I always forget that Petunia lost a sister when Lily dies. I don't think she's ever allowed to grieve. I've been like that before and I hate it. Sometimes I haven't allowed myself grieve and I've gone on pretending that everything's the same and "beautifully perfect."
Author's Response: Thank you for this review. Petunia and Lily's relationship, and the loss of it, has always touched me. It was hard exploring Petunia's grief because it also meant confronting the guilt and denial I've struggled with myself. Grief never ends, of course, and Petunia has a constant reminder of her sister, and their failed relationship, in Harry.
I can't say I get to read stories about Petunia very often, so when Carole suggested I read this, I was intrigued to see how you'd handle her. To make someone who gets such a harsh portrayal in canon understandable and even relatable seems like a hard task, but I think you pulled it off masterfully. There were so many little details that contributed to her character, which was very recognisably the Petunia we see in canon, and they all came together beautifully to make her real.
First, however, your gorgeous prose. For a story so full of the mundane, the Muggle, this had a lot of sparkle. A favourite phrase of mine came in the park, when Petunia feels Remus watching, with an “awkward, watchful sense that smells like a train station”, because of course she would associate discomfort with watching Lily leave her behind, year after year. So many little things come back to Lily, and it really helps me understand Petunia. I loved the jumbling of senses in that line, too, because it made me think that Petunia didn't really want that memory. If she could forget Lily, perhaps she would.
The other thing I really liked in terms of how you wrote this was all of the contrasts you created. In the opening, it's between Petunia's words and her true feelings. Then it's between Remus and Petunia, going from rosewater and baking soda to a cigarette and battered corduroy. There's Petunia's theory about Remus having his own child running around the playground, and what I know to be the reality of his life. The boy with “dark, lank hair” and Lily, “brilliant, gold and glowing”, Remus's memory of Lily and the reality of Petunia: each fresh juxtaposition is painful. With the way you write, I can't forget the pain behind the mundane facts of Petunia's life, the ordinariness she seeks.
And of course Petunia strives to be ordinary. That's the very first thing we see about the Dursleys in canon, that they are absolutely set on being normal. Now, however, I really felt I could understand why. Her obsessions with keeping up appearances - the rose water, the white lace handkerchief - seems to be because on the inside, she can't get rid of her connection to abnormality. Lily and Sev always seem to be in her mind, and seeking suburban perfection seems to be how she fights that. I've never really found myself able to get into her head this much. You've written her so well.
Remus, too, seemed so himself, despite the brevity of his appearances. The quiet, unobtrusiveness, how he vanishes so subtly, smiles so softly - it couldn't be anyone else, even though he's not named. All the little details about his appearance built up to it, but it was when he interacted with Petunia that I really felt his personality come through. The “sad disappointment” in his voice is something I imagine would often be felt there. The weight of his grief felt enormous, to the point that I wanted to run over and hug him. He felt real.
An important thing for me is how you structured your plot. Bringing the story full circle, back to Petunia alone, thinking of neighbours and roses - that's the essence of it all. Petunia will never be drawn out of her pursuit of perfection, how ever Remus makes her feel. All the events of your plot are irrelevant when she's going to ensure that it comes full circle, back to where she started. The sadness will go on being ignored. I'm not entirely sure how to feel about that, but that's life, I suppose, and you made this story feel so true to life.
I'm glad you addressed the issue of what Remus did before Harry's third year. I'm glad you wrote about Petunia, too. I was glad to understand her further, and even if I can never truly like her, I very much pity her now. I adored this story, lingering sense of sadness and all, to the point that I can't quite find the words to express myself. Well done indeed.
Author's Response: It's always so hard to explain why I am interested in the Dursleys, and by extension all of the non-magical characters in the series. Probably because I don't quite know, myself. I think perhaps it's linked to the fact that they are the very first characters we encounter when reading the series, and that conviction and earnestness in the Dursleys to be 'normal' is so striking. It can be easy to play them off as silly, but I feel like that's doing a disservice to JKR and the way she moulds her characters. As you say, we see in the Dursleys, specifically Petunia, such ambition to fit in, and that's fairly representative of a lot of people in society. Most of us, in fact. And perhaps that's another reason why I'm so intrigued by them in fanfiction, because we don't often get to explore that need for 'normality' in the Potterverse, and in reality, I generally dislike that Keeping Up With The Joneses mentality. It was great trying to get into Petunia's head, because I only had to look over my fence to watch my neighbours buying boats and TVs and updating their cars to keep up with everyone else. People often refer to the Dursleys as caricatures, but in ways they are as grounded in reality as every other character in the series, because people in real life who strive to keep up and fit in behave like caricatures themselves. So, after this long ramble, I'm really glad you felt like my portrayal of Petunia was written well. I didn't want to write a caricature, but someone who is part of our world and not just the Potterverse.
In contrast, we have Remus! It was necessary to have a character that is the opposite of Petunia, to show how drawn she is towards what is "abnormal" despite her efforts to avoid anything strange at all costs. Remus, unlike Petunia, has never fit in. He's an outcast from both worlds, magical and Muggle. I love contrasting imagery and themes, so it was lovely to read about how you appreciated them, as well. Like the Dursleys, I've always been intrigued by what Remus did during those lost years and so it was a lot fun coming up with this backstory.
Thank you so much, Sophie, for this lovely review. My jaw dropped like a cartoon character when I saw it waiting for me. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I apologise for going on a bit in my reply, but it's a lot of fun being able to discuss characters that we rarely get to talk about. Thanks again :)
"Because they don’t exist if she pretends hard enough."
this sums up Petunia accurately.
Gods in Valhalla, this fic is simply dreamlike and unapologetically realistic at the same time. and remus! your petunia is so well done that i'm not going to comment on it (haha... ... ...) but the Remus is so chillingly Remus. Serious. Soft. Quiet. Subtle, and yet "deal with it".
the writing is perfection as usual.
Author's Response: Thank you, my love! I loved writing Remus, especially from Petunia's perspective. They're both very interesting characters to explore, particularly together in the same fic. Thanks for the review! xoxo
Oh, Julia. This is just...amazing. I was utterly entranced by your writing, the beauty and the frailty of the prose, and it really brings out that idea of perfection in your story, and what a delicate balance Petunia maintains in her life. You've just written her in such an incredibly compassionate manner, and that's my absolute favourite thing I'd love to find in writing - characters wrought with compassion. And Petunia...poor Petunia. Struggling to deal with so many things - the incredible shallowness of her suburban life, her repressed grief at Lily's death and her lasting resentment toward Lily and Harry and how she has been excluded from the world Lily is privileged to belong to...
There are so many brilliant details and you convey Petunia's feelings, especially toward the mystery stranger, in such a subtle way: She’s nearly forgotten him, except in those unsatisfying moments at night when Vernon is asleep beside her and her thighs are still tingling, warm, not quite finished. Gah. I can't even. And yes, Petunia really does immerse herself in all the tiny details of her life, attempting to convince herself that her life is perfect in its hollowness and that she is absolutely not in denial. The roses, the eavesdropping on neighbours, the baking soda, the smiley facade...these are all so canon and yet you've really taken them further and added your own personal touch to them. I might be grossly misinterpreting your fic; I don't know :P
And gaaaaah. Remus :( :( :( :( My heart just dropped like a cannonball when he said that awful awful line: you're nothing like her after all. *SOBS* This piece. I dunno. So full of pain. So full of quiet pain and smoothed-over desperation and you've brought all this up so beautifully. And that lovely change of tone toward the end. Anyway. I really loved this. I think you're an amazing writer.
Author's Response: Thank you so much, teh. After reading your own beautiful, amazing, magnificent writing, it means a lot to receive this review. Petunia was hard to get right. On the one hand, I needed to conjure some sympathy for her as the main protagonist. The reader needs to be compelled to want to read about her, since she is already a disliked character. On the other hand, I could not forget or ignore the horrible life she provided for Harry. Although it was a challenge, it was also interesting juggling those two aspects of the character. In canon we see a woman who relishes keeping her home for her husband and son, but then we also see this explosively bitter side to her towards her sister and nephew, and such ferocious jealousy. Jealousy is borne of dissatisfaction so I am just so happy to see that my interpretation of her character resonates with you, Carole, and my other reviewers. Remus is my favourite Marauder, and when I was challenged to write a drabble pairing Petunia with anyone but Snape or Vernon, my mind jumped to Remus immediately. I can imagine him secretly visiting Harry, watching from a distance, not just to check on Harry but also as a personal comfort after all that he has lost. Harry is the tether to his past life and the people who made him happy. But what would he think of Petunia? The sister of the woman who had been so kind towards him and so many others? What he said to Petunia was so cutting because I imagine he would be disappointed to discover Petunia's true nature after hoping to find another soul like Lily. Again, thank you so much for your review. It brought a smile to my day :D Julia xoxo
I was going to calm down before I reviewed this. Sadly, that will probably take a whole year, so you're going to get something very incomprehensible.
This is so wonderful. I love the set up here. I adore the picture you've painted of Petunai for a start. I was feeling so desperately sorry for her being married to Vernon and being so very unsatisfied. But then ... just when I'm starting to sympathise with her (it's the baking soda), she's bloody horrible to Harry and all my sympathy for her dies. If she'd shown an smidgeon of compassion for him, then maybe, but no, she was horrible.
I think Remus felt a bit like that, too. (BTW, I knew it had to be Remus. Even without factoring in the timeline, it's the sort of thing he would do, plus the description was very accurate) He was watching her so politely, even poloishing his shoes, perhaps in an attempt to become at the very least friendly, but then he sees what she is. His rebuke is SO cutting, but so right. perfect characterisation.
This is blissfully wonderfull, and wonderfully blissful and I shall stop squeeing long enough to say
THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH!
Author's Response: Thank you, Carole! Thank you for this wonderful review and thank you for organising the brawl that started this fic in the first place! Even though I got voted out in this round I have always liked the bones of the early drabble so I'm so glad that you thought my expanded version was great, too. I hope this wasn't too depressing for a birthday gift. xoxo
Wow that was so amazing. I really liked how you went deeply into Petunia's emotions, the way she miss her sister. Still, I'm a bit confused. Is the man Sirius?
Author's Response: Thank you! The story takes place after Sirius went to Azkaban. It's Remus :)
Nice story, but - who is he?
Author's Response: Thanks. The man is Remus.