At Number Six, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, neighbouring houses number Four and Eight, lives two middle-aged women. New to the neighbourhood, the most that other residents have seen of the two women are shadows in the windows, the new cat taking a leisurely stroll down the pavement and the antique, Sherwood green 1947 Jaguar in the driveway. Not even the moving van was seen, unpacking furniture.
At Petunia Dursley's bridge club in Number Four, ladies of Privet Drive and Magnolia Crescent gossip fantastically, wondering and speculating about the new residents as they play cards and manoeuvre young babies on their laps, toddlers playing on the living room floor inside a plastic play-pen.
"I saw one of them at the shops earlier," Kerry Polkiss whispers dramatically, "the Indian one. She was wearing one of those colourful eastern dresses, with the gold thread and these terribly large earrings. A black girl was with her – called her mum."
"A teenager?" Jennifer gasps, scandalised. "Oh dear, maybe her husband died?"
"How horrible," Petunia shivers, clutching her cards to her chest.
"Oh, I'm sorry, love," Jennifer reaches a hand over to grasp her arm, "I know your sister died, recently. I heard the news."
Petunia reaches to place a hand on top of Jennifer's, shaking her head. "It's alright. Lily…I wasn't on good terms with my sister, not for a long time."
"Don't you have her son now, though," Kerry grimaces, glancing back to where Harry Potter plays blocks with his cousin and Kerry's son, Piers. In the setting sun that shines through the window, young Harry's dark skin is cast in a golden hue – but it doesn't matter, not with that mop of black hair and that ugly scar plastered over his forehead, still red and glistening after a week of healing. Petunia doesn't think it'll ever get better.
"I do," Petunia says quietly, back stiff underneath her flowery button-up. Petunia never knew Harry's father that well – even though James Potter wasn't an uncommon topic of conversation from Lily Evans when she was younger, complaining about the group of boys that caused havoc and controlled chaos both in class and out of it – but he attended her wedding and she can remember being able to spot him from across the room, the only coloured person in a room of Caucasians. In the back of her mind, she wonders if this new neighbour is from the same country James' family was from.
"I don't like how he plays with them," Kerry says bluntly. "It's not right. He should be with children like him."
"Well, he's in my custody now, so deal with it," Petunia snaps, the ambient noise from the children cutting out for a slight second as small heads turn to look at the source of the anger. Kerry's face burns, but Petunia blushes too, pale skin flushing pink. Oh no, she thinks, now I'll be like this all evening.
"…maybe they're together," Rebecca whispers in a hush, in an attempt to distract everyone from Petunia's words. Of course, the immediate disapproval radiates from everyone.
"Preposterous, they would never let that kind of person live in our neighbourhood-"
In Number Six, a magical listening charm is cancelled, Minerva McGonagall rolling her eyes at the vitriol. Anger simmers in her chest, but she ignores it, safely assured that – for now – Petunia Dursley nee Evans will look after her nephew adequately.
Albus never said anything about keeping an eye on him, though, she grumbles in her head, brooding over a cup of tea and a new theoretical paper on the use of transfiguration in food preparation. At her back, her wife nit-picks how their daughter cuts an onion.
"You're not chopping it small enough," Nuliajuk McGonagall-Bukhari – called Nulia by friends and family – says, anxious. "This is a family recipe, the onions need to be finely chopped."
"Mama, I honestly just want food right now," their daughter, Isobel McGonagall says, sliding the not-so-finely cut onion into the pan. Nulia, leaning against the fridge, crosses her arms in an attempt not to reach out and empty it into the bin. "Tradition is tradition, but food is also food. It'll taste the same, either way."
"Not if you don't season it in less than twenty seconds," Nulia rumbles, staring at the sweating onion. "Salt, cumin-"
"I've got it," Isobel interrupts. "Go bother Mum. She's cancelled that spell of hers."
"Oh?" Nulia twists to look at her wife, "and how is it looking next door?"
"Homophobic and more than slightly racist," Minerva says, blunt in delivery as she sets her transfiguration text down on the dining room table.
Nulia hums lowly, coming over to rest her hands on Minerva's shoulders, steel digits of her enchanted prosthetic hands digging into the muscles there, massaging the kinks out as Minerva groans.
"Ew," Isobel mutters.
"Say that to Mallory the next time you and her share a room in one of our houses," Nulia says and Minerva wonders really, truly, if her gorgeous deep voice is insured for thirteen billion galleons – she wouldn't be surprised if it were. She chuffs at her words, smiling as Isobel makes a noise of protests.
"I love you," Minerva says to her wife, the other witch leaning down to press a kiss to her forehead.
"Should I expect to find a kidnapped Harry Potter in my house tomorrow morning?" Nulia then asks seriously, dark eyes meeting green. Minerva shakes her head.
"Albus, however complicated his plans might be, is at least right about one thing," Minerva sighs, "The magic Lily used to protect her son was sacrificial blood magic and it means that he is safer from dark forces in the care of blood relatives. You and Miranda would know more about that than me, though."
Nulia nods tightly, not impressed by the mention of them. Her hands dig that much deeper into her back – enough that Minerva winces, the pressure ceasing immediately. Nulia drops another short kiss to her brow in apology, before returning to badger Isobel. Minerva twists in her seat to look at them both, lip twitching at the sight of Nulia nudging Isobel with her elbow, trying to get in at the pans. Pressed up against each other, pushing and shoving in good-natured disagreement, their differences are so stark.
She was afraid, Minerva remembers the first time they met Isobel, aged eight and unable to speak a word of English. Her hair had just been an inch-tall ball of fuzz and she'd just stared, flinching every time they did magic. Look at her now. Even as Minerva watches them, Isobel whips out her wand to stir the rice on the back-burner, topping up the water. Once upon a time, an eight-year old version of that girl would tremble at just the sight of a wand. She only relapsed once, when she was eleven and stepped into Ollivanders for the first time.
Isobel is a lot like Nulia, now. They both move their hands the same way, roll their eyes the same way – they even dress the same way, sometimes. Nulia can often be found in her colourful saris, choli tops and lehenga skirts with golden Sanskrit woven into the edges, magical garments that protect the wearer and offer whatever boon is written into them. Isobel, a student in Ancient Runes and apprenticing under Bathsheba Babbling, likewise wears such magical items – but there are certain influences in her personal fashion style that makes Minerva raise an eyebrow, at times.
The jeans, for example, instead of lehengas. Muggle jeans. Isobel often says jeans are 'fabulous', but Minerva is far from eager to believe her; even if Nulia tried them once, which made her look more gorgeous than usual, Minerva refuses to go near them.
Then there is a loud crack and a ripple in the wards, welcoming the invader. Minerva looks up to see Miranda standing in the middle of the patio – their dedicated apparation spot – already shrugging off her outer robes, looking around for somewhere to hang them up.
"There's a set of pegs in the entryway," Minerva says, after a moment. "We've not gotten around to getting those kinds of things organised."
"Sure, Mum," Miranda says softly, her assimilated Northern brogue the bane of Minerva's life. She takes her boots off, picking them up before meandering through the open plan living-dining-kitchen to the entry corridor.
"How was your day, mermaid?" Isobel questions cheerfully. Miranda offers a small smile as she re-enters the kitchen, offering Nulia a short hug as she goes to join Minerva at the table.
"Exhausting," Miranda says, sounding and looking exactly that. Minerva purses her lips at the dark bags under her eyes.
"How long are you working a day? Still eleven hours?"
"I get a half-hour break twice a day," Miranda assures and Minerva doesn't press – Miranda might look exhausted, but she isn't despairing or honestly sick of her job. The witch thinks that her eldest daughter is luckier than a leprechaun to have found her dream profession and enjoy it as much as she does.
"Don't burn yourself out," she offers a last comment, before once more, they're interrupted. A silver Bengal tiger patronus flies into the room, stopping in mid-air. Minerva immediately straightens, watching it pad the open air as if it were the ground, heart beating fast. Every witch in the room becomes tense, an ingrained reaction – one that hopefully will fade and be forgotten, what with the end of the War.
"Roberta," Isobel mutters loudly.
The Bengal opens its jaw, Roberta's voice escaping it. "It's not an emergency, I just accidentally flooed to our old house and you've not disabled wards- or any of the wards, really. But anyway, yeah, that includes the anti-apparation wards and there's no more Floo powder, you really-"
"And we're not connected to the Floo here yet, either," Nulia bemoans over her words, all McGonagall's in the room groaning as they know what's coming.
"-so, anyway, I'm going to catch a lift on the Knight Bus, even though I know I'm probably going to end up feeling too ill to eat. Can you send me a return message with your address? Thanks mums, see you soon – hopefully!" Roberta's message finishes and her Bengal turns to fine mist, before dissipating completely.
"We should never have taught her that spell," Minerva mutters, shaking her head before summoning her happiest memory, retrieving her wand from her bun. The young faces of her daughters when they were children, her marriages to Elphinstone and Nuliajuk, that day her first month on the job as a Transfiguration professor with young Darron Montague – all her greatest prides and joys, all the feelings that she grasps and pulls together to break the barrier between worlds. "Expecto Patronum!"
White mist swirls from the end of her wand, her tabby guardian – her animagus form, the spirit that rests inside her and resonates against her soul – walking out into the world, twisting to face her upon seeing a lack of threat.
"Go to Roberta, tell her this," Minerva instructs, "The new McGonagall homestead is Number Six, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey. You will pay for an express fare and you will not fill up on pumpkin juice to avoid your sisters cooking like you did the last three times you've 'had' to take the Knight Bus; and stop using your patronus for this. Your patronus is not for use in trivial matters. We'll talk more when you arrive. I will see you soon. Number Six, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey."
The tabby doesn't bother with any sort of nod or sign it understood, just turning and running away, practically flying out the window into the sky, a shooting white light that Minerva can no longer see.
"She's going to fill up on pumpkin juice, bet you ten sickles," Miranda immediately says, nose scrunching up as she tucks a straggly piece of dark brown hair behind her ear. Minerva snorts.
"Suckers bet," she looks to Isobel, giving her a Look as her youngest goes to answer back – most likely, to bet against Miranda and subsequently owe her ten sickles. Isobel visibly pauses, before shaking her head, getting back to looking after her food, wand flicking this way and that to prepare her veg. Miranda looks far from dejected, though does pout slightly at Minerva.
"Stop that," Minerva scolds, not sure herself whether she's talking about the pouting or the betting. Miranda leans back in her chair, grinning, cracking her back, the two of them sitting in a comfortable silence as Isobel and Nulia bicker over proportion and cooking time. Eventually, Nulia is assigned to making her favourite side dish of Bombay potatoes.
Isobel and Nulia cook. Miranda picks up Minerva's transfiguration text, studying it with one foot drawn up to her seat, shin resting against the table. Minerva sits with her family and thinks of the young boy next door, whose parents are dead and whose honorary uncles are MIA.
The Boy Who Lived, such a telling name – the Boy Who Lived with the Parents Who Died.
Her fingers twitch. Minerva remembers the end-of-year feast of 1978, the class of '71's final year, when James Potter serenaded Lily Evans in front of the whole school with his gang of Marauders for backup, with Albus' permission. His absolutely terrible voice was outshone by his back-up singers and Sirius had taken the lead, eventually, James tugging Lily into a dance as two of her own friends – Alice Prewitt and Gabriella Reyes – sung an impromptu harmony. Minerva had cried.
The Parents Who Died.
Sirius should be raising Harry now, not Petunia and her husband. Maybe it is safer, maybe it is what needs to be done – but it is not what should be done. MIA. Sirius will have to turn up sooner or later. The Potter House was under the Fidelius – he must be hunting the Secret Keeper, he must be. He's too much a political target as the heir to the House of Black to be given such a role. Remus and Peter must be with him, unless Remus is still undercover with Greyback.
Minerva purses her lips, considering.
"…Minerva McGonagall," Nulia starts, eyes locked on her, "what scheme is running through your brilliant mind, mera pyaar?"
The Master of Transfiguration feels a plan click into place in her mind, her wife a key centrepiece.
"Nulia, Miranda," she addresses, thinking of a chest of vials in Albus' care, labelled with care and stored with the deathly hope that they'd never have to be opened. "We need to find Sirius Orion Black."