We used to be so close. I always would stick up for her. She was so little and frail. I loved her, and the kids were so mean. She had that wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights look all the time. For a little kid, she was painfully quiet. So I would yell at those teasing ones and console her. I didn't know I had been deceived the whole way through.
* * *
"Petunia! Hey, Evans! Petunia, hold up a moment, would you!"
"It's those bloody prats again; I don't know why I put up with them," Petunia Evans groaned to her friend Marissa as she walked towards her family's car.
"Why the hell do you put up with them? You've heard it all before, can't you just give it up? It's the second to last day before school lets out for summer holidays."
"Don't be daft, she's my bloody sister. Look, see you in class tomorrow, yeah?" Without waiting for an answer she swung around and walked towards the crowd of boys approaching her.
"What do you lot want?" she asked, glaring at them.
"Your sister set her teacher on fire today," one said smugly.
"She got a bad mark on her paper and thought it was unfair- "
"And she gave this killing look and suddenly Grant's hair was in flames."
"How does that work?" Petunia said, disgustedly. "You can't… glare at somebody and suddenly make them catch fire. Explain how a little girl can do that, go on."
"Your sister's a freak, that's how, Evans!" called a short boy in back who was on his toes trying to see the action.
"Don't be thick, unless you think that she's some sort of Matilda Wormwood or something, but then wait, you're all to thick to have ever touched a book so you wouldn't have heard of Dahl before. You aren't even in her year, how do you know this?"
"Well, Nick's brother is, and he told Nick…"
"Nick's brother saw her." Petunia turned her attention completely to Nick, who looked uncomfortable. "Didn't your brother just get a detention for lying to the headmistress?"
The boy called Nick flushed and retorted, "Well, yeah, so what? He saw it, and so did all his mates, not just him."
"You blokes are idiots, and so is the teacher. She probably backed into a candle or something. You're wasting my time, and you know what? You keep accusing my sister of doing things that are obviously impossible and you actually make her believe that she does them. Why don't you all bugger off and find some other kid to bother."
She whirled back around and stalked to her family's car, putting her bag in the boot and climbing in next to her sister, who was looking small. Her mother was standing outside having a fierce argument with a woman with very singed gray hair in low, angry tones before climbing inside and slamming the door.
"Sorry, girls, that woman is an absolute prat, do me a favor and don't talk to me, I need to fume in peace," she said, pulling into the road.
The car was silent for a long time, and Petunia sat watching the trees flash by as the setting turned from urban to rural.
"I didn't mean to." A small voice broke through Petunia's thoughts.
"What was that?"
"I didn't mean to."
"What are you on about?"
"It was an accident, I lost control, I set her hair in flames."
"Oh Lily, please, of course it wasn't you, they're all just idiots. Look, Mum's already said she's going to switch schools for you for secondary school."
"But I did do it Petunia. I just got so angry."
"Lily, please, don't listen to them, they're just daft."
"Girls, please? I think I'm getting a migraine. Of course you didn't do it, sweetie, now really."
They pulled into their gravelly driveway and climbed out in silence.
Petunia followed Lily into her room while Mrs. Evans took her husband aside to talk.
Lily closed her door behind Petunia and flopped down on her bed, face in her duvet.
"Lily…." Petunia didn't know what to say.
"Look, I'll tell you what happened," Lily said, her words muffled.
"What happened? I know what happened. Your idiot of a teacher somehow set her hair on fire and you were in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"No, Petunia, what I said in the car- no, please don't interrupt, let me finish." She brought her legs up in front of her and hugged her knees. "I… I wrote an essay for English, and it was supposed to be a personal essay for an expository writing unit, and I wrote about how I was always an oddball and how strange things always happen to me- "
"You did what?" Petunia groaned. "Really, Lily…."
"And I got the paper back," Lily plunged on, "and she gave me a failing mark and wrote that I wasn't to make things up in this essay, and I got angry and I thought to myself that she should go burn in hell- "
"- and suddenly her hair was on fire and everybody was yelling, and then Mark Dempsey told everybody at break that he'd heard me muttering that she should burn in hell right before her hair caught flame."
"Lily, it was just an odd coincidence," Petunia said hopelessly. "You're perfectly normal, Lily, you just have some horrid kind of luck."
Lily's face assumed an expression that read that she wasn't believing anything Petunia was saying, and Petunia sighed. "Come on, Lily, let's go and have a bite of something, I'm starved."
* * *
"And the woman just had the nerve to say that we should take her to an institution for some psychological testing or something like that, like she should be in some sort of asylum!"
Lily and Petunia walked in on Mrs. Evan's rant. Her father was sitting on an armchair with the expression he usually wore when trying to work out a problem in the office.
"Does she think the child has some sort of odd powers or something? The woman is completely out of line, I should really complain to the head, the nerve…" Petunia felt Lily tense against her as she heard her mother's words. Gripping Lily's shoulder protectively, she ventured, "Mum?"
"What- Oh, sorry, dears, can it wait?"
"We just wanted some food," Petunia said in a small voice.
"Get something from the pantry, then, I need to finish talking to your father."
"Wait, Nicole," Mr. Evans told his wife. "I've got something to tell the entire family, first. Something important."
"Do we get to go to London to visit Aunt Annie?" Petunia asked hopefully.
"No…. Sit down, girls, and Lily, I'm sorry for opening your post. You received a very interesting letter."
Petunia's heart dropped. They gave her sister such a hard time. When would it all stop? She slowly sank into an armchair, bracing herself for the worst. She glanced at Lily. Her face was white and her eyes were glistening.
Poor kid, Petunia thought. She doesn't deserve this.
"What is it, Dad?" she asked again, but softly this time.
"Lily… you got a letter. And I'm sorry for opening it, I know I shouldn't have as it has your name on it, but it was just so odd…." He held up an envelope of thick yellow paper. "Parchment." He pointed to the seal. "A wax seal." He flipped it over. "Green ink. Meticulous calligraphy." He pointed now to the second line, beneath Lily's name. "Lily's bedroom. And then the seal… ‘Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.'"
"What?" Petunia exploded. "What are they playing at! And since when did hogs have warts?"
"Petunia, please be quiet," her mother said softly. Her eyes were on Lily, whose green eyes were huge in her face. Big green eyes. Petunia didn't know where they came from. Nobody in her family had green eyes, and certainly not eyes so emerald green. "What does it say, Howard?"
Mr. Evans looked at his family uncertainly and said, "It just says… that Lily has been accepted to this… school… and then there's another one in here." He fished around in the envelope and pulled out another piece of the thick paper, covered in a spindly hand. "Dear Mrs. and Mr. Evans," he read. "It has come to our attention that your daughter Lily has magical abilities…" he began.
Petunia listened in shock as the letter listed all the small displays of "magic" Lily had ever shown in her life. When she hadn't wanted her mum to plait her hair and her hair would become too unruly to deal with whenever anybody tried to plait it. When a boy who was teasing her suddenly found himself unable to speak.
"That's crap." She spoke fiercely, quietly. Her parents didn't even say anything about her not using vulgar language. "It's all crap. There's no such thing as magic."
"Yes… but if we went just see who these people are - magic or not, they know a scary amount about our daughter," her father pointed out. "I can't say I'm totally on board with this idea, but at this point, I'm pretty much open to anything."
"Don't be so gullible, Dad…. Mum, talk to him!"
Mrs. Evans shrugged her shoulders helplessly. "I don't like this at all," she said. "But if this is what your father wants, I support it."
Petunia stared at her parents. Her mouth dropped open and she stood up abruptly. "Mum! We are out of the Ice Ages! Women have rights, you know! You can bloody stand up for yourself! Lily isn't a… witch," she spat. "She's perfectly normal. Accidents just happen around her. How can you think for a second that she's a witch?"
Her father gave a weak chuckle. "Nothing is final yet, Petunia…. We'll meet these people. See what they have to say. If it's a hoax, than so be it. But if it's real… it does make everything sort of fall into place."
"It does not make anything fall into place! Magic"- Petunia spat the word- "does not explain anything except for a loony crowd of devil-worshipping people with nothing better to do with their time!
"How can you do this? How can you do this to Lily? You both are being so unfair!" She was on the brink of tears, and looked over at Lily. Her breath caught in her throat and came out as a hiccough. Lily's eyes were shining in hope, her hands caressing the letter she had received. She looked… like a child should look. Full of hope, and life. Petunia hadn't seen her like this since she was very small.
"Look at her, Mum. Look, Dad. You're giving her this… this false hope. What do you think will happen to her when she finds out it's not real? You're being cruel, you're being really, really, really cruel." Tears streamed freely down her face, and she wiped at them angrily.
"Petunia, please. Calm down. We'll just go and have a look on the first of July and see what comes to pass. Until then, can we remain calm, please?"
Petunia looked from one parent to the other and a sound of despair and defeat came from her throat before she ran upstairs to her room, all thoughts of food forgotten.
* * *
Her parents left early on the morning of July the first. They went alone, just in case the people they would meet were dangerous, they said.
Or because they're afraid of disappointing Lily, Petunia thought silently to herself. Her mother had left a big plate of shortbread with a hastily scribbled note: "Morning, my flowers, we'll be back by five!" She'd been transformed into Supermum, as if to convince Petunia that she was indeed a competent mother and wife.
Lily sat in her room, drawing pictures of herself pulling rabbits out of hats and riding brooms, or talking to her favorite doll, Mathilde. Occasionally her voice would drift over to Petunia's room.
"I think I'd like riding a broomstick, Mathilde," her childish voice would say. "I bet it would be better than riding a bike, if I could fly. Maybe Mum and Dad would even get me a cat. I bet witches have cats. I bet they're nice witches, too."
Petunia, lying prostrate on her bed, staring up at the ceiling, finally kicked the door shut to drown out Lily's hopeful voice. She'd been in a foul mood for weeks, ever since the arrival of The Letter.
She couldn't believe the insanity of it all. Initially she had been upset because her parents were being so irrational. But now she also felt a different emotion. It was something like - fear.
Why should I be afraid? Petunia asked herself furiously. If there's no such thing as magic, there's nothing to be afraid of.
But still the little voice in the back of her mind: What if, what if, what if…
"Shut up!" Petunia shouted into her pillow.
"Petunia?" Lily poked her head around the door. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine!" Petunia snapped. "Just swell and peachy, thanks. Now shut the door behind you." Lily, eyes wide, scuttled back to her room.
The clocked chimed five and at the same instant, the sound of keys came from the front door.
"Hey, kids, we're back!" called Mr. Evans.
"Mummy! Daddy! Did you meet them?" Lily flew out of her room and down the stairs, red hair flying.
This whole thing was so stupid, Petunia thought, pulling herself off the couch and slowly making her way towards her parents. And when Lil sees that magic doesn't exist, she'll be crushed.
She grabbed a piece of shortbread on the way and munched on it en route to the front door.
"Well, Lily, looks like you're not going to be going to Saint Helen's next year after all!" Mr. Evans said with a big smile.
Petunia froze and swallowed the remnants of the biscuit, coughing. Once over her initial shock, she quickly rationalized, "Oh, did you decide on Saint Francis instead when the freaks- " Lily flinched "- turned out to be pervy stalkers?"
Her stomach clenched in anticipation of an answer, and although she knew there was no such thing as magic, she was petrified that somehow, inexplicably, enigmatically-
"This- large- man, Hagrid, he's called, met us in London. Nice man. Lily…" her father turned to Lily as if to avoid the piercing stare of his elder daughter, "it's genuine, it's real, you're to be a first year student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!"
Lily didn't look too surprised. "I knew it would be real," she said softly, face illuminated.
The room seemed to go into another dimension and Petunia gripped the countertop behind her. She could hear her father suggest ice cream and saw the blurred forms of her sister and father move outside.
She felt her mother move behind her paralyzed body. "Let's go up to my room and have a talk," Mrs. Evans said softly, putting a hand on Petunia's shoulder and guiding her up the stairs to the bedroom.
She smoothed out her skirt and sat on the bed silently while Petunia flopped on her back, blinking back tears. Petunia waited stubbornly for her to say something but broke the silence first.
"I can't believe you'd do this, Mum!" she choked out. "You're just sending her off to these people…"
"I don't want her to go to Hogwarts-" it was Petunia's turn to flinch "-any more than you do, Pet. But tell me what I should do, Petunia. Tell me what I should have done. As a mother- picking up my little girl from school every day- tears on her face- and not being able to do anything or say anything… Petunia, it's more than any mother can bear." Tears were on Mrs. Evan's face now as well. "This- she's happy Petunia- she's happy. It's been so long- " she broke off. "Pet, please- just for the next months before Lily leaves- please, support your sister."
Petunia turned and clung to her mother, sobbing.
* * *
Dad was so supportive of her going off to that- that institution. I didn't talk to him much after it. Or to Mum either. She said she didn't want her to leave, but she didn't make one move to stop it. And when Lil would come home for Christmas, with special permission to turn straw into matches and frogspawn into frogs and that light in her eyes would turn on- I loved her so much but I hated her, hated her with a passion. Traitorous, I felt she was. So I stopped talking her. It hurt her, at first, but it was the best I could do. She'd try to talk, but I wouldn't let myself open up. I didn't cry again after that day- I wasn't going to let Lily take anything more away from me. I felt like I'd been betrayed by her, and I wasn't about to let myself be so vulnerable again. Eventually she didn't try to communicate anymore.
I moved away from home at my first opportunity. She married Potter, had a baby boy- was killed by Voldemort. Worst moment of my life, when I opened that man's letter with the news. And baby Harry on the doorstep- from day one Vernon and I knew without words that we wouldn't let that baby boy hurt us or little Dudley. So we didn't let an ounce of emotion show towards him, and it was pain and joy- getting back at Lily by not helping her little boy like I'd once helped Lily, but at the same time- he was my baby sister's boy, and with those deep, emerald green eyes. It was horrid looking at Lily's eyes day by day.
He went off to that school. Saved the world, or so I'm told. Left Privet Drive without a backward glance. And so the story ends. Lily's eyes shine no more for me, and there's no connection between my family and hers. Strangers. Just as I want it.