Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I’m just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Petunia’s heart hammered in her chest, and a scream lodged within her throat, forcing all the air from her lungs as she stared at her sister. Her neat, well-ordered mind refused to accept the apparition before her. This was a dream – a vivid, horrible nightmare, actually. But that insidious little voice in her head – so remarkably like her sister’s childhood voice – kept hinting that Petunia knew what was real. She’d always known, despite her furious, nearly manic, insistence otherwise.
Petunia scrubbed at her eyes again, willing the image to disappear. Vernon remained asleep, blissfully unaware of their unexpected and unwanted midnight caller. Petunia felt an unreasonable wave of anger toward him.
Lily stood quietly in the center of the room, her long white gown billowing around her in a breeze Petunia couldn’t feel. Her hair, those long, glorious red tendrils that used to make Petunia seethe with envy, whipped around her head and shoulders as she silently stared. An ethereal light surrounded her, sending a shiver down Petunia’s spine.
It suddenly struck Petunia that Lily looked exactly as Petunia remembered – frozen in eternal youth. She’d never aged or had to watch her once-attractive features sag and wrinkle. Petunia scowled – how typical for Lily! And her eyes… her eyes were that same electric green that Petunia sometimes saw in her nightmares. They stared at her now with a mixture of sadness and fury that made Petunia tremble. Those same soulful eyes that she’d been forced to see for years in Lily’s son – eyes that caused her to remember things she’d sooner forget.
Petunia gaped, mutely opening and closing her mouth, unable to find the words. She, the master of a biting diatribe, was rendered speechless. Petunia’s lifelong resentment of Lily rose to the surface, calming Petunia somehow with its familiarity.
“Hello, Tuney,” Lily said, speaking for the first time. Her calm, clear voice echoed strangely against the stark, white walls.
Shaking her head furiously, Petunia still tried to deny what she saw. “I’m dreaming. I must be dreaming.”
“You’re not,” Lily said simply, in that forthright way she’d always had and Petunia had always despised.
“You can’t be here. You’re dead,” Petunia snapped, hissing the last word through clenched teeth as if the subject were taboo. Petunia felt an hysterical burst of laughter rise within her. She’d raised Lily’s son to believe any mention of his parents or their deaths would be met with harsh punishment.
“Of course I am – that’s why I’m allowed to be here,” Lily said, the musical lilt of her laughter again reminding Petunia of years gone by.
Her heart twisted as memories that had been suppressed for years filled her mind. “I don’t understand,” she whispered, searching vainly for an escape route.
“I’m the Ghost of Christmas Past, Petunia,” Lily said, her bright green eyes dulling. “You shall receive three ghostly visitors before this night is through.”
“Christmas Past. Three visitors. I don’t understand. What do you want? Why now?” Petunia cried, her anger growing again. All these years Lily’d been gone, and now…now she came back. Why?
“I’m here to do something you never managed – I’m here to help my sister’s son,” Lily said, her hands clenching by her sides as her voice hardened.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Petunia said stiffly, a cold bead of dread running down her spine.
“No, I’m certain you don’t,” Lily replied, her eyes brimming with immense sadness. She stretched out her long, elegant arm. “Take my hand, Tuney. We’ve a lot to do this night.”
Petunia snatched her hands away and shoved them beneath the blankets. “I’m not going anywhere with you. I want you to leave my home. Leave me and my family alone. We have nothing to do with each other anymore.”
“You’re wrong, Petunia. We’ll always be connected through our sons. It’s your child who is in trouble now. Come with me, and I’ll show you,” Lily replied, again stretching out her hand.
“What’s wrong with my Diddy?” Petunia asked, frightened. She slowly removed her hands from the covers, her instinct and desire to protect Dudley at all costs overriding her own fear. Then, a gnawing suspicion born of years of mistrust struck her with the force of a sledgehammer. “Are you really trying to help him or was it you who did something to him?”
Lily’s eyes flashed and the dim light from the streetlamp below made them appear to glow with feral intensity. “I would never hurt your child, Petunia. I wish you could say the same. I’m here to do something you utterly failed to do for my son. I’m here to try and help you protect your child.”
Petunia’s eyes dropped to the bedcovers, shame flooding her veins. She’d never loved Lily’s son. He’d reminded her too much of the past to ever let it go. Her shame quickly gave way to righteous indignation. Who was Lily to scold her for her treatment of the child she never should have had to raise? Lily’s own carelessness had made her son an orphan in the first place.
Before she could open her mouth to voice her fury, Lily reached over and grasped her sister’s hand.
“Let’s visit the past, shall we?” she asked coldly before the bedroom disappeared around them, replaced by myriad lights and colors that circled Petunia at a dizzying speed.
It took a moment for Petunia to steady herself on her feet, and when she finally opened her eyes, she wanted to shut them again. She stood in her own family sitting room, only the old furniture and wallpaper were still there. The pictures on the wall all showed Dudley as a very young age, and the entire room – although unmistakably hers – was just, somehow, wrong.
Before she had time to think about it or pose so much as a single question, a shriek from the stairs startled her. She turned to see a blond bundle of energy bounding down the stairs, shaking the entire structure with his exuberance.
“Diddy,” she gasped, covering her mouth with her hand. She thought her heart might burst at the sight of him and had to blink tears from her eyes. He couldn’t have been more than four or five. He pushed at his fringe as he leaped the last two stairs, a fiercely determined expression crossing his features as he made a beeline toward the enormous stack of presents beneath the tree. In fact, the tree looked dwarfed by the number of packages surrounding it.
“He looks nice and warm,” Lily commented dully.
Dudley wore white pajamas with little red Father Christmas pictures scattered over them. The attached feet were threadbare, and she could see one round, chubby toe peeking out on the left side. The pajamas looked as if they were getting just a wee bit too small for her Diddydums – he was such a healthy boy! The zipper was stretched taut across his round little belly, and it was pulling in several spots. Petunia remembered how she’d always adored those particular pajamas. She’d even saved them in her trunk upstairs – the trunk where she’d saved all of Dudley’s special things.
Petunia turned toward her sister, beaming, and noticed that Lily was no longer looking at Dudley, who was opening package after package without really looking at any of them. Petunia followed Lily’s gaze to the corner of the room where a small boy with a mop of black hair and broken glasses was peeking from behind a potted plant.
Her nephew wore that same, aloof expression he often had, only this time, she somehow saw it differently. It looked more wistful than defiant, and were his eyes glistening? He wore thin, threadbare summer pajamas, and he kept shifting one bare foot on top of the other as if trying to keep one warm at a time whilst standing on the cold, wooden floor.
Petunia guiltily glanced at Lily’s face. She supposed she should have made certain he was dressed appropriately, but she’d probably got caught up in the excitement of Christmas Eve.
“It wasn’t just a one time occurrence,” Lily said as if reading Petunia’s mind.
“We always provided the necessities,” Petunia said stiffly, resenting the implication.
“Yes, you gave him some of Dudley’s things,” Lily said, still staring at her shivering son.
“He never took good care of his possessions,” Petunia snapped. “I was always scolding him for rips and tears and dirt on all his clothing. Dudley never did that.”
“That’s because you handed it down to Harry as soon as it frayed,” Lily said, her eyes flashing. “He’s four, Petunia. Warm pajamas for a four-year-old doesn’t seem too much to ask.”
“Dudders! Did you start already? I thought you were going to wait for us,” Vernon’s voice boomed as he hurried down the stairs. Petunia looked up to see a younger version of herself securing the belt around her house coat and following Vernon into the room, beaming at her son.
“Oh, Diddy, Father Christmas knows you’re such good boy,” her younger self cried.
“Where are the Transformers? I told him I wanted all the new Transformers,” Dudley cried, scowling.
Vernon ran a hand through his hair nervously. “I’m certain Saint Nick did his best. It seems the elves didn’t make enough for all the boys and girls who wanted them this year. But, look, you did get two of the new ones. See here.”
Dudley kicked the shiny new toys. “I wanted all of them. You need all of them to make the bigger robot.”
Petunia smiled fondly. “Always enterprising. That’s my Dudley.”
“Always spoiled, you mean,” Lily responded, raising one eyebrow.
Petunia’s indignation rose. “He’s not spoiled. He’s just the way we wanted him.”
“You, boy!” Vernon snarled, catching a glimpse of Harry behind the plant. “What are you doing sneaking around back there? Go on and start the breakfast. Don’t think you can get by with laziness just because it’s Christmas.”
“Yes, Uncle Vernon,” Harry mumbled, lowering his head as he dragged his feet toward the kitchen.
Petunia had never noticed the dejected slump of his shoulders in the past, and she shifted uncomfortably. She didn’t know what Lily had done to her but was certain she didn’t like it. Why did she suddenly feel so badly for her nephew?
Dudley tore through several more packages while a young Vernon and Petunia exchanged their own gifts before Harry returned to the room.
“Breakfast is ready,” he said listlessly, not raising his eyes from the floor.
“About time, I’m starving,” Vernon replied. “You’d better not have burned the bacon. Ready for some brekky, Dudders?”
“Isn’t there any more?” Dudley asked plaintively, his bulging eyes looking around at all the opened packages.
“I’m certain Aunt Marge will send you one still,” Vernon replied. “Pick up all this mess, boy,” Vernon snapped at Harry’s down turned head before he led Dudley toward the kitchen where the delicious aroma of bacon and eggs awaited.
A young Petunia followed them without a backward glance at her nephew, but the present-day Petunia stayed with Lily who watched her son with mournful eyes. Petunia longed to follow her own family into the kitchen, but her feet refused to cooperate.
Harry dejectedly moved around the room, stuffing bits of paper and ribbon into a large trash bag. His baggy pajama bottoms kept slipping off his slender waist, forcing him to hoist them up every few seconds. Each time he did, Petunia caught an uncomfortable glimpse of his bony spine and hips.
Petunia had to admit, he did a remarkably good job of getting all the scrap pieces of colorful paper that littered the room. When he was finished, he cast a cautious glance at the kitchen door before sinking to his knees and picking up one of Dudley’s discarded robots.
His eyes opened wider with wonder, and he clicked pieces into place, experimentally changing the arms and legs as the figure transformed into some sort of car. So lost was he in his fascination, he didn’t hear the door open or Dudley’s heavy footsteps entering the room.
“That’s mine!” Dudley shouted, pulling the toy from his cousin’s hands. “You broke it!”
“I didn’t break it,” Harry said, his little eyes rolling. “It’s supposed to do that. Transformer means it changes.”
Dudley threw the toy on the ground with such force that one of the arms broke off. “Don’t you touch my things,” he said, advancing toward the smaller boy.
Harry shifted backwards, his eyes automatically seeking an escape route as they’d done many times in the past. Too late, he realized his back was against the wall. Dudley reached out and grabbed a fistful of Harry’s hair, pulling him to his feet. Harry’s eyes watered as he struggled to release Dudley’s grip, but he didn’t call out.
“What’s going on in here?” the young version of Petunia asked, her eyes widening at the scene.
“Mummy! He broke my new toys – look,” Dudley said, crocodile tears forming in the corners of his eyes. He hadn’t let go of Harry’s hair, and the smaller boy was on his tip-toes trying to ease the pulling. He whimpered slightly before clamping his teeth together.
This was such a common scene between the two boys. Her nephew always tormented Dudley and broke his new things.
But… hadn’t she just seen that Harry hadn’t actually broken the toy at all. In fact…it had been Dudley who’d broken it. Of course, that’s probably why Lily had shown her this memory. Lily had likely altered the events herself to make her son look better than he was. That would by a typical thing for Lily to do.
“You wretched little vandal,” a young Petunia hissed. “You were supposed to be cleaning up this room. Look at those scraps. Thought you’d be lazy and get away with it, did you?”
Petunia turned in the direction her younger self was pointing, noticing one stray bit of paper peeping out from under the couch. She started guiltily. Hadn’t she just thought what a good job the boy had done for a child so young?
“I didn’t,” Harry gasped, tears now streaming from his eyes as Dudley continued to pull his hair.
“To your cupboard,” Petunia snapped, pointing in the direction of the cupboard under the stairs. “I don’t want to see you for the rest of the day. There’ll be no breakfast for you.”
Dudley let go and shoved the boy, causing him to stumble. A young Petunia turned her back as if she hadn’t seen it.
Present-day Petunia reluctantly raised her eyes to meet her sister’s blazing green ones. “Did you really hate me so much, Petunia?” she asked, her voice thick with emotion. “Did it make you feel better to take your anger out on a child who had nowhere else to turn? Would it have killed you to give him a single toy of his own on Christmas?”
“You left no money behind for us to raise him. We took him in and bore the burden alone,” Petunia said, indignantly raising her chin.
Lily remained silent, her eyes scanning the room littered with toys and trinkets. Her silent accusation rankled Petunia more than any words could have.
“I would not deprive my son of anything in favor of yours. Isn’t that what Daddy always did? He was just so delighted to have a witch in the family. Dudley was the special one here,” Petunia said, seething.
“You made that abundantly clear,” Lily said coldly.
In the next instant, Petunia found herself back in her own bed, Vernon’s comforting warmth snoring beside her. She glanced around frantically.
“Lily?” she whispered, jerking her head to and fro. Certainly she wouldn’t have just left – without a word of goodbye? She said she’d come to help. Help with what? Petunia hadn’t seen any need to help her son. He was a wonderful little boy who’d grown into a wonderful young man.
The niggling image of her son holding Harry by the hair, accusing him of breaking a toy that Dudley himself had broken fleetingly crossed her mind before Petunia firmly squashed it. Dudley was a good boy. All boys had their scuffles. It didn’t mean anything. Lily was just upset by what a rotten egg her precious little boy had turned out to be. There was nothing Petunia could do about that. He was rotten from the start.
Shaking her head with relief that it was over, she fluffed her pillow before settling down. She’d have to remember never to make that particular casserole for dinner again.