She would never be able to enjoy Halloween again, Minerva thought sadly. Forevermore this day would mean nothing but tragedy and destruction. The cold-blooded murder of two of her favorite former students was too black a deed. Even the apparent vanquishing of the Dark Lord was cold comfort.
A soft gurgle caught her attention and the grief etched in her features eased somewhat. She looked down at the baby in her arms. All right, there was one miracle this evening – Harry had survived. She cuddled him close; whatever else happened, she vowed she would keep him safe. I promise you, Lily. I promise, James. I will watch over him for you. You have my oath upon it.
"We are here." Albus Dumbledore's twinkles were in short supply that night. From the moment he saw the ruin at Godric's Hollow, the man had looked every year of his age. He'd barely managed to wrest the baby away from a sobbing Hagrid, telling the giant to inform the rest of the Order about both the Potters' deaths and Voldemort's seeming defeat.
Minerva sighed and held the baby closer. At least he'd be going to a good home. For the first time, she glanced about. And frowned, for she didn't recognize the neighborhood.
"Where are we, Albus?" she asked softly, not wanting to rouse either the baby or the neighbors.
"Little Whinging. The home of Vernon and Petunia Dursley." At Minerva's blank look, he expanded, "Petunia is Lily's older sister. A Muggle, she is married and has one son who is just a little older than Harry."
Minerva's frown didn't lessen. "Lily's sister? But they never got on, Albus. They were at best estranged. Why on earth are we here? What about any of the other relatives, or Sirius? He's the child's godfather, after all."
"Minerva, can you honestly see Sirius Black caring for a small child? Responsibility has never been his strong suit."
"But he was James' and Lily's choice, Albus," Minerva argued. "What gives us the right to second guess them?"
"Surely Harry would be better served by a normal home, with two loving parents and a brother of his own," Albus said persuasively, and Minerva started to waver. It was hard to imagine Sirius – with the best will in the world – being able to care for such a small child. He was also something of a ladies' man, and it was doubtful that the abrupt arrival of a toddler would fit in well with his lifestyle.
"Just hold Harry for one more minute, while I finish this note," Albus instructed.
"What note?" she asked, looking over his shoulder.
"The note which explains things to the Dursleys."
"What! You're not going to speak with them? Explain what happened? Discuss the blood wards?"
Albus looked uncomfortable. "Remember, Minerva, these are Muggles. Magic is not something they are comfortable with. From what I've seen of the Dursleys, the less we of the Wizarding world interfere with them, the better they will like it. We do not want to start Harry off on the wrong foot when they first meet him."
Minerva stared at him. "When they first meet him? You mean, Lily and James never once brought Harry over? Doesn't that tell you something? How can you think of placing him with people who are – whatever the blood connection – complete strangers to him? And what's more, with people who do not understand or even like wizards?"
"It will be hard for us to have to wait until Harry is eleven before we see him again," Albus admitted, "but we must do what is best for the child, not ourselv-"
"What!" Minerva hissed. "You would have us cut him off completely? He has just lost his parents, Albus! He needs to have familiar faces around him as he gets to know his new family. And Sirius will of course demand to see his godson – how can you imagine he'd be willing to go along with this?"
"Sirius will just have to agree," Albus said sternly. "It is for Harry's own good. There is no point in our doing anything that will make the Dursleys hate magic more than they already do."
"They hate magic?" Minerva nearly shrieked. "I thought you said they weren't comfortable with it!"
"Well, ah…" Albus looked a bit shifty. "Perhaps it does go somewhat beyond sheer discomfort. But I'm certain that they will come to love their nephew and –"
"Albus, those lemon drops have rotted your brain!" Minerva said firmly. "I would no more hand this child over to magic-hating muggles who have never so much as laid eyes on him than I would relinquish him to a pack of roving Death Eaters. Lily and James had a reason for not wanting Harry to come here, and we are not, in the heat of the moment, going to make a decision that will affect this child for the rest of his life. We are going back to Hogwarts. We will sit down with Sirius and discuss this calmly and sensibly."
Albus frowned. "No, Minerva. I have given the matter much thought. There is no –"
"Much thought!" she scoffed. "It's just a few hours since this bairn was orphaned! How much thought have you been able to give it? Especially while dealing with reports of Voldemort's disappearance? No, Albus, it was Lily and James who gave the matter 'much thought' when they first decided to take Harry into hiding, and they decided that Sirius was the best person to take over Harry's care."
"Minerva, you are not thinking clearly. Sirius was also James and Lily's Secret Keeper. How do you think Voldemort found them tonight? You were, I know, joking about turning Harry over to a 'roving pack of Death Eaters', but I fear that if you give him to Sirius, that is exactly what you will be doing."
Minerva gasped. She hadn't considered that. "No, Albus. That cannot be. Sirius can be thoughtless, but to deliberately betray James and Lily? No, I won't believe it!"
"What else are we to believe? There is no other way Voldemort could have found them. The Black family has always been as Dark as its name. It was my own conceit to think that I might turn one of them to the Light."
Minerva looked down at the child in her arms, and her jaw tightened. "Be that as it may, Albus, the question of Sirius' loyalty does not make the Dursleys a better choice. They are still completely unsuitable. I will not leave Harry with people that Lily wouldn't even visit, let alone allow to babysit."
Albus looked very stern as he extended his arms for the baby. "Minerva, I am not asking your permission. Give Harry to me."
Suddenly he was staring at the business end of a wand. "Albus Dumbledore, you arrogant prat! I just told you, you are not giving him to those Muggles. Defy me on this and I will have your own beard strangle you."
"Minerva!" he gasped, shocked. "You cannot be serious! I am the Head –"
She made a rude noise. "Spare me your resume, Albus. You are making a stupid decision without even realizing it. We are both exhausted, emotionally and physically, and we cannot decide Harry's fate under these conditions. Now then," she unconsciously lapsed into her schoolmistress tone, "we will return to Hogwarts and summon Sirius and Severus. Between the two of them, and a bit of Veritaserum, we should be able to determine exactly where Sirius' loyalties lie, and that will help decide to whom Harry shall be entrusted."
Albus sighed. "Oh, Minerva, you don't realize what you have done," he said sadly, but he followed her as, with Harry in her arms, she turned her back on Number 4, Privet Drive.