Disclaimer: I do not own the Harry Potter series. All rights belong to J.K. Rowling.
She watched him, every summer night, as he padded softly down their front steps, fading until he was just a dark spot in the night air. It had always puzzled her, the way that this greasy boy with the spiteful black eyes and her brilliant, lyric sister could actually smile at each other and mean it.
On some levels, she studied them with an almost clinical curiosity; she told herself that the only reason she was hiding in the bushes and eavesdropping was because she wanted to make sure they weren't up to anything suspicious.
Now that she thinks back, she realizes that she's always been particularly good at lying to herself. It's the sort of thing that comes with being just short of lovely, with having seafire eyes and just a little bit too much icewater in her veins.
She'd always wondered what love would be like. Lily seemed to be full of it; she gave it to others in inordinate amounts, and Petunia supposes that's why so many people were beyond eager to offer her theirs. Or, maybe it was just the way she sparkled in the sunlight. Maybe it was simply the way she always smelled like lime juice, and nobody could ever look at her without getting that stupid look on their face that Petunia always found herself oddly jealous of.
Either way, it doesn't much matter now. The ones who burn the brightest always explode in the most fantastical, magical ways in the end.
He's cold as he looks at her. It's always this way, though, so she has no idea why she's surprised again and again, each time she opens the door and sees his face. He acts sullen and cross and pretends that nothing can hurt him, but she can't help think of him in a completely different light. He reminds her of the tiny cereus flower she keeps in a pot on her windowsill; ghostly and frightful, until he sees her coming down the stairs, and then it's like she's the sun and everything's bright now.
It's this love, this painful, terrified love she can see so verdantly in his eyes, that makes her hate her sister with every fibre of her being. How do you see so much love, and then turn away? How can you?
That question's been on her mind for years. Every since she found that little boy with the lightning-shaped scar lying bundled on her front porch.
"She's not here. She just popped out to run an errand for Mum."
He looks at you like you're the craziest thing he's ever seen, and you wonder how it must seem to him. You're always the one at the door, even when Lily's at home. You aren't really sure why. Lily's always busy doing important things, so you just sort of made it a habit. Do the things that need to be done; Lily's too passionate, too wild and vivacious for that.
"When will she be back? I really need to see her." He scratches the back of his neck, and you can't bring yourself to look at him. It seems like a violation; to look into his eyes and see only vulnerability where he so obviously wants you to see strength.
"I'm not sure," You hesitate for a second before making up your mind. "But you're welcome to wait here if you want. She shouldn't be that much longer."
You can see everything spelled out so plainly in his eyes. Indecision, discomfort, and finally, some little nugget of fearful dissymmetry that creeps up from the bottom of him, until it's like a neon banner. He gulps once quickly. "Yeah, alright. I'll wait."
As he walks past you into the house, something slices through the air, and you can feel the ice in your veins freeze solid. Even though he's just waiting for the beautiful girl with the flaming hair, in that moment, for what's probably the first time in your life, you feel like something is yours.
When Lily comes home this year, it's different. She's different. She's still beautiful and viciously vivid, but there's just something you can't put your finger on in the way her lips curve up an extra inch when she smiles, in the way you can fairly see the energy crackling at the end of each gleaming crimson strand. All of these things, so vague and indistinct, are of no real interest to you, not until you realize you've been sitting on this couch for two days straight and he still hasn't knocked on the door, his obsidian eyes staring at you unblinkingly.
"Where's your greasy little friend, Lily?" You try to keep the curiosity out of your tone, and pretend not to notice as her verdantly green eyes dim, just a bit. You look away as she studies her shoes, because you know, in that moment, that there's a sad, lonely little boy out there that your sister left behind.
"You don't need to wait by the door this summer, Tuney. You'll just get bored." A little sliver of saltwater rolls down her cheek, and in that moment, you absolutely hate her for being weak enough to cry. She's not supposed to be weak. She's Lily Evans; she's always smiling, and she does the right thing every single time. Lily Evans doesn't let broken friends trail away until she's strong enough to forget them. Beauty doesn't do that.
She didn't really see him much after that. Not face to face, anyways. But she always managed to catch a glimpse of him whenever he was near. It was intrinsic, this compulsion; she'd never felt anything like it before. It was a hideous, morbid curiosity, and she hated herself for it.
She doesn't think Lily ever really knew, but after their little falling out, Petunia would watch as every summer night without fail, the quiet Snape boy would walk past their boring suburban house and stare up at the window with the butterfly stickers on it. He'd just stand there for a few minutes, waiting for the night air to swirl around him, and with its every breath take just a little bit of his pain away.
Petunia doesn't think he ever noticed her watching him from her window with the night-blooming cereus in it, but it doesn't really matter if he did. She saw him, and for a moment every night from June to August, she knew someone.
She knew him.
It's the last summer. The one before the changes that might hurt, the one before the fall of everything. Ever since the Snape boy stopped coming around, you've tried your very hardest to stay out of the house from dawn until dusk. There's just something in the way the dust floats in the sun-warmed air that makes you wish you were strong enough to cry some of those icewater tears.
The little café you're sitting in is nice, you suppose, in that eclectic way that you've always hated. Vernon Dursley is sitting across from you, and although he's a nice enough boy with a just bit too much flesh, you can't help but feel like your heart is hunkering down inside your chest. It's hiding now, like you always have.
He stalks in the door with a gust of cool air, and you shiver even though it's summer. You can't help but look, and it's just so funny to you how he can be so dark and dangerous and look right at home in this handkerchief of a restaurant.
"What's so funny, Petunia? You look like the cat who swallowed the canary." Vernon talks in that grunting, arrogant way that successful men often do, and you can't help but hate him just a little for it. It's amazing how much Vernon Dursley and delicate Lily Evans have in common.
"Oh, nothing dear, I'm just so sublimely happy, that's all." You manage to smile at him, and it's almost maniacal in the way it fills your face with a desperate, violent light.
You can feel him looking at you, the black-haired boy you've always secretly thought was beautiful, and it feels like there are spiders crawling under your skin. Beautiful, glorious spiders.
"Excuse me, Vernon, but I need to go powder my nose." You smile politely, and hurriedly clamber back from the table, fairly sprinting towards the ladies room. After all these years, you can't help but be affected by him still.
Sitting in the ladies room of this tiny café, a pot of potpourri in your hands, you feel your eyes fill with tears as the unforgiving mirror shows you everything you've never wanted to see in your eyes. It's cathartic, this almost-crying session. It's like you're detoxifying all of your poisons; seeing what you look like without all that bitterness, and then sucking it back in again.
You leave the bathroom, and hope nobody's waiting outside to use it. There's potpourri everywhere, and you haven't a clue as to how it got there.
He's waiting there when you shut the bathroom door behind you, leaning against the wallpapered wall. He's dressed all in black, as usual, and you almost stumble backwards under the intensity of his gaze.
"Fancy seeing you here, Tuney. It's been awhile." You flush at the sound of your childhood nickname, and it takes everything you have not to close your eyes right then and just fall.
"Yes. It has." You nod, and there's something so sad about this little almost-tryst in the almost-bathroom that you finally want to cry. But you can't. You never can. "I trust you've been well, Severus?" You know your attempt at normalcy is wasted when you see the witchfire flash across his eyes and crash in the place that this dark man keeps everything terrible he's ever seen.
He sneers, and it rips across his paper-thin features in a fury of ghostly anger. "Not well enough for Lily." He smiles a bit now, and it's a ghastly thing. "But then you know that, don't you Tuney? You've always known that." The bitterness in his voice rivals your own, and you can feel his breath on your throat.
"You don't know what I knew, Sev. You don't know what I know. " Suddenly, bravery slides down the ice in your arteries, and as you lock eyes with him, you can feel everything again. It's like one of those nights, when you would wish to God for just a moment that you were the one with butterfly-stickered windows. "She picked him. She chose that stupid Potter boy with those ridiculous glasses and horrid hair. Do you even understand what that means?" Seafire and witchfire crash and cool, congealing into things you didn't know could exist.
He looks down, and you can tell by the rapid blinking of his darkly curling lashes that he really can feel something. You're shocked, right in the depths of your bones. He looks up and opens his mouth to speak, but you don't let him. "I waited for you. I sat by that front door everyday for two months, and you never came." You know it's illogical, but you really couldn't care less. He should know. He should understand how wrong he was.
You blink a few times fast to dispel the saltwater that clings to your lashes as you move past him. "I just wanted you to know, Sev." You almost touch his arm, but at the last moment decide against it. You always do in the end.
It's this moment, the moment when you left the beautiful, broken boy in the entrance room to the ladies room, that you think about when Vernon gets down on one knee and asks for your hand. It's this moment that makes you want with all your heart to scream no, but it's also this moment that makes you smile beatifically and say yes.
And when you cry with wild abandon, Vernon's plump and pleased, because he's so sure that they're tears of joy. He's so sure that they're for him.
They were blithe and beautiful that year. Petunia heard all the whispers, of course; it was hard not to, living on the fringe of two societies as she did. When Lily came home for the holidays she brought with her an air of darkness and strife, something Petunia wasn't sure anybody had ever associated with resplendent Lily Evans (soon to be Potter).
Mum and Dad were just so pleased that Lily was engaged to be married; not to mention the way they just couldn't get enough of James, with his wild stories and sparking hazel eyes. She was never really sure what Lily saw in him; there was something almost manic in the way he moved, something so blindingly bright that it honestly frightened Petunia a bit. But then again, it wasn't really much of a surprise. She'd always known Lily would find someone just as blazing as she was.
She was happy that year; she ignored the talk of dark wizards and murderous rampages as best she could. After all, she was engaged as well, not that her parents much cared. They were happy she supposed, in their way, but Petunia knows she shouldn't have expected anything different. Most people get used to something when it happens repeatedly for their entire life, but being consistently outshone seems to hurt just a little bit more every time.
Petunia's always been the under-the-surface type of girl; a smouldering ember instead of a raging inferno.
But Lily? She burns like hellfire.
You despise the bridesmaid dress that ghosts over your protruding bones with pinkened lace, making you feel like you're about to disappear. You hate the whole ceremony, actually. More than all of it though, you hate the fact that you're here at all. You never wanted to be a part of this wedding, but Mum coerced you into it. The maid of honour is some short girl with spiky auburn hair, and you resist the urge to sneer at her as she discusses a beauty charm with the other bridesmaids.
It's all just too hideous to bear, and it only gets worse when you remember that in just a few months, you'll be the one standing up there with some ridiculously puffy white dress on.
As soon as it's over, you make some excuse about a stomach ache and leave before the reception even starts. It's choking you. It's raining when you get outside, but you don't really care about the stupid dress you're wearing anyways. You must look ridiculous, walking around in your sky-high stilettos and short pink dress with your sopping wet hair hanging in ruined curls around your heavily made-up face.
You've just left the church when you see him. He's staring through one of the stained glass windows in a heavy black overcoat, something roiling in his eyes that you're suddenly glad you can't understand. Maybe it's the rain, or maybe it's the way you look like a drowned pink horse that makes you bolder than you think you've ever been.
"What are you doing here? I thought yours was one face I surely wouldn't be seeing at this thing," You sit on the bench under the window he's glued to, and take off the uncomfortable shoes that Lily made all the bridesmaids wear. "Really, though, I think this is a new low for you, spying on my sister's wedding." You look up, and something tightens in his face.
"Not now, Petunia. I'm not in the mood." His voice is coiled and harsh, and deeper than you remember. "Please go." He seems so serious, so contained, that this minor rejection feels like some sort of violent blow. Rage wells in the pit of your stomach, syrupy and thick.
You stand up, getting closer to him than you've ever been before. "Look at me, Severus. Look at me!" Rainwater sprays off your lips as you scream at him. You don't know why he makes you want to yell, cry, and die all at the same time. He just does.
Slowly, he turns to look at you, and there's something so haunted in his eyes that you almost turn away, but catch yourself at the last second. So quickly you almost don't catch the movement, his eyes flick to your left hand. "I hear you're engaged, Tuney."
His gaze makes you almost ashamed, and you clasp your hands together, hiding the ring from view. You're gulping and looking away and wishing you didn't have to hate the fact that yes, you're an engaged woman. Like those black nights you spent watching him watch her, you wish you were someone else, someone in a parallel universe; a Petunia who could see the light and not cower away from it.
"Yes. I'm engaged." There's a bleak quietude in his eyes, and you feel a wild, strangling emotion rise up like a beast inside you. You want so, so badly to take those words back; but as usual, you don't. "There's no need to look so surprised, Severus. Vernon and I have been involved for over a year now." You are smug and confident and proud, so why are you shivering in the back of your mind?
"Oh, I have no doubt that you've been involved, Petunia. Although, if you ask me, he's nothing but an overgrown walrus who possesses the unfortunate gift of conscious thought." He looks just as smug as you, his voice as sharp as the blade of a knife.
You honestly don't know what comes over you. It seems that things you'd rather keep hidden always spring to life whenever Severus is around. You slap him clear across the face, and you can feel cold tears in your eyes as you stare at him with a fury so lucid that it shocks you. He has the grace to look surprised, although you note that there is no fire left where you remember there being a raging inferno.
You don't speak. There are words bubbling up your throat, but no matter how much you push, they refuse to make themselves heard. Instead, those tears; those long awaited icewater tears gush down your cheeks in a torrent. You cover your face with your hands, but it really doesn't matter. Rainwater mixes with icewater; and you know you could walk down the street and nobody would give your wet face and red eyes a second thought. That just makes you cry harder.
You can honestly say that you are shocked to the depths of your soul when you feel the man in the black coat put his arms around you, cradling you to his chest. You'd secretly wondered what it would be like, to be held in those arms. You'd always thought it would be cold, because that's what people always assume about Severus Snape. That's he's cold. Instead, there is a warmth in him that you've never felt before. When Vernon touches you, it's nice, cuddly. But nothing, nothing can compare to this. This fire.
"I know, Tuney. I know."
You don't realize it until after, but that day, being held in the arms of Severus Snape, you felt yourself burn brighter than Lily Potter ever has.
It's not until after Petunia has said 'I do', that she realizes exactly what she's done. It's almost as if she'd imagined that after the ceremony the world would shiver and change, and suddenly Vernon would be gone and in his place would be her soul mate. That didn't happen.
She's sitting on her marriage bed right now, all wrapped up in the big fluffy duvet and trying futilely not to notice the intoxicated snores emanating from Vernon's side of the bed. She can smell him on her skin, and for some reason she can't fathom, it makes her want to laugh and then jump out the window.
This house in Little Whinging is exactly what she'd known it would be, and for that reason, she hates it. She hates everything about it, as she stares at her tinny reflection in the blank television screen. Long and tapered; always scared to stare her reflection in the face. She was a Capricorn; she guessed it figured.
Petunia wishes with all her heart that she was strong and bright; firebound like Lily. If she were, she would walk out of this marriage, this life; she would swim with dolphins and buy a car. But that wasn't who she was. So now, as she sits there with Vernon Dursley's pastry-scented sweat lingering on her skin, she only weeps a little.
Just enough so that she doesn't forget what it felt like to love.
You're tired. The child you carry has leached the nutrients from your body, the fire from your eyes. You know he'll be beautiful, but you can't help but feel that he's your stolen beauty he will possess. You waddle around like a duck, your stomach so swollen that you can barely remember what your own feet look like.
You don't know what you're doing here, in this childhood relic. Burnt-orange rust coats every inch of exposed metal on the play structure like a second skin. Sitting on this creaky swing, you wince as your weight elicits a high-pitched squeak from the abused hinges.
You can hear the whispers of the wind as it rustles through this forlorn place; the ghosts that reside here winging silently through the air. You've been troubled, lately, and today, this overcast, not quite sunny day, your feet draw you here. You aren't quite sure what you expect to discover, if anything at all, but you find yourself sitting here none the less.
Crick, creak. Crick, creak.
Such pain, such violent, bloody pain fills you in that moment. It's amazing, shocking, appalling, how a heart can shatter in a second. But that's reality, you suppose. The things that matter don't linger in dramatic anguish; they break and they're gone. Infinite pain and brittle heartbreak. That's not you at all.
He doesn't appear until well after dark, but you're still sitting on that creaky little rusted swing, focused on the circle of light produced by the single streetlamp on this whole street. Severus Snape has never been one for terrible clichés or romantic rendezvous', and in all honesty, neither have you. So when he comes walking up the street, his black cloak trailing behind him like bat's wings, you can't help but think of those little red threads of fate. Vernon always said it was communist mumbo-jumbo, but secretly, it comforts you; the notion that you are inexorably tied to all those whose lives interconnect with yours. You will never be a lost girl, floating along with life and loss in your pale hands.
He stops in front of you, towering like a great, sad statue as you hunch in the seat of your little swing. You watch his black eyes as they gravitate towards your protruding stomach, and you can't help but notice the deep lines that carve through his snowy skin; lines that were never there before.
There's nothing desperate about this meeting; nothing vicious or pleading or loved. It's just another day, and for some reason, that makes it all the more important to you. Neither of you can think of anything to say, and that suits you just fine. No matter what pleasantries you exchange, everything that matters will go left unsaid anyways. He sits on the swing beside yours, and you smile in spite of yourself.
"I'm sorry I wasn't at your wedding." He says, his voice knifing through the dense silence. You nod. You hadn't expected him to be when you sent out the ridiculous-looking invitation, but you remember the way that the empty space in that church pew made your heart clench like it was squeezing forth its last beat.
"I didn't think you'd actually go through with it, even after I received the invitation. I was wrong. You've done all that you said you would and more. I just imagined –-," There is a dream in his voice. A dream and a nightmare.
"Don't say that to me, not now!" You turn on him in a sudden fury, your hands twisting the sharp chain-links of the swing between your swollen fingers. "Never think, not for a second, that I wanted to marry Vernon Dursley. Never think that I wanted this passionless life. But I have it now. It is all I have."
He turns his obsidian eyes towards you, and you feel like Pluto, that tiniest planet on the edge of nothing; nothing and everything. You fall into his darkness, the vast darkness of deep space, and you shiver. You will never feel warm again; not in the clutches of this vast coldness, but just now, you cannot bring yourself to care.
A large, ashen hand moves towards you, and you realize with a sudden detached interest that you have never seen Severus Snape tremble before. It shocks you, in that deep-buried place within you that still has the power to feel disbelief. His long, spidery fingers come to rest on your protruding stomach, tendrils of frost snaking into your damp, glowing skin. You had never imagined that ice could be so tender. But it is. Oh, how it is.
"I'm sorry I kept you waiting. That summer, after Lily and my falling out. I should have come back." He becomes progressively louder as the intensity in his voice grows, as the cold implacability of his words makes you yearn to scream with the throats of a thousand women, just to be rid of one body's pain. This one. Yours. "I was a coward. Am a coward."
You rush to comfort him, the maternal side of your lukewarm heart reaching out its fingers to brush against him. "Oh, don't say such things, Severus. I understood that the reason you came was for Lily, not for me, I under -," He cuts you off unceremoniously, something dark roiling in his words that you are suddenly afraid to face.
A vicious pain such as you have never seen in your entire life tears its cannibalistic claws down his frozen face, and it is with astonishment that you see slight, crystalline drops shivering translucently in his black, black eyes. "I should have come for you! I was so blind; so, so blind. I should have come for you. I should have come for you!" He spits the words out harshly, repeating the same thing over and over again as he dissolves into great, heaving sobs that make his hands shake with a frailty you didn't think you would ever see.
You feel your eyelashes brush your cheeks as you look down, at the swell of your stomach, and at the slender, fine-boned hand that quivers against its roundness. You've never seen a grown man cry, and you find that it does not make him seem weak, or emasculate. All it does is make you sad. He slides off the small swing onto his knees, his desperate hands scrabbling at your recently thickened legs. Like a small boy, he rests his head on your lap, the swell of his forehead resting against your distended stomach. You have never felt so oddly nostalgic as you did then, with the head of this sullen, dark man-boy pressed against your unborn child. A flood of bitter, bitter regret washes up from the depths of something you cannot explain, and you watch as your salty tears splash into his silky hair, so full of shadows.
He looks up at you, innocent naiveté in his pitchy eyes, like you are his sun. To him, you shine more viciously than any star. His voice cracks as he whispers, and you have never heard a more beautiful sound. "I love you, Tuney. I always have. I always, always have."
As you stare into your past, something rises within you that burns like acid as it melts away everything you thought you knew; leaving you with nothing left. Nothing but this. You bend forward until your own forehead touches his, feeling the wetness of your combined tears. And you weep. You sob as the best part of you lives, and you sob as it dies.
It's raining, the day Petunia Dursley opens her front door to find an infant swaddled in blankets on her doorstep, a letter clutched in his tiny hands. Black hair, and firegreen eyes. It is with trembling hands that she clutches the small boy to her chest, standing there in the pouring rain. She can feel it rising within her; everything she fought so hard to forget.
Witchfire and seafire and the way they could never meet like they wanted to. And now there's a little boy with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead, and Petunia can feel deep in the cockles of her cool heart that she's meant to love this boy. She's meant to love him like her sister did. With fire and zeal; with a passion envied by the Gods.
But Petunia Dursley has never done anything so well as Lily Potter nee Evans, so she fails in that too. She's not exactly sure why the little face makes her so scared, or why it fills her with bubbles of something that tastes like grief, but that burns with the fire of a million cold stars. She doesn't know anything anymore, surrounded as she is by insipid housewives and her walrus of a husband.
She never sees Severus Snape again. But for some reason she cannot explain, as she watches the skinny boy with the taped glasses and firegreen eyes grow up, she is reminded every day of what she lost that day in the park. Black hair that curls in the rain, and a peculiar sullenness that ebbs and flows with the seasons. Harry is content to hate her, she knows, and she hopes he never discovers just how much she wanted to love him. It would only hurt him more.
But in the end, one cannot love something that they have lost. And that was what the little boy was to her; Lily Potter and her parents and her life, but most of all, he was Severus Snape. Every time she feels the mother inside her yearn to comfort the small, sad little boy, she stops herself. Cruel, you may call her, but Petunia has not forgotten the promise she made to herself as she walked away from something akin to love on that cold day so many years ago.
They say it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but watching the boy grow into a handsome, proud young man, she knows that that isn't true at all. She grieves in her own way, for the boy with the black eyes whom she met at the door every day of so many summers. She doesn't believe she'll ever really stop, because if there's one thing she knows for certain, it is that true love does not fly back on steel wings once you shoot it down. Delicate and fierce, she broke the only thing that should have ever really mattered to her.
So for that reason, Petunia stays far away from her sister's sparkling little son, because she knows how easy it would be to fall hopelessly in love with him. She has her Dudley, and on some days, he manages to make her smile. But never again will she love so fiercely. Never again will she open herself up to such hateful, violent suffering.
So when little Harry tugs on her skirts, when he begs for just a drop of affection, she cannot bear to look at him. Because in his eyes (so like his mother's!), she sees the face of the other black-haired boy who so stole her heart. She hasn't the strength to fight again, because in the end, she is not Lily Potter, and she never will be. So she turns away from him, and that is that.
And as Petunia Dursley quietly attempts to protect her still heart, she remembers what it felt like to burn.