CHAPTER ONE: NEVER BELIEVE IT'S NOT SO (IT'S MAGIC)
In which Petunia Dursley tells only part of the truth. She has her reasons, of course.
"Do you think this is a waste of time?" the social worker asked Petunia.
Petunia smothered a start, and said earnestly, "Of course not."
"Glad to hear it," the social worker said drily. "Your husband wouldn't agree."
Petunia was on guard now. She didn't respond.
"He told me that this was useless."
Petunia said softly, "Poor Vernon."
The social worker raised her eyebrows. Petunia continued, looking at her target carefully, "He really doesn't understand what's going on at all, I'm afraid."
"Perhaps we should start at the beginning, then. Where'd you meet him?"
I met him at the candy store...he turned around and smiled at me...you get the picture?...yes, we see...
Petunia suppressed a whoop of laughter at the top ten oldie playing in her head and said sedately, "We met at school. We both studied accounting." She could see the social worker suppress a grimace. It must sound not interesting indeed.
It had been during one of Petunia's fits of self-improvement. Her social life had been next to non-existent –yet again—and in a weak moment she had asked her mother for advice. Her mother had told her: "You're too sharp, Pet; you're just too sharp." Petunia knew 'sharp' did not mean 'smart' in her mother's lexicon. It meant sharp—too sarcastic, too prickly, too critical. Her mother's mouth had opened and Petunia had a sinking feeling that she knew what was coming next. Sure enough: "You catch more bees with honey than vinegar," her mother intoned, while Petunia considered whether repeating clichés endlessly was a reasonable ground for matricide. Not really—Petunia was very fond of her mother—most of the time—and even knew she was right. Sort of. As one of her former boyfriends had put it to her bluntly, she wasn't good-looking enough for him to tolerate her sarcasm. Petunia got the point. If she wanted to get married and have children, which she did, she had decided that she would have to school her expectations to match her talents and appearance, and pretend to be dull.
Dullness—or something, Petunia was never sure what-had attracted Vernon Dursley. He was younger, slimmer and had more hair then, and he had a decent education. A reasonable prospect, as prospects went. Petunia did not love him, but with the optimism of youth, she thought she could change him into something tolerable, perhaps even lovable. He droned on about boring subjects, repeated himself endlessly, and indulged in supposedly funny stories—he could kill a punch line stone dead-and she knew that would be difficult to endure, especially in the long term. And he resented it if she demonstrated wider knowledge that he could boast, or any independence. But he was solicitous—then—and Petunia believed that she could do no better. She was painfully aware that she lacked allure, and she had concluded, having lost her family's genetic lottery by a mile or so, that dullness was her lot, in more ways than one.
And so they were married, and before long she discovered that certain aspects of Vernon were a lot worse than dull.
"You were married in 1977, I think?" Petunia nodded.
"Rather young." No error. My parents warned me against it, though they didn't live long enough to get the pleasure of telling me "I told you so." I wish they had. I would have taken it like a man. I promise.
"And your son was born in 1980?"
"Yes, Dudley was born in late July." A hostage to fortune.
"And you live in Little Whinging, in Surrey." Petunia nodded again, supplied the exact address, and wondered vaguely how long this was going to take.
"And the next year, you adopted your nephew?" Well, that's one way of putting it.
"Yes, after his parents died in October."
"How did they die?" They were killed by a psychopathic wizard serial killer on a rampage, actually. That's what I'm told, anyway. "It was a car crash. The child was in the back seat, in a carrier, and he survived."
"Did your husband agree to the adoption?" He didn't get asked. Nor did I. "Oh, yes."
"Was he happy about it?"
Petunia was silent, aware that she would have to be careful. "Well...he wanted another child of our own."
"And he resented not having one?"
"I'm afraid he did." The social worker looked thoughtful.
"Does he dislike the child?" He hates the child. Hates him, loathes him, despises him. "I'm afraid they've never gotten along." It's hardly a child's fault if an adult has an unreasoning prejudice against him, is it? And just try to explain it to them in a way they can understand.
"Is there no one else who could take the child? What about your parents?"
"They died years ago, in a house fire." Caused by another bunch of psychopathic wizards, of which there seems to be rather too many roaming about. That's another kettle of fish, though.
"And your sister's husband? Did he have any family?" Dumbledore said not, but with wizards, who knows? Anyway, we were selected, nominated and elected. Whether we wanted to be or not. And put straight into the line of fire. "No, he didn't."
"How many separations have there been?"
"This is the third. There was one early on, just before Dudley was born." Petunia did not want to think about that—not at all. Some things were better left unexamined.
"And you separated again when the boys were three, didn't you? For how long?"
"Nearly a year." Please don't remind me.
"But you reconciled?" If you can call it that. Vernon hired that barracuda of a lawyer—Marge paid—and I was going to lose custody of Dudley if I didn't agree to it. They said I was unstable. Well, I was taking anti-depressants, of course I was, but the recent death of all my adult blood relatives and the failure of my marriage had something to do with it, wouldn't you think? I'd like to see a judge co-exist with Vernon for awhile. They'd live on lithium. "Yes."
"You had both boys with you during the separation?"
"Yes, but Vernon would often refuse to return Dudley after access visits. He claimed Dudley didn't want to come home because of Harry." Said Harry was unstable, too. Runs in my family, he claims. Actually it trots, it canters, and it gallops.
"Was that true? Do they get on—or not?"
"Well, at first they didn't, but it's improved since then." They often fought like dogs, but not so much anymore. Dudley's bigger, but Harry's faster, and will fight dirty if necessary. And I fear it was often necessary. But yes, the day Dudley turned five, things improved between them. Mainly because on that day they acquired a mutual enemy-Vernon.
"And what about Dudley's relationship with his father?"
"It was very good-at one time."
"What changed?" If I tell you the truth you'll have me binned immediately. So what's believable? Vernon's a berk? Or Vernon hates magic?
"Vernon dislikes Harry, and blames him for Dudley's behaviour." Vernon thinks magic's catching, that's what. Yes, he's just that stupid. And at the start of their marriage, Petunia had thought that the fact that she was smarter than Vernon would mean that she would dominate him. Yes, *she* had been just that stupid. It was a true marriage of idiots.
"What sort of behaviour are we talking about?"
"Well—defiance, mostly. Harry's quite outspoken." No error.
There was a pause.
"I want to show you some video we took of the boys," the social worker said. Petunia's heart sank.
First up was Dudley. Dudley avoided the camera lens, and answered the questions asked him in monosyllables. Did he enjoy visits with his father? A shrug. Did he like his cousin? "Harry? I s'pose." Was he happy with his mother? "I guess so." Petunia wished she were anywhere else on the planet including the bottom of the sea.
If Dudley was evasive, Harry was blank. He simply fiddled with his fingers and refused to answer any questions at all. Petunia could have cheerfully throttled him.
"We were quite concerned about their demeanor, and did some testing. They were both fairly unco-operative." Oh, tell me about it.
But Petunia said nothing—out loud.
"The psychologist believes Dudley is mildly dyslexic, which affected his scores. We were concerned that Harry was autistic, but that didn't test out. In fact, we believe that they both may be gifted." Well, you're right, but not in the way you think. And I can hear them both now: Dudley: "Well, what was I *supposed* to say? You didn't tell me!" and Harry: "Better not to say anything. They'll twist it if you do." Certainly life with Vernon was instructive that way.
"According to the psychologist, they are both quite bonded to you, and feel protective of you. This is not ideal, I need hardly say. Children are not supposed to nurture their parents." They aren't nurturing me...we're in a defensive alliance. And if you think two seven-year-olds aren't worthy allies, you haven't met the seven-year-olds in question. Except that you have. You just don't see what's there.
"Can you describe the boys to me? Their personalities?"
"Dudley's good with gadgets and machines. Far beyond his age. He can make the most amazing things work. " He set up a system to monitor his father—an early warning system—all by himself. Vernon thought himself very clever when he disconnected it, but that proved a waste of time. As it turned out, Dudley could make it run without electricity.
"Harry likes to read, and is quite athletic." He can also run very fast, especially from Vernon. Petunia didn't know how she felt about his voracious reading habits. She had had them herself in childhood—encouraged by her father—and now wondered if she'd have been happier if she hadn't. Certainly it made it more difficult to fit in. Would it be different for a boy? Perhaps, but somehow she doubted it.
"They have some problems in school, I'm not denying that. That's why I started to home school them." Well, that and the outbursts of magic. Dudley's tend to be rather subtle, but Harry's are not. It's a bit hard to explain some of them; their last teacher said that maybe her medication was making her hallucinate—she hoped. Petunia agreed fervently, and withdrew both boys from the school before the end of the week.
"Your husband accuses you of a host of things—he says you are unstable, lazy, and that you lie about him-also that you have turned the boys against him."
"You don't have anything to say to this?"
"I'm tired of denying it, but no, none of it is true." I don't lie about him, I'm not lazy, and he turned the boys against him all by himself, but yes, I'm probably unstable. In fact, I'm sure I am. Sue me.
The social worker gave her a serious look. "The allegations that you've made against your husband are equally serious, as you must know."
Petunia said: "Allegations? I'm just telling you what happened."
"Yes, and Mr. Arcos supports your story. But you must know why we are concerned about him and his evidence."
"He's a gypsy."
The social worker gave her a repressive look. Obviously that remark was not acceptably PC, however true it happened to be. "He has quite a long criminal record for fraud," she said primly.
"I'm sure he does. That doesn't necessarily mean he's lying. After all, why is it to his advantage, in this case?"
"True enough, Mrs. Dursley, but you also have a long history-of mental instability. Your doctor's report is quite detailed—you've been on anti-depressants for years, and there has been various diagnoses—some quite disturbing, if you don't mind my saying so. Despite—or perhaps because of Mr. Arcos' story—it's quite possible that you will lose custody of the boys permanently."
Petunia didn't bat an eyelash, or even bother to answer. That's what you think, you boring little bureaucrat. It's not going to happen. I've been in tight spots before, and I've always done the same thing every time—dissolved in tears and pulled the blankets over my head. Not this time. I'm not losing the boys. They are mine. I'd shoot Vernon Dursley at point-blank range at high noon in Harrod's window before he got custody—and I assure you, I'd enjoy every damn second of that, and then some.
This thought in mind, she smiled sweetly at the social worker, who looked suddenly spooked.