Harry Potter - Series Fan Fiction ❯ A Domestic ❯ Deeds over Sentiment ( Chapter 7 )

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

Harry’s face was blank by the end of her account.  Without a word, he stood up and walked out.  Petunia could hear that odd crackle and whoosh coming from the fireplace, indicating his departure from her home.  It was the ending she’d anticipated.  Numbly, she decided that this was for the best.  He knew the worst of her—as if he’d ever known anything else—and could now disown her with a clear conscience.  If the breath hitched in her lungs and left her body as a moan, well, no one was around to observe.

At half-five, she left the kitchen armed with a bucket of cleaning supplies and a broom.  As Petunia righted the sitting room, sweeping the floors and wiping down surfaces, she tried (but failed) to stop replaying her final row with Lily. Row?  No, that was the wrong word, for it suggested Lily fought back.  Her sister was caught-out; that was a one-sided pummeling, plain and simple.  

It had been a while since Petunia relived that tableau in her mind, and with reason: she hated hating herself.  As much as she liked to play the part of a demure housewife, she was a vile, wretched creature under her pressed dresses and pinned hair. 

It was a sour thing to acknowledge, especially since Jack and Rosie’s passing should have taught her the importance of living in the present. She never should have let Lily go without expressing remorse, believing there would be a next time, a better time, to make amends.  That opportunity was lost.  Except surely there was something, or someone, she’d overlooked? 

Petunia froze in the middle of dusting a bookshelf, awash in dread.  True, it was too late to apologize to her sister.  However, she could have atoned by giving Harry affection and treating him as a son instead of an albatross.  Deeds over sentiment—but it was nowhere as easy, and Petunia preferred her comforts.    

Her desire to live an idyllic, normal life had eclipsed a vulnerable child’s need for love.  Petunia had spurned Lily’s son, and on some level punished him for the crime of daring to exist, for diverting even a scrap of her attention away from Dudley.  It wasn’t her choice to have Harry under her roof, after all.  

Every time he tried to call her mummy during the day, or keened inconsolably whilst he dreamt at night, the words if not for him beat a merciless cadence against her temples.  In the past, that simple refrain bolstered her resolve to carry on per usual.  This time, isolated in her too-silent house, she finally received a counter-argument: He hadn’t a choice, either. Harry was orphaned and in pain, and you denied him.

Petunia gasped.  Well, they hadn’t meant to raise more than one child!  She and Vernon had discussed this before they even wed and agreed to have a singleton, so he was never left wanting.  Life isn’t built around what should have been, but rather what is, came the unsympathetic rejoinder.  Your mum used to say, “Want to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.” Harry was a child, not a chore.  Well, the boy came from a posh wizarding family, and yet she and Vernon had to pay his way for everything!  Is posh code for dead? The whole Potter line came down to one baby.  You know that, for Lily told you during one of your chin wags over the phone. What do babies know of money?  Besides, Harry paid for his expenses in bruises, hunger, and rejection.  But what about the instances where his involvement with the wizarding world negatively impacted them?  Smoke and mirrors to distract from the real issue at hand.  Harry is your blood!  Your sister’s boy, the grandson your parents never met, and you were cruel to him.  How are you so proud? 

‘Round and ‘round she went, steadily losing ground with every unreasonable reason she gave, until she could no longer parry the final devastating thrust: if not for her allowing old resentments to impair her judgment and sense of compassion, Harry might have known a true family, one that cared for him, as her sister and parents would have wanted

Revelation most untimely.

Petunia dropped the dusting chamois and covered her mouth with both hands as she screamed. She felt suffocated by the magnitude of her wrongdoing, and there was no one she could talk to.  She had no church, no therapist, no confidante, and no way to assuage her guilt.  Petunia was alone with the crush of her thoughts, and she deserved it.  She stood there by the bookshelf, quaking, half-wild in her skin, unsure how to proceed.  How did a person reconcile herself to the fact that she was a monster?

Simple: by pretending not to be, as she had done for years.  She wasn’t just this one mistake! Petunia had other relationships, too, solid relationships.  She had a good marriage (to a blighter), a lovely son (who barely returned her emails), and a passel of friends (who only knew her carefully-cultivated image).  No reason to go barmy over the boy who lived and lived again, the boy who lived elsewhere and away.  Enough of this wallowing. 

Less thinking, more doing,’ she told herself grimly, and knuckled her eyes before grabbing one of the bin liners from the bucket.  Chucking the takeaway cartons from the coffee table into it—her appetite was gone, and all that food had been sitting out for hours, anyway—Petunia paused at the wine bottles, shaking her head.  Seven empties; she really had been on a bender.  She almost rebelled and hurled the bottles into the liner, but she needed to put them in the proper recycling bin.  (So, she could be kind to the environment but not her nephew?  Blinding!  ‘Belt UP.’)  Tying off the full liner and setting it down, she proceeded to juggle three bottles between her arms.  Reaching for a fourth, to her surprise she encountered a nearly-full container of Riesling.  Ah, yes, she hadn’t uncorked this one until five minutes before her nephew showed up.

Petunia stared at the bottle contemplatively.  She wanted an escape from her self-recriminations.  Vernon was gone until Monday after next, and Harry was never returning, so what was in the way of her indulging once more? 

Well, never, as it were, was short-lived. 

With a flash and a bang, Harry reappeared in the fireplace.  Petunia clutched the empty wine bottles to her bosom, swallowed around a painfully dry throat.  Aunt and nephew regarded each other without speaking.  He had bloodshot eyes and bright spots of color on his cheeks; she suspected they were a matching pair, what with her stuffy nose and flaming ears.      

Why did you come back? she wanted to ask him but couldn’t make her mouth work.  Was he going to spell a donkey tail on her rump to let the world know she was a jackass? Or perhaps a comb and wattle on her head to signal she was a chicken?  (Somehow, most of her imagined scenarios involved acquiring animal parts.) 

Petunia supposed his motive was irrelevant; the important part was that he’d returned.  Here was her chance to… to do what, precisely?  What could she say that would make up for all the scraped knees she never kissed, for the feasts she bade him cook and rarely let him eat, for ensuring the boy always walked on eggshells?  Was there not one bleeding instant in his time living with her when she treated him humanely?  Petunia wracked her brain, and before she was fully aware of it, hit upon the answer.

“Swimming lessons,” she blurted through stiff lips.

Harry’s chilly mien melted into confusion. “What?”

She placed the bottles back on the coffee table and gestured for her nephew to sit down.  He chose Vernon’s wingback chair, she suspected to maintain distance.  She took a seat on the sofa nearest to Harry, fastidiously brushing lint from her pyjama bottoms.  “Em, the summer when you and Dudley turned five, I enrolled you both in swimming lessons.”  Looking up at him, she asked, “Can you guess why?”

Her nephew frowned.  “I’m assuming it’s to do with the flood, but I don’t see how the circumstances relate.”

She gulped down air, as her parents no doubt tried to do at the end.  “There is so much to share about Jack and Rosie, lad, more than can be discussed in one evening, but here are some more facts I hadn’t relayed earlier: Dad was a terrific swimmer, and an even better teacher.  He taught me and Lil how to swim, first in a manmade pool, and then in ponds, slow-moving rivers, and finally the ocean.  Dad wanted us to be unafraid of water and know how to move with the water so we could make it safely back to ground.  ‘The worst thing you can ever do while in water is panic,’ he said. ‘You will waste energy and you can hurt someone else if you treat him like a Kisbee ring.’  He showed us how to float, and tread, and dive, too.

“Dad did this for us because Mum almost drowned as a child.  She and some of the other children at Reedham Orphanage, including Dad, were playing at Richmond Park.”  Petunia rubbed her brow, trying to recall the details accurately.  “Mum said there was a stream there, Beverley Brook.  It was a favorite gathering place for the children, since the ducks and geese usually came out of the water in search of treats from their human visitors. 

“That particular day, however, their feathered friends were in hiding.  It was a cold, blustery morning, and the brook was swollen with rainwater.  Dad said a few of the boys started roughhousing and accidentally knocked Mum off the riverbank and into the brook.  She didn’t know how to swim and sank under the surface as the current dragged her away from the bank.  Thankfully, one of the supervising adults heard the commotion and was able to rescue her, but Mum was poorly for weeks after.  She’d inhaled water into her lungs during her ordeal and it developed into pneumonia.”

Petunia watched Harry digest this information, his throat bobbing.  “Not too fond of water, then, was she?”

She snorted softly.  “Mum barely tolerated taking baths.  It was a lifelong phobia that never eased in its intensity. For her to wind up trapped in a vehicle, water pouring in… her death was truly the stuff of nightmares.”  She closed her eyes as tears welled up.  “The, em, the real hell of it, Harry, was that Dad potentially could have survived.  He was quick to respond in an emergency and had great physical endurance.  If he had been alone, I believe he would have managed to escape the automobile and make it up to the surface. Maybe he’d have swam to land, or clung to some passing debris for a few days, but I’m certain he’d be alive.”

“But Grampy couldn’t save himself and Nana, could he?”

“No.  Dad knew better.  Mum had to have been mad with fear.  If he had tried to get them both out of the auto, she would have used him as a Kisbee ring, so the end result would be the same.  And leaving her behind wasn’t an option.  He just loved her too much to live without her.  Mum’s death was inevitable from the moment the dam collapsed, but Dad’s was by choice.”

“The way my mum died for me,” Harry whispered, rubbing his eyes, his glasses going askew. 

Petunia shuddered in her dressing coat, wondering if her nephew knew he’d spoken aloud, at a loss for how to respond.  Did he feel responsible for Lily’s death?  Did she ever give him reason to feel any other way?  Awful, hateful, loathsome

“Hence the swimming lessons,” she said abruptly, her voice strangled.  “I would have taught you boys myself, but you need to trust the person teaching you.”  Petunia looked her nephew square in the eyes.  “I wouldn’t have served you well in that role, and I knew it.”

Harry glowered.  “Where was your concern for my safety when Dudley kept dunking me in the pool and I couldn’t catch my breath?”

“That did happen,” she admitted, “but it was one time.  Only once, Harry, and only because I was asking the instructor questions about the lesson plans.  There was never a repeat.”

“Right,” he said cynically.

Petunia arched her brow. “Do you really not remember this?  I caused a bit of scandal at our health club that day.  When I saw Dudley holding you under water in the shallow end of the pool, I jumped in, fully clothed, and made my way over to where you two were.  I forced him to release you.  After I made certain you were fine, I slapped Dudders across the face.  

“It was the first and last time I laid a hand on my son.  It left a mark on his cheek, and he fell to pieces for being struck, but I told him for all to hear, ‘Do that again and your father will sort you out next.’  I meant it.  I could practically feel Mum’s ghost hovering around me.  I’m not a superstitious person, Harry, but I’m quite convinced she would have haunted me if you’d died in water whilst under my care.

“That is why I turned to you, and I said, ‘You shall not drown’…”  She blinked, for her nephew chorused the last four words with her.

“You were wearing a red-and-white polka dot dress,” Harry said, seeming dazed at the memory.  “Brand-new, never washed. The red dye leached into the pool and looked like blood flowing around you.  It also turned the white polka dots pink from your hips down.”

“Yes,” she agreed.  Petunia ended up binning that dress, unable to restore the skirt to its original glory.  She didn’t share this with her nephew, fearing he’d take it as an attack.  Set precedent and all.  “And Dudley didn’t interfere in your lessons, did he?  I know, for I watched from the pool deck.  You had better technique when it came to the front crawl and backstroke,” she noted, wishing she wasn’t the sort who felt aggrieved when her nephew outshone her son.  

“I don’t understand why you’re telling me this.”  Her nephew looked so lost, and so full of yearning that it verged on bitterness. 


Her heart squeezed tight beneath her ribcage. How could she articulate what she barely understood herself?  However, she owed it to him to try.  “Because I had over a year to mend fences with Lil, and all I did was make her a vase.”