Harry Potter - Series Fan Fiction ❯ A Domestic ❯ In Vino Fecking Veritas ( Chapter 1 )
Petunia was sitting—or sagging?—on the sofa inside her home at 4 Privet Drive when the visitor arrived. He was like clockwork, that one; came by every Monday and Friday promptly at two and left by three. It allowed her time to clean house beforehand and prep supper afterward. Plus, he avoided run-ins with Vernon, which was best for all of them. Not that any of this was an issue at present. Her lip curled faintly.
She was not herself today. No starched pintuck dress, polished ballet flats, or tight coiffure. Oh, no, ducks. She was downright grotty, all greasy hair and smudged make-up, and it was brilliant. Brilliant was the mantra du jour.
"Wotcher, Harry," she greeted in a sing-song voice, tugging her dressing gown closed over her wrinkled pyjamas. 'Must preserve some decorum,' she thought. At least the neighbors were not witness to her spectacle; she’d kept the drapes drawn for the past half-week.
"Hullo," her nephew replied politely-if-loudly, his words competing with the melodic outro of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
“Nothing really matters to me,” Freddie Mercury crooned over the wistful piano cords. ‘Too right,’ she thought, even as The Argument flashed behind her eyes. Didn’t matter, damn and blast!
Emerging from the fireplace, Harry dusted floo powder off of his long-sleeved T-shirt and faded blue jeans before looking at her. He startled visibly once he did. "Aunt, you're looking, um, relaxed," the lad observed as he adjusted his glasses. How diplomatic! She saw his eyes flicker over the coffee table—littered with bottles, take-away cartons, and crumpled serviettes—though he didn't comment.
"I am," Petunia agreed, nodding. Her head swam from the motion, a bit like listing on a boat at sea, making her want to giggle. Or maybe she did. She couldn't tell if the sound was coming from inside her head or out. Not that she cared; the opening to “Baba O'Riley” blared from the stereo speakers, so she tapped her fingers to the tune.
"What is this?" Harry asked, referring to the music. ("Oh, no, no. That is not music, that is noise," her mum's voice echoed sternly in her ears. Her nephew seemed to be of a similar opinion.)
Petunia laughed. "Not what, Who!" Oh, she'd waited ages to crack that joke.
He didn't get it. Well, poop.
Frowning, Harry walked through the sitting room, glancing up the stairs before peering down the hall toward the kitchen. She knew he'd notice the place was a tip, but she shoved aside pesky feelings like embarrassment or guilt—what was she if not an immaculate homemaker?—and reached for her wineglass.
"Vernon isn't here, if that's what you're twitching for," Petunia called over the music, swirling her drink. She wasn't a connoisseur of the stuff, really; it was just a mindless activity. Did she use "twitching" correctly? Oh, bother, he got what she meant, and that's what counted.
Just as Pete Townsend warbled the phrase "teenage wasteland," Harry turned off the stereo. The abrupt plunge into silence hurt her ears. He ignored her hiss of irritation and took a seat near her on the sofa. "You're drunk," he said simply.
Petunia's smile felt sharp on her mouth. "I am," she repeated, and raised her glass in salute. Somehow, she resisted calling him Sherlock. She wasn't sure he'd get that reference, either. "Would you care for a nip as well? Oh, and are you feeling peckish? Plenty of chicken tikka to go 'round," she offered, gesturing at the open container nearest him.
"No, thanks," he said, a hair too quickly, before leaning toward her. How weird, that he was so easy. This was far from her normal. ‘Do all magic people get smashed and live in hovels?’ Petunia wondered. She knew that Dudley would have had a fit over her dishevelment. Of course, he would have also demanded she clean up instantly and then make him a sandwich. Her darling son could be such a prat.
Lost in her musings, Petunia almost missed Harry’s question of, “Why?"
"You ask that every time you visit. Such a broad question," she chided with a cluck of her tongue, knowing exactly what he meant and not wanting to give a real answer. Real answers required thinking, something she’d avoided for days.
Her nephew huffed, rubbing the back of his neck. "Fine, then. Why are you drinking?" Oh-ho, narrowed that down.
Petunia snorted. "Hmm, yeah; why do people drink?" Harry glared at her, clearly getting annoyed. She held up a hand before he could reply. "Sorry, sorry." Time was up. 'Gird those loins.' "Vernon got tetchy, and we had a bit of a domestic; nothing more." A lot more, actually, but why dwell? Her words were crisp for all the booze burning in her bloodstream. Speaking of, she took another gulp of Riesling. 'Peachy,' she thought appreciatively. Not like her life at the moment. 'Do shut up, brain.'
Harry's brows pinched together; his eyes were dark as he studied her carefully. "He didn't… do anything, did he?"
She keenly wished that she'd scrubbed the tear-streaked mascara off her cheeks. It lent a bad impression. Well, a worse impression. Petunia was grateful for the long flannel bottoms that covered the bruises on her legs. No doubt, Harry would attribute them to violence. However, Vernon—the sodding git—was away in Leeds when her wine-addled self tripped down the steps yesterday. Physical wounds, no; emotional wounds were another matter.
"Concerned, nephew?" she asked, genuinely curious.
His brows rose, green gaze steady. "Should I be?"
"Okay, then." He was concerned, anyway, and it touched her.
"You're a good lad, Harry. Much better than you could've been, I think." 'And no thanks to me,' she added to herself… or maybe out loud, if the change in his expression was any indicator. Oh, bollocks. They'd never gone there in their conversations, not once in the past year of polite smiles and surface pleasantries. This, she remembered, was why she'd kept straight as a die whilst the boys lived under her roof. In vino fecking veritas.
Her heart went from a lazy bass thump to a rolling percussion beat, and the sudden rush of blood made her dizzy, caused the wineglass to tumble from clumsy fingers. It never hit the floor. Harry pulled out his wand, muttered a phrase of something or other, and the glass floated in the air, with nary a drop spilt. Petunia squeaked and instinctively recoiled.
Harry's jaw clenched as he reached for the wineglass and set it on the table. "It's a hover charm, that's all," he said coolly. Did he sound defensive? Didn't he deserve to sound defensive? When did she start wondering about what he deserved?
Wait, did he place her drink out of reach on purpose?
"R-right," she breathed weakly, and her belly knotted (with shame. Identify the feeling). Brilliant, indeed; worse still, her mouth felt painfully dry, and she couldn’t retrieve her glass without leaning over her nephew. She doubted he’d appreciate the contact, especially since she’d been without a shower or even deodorant for a time. Well, nothing for it, then. Rising on unsteady legs, she mumbled, "Think I'll make a cuppa. Want some?" Tea was the solution to all life's troubles, or so she could pretend.
Without waiting for an answer, Petunia made her way into the kitchen. She pulled a face at the small stack of dishes in the sink, the rubbish bin full to overflowing, and the mess of cereal boxes and biscuit tins on the counter. Later; later was a better time to fuss over these things, she decided. Retrieving the kettle from the hob, she filled it with water, replaced it on the burner, and turned up the flame. As she reached in the cupboard for the container of Earl Grey sachets—not in the mood to steep loose leaves—Harry entered the kitchen. He stood by the table, looking as painfully awkward as he did when a knobby-kneed child.
"Oh, Harry, it's all right," she sighed, waving a hand. What was all right, precisely? Hell if she knew. It certainly wasn't being blitzed, which led her to make a second confession (shut up, shut up, shut up): "You're the reason we rowed four days ago. That's why Vernon's gone to visit Marge for a fortnight. It's not your fault, though."
Her nephew went perfectly still at this declaration. Then, to her dismay, his cheeks flushed and paled by turns as he bit out, "Good of you not to blame me for that."
"I only meant-" she began, but Harry cut her off by slapping his hands on the table.
"No," he said fiercely, shaking his head. "You don't get to act like your life would've been perfect if not for me mucking it up."
Petunia's muscles tensed to trembling at his tone. ("Libations lead to loose lips and hefty hips," her dad cheerfully remarked after her first hangover. Clearly, she hadn't taken his maxim to heart. Were her pyjamas getting tight?) A nasty part of her wanted to poke Harry until he snarled and scarpered off—some gratitude—but she reined in the impulse.
After a weighted pause, she said, "I know that, you twit," and walked over to the hutch to get teacups.
Harry's eyes bored into her back. "What?"
She grimaced. ‘In for a penny…’ "Vernon wanted me to end our visits—well, end all contact with you, really, so I told him to get stuffed." That was the short version, the only one she'd tell. The long version involved smashing a vase against the wardrobe (her), punching a hole in the bedroom wall (him), and loads of screaming (both).
She turned her head at the crack in Harry's voice—a little too quickly, because everything in the room doubled for just a blink. Oh, wouldn't that have been an experience, raising twin wizards? Double, double, toil and trouble--perish the thought! Under different circumstances, she might've laughed at her nephew's gobsmacked face. Instead, her chest ached (with remorse. Own up). Petunia cleared her throat. "No matter what, you're Lily's son. We're family," she said, taking down two cups and saucers.
In any number of schmaltzy films Petunia watched, this was the moment where the background music swelled, and the main characters forgave each other as they embraced. It was easy to fall into the fantasy in spite of everything that lay between them, conveniently forgetting her sins and his magic. Petunia could almost imagine the feel of his scruffy hair under her cheek. Of course, this was not a film.
"Some family," Harry replied quietly, sounding bitter.
Inside her head, the soundtrack distorted before grinding to a halt. She could almost smell the celluloid burn with the heat of her temper. Like that, was it? Well, so be it!
She set the china on the countertop with a clatter, hands fisting at her hips. "Sorry you needs must make do, but we're what you've got left, now, aren't we?" Oh, the brilliant kept coming. Who was the child here? Neither of them, not anymore, but her maturity was on holiday.
"Yeah, you keep reminding me," he shot back, his volume rising. "Thanks for that, by the way. Always fantastic to have it rubbed in, that my surviving family never wanted me." She noted that his hands glowed white at the knuckles from their tight grip on the table.
"Ugh," Petunia groaned, feeling the faintest twinge of pain at the back of her skull. If only she had the whisky to make a hot toddy! "Are we on that again? I thought we'd moved forward."
"Again?" her nephew asked, his mouth hanging open. "What d'you mean, again? I don't remember ever discussing it in the first place!"
"My mistake," she snapped. "Guess I must be thinking of all the talks I've had with Larry Cotter, my other magical nephew from my other dead perfect sister, Ivy!" Needed to throw him off, couldn't handle this momentarily…
Harry's eyes narrowed to slits behind his glasses. "Let me get this straight: by sharing your memories of my mum, all's well between us? Is that what you really think?"
"Yes!" Petunia cried, exasperated. Except not really, such a liar she was. "I swear, Harry, you're driving me spare!" Why did everything go pear-shaped when it came to this boy? They scowled at each other across the kitchen, though, to her horror-'Not now, not in front of him'-she felt wetness gathering on her lashes.
He either didn't see or didn't care about her distress. "That's codswallop and you know it," he said coldly. "Of all the things you've said to me-"
The shriek of the kettle made them jump.
"Um, hold that thought." Hold that thought? Her brain was pickled in plonk; it was the only explanation for that comment. Petunia hastily shuffled to the hob and switched off the burner.
Oh, she wasn't up to this. Stupid slag: stumbled onto a field of emotional landmines, and every time she missed detonating one bomb she toed another. Petunia needed to recover neutral ground, fast. No better way toward that end than mindless domesticity.
"Would you like anything in your tea? I have milk, cream, sugar, honey, and cinnamon sticks." 'Maybe paroxetine is more your speed? No? That's fine; all for me!' Oh, good gracious, probably blurted that out loud, too!
Harry frowned. "I drink it black." Yet, to Petunia's relief, he didn't appear offended or confused.
“Sounds good; I’ll have the same,” she said, then grabbed a potholder and picked up the kettle. Returning to the counter, she poured steaming-hot water in each teacup.
Setting the kettle aside on a trivet, she lifted the container of tea and asked politely, "One sachet or two?"
Harry looked as though he might ignore her question in favor of resuming his tirade, but he pulled out a chair and muttered, "Two."
"Fair enough," she replied lightly, and again mirrored his choice. Pinching the saucers between her thumbs and index fingers, she carefully walked to the table, and laid Harry's drink before him. Taking a seat to the left of him, Petunia stared down into her cup, watching as the tea-filled sachets dyed the water dark brown. She was not avoiding his gaze. "Sachets are superior to bags, don't you think? Their pyramid shape allows more whole tea leaves-"
Her head jerked up involuntarily. For one brief, jarring moment, she saw her sister, and not in the sense that Harry's demeanor was so like hers. No; it was Lily, with her long bright hair, wearing the same cabled jumper and heartbroken expression she did the very last time they saw each other. “Shouldn’t he know the truth, Nia?” Lily whispered sadly.
Petunia gasped and jammed the heels of her hands against her eyes, hard enough to make colors spark behind her lids. It was a hallucination, it had to be… but what if it wasn’t? ‘I am never drinking again,’ she thought dimly, and shuddered when warm fingers brushed her arm.
Petunia hunched her shoulders, feeling exhausted and exposed. Her eyes began to ache from the pressure. “Why did this happen to us?” she asked in a small voice; though she addressed her question to a ghost, the living answered it.
“How do you mean?” Frost coated Harry’s words.
The ache bloomed into pain; reluctantly, Petunia lowered her hands to the tabletop and opened her eyes. As her vision cleared, she glanced at her nephew before looking away. She licked her lips. “It’s just… we’ve both lost people we loved, and it completely changed our lives.” Inwardly, she winced. ‘Oooh, my, how insightful—straight off the back of a young adult novel!’ her inner voice jeered.
“Is that how you justify hating me?” he asked in disbelief.
She was dead. She had to be dead—probably of accidental alcohol poisoning—and this was her eternal torment. Petunia could almost believe it, except that she was far too cold to be burning in hell. No; this confrontation felt unending, but it was finite, and years overdue. In the sitting room, the grandfather clock sounded the hour. It was three o’clock, though she couldn’t exactly send her nephew packing now. Chickens roosting, boils lancing, and skeletons marching out of cupboards came to mind.
Mustering all her courage, Petunia met and held Harry’s gaze. “I don’t hate you.”
A beat of silence followed her muted declaration. She noticed how his eyes widened and nostrils flared; even his hair seemed to flutter a bit. Just as he drew breath to reply, Petunia added, “I’m weak and petty and I treated you horridly whilst you lived here, but I don’t hate you. I never did.”
Harry raised the teacup to his lips and took a long swallow of drink. His hand shook the whole time. “You’ve a bloody odd way of showing it,” he finally said, in a voice that was all raw edges.
“I know. I’m sorry.” Petunia’s own voice sounded strange to her ears; too hoarse and high-pitched.
“You’re sorry,” Harry repeated.
Many years ago, when Petunia made her first stew, she’d made a true mess of it. Undercooked barley, overcooked veg, and meat like shoe leather. Her nephew’s voice reminded her of that stew.
“What am I supposed to do with that?” he continued. “Words don’t make up for your abuse and neglect. You starved me, shamed me, and made me wear broken eyeglasses and overlarge clothes. ‘Sorry’ doesn’t cover all the times you let Vernon and Dudley smack me about, or the family holidays you excluded me from attending.” Harry leaned back in his chair, his face a terrible twist of emotions. “For sixteen years, you made me feel like gum stuck to your shoes—something annoying that you couldn’t get rid of fast enough—and now you’re sorry.”
His flinty tone raised her hackles, and Petunia bit down on the inside of her cheek to stop herself from answering in kind. After all, her final confession was harsher than any childish insult could be: “I blamed you and Lily for my parents’ deaths.”