Words: 33,000 total
Warnings: referenced child abuse, canon-typical violence.
Cryptophasia or Lack Thereof
Minerva McGonagall had not spent longer than a handful of hours into the Muggle world since her father’s funeral.
It had been a quiet affair, over thirty years prior, in the deeply mournful Scottish countryside. A day of rain and black clouds over the mountain town where his presbytery had sat for centuries. Minerva had not taken the time to visit the little house in which she had grown and known him—in which her pureblood mother had died, scorned by her still-living sister for having married him—and only taken to the cemetery in silence. After the burying was done, after she had paid her respects to the somber, stern-worded man who had raised her stiff and upright, she had said her goodbyes to the world of non-magical folk.
It was not a decision she regretted. Not even one she thought about all that often. Minerva had never known that world to be hers, after all, and outside of her Muggle father and his Muggle family, all of whom were long gone, she had no attachment to it at all.
Sitting on a low branch of the only tree in Mr and Mrs Dursley’s frontyard, looking through the yellow-lit windows of their home, she regretted it for the first time.
The date was November first, 1981; the Dark Lord Voldemort had just died, or otherwise vanished, at the hands of two toddlers; and Minerva sat in cat form above the lawn of a painfully Muggle house, within a painfully Muggle town, for a night and a day.
She wondered at the contraptions she saw through laced curtains. Petunia Dursley’s husband sat for a long time in front of a bright and noisy picture box, and Petunia herself oft took the telephone off its stand upon the hallway wall to speak and purse her lips at it. It looked nothing like the telephone she had known nearby the presbytery—the only one in the village. What the picture box was, she could not say.
Their child cried often, a round-and-red-faced thing always drowned in toys and sweets, and Petunia hurried to the babe’s side no matter how busy she seemed. Dursley himself sat before the box, speaking gruffly or remaining silent, not doing much to help.
Minerva licked between her sharp claws and thought long and hard.
The Muggles went to sleep a little before ten. More lights went out from behind curtained windows; fewer cars roamed, once all who lived on Privet Drive had regained their households. Soon only the flutter of autumn wind could be heard through yellowing foliage, and sometimes the echo of a cat’s meowing in the dark of a driveway.
Then even the lights vanished, and Minerva saw with her cat’s eyes the tall silhouette of a man wearing deep purple robes.
She waited till he had taken out every single streetlight before moving. She jumped from the low branch of the tree, taking the fall easily in spite of her body’s age, and shifted back into the person she truly was.
“Ah, Minerva,” said Albus Dumbledore. “I thought I might find you here.”
“Good evening, Albus,” Minerva replied tersely.
Her own lips thinned. She thought of the pursed-mouth look of Petunia Dursley and made herself smile instead, rough and pained as it was.
She had not the occasion to smile for a long many years.
She took in the appearance of Albus before her—tall and beaming as if there were no reason at all to be tense, as if there never had been. He always looked the part of benevolence and kindness, yet she could see that tonight, there was no forcing the calm.
“It is true, then,” she murmured. “What they say.”
Albus looked to her gravely again. “Yes. Voldemort is gone.”
She shivered at the name but did not let it show. “Is he dead, Albus?”
It was all she had thought of in-between Dudley Dursley’s cries and his mother’s fussing: was he truly dead, as the celebrations implied? Or was this just another fluke, another false hope on the cheery wind, the way that many had celebrated after the attack on the Prewetts, believing that their murderers were taken too in the fighting?
Albus’s silence would have sufficed to cool her own hopes, even if he had not spoken. He blinked once in the dim moonlight, looking up to the house behind her which she had observed all day, and Minerva read on him all that she needed to.
“He is gone, yes,” Albus said. “For now. Whether he is truly dead… is more difficult to answer at present.”
“And the Potters?”
“I believe you know the answer to that question, dear Professor.”
Minerva did not break this silence, not even to gasp, to clutch the opening of her travel cloak in shock. Twenty hours or so had been enough for her to accept that she should never again see James or Lily Potter’s smiles—if not enough for her to grieve them in full.
“The boys are alive,” was all she said.
“They are,” Albus agreed. “And if you are here, I can only surmise that you have heard more about this than a great many people.”
A great roar cut her words off in the making.
Light flooded the peaceful street. It did not come from either end of it, as Minerva expected, but from above: she raised her head, one hand grabbing the hem of the deep-green hat she liked to wear for travel, and blinked her sensitive eyes to the blinding glow which fell upon her. Soon a crashing sound reached her, and a black motorbike she had last seen ridden by Sirius Black touched upon the asphalt, coming to a shrieking stop by hers and Albus’s side.
It was not Sirius Black riding it, however, but Hagrid.
“Hagrid?” she let out in her surprise.
Hagrid got off the seat with a great, huffing sigh. If Minerva had not felt when the bike appeared a shiver of magic on her skin, coming from Dumbledore himself, she would have wondered how any Muggle could have slept through the noise.
“Evenin’, Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall,” Hagrid said roughly. “Er, I brought the tyke over like you asked, Headmaster—fell asleep while we were flying o’er Bristol, I think, poor boy. His head’s not bleedin’ anymore, there’s that.”
There was cloth hung around his wide body, she realized, a green baby blanket with a bump over his front where a child must lay sleeping.
She watched silently as Hagrid untied the blanket from his shoulders and passed the child over to Albus. Still she could not help but lean over and look at the sleeping boy’s face: at the stark streaks of white littering the middle of his forehead under a heap of black hear, looking near-silver against his pale brown skin. A Lichtenberg figure etched forever onto him. Crusted blood still flaked at the edges of it.
“Which one is he?” Minerva asked quietly.
Albus carefully settled the boy into the crook of his arm, trying his best not to jostle him awake. “Harry,” he replied. “The eldest.”
“And what of Nicholas?”
“I brough’ him to the Weasleys like you asked, Professor,” was Hagrid’s answer. His eyes looked wet in the starlight, and he sniffled loudly. “Molly an’ Arthur looked a right mess hearing of what happened to—what happened to—”
His breathing cut harshly. He gave a whine almost like that dog of his, loud and miserable, his great shoulders shaking as he sobbed his heart out.
“Oh, Hagrid,” said Albus.
With the hand he did not have holding Harry, he patted Hagrid’s shoulder. Minerva acted likewise, her own grief surging up her throat suddenly, and held Hagrid’s arm with a thin hand till he took a dotted handkerchief the size of a tablecloth out of his coat and blew loudly into it.
“I’m sorry,” Hagrid sobbed. “James an’ Lily—they didn’t deserve tha’, no they didn’t.”
“They did not,” Albus agreed, somber. “And neither did their sons.”
“Little Nicholas couldn’t stop crying, even when I gave him to Molly…”
Minerva took her hand back and watched the front door of the Dursleys’ house as Albus comforted his gamekeeper. She pinched her lips again, and this time the thought of Petunia’s unattractive face doing the same could not stop her.
She heard Albus call her name. When she looked at him again, his face was kind but unsmiling. “You wanted to ask me something, I believe,” he said.
“Yes,” Minerva made herself reply. “Albus… Why separate them?”
Hagrid was still blowing his nose, but he too looked attentive. He had never been one to question Albus Dumbledore as Minerva or the other Hogwarts staff sometimes did, but there was a hesitance to him which spoke of his own confusion on the matter.
Albus smiled unhappily. He rocked Harry in his arms and took a step toward the door, Minerva following suit. “I shall leave a communication device with Mrs Dursley, as well as a phone number,” he said. “Arthur is quite taken with Muggle technology, and I had one installed at the house the Potters left them in their will. Harry and Nicholas will not truly be separated.”
“But why not have the both of them live with the Weasleys, then?” Seeing the face he made, she hurried to add: “I know Arthur and Molly already have seven children to take care of, and it is a lot to ask of them, but—”
“This is, in fact, one of the reasons,” said Albus. He paused before the doorsteps of the house, looking in interest at the electric doorbell. “They both offered, as you can imagine. They would have gladly taken Harry in as well as his brother. I am quite certain Molly would like to curse me herself for having them live apart.”
Minerva did not gnaw at her lip. She was not anymore the thirteen-year-old girl in Quidditch robes too big for her, anxiously awaiting her first match. “Then why, Albus?”
“I fear,” Albus replied, “that the celebratory mood our world finds itself in is not to last very long.”
Hagrid sniffled. Wind ruffled the tree’s foliage. Another cat meowed in the dark of an alley not far, reaching Minerva’s acute hearing faintly.
“There are still many Death Eaters uncaught and untried for their crimes. Voldemort himself—” Albus ignored her stillness and Hagrid’s loud whine both “—will eventually return. I would not risk both Harry and Nicholas being caught in the crossfire at once, not when they can be better protected separately.”
“But a Muggle home…”
Albus smiled. “What a mystery blood magic is,” he said. “The Potter house in Cleethorpes is imbued with it, dressed with the best enchantments and wards known to our kind… and, in accepting to care for her nephew, Petunia shall imbue her home with those very same enchantments, as if wizards had lived on number four, Privet Drive for centuries.”
There was little Minerva could say to this. She had not the knowledge of warding or blood magic that Albus must. She was his match in Transfiguration, but not anything else.
Still, if even the Fidelius Charm had not protected James and Lily—and her heart ached to know this, to acknowledge the logical reason that it should have failed at all—how could a Muggle house hope to protect Harry?
“I watched them today,” she said anyway. She watched as Albus rocked the child in his arms, tender and as pained as she was to leave Harry Potter here and not in the care of Molly Weasley. “The Dursleys. I came here as soon as Doris told me what you planned to do with the boys. Albus, they are the worst of their kind. The husband did not lift a finger to help his wife all day long, and their son is a spoiled little thing with a terrible attitude even at such a young age.”
So many witches and wizards would love to care for either Harry or Nicholas Potter. Little as Minerva had lingered in the celebrations the previous night, she still saw genuine love and gratitude in the faces of those who finally hailed the coming of peace.
“They are so… normal,” Minerva said tightly.
“Dear Minerva, we can hardly judge them for wishing to live normally.”
But there was a weight to the way Albus spoke, and Minerva knew that her worry was his own, too. He had chosen to give one of the Potter children to Petunia Dursley, for those reasons he had given her and those he kept to himself, and the choice had not been an easy one for him.
So she did nothing more than watch as he gently put the sleeping Harry Potter on the doorstep of number four, Privet Drive. She added a silent Cushioning Charm to the Warming one he left over the nest of blankets, and did not answer Albus’s fond smile with any of her own. Behind them, Hagrid muttered his own goodbyes to the little boy.
One by one, Albus lit again the streetlights of Privet Drive. Hagrid once more flew away over Sirius Black’s enchanted motorbike. Albus stood for a while yet before the tidy lawn of number four, looking silently at the door.
“Well,” he said heavily. “I should head back to Hogwarts now, and call upon the house-elves to make sure they do not exhaust themselves preparing a third feast in a row.”
Classes had been canceled for a week after they all learned of the Dark Lord’s demise, and for two evenings now the Great Hall of Hogwarts had delivered food enough to satiate twice its number of students.
Albus turned away from the sight of Harry Potter. “I shall see you in the morning, I expect, Professor,” he said.
“Yes,” Minerva heard herself reply. “Good night, Albus.”
With another look toward the green blanket, Minerva did as well.
On the morning of November second, 1981, Petunia Dursley almost fell on her usual way out of the house to spy on the neighbors. Mr Lester down the street had his affair exposed two months ago, and ever since then the kiss that his wife bestowed upon his cheek in the morning had been tight-lipped and reluctant. Petunia liked to watch her give it to him and then loudly ask Vernon whether he believed they would divorce a month or a year from now.
But this morning, she did not see Henry Lester receive his wife’s kiss as one received a blow. Her slipper caught upon a soft weight above her front step, and Petunia nearly fell, holding the empty glass bottles she was to give to the milkman. She saw the child nestled in his light-green blanket, and screamed; and for the two weeks that followed, the neighborhood gossip would speak of that child and that scream, and not Henry Lester’s failing marriage.
Petunia read the letter. She took the glinting and whirring little silver disc left in its folds while wearing cooking gloves, wrapped it in three different trash bags, and brought it to the farthest corner of the basement, where she had her husband dig out a brick to hide it under with.
The letter with its condolences and explanation and phone number, she simply burned.
And for ten years, she let Harry Potter live in her home. She had him as out of sight as she could allow, she did not call him a son or a nephew, she had not her own child befriend or play with him. Vernon found glee in mocking and pushing at the little boy. Dudley, learning after his father, developed the same habits. Petunia watched Harry only when she could not avoid to, and it seemed to her that this boy with his unkempt hair and green eyes and sullen temper was like her shame come alive to haunt her.
Harry Potter lived in a cupboard under the stairs and wore his cousin’s too-big clothes and received a coat hanger for Christmas; and never, in ten years, did he ever hear of the world he had saved or the brother he was born with.
On that cool November night, as one child slept in the warmth of a great witch’s magic and another in the arms of a mother not his, the hidden wizards of Great Britain toasted and cheered: “To the Boys Who Lived!”