A/N: Written for lyras for the hp_canon_fest on Livejournal. Many, many thanks to Arnel, Sherry, and Susie, who held my hand as I angsted over the writing of this fic (and there was copious angst, let me tell you). I'd never considered writing Petunia and Vernon before, but once I got my assignment, I knew I had to give it a go.
For those of you who are interested, there's a long, drawn-out discourse about how and why I ended up writing this particular fic on my livejournal, here. Feel free to comment either here or there if you want--I'm interested in hearing what you think. :)
Secrets are made to be found out with time. ~Charles Sandford
Petunia Evans was perfectly normal, thank you very much, and she liked it that way. She liked her perfectly ordered life, with its perfectly ordered schedule. It was...comforting. She always knew what to expect. Unless, of course, it involved her sister, who was anything but normal. Petunia wondered, sometimes, how it was that she and Lily were born of the same parents, with Lily's freakishness and her...normality so diametrically opposed to each other. Luckily, Petunia had eventually learned how to push thoughts of Lily and her abnormalities out of her mind and continue on her way as if she were an only child, who had grown up with her normal parents in her normal house, where nothing unusual ever happened.
So it was with a bit of surprise that Petunia found her perfectly ordered life suddenly turned upside down and sideways one morning in the break room at Grunnings Drill Firm, where she was a member of the secretarial pool. She'd gone to get a cup of tea and perhaps one of those lovely ginger biscuits on her break at half-ten, turned around, and promptly run herself (and her teacup) into the new salesman on the floor, Vernon Dursley.
He was a handsome man, she thought—stout and strong, with dark hair and a moustache that made him look distinguished. Earlier, when he'd first joined the company, she'd considered contriving a way to arrange a meeting, but that was now taken completely out of her hands by her own clumsiness and the tea dripping slowly down his chest.
"Oh!" she said, patting ineffectively at the brown stain on his shirt, wishing, just for a second, that she was like Lily and could wave her wand and—poof—clean the mess she'd made. "I'm so sorry, please forgive me." She fought off the urge to pat her hair and smooth the wrinkles out of her dress.
"Quite all right," Vernon said (she was impressed by his impeccable manners), "Miss—?" He broke off, but the question in his voice was clear.
"Evans," she replied. "Petunia Evans."
"Vernon Dursley," he said holding out his hand to shake.
"It's very nice to meet you, Mr Dursley," she said, still flustered. She hated feeling flustered, like she had no control over the situation.
"Vernon," she repeated. She felt her cheeks flush and wondered whether it was from embarrassment or because Vernon asked her to call him by his given name. She noticed again the mess she'd made on his shirt. "I really am sorry," she said. "Won't you let me at least pay to have it cleaned?"
He rocked back on his heels and gave her an appraising look. "I have a better idea," he said. "Why don't you come to dinner with me tonight?"
"Oh, but...I couldn't." She heard the words leave her mouth, but all the while she was inwardly wondering why. Why couldn't she? He was a perfectly respectable man (and handsome to boot) with a good job—he was clearly on his way up the ladder of success. Didn't she deserve to go to dinner with him?
"And why not?" he asked, unconsciously echoing the question she'd just asked herself. "You'd be doing me a favour, helping me learn the area."
"Excellent!" he said, clearly intent on not giving her a chance to refuse. "I'll meet you in the lobby at half-five." He grinned broadly at her. "Don't be late, Miss Evans." And then he was gone, presumably to his office, and she was left standing there, her pulse racing and her face flushed with excitement.
She'd just met the man of her dreams. And not only that, she was going to dinner with him, that very evening.
How she was going to get any more work done, she had no idea.
She left her desk at a quarter past five (after a highly unproductive afternoon at her desk) and headed to the loo to freshen up a bit before heading down to the building's lobby.
She hadn't been this nervous in a very long time—she felt like she had a tonne of butterflies in her stomach. Her hands shook, just the tiniest bit, as she touched up her make-up, powdering her nose and reapplying her lipstick. When she was satisfied, she combed her fingers through her hair and gazed at herself in the mirror, examining her features critically. If she'd known she was going to meet Vernon today—that he was going to ask her to go to dinner with him—she would've worn something fancier than the plain blue dress she had on, but there was nothing for it now. She smoothed her hands down the dress one last time to try to reduce some of the wrinkles, checked her teeth for lipstick smudges or small pieces of stuck food, squared her shoulders, picked up her handbag and left the loo, confident that she looked as well as could be expected.
He was waiting for her down by the reception desk, where Amy, the nosy cow who manned the reception desk and answered the phones, watched with obvious interest. Petunia smiled smugly to herself when Vernon offered his arm and she took it. That will show the little busybody, she thought.
They walked down the street to a small Italian restaurant, where he said he'd made reservations sometime that afternoon. He held her elbow and helped her cross the street, held the door open for her, and pulled her chair out for her when they arrived at their table. She was more impressed than ever with his manners, and her estimation of him grew even more when he confidently ordered food for both of them.
I ought to get to know him better, she thought. Just to see if we're compatible. So far, it seemed, they definitely were, but she didn't know anything about him other than the fact that he was well-mannered (unlike those boys who hung on her sister's every word), a hard-worker (he'd have to be, in order to get as far in his career as he had at such a young age), and loyal to what was left of his family (given the way he went on and on about his sister, Marge).
And there was the added advantage that her heart beat just a little faster when he looked at her with obvious admiration on his face. She knew she wasn't attractive, not like Lily, but he made her feel as if she were, if only for a moment. She could count on one hand the number of times she'd felt like this, and she'd learned to cherish them over the years.
By the time the waiter brought out the Tiramisu Vernon convinced her to try, Petunia felt like she knew more about him than she knew about any other man. She'd learned where he'd grown up, that he'd gone to school at Smeltings before attending university, that his sister, Marge, raised bulldogs, and that he'd found his job at Grunnings through an old friend of his father's. She wasn't given the opportunity to tell him much about herself, but that didn't bother her. She really didn't want to spend too much time on her sister and her abnormalities, and keeping the conversation focused on Vernon gave her the perfect excuse to leave Lily out of it.
The restaurant was nearly empty by the time they decided to leave. As Vernon pulled her chair out, his hand grazed the length of her bare arm, and she shivered. But she wasn't shivering because of the cold, she knew.
She was attracted to this man. She'd never felt anything like this before.
She only hoped he felt the same way about her.
Two days later, she'd begun to give up hope. She and Vernon had exchanged telephone numbers, and she'd expected to hear something from him, even if it was only, "I don't ever want to see you again." But he hadn't even stopped by her desk, much less picked up the phone and called her.
"It figures," she muttered to herself. She was never able to keep a relationship alive. Who would want her, really? She wasn't anything special. Her looks were plain, her personality was plain...she couldn't even do magic, like her sister. She growled under her breath at the thought of her sister—perfect Lily, beautiful Lily, charming Lily...magical Lily. There was no comparison between the two of them, and Petunia knew it.
And yet... Lily wasn't so special, was she? Yes, she had that flowing red hair that Petunia had always been jealous of, and yes, she could charm the pants off Father Christmas just by batting her eyes at him, but Petunia had gifts and talents that Lily could never have. Petunia knew how to bargain down an overcharged item at the shops, and she knew how to cook a magnificent roast with Yorkshire pudding. She could set a table with the best of them and clean and organise better than almost anyone she knew.
Lily might be beautiful and charming and magical, that was true. But she would never make a better wife for someone than Petunia would.
Now she just needed to convince Vernon of that fact.
He came by her desk at a quarter to five on the third day after their dinner together, bringing with him a small bouquet of brilliantly-coloured petunias. She'd always thought the flowers quite plain—nothing like her sister's namesake flower—but gathered together in a bouquet, they were very striking.
"Would you like to have dinner with me? Tonight?" Vernon asked as he handed her the flowers.
She stared at the petunias, their pinks and purples blurring together as she did. She'd never received flowers before, much less ones that were so pretty...and she'd never been asked to go out for a second time, not ever.
She reached out and took the flowers, smiling at him in what she hoped was a flirtatious (but not too flirtatious, she reminded herself) manner.
"I'd like that very much," she said, "but I need to get some water for these, or they'll wilt." She took a mug from her desk and hurried off to the break room, where she filled it with water from the sink. When she returned, she put the flowers in the mug before grabbing her handbag from her desk drawer. She scanned her desk one last time to make sure everything was in its place, and then lifted her eyes to his. "All right, I'm ready."
Dinner the second time was, in Petunia's eyes, every bit as lovely as the first time. They decided to try a small pub located right around the corner from Grunnings. The warm wood tones and soft lighting lent an intimate feel to the place, and once th