Sometimes it's difficult to put what you feel into words. Sometimes it's near impossible. It's not just that you can't name the feelings; it's those times when the feeling is just a feeling sweeping you off your feet in its flow, ruthless in its insensitivity and unfeeling in its intensity. It is an amalgam of everything you know and so many that you don't, that you can't imagine. It flows over you like molten lava, melting everything in its path, leaving you a puddle of whimpering mass…
Overpowering your every sense, overwhelming your every thought...helplessness, raw, bleeding wound-fresh helplessness, fills each and every pore of your body until that moment when you realize that you can't take it anymore…
It was one such morning that Petunia woke up to.
She had slept badly, dreams plaguing her through the night; same old dreams that shattered her every night’s peace; dreams of dark cloaked figures barging into the house with those dreadful sticks raised high above their heads and ripping her to pieces; ripping Vernon to pieces or God forbid! Touching even a hair of Dudley’s head; and sometimes…no! Today she wants to be honest…many times, Lily showed up in these dreams- tied up, dragged in or just dead- her bright green eyes staring emptily ahead, her lips spelling out “Tuney”, her delicately formed hands stretched out towards Petunia like they used to be when they were little in the park and she flew too high on the swings…
But, the worst…it was always the one in which she had to watch. It was the one in which she was pushed aside and she had to stand there, knowing there’s nothing she could do, knowing she’s completely useless, just stand and watch- helpless.
Like that night…
The knock was urgent and loud. A feeling of foreboding already rising in her chest, Petunia answered the door. Lily stood outside. Her forehead was sweaty, a gash was half-healed on her cheek and her clothes looked rather worse for wear.
“Lily! What the…” Petunia gaped at her younger sister.
“You have to promise me, Tuney!” Lily pushed through the door and stood in front of her sister.
“I…promise…what?” Petunia stammered.
“You have to promise me, Tuney. Promise me that you’ll take in Harry if I die. That you’ll care for him, bring him up, protect him when I can’t!” Lily’s voice raised with each sentence until Petunia pulled her inside and shut the door.
“Keep it down! Dudley’s sleeping!” Petunia hissed. “And who’s Harry? Why will you die? What’s going on, Lily?”
“Harry’s my son! He’s marked, Tuney. He’s going to come after my baby himself,” Lily’s voice choked and fell silent.
Petunia was staring at her in shock.
“You have a son?” she took a step away from Lily.
“Yes,” Lily snapped. “I…,” she swallowed, “We wanted to tell you, but…”
“But, what?” her elder sister demanded.
“It was all so fast,” words poured out of her now, “We are all in the order and Mary died and... We just wanted a little bit of happiness,” Lily looked at her with eyes that seemed to have forgotten the sound of laughter, “We got married and then, I found out I was pregnant. A baby boy- July 31st,” a ghost of a smile lit up her face.
“July 31st,” Petunia breathed. “And married… I knew this would happen. Since the day you went off to that school, I warned mum and dad. But, of course, why would they listen to me? Plain, old, normal me.” Petunia’s voice was dropping lower and getting sharper with each word, “Did you feel happy when they died, Lily? Did you feel thankful that there was nothing holding you back from your freakishness once they were gone?”
“DON’T CALL ME TUNEY!” Petunia was breathing hard like she’d just run a mile. Her face was red, her fists were clenched and she was looking at her sister with a fury that was entirely new to her. From somewhere in the house, the low wail of a baby waking up was heard and ignored.
“You waltz in here, with your war and your secrets and your freakishness and expect me to make you a promise? You want me to take in a boy that I didn’t even know existed until a minute ago? My sister got married and had a baby and I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW ABOUT IT!” she turned away abruptly and let out a shaky breath. The wails were growing louder now.
“You’re part of a war that I have nothing to do with…and you have a life that I’ll never be a part of” She said finally, “What do you expect from me now, Lily?” she looked at her sister who had left her for a world that she refused to understand and for the first time, felt a twinge of regret for choosing to do so.
“I expect you to promise me that you’ll take in Harry if I die,” Lily replied quietly.
“Take him in and raise him to be the same abnormal freak as you? Raise him for a world that separates sisters and kills friends and fights wars over blood?” Petunia questioned, her eyes flashing.
Lily stared at her, eyes wide, disbelieving.
“I’m not stupid, Lily. I read and notice and listen. Your lot never fit in!” Petunia lashed out, “So, tell me, should I raise him to his death? Like his mother and his father?”
There was a pause as the elder sister watched the younger sister consider her answer. Dudley’s wails were building up in crescendo to a full-blown tantrum.
“Yes,” said Lily finally.
Petunia shook her head in contempt.
“I will take him in. But, he won’t know you or your world or the madness that you call magic. Do not ever contact my family again; unlike you, I would like to keep my family safe.”
There was silence as the sisters stared at each other, one with defiance and disbelief and the other with defiance and determination. In all their lives together as sisters, they had never looked more like family than they did in that moment of broken sisterhood.
“Promise me you’ll keep him safe.”
And those were the final words they exchanged.
Lily had kept her word. That was the last Petunia had seen of her. For all the world to know, she had no sister. But, the dreams started that night and every morning afterwards, she would read the news and wonder.
Did that bridge collapsing have something do with magic? The body found in the river with no mark on it, was it a wizard? The owl she once saw while watering the lawn…did something happen? She learnt to ignore the constant ball of worry in her stomach. She learnt to suppress the twitch that came on every time the doorbell rang. She learnt to look angry whenever the subject of her sister came up so that Vernon would never bring it up. She learnt to suppress all her anxiety and put on a smile for her husband.
But, this morning she woke up and she realized, she can’t take it anymore. No more stealing news from disjointed reports. No more living in constant worry for her life, her family’s lives, for Lily’s life. She can’t take any more of this war, of this uncertainty, of this day-to-day torture!
“Vernon! Vernon! Wake up! I need to talk to you. Wake
up!” She poked her husband’s arm with each word.
“Harrrumph!” Vernon snored and turned away.
“Vernon!” POKE “Vernon!” POKE “VERNON!” Poke-Poke-Poke!
“WHAT??!!” he shot up in his bed.
“Let’s go away, Vernon. Let’s go far away- from this…from all of this!”
Vernon stared at her like she had lost her head.
“Petunia, my dear, did you have a bad dream?” he finally ventured.
“Yes, yes, I did. But, this is not just about the dream, Vernon. It’s about everything- all this worry, all this tension, I’m losing my mind, Vernon!”
“But honey, tension about what? What are you worried about?”
"The war, Vernon, the war! Don't you read the newspapers? Haven't watched the news? All those accidents, all those people dying- what did you think it was? A natural disaster? It's the war, Vernon! War of the magic folk! War that my sister is fighting in! I can't take this anymore, Vernon," she clutched his shirt and started sobbing, "I'll talk to Lily. I'll convince her to come away with us. And even that boy if she wants! Anything she wants! Let's all go away, Vernon. I can't stand this anymore!"
Vernon stared at her as she collapsed sobbing onto his chest. Slowly, he put his now-shaking hands around her. He didn't know what to make of all this- the so-called war, Petunia's hysterics, the acknowledgement of her sister…especially after her dismissal of the relationship yesterday.
“Okay, Pet. Let’s go away…anywhere you wish.”
She smiled as she changed Dudley's diaper. They will go away soon. And then, she can get some decent hours of sleep again. She was happy- an emotion that felt a little new in its scarcity now-a-days.
She put Dudley back down in his crib and cooed to him.
"There you go, Duddy-kins, all clean and set again. Are you hungry, my dinky-dums? Mommy's going to get you some milk, ok, my diddly-doo?"
With one last kiss, she walked out of the room and into the living room. Humming an old tune that rose to her lips at the thought of Lily, she opened the front door.
The first thing she saw was the crib, the second thing was the white tip of an envelope poking out from the side, then the eyes opened and the bright green hit her in a flash of horrifying recognition.