Disclaimer- Don't own it, Just twisting the characters to suit me.
Petunia wandered her darkened house late that night, unable to sleep or even settle to rest and pretend sleep. The news earlier that day had simply been so horrid. The testing she'd had done earlier in the week had kept her on edge, fearing the worst.
She'd run around the house manically every day, spoiling Dudley far more than usual. Not knowing what else to do but cook, clean and play with her son. Finally, just before dark today, the phone had rung. Vernon had stood beside her wringing his hands as she listened to the sympathetic physician tell her the news.
Petunia had slowly set the phone back down and said, without turning to face Vernon. "It's breast cancer."
She'd had felt, more than seen him slump in horror and then sit heavily on the sofa. Petunia had quietly patted his shoulder and murmured reassurances to him that she didn't believe.
Vernon had, at last straightened up and determinedly announced that "There were always plently of treatment options – they would beat this!"
Petunia had smiled and nodded, hoping he was correct, but not really believing it.
Now, as she moved through the darkened house, mind whirling, she wondered how she would ever handle it. She'd had a friend die of cancer last year. She hated the idea of going through all that her friend had. But to stay with her family, she would.
Her over-stressed nerves alerted immediately to sounds out on the front step and she moved into the living room enough to see out of the house. Her heart dropped in dread – it was a wizard and a witch, talking quietly and putting something in front of the door.
Mostly she'd hoped to never have contact with magical people again, except for her sister. Her encouters with magic had been few and mostly unhappy ones.
Lily and Petunia had started writing each other again during their respective pregnancies. The overtures had been tenative, at first. Petunia had suspected it had started because Lily was afraid. The Dark Lord she and Potter were battling against was becoming very violent. According to Lily even 'the muggles' were noticing. Petunia snorted.
The initial letters had been a series of arguments about past slights and the reasons for their anger with each other. The clearing of the air had been good for them, though. It had been slow going, as they had to get the letters to each other by Lily or Petunia sending them to Tom at the Leaky Cauldron, and then he sent them on to the other person.
That had all changed when Lily had to go into hiding.
The next letters had been delivered by a small spotted owl. Vernon had been aghast, and then intrigued, trying to figure out how it all worked – as long as the neighbors didn't notice.
Lily said that they were now in hiding under something called a fidelus charm and the letters via Tom would be a hazard. There was a long, convoluted explanation of a prophecy, it being overheard, and this 'Voldemort' being after her just-born son, Harry. It had taken several letters before Petunia had understood. Then, she was quite sure, she understood far more than Lily did.
Lily had often said that Petunia, had she been a witch, would have been sorted into Slytherin, along with Severus. Lily had meant it as an insult, Petunia was sure. After learning more about the wizarding world, Petunia felt a bit complimented.
Petunia had pointed out that this Dumbledore could have, at any time, stopped the eavesdropper from leaving with the partial prophecy. Even Petunia knew that their were ways to erase a memory. No one needed to have known about the prophecy except Dumbledore – unless Dumbledore had a reason for wanting it known. The Order of the Phoenix was needing a weapon – Harry was a cause for hope for them and dread to Voldemort – but only if the Dark Lord knew about it.
Dumbledore had wanted the prophecy taken to Voldemort. A prophecy does no one any good if it isn't known about by those it concerned. Voldemort had slowed down his attacks on others and became fixed on Harry. Petunia was sure that Dumbledore had known the Dark Lord would pull back to concentrate on this new threat to him.
Lily hadn't answered that letter right away. Apparently she talked to Dumbledore first. Lily's next letter rambled a bit about choices and letting people make their own path, trying desperately to excuse the Headmaster's actions – or inactions. Then, as if tired of making excuses, she said Albus had admitted to her, privately, that it had been Severus who had overheard the prophecy and then turned spy when he had realized what he had done.
Petunia had been livid. Severus' defection to the Dark had always troubled Petunia. Lily returned every summer with tales of the marauders and their pranks to tell them. At first the idea of the boy she hated being pranked had been funny, then even she had been horrified. Lily had been a bit defensive of the pranking, saying they didn't understand about house loyalties. Their parents had retorted that bullies were bullies even if they were Gryffindors, like her.
Lily had stuck with Severus until their fifth year. Then he'd insulted Lily and she'd refused her forgiveness. Lily had made a bit of a production of telling her parents that Severus 'was turning to the dark', etc and no longer her friend. Petunia had laughed at her, to Lily's astonishment.
"So the pretty cheerleader is finally dumping the embarassing, ugly, unpopular friend from her childhood so she can hook up with the handsome team captain, then?" Petunia had taunted. "You must have been so relieved when he finally did something to give you an excuse and make it his fault instead of yours?"
Lily's red face had been answer enough. She had sputtered more excuses at first, then said, "You don't understand how hard it has been for me to be friends with any Slytherin. They've been after me to drop Severus since first year. Even the Headmaster disapproves."
Petunia had sneered at her excuses and Lily had run to her room in embarassed tears, likely hoping that their mother would come tell her she'd been right to dump Severus. Petunia suspected that their mother had. She'd been fretting that Lily would take Severus seriously – and while she'd approved of Lily having him as a friend – since he'd helped Lily understand the magical world - she'd not wanted an impoverished riverside street rat as a son-in-law.
Learning of Severus turning spy because of his mistake had been a shock. Petunia remembered Severus' devotion to Lily. She had almost pitied him for what had to be a miserable situation for the man. Remembering their feud over Lily – the jealous rivalry between she and Severus troubled her.
She'd urged Lily to reach out to him, reminding her that she'd been his only link to real friendship. Petunia also told Lily that with the tormenting 'marauders' and the 'disapproving' Albus being the representatives of 'the light', how had Lily expected Severus to ever not go dark? Not to mention that Albus seemed to have somehow gained a valuable spy through the whole shoddy mess ... and Petunia found that all very suspicious.
There had been another long pause between letters, and then the news that Lily had met with Severus in disguise – there had been some yelling between them, but they had made up. Lily had forgiven Severus and told him she mostly blamed Albus, not him, for the leaked prophecy. Lily had brought up Petunia's point that Albus should never have let him leave the pub with the knowledge of the prophecy ... not to mention that Severus had gotten emotionally blackmailed into a highly dangerous position of spying on the Darkest Lord in centuries.
Apparently Severus had not thought of that and had calmed considerably, willing to accept forgiveness and, perhaps forgive himself as well. Not to mention he was in deep thought over Albus' supposed kindly mechinations. Lily had ended the letter saying that Sev was still 'a snide bat', but once again her friend.
Petunia had been relieved. Even though she'd never liked Severus, Lily had said he was a powerful and clever wizard. If anyone could help Lily stay alive, it was him.
The latest letters had given her hope. Lily had found old protective spells that a mother could cast to lay protections on her child. Some of them would only activate if Lily was dead, which frightened Petunia. Now that she had Dudley, though, and she could totally understand Lily looking into them. She would have not hesitated to use them for Dudley if necessary.
Petunia shook off the memories and watched closely as the pair on her stoop talked and then walked to the road and abruptly disappeared. Her heart was heavy with dread – this could not be good. She opened the front door and saw a basket with a dark haired toddler in it.
Her initial reaction was hysterical laughter. Who really put children on doorsteps in this manner? She spied the note pinned to the baby blanket and quickly picked up the basket, closed the door and sat on the sofa. The baby lay sleeping quietly, so Petunia opened the note slowly.
Dumbledore had tried to blunt the full horror of what had happened, but there was no way to really temper the blow. The 'secret keeper' had betrayed the Potter's location to the Dark Lord and there had been an attack. James had been killed and then Lily. Somehow when Voldemort had attacked little Harry, the spell had rebounded and struck Voldemort – apparently destroying him.
The letter had asked her to take Harry in and take care of him 'until he can enter the wizarding world to attend Hogwarts', after that he would only need to be there during holidays. There was mention of 'Blood Wards' to protect Harry 'where his mother's blood dwells', and was given as the reason it was imperitive that Petunia take him in.
There was a generic 'so sorry for your loss' and the Headmaster's signature.
Petunia clutched the letter to her chest, rocking back and forth in agony. Tears streamed down her cheeks. So her beloved, brilliant Lily had died the same day that Petunia, herself, had been told she might die, as well.
Harry squirmed in the basket, opening his emerald green eyes to peer myopically at Petunia. Petunia froze, transfixed by the similarity between her nephew's eyes and her sister's. She picked him up in shaky hands and held him close. She would find a way to keep him safe – from Dumbledore as well as others.
Dumbledore would not be concerned about 'blood wards' unless there was danger – and not unless he still needed Harry for his plans for the future in some way.
A second crib, borrowed from a friend went into Dudley's room. Harry seemed less anxious with his cousin near, and Dudley was greatly curious about the second child in the room. He seemed quite fascinated. Vernon had taken the news that they now had two children fairly well. The distraction of Petunia's illness made the small, quiet child less of a concern – especially since Dudley was so taken with having a playmate.
Petunia had her mastectomy done and the neighboring women closed ranks quickly to help her. Breast cancer tended to strike a cord among them like few other things did. All of them were eager to fix some of the family's meals andto help with lifting until Petunia was allowed to.
The news that there was a second child in the Dursley household did, of course, cause curiosity. Petunia and Vernon had hastily made up a story explaining Harry.
"He's been orphaned by a car smash – a drunk madman rammed their car, killing Petunia's sister and brother-in-law. It was lucky that child seats are so good at protecting infants or Harry wouldn't be here either."
The neighbors were doubly sympathetic, and Harry and his Aunt became a bit of a local cause. Petunia and Vernon were never lacking for support, which came in handy as the chemotherapy and radiation treatments started.
The boys turned two and the cribs were replaced by child beds. Vernon tried moving Harry to an extra bedroom across the hall from his cousin, but Dudley just dragged Harry back over to his room with him. Petunia and Vernon were awakened one night by a loud clattering and found the two boys trying to drag Harry's small bed back into Dudley's room.
The adults caved to pressure after that and decided the two boys would separate when they were ready. Dudley seemed quite protective of his smaller cousin and Harry was less anxious with another person sleeping nearby.
Petunia's treatments were completed and she worked on growing her hair back out. She rather looked forward to putting some weight back on. Nausea had subsided and she could now look at food as a pleasure instead of a chore. The Doctors could promise nothing, as one of the lymph nodes had shown that the cancer had possibly spread. They could only hope that the chemotherapy and radiation had halted it.
The boys turned three and when the family returned from a trip to Majorca arranged by Aunt Marge that summer they found another neighbor had moved in a few houses down. A spooky old lady with numerous cats now lived down the street. She seemed overly interested in the boys and constantly offered to babysit Harry. Vernon firmly responded with a 'no', saying it was not needed.
The boys had become happy playmates, though Marge was not happy about this. She firmly believed that Dudley should never have to share and that he should always win. Petunia held firm against her spoiling Dudley, limiting the number of presents she could buy for Dudley and warned that equal treatment was expected for Harry.
"I don't expect you to lavish presents on Harry – but if you buy for Dudley you need to get something for Harry as well." Petunia gritted through a clenched jaw.
Marge appealed to Vernon, but he'd asked a few friends at work about the situation, and the concesus had been that learning to share was essential to being a success in school – teachers frowned on those who didn't know how to do that, and while life was hardly fair – it didn't hurt to know how to be fair in ones dealings. Not to mention that believing one should always win was a sure set up for a big disappointment in the real world.
Vernon had reiterated that to Marge rather firmly and she'd caved with very ill grace.
When the boys turned four Harry proudly moved all his belongings over to 'his room' and slept there without incident to Vernon and Petunia's relief. Harry's night terrors and dreams had subsided and he seemed to be doing much better with his confidence.
Petunia decided to introduce her boys to gardening the next summer. She'd always wanted a beautiful garden, and now she had a pair of eager helpers. They soon had rose bushes and lilies in abundance. The boys insisted on beds of petunia's in many colors as well. Many lunches were spent with the three of them proudly looking at their handiwork.
The garden shed was split between the tools and a small, hidden owlery. Lily's small spotted owl had shown up soon after Harry had appeared. It had been clutching a letter addressed to Petunia. The letter was to be delivered by the owl on her death, and held the request that Petunia care for Harry as her own and let Harry know how very much his parents had loved him. It also asked that Petunia occasionally write to Severus, as he had sworn to protect Harry if anything happened to James and Lily.
The initial letters between Petunia and Severus had been slow and awkward, far more so than the first letters between Lily and Petunia. Petunia remembered the dislike between the two of them and Severus was clearly depressed and grieving.
Petunia gently reminded him that Lily had forgiven him and told him about Lily's letters, and that Lily had expressed joy at regaining their friendship. Severus had responded with more life in his letters and said that Lily had been ecstatic that she and Petunia were reconciled. It wasn't a warm postal friendship, but they had Lily in common – and now Harry.
Severus had seemed indifferent to news of Harry at first, and then occasionally asked questions about him. Severus seemed to being looking for signs of Harry being spoiled or arrogant. Petunia understood Severus' bitterness toward James' son – who might have been Severus' under other, better circumstances. She emphasized Harry's shy demeanor, though when confronted by bullies on the playground he always stood his ground in defiance – even at age four.
Severus talked her through the occasional accidental magic Harry did, and Vernon was less leery of it since 'that Snape fellow' seemed to have it well in hand and none of the neighbors ever saw it.
Now that they were five and entering school, Harry was more confident. The teachers liked him and seemed amused by Dudley's protectiveness. Harry kept Dudley on track with his schoolwork, to Dudley's dismay. But he didn't want to be left behind by Harry at any point, so he sullenly did the work Harry insisted he do.
Then, at age six there was a conference with Petunia, the teachers and the school nurse. Harry had an eye problem. In spite of the glasses they had obtained the year before – and already changed out twice, Harry's vision was worsening dramatically. They were using words like 'might be legally blind' and terrifying Petunia.
She sent off a frantic owl to Severus who responded by showing up in her garden with a loud crack of apparition. It was a weekend, luckily, and some of Vernon's friends had a free pass for him to go golfing, to her relief. The weekend, of course was the only time Severus could slip away from Hogwarts.
Petunia showed Severus into the living room where the boys were playing a card game. Dudley spotted him first and yelped "Vampire!" Petunia looked horrified at this, but Severus seemed amused that muggle children had the same reaction to him that Hogwarts students did, and just smirked at the boy. Harry, though, was smiling up at the dark blur in front of him in puzzlement.
Severus studied the small figure in front of him. At first glance he seemed alot like James – but the messy hair was darker than James' and the face was more refined. The eyes, of course were all Lily's.
"I'm going to have a look at your eyes to see if there is anything I can fix, Mr. Potter, if that is acceptable to you?" Severus intoned.
Harry and Dudley giggled at the 'Mr. Potter', and Harry chirped, "Yes, Sir."
Severus pulled out his wand and cast a few diagnostic charms, and then shook his head. "His eyes were never going to have perfect sight – but there seems to be an old injury that caused more problems – I suspect that the curse the Dark Lord cast may be responsible – it caused the scar on his forehead. That is close enough to the eyes to possibly be the culprit."
Dudley and Harry were avidly listening to all this, though they didn't really understand. Petunia, though was wringing her hands and asked "Is there anything to be done?"
Severus nodded. He'd firecalled Lucius before coming here and had the name of a 'discreet' Healer that specialized in eyes. Severus had refrained from naming who needed the healing. Lucius knew Severus would tell him if he needed to know. Severus had almost asked Dumbledore, but he was wary of the Headmaster, now. Petunia's observations had hit home.
They both knew that Voldemort was not gone, and Severus had agreed to help Albus fight him when he returned. Severus now found it hard to stomach Albus letting him take the prophecy to Voldemort, though. On reflection he realized that Albus had used him – let him be guilty of betrayal, rather than risk that Voldemort might never hear of the prophecy.
Albus might have stopped one of his beloved Gryffindors from doing anything so stupidly destructive to themselves ... but a Slytherin? ... Albus had no difficulty in letting him blacken his soul if it was of use to the Order's cause.
Severus shook his head and stood. He had Petunia leave a note for Vernon and gathered them up. He portkeyed them into a corner of Diagon Alley and they walked into the Healer's office. A few whispers to the medi-witch that invoked Lucius Malfoy's name and Harry was soon being seen by the Healer. The lightning bolt scar was glamored invisible by Severus, so the Healer just got to work.
There were a few spells cast deep into the child's eyes that made Harry jump and yelp a little, and potions that made him gag and sputter. Harry got a bit of a headache by the end, but a pain potion took care of that.
The Healer finally stepped back and Harry looked around in amazement, able to see clearly for the first time he could remember. Petunia smiled in relief and Dudley whooped and clapped Harry on the back.
The Healer carefullly folded the glasses and handed them to Petunia. "He has perfect vision at the moment – I fixed the damage done by a spell, and corrected his vision. It is possible in the future he might need glasses or more correction, but his eyes should be alright for years."
The bill was presented at the front desk and Severus waved Petunia off and simply lay his Gringotts key on the parchment and tapped it with his wand. A note promptly appeared saying the money was tranferred from his vault to the Healer's.
"Thank You, Mr. Snape." Harry said quietly, but earnestly to the impassive Potions Master.
"Yes, Severus, thank you so much." Petunia echoed, with Dudley nodding his head emphatically.
Severus bowed slightly and said, "You are very welcome, Mr. Potter." Harry and Dudley giggled a bit more at the honorific before they grabbed hold of the portkey and were taken home.
The school was a bit mystified by Harry's miraculous 'cure', but Petunia had play a ditzy 'I don't understand medical terms' parent and said that the Dr had called it 'retinal tears' and fixed it all with a laser. The teachers were satisfied. The school nurse looked puzzled, but shrugged and was happy that little Harry was doing well.
The muggle – wizard pen pal letters continued with not much new until a letter from Petunia arrived to Severus during the summer as Harry turned eight. Petunia had discovered that Harry's 'accidental magic' was no longer 'accidental'. Harry had been learning to make things happen on purpose – with Dudley's gleeful encouragement.
It was benign magic, really – getting the cookie jar down from the high shelf where Petunia had put it. Making a locked door open so they could see Harry's mum's owl in the garden shed. Things of a childish nature – but Petunia was worried that at such a young age Harry would end up in trouble of some sort – or attract Dumbledore's attention.
Vernon was concerned that the neighbors would see and cause them trouble. So far their neighbors look on them with a kindly eye and were quite helpful. Several worked at Grunning's with him and he wanted to keep them friendly – not terrified of 'freaky neighbors'.
Severus found himself once again apparating into Petunia's back garden. He noticed that tall flowering bushes now formed a colorful hedge around the garden, creating a small private retreat. The boys happily pointed out the work they had done, quite proud of all they'd accomplished with Petunia.
Severus nodded a bit absently, unfamiliar with the delights of gardening. Gardens had not existed in Spinners End and the greenhouses at Hogwarts were useful for his potions - making, but not a place of pleasure for him – they were work. Narcissa kept obsessively beautiful gardens at Malfoy Manor, but he doubted she worked on them herself, except to order the house-elves around.
Severus and Petunia sat at a small table on the covered patio, sipping lemonade. "So, he's learning wandless magic, then? I've brought some books – it's best not to try and make him stop – he may need the advantage it brings, one day. Just tell him to not let anyone know – especially the Headmaster Dumbledore. I am just becoming privy to some of his plans. I think you are right when you say it may not be in Mr Potter's best interests."
Petunia nodded without surprise, and Harry was called over. Severus explained wandless magic to Harry, with Dudley listening carefully. "I know that when you gesture to cause the magic you likely use your right hand – I want you to start using your left." At Harry's puzzled look he sighed. "You will, eventually get a wand – your magic will have difficulty with a wand when it is used to being unchecked when flowing through your arm. Leave your right arm for the wand – that way you will be able to continue using wandless magic through your left, at the same time that you use your wand – you'll be twice as dangerous, that way."
Harry and Dudley beamed at each other, "Wicked", they growled in concert. Severus smirked at them and handed Petunia a bag of books – he had brought many of his childhood wizarding books – ones his mother had managed to flee from Prince Manor with, teaching him the customs and history of the wizarding world.
He brought the first year spellbooks and potions manuals – Harry could at least leaf through them. He showed Harry the wizardspace bag to keep the dozens of books in, safely.
Severus also handed over a book to Petunia. It was about Wizarding law regarding minors and guardianships that she had requested. "I need to know my rights." Petunia had said in her letter determinedly. Severus merely nodded in agreement.
Severus did not hear from Petunia for several months, and then a letter arrived. The sentences were a bit disjointed and the paper showed signs of having been wept over. The cancer had returned just a month before the five year mark that would have meant she was cancer-free. It had spread and the doctors were gravely warning that they could buy time, but were not offering a possible cure this time around.
Chemotherapy and radiation were started once again. The neighbors gathered and one by one offered help – rides to the doctor or hospital if she could not drive. Assistance with housework and cooking was offered as well. The boys were old enough that watching them here and there was not difficult for neighbors. Meals were made and brought over for days when they knew Petunia would be ill.
Mrs Figg remained oblivious to all this. She'd made little effort to befriend the neighbors – prefering to stalk the Dursley's and Harry from a distance. So the news of Petunia's cancer never reached her ears. Truthfully, she was getting a bit bored with her 'assignment'. She didn't mind the free house – with her small savings and family inheritence it meant she could live quite comfortably. It was obvious to her that nothing bad was happening at the Dursley's, and following the two boys around very often made people look at her oddly. She was in a position to see the front of the Dursley house easily from her windows, so the past few years she stuck to observing from there for the most part, but she never saw any suspicious characters.
Arabella spent alot of time inviting her sister and cousins over for card games these days and flooing to Diagon Alley for tea with old friends.
Petunia spent the next year distracting herself from illness by helping Harry study his magic. Dudley was as avid a student in magic as Harry even though he couldn't perform any spells. Their schoolwork suffered a bit, but the teachers thought it was due to the boy's worry over Petunia's illness and cut them a lot of slack.
The daily reading and practice for Harry drew the three even closer. Vernon watched, fascinated, at times – though he hadn't like replacing the TV that had fallen victim to stray magic. It had been under warranty, luckily. They found that Harry had to stay a certain distance from electronics when practicing, and even then the lights flickered at times.
Vernon worried a great deal about finances after the first year of the return of Petunia's cancer, even with the neighbors help he had to take a great deal of time off work. Money was now quite tight and their savings dwindled alarmingly. Medicines could be expensive and there were so many extra things to see to. Special foods to tempt Petunia's appetite, a decent wig so she wouldn't feel shy going out ... the list was endless.
July arrived and the boys were turning nine. Vernon's vacation time had been used up taking extra days off, so they made short weekend trips this summer. Petunia wasn't up to anything energetic and they hadn't the money for anything really expensive, anyway. They decided one weekend to try the racetrack. Petunia had always loved to watch the horses run and the boys were fans as well. Dudley even followed the jockeys and trainers a bit. Harry just liked the horses.
To their relief wheelchairs were provided and entry to the track was cheap. They found a small box out of the sun and Petunia happily waved them off, "Go see the horses, I can watch things from here and read the program."
Harry and Dudley eagerly raced to the barns to see the horses up close. Vernon trailed behind them in resignation. Dudley happily pointed out the different stable colors and the trainers that worked for them. He pointed a few recent winning horses and Harry nodded obliviously.
Harry's eyes were suddenly drawn to a paticular bay horse, who was looking around avidly at his competition. Harry could feel the horses eagerness to be off and running. He inched up to the handlers and asked, "Can I touch him?" The indifferent stableboys shrugged.
Harry carefully touched the horse's shoulder, and then stroked his neck. The horse turned to him in curiosity and Harry touched his face, stroking down the side of the cheekbones and looking in his eye. Harry smiled after a bit and walked back to the mystified Vernon and curious Dudley.
"That horse hasn't won all year – came in dead last in his last race. Did very well last year – likely burnt out or injured, now." Dudley said.
"He says he'll win today ... he's not been feeling well until recently, I think he was sick and they didn't notice. He says he's going to beat them all, today." Harry said with a grin.
Dudley looked closer at the bay. "He does look good, right now."
Vernon shifted uncomfortably at the news that horses were talking to Harry, now. "Well, lets look at the others as well." He followed the boys around and looked the bay up in the program. He was in the second race and at very long odds – 70 to 1. If Harry was right they could clean up a bit of money. He didn't like doing things on the say-so of some magic trick, though ... so far nothing Harry had done with magic seemed all that useful. Floating pillows and all that nonsense.
They eventually got back to the box as the first race was announced. Vernon whispered Harry's findings to Petunia and she smiled. "I know you brought a few pound for us to have a bit of a flutter with betting. Go ahead and bet on Harry's horse ... it will be exciting."
The boys nodded eagerly and Vernon nodded in resignation. If Harry was right it would be the first time magic had been of any use that Vernon had been able to see. He got to the betting window and pulled out the few pounds. But how much to place on the long-shot? He sighed and put all the money down on the bay. The clerk looked surprised and the people behind him tittered and snorted.
Vernon grinned at the audience. "My boys insist he's a winner and the wife thinks he's pretty, so here we are – betting on him." The other men in line chuckled in sympathy and the clerk smiled, now sympathetic to his having bet such a loser. Vernon went back to the box, dignity again intact.
The horses for the second race soon lined up and were off. The boys cheered wildly for the bay and Petunia clapped happily as he overtook the leaders. There was a close-fought battle between three horses down the home-stretch, but the bay pulled two lengths in front, bouncing across the finish line a clear winner.
Vernon's eyesight swam and he clutched his chest, heart beating wildly. The boy had done it – he'd predicted a winner! People in the surrounding boxes smiled at the boys' excitement and Petunia beamed happily.
Vernon went and cashed in the ticket, and went back to the box with a large wad of cash. He happily contemplated being able to pay the mortgage payment on time this month and getting the past due electric bill caught up. He patted Harry on the head. Perhaps magic wasn't a complete waste of time.
Dudley relaxed and smiled. Dad had always been distantly kind to Harry, but looked at him in puzzlement and trepidation when he thought no one was watching. Harry doing 'something useful' with the magic apparently made him less threatening.
They spent the rest of the day happily cheering on various horses. Harry regretfully had to tell Vernon that 'none of the other horses had said anything about winning'. Vernon was not upset, though. He placed a pound or two here or there and Dudley picked a winner once. All in all an excellent day. They even stopped at a slightly fancier place for supper than they'd been able to afford lately. Vernon's happiness was complete when Petunia was able to finish her meal.
After that day, Vernon was less wary of Harry's magic. He still lived in dread of any neighbors ever accidentally witnessing something. But now he saw there was possibly an actual use for magic.
They went back to the track nearly every weekend that summer. Petunia enjoyed 'being out', but there was little exertion for her there, which was a relief. Dudley and Harry were becoming familiar with many of the stablehands and were allowed nearer the horses than most. Most of the stableboys were quite indifferent to the boy's peering in on the racehorses.
Harry became well-acquainted with several of them – the big bay that was his first winner in particular. The bay continued to always know when he was going to win, to Vernon's satisfation, and once the horse even had admitted ruefully when he knew 'that obnoxious grey' was going to beat him and win the race, and then complained endlessly about the other horse's attitude.
Vernon tried very hard to not place any pressure on Harry, he knew that this 'gift' was flighty at best – it depended on the horse 'knowing' he was going to win. More than once two horses were sure they would win. Vernon had juggled numbers in his head that time and placed smaller bets on both, hoping one of them was correct – luckily one was and the payout was good, so the cost of multiple bets had been acceptable.
Vernon was afraid to depend on this income much, so he simply caught up on bills and bought neccesities he'd been putting off. It did make the summer less stressful, and the weekend excursions happier, as Vernon did not feel like they were a drain on the wallet ... on the contrary.
He even managed to put away a bit, knowing that once the racetrack weekends ended the extra money did as well. Vernon had been dreading September, but there was now no putting it off. When he'd started at Grunning's Marge had given him a classic car to drive. Vernon drove it to impress clients and left the family car for Petunia most of the time. Now Petunia was too weak to consider ever getting behind the wheel.
It just made sense to downsize and sell the expensive car. A friend at work contacted his brother who owned a dealership, who was sympathetic to Vernon's situation as he had lost his wife to cancer a few years prior. Vernon was certain he wouldn't be cheated. To his surprise he got more for the car than Marge had paid for it. It was a pang to watch it go, but the relief at having the hefty check enter the bank account more than made up for it.
Marge, when she found out, was livid. Unfortunately she expressed her opinion after several drinks, saying that Petunia was quite selfish – expecting her family to bankrupt themselves caring for her after already foisting her nephew on Vernon to have to raise ... practically taking the food from Dudley's mouth.
Vernon had turned an ugly shade of purple – after Petunia had turned an unhealthy pale in her guilt-stricken face. She knew the toll her illness took on her family – emotional as well as financial. Vernon had shouted and thrown Marge out with an admonition not to return. He and the boys had spent the evening reassuring Petunia that they loved her and were firmly behind her.
It was an early night, and after Petunia had drifted off and he could her Dudley lightly snoring, Vernon stopped in Harry's door.
"Harry?" Vernon could see Harry's wise green eyes blink at him sleepily.
"I know, Uncle Vernon – I didn't pay any attention to her." Harry answered quickly.
Vernon hesitated ... Harry was letting him off the hook, if he wanted to take the out that was offered. He shook his head – he wouldn't be able to sleep if he did that.
"Harry, I know I rarely say such things to you – I hardly remember to even tell Dudley how much I care for him, but you've never ... ever been a burden to us. You were a blessing, arriving when you did, taking our minds from dark events." Vernon shifted uncomfortably, while Harry beamed at him. "...And of course she's quite off base over any expenses – you've saved our bacon several times this summer with that bit of magic of your's with the horses ..." Vernon sighed and sank into a nearby chair.
Harry watched him sadly. Aunt Petunia and Dudley might be fooled by Uncle Vernon's reassurances, but he knew Vernon was worried. The money Harry had helped win had been a stop-gap, and the money from the car would plug the dike for a time, but Harry had found he could 'read' people a bit ... not exactly like reading the horses, but loud or intense thoughts Harry could sense – sometimes whether he wanted to or not. He'd not shared this ability with anyone.
Vernon got up, giving Harry a bracing smile and patted his shoulder, and they whispered their good nights.
That school year seemed to fly by ... there was always so much to do. The boys soon started taking responsibility for more and more of the housework and chores. Harry liked cooking and fixed almost all the meals. Sometimes Petunia would feel well enough to help and the neighbors still made some meals when they knew Petunia was at the hospital.
Dudley made out a chart for himself, so he could make sure he kept up on vacuuming, dusting, dishes, and the rest of the household chores. He kept the chart on the fridge so he saw it frequently. Vernon always tried to do one or two when he had time and Harry tended to do dishes anytime he didn't cook.
Petunia grew weaker, and finally refused further treatments, saying that further courses of radiation or chemo was futile and she'd reather die more peacefully. The doctors hesitantly agreed and she came home for the last time as summer started.
The boy's tenth birthday's were quiet compared to years before, and their presents were much needed clothing. As the school year started Petunia could no longer be left alone. Some care was provided, but she really needed someone every day.
Vernon began cutting back – cable was stopped as well as every other service that was not essential, their savings was once again gone and he began quietly selling things off. His one hunting rifle, the golf clubs, tools and any valuable knicknacks and thier few antiques. Even the dishwasher and any furniture that Petunia wouldn't notice was gone.
They managed to survive until Petunia passed away just before Christmas. She'd called for them as she lay watching the snow fall outside and said goodbye with a peaceful smile. She'd already whispered advice to Harry and Dudley and made sure Vernon understood everything he needed to know.
She was laid to rest in cemetary with her parents, most of Privet Drive was there as well as the surrounding neighborhoods. They knew the family had struggled and hoped things would get better for them.
Vernon slumped in front of the coffee table that had the large stack of bills and the small list of their assets. His desk had been sold long ago. The life insurance had covered the funeral, but he had known they were in serious trouble. The mortgage was in default and the bank had told them they had a month to vacate. His job had regretfully but firmly let him go – he'd simply been gone from work too much.
It was spring break and they needed to make a decision. The remainder of the furniture was sold and the few momentoes they could not part with were in a storage unit. The boys were packed, the used furniture man would be along to take the last of the beds and sofa.
The boys only minded that the garden would be gone, and they fretted that the owl might not find them. Harry had finally sent a letter to Professor Snape telling of Petunia's death, but said nothing of moving - and told the owl to stay at the school to live and only come back if Severus sent him with a letter. Harry didn't want the owl that had belonged to his mother and Aunt Tuney to suffer just because times were hard for them.
They'd told friends and neighbors that Vernon had a job elsewhere and they all thought the furniture man was a mover. They failed to say where they were going.
Night fell and the furniture man arrived with a van and the rest of the money. Vernon had hoarded the last of the life insurance and his severance pay. The boys had sold their game systems and all their toys to a game shop, garnering a bit of cash. They hopped in the car, and drove off as Petunia's roses were starting to bud.
A/N – A plot bunny that hopped around for awhile flinging carrots at me.