Imagining alternate realities for popular stories is par for the course in fandom, but some of them inevitably hit harder than others. We came across this AU version of Harry Potter, where Tumblr user ink-splotch postulated what the saga might have been like if Petunia Dursley had found some love in her heart for little Harry, and left Vernon to raise her two boys on her own.
The result is beautiful, but it hurts so much.
This story tells the tale of Petunia divorcing her husband and choosing to raise Dudley and Harry as a family. Rather than pitting them against each other at every turn, the boys grow up as brothers:
Harry grew up small and skinny, with knobbly knees and the unruly hair he got from his father. He got cornered behind the dumpsters and in the restrooms, got blood on the jumpers Petunia had found, half-price, at the hand-me-down store. He was still chosen last for sports. But Dudley got blood on his sweaters, too, the ones Petunia had found at the hand-me-down store, half price, because that was all a single mother working two secretary jobs could afford for her two boys, even with Vernon’s grudging child support.
They beat Harry for being small and they laughed at Dudley for being big, and slow, and dumb. Students jeered at him and teachers called Dudley out in class, smirked over his backwards letters.
Harry helped him with his homework, snapped out razored wit in classrooms when bullies decided to make Dudley the butt of anything; Harry cornered Dudley in their tiny cramped kitchen and called him smart, and clever, and ‘better ’n all those jerks anyway’ on the days Dudley believed it least.
Dudley walked Harry to school and back, to his advanced classes and past the dumpsters, and grinned, big and slow and not dumb at all, at anyone who tried to mess with them.
But eventually, the wizarding world comes for Harry, as it always would:
Harry grew up loved. Petunia still ran when the letters came. This was her nephew, and this world, this letter, these eyes, had killed her sister. When Hagrid came and knocked down the door of some poor roadside motel, Petunia stood in front of both her boys, shaking. When Hagrid offered Harry a squashed birthday cake with big, kind, clumsy hands, he reminded Harry more than anything of his cousin.
His aunt was still shaking but Harry, eleven years and eight minutes old, decided that any world that had people like his big cousin in it couldn’t be all bad. “I want to go,” Harry told his aunt and he promised to come home.
And when Harry meets Ron on the Hogwarts Express, he has a different story to tell:
When the little Evans family got back to their apartment with Harry’s crumpled letter in his tiny hand and Dudley’s bigger ones empty, Petunia sat them both down, in their kitchen with its weird stain on one wall and the weird musty smell, and told them they were not allowed to hate each other.
Harry looked up from the summer school essay he was editing for Dudley and Dudley peeked under the ice pack he was holding to the swelling black eye he’d got convincining some local tough kids from behind the candy shop to give Harry his pocket money back. “OK, mum,” they chorused.
When Harry met Ron on the Hogwarts Express, Ron told him he had five older brothers and Harry said, “I have one.”
Petunia gets drawn into the world that took her sister, meeting Harry’s friends and their families:
Harry brought home other things too–a bushy-haired, buck-toothed girl and a freckled boy who shouted over the telephone–very improper. Mrs. Weasley though Petunia was quaint, stiff, a little sharp. Mr. Weasley thought she was fascinating, and Ginny thought she was hilarious, the way those lips would twist, spit out something polite and damning. The twins tried to prank her once. They didn’t do it twice.
Harry wrote home and whenever he mentioned that people called Hermione ugly or shrill something in Petunia seized up with fury; whenever he wrote that people called Ron stupid, not kind, not loyal, not practical, Petunia would cast her eyes over to Dudley, frowning over his homework, and want to set things aflame.
She never wanted to be a part of this magical place, but she joins the fight anyway, because Harry is hers:
“This ain’t a war for Muggles,” said Moody and told her eight ways they might die bloody.
“If he is my son, then he is my son,” said Petunia, and she and Dudley packed their things. When they reached Grimmauld Place, Tonks knocked over a coatrack under Petunia’s disapproving gaze, and Molly Weasley came out and hugged Petunia tight. She had known Lily Potter– remember. Petunia had lost a sister in the war and people like Molly, Arthur, Minerva, Lupin; they had lost a beautiful young friend.
They holed up in there with Sirius, who never grew on Petunia. When Petunia was frustrated with Lupin’s moping or Molly’s frenetic energy, or the way Dudley tagged along behind the twins, Petunia would go tug the covering down off the portrait of Sirius’s mother and they would scream at each other until Petunia felt her stomach settle.
When the war came, when the Order of the Phoenix rekindled itself, Dudley joined up. He worked as a messenger thoughout the war, ran missions that didn’t require spells, but did require a pocket of joke shop tricks and a tendency to be underestimated and overlooked.
These are just fragments of the story ink-splotch tells, and it goes all the way through to the end of Harry’s journey. What’s remarkable about the retelling is how it allows Petunia and Dudley to participate in one of Rowling’s critical central themes; the underestimation and maligning of people who are perceived as different. Rather than the violently enforced “normalcy” that the Dursleys represent in the Potter books, Petunia and Dudley also struggle to find out where they belong and find themselves allying with other people who face those same challenges.
We’re just going to… sit with that for a while. Sniffling into our tea.