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the faintest, slimmest, wildest chance

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 Privet Drive was quiet. Of course it was quiet, as the respectable residents of Little Whinging’s suburbs would never be so gauche as to be loud in the hot sun of a summer afternoon, much less disturb the fragile peace of the hours between midnight and dawn.

 On this strangely warm night in November, the neat street of Privet Drive was empty and still like a dollhouse. The only thing that dared to stir was a small breeze politely rustling Number Three’s rose bushes.

 Then a loud CRACK split through the night.

 A dark figure fell out of the air into the rose bushes of Number Tree with a much softer THUMP.

 The residents of Number Three would wake up in the morning to find the pride and joy of their garden absolutely ruined, with not a stem left unbroken and their measured flowerbeds trampled. Mrs. Number Tree would wail inconsolably, while Mr. Number Tree would rant loudly about the “hoodlums” who liked to cause trouble for decent folks around Hallowe’en.

 The figure wouldn’t stick around to find out, though. They rolled out of the rose bushes almost immediately, giving a miserable groan as they did so. They didn’t bother to dust the dirt or leaves off their black robes, and instead pulled their hood farther down and got to their feet slowly.

 They drew a thin stick out from inside their left-hand sleeve. They scanned their surroundings carefully, muttering a few words and giving the stick a few flicks. They seemed to relax slightly as nothing leaped out to attack them from behind Mr. Number Three’s freshly waxed car or Mrs. Number Five’s rather tasteless ornaments of chubby, red-hatted, bearded men being offensively cheerful.

 The figure stared at these garden gnome statues for several long seconds.

 “There’s someone who’s never been bit by a gnome in their life,” the figure muttered finally.

 The coast now deemed clear, the hooded figure quickly strode across the street, their black cloak and rose leaves fluttering behind them. Tracking dirt, their stick in hand, they went straight across the lawn of Number Four. Then they stopped, right at the doorstep.

 They stared down at the bundle on the welcoming mat.

 With a flick of the stick in their hand, the letter by the bundle shot straight into the figure’s other hand. The figure opened this letter immediately, not a qualm about going through someone else’s mail.

 Any eavesdropper on his quiet night would not have needed to listen carefully to hear the figure’s derisive snort as they finished letter. The unhappy muttering, however, was far too quiet to catch, as the figure tucked the letter back into the envelope, and then the envelope somewhere into the depths of their dark robes.

 The figure stared down at the bundle on the doorstep for several seconds, then they bent carefully down and awkwardly scooped it up. They stood there, briefly, at the edge of the doorstep of Number Four, Privet Drive, with the bundle awkwardly in their arms and their strange, thin stick in one hand, looking with deep consideration at the door that belonged to the Dursleys.

 Then, without another word, the figure turned on their heel and strode back across the lawn. They walked down the silent street, and then turned at the end of it and kept walking. They disappeared into the night with no more noise, taking the bundle with them.

 And so, the now less neat street… what with the dirt tracked across the road and such… became empty and lifeless once more. Again, the only thing that dared stir was the small breeze that gently comforted the ruined rose bushes of Number Three. Privet Drive relievedly returned to being quiet and utterly normal, after yet another strange visitor in the chain of them that it had had this night, who had took what had been previously left behind away.

 Petunia Dursley would wake up the next morning and put out the milk bottles without any incident whatsoever, without any dreaded nephew of hers in sight, without anything strange or mysterious at all, which was just the way she preferred it to be.

~

 “Right,” said the kidnapping stranger, to the sleeping child in their arms.

  They were sitting on a rather mossy log, at the edge of a peaceful forest, watching a somewhat grey dawn slowly come over the grassy hills in the distance. Birds were starting their chirping chatter now, over the countryside that hadn’t another person in sight.

 Perhaps the birds were communicating to one another that it might rain soon, or perhaps they were wondering who the stranger in black was, who had wandered up with a bundle of blankets in their arms. A stranger who had proceeded to sit and do nothing for quite some time, whose shoulders were still decorated with leaves and thorns.

 “Right,” the stranger said again.

 They looked down at the child in the bundle of blankets now, with his adorable button nose and already unruly black hair. That horrible lightning-bolt scar was there across the forehead, freshly cut not so long ago. The stranger traced the scar softly with a black-gloved hand, the one that was still holding their wand, as the other was keeping the bundle balanced on their knees.

 “Alright, I’ve got to confess that I don’t actually have a plan right now,” they said softly, withdrawing their hand, “but this is loads better than when I thought I was going to die earlier and you were going to live with those awful people, so we’re doing pretty well if you ask me. So far, so good.”

 The child’s only response was to snuffle in their sleep, and attempt to break for freedom by rolling over in their blankets. They might have rolled off the knees of their kidnapper, if the stranger hadn’t caught them.

 Swearing under their breath, the stranger scooted off the log and lowered themselves to the ground, to lessen the chance of the precious boy in their arms accidentally braining himself.

 “Shit, trying to fall off a broom in your dreams, or what?” the stranger muttered unhappily. “It really does start young. Where're you off to? Trying to steal a broom? Right. You’re right. We obviously can’t stay here forever. Well, we could, but that’d be pretty miserable for the both of us, so we won’t. I like food, and I’m betting you like that stuff too. I know bigger you does… did… anyway.”

 The child curled up tighter in the blankets and didn’t express an opinion either way.

 “First order of business is definitely lodgings – temporary shelter – somewhere to lie low. The Burrow’s back, but we can’t exactly go there… or to most of the safe houses I know of. Not yet, at least.”

 The stranger trailed off into silence, then said, “You know, it’s just struck me how many people are alive again. It’s weird to think that there are safe houses that are compromised because their owners aren’t dead yet, instead of them being cursed with traps or burnt to the ground. Hmm.”

 The child slept on.

 “S’weird, that’s all,” the stranger said finally. “Different.”

~

 In the end, the stranger took the child to a comfortable Muggle bed and breakfast, in what would seem as in the middle of nowhere as the log they’d been sitting on before. The sun could barely, barely be considered up by those who were feeling generous or had to be up despite their personal feelings on acceptable hours.

 Luckily, the owner had been quickly roused and easily persuaded.

 “Nobody’ll think to look with the wrong Muggles,” the stranger defended themselves to the child, as their old, kindly, and slightly Confunded hostess showed them to their room with a foggy smile. “And I… don’t really have money at the moment, which… hey, nothing new, so we’re going to have to take advantage of nice people for a night or two.”

 The child seemed to frown in his sleep at this.

 “Yeah, I know you never liked this sort of thing, but I never did either, and at least I can try to repay her by fixing the place up a bit,” the stranger argued. “Pull a Bill and ward this place to hell and back. I think it’s a decent compromise. At least, that’s what I tell myself so I can sleep at night… in more ways than one, apparently.”

 Vermin, fire, dust, and thieves wouldn’t be able to touch this building when the stranger in black was through with it. Guilt and shame made for motivation as compelling as it was unpleasant.

 “What’s his name, dearie?”

 The stranger in black startled, and almost dropped the child with whom they were sharing their commentary. They managed not to, and looked up into the Confunded smile of their hostess, who was fixed fuzzily on the child.

 The stranger bit their lip and thought about it. “Henry. His name is Henry.”

 The hostess nods, not noticing anything amiss in her Confunded state. “That’s a nice name, dearie,” she says. “What a nice name. I have – had – a few of my own, you know. Lovely things, children. Loveliest thing in the world, raising children, being a mum.”

 “Uh, sure,” the stranger said awkwardly.

 “Here’s your room, dearie. Breakfast is at… morning. Have a nice stay.”

 Then the hostess toddled off down the hall, mumbling to herself about eggs and bacon and grandchildren.

 The stranger looked down at the sleeping child. “Hope that’s not the breakfast menu.”

 Then they looked at the door and sighed. “I forgot some aspects of this,” they said, and shifted the child in their arms so they could point their wand at the door. “I’ll have to get the actual key off her later, if we stay. Alohomora. There we go.”

 With another flick of their wand, the door swung open to reveal a homey room, composed of soft floral pastels and softer furniture. The stranger in black felt enormously, uncomfortably out of place, with their heavy boots and decidedly non-Muggle appearance.

 Still, they flicked the door closed, locked it, and cast a Silencer at it with their wand all the same. Then they put the bundle down on the downy bed, reached over to turn on the bedside lamp, and very carefully, very gently collapsed facedown over the bedspread next to the child.

 “So far, so good,” the stranger said.

 Then they groaned, as only someone who didn’t want to get up but had to get up could groan.

 “Ugh, I’ll have to find a way to get access to the news. The Daily Prophet’s trash, but we can’t not have some idea of what’s going on. I don’t know the first bloody thing about what’s going at the moment. Plus: going to need to know if I really have to go on the run with you.”

 The stranger sighed and turned over to stare at the ceiling. “Could snatch my news out of the bins, but I’d rather not keep at that. But to get money, I’ll need a job. Eventually. But ‘decent’ jobs usually ‘require’ OWLs and an Apparation License, though, and a recommendation from your rich pureblood daddy, of course. Do you think there’s a Quidditch team out there looking for a stranger with no home, no money, and no history to try out? That life plan could still work.”

 Again, the stranger sighed. “And that’s just the boring stuff; there’s so much to figure out. Shame that I'm allergic to diaries. I should really write a list.”

 Contrary to this statement, however, the stranger continued lying next to the sleeping child and not really doing much in particular. They kept staring up at the ceiling. It had been a stupidly long day for them, and it looked it be an even longer day still, given that they weren’t dead like they thought they might be and therefore had to go get started on saving the world from itself.

 “There’s never a restful moment, I swear,” the stranger moaned, before they very reluctantly lugged their aching body up off the bed. “Alright. Can’t nap until some wards are up. Snake-face Tom suspected to be dead isn’t an excuse to get sloppy, especially when he’s not because he never is. Plus, he’s still got all those horrible Corpse-Munchers out there… who are… probably out there now, actually… torturing and killing and panicking and whatnot…”

 In the middle of sketching several fiery, complicated looking symbols into the air with their wand, the stranger trailed off and froze. They left a glowing rune hanging incomplete in their air, for several seconds, as they full realized a rather unexpected thought.

 “Shit,” they said.

 Then they looked back to the rune still hanging in the air, which was now sparking dangerously.

 “Shit,they said again.

 The stranger slashed their wand through the rune, dispelling it into thin air. The stranger then turned on their heel and started pulling out the nearest drawers within reach for something – anything to write with and write on.  

 “Shit, shit, shit, shit! Didn’t I say I was messing this up? I’m not thinking! People who I’m just so used to being dead not being dead is going to be the end of me, I swear! Alright, alright – why doesn’t this bloody pen work? Who would leave a broken pen in a desk?! That’s just – alright, never mind, it works. Alright, first order of business is Neville’s parents…”

 The stranger scribbled this item down on the notepad that had taken one knocked-over chair and three overturned drawers to find so quickly. They were so focused on their search and their writing, that they hadn’t paid attention to how the crash of furniture, while hidden from the rest of the building by the Silencer, had finally stirred the bundle on the bed from its sleep.

 “Next order of business is… is… your godfather! Right, Sirius! If I can catch him fast enough, I might be able to keep him from getting chucked into Azkaban and finally get some real justice for that rat bastard before Percy finds him. Merlin, I wish I remembered which happened first! Maybe if-”

 A wail interrupted the stranger’s rant, as the child on the bed struggled to free himself from the restraining cocoon of blankets. Quickly, forgetting the list on the room’s desk, the stranger rushed over, making hushing noises and unwrapping the strangling blankets before the little boy could tangle himself even further in them.

 “Shit. It’s alright – it’s alright – bloody Merlin, who wrapped these? No wonder you’re wailing. Alright, you’re free – I’ve freed you – you’re good now. Please stop crying.”

 The stranger then hovered, awkwardly, over the upset child.

 “Please, please stop crying,” they said softly. “How the hell did Mum do this? Merlin, why couldn’t it be Bill who was here to handle you? Or Charlie. Or even Percy. They all like kids. It’s alright, right? We’re alright. Everybody’s alright now.”

 The stranger in black tried, but the boy had already worked himself into a fuss and didn’t seem to want to come out of it. The stranger then awkwardly tried to pick him up to soothe him, but… judging by the baby’s flailing fists that got in a good whack to the stranger’s face under the hood… this attempt didn’t work out for either of them. The stranger released the frightened child quickly.

 “I have no idea what I’m doing,” the stranger muttered. "Maternal instincts, my arse."

 Then they finally removed the heavy black cloak, and threw it over the end of the bed, where the bundle of blankets had been unceremoniously shoved. It was too hot and too restricting to wear, especially when wrestling with a one-year-old child.

 Surprisingly, this action actually made the crying taper off fairly quickly. The child watched with wide eyes as the stranger stood up and flicked their wand over the room, to put it back in reasonable order. The chair by the desk righted itself, and the drawers shuffled back into their proper places. Once done, the stranger turned and met the child’s silent, squinting stare with tired bewilderment.

 “…What?” the stranger asked reflexively.

 Even though they knew, deep down, that no toddler barely past his first birthday would have a coherent or comprehensive answer to the question.

 But, living to defy expectations as usual, little Harry Potter stuck out his arms.

 “Ma!” he said.

 And then he started babbling this syllable and variants of it, in what sounded very like speech made of nonsense, clearly directed towards the stranger who had kidnapped him.

 “What?” the newly-named “Ma” said again.

 Little Harry’s reaching hands opened and closed, as the stranger stared back in confusion. A couple seconds later, it hit the stranger why the little boy might think that.

 “Oh! Oh…”

 The stranger grimaced, and a ran a hand along their long braid of red hair. They stepped closer to the bed and let the scared boy grab at their robes, and babble fearfully at them, clearly too worked up to really recognize the obvious differences at the moment. Awkwardly, the stranger ran a comforting hand down the boy’s back, and tried desperately to keep their heart from breaking into a million pieces and then those pieces from breaking into a million pieces each.

 It wasn’t working.

 “I’m not your mother, Harry, but I can see how you might think that,” Ginny Weasley said softly to the terrified, recently orphaned baby boy, who would grow up to be a wonderful and brave man. “Mum’s… not here anymore… for either of us, really. I’m sorry.”

 She carefully sat down on the bed, and gently pulled Harry into her lap.

 It seemed like the thing to do.

 “But it’s alright,” she promised. “I’m here for you, and I’ll make things alright for you.”

 She could do far more than just hope that he would have the chance to be so wonderful again.