Petunia watched her nephew with intensity over the next few weeks. Her small hawk-like eyes ran over him with curiosity and amazement; he hardly ever complained, he did as he was told without much persuasion, spent time alone and barely spoke when spoken to. It was very … odd. She had wanted to ask him what was wrong like a mother figure would, advise him, help him feel better, but she couldn’t surely show the softer side of her nature after all of these years, because then she would have to keep it up and Vernon would not allow her to be nice to ‘his kind’ even if he was her flesh and blood. It was her own fault really, and, now, if it were possible, she felt bad for dragging her unnecessary dislike and jealousy of her dead sister onto her only nephew.
She continued on, scrubbing at the oven that Tuesday morning with large yellow gloves pulled up to her elbows. It was awfully filthy, congealed with residue from last week’s roast, so she made a third attempt at making it spotless.
Dudley was upstairs watching television in his second bedroom, enjoying his summer, while Vernon was at work. At the table, Harry was sitting finishing his toast with little enthusiasm, his teeth ripping the edge of the bread in tiny bites.
“Hurry up and eat that before it gets cold,” she barked over her shoulder, trying to keep her voice as strong and as bitter as usual.
“Not hungry,” he mumbled as he left the table. His toast was thrown into the bin and he began to wash the plate in the sink as the phone rang.
Petunia yanked off one glove and rushed to the phone in the hallway.
“Hello,” she said in her polite voice, staring randomly at the bottom step of the staircase.
“Hello, this is Hermione.” Petunia said nothing as she eyed a splatter of mud on the step. “Hermione Granger, Harry’s friend.”
“Oh yes,” she replied while she watched her nephew in the kitchen. “How can I help you?”
“May I speak with him please, Mrs Dursley?”
The girl asked so politely, how could she not agree? She was in fact covertly happy that he had a friend - and a normal one at that.
“Harry, phone,” she told him.
Harry put down the plate he had finished cleaning and wiped his hands on a dishcloth. His eyes went to the ground as he approached his aunt. “Is it Hermione?”
“Yes,” Petunia replied.
“Erm … I don’t really want to talk to her, Aunt Petunia.”
She raised an eyebrow and, in her ear, heard Hermione gasp. Poor girl.
“He’s busy at the moment,” Petunia said stiffly as Harry slammed the door of his cupboard behind him. “Try again tomorrow.”
"I heard what he said,” the girl replied clearly. “But this is important. I have to speak with him.”
“Well, I’m afraid he doesn’t want to talk to you. Do you want to leave a message? I’m sure he’ll be in the mood to visit soon.”
“It’s not that!” Hermione practically yelled down Petunia’s ear. “I was reading a book this morning and I saw his name in there about -”
“What kind of a book would have his -?”
The phone fell from her grasp and dangled from the coiled wire, hitting the wall several times. It was her. Lily. It must have been. But how would this girl - this normal girl know about them? How did she simply come across it in book? She wouldn’t … unless she was one too. Were her parents like her, like Harry too? They were dentists! Even if they weren’t, it was still possible; Lily was the only one in the Evans family … Oh no … what would Vernon say if he knew that Harry had had contact with one of them? He must never know …
Petunia picked up the phone by the wire and put it back to her ear.
“Don’t ever call back here again,” she muttered fiercely to the little girl, forceful enough to get her point across.
“But, Mrs Dursley, Harry’s a -”
The phone was back on the hook before she finished her sentence. Petunia knew what Harry was, always had and he wasn’t about to find out. He was going to Stonewall High this September, not … not there …
Harry rolled out of his cupboard timidly and looked up at his aunt.
“What did she say?” he asked, hoping she would reply (after all, they had few conversations).
Nothing. She could have said nothing.
“She said she didn’t want to speak with you any more. Ever.” Harry looked at her in horror. “She doesn’t want you to be friends any more.” Hopefully that would sink in, Petunia thought, hopefully then he would let it alone, never speak to her and never find out who he truly was.
Harry was on his back in the dark, staring above him as if he could see the underside of the staircase. He couldn’t, not at this time.
This was it. All he had to look forward to was going to school in Little Whinging, to a place where Hermione wasn’t, where he had no friends, where he would have to start afresh. The only saving grace was that Dudley would not be there to make sure he stayed lonely, although, he would have felt a little more optimistic if his aunt and uncle had paid for proper school uniform instead of dying old clothes grey in the kitchen sink. Maybe a new start was good for him, he convinced himself. Maybe it would be best to move on. He was growing up now, why not embrace a new situation and new people? Hopefully they would not notice the poverty he lived in, the broken glasses, messy hair, skinny stature …
Hermione said she didn’t care that he was poor. She said his glasses suited him, those ugly things …
He rolled over and put them on his face after pulling the cord beside him, turning the light on. He looked at a rectangular piece of shiny paper on a shelf. It was facedown. It was facedown and it was a photo of himself and Hermione from her pre-birthday party months ago that her mother had given him weeks after. He could remember it exactly without having to look at it; Hermione was wearing her pink and white dress, matching hair band, had a smile on her face, hair floating around her face. It was a sneaky shot; someone must have taken it while they were playing in the garden because they were both mid-run, arms up, bodies frozen in motion. Harry was slightly behind her, smiling too. But the weirdest thing, the most memorable, the craziest, more beautiful thing was that they were looking directly into each other’s eyes.
Harry left the picture facedown, switched the light off, took off his glasses, rolled over and fell asleep.
The phone seemed to ring more than often, Harry thought. At least once a day it would sound, while they were eating, while he was in his cupboard, while he was sitting just outside the back door … Uncle Vernon moaned every time. ‘That blasted phone!’ he would yell out, but Aunt Petunia rushed for it after only few rings, claiming it was a wrong number, Dudley’s new school or some other excuse.
Harry was still quiet, acquiescent, sad. Life passed him by without many interruptions, day and night. Until the phone rang.
It went again in the middle of the night. His eyes flew straight open and he laid in silence until someone answered it, but it continued. Then nothing.
It rang again.
Forgetting his glasses, he rolled out of bed to pick up the phone.
“Hello,” he drawled tiredly, rubbing his face.
“Hermione?” His body turned stiff and his voice distant. “I thought you didn’t want to talk to me.”
“What? You’re the one who said that. I heard you.”
“Well, I didn’t mean it,” he said defensively. He lowered his volume and listened carefully to whether his aunt, uncle or cousin were woken. “What are you doing calling me in the middle of the night, Hermione?”
“It’s a state of emergency, Harry. Every time I called your aunt would tell me to go away or that you didn’t want to hear from me.”
“She never told me you called …”
“Every day, Harry.”
He breathed, hard, mind scrambled with this information. Why would she be so desperate to talk to him?
“My aunt said -”
“I think we’ve established that your aunt lied,” Hermione said. Harry could tell that she had a smile on her face.
“Okay,” he whispered. “She lied.”
“But you did say you didn’t want to speak to me. I won’t forget that.”
“What did you expect? You told me that you were going to boarding school! That meant we weren’t really going to be friends any more. I was angry at you.”
“About that, Harry … I have news. It’s why I’ve been calling. I was reading a book that I had bought for school a week ago, trying to get a head start on the syllabus. It was only the first chapter of the third book on History. Well, this one wasn’t on the book list, but I bought it anyway because it looked fascinating -”
Yawning, Harry said, “Are you going to get to the point, Hermione? I’m tired.” She was speaking in her fast, excited voice and all Harry had in mind was sleep.
“Right, well it was a fascinating book and what made it more fascinating was you.”
“You were in the book, Harry.”
“And why would I be in a history book?” This was a bit ridiculous, but he was willing to humour her for the time being. He was too tired to think about how stupid she sounded at the moment.
“Because you’re Harry James Potter, born 31st July 1980, son of James Potter and Lily Potter née Evans, who died on the 31st October 1981 in Godric’s Hollow!”
All he could hear was her breathing hard down the phone.
Inhale … exhale … inhale …
Harry did not even know all of that information himself. “I never told you when they -”
“Exactly! You never told me the date or that it was Halloween or their names or where you lived so this book must be right. Your aunt and uncle mustn’t have told you everything, those cruel people. How could they do that to you? You have no idea about, well, about anything …!”
She was speaking too fast again.
He didn’t understand …
“What are you talking about? How do you know about my parents?”
She was silent for a moment. “Oh Harry, I don’t know how to say this but … oh no … how do I say this …?”
“Just say it.”
“But Harry, it’s really bad … I don’t want -”
“Say it,” he said impatiently.
“Your parents were … they were … murdered.”
The hollow void in his stomach was suddenly filled with something even more empty and nameless. He could not fathom why someone would do that to his parents. What about the car accident? Suddenly their deaths became more real to him than it ever had.
Were they bad people? Had they done something wrong? Were they criminals? So many questions bounced around his head as he held his stomach with one hand. He was going to throw up …
He closed his eyes. “I’m still here,” he whispered.
Leaning against the wall, he waited for her to talk. “I’m sorry that I had to tell you,” she said quietly. “Your aunt and uncle … well, Harry, please, I didn’t call to make you sad …”
“So why did you?” he forced out.
“Your parents weren’t ordinary people. And neither are you. Me neither.” What does that mean? he asked himself. What does that mean? “Harry, this is going to sound weird, and trust me, my parents and I were sceptic too, but just listen. I’m a witch. I got a letter saying that I get to go to a school to learn about it and there’s hundreds, thousands of us out there in hiding all over the world according to these books I got from a magical street in London and from what I read, you are magical too and this means we can go to school together and everything so we won’t have to split up -”
Harry lowered the phone to see the unclear shape of Aunt Petunia at the top of the stairs. All talk of witches and schools and books was gone.
“Who is that on the phone?” she asked her nephew monotonously.
Harry opened his mouth, but eventually said nothing, placing the phone back on the hook and rushing to his bed, his aunt’s angry face stinging into his mind.
“Were my parents murdered?”
Uncle Vernon’s tea sprayed from his mouth over Dudley’s face and breakfast while Aunt Petunia’s glass of juice fell to the ground and smashed into tiny pieces.
Dudley moaned that his breakfast was ruined.
Uncle Vernon turned purple.
Aunt Petunia ignored the mess on the floor. That was weird.
Dudley moaned some more.
Uncle Vernon told him to get his own breakfast. Harry was shocked at that.
No one moved.
Aunt Petunia sent Dudley up to his room. Harry was shocked at that too.
And the fact that Dudley actually went was more surprising still.
His aunt and uncle stared down at him sternly.
“Where did you hear that?” Uncle Vernon demanded.
“Hermione mentioned something …”
“I thought you weren’t going to speak with her any more,” Aunt Petunia said.
“You would have liked that, wouldn’t you?” Harry said with conviction.
“What did you just say to your aunt?” Uncle Vernon shouted nearly standing from his chair. Petunia put a hand on her husband’s shoulder.
“I’m just saying, there was a reason why Aunt Petunia didn’t want me to talk to her.”
“She’s not to be your friend any more,” his aunt said. “She’s not someone I want you be associated with.”
Vernon looked at his wife and she stared back with strength and fear.
Somehow, he understood.
“Get to your cupboard,” Uncle Vernon said.
“What? I still have questions! I want to know what happened to my parents and why -”
“Get to your cupboard!” Vernon stood from his chair.
Harry stood up too to equal his uncle. “I’m not going!”
“GET TO YOUR CUPBOARD - NOW!”
“WHAT HAPPENED TO MY PARENTS?!”
“DON’T YOU -” Vernon took a swipe at Harry, but he dodged and jumped over the dining table. “ - ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT -” Harry ran under his arm. “ - THINGS THAT DON’T CONCERN YOU!”
Harry stepped backwards into the hallway as his uncle came towards him. Walking backwards slowly, footstep by footstep, his attention went from his uncle, to the chair beside him leaning against the wall. Uncle, chair, uncle, chair, chair, uncle, chair uncle chair uncle, anger.
The chair fell sideways and Uncle Vernon tripped and fell over the faded wooden legs, Aunt Petunia going after him to help his lumpy body stand.
The letterbox flapped behind him and Harry noticed a brownish envelope with his name and his cupboard printed on its face.
His uncle grabbed him with one hand, the letter with the other and threw him into his cupboard, locking it after him.
Were his parents murdered? Did they live in a place named Godric’s Hollow? Was Hermione a witch? Was he like her? Did magic exist? Were his parents evil? Were they murdered? If so, why? Were his parents murdered? Was he going to boarding school? Would he be with Hermione? Was he going to Stonewall High? Why would someone write him a letter? What did it say? Was it from the school? Was he going crazy? Was Hermione crazy? Was any of this the truth? Had his aunt and uncle been lying to him for all of these years?
Were his parents murdered?
For weeks, the letters came and went and came and went and came and were thrown away, ripped, shredded, burnt, destroyed so long as Harry did not see them. There was silence in the house and sometimes whispers. Harry bet that his aunt and uncle were wondering what else Hermione had told him. This gave Harry the impression that she may have been right; he had not seen his family this much on edge ever. Ever. He desperately wanted to call Hermione but he was being watched carefully. She hadn’t dared to call him back since that night. And so the questions pelted round his head again, shoving and squeezing everything else out of his mind, demanding his attention. How did none of this concern him? That was nonsense …
Harry waited and waited, but there was no post on Sundays.
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