Pairing: Petunia Dursley/Severus Snape
Prompt: 12. Petunia has no love for Snape, nor he for her. But -- unlike Vernon -- he doesn't object when she talks about Lily.
Content Information/Warnings: none
Summary: Lily thought she was untidy, that she just had a habit of losing things. Petunia didn't consider it stealing, not if she never told anyone. Now, when Severus Snape unexpectedly appears in the safe house where the Dursleys are being hid, Petunia finds a reason to open the box of Lily's things that she has kept hidden for years.
Author's Notes: Many thanks to my terrific beta, A! Any additional errors are my own.
Petunia kissed Vernon quickly upon the cheek, then turned to Dudley with a worried look.
"Are you sure you'll be all right at a different school?" she said.
Dudley grinned broadly at her, glancing over at Mr. Shacklebolt. She suspected the two of them had been talking alone about Dudley's new school for some time now; Dudley didn't seem nervous at all. Petunia wasn't concerned for Vernon; he was finally returning back to work, now as a supervisor over his old supervisor in another part of town. It had taken some convincing, but Petunia was feeling even more shut-in with the two of them constantly underfoot and finally Mr. Shacklebolt agreed that a return to normal life was what they needed most during this difficult time. For the first time in weeks, Petunia found herself alone at last.
She dragged the vacuum cleaner out of the closet, feeling a bit of cleanup would set her right. Just as she was plugging it in, there was a loud bang. She gasped, clutching her chest for a moment where she knelt by the outlet. It was him. The Snape boy.
"This... this isn't the Murtons'."
"Of course it isn't," she snapped. "What are you doing here?"
"I was checking in on them," he said, slowing each word as if he was still taking in the shock of seeing her. "The Murtons don't mind Apparation, so I ---"
The Snape boy -- of course it was foolish to think him a boy anymore -- he was nearly as old as her. It didn't look as if aging had treated him kindly; the childish roundness in his face was now sharply angled, surrounded by thin, limp hair. His eyes were more piercing than curious; he looked like a runaway whippet, nervous and skittish.
"It means they didn't mind me coming... directly in."
Petunia stood up slowly, the vacuum plug still in her hand.
"Even Mr. Shacklebolt knocks properly."
"Of course he does." His lips tightened into a line. "I said it was a blunder. I didn't realize this was your home."
"You recognize it, though." Her lip quivered a little. She hadn't told Vernon about this. "This home."
He nodded. "It's your parents' house in Cokeworth. It looks exactly like it."
"How did they know?" she blurted out. "We had all our belongings in tow when we came here. I thought they were just taking us to some house. The minute Vernon saw it, do you know what he said? 'No need dragging our things in, Petunia, we'll just put it all in storage until this all blows over. Look, there's even a full cabinet of china, it's lovely.'"
He didn't say anything for a moment, he just stared at the carpet.
"I said, how did they know?"
He looked up, startled. "It was Dumbledore, I suppose."
"Lily was a favourite of his," he said sourly. "I suppose he saw her home many times."
"But he never came here," she said. "Not that I remember."
He drew his lips into a grim smile.
"I don't think he would need to. He could look into your thoughts, Dumbledore. He could read your mind. He could have been here without you even knowing. I'm sure... I'm sure this was all according to his plans, this house, to create it in just the way she remembered it."
"But she never saw this house." Petunia said slowly. The realization made her shiver for a moment. "Was this supposed to be her -- their -- safe house?"
He was silent. Either he didn't know or he chose not to tell her, she wasn't sure.
"I'm sorry I intruded," he said quietly. "I'll go --" He raised a hand when she opened her mouth to speak. "--the regular way. I'll use the door."
"Wait." Petunia knew if he left, it was likely he would not come back. She was curious about the way he had reacted when he saw the house, she wondered if he still thought about Lily, if he still cared for her. Petunia didn't care for him then, nor did she now, but she felt she had to seize this unexpected moment. He was the only one she could talk to about Lily. This might be her only chance. "I didn't put everything in storage; there's a box of things... her things. Do you want to see them?"
Petunia didn't wait for his reply. She simply turned away to go fetch the box.
They sat on the twin beds facing each other, the box on the floor between them. The wallpaper was the same as the bedroom Petunia and Lily had shared, the very same vanity mirror, even the bedspreads were the same color and pattern.
The entire house was like someone had made a dollhouse of their parent's house, the furnishings and the carpeting, but none of the little things that had made it uniquely theirs. Snape looked like a doll that had been somehow propped upon the bed across from her, completely out of place in hers and Lily's room. It was a strange feeling, but she ignored it and him as she looked away.
Petunia had written second best china on the side of the box, not that Vernon would have gone rummaging through the boxes anyhow. The lid was still closed. She knew her tone sounded apologetic, but it wasn't him who was owed the apology.
"Every time she went back to school, I would take a little something of hers. It wasn't hard. She was so untidy, she'd just think it'd gone missing or was in her closet, maybe under the bed."
He chuckled under his breath, and she looked up at him sharply. "What?"
"She told me things went missing," he said. "But she did say the same thing, that she was untidy. That it was probably her fault."
"Really? I would have thought she would have blamed me."
"She rarely did."
Petunia stared down at the box; she pried it open and reached inside, taking the first thing she felt her hand brush against. It was papery, and she knew what it would be the moment she took it out, but she handed it to him anyway. He took it carefully.
"Her Hogwarts letter?"
He did not unroll it, he just touched his finger along the outline of the broken seal, so gently, as if it might crumble at any time.
"When she told me she'd lost it, she was quite upset," he said. "I told her it was just a letter, but you know --"
"Of course," Petunia interrupted. "I know how much it meant to her."
He set the letter next to him on the bed. "We don't have to do this; you don't have to show me her things."
Petunia had avoided going through the box at all. She had worked so hard to make Lily's name a dirty word in her household, how could she even share her memories with Vernon now? Vernon loathed Lily almost more than she did, just as Petunia had wanted him to do. Dudley was wise enough to never ask about her. Now that Snape was here and the box was opened, she knew she would have to go through it completely.
It was nearly tea time when they had gone through several other items she had squirreled away in the box. A broken frame with a magical picture of a Kneazle (Snape told her it was a Kneazle, she used to think it was just a large housecat) running around in circles chasing its tail. Lily's Head Girl pin. Her vision of Lily grew older and younger with each item Petunia retrieved from the box. When she took something out of the box, she held it in her own hands, barely listening to what he was saying about it. Sometimes she passed them quickly to him, as if she couldn't get rid of it quick enough, others she was reluctant to give away. She didn't look at him as they talked, as if she could just pretend he was someone else.
"I remember once when she --"
"One of the Aurors usually comes around tea time," Petunia interrupted, closing the box up. "Maybe you could come back tomorrow?"
She heard the bang upstairs this time. She set the iron down, hurried upstairs and found him standing in the bedroom, his hand on the lid of the box.
"What are you doing?"
"You said I could --"
"Apport, appar -- whatever it is you do, yes, but not up here!" She slapped his hand away from the box. He drew it back, a stunned look in his eyes. But he obediently sat down on the edge of the bed. When she realized he was not going to grace her with an apology, she let out a huff of annoyance. "I have to go turn off the iron. Don't touch it."
When she reached into the box, she felt around for what she was looking for and brought it out. It was a little charmed music box, no bigger than a thimble.
"Today," Petunia said, her heart thumping wildly in her chest. "Let's say all the most hurtful things she told us about the other. Just today, then it'll be all done with."
"If you don't want to, then I suppose you'll just have to leave then." She made as if to put the music box away, but he made an anxious sound.
"Fine," he snapped. "She told me once you were a little brat because you were jealous she was at Hogwarts and you weren't." He tilted his head a little, pegging Lily's look spot on, right down to her shrill tone. "'Tuney won't let up; she's so mean. She won't let me tell her one good thing about school.'"
"I didn't say you got to go first," Petunia countered, but she had already been stung.
"Too bad," he said. "Now you."
"He gave her this for her birthday," Petunia said, pressing the bottom of the music box. The tiny dome opened up, and a miniature array of dancers swung each other around the impossibly small surface as a soft waltz played. "There were many gifts after that, of course."
He laughed at her. "Is that your worst?"
"She told me you were a crybaby."
He stared at her, the mean smile disappearing instantly from his lips. His shoulders slumped. "You went twice," he said hoarsely.
"I don't care," Petunia said, tossing the music box onto the bed and crossing her arms.
"You never did," he spat back. "She wept more than I did. She was so homesick, she spent most of her classes in the headmaster's office, begging to go home."
Petunia gaped. "No, she loved it there. You're lying."
"You wanted the truth," he said. "I don't lie. Yet when she did make friends, she used to pretend they were her sisters." He grinned when he saw Petunia's face fall. "They made up silly pacts about how they were sisters for life. Much better than any real sister, she'd say."
Petunia refused to let her tears fall, but she felt them brimming at the edges. "Remember when you came over during Christmas holiday, asking for her?" she said. "I told you she was with the Potters. She wasn't."
He looked at her blankly.
"She told me to tell you she wasn't home. You'd been pestering her at school, sending her letters, but you wouldn't get the hint, would you? 'Just tell Severus something. Tell him I'm ill.' But I didn't, I already knew about James, so I said what I knew would really stop you from coming 'round."
She could see his upset by the quickening of the rise and fall in his chest, the way he swallowed several times. She felt how hurt he was and she reveled in it.
"That wasn't her being cruel, that was you."
"Was it?" Petunia said, looking at him with a hard gaze. "You wanted the truth, didn't you? She was just too soft to tell you how she really felt. You should be the one thanking me that you didn't have to come back and make a fool of yourself when she was actually at the Potters' the following Christmas."
She steeled herself for his next blow, but he only stared down in his lap.
"She acted soft," he said finally. "But she could be cruel. She thought she was letting me down easy, but instead --"
"She cut you off," Petunia finished. "Just as she did me." She reached down into the box and brought out more of the gifts that James had given Lily; a silver hair comb, a picture of himself and Lily. She thrust them toward Snape; but he pushed his hands out toward her at the same time and the gifts clattered to the floor.
"Is it always going to be like this with you?" he said, his voice tight and angry.
"No. Tomorrow we can talk about how we loved her."
Petunia reached into the box and brought out a small golden frog. She stroked its head and it looked up at her and croaked.
"She made this for me. When she first showed it to me, it made me scream. I wasn't expecting it... what it would do."
He reached out his hand and she tipped the frog into his palm.
"I remember this. She needed help to make it golden, but she couldn't quite get the colour right. She never stopped trying to win you over. There were many, many more gifts for you that she never brought home."
Petunia nodded, again trying to stop the tears, but this time she found she couldn't. This time there was no cruelty in his face for upsetting her, only a mirror of her sadness. Her tears dropped upon the cardboard as she reached into the box again; she brought out a small vial. He groaned as he reached out for it. She felt his grief; this time she took no pleasure in it. Their fingers brushed against each other when he took the vial from her.
"I tried to forget her," he said, his voice barely a whisper. "I put all my memories of her in here; I told her to take them, to let me forget. I didn't think she would save it."
He uncorked the vial and took out his wand. She watched in silence as the silvery wisp inside the vial seemed to attach itself to the end of his wand. He drew his wand upward to his temple and closed his eyes as he touched the strand there. The wisp disappeared slowly, drawing itself back into him. He set his wand back down on the bed beside him, his hand trembling.
Petunia reached inside the box once more, finding the very last thing in the corner. It was a tight little bud of a daisy.
"The day she opened it for me, I went back and searched for it long after you both had left. I kept it because... because I knew she wanted...."
Petunia's voice broke, and she dropped the little bud, hiding her face in her hands. She felt him pull her hands away from her face; through the film of tears she saw him put the bud back in her palm.
"No, no!" she cried. "Don't do her magic, I don't want to see it again. Just get rid of it, get rid of it all!"
He reached underneath the bed where Petunia had stashed everything they had examined. The letter, the photographs, the pin, everything; he put it back into the cardboard box and closed it up. He snatched up his wand and uttered a word she didn't understand. The box burst into blue flames and she screamed suddenly, pulling her legs up off the carpet and crouching on the bed. He only stared as the flames consumed the box, then with another word they died down to the tiniest flame which suddenly blew itself out. The carpeting was not even singed.
Petunia reached down tentatively to the carpet. It wasn't even hot. She swung her legs down onto the ground, feeling embarrassed as she smoothed her skirt down. She was stunned. It was all gone.
He was staring at her, his gaze a little too penetrating, too intense. "Is that what you wanted?"
"She told me about your trick," Petunia said, looking away. "Don't do it."
His tone was incredulous. "She told you that?"
Petunia glanced back his way. "She told me a great deal more."
"No. I think we're done here."
Downstairs, they stood awkwardly in front of the door. She wanted him to tell him more, to tell her of a Lily she didn't know. The Lily that lived at Hogwarts, the Lily that he loved. But she it would never be enough. They would be constantly greedy, starved for memories of her until there was nothing left. Now that he was standing there, she saw what Lily had seen in him. Lily had seen a mentor, a doorway to her powers. He was not handsome, but it was his intensity that was the pull. She twisted her hands together, the agony of not knowing what to do making her chest tighten in anxiety.
"I'd like to come back. Please?"
"You're not getting a second chance with her with me," she said abruptly, her tone scathing. It was easy to pull up the old jealousy and anger around her bruised heart. It shielded her, protected her. "But you're trying hard, aren't you?"
"Yes," he said.
It seemed to Petunia that he could tell he'd lost already. She thought she'd feel triumphant, but now she felt only sadness. It would be so easy to lose herself in his intensity, to see into Lily through his eyes, just as he seemed to hunger to see Lily through hers.
"No," she said quietly. "Please don't come back."
"I won't." He disappeared, startling her again for the last time.
She knew he wouldn't be back. He had told her he didn't lie.