, Tuney? I never meant to hurt you..."
Petunia snorts, banishing the fantasy. Lily knew perfectly well that forcing her into contact with magic would hurt her. She just decided her son was more important than her sister. That's fair; Petunia would have done the same for Dudley's sake.
And it has worked out, more or less. She's not jealous anymore. She's not afraid. All the muck and pain she slogged through to reach this peace is past and done with. She's content.
Petunia pours the remnants of her tea on the lilac's roots and goes inside. Vernon will be home soon. She needs to start cooking dinner.
Dudley invites Harry to his wedding. Harry accepts.
Vernon blusters and growls, but Dudley stands firm. "He's my cousin, Dad. He's a good man. I'm not asking him to stand for me, but I want him there. Maureen agrees with me; she wants to meet him. Can't you and Mum make peace with him after all these years?"
"Peace? With that ungrateful freak?" Vernon roars.
"Stop calling him that!" Dudley shouts, losing his patience. "I don't see why you think he's ungrateful anyway -- we were downright rotten to him when he and I were kids. If he's willing to put that behind him, I don't see why you can't meet him halfway." He glares at his father. "I never thought you were this petty, Dad."
Petunia watches Vernon sputter and purple, and sighs. "Vernon. The invitation stands. Sit down and I'll bring you a glass of water." She loves him -- she always has, since he walked into the bank so many years ago and blushed and stammered as if he thought she were the prettiest girl he'd ever seen -- but sometimes he can be as trying as Lily ever was.
Vernon sinks into his armchair, still steaming but at least not yelling anymore. Dudley sends Petunia a grateful look. And for a week, Petunia thinks that's that.
But as September draws near, she begins to worry. Harry will bring his wife. He might bring the children Dudley has mentioned now and then. Harry knows better than to use magic in public, but Petunia knows nothing about the rest of his family. She doesn't know if Harry taught them the same lessons she taught him.
She remembers her fight with Lily before her own wedding. She wants to meet Harry soon, somewhere Dudley won't know about her fears or overhear any arguments. She doesn't want Dudley to know how much she still distrusts magic, doesn't want to do anything to spoil his and Maureen's wedding.
Unfortunately, she doesn't have Harry's address or phone number, and asking for them might seem suspicious. Petunia frets, turning the problem over and over in her mind. Vernon knows something is wrong, but he knows better than to ask after she snaps at him for interfering. Instead he grumbles and mutters and stomps his feet twice as hard as necessary every time he walks up or down the stairs. Petunia doesn't mind. She sees his worried sidelong glances, feels the gentleness in his hand on her shoulder at night, and knows he loves her and will stand by her no matter what comes.
She loves Vernon so much. She loves Dudley so much. She likes Maureen. She wants everything to be perfect.
On September first, she wakes with a sudden realization. Harry has a godson -- Tommy Lupus or something equally absurd -- who is eleven this autumn. He'll be going to that school up in Scotland. Harry may well come to King's Cross to see the boy off.
Petunia hurries through breakfast, borrows Vernon's car for the day -- he's retired now, there's nowhere he needs to be -- and drives into London as fast as traffic allows. She's nearly running as she enters the station, and she forces herself to slow down, to be dignified, to not attract attention. She doesn't even know for certain that Harry will be here and she does not want to cause a scene, not when there are already so many ways a meeting with him can go wrong.
She finds the divider between platforms 9 and 10 and looks around. None of the passersby seem overtly freakish, but as she watches carefully, she sees a teenage girl lean against the wall and sink into the bricks, pulling a trolley cart after herself. Petunia nods; this is the right place and the right day.
She looks around again, more specifically, and sees a bench only half-occupied. She checks her hair -- still neatly pulled back in a bun, undisturbed by her previous rush -- and sits on the bench, leaving a courteous gap between herself and the shabby man reading a newspaper at the other end. She tucks her purse onto her lap and waits.
After a few minutes, she can't ignore the shabby man's eyes anymore. She turns, tamps down her irritation -- it is unspeakably rude of him to stare so blatantly at a stranger -- and asks, "Is something wrong?"
"No," he says slowly, closing his newspaper and setting it on the bench between them. His voice is hoarse, as if rusty from long disuse or strained from past trauma. "You simply-- you look like someone I knew."
Petunia gives him a sharper look, wondering if she ought to recognize him. There is something vaguely familiar about his voice, about the angle of his head and the set of his shoulders. But she has never seen him before -- freckled skin over a round face, gray-green eyes, short brown hair combed back and then rumpled. His face rings no bells of memory.
Still. "I don't recognize you, but I suppose I might be that person," she says. "That's the trouble with getting old -- memory begins to play tricks."
The man pulls back, rage sparking in his eyes and twisting his mouth. "No, madam," he spits out. "I assure you, you are not."
There is something so familiar about that gesture, that repudiation. Petunia nods, turning away, allowing the man a moment of privacy to restore his calm. "I'm sorry I'm not the one you were looking for."
A breeze blows along platform 9, whisking dust and litter in swirling patterns on the floor. It brushes the man and moves on to tease Petunia's hair. Reflexively, she reaches up to check for stray wisps of hair, but her mind is elsewhere.
The man is not wearing cologne, but a strange scent hangs about him. She knows that smell, even without cigarette smoke to flavor it: flame and spices, crushed green plants, and a hint of rot and salt and metal. Severus Snape, still lurking about her family, still disreputable, still filthy no matter what his disguise might look like on the outside. What does he care about Harry? Hasn't he let Lily go after all these years?
Snape's voice breaks her thoughts; now that she knows him, she realizes he hasn't bothered to hide that part of himself either. "No need to be sorry," he says, as if he has the power or the right to forgive her for anything, as if he thinks she doesn't know exactly who and what he is. Presumptuous freak.
But Petunia doesn't correct his assumptions. In the distance, she's spotted a tall, skinny man with black hair and glasses, walking beside a red-haired woman. For a moment Petunia thinks she's going mad, seeing visions, and then the details of clothing and the memory of elapsed years press into her and she realizes this must be Harry and his wife, not Lily and James. A young boy walks at Harry's other side, clutching his hand and listening to the redhead talk.
"Now mind, Teddy," Harry's wife says, "you mustn't disobey your professors. It's important."
"I know, Gin!" the boy says.
"I know you know," the woman answers. "I'm just reminding you. I know what your memory's like when you get excited."
Petunia watches them hungrily, wondering if this is what Lily might have been like as a mother. This is the first time she's seen Harry since just after he finished his war, and she finds herself assaulted by a flood of memories she thought she'd safely laid to rest. She remembers him at this age, going away for the first time. She and Vernon didn't see him off -- they had Dudley's surgery to worry about, and Petunia refused to watch the freaks steal Lily's son the way they'd stolen her sister -- but she thinks he must have worn the same look of excitement and badly squashed nerves that this boy, Teddy, is wearing now.
She wonders, rashly, what might have happened if she had scheduled Dudley's surgery for a different day and shown Harry how to find the hidden platform, told him what happened to Lily in that topsy-turvy world, impressed the dangers and prices of magic into his mind all through childhood instead of hoping secrecy and discipline would keep him safe and normal. But she knows she could never have walked willingly into magic. She still can't.
So before Harry and his family reach the brick barrier, Petunia stands and takes a tentative step forward. Her hands clench around her purse and she opens her mouth to call out, but no sound emerges. She has no idea what to say, no idea how to break eleven years of silence.
Harry is leaning down, listening to the boy. He laughs. As he straightens he turns to scan the station, checking to see if anyone will notice him vanish through the wall. His eyes skip over Petunia.
She takes another step forward.
Harry's gaze snaps back. He stiffens, eyes narrowing behind his glasses. Petunia attempts a smile, but it dies stillborn on her face. She must look sick, tired, scared, old. She hates that he's seeing her this way. Then Harry's attention slips sideways to Snape in his disguise, and his eyes widen fractionally. His mouth opens as if he's about to speak.
Petunia's heart stops for a moment, waiting.
Harry's wife touches his arm. He turns to her, and the spell breaks. Petunia steps backward and collapses onto the bench with an audible thump. Beside her, Snape busies himself arranging the pages of his newspaper.
Harry looks back at Petunia, shrugs, and smiles. She smiles back; this time the expression is smooth and easy, touching her eyes as well as her lips. Everything will be fine. She knows that now. Harry must know -- she came to meet him here, halfway between his world and hers -- he knows the effort that took. And he has the picture of Petunia and Lily as children; he knows she never really hated Lily, no matter how much she tried.
She hopes he knows she never hated him either. But that's not important.
Harry steps back through the brick wall, following his wife and the boy into their sideways world. Petunia gives him a tiny wave as he disappears.
She remains on the bench, wondering what Snape will do now, wondering why he's even here. But Snape does nothing, just finishes organizing his newspaper and then stares blankly at the bricks leading to the impossible platform. Petunia wonders what he's thinking. He's been on the other side of that wall. He's been to that school. He spent years with Lily that Petunia lost.
Then he lost Lily. Just like Petunia did. But she's worked through that. She has a family, a life. She's only here because of Dudley and Vernon, trying to make peace with Harry. What does Snape have? Why does he care? Petunia remembers what he said at Lily's grave -- he didn't care about Harry at all, would have gladly sacrificed the child to save Lily. She remembers grumbles and insults she's overheard from Harry when he thought she wasn't listening -- he hates Snape, or hated him, and thought the dislike was mutual.
What brings a man to disguise himself and watch the son of the woman he obsessed over?
Petunia thinks about that for a minute, and realizes she doesn't care. Severus Snape only ever mattered in relation to Lily, when he could tug Lily away from Petunia. Lily is dead. Therefore, Snape means nothing.
Dudley's wedding will be fine. There's no point staying in London any longer.
"That's that," Petunia says, mostly to herself.
"What?" Snape asks, sounding cross. "What's what?"
"That's that," Petunia says again. She has no need to explain herself to him. She stands, dusts off her dress, and settles her purse on her shoulder. Then she glances down just as Snape looks up. Their eyes meet... and he looks so lost, so unsettled, that she finally, finally feels sorry for him.
She offers him her hand. "Good luck," she says. He seems confused, so she adds, "On your journey." This is a train station, after all, and even if he's not really here for a train, he'll be going somewhere eventually.
He takes her hand, shakes it solemnly. He seems to have nothing to say. That's fine. Petunia has nothing to say to him either. But he's the only other person who remembers Lily like she does. Leaving his freakishness and probable evil character aside, it would be petty not to at least part politely.
Snape releases her hand and Petunia begins her walk out of King's Cross, mingling with a crowd of people stepping off a train on platform 10. She hums to herself as she walks, planning the rest of her day. She should call Maureen and finalize their choice of floral arrangements. She should invite Eloise and Millie around for tea next Sunday. She should apologize to Vernon for being so snappish these past weeks, and cook him something special for dinner.
Behind her, Severus Snape sits lonely on his bench, accompanied by nothing but memories and ghosts.
Petunia ignores him. She'll reach death soon enough. If there's anything that comes after, she'll see Lily then. There is no point hurrying to that meeting, no point missing out on everything else along her journey.
Petunia steps out into the midday sun and reimmerses herself in life.
AN: Thank you for reading, and please review! I appreciate all feedback, but I'm particularly interested in knowing what parts of the story worked for you, what parts didn't, and why.