Disclaimer: Surely you don't think I created these characters myself?
I must acknowledge the inspiration provided by chapter 4 of Squiid Ink's story "Sweet as a Crow," in which an encounter with Snape causes Petunia to remember the safety and love she used to feel in her sister's presence. This fic helped me imagine Petunia's relationship with Lily before it was blighted by jealousy. I also recommend Whitehound's essay, "Where is Spinner's End?" for detailed information about the kind of childhood home Snape likely had.
Several quoted passages here—Harry's words to Voldemort about Snape and Dumbledore's words to the Dursleys about their treatment of Harry—are taken from, respectively, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
May 3, 1998
Finally—finally—Petunia had the paper to herself.
Yesterday's Daily Prophet lay before her on the kitchen table, its pictures blurring and blinking in their usual disconcerting magical way. This late-morning special edition was dominated by a huge photo of her nephew looking haggard, stubble-cheeked, and overjoyed—this last an expression Petunia was not used to seeing him wear in her presence. A giant headline proclaimed:
HARRY POTTER IS THE CHOSEN ONE
YOU-KNOW-WHO IS DEAD
Her hand trembling as she snatched the newspaper, Petunia dashed into the nearby pantry and closed the door. To read this she needed to be alone.
How quickly everything had changed. Just several days ago it had been businesss as usual, the disgruntled Dursleys entering their tenth dreary month of exile from the Real World (as they thought of it), or the Muggle world (as their hosts? protectors? jailers? thought of it). It had been a difficult time, magic and non-magic folk perpetually grating on each other's nerves. Petunia pined for her scrupulously clean suburban household; Vernon fumed, fretted, and threw fits when he wasn't sinking into a depressed funk. Being separated from home and workplace, and forced to live with (and owe his life to) the sort of people he thought of as "weirdos" was hard on him, and what was hard on Vernon was hard on their magical guardians, Dedalus Diggle and Hestia Jones. The huge, rambling old house—so unlike the prim modern abode at Privet Drive—had been placed under something called the Fidelius Charm, which meant that the henchmen of "Lord Thingy," as Vernon labelled him, could not find Harry Potter's relatives so long as Dedalus and Hestia did not reveal their whereabouts. Privately Petunia suspected that, were it not for their hero-worship of her nephew, the pair would have gladly handed the Dursleys to the Death-Eaters long ago. True, Dedalus was remarkably good-natured, and had not been much put out even when the Death-Eaters burned down his house the previous year. Of late, however, he was growing ever-hotter under the collar in Vernon's presence, while Hestia Jones had never had patience with Muggles who did not properly appreciate The Boy Who Lived. It didn't help, of course, that the Dursleys' muscular son Dudley (AKA Diddykins) had become fascinated by the wizarding world during their sojourn, and, when not working out with his dumbbells, avidly followed the popular sport of Quidditch. This new-found enthusiasm—delightedly aided and abetted by Dedalus—had driven Vernon to such sputtering, seething distraction he accused his son of preferring "that lot" to his parents.
But just when they thought they would remain in this embattled state forever—a prospect surely as daunting to Dedalus and Hestia as to the Dursleys—events moved with bewildering rapidity. On the first of May Dedalus burst into the house chortling about Harry Potter breaking into something called Gringotts, which Petunia had finally understood to be a wizarding bank. While at first pleasantly surprised that wizards had anything so sensible as banks, Vernon soon enough started roaring about his nephew needing to work harder on "getting us out of this mess": "What the hell is he doing becoming a ruddy bank robber—not that I ever thought he was good for anything else, mind—when he's supposed to be killing off Lord Effing Thingy so we can finally go HOME!" When Dedalus had come running into the house late yesterday morning, waving his mauve top hat and positively babbling with excitement, Vernon at first assumed his nephew had robbed another bank. Dedalus finally reached the end of his tether.
"DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND, YOU GREAT OAF" (Dedalus somehow made the word sound multisyllabic) "THAT YOU-KNOW-WHO IS DEAD! Dead as a door-nail, kicked the bucket, snuffed it, dropped off the twig! Here"—and he pointed to a hideous photo in the Prophet of something that looked like a black-clad bundle of sticks lying on the ground, slit-shaped eyes staring blankly upward from a ghost-white face. "He can't come back this time! He's finished, for good and for all! And it's thanks to the boy you've been calling a BANK ROBBER!" As he flounced from the room his voice swelled to a crescendo of indignation louder than anything even Vernon could produce. A minute later Petunia heard him and Hestia whooping with glee in the kitchen, joined by none other than—could it be?—Diddykins.
Unfortunately, in leaving the room Dedalus had taken the paper with him. Vernon got hold of it later, but, most annoyingly, refused to hand it to Petunia. Apparently fearing that his wife, like Dudley, would develop an unhealthy interest in the wizarding world just by reading the Prophet herself, Vernon doled out inadequate scraps of information to an increasingly incensed Petunia. She got little more than a garbled version of events, plentifully interspersed with contemptuous commentary along the lines of "Hmmph—says here that You-Know-Who broke his soul into seven parts—preposterous . . . " At one point Vernon actually stopped reading a story, and only when Petunia lost all patience did he grudgingly inform her "Says here the boy gave himself up to Lord Thingy to be killed—and that's what did it—Thingy killed a bit of his own soul stuck in the boy's forehead—nasty scar!" he crowed triumphantly, "always knew it was something rotten! Anyway," he continued, "seems the boy played dead or something and finally got Thingy to kill himself off." He shook his head in disgust. "How do they expect us to believe this tripe?"
"He lived," Petunia found herself croaking, "Harry's alive?"
(Since when had she called him "Harry"?)
"Seems that way," Vernon grunted, apparently disappointed by his nephew's knack for survival. He read out loud "Harry Potter survived his second killing curse—the only wizard ever to survive it even once." He fell silent. Miraculous and heroic happenings on the part of "the boy" made him uncomfortable.
"He—You-Know-Who—actually cursed Harry?" Petunia was whispering now. "Why didn't it work?"
"Dunno," snorted Vernon. "Maybe Thingy had bad aim." He read from the paper. "Harry Potter was once more protected by his mother's blood, a protection she bestowed when she died to save him almost seventeen years ago."
Vernon halted abruptly. He never liked to mention Petunia's sister to her, and seemed apprehensive about his wife's reaction to this explanation of the boy's survival.
For some reason Petunia found herself unable to speak. She ought to have wrested the paper from Vernon—he no longer seemed able to resist her—but instead she rushed into the bathroom and splashed water on her suddenly hot face until ready to re-emerge. By that time, Vernon had hidden the newspaper and started to speculate on the date of their return to Little Whinging. He unbent so far as to compliment the wizarding world: "They say they can mess with the memories of the folks we know so they won't realize we've been gone—imagine! At least this lot's good for something."
Even as her husband grew more expansive, Petunia developed a blazing headache and retired early. Lying in the darkened bedroom clutching a wet cloth to her head, she could hear from downstairs the unlikely sounds of Vernon getting drunk with Dedalus and—yes—Dudley. While normally Petunia would have been indignant at this corruption of her underage Diddykins, she found herself oddly apathetic, more annoyed by the noise they were making than anything else. Vernon, who by this time had reached the maudlin stage, was loudly asserting his pivotal role in the downfall of Voldemort. "I taugh' the boy righ' from wrong, I did—like a second father to 'im . . . "
Petunia rolled her eyes and drifted into uneasy slumber.
So here she was the following morning closeted in the pantry, having left Vernon, Dedalus, and Dudley still passed out in the living-room surrounded by empty bottles of something called firewhiskey. From the pantry window Petunia could see Hestia Jones getting an early start on her gardening, pausing every now and then to do a victory dance while brandishing her trowel. Petunia looked away.
She found it hard to continue perusing the front page, with its photo of her grinning nephew, and instead opened the paper at random. It had been a day of huge headlines; she saw more several-inch-high letters:
THE BATTLE OF HOGWARTS
At one side was a column labelled "List of the Dead." It seemed lengthy. Skimming it, Petunia's eye fell on a name here and there:
CREAVY, COLIN, 16
LUPIN, REMUS, 38
Petunia shuddered and stopped looking after "L." Glancing away, her eye lit on another headline near the bottom of the page:
SEVERUS SNAPE, CONTINUED
Severus Snape . . . The mere mention of the name and the door of memory flew open, long-suppressed images rushing in like a gust of wind. "That awful boy," the "Snape boy from down Spinner's End," a pallid, stringy-haired youth dressed in ludicrously mismatched and shabby clothing . . . a boy hiding in the playground, gazing greedily at Petunia's sister . . . a boy sitting cross-legged near Lily in a forest grove, earnestly telling her about the magic world . . . A boy whose black eyes glared at Petunia whenever she sneered at him, as she did on the occasions Lily invited him to the Evans's modest, but still resolutely middle-class, home. Another of Lily's strays, Petunia had huffed at the time; she was like their mother in that, always adopting forlorn and neglected creatures who often as not turned vicious, like that dog who bit Mrs. Evans when she tried to clean a wound on its mangy paw. Snape was another such mongrel, a denizen of the Bad Part of Town, the decrepit nineteenth-century mill housing that lined the polluted river. Even by the late 1960s a number of these dark, cramped dwellings lacked indoor plumbing, so one had to fetch water from a pump in the tiny backyard, not that Snape looked like he availed himself much of even that opportunity. Yes, Severus Snape reminded Petunia why she had fled the North of England, and its contagious association with economic decay, for the upward mobility of a London bedroom community. Lily, of course, could care less about Snape's dubious class status, and had in fact delighted in giving him access to a warmer, cleaner, and apparently kinder home than he usually inhabited. And, too, Snape had been Lily's guide to the magic world she was entering and from which Petunia was debarred—a fact that did little to endear him to the envious girl.
So Severus Snape—whom Petunia has last seen skulking around their house during the Easter break of Lily's fifth year at Hogwarts—was important enough to merit mention in the Daily Prophet. Petunia had not heard anything about him in the months of her exile, but then until now she had chosen to avoid the wizarding newspaper. What had Snape had been up to for all those years? She turned back to p. 1, from which the story about him was continued.
And there he was: she hadn't spotted the picture earlier because the paper had been folded and his photo was on the bottom half. She recognized him at once: his hair still looked greasy, his beaky nose still over-large for his thin face. At the same time, the grown-up Snape projected an undeniable air of austere power, his piercing eyes directed broodingly not towards the reader (lucky for her), but somewhere beyond the edge of the photo. The headline that accompanied the picture read:
SEVERUS SNAPE DUMBLEDORE'S MAN AFTER ALL
STARTLING REVELATION OF HOGWARTS'S HEADMASTER'S SECRET LOYALTY
Hogwarts headmaster?thought a dazed Petunia. Did that mean he had once been a teacher at the school, maybe even taught her nephew? She turned back to the article:
A year ago Harry Potter—the Boy Who Lived—swore he had witnessed Severus Snape kill Hogwarts's previous headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, at the top of the school's astronomy tower. He still apparently holds to that story, but, according to witnesses of this morning's dramatic confrontation between him and You-Know-Who, now claims that Snape killed Dumbledore only on the latter's orders. Kingsley Shacklebolt, Acting Minister of Magic and present at the scene of You-Know-Who's death, relates that Potter informed You-Know-Who that "Severus Snape wasn't yours-Snape was Dumbledore's." According to Potter's account, the former headmaster, fatally injured by a curse, planned his death with Snape, enabling the former Death-Eater turned double agent to convince You-Know-Who of his allegiance while secretly working against him. Snape himself was one of the casualties of the Battle of Hogwarts, slain by You-Know-Who only hours before the dark wizard's own end.
Although Harry Potter had retired to a well-deserved rest by the time this reporter asked to interview him on these matters, Shacklebolt confirmed that he and Minerva McGonagall, now Hogwarts Acting Headmistress, had viewed the memories the dying Snape had given Harry Potter during the final moments of his life: "Professor McGonagall and I can vouch for both the authenticity of the memories and their content as described by Harry. With enormous courage, and sacrificing his life in the process, Snape played a vital role in the defeat of Voldemort. Oh, and can we please start printing the name? He's dead now—remember?—thanks to heroes like Snape."
Petunia paused in her reading. So Snape, too, was dead. Leafing to the list of casualties she found his name:
SNAPE, SEVERUS, 38
Her eye fell again on the "Severus Snape" heading toward the bottom of the page, picking up the continuation of the front-page story in mid-sentence:
the reason for Snape's unwavering loyalty: "Snape was Dumbledore's . . . from the moment you started hunting down my mother . . . he loved her for nearly all of his life, from the time when they were children."
The paper slipped from Petunia's nerveless fingers. "He loved her for nearly all of his life": of course he had. Petunia saw in her mind's eye the greedy look on the dark-haired boy's face as he gazed longingly at Lily in the playground. Even after making bad choices—he had apparently once been a Death-Eater himself—Snape was inspired by his love for Petunia's sister to die a sacrificial death not unlike that of the woman he adored. Jealousy, so long her companion, lanced Petunia anew: even this guttersnipe got to be a hero, joining Lily in the pantheon of Good Guys while Petunia cowered in a safe house.
Why had Lily been dowered with so much and Petunia with so little? Lily had not only had magic: she had been prettier, smarter, and more popular than her sister. A troubled youth had fallen for Lily hard enough to transform into a war hero on her behalf. Petunia, hard and bony and sourer in temperament—and as lacking in magic as her sister was alive with it—had to make due with a compulsively clean house and a man as belligerently dull as herself.
It wasn't fair, Petunia thought for the umpteenth time.
And yet, in addition to the usual resentment, she felt an unfamiliar emotion that competed with it the way a thunderstorm muddled a TV signal. What was it?
She did not yet know the answer. But she did have one of those blinding revelations she normally prevented herself from having, an epiphany of self-enlightenment that made a number of puzzle pieces fall into place.
She saw again Snape's eager face in the playground, and she realized that—much as she hated to admit it—she and the boy from mill housing had something in common after all. They both were greedy when they were around Lily, voraciously so, although they were hungry for different things. Petunia, of course, craved her sister's magical abilities, not to mention her sister's magic more generally in terms of disposition and talents. Possessing magic abilities himself, Snape did not envy these in Lily; what he wanted was more intangible. Petunia still could not be absolutely certain what it was, but she suspected it had to do with her sister's kindness. Not that Lily had been a saint, some sort of magic Madonna; even without gazing through the distorted lens of jealousy Petunia knew her sister had been capable of faults and failings. What made Lily distinctive was her kindness, the kindness Petunia so resented, the kindness that cared nothing for status and comeliness, that took in mangy curs and angry, malicious boys because she somehow saw the best in them. Petunia could not do this, or so she thought; she did not possess a spirit generous enough to love shabby and broken things.
A generous spirit . . . another long-buried memory surfaced, the memory of a letter she had received from Albus Dumbledore when she was a girl, a letter that had been read, much to her fury, by Snape and Lily—the letter sent in response to Petunia's plea to be allowed to enter Hogwarts. She could see as in a photograph the parchment, with its slanted loopy writing, particularly a passage near the end:
I fear, Miss Evans, that what I say here will deeply disappoint you. Having so many more years to my credit than you, though, I would like to pass along some hard-earned wisdom, and I hope that you will humor me by not dismissing it merely as old man's twaddle. It is this: magic abilities are simply one type of talent, like an ear for music or an eye for drawing, and not necessarily even so special as these. And far more enviable than all of these gifts are a kind heart and a generous spirit. Should you cultivate these, you will never have reason to covet anything else.
At the time, of course, she had dismissed these lines as old man's twaddle, and been furious at the headmaster for denying her admission to the school. Now she acknowledged just how wise he had been. Far more enviable: he had intuited that she envied Lily desperately, resentfully, corrosively, and he had tried to warn her of the perils of that jealousy—a jealousy which, she could see now with the hindsight of new-found self-knowledge, had ruled her entire adult life. A kind heart and a generous spirit: these things she had refused to nurture. Instead, she had nursed pettiness and meanness, even viciousness; and she seemed again to hear the wail of a neglected baby shut in a dark cupboard, seemed again to see the frightened face of a skinny boy stuck in a tree for hours while a furious bulldog dashed against its trunk. She remembered Dumbledore's words to her and Vernon several summers ago, when he had come to fetch Harry from their house: "You did not do as I asked. You have never treated Harry as a son. He has known nothing but neglect and often cruelty at your hands." At the time she had flushed blotchily with shame, an emotion she never expected to feel, and which now pricked her more sharply than ever. But there was another, more powerful feeling overcoming her as well, the feeling she had noticed while rehearsing her litany of grievances against Lily. She could finally identify what it was. Less prickly and self-centered than shame, wider and more boundless, it flooded her soul with a violence she had never before experienced, not even when she received news of Lily's death.
It was grief.
She had never allowed herself to mourn her sister. She had been too furious at being saddled with Lily's child, too afraid of being contaminated by association with a way of life her husband and his world derided as freakish and abnormal. Now, finally, news of the death of the man who had loved her sister so unselfishly despite his faults—a man who had died in service of the goodness Lily embodied—unleashed the sorrow Petunia had stubbornly denied for so long. Memories streamed through the now-open window of her heart: giggling with Lily, playing dress-up with Lily, hiding Easter eggs with Lily, being comforted by Lily when she was sad or upset, being loved and accepted by Lily in a way she had never been since. And these memories caused Petunia to do something she had not done yet for her sister or for herself, an action which hurt like knives and healed like the fall of rain on drought-scarred earth.