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 quickly drifted into slumber and, although she couldn’t be certain of the time, she knew it hadn’t been long before a jarring noise again disturbed her. This time, the creaking of the stairs caused her eyes to fly open wide, instantly awake though she remained motionless, her hand clenched around her pillow.
She lay stiffly in bed, breathing shallowly and straining her ears in the stillness. Her room appeared unnaturally dark and ominous. There it was again! The stairs kept creaking slowly, steadily. Every time Petunia began to relax and think she’d imagined it, they’d creak again. Someone was walking with methodical purpose up the stairs.
She sat up in bed as she imagined this intruder reaching Dudley’s empty bedroom, but the rhythmic steps passed her son’s door and continued with slow, steady progress toward her own. Her heart pounded so loudly she was certain the intruder could hear it.
Petunia panted, trying to recall her dream. Lily had visited her. She’d uttered some nonsense about Petunia receiving three visitors before the night was out. Could Petunia still be asleep? Was this still part of the same, horridly vivid dream?
The bedroom door flung open wide and a sudden breeze filled the room, fluttering the curtains. Petunia scrunched her eyes against the chill, desperately trying to focus on the empty doorway.
The wind stilled yet no one entered.
“Who’s there?” Petunia hissed, unable to stand the suspense a moment longer. “Lily, is that you?”
The outline of a man — tall, thin, his face hidden in the shadows — filled the doorway, causing Petunia to gasp and clutch at Vernon’s arm. He grunted in his sleep but did not awaken.
“Hello, Petunia,” the oily voice said, caressing the words as he strode into the room. His long black cape fluttered behind him, giving Petunia the distinct impression of an angry bat. She didn’t know who he was, but there was something oddly familiar about his hooked nose and greasy black hair.
His eyes frightened her. They were deep black, menacing, and she felt as if she could fall right into them and be trapped within her nightmares for a thousand years.
“Who are you?” she whispered, unable to draw her eyes away from his penetrating stare.
“Don’t you remember me, Tuney?” he asked, sneering the long-forgotten nickname. She hadn’t been called ‘Tuney’ since Lily’s death.
Lily! This man was connected with Lily somehow, she was certain of it.
“You’re trespassing,” she said weakly. “I want you out of my house.”
The man laughed, a cold, hard, bitter sound. “And what are you going to do about it? Shout the fact that I’ve been spying on you yet again?”
His words triggered a memory — a memory of a thin, sallow-skinned boy who used to follow her and Lily around as children. He’d always been lurking in corners, watching them, corrupting Lily’s mind with his evil promises. He’d been the harbinger, marking the end of Petunia’s relationship with her sister forever.
“You,” she whispered, struggling for breath. She recognized him now. His skin was still sallow, and his clothes still hung off him despite his height.
“Allow me to reintroduce myself. I am Severus Snape, the Ghost of Christmas Present,” he said, his lips twisting as if the words left a sour taste in his mouth.
“What do you want?” Petunia asked, frightened. It wasn’t just the dreaded magic or the strangeness of the whole situation. This man was dangerous. She could feel it.
“I believe your sister informed you of why we are here. Our purpose is to help you save your son,” he said coldly.
“There’s nothing wrong with my son,” Petunia snapped. “This is all her doing. She’s up to something. I’d wager it’s more about her son than mine. It’s always about her son when you people interfere with my life — with the lives of my family. What is your connection to him? Why do you want to help him?”
The man visibly trembled with rage, and he spat his words without ever moving his lips. “The boy is nothing to me — but he is everything to her. If I can reclaim some small measure of her approval by helping her son, so be it. It suits my needs in the end.”
“So it is about her son!” Petunia crowed triumphantly.
“It is about both your sons,” he replied.
Petunia’s eyes narrowed calculatingly. “You’re doing this for her. You fancy her. I knew it! I always knew it.”
Snape menacingly took a step forward, causing Petunia to shrink back against the headboard. “It matters little whether I ever fancied her or not. What’s done is done and cannot be changed. There is still a chance for the future, however. If you want to save your own son, I suggest you come with me.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you,” Petunia spat, trembling.
“So be it. I can at least tell Lily that I tried,” he said before turning away and moving back toward the open door.
She stared blankly at his retreating back. “You’re just going to leave?” Petunia asked, stunned.
Snape stopped, glancing back over his shoulder. “I’m certainly not going to waste my time arguing with you. If you don’t care what happens to your son, what concern is it of mine?”
“Don’t you dare presume to know me or my son. I’d do anything for him!” Petunia said, anger bubbling in her chest. How dare this man insinuate she didn’t care about Dudley?
“And yet you’d prefer to stay safe in the comfort of your own bed rather than come with me to offer him aid. Your sister stood against evil-incarnate and died for her child,” Snape said softly.
“Don’t compare me to my sister! I would never have left my Dudders alone,” Petunia screeched.
“Perhaps she didn’t feel she was leaving him alone. Perhaps she’d expected her family would care for him as she’d have done,” Snape replied silkily.
Petunia curled her hand back and aimed a stinging slap at the jeering face. Before her hand connected with his pale skin, however, her world once again shifted and she was awash in blinding lights and color, whirling around her along with the anger pumping in her veins.
“Where are we?” Petunia demanded the instant the world stopped spinning. She roughly pulled her hand away from Snape’s and stepped toward the wall, wanting to put as much space as possible between her and the cold man.
“I believe the name of the school is Smeltings,” Snape replied, his lip curling. He pulled on what looked like a pair of black leather gloves, staring with disdain at the walls surrounding him.
Once Petunia got her bearings, she realized he was right. She recognized the dormitory at Smeltings. She’d always hated that abstract painting that hung in the lower common room. Sitting on a small sofa beneath the horrid painting was her Dudley, his hands clasped tightly around those of a brunette girl with pretty, wide blue eyes set in a rather plain face.
“Dudley,” Petunia said uncertainly, taking a step toward her son.
“He can’t hear you,” Snape informed her coldly. “We’re merely spectators to the teenage melodrama.”
“Who is that girl?” Petunia wailed, watching her Diddy gently swipe a tear away from the girl’s cheek. She’d never seen her son act so gently with anyone, and it stirred both alarm and curiosity within her soul.
Snape didn’t answer but remained perfectly still, staring with distaste at the scene before them. Huffing with exasperation, Petunia moved closer in order to hear. She sank down on a chair opposite the young couple, watching Dudley stroke the girl’s hands with his finger. Christmas lights twinkled on a tree next to the sofa where they sat, illuminating their faces in reds and greens.
Petunia felt as if she was intruding on a very private moment, but she couldn’t draw her eyes away. Dudley was normally so exuberant. It shocked her to the core to see him this way. She knew he’d changed during their time in hiding. He’d spent a lot of time with that Hestia Jones woman, despite Petunia’s complaints. She wondered if Hestia knew anything about this girl. The thought stabbed at Petunia’s heart.
“Don’t cry, Dee,” Dudley said. “It’ll only be a fortnight, and we’ll be back here again. We can celebrate our own Christmas. We’ll still have a present to open after it’s over.”
“I wanted my parents to meet you,” the girl said, sniffling. “I know they’d like you.”
Dudley raised his eyes to the ceiling, looking positively miserable. “I’d like to meet them, too.”
“Then why won’t you come?” the brunette girl wailed.
“I haven’t seen my parents since September, Deidre. I know you haven’t seen yours either,” he said, raising his hands defensively when she opened her mouth to protest. “My folks had a hard time last year. We had a lot going on with…with my cousin. They just want to see me. I’m the only one they have, you know?”
“But I’m not trying to keep you away from them. I’d like to meet your family, too. I want to see where you grew up,” Deidre said, sniffling again.
“And you will,” Dudley said fervently, again wiping the tears from her cheeks. “You will meet them, I promise — just not yet. I’ll tell them all about you this trip, then you can meet them over the summer holidays.”
“Do you think they’ll like me?” Deidre asked, raising her watery eyes uncertainly.
Dudley averted his eyes, running a hand through his hair. “Everyone likes you, Dee. My dad will come around first — he’ll love your dad’s car. My mum…she sometimes has a hard time realizing I’m grown up. I’m her only son.”
“So you’ve said — but if she loves you so much, she must want you to be happy, right?” Deidre asked.
“I know she wants me to be happy,” Dudley said, but his tone was unconvincing.
“How can he not know I want the best for him?” Petunia whispered, affronted.
“He knows you want what you believe is best for him,” Snape replied, causing Petunia to jump. She hadn’t even noticed when he’d moved to tower above her. “He’s just no longer convinced that what you feel is best is actually right.”
“I want what’s best for him,” Petunia replied indignantly.
“And yet you decided this girl was wrong for him without ever meeting her,” Snape replied.
Petunia sniffed, turning her head. She supposed Deidre looked respectable, and she appeared to care for Dudley. Then again, Dudley was easy to care about.
“He also appears to care for her,” Snape said, interrupting her thoughts. He wrinkled his nose as if the whole conversation was distasteful.
“Will you write to me?” Deidre asked, her blue eyes pleading.
Dudley shuffled his feet. “I’ll try. You know I’m not good at letter writing. I’ll call you though — every night.”
“I promise. I’ll miss you, Dee,” Dudley said, gently pulling on a strand of her hair.
“I’ll miss you, too,” Deidre said, snuggling inside his arms.
“I think it’s time for us to go,” Snape said.
Petunia wanted to argue. She wanted to hear more. She was fascinated by this conversation. She wanted to know more about this girl with whom her son was obviously so taken. How could this have happened without her notice?
Before she had time to protest, the scene had shifted again and Petunia found herself inside a ramshackle house with mismatched furniture. A long, wooden table stood in the kitchen laden with enough food to feed a small army. Petunia was startled to realize the pots on the stove were stirring themselves and knives flew fast and furious on the counter without aid, slicing vegetables and piling them into a container.
It was obviously a house that belonged to one of those people, and Petunia instantly wanted to leave. This had nothing to do with her, and she didn’t want to be involved. She wanted to go back and see Dudley. She irritably folded her arms across her chest.
“Why are we here?” Petunia snapped, glancing at Snape from the corner of her eye. She was startled to realize his expression matched the level of annoyance that Petunia felt.
“If I’m not mistaken, we’re in the home of the Weasley family. Potter is never far from one of them,” Snape replied, sneering.
“Mu-um, where are the extra fairy lights? They’re not in the attic,” a young man yelled, bounding into the kitchen and jerking his head irritably. He was very tall with a long nose, a shock of red hair, and appeared to be around Dudley’s age. Petunia knew she’d seen him several times at the train station.
“I told you, Ron, they’re in the attic underneath the box with the green bow on top. Now hurry up and get it. I want those lights up straightaway,” a dumpy little woman said, striding into the kitchen wagging her finger at the tall young man.
Petunia had seen this woman before, too, and knew she had an indecent number of red-haired children. There was a set of twins who’d once tried to kill her Dudders by strangling him with his own tongue. Petunia despised this family.
“I don’t see what the big rush is,” Ron replied, grumbling as he turned back up the stairs.
“I want the decorations finished when your sister gets home. You’ve only got a few minutes, so don’t lollygag,” the woman said, bustling about her kitchen and moving pots and pans around with her wand.
“How come Harry got to go and pick her up while I had to stay behind and do all this work?” Ron asked, frowning.
“Because I imagine they wanted a few minutes to share a smooch without you breathing down their necks,” the woman snapped. “Now go get the fairy lights.”
Ron’s face puckered. “Eww — did you have to go and put that image in my head? Now I’ll never be able to eat my supper.”
“As if that would ever happen,” the woman muttered, continuing to stir her pot.
Moments later, the kitchen door swung open and Petunia’s nephew entered arm-in-arm with an attractive red-haired girl. She beamed up at him adoringly, and his eyes sparkled with that same light Petunia had always remembered in her sister.
Funny, even though she’d always found his eyes so disturbingly similar, she’d never remembered seeing them shine in quite the same way as a child.
“We’re here,” the girl shouted, grinning at Harry mischievously.
“Ginny! Harry! You’re home already,” the pudgy woman bellowed, embracing both of them in a massive hug. “And we’re not quite ready yet.”
“The savior arrives,” Snape muttered dryly under his breath.
Petunia glanced at him, reading his total distaste for the situation and his unmasked disdain for her nephew. She began to feel the first affinity for the man since his arrival.
The room suddenly filled with red-haired people, all beaming and greeting the new arrivals. They hugged the girl and slapped her nephew on the back as if he were one of their own.
“Welcome home, squirt,” a tall man with a disgusting ponytail and earring said, hugging the girl.
“It’s good to be home,” she replied, sharing a secretive smile with Harry.
“It’s good that we can all be together,” the man with the ponytail said.
“George,” Ginny cried moving to hug another one of her brothers. “It’s good to see you.”
It took a moment before Petunia realized she was speaking with one of those horrid twins. He looked different, however — much more somber than Petunia remembered. She didn’t notice where the other twin was and kept looking warily around the room.
“I’m glad you’re home,” George replied. “Mind, I really don’t want to see anything you and Harry get up to — holiday or not.”
Ginny smiled, her eyes bright and seeking out Harry across the room.
Her nephew’s teeth flashed as his grin widened. He pulled her trunk into the back room and deposited it at the foot of the stairs. Petunia was struck by how much he’d grown since she’d last seen him, and she didn’t mean physically. He carried himself with the air of a man accustomed to being in charge. He had a quiet confidence that she’d never remembered seeing.
“Arrogant, isn’t he?” Snape sneered. “Just like his father.”
Although she’d vainly tried to block her memories of him through the years, Petunia did remember Harry’s father — and arrogant was the perfect way to describe him. She wasn’t certain if that fit her nephew, however. She’d never seen him as arrogant. Rude, sloppy and ungrateful, but never arrogant.
Petunia’s grin widened. She felt delighted, as if she’d just stumbled upon a long-held secret. Snape was jealous of Lily’s husband! Of course he would be, if he’d fancied her sister.
“I don’t remember James as being arrogant,” she said, blatantly lying to wind him up. “He certainly worshipped my sister.”
Snape scowled, his face darkening dangerously. “She never saw through him.”
“Perhaps it was you who never saw things clearly,” Petunia replied, giddy with finally having the upper hand.
“Your nephew appears very happy,” Snape said, his tone clipped. “Much happier than the way we left your son.”
Petunia’s spirits plummeted again. Her nephew did appear much happier than her son had — something Petunia had fought against happening throughout their entire lives. How could it have turned out this way? Where had she gone wrong?
“All right, Harry?” a muscular young man with more freckles than should be allowed called over to him.
“Never better,” Harry replied, swiping at some fairy lights that his tall friend dumped on his head as he returned from the attic.
“Got the lights, Mum,” he called, shoving Harry with his hip. “Budge over, you lovesick sod.”
Harry grinned but didn’t deny it. His eyes sought out the girl standing across the room. She was deep in conversation with her parents but she appeared to sense his gaze. She turned her head toward him, her eyes sparkling as she mouthed, “Happy Christmas.”
“Happy Christmas, Ginny,” he whispered, alight with happiness.
“All right. I think we’re ready to eat,” the mother said.
“About time. I’m starving,” Harry’s tall friend said, forgetting his former loss of appetite and sinking into a chair.
The warm kitchen disappeared and Petunia was suddenly back in her own, cold bed. She pulled the bedcovers around her, shivering, a deep sense of emptiness and loss filling her belly. Slowly, she sunk back into her pillows, muffling her face to hide the tears that refused to be suppressed.
A/N: Hello everybody! Thanks for the warm welcome. I had a blast writing this short story, so I hope it shows. Several of you expressed hope that Snape would be included. As most of you know, he’s not one of my favorites, so I hope you feel I did him justice here. Christmas Future coming up next…