Harry Potter - Series Fan Fiction ❯ A Domestic ❯ What's Another Detour? ( Chapter 2 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

“Excuse me?” Harry said. 

At least, she thought he said that; the syllables were there, but her ears went fuzzy.  The sharp discomfort of unshed tears lanced up her nostrils.  With a sigh and a hard pinch to the bridge of her nose, Petunia squared her shoulders resolutely.   No time for cowardice here, not when this might be their last conversation. She could fall apart later. “I’m sure you caught on that you didn’t have a Grampy and Nana Evans whilst growing up.   You must have done.  Dumbly-door wouldn’t have left you with the likes of me otherwise.”

“Yes.” Ouch; no protestations on his part at all.

With a small frown, she asked, “Were you never curious about them?” 

“Curiosity wasn’t exactly rewarded in this home,” Harry pointed out acidly. “Yes, I wondered.  Of course I did!” He rapped the table hard to underscore his words, rattling the teacups and making her flinch. “Many of my schoolmates talked fondly about their grandparents, but I didn’t even know the names or faces of mine. Not any of them! Sometimes it felt like I didn’t properly exist--” He stopped abruptly to lift his coke-bottle lenses and swipe vigorously at his eyes.

Dammit.  In her mind’s eye, she could see the whole minefield exploding and cratering the landscape.  Petunia knew better than this.  Why did she need to bait him?  A two-sentence answer—blunt and to the point—was all she’d needed to give.  Then the boy who lived and lived again would leave, and he’d never bother to poof his way through her chimney another day.  Normalcy restored, and her marriage back on track.  But did she want that?  Not so long ago, it would have been a great relief to be rid of Harry.  As she silently watched her nephew collect himself, Petunia itched inside her skin.  She could still say it.  Two sentences and done. It was the only magic she’d ever successfully performed: disappearing someone from her life. 

Bugger it,’ she thought, taking a deep drink of her cooling tea, ‘what’s another detour?’

“Hold on,” she mumbled as she set her teacup on its saucer, scraping back her chair and rising.  Petunia headed back into the sitting room and made a beeline for a particular item on the bookcase, bottom shelf at the far-right end.  Squatting down to retrieve the object, she felt old and stiff.  Had this conversation aged her twenty years in the space of thirty minutes?  Maybe by the end of the day she’d turn into a pile of dust! ‘Right, and who would clean me up? Oh, I suppose Harry could toss me into the fireplace with his magic stick. I bet he’d like that,’ Petunia reflected, sourly, as she re-entered the kitchen.

Without fanfare, she laid a well-polished wooden box on the table.  How sad, she thought (as she always did), that the contents of one box was all that remained of her parents.  Lifting the hinged lid, she pulled out the thick photo album at the top and placed it in front of her nephew.  Its grey leather cover was worn, with fine cracks like webbing near the spine and outer corners.  Gingerly, she opened the album to the fourth page, her favorite one.  A beaming young bride and groom stared out from the large (and somewhat yellowed) black-and-white photograph.  They were standing on the steps of a little brick-and-mortar church.  Their wedding attire, though modest, was well-tailored. 

The groom was skinny, tall, and light-haired; he grinned with white, chunky teeth out of a square-jawed face.  His eyebrows, though pale, were thick and straight over his crinkling up-turned eyes.  The groom’s nose was long and just a hair crooked, but it lent a charm to his appearance. 

The bride was slim and short, with dark curls peeking out from under a long veil; she smiled demurely with painted cupid’s-bow lips out of a heart-shaped face.  Her dark eyebrows arched delicately over large, round eyes fringed with long lashes.  The bride’s snub nose was cute as a button.   She held a bouquet of daisies with her left hand atop her right one, and her plain wedding band glinted in the sunlight.

“John Tyler Evans and Mary-Leigh Rose Broughton Evans,” Petunia said softly.  “Those were the names of your maternal grandparents. They preferred to go by Jack and Rosie.  They were both born in London in 1935, and they were each the only child of their respective parents.  I’m afraid I can’t tell you much more about our family tree, Harry, because my grandparents all died during the Blitz in the Second World War.  Mum told me that she tried her hand at genealogy when she and Dad first wed, but… I guess she found no answers, or none she fancied to share with me.  Mum seemed so discouraged that I never had the heart to try looking, myself.  Anyway, go ahead and look through the pictures.  Just mind the pages, because the binding’s coming loose.

“I’m not even sure where to begin,” she admitted after a moment, watching Harry pore over the photo album, tracing the figures of his grandparents with yearning fingers.  Page after page of them, as they slowly aged through the images—but not too much, not too old.  Her father kept his thick hair and her mother stayed trim.  Jack and Rosie, gentle and kind.  Petunia could still hear them, even smell them if she concentrated, but they were only images on the page to Harry.  A heaviness settled in her bones as she looked at him.  His open face held far too much feeling, and she found herself sinking back down into her chair and gazing at the orange-and-gold floral pattern on her teacup in an effort not to stare. 

 “How did they meet? What were the colors of their eyes and hair?  Did they sing?  What did their laughter sound like? What were their favorite card games, favorite books, or favorite sports?  Did they like exploring the woods or were they city folk? What did they do for a living?  Why--”

“Whoa, wait!  I can’t tell you anything if you keep asking things before I can answer!” she exclaimed, holding up her hands as if to physically halt his rapid-fire questions.  He stopped, looking at her impatiently. 

And here, unbidden and unwanted, came a comparison between Harry and her son.  Dudley never expressed interest in learning about his late grandparents.  In fact, the last time she’d attempted to appeal to Dudder’s sense of family, he became quite shirty.  She remembered the sneer of his lips as he spat, “They’re dead, Mum. They’ve been dead forever.  I didn’t know them, they didn’t leave me any money, and they never did anything interesting like act in a movie.  Why should I care?” She never bothered after that. 

Every now and again, she regretted some of her parenting decisions.  Speaking of parents…

“Em, okay: they met at Reedham Orphanage in May 1941. Mum was older than Dad; her birthday fell in January, whereas Dad’s was in October.  Interestingly enough, they were both born on the nineteenth!  Anyhow, they arrived at the orphanage on the same day, and they left the orphanage together in December 1953.  The way Mum always told the tale gave me the impression of love at first sight, but Dad later said they fought like cats and dogs for years before they gave in to their feelings… what?”

Harry snorted softly.  “Nothing; just reminds me of my mates, is all.  Please, continue.”

“Ah, hair and eye colors, right?  Mum had dark brown hair and hazel eyes, and Dad had reddish-blond hair and green eyes.” Petunia swept her gaze over his face.  “You and Lily both got your eyes from him,” she noted, and tried to ignore how Harry’s cheeks flushed.  “Actually, I think there are a few color photos toward the back of the album that show his eyes.  He went prematurely grey, though, so you’ll have to take my word on the hair color.”

Clearing her throat, she continued.  “Mum loved to sing; she had a warm, clear voice, and could hold her notes.  She sang with a church choir for a number of years, and even soloed on occasion.  ‘Hymn to the Virgin’ was her favorite song to perform.  However, she was fond of radio tunes, too.  Had quite a taste for the Yanks’ music, really.  She enjoyed performers like Patsy Cline, Chubby Checkers, Simon & Garfunkel, Aretha Franklin, and Elvis Presley.  As for Dad, he loved to listen to Mum sing, but he was a bit tone-deaf.  Couldn’t hum a correct note to save his life, and most music didn’t sound right to him!

“Dad had a deep rumbling laugh—well, come to think of it, he had a deep rumbling speaking voice, too.  Very deep,” she said, in as low a pitch as she could manage.  The corners of Harry’s mouth quirked at her demonstration.  “Mum laughed quietly, and often behind her hand.  She was self-conscious of the gap between her front teeth.  That’s why she smiled with her mouth closed in many of those photos.” Another memory flashed behind her eyes, and she added, “Whenever Mum sneezed, it sounded like the tinkling of bells.  It was ridiculous and charming.”

Her voice broke a little on the last word, and Petunia hastily downed the last of her tea.  Grief was such a strange beast; the longer she lived (outlived?), the quieter it stayed, a companion slumbering beneath her breast.  However, it was moments like these, where she was confronted head-on with the past, that the beast stirred violently, biting and clawing her insides to shreds, leaving her in agony once more.  This, Petunia acknowledged, was why she kept so little of the ones she’d lost.  Avoidance was how she survived the endless days of absence. She was barely minutes into this endeavor and already felt hollowed out.

She yearned for another drink even as her stomach churned at the thought.

“What else did you want to know?” she abruptly asked Harry, needing to refocus, wanting to delay. 

Her nephew looked… looked… eh, whatever.  She was tired of trying to figure out what he thought by the expression he wore.  He usually said it aloud, anyway, and he didn’t disappoint her this time.  “This is hard for you.”

“Yes,” she replied flatly, “but let’s not stop.  What else?”

“Aunt,” Harry sighed, and laid his hand atop hers.  He was warm.  He was always warm, so sweet, and it grated against her nerves.  “You’ve already told me more about Grampy and Nana Evans today than I’d ever known before,” he continued, and she wasn’t certain how to feel about him using her terms (their terms, as they had wanted to be called Grampy and Nana by their grandchildren). “You can tell me more about them next time,” he assured her.

It was unbearable.  Petunia’s eyes drifted to the page currently open in the album, alighting on the picture of her mother knitting a baby cardigan.  Rosie was pregnant with her in that photo, Petunia recalled.  Her mother’s heart-shaped face glowed with pleasure as she held up her handiwork to the camera with one hand and cradled the gentle swell of her stomach with the other.  In her mind’s eye, she could imagine her dad praising her mum’s cleverness as he snapped the picture, followed with a hug and a quick kiss after.  So much affection between them...  and they would have loved Harry more than Dudley, a voice whispered mockingly in her ear.  (And that hurt, because, deep down, she agreed.) Petunia suddenly wanted to burn the photo album and all the other contents of the box.  It was vicious and irrational, but the idea of sharing these precious people with anyone—especially Harry and not her son—made her want to scream. 

More than anything, she hated being stripped bare, and this young man kept exposing her: her hypocrisies, her insecurities, her fears, her jealousies.  Worse yet, he kept trying to find the good in her, to love her.  Why did Harry persist in developing a relationship with her?  Why was she letting him? Not that any of this would matter soon. 

She jerked her hand away from his touch.  “No.”  Her pulse pounded through her veins, hammered inside her skull.  Petunia held Harry’s startled gaze for a long, silent moment, needing him to understand.  ‘Please don’t be nice to me, I can’t take it,’ she thought. “We continue now or not at all,” she informed him with a thin smile.  “What else?” She was no longer talking about Jack and Rosie, and Petunia could see when he sussed out her meaning.  This had to be done.

Harry’s eyes shuttered, the fragile camaraderie ended.  “I want to know why you blamed us,” he responded. Poison soaked his words.