A Late December Visit
Petunia Dursley hurried along the corridor of her home, dusting vases and framed photographs that did not need to be dusted, because she had cleaned them all in the morning, and yesterday morning, and the morning before that. Of course, Petunia did not truly need to impress her guests this late December afternoon- it was only her son, daughter-in-law and their children- but she enjoyed keeping her home looking orderly at all times, as she firmly believed it should be.
Her husband sat nearby at the kitchen table, flipping through the newspaper and occasionally barking out comments disparaging this politician or that celebrity, whomever happened to be written about that day. Petunia would duly agree with Vernon and criticize the MP or socialite as well.
The doorbell rang, and Petunia placed the duster down on the hallway table, making her way over to open the door for her family.
"Hello, Mum," her son Dudley greeted. She pulled him into a tight embrace and immediately began to ask how his job was, and how surely he must be missing working alongside his father at the drill company.
"No, Mum, I'm actually quite enjoying my new job. It's nice making my own name, without people associating me with Dad."
"Well, you know that Dad can always pull some strings to get you back at your old position! He has quite a bit of influence there, you know," Petunia babbled on. She moved to greet her daughter-in-law.
"Margaret, how are you, dear?" Petunia began, taking the plate of custard tarts the other woman had brought with a bit of surprise, as Margaret usually did not bring a dessert over. "Oh, you didn't have to bring anything."
"It was my pleasure," Margaret replied. She flashed what she intended as a courteous smile, but her mother-in-law interpreted it as a nervous grimace. Petunia noticed that Dudley and his wife exchanged a brief glance, an uncomfortable one at that. Still wondering what their glance could mean, Petunia set down the tray and moved to hug her grandchildren.
"Hi, Gran," her grandson Dennis replied with his normal cheerfulness, returning the hug. Petunia reached out towards his older sister, Martha, who looked down and hesitated before letting her grandmother embrace her. Again, Petunia noticed the furtive looks Dudley and Margaret exchanged.
"Well, haven't you two grown?" Petunia tried to act as if her granddaughter was acting normally. "Dennis, you must have grown an inch and a half since I saw you last! And Martha, you look like you've grown too, and I haven't seen you since before you started school."
Martha's face froze for a moment when the word "school" was uttered by her grandmother, but then nodded. "Yes, Mum and Dad said that they noticed it too."
Petunia ushered her family inside, calling out to her husband that their guests were here. After a hearty pat on the back to his son and a kiss on the cheek to his daughter-in-law (who did not seem to entirely pleased with his gesture), Vernon offered his family drinks while telling his grandchildren to run off to the living room to watch telly.
"So tell me," Vernon Dursley asked loudly as they all sat at the kitchen table."How are things with you? What about the children?"
"They're doing great," his daughter-in-law answered as Vernon poured Dudley a glass of Scotch. "Dennis received top marks in his class for poetry-writing."
"Well let's hope that one day he lets go of that namby-pamby writing! That's girl stuff, I say!" Vernon guffawed to himself, not noticing the unamused look on Dudley and Margaret's faces.
"What about Martha?" Petunia asked while busying herself with preparing dinner. Though her eyes were away from them, she could have sworn that she noticed an uncomfortable silence between the two younger people in the room.
"She's wonderful," Dudley finally said. "Quite happy right now."
"What did you say was the name of her new school?" Vernon questioned.
Again, Petunia noticed the pause before her son answered, "Milford Academy for Exceptionally Talented Youth. It's a good school, we're quite pleased that they accepted her."
"Huh," Vernon grunted. "Never heard of it before."
"Yes, well, it's a bit of a smaller school. Not on most people's radars." Margaret answered in a voice that seemed slightly uneasy. She quickly changed the subject, asking her father-in-law about work. He was more than happy to oblige her and drone on and on about the inner workings of his negotiations with investors.
Petunia excused herself from the kitchen to use the toilet. As she walked down the hallway, she heard a children's program on the television, but also her grandchildren's hushed voices.
"Just tell them!" she heard Dennis tell his sister. "It's not a big deal."
"You don't understand!" Petunia, now leaning against the hallway wall to hear better, heard Martha say in a somewhat scared voice. "Dad forbid us to say a word. And after he told us about how he and Gran and Grandpa treated him growing up, I don't blame him."
"But if you just tell them-"
"I can't!" Martha shrieked. "They'll hate me!"
Petunia decided that this was a good time to walk into the room. Stepping out from behind the wall, she entered and cleared her throat. The children nearly tumbled off the couch when they saw her.
"Hello," Petunia pleasantly greeted the two. She tried to smile as if she hadn't been listening in on their conversation. "Dinner's almost ready, if you want to wash up."
Martha and Dennis nodded, and scurried out of the room, avoiding meeting their grandmother's eyes.
Petunia was concerned about what Martha seemed to be hiding. What could possibly be so horrible that she was forbidden to mention to her own grandparents? Did this tie into Dudley and Margaret's strange behavior?
She heard her husband's thunderous footsteps as he walked down the hallway.
"Going to find some of the quarterly reports to show Dudders," Vernon explained, poking his head into the living room. "That should get him back on board with the company!"
Vernon slowly climbed the stairs, and Petunia crept back into the hallway. She heard whispers once more, but this time from the kitchen. Dudley and Margaret were hurriedly going back and forth.
Silently stepping towards the door, Petunia approached the room without her son or daughter-in-law noticing. Leaning in to eavesdrop, she could make out their hushed words.
"-there's no bloody way I'm letting my parents know!" Dudley whispered loudly to his wife.
"But if we tell them-"
"Maggie, they won't ever come to terms with it," Dudley cut her off. "They'll never want to see her again. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about."
"Come on, we can't hide this forever," Margaret tried to reason with her husband. "They can't be that bad. She's their granddaughter."
"Yes, and Harry was their nephew, and that didn't stop them from locking him in a broom cupboard under the stairs for something he was born with. For God's sake, my mother cut off ties with her only sister after she was accepted to Martha's school."
Petunia's head was spinning. She could not believe what she was hearing, though suddenly all of the details made sense: her family's secrecy and strange behavior, Martha's fear, and the fact that Martha had been quietly sent to a far off boarding school that Petunia had never heard of before in her life.
The realization made her weak, and Petunia grabbed onto the hallway's table, sliding down against the wall. She heard the kitchen chairs being pushed back quickly, and Dudley and Margaret standing up.
"She didn't hear, did she?" Margaret asked Dudley in a frightened voice.
The two raced out of the kitchen and found Petunia Dursley on the floor, speechless.
"Mum," Dudley began slowly. "You didn't happen to hear our conver-"
"Magic," Petunia breathed, still in a state of shock. "Martha's magic."
"I'm sorry, Mum," Dudley began. "We found out on her birthday in August and a few weeks later she went off to Hogw- her school. We didn't want to tell you because we knew it'd upset you."
"She's magic," Petunia repeated. "My granddaughter's magic."
"We were shocked at first, too," Margaret tried to explain. "Harry helped us with it, though."
Dudley turned towards his wife and shook his head, as a warning not to mention that name again around his mother. But Petunia had already heard the name she had long since tried to forget.
"Harry?" Petunia hoarsely responded. "You've talked to that boy?"
"He's grown now, Mum," Dudley explained. "Has a wife and kids and is high up in their government. His daughter's Martha's age, and he told her to look out for Martha at their school."
Vernon was now climbing down the stairs, but paused when he saw his wife trembling against the wall while Dudley and his wife stood next to her in fear.
"Petunia, are you alright? Petunia, what's going on?"
She still was speechless, so her husband began questioning their son.
"What have you done with her?" he bellowed, descending the stairs as fast as his frame allowed him.
"Just given her a fright, that's all," Margaret attempted to lie. "We, er, bumped into each other in the hall while she wasn't looking-"
"Magic," Petunia finally managed to say.
Vernon's eyes widened. "What has that boy done?" he roared. "Hasn't he put this family through enough trouble?"
"It's not Harry!" Dudley yelled back. "In fact, Harry's been helping us process this all."
"Process what?" Vernon shouted, his face reddening quickly.
Petunia was still shaking when she repeated, "Martha's magic."
There was a shocked silence as Vernon processed those words. "Your daughter," he said slowly, understanding and anger building with each syllable. "Magic?"
Dudley picked up on the fact that his father had not referred to Martha as "my granddaughter" or even by name. His mind raced, thinking of how Harry was treated growing up, and how that would affect his own daughter. Would Martha only be disdainfully referred to as "the girl" from now on? Had she completely fallen from favor in her grandparents's eyes?
"Yes," he answered forcefully. "And we're not bothered by that." Dudley turned towards his wife. "Maggie, we're leaving. Grab the kids."
Petunia was still too shocked to form coherent thoughts as her family began running through the house, Vernon shouting about how Martha would not be welcomed back unless she left her "freak" school, Margaret angrily standing up for her child while Dudley found the children hiding under the front bushes, hastily pushing them along to the car.
Margaret slammed the door behind her, and a moment later Petunia heard their car starting and quickly backing out of the driveway.
Vernon was still shaking with rage. "We aren't to speak of the girl again," he said, his face still reddened and his fists balled. He marched up the stairs, if only to be able to stomp on them. He didn't seem to notice that his wife was still slumped against the corridor wall, unable to fully process the last few minute's events yet.
Eventually, Petunia shakily stood up, leaning heavily on the corridor's table. She could still hear her husband upstairs, throwing and knocking things over, the noise sounding suspiciously like it was coming from her son's old bedroom.
Her eyes fell upon the duster still on the table, where she had left it when the doorbell had first rung. Perhaps attempting to spruce the house up a bit would get her mind off of the horrible matter that just transpired in her home, she thought.
She picked up the duster, and again began to clean the items on the table: the vase with artificial flowers, the plaque from Vernon's work, the mementos from family holidays. However, she paused when she was dusting the photographs. There was a picture from her wedding, a family portrait from when her son was perhaps eight years old, and two recent school photographs each of her grandchildren; Dennis and Martha each wearing near-identical gap-tooth smiles.
Petunia picked up the frame showcasing Martha. She turned her head, looking for an easy place hide the photo. Slowly, she opened the door to the cupboard under the stairs. It had made a good place to shut away one magical relative, hadn't it? She placed the frame high up on a shelf, face down, and quickly shut the cupboard door, resolving to do her best to forget about the incident. After all, she saw no reason to upset the balance in her perfectly normal life. She and Vernon had done just fine with one son in life, Petunia reasoned, why should only having one grandchild be any different?
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