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 they settled in at their table, Petunia felt as if they were all alone.
Vernon had explained that he'd been called away suddenly and hadn't been able to ring her because he'd forgotten to take her number with him; she promptly rectified that lapse, scribbling it on a small piece of paper she dug out of her handbag. She handed it to him, suggesting he place it in his wallet so he could keep it with him whilst he travelled. The time flew by as they talked about their jobs, gossiping about their co-workers and criticising the government. She couldn't believe how alike they were: both were certain the current bunch of bureaucrats were going to send the country straight down the toilet if they kept on the way they'd been going recently, and both were horrified and appalled at the loose morals of the younger crowd.
By the time Vernon was escorting her home, he had secured a promise to meet him for lunch the next day. He kissed her hand, and as he turned and headed back to Grunnings, where he'd left his car, she closed the door and leaned her forehead against it smiling, a slow, secretive, womanly smile.
He made her feel so attractive.
They started meeting for tea on their morning breaks, and when he wasn't travelling, they could often be found eating lunch at her desk or in the small garden on the side of the building. It was a heady experience for her. No one—no man, not even her father—had ever paid this much attention to her, and she found she quite liked it.
She had a nagging feeling, though, that everything was going to fall apart. Oh, she knew everything about his family—she'd even met Marge once—but he...he didn't know very much at all about her family. He knew about her parents, who had died in an auto accident just the previous year, and he knew she had a sister, but he didn't know Petunia's deepest, darkest secret: her sister was a freak. She didn't know how he'd react if he ever found out about Lily, and she didn't want to know, either. He had a very strict view of what was right and proper, and somehow she knew Lily didn't fit his view of 'right and proper', not at all.
Well, she wasn't going to tell him and ruin her only chance of happiness. Not unless she had to.
And as time went on, it became easier and easier to keep her skeleton in the cupboard, far away from curious eyes.
In all the time they'd known each other, Vernon had never gone so far as to tell her he was fond of her, but actions spoke louder than words. He wouldn't have asked her to help with something so important if he didn't feel something for her. At least that's what she kept telling herself.
Her relationship with Vernon took a different twist just two days ago, when he'd asked her to act as hostess at a small dinner party he was throwing for his associates and clients.
Of course she agreed. How could she not? This was the perfect chance for her to show Vernon what she was made of, to show him that she was the best candidate to be his wife. He had never mentioned about wanting to marry, but she wanted to be the first person he thought of when he did decide he wanted to marry.
The day of the dinner dawned crisp and bright, and Petunia had taken the day off from work in order to clean Vernon's flat and prepare the food. She'd designed an elaborate menu, rescued her mother's best china and silver from storage and spent an inordinate amount of money on a new dress, in order to make the best impression possible. In truth, she almost felt as if she were interviewing for a new position.
The dinner went unbelievably well. Not only did the meal turn out perfectly, from the hors d'oeuvres to the fancy cake afterwards, but Petunia felt as if, for once, she really had...shone. She knew it sounded arrogant, but it was true. She'd impressed just about everyone at the party, and the compliments had flown like doves on the wind.
Or maybe not that fanciful, she admitted. Still the compliments were abundant, and by the time the last of the guests had left, Petunia felt as if her face might crack from all of the smiling she'd done.
"Come and sit down, Petunia," Vernon said, as they watched Vernon's supervisor and his wife pull out of the driveway. "I'd like to talk to you."
"All right, Vernon," she said, slightly confused. What could he have to say to her? She thought the dinner was a success. She followed him into the living room and sat on the sofa, where he joined her.
"It went well tonight, don't you think?" he asked, sounding a little boastful.
"It went very well," she agreed. "Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves."
They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes before he spoke again.
"Petunia," he said, his voice sounding oddly unsure, "I've been thinking."
"Yes?" she prompted when he paused.
"Well. We seem to work well together, don't we? This evening was a success if I ever saw one. We get along well, we like the same foods and think alike politically. I think we might do even more together if we were actually...together."
"Together?" she asked. "As a couple?" She was confused. "I thought we were already a couple."
"As a married couple," he clarified. "It's fiscally sound. We could find a new house, somewhere where we could raise our children. My salary is big enough that you would be able to quit working, if you so chose. Of course," he said, pausing a moment with a contemplative look on his face, "once we had children, you would want to stay home, I think."
"Vernon," she said, "are you asking me to marry you?" Her hand went up to her chest, where her heart was fluttering madly.
"I think it would be an excellent idea, Petunia. What do you say?"
What did she say? What kind of silly question was that? "Of course, I'll marry you, Vernon. It would be an honour."
He moved closer to her and pulled a ring out of his pocket—she hadn't even known he'd had it there—and placed it on her finger, and then leaned in and kissed her. His lips were cool and firm, and his moustache tickled her upper lip a little, and it was the best kiss she'd ever had.
She was getting married.
Petunia was in a panic. Because neither of their parents were living, they'd decided on a small civil ceremony, with just Marge as their witness. He'd offered to invite Lily, but Petunia had put her foot down and told him, in no uncertain terms, that she didn't want her sister there. He thought they'd just had a falling out some time ago, and she didn't do anything to disabuse him of that idea. It was a good enough excuse, she thought, and kept him from knowing the truth about Lily.
And everything had gone perfectly. They'd had their ceremony, gone to celebrate afterwards at the pub they liked to frequent, and then travelled to a small, private bed and breakfast in the country for a few nights. Vernon couldn't spare any more time away from work than that, so they'd come home and started making their life together.
They'd been married almost six months and everything was going swimmingly when it happened. Of course it had to be Lily who ruined everything, just like she always did.
Vernon was at work, although she expected him home any time now, and she had just finished getting everything ready for when he arrived. She had his favourite slippers by his favourite chair, and the newspaper sat on the end table, folded open to the sports page, a tumbler of his favourite whiskey sitting beside it.
She'd gone to their room to change her dress and freshen her hair and make-up before he arrived and was brushing her hair at the vanity in their bedroom and humming softly to herself when she heard the tapping at the window.
She tried to ignore it, of course. At first she thought it some ruffian or one of the neighbour children, intent on causing trouble by throwing pebbles at the windows in order to cause a disturbance. But the tapping had continued, and as much as she'd tried to deny the sound, she knew what it was.
"Go away," she muttered, glaring at the window where a tawny owl sat, pecking to be let in. "Shoo!" She didn't want to open the window—the thing would come right in. In her experience, post owls had no manners whatsoever. Besides, they were filthy animals, and she had no desire to let one into her pristine house.
When she finished with her primping and had smoothed her dress and donned her shoes, she went down the stairs and into the kitchen, to check the roast and set the table, peeking out the kitchen window every few seconds. She let herself relax for a minute when she didn't see or hear any sign of the owl.
She should've known better. Because when she turned to the sink to get some water to cook the vegetables, there it was, sitting on the kitchen windowsill, pecking madly to be let in.
"Go away," she muttered angrily. She looked over her shoulder to make sure Vernon didn't see her talking to an owl, of all things. She'd never be able to explain it to him. "Please go away."
"Pet?" Vernon called from the front door. "I'm home."
She hurried out of the kitchen and out to the living room to meet him, giving him a quick kiss.
"Welcome home, Vernon," she said. Blast. She sounded nervous. If she'd only had a bit more time, she could've composed herself. As it was, he was sure to notice her odd behaviour. "Here, why don't you sit and rest while I go finish dinner? I've a cocktail ready for you and the evening paper."
He grunted and settled into his chair, taking a long draw on his drink and picking up the paper.
"I thought...I thought we might eat out here in front of the telly tonight," she said. "It would be a nice change of pace, don't you think?"
He grunted again, and she sighed in relief. Maybe she'd be able to hide the blasted owl, after all. She scurried into the kitchen and started putting the finishing touches on the meal, steadfastly ignoring the owl in the window, other than to give it occasional dirty looks.
She served Vernon a large portion of roast and potatoes and added some of the vegetables, giving herself a considerably smaller portion. Arranging everything on a tray, she had just turned to go out the kitchen door when Vernon poked his head in. She tried to move in front of the sink to block the window, but she was too late.
"Petunia, love, will dinner be long? I'm fam— What the bloody hell is that?"
"It's nothing, Vernon, just a bird. Poor thing's confused," she lied, trying to push him out the door and back into the living room.
"That's an owl!" He stalked closer to the window to get a better look. "Why is it pecking on the window? And what is it holding? It looks like a piece of paper."
"Parchment," Petunia corrected absently, immediately wishing she hadn't. "It's probably going to use it to build a nest."
"Well, the infernal tapping has to stop," Vernon said. "It's going to make me barmy." He took a step forward to open the window.
"No!" Petunia shouted, reaching her hand out to stop him and dropping the dinner tray in the process. The dishes broke and gravy spattered everywhere.
She was too late. As soon as Vernon had the window open, the owl flew in and landed on the table, sticking its leg out to Petunia.
"Effing bird!" he yelled. "Get out of my house!" He waved his beefy hands at the owl, which gave Vernon a disdainful look (if it were possible for owls to look disdainful), took off from the table, and landed on the refrigerator.
Vernon didn't react well to that, Petunia noticed. She felt as if she were two people watching the scene: she was completely horrified that her secret was about to be exposed, but she was also a detached observer watching her husband make a fool of himself over an owl. He started throwing dishes at the thing, but his aim was horrible—or the owl dodged well—and he missed.
"Don't just stand there," he said angrily. "Do something!"
She started out of her reverie and stepped forward, putting her hand on Vernon's arm. "Wait," she said, sighing heavily. Her shoulders slumped. "It just wants to deliver a letter. It will go away once it does its job."
The look on Vernon's face... He thought she'd lost her mind. It was as easy to read as the evening paper. His face turned an interesting shade of purplish-red, and he started sputtering.
"It...it wants... Deliver letter. Do its job..."
She stepped away from him and held out her arm, and the owl fluttered down, eyeing Vernon warily the whole time. It sat on the back of the chair and stuck its leg out to Petunia, who untied the note there, then it flew quickly towards the window, detouring only to pick a select piece of the roast off the floor and to cuff Vernon in the head with its wing.
Vernon was still sputtering when Petunia opened the piece of parchment and read the letter. Lily had written to tell Petunia she was getting married and to give Petunia an address she could use if she ever wanted to write to Lily. She apologized for using an owl instead of the normal post, but she didn't have Petunia's new address and sent it the only way she knew how. Petunia sank into a seat. She didn't know whether she should laugh or cry.
Vernon finally calmed down enough to turn and look at Petunia suspiciously. "Explain," he said, the word cutting like a knife. "Now."
She handed him the letter. "It's from my sister, Lily," she said. "She's getting married."
"Your sister," Vernon repeated. "Is there a reason she couldn't send a letter via the postman, like a normal person?"
"Because she's not normal," Petunia spat out. "She's a freak, and she ruins everything. My entire life, she has always ruined anything good that happens to me. Just because she's a witch and can do magic, she thinks she's so special."
Vernon looked at her like she was the freak instead of her sister. "Magic," he said slowly, sneering. "There's no such thing as magic or witches." He glared at her accusingly. "The least you could do is tell me the truth, Petunia."
"I did," she protested. "I am telling you the truth. Lily is a witch. She can do magic. I didn't..." Tears welled in her eyes. "I didn't tell you before because I was afraid of how you'd react. I was afraid you'd leave me, that you wouldn't want anything to do with me if you knew my sister was..."
He gave her a cold look. "If you haven't bothered to tell me the truth before now, then you were right to worry," he said and stomped out of the kitchen.
She stood and called after him, but she was too late. She heard the front door slam and her world came crashing down around her.
Three days later, she hadn't heard a thing from her husband. She spent her time cleaning the house, top to bottom. She scrubbed baseboards and washed windows, cleaned the carpets and drapes. The silver was polished, the paintings and pictures dusted, the cupboards cleaned out, the bookcases reorganized, alphabetically by title, and then again, by author. Once her husband came home—if her husband came home—she wanted him to come home to a pristine house, to see what a good wife she was.
And she wrote a long, scathing letter to her sister, informing her in no uncertain terms that she didn't want any more contact from Lily or anyone else of her kind ever again.
As the days passed, she resigned herself to the idea that Vernon wasn't coming back. She wasn't surprised, not really. Nothing ever worked out for her. So she set her shoulders and got ready to go out and apply for a new job—she couldn't live if she didn't have money. She wouldn't go back to Grunnings; that was where he was. But they'd given her a good recommendation when she left, so she was certain she could find something comparable, somewhere.
She was sitting at the table, poring over the want ads, a cold cup of tea sitting ignored beside her, when he came home.
She straightened her back and went on with her task, pretending she didn't hear him. He was the one who'd left; he was going to have to be the one to break the silence.
"Is there more tea?" he asked gruffly. "I could use some, if you've got it."
She raised her eyes to his and was surprised at how horrible he looked. He was still in the same clothes he'd been in when he'd left, and they were rumpled and wrinkled, like he'd been sleeping in them for the past three nights. His eyes were bloodshot and there were large dark circles under them.
She nodded at the pot and almost got up to serve him, but he went to the cupboard and got himself a cup, rejoined her at the table and poured it for himself.
"I don't like being lied to," he said suddenly. "I'm willing to put this behind us, but there can't be any more secrets."
"I didn't exactly lie to you, Vernon. I just wasn't completely honest. Lily and I don't get along; I just didn't tell you why we don't get along. But," she said quietly, "I know I should have told you, but Lily is...she's unnatural. And I was afraid you would leave me if I told you. So I decided to keep it a secret."
"Secrets have a way of being found out."
Petunia nodded miserably. She knew that, it was a lesson she'd learned long ago. She fidgeted with her cup for a moment, wishing Vernon would say something...anything. She just wanted to know where their relationship stood.
"I'd like to give our marriage another go," he said finally, putting his cup on the table with a sharp click. "But we'll have to have some ground rules. There will be no more secrets like the one you kept."
Petunia nodded. She'd already decided that on her own.
Vernon stared at her, as if to judge her veracity. He appeared satisfied and nodded. "All right then. We'll put this behind us."
She blinked at him for a minute. "Just like that?"
"Is there anything else you need to tell me, other than the bit about your sister being a freak?"
She shook her head mutely.
"Then yes, just like that," he said. "At least for now."
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you," she said. "I know I should have said something about her, but..." She fiddled with her teacup and then looked him in the eye. "She embarrasses me," she told him honestly. "Imagine if Marge could suddenly do all these things or sent letters via an owl instead of the postman. Would you want to tell anybody?"
He didn't answer her, but she could almost see his thought process: There's no way someone in my family would be so abnormal. But what if... No, it would never happen. He shook his head in denial. "I'm still not sure about all this talk of magic—" he sneered when he said the word—"but, no, if Marge were unnatural like that, I wouldn't want to talk about her, either." He leaned forward. "But it still doesn't excuse you keeping something so important from me. I'd always wondered what you were keeping from me, and to know it was something so important—"
"It won't happen again, Vernon. I promise."
And she kept her promise. She told him every time she got a new letter from Lily (and showed him the torn up pieces before she threw them in the bin), because Lily continued to write to her, despite Petunia's insistence that she quit. She warned him when Lily announced her intention to visit—he didn't forbid the visit, but he did make himself scarce on the day it occurred. Petunia hadn't wanted Lily to come, but in the end, she allowed it, if only so she could have the satisfaction of shutting Lily out of her life for good. A face-to-face conversation was the only way to convince her sister that she was serious. And convince Lily she was serious is exactly what Petunia had done. So there'd be no misunderstanding, she'd used the simplest terms possible to tell Lily (and that freak she was marrying) that she and Vernon wanted nothing to do with their kind, not now and not ever, that Lily was not welcome in their home or anywhere near it, and that they needed to leave immediately. She'd closed the door behind them with a sense of finality even Lily couldn't mistake.
Every once in a while, Petunia wished she had her sister back, the young and carefree girl who would fly off swings or make flowers open and close just by wanting it to happen. But those wishes never lasted long, because the reality of what Lily was easily overcame Petunia's memories of what she'd been.
And life went on. Vernon was promoted, and they were able to move from the little flat where they'd been living and into a new house in Surrey. There was a uniformity to the neighbourhood that soothed Petunia, and she just knew it would be the perfect place to raise the child growing in her belly.
Eighteen Months Later
It was going to be a beautiful day, she could just tell. The autumn temperatures were crisp, the sky was clear and blue, and the sun was shining brightly when Petunia started towards the front door so she could bring the milk in. She could buy it at the grocers, she knew, but this milk was fresh. It tasted better, and even though it was a bit more expensive, she only wanted the best for family. Even Vernon, who was more frugal with their money than she was, didn't mind spending a little extra to keep their little Diddykins happy.
She wondered, for a moment, about the owls Vernon told her about yesterday and the way he'd brought her sister up, after all this time. It was just...an odd thing for him to do. But she shrugged it off and opened the front door to bring the milk in.
There was the milk, yes, but there was also something else—something alive—wrapped in a blue blanket, with a letter pinned to the top. She leaned down to pick up the letter, and the baby (for that's what it was) opened its eyes...its brilliant green eyes, so like her sister's. She quickly glanced up and down the street before grabbing the baby and taking it inside—it wouldn't do for the neighbours to see.
Placing the basket on the floor, as far away from her as possible, she sank onto the sofa and opened the letter with trembling fingers. It fluttered to the ground as soon as she finished with it.
Lily was dead, and she was being asked—told, really—to care for her son.
How on earth was she going to explain this to Vernon?