For as far back as he could remember, he hadn't been loved.
For as far back as he could remember, people tended to avoid him.
And for as far back as he could remember, he was beaten.
Sitting alone under a rather large, brightly-colored, wooden construct in the park, Harry Potter drew up his knees to his chest. After being hit about earlier in the day, he had fled from Number Four, Privet Drive in a desperate attempt to escape for good. He wasn't sure where he could go or what he would do once there... but anywhere was better than his aunt and uncle's house.
All he had done was to not be precisely on time with lunch. And because of that, his uncle had grabbed a hold of his shoulders, shaking him violently. After that, he was punched in the right shoulder – somewhere that didn't house an important organ. Somewhere that wouldn't leave any permanent damage. His uncle had been abusing him for as long as
Harry could remember...and all he wanted was freedom.
He had gotten as far as the park before the rain had set in. So he now sat, huddled up, waiting for the rain to pass. The storm had lowered the temperature considerably. And with the sun just beginning to set, it was only going to get worse. Harry wasn't particularly looking forward to sleeping underneath a play toy. But he knew that if he went back to Number Four, a worse beating would await him due to his missing dinner.
His clothing was oversized and rather tattered. Dudley had once told him that he looked like a street rat right out of Oliver Twist. Harry wasn't quite sure what he meant, but he knew he looked rather shabby. His clothes once belonged to his cousin. Despite being many years old, they only just began to fit onto Harry's dangerously-thin frame. The shirt was torn on one arm at the shoulder - Dudley had tried grabbing him to beat him up one day, but he had gotten free. His pants were faded and only came down to the tops of his ankles.
His shoes were older than the jeans and only barely held themselves together. Harry was quite sure that the toe of his left shoe would come undone any day. And his hair, which had never been straight and manageable, was worse than ever. He knew there was a fair bit of dirt in it due to Dudley pinning him to the ground while he had been trying to work on his aunt's flower garden. And even if his hair hadn't been filthy, it never stayed down, anyway.
Harry wrapped his arms around his knees and lowered his head to them. All he wanted was for the Dursley's to treat him fairly. Just once. He only knew what they told him, which wasn't much. His aunt had said once that they found him as a baby, lying on their doorstep. A few days after his parents had been killed. From what his aunt had told him, a gang of hoodlums had broken into his parents' house and killed both his mother and father. Harry couldn't even remember their faces.
Drawing in a ragged breath, Harry squeezed his eyes closed and tried to will himself not to cry. He had learned early on not to show any signs of weakness. Especially not while in the presence of any of the Dursley's. He hated crying because he knew he was made of tougher stuff than that. But when you're 11, wearing raggedy clothing, and huddled up, alone in the park... one's mind tends to forget things.
Harry wasn't exactly sure when he had fallen asleep. He awoke the next morning on his side, still curled up. His eyes were still sore – making him assume that he hadn't been asleep for very long. A few spiders crawled about under the construct, stopping occasionally to look over at him. Harry liked spiders, though he wasn't quite sure why. Being stuck under the stairs in a cupboard for as far back as he could recall, however, made it difficult to make friends. So he made due with the spiders that came into his makeshift bedroom. Oftentimes, he would secret the spiders outside before one of the Dursley's noticed. He hated seeing the spiders getting squashed.
Pulling himself up into a sitting position, Harry found he had to sniffle hard to keep his nose from running. He wiped it against his sleeve, anyway, and rubbed at his eyes. His back hurt from the position he had slept in... and his side was sore from sleeping on the odd gravel mixture that they filled the play area with. It was meant to keep children from hurting themselves when they fell. It didn't make for a very good bed, though.
His breath was shaky when he drew it in. He wasn't sure whether the Dursley's had bothered searching for him or not. He guessed they hadn't wasted their time or effort. He would probably get beaten within an inch of his life if he returned now, though. He had missed preparing two meals for them now. Given how large his cousin and uncle were, that was as good as committing murder to them.
Frowning, Harry got the distinct impression that he was being watched. It wasn't the first time this had happened. He would often find himself outside when a chill ran down his spine. But every time he turned around to look, he was met with nothing but scenery. This time, however, turned out to be differently. Looking up and out the small crawlspace that let into his hiding place, he saw the cause for his paranoia.
A young girl, looking to be about his own age, was sitting back on her legs, watching him. She had cropped, blonde hair that looked to be ever-so-spiked up. She was wearing blue-jeans and a white blouse that looked entirely out of place on her. While Harry wouldn't say that she looked more like a boy than he did, she came mighty close. Her eyes were a piercing shade of blue, and she didn't seem to blink much, which didn't help the odd feeling Harry was getting.
"Wotcher!" She said, smiling at him. "Was wonderin' if you'd ever wake up... what'd'ja do, fall asleep in the park?"
Harry felt nervous. He rarely talked to anyone outside of the Dursley's. They didn't let him go to the public school that Dudley went to, due to the fact that he didn't have anything good enough to wear. And, as his aunt had once said, they weren't going to go 'showing him off' to the neighbors. His socializing skills, as a result, had suffered greatly.
"Um... hi..." He offered, his throat scratchy from the previous night. "Y..Yeah, I guess I did..."
The girl tilted her head. "C'mon out. S'kinda dark in there, don'tcha think? Not raining anymore... s'actually a nice day."
She scooted back and got to her feet. To complete the already tomboyish look, she wore black boots. Wondering who the girl was and, in all honesty, why he had never seen her around before, Harry started to crawl out. His relatives didn't like him being in the house when he wasn't doing chores...so he was left to his own devices most of the time. He spent a good deal of it walking about or playing in the park.
Harry winced as he stood up. It was ungodly bright out, with not a cloud in the sky. His legs ached from being curled up for the better part of the night, as well. Once his vision had adjusted, he looked at the girl, who had her hands in her pockets and was still staring at him strangely.
The two stood in silence for a few minutes, neither breaking the eye contact that had been made. Harry's instincts were, for whatever reason, trying to make him run. There was something about the way he was being looked at that didn't sit well with him. For this reason, he certainly wasn't expecting the girl to remove her right hand from her pocket, hold it out, and grin. "Well, now that I know you're alive an' can talk... you wanna be friends?"
Harry tilted his head and stared at the girl as if she had just sprouted a second head. His lack of a proper schooling had also left him without any friends. And any he saw out on his walks, he avoided. Mostly due to fear that Dudley would beat them up if he saw them with him. And Harry certainly didn't want to get this odd girl hurt. Licking his dried-out lips, he took a step back, bumping into the wooden object he had slept under. "I...I don't think that's a very good idea...my...my cousin would probably try to hit you or something."
The girl frowned, then slowly looked him over. The look of confusion only grew as she did so, as if she were looking at him for the very first time. "Hey, whatchu dressed like that for, eh? Y'look terrible!"
"I just spent all night under THIS thing..." Harry said, feeling a bit irritated now. "Was I supposed to come out in a tuxedo with my hair all done up...?"
The girl scratched her cheek, pursing her lips together. "Well... I just thought... well, you KNOW!" She said, speaking in a rather hushed tone, as if telling a secret.
"Nn...no, I'm afraid I don't know..." Harry said, squirming slightly.
"Whatcha mean you don't know?" The girl asked, brow creasing further. "You ARE Harry Potter, aren'tcha?"
Harry blinked. "How d'you know my name?" He asked.
The girl slapped a hand over her mouth and made a faint squeaking noise. "I...I um... heard you talking in your sleep..." She offered feebly.
Harry was about to tell her that he -never- spoke in his sleep when an older woman came around the corner and into the park. She looked around for a moment before spotting Harry and the girl. Her lips pursed much like the girl's had, moments before, as she started to walk over.
"Oh no, mum's found me." The girl sighed out. Her right hand slipped back into her pocket and she kicked at the rocky mixture that covered the play area. "Wasn't s'poseta leave the front yard..."
"Nymphadora Tonks! I have been looking all over the place for you!" The woman said, looking angry. "How many times must I tell you to never wander off like that?! You could have been kidnapped! Or WORSE!"
The girl visibly winced, and rightly so, Harry thought. To say that the woman was rather intimidating would be an understatement. She was quite tall - a few heads taller than Harry was, at least. She looked like she had been getting ready to go somewhere important - she was wearing very lovely, red robes with a golden trim. Her long, blonde hair was done up in a bun, and she was wearing long, silver earrings. Her eyes were the same color as the girl's were.
"MUM!" The girl whined, stomping her foot and glaring up at her mother. "Don't call me by my first name in publiiic! I told you I don't like it! And besides, do you know who I found? Who I've been talking to?"
The woman's eyes flicked to Harry for a moment, then went back to her daughter. She was about to open her mouth when a rather strange look crossed over her face. Slowly, her head turned toward Harry and she stared at him. Her eyes moved up to his forehead, where his ever annoying, lightning bolt-shaped scar was. Presently, his bangs were off to either side of his face, leaving it quite out in the open.
"Good lord..." The woman said softly, a look of worry replacing the confused one she had been wearing. "Is it...?"
"Yeah! Mum, this is Harry Potter! Harry, this is my mum!" The girl said, cheerfully.
"My gracious, dear, you look in a horrible state... what happened to you?" The woman asked, voice softening considerably.
Harry's mind was -really- telling him to get out of there and run, now. He was barely capable of holding a conversation with someone his own age, let alone a strange adult. Trying to act as if she were one of his aunt's friends, he spoke carefully and politely, "N...nothing, ma'am... I just... fell asleep under this thing last night... it was an accident..."
"But your clothes! Your hair! For the love of Merlin, what does Albus think he's doing?" The woman sighed, shaking her head. "Harry... my name is Andromeda. Andromeda Tonks. I... well, let's just say I'm a friend, alright?"
Harry nodded cautiously.
"Mum! Ask him if he's gotten his letter yet!" The girl said, tugging at the sleeve of her mother's robes.
Andromeda blinked once, then got an odd look in her eyes. Whispering a thanks to her daughter, she smiled at Harry again and asked, "Have you received any...strange letters in the post lately, dear?"
"No, ma'am...I never get any letters..." Harry replied softly, not meeting her eyes.
"Oh, dear. Well, maybe you'll get one in the next few days. You'd best get back home - your family's probably worried about you."
At the mention of the Dursley's, Harry visibly flinched. Andromeda frowned. "What's wrong, dear?"
"I... I should be getting back... back home..." Harry said, wishing more than anything to get out of the park. Something about the woman and girl bothered him, though he couldn't place his finger on why, exactly, that was.
Andromeda surveyed him slowly, then asked, "Dear, is your family... well, forgive me for asking, but are they treating you right?"
Harry flinched again.
Andromeda got a strange look on her face, then. "Nymmy, I think it would be best if your new friend here spent the night at our house. There are a few things I think Albus should know about."
Harry's head jerked up, gaping at Andromeda. "W...What?!"
"Don't call me Nymmy!" The girl said, pouting.
"Shush, Nymmy. Harry, dear, come along now. We live just a few blocks away. We WERE just about to have breakfast when my dear daughter here got away from me..." Andromeda said, fixing the girl with a look.
"I... I don't..." Harry began. He was very cautious around anyone he didn't know - which was practically everybody. But these two... Harry felt there was a decidedly strange quality to them. His mind weighed his options. He could either return to Number Four and, in all likelihood, get beaten senseless... he could go with the Tonks' back to their house - at least for a night or two... or he could just take off running and not look back.
His stomach made the decision for him.
"Oh, my..." Andromeda said at the loud growl that had emanated from Harry's midsection. "Well, I think a PART of you wants to come along for a bit of food, am I right?"
Harry blushed and lowered his head, nodding slightly.
The girl giggled and promptly stepped over, taking one of Harry's hands into her own. "Come on, Harry! Mum's a great cook!"
Blinking, and feeling his cheeks burning just slightly, Harry allowed himself to be tugged along by the girl as she and her mother left the park. After a few blocks, Harry's curiosity failed him and he asked the girl, very softly, "You...don't like your name?"
The girl looked at him and, after a brief scowl directed at her mother, nodded. "Mum named me... Nymphadora," She said, making a face. "I can't stand it... an' she calls me 'Nymmy' all the time just t'embarrass me, I think. Look, jus' call me 'Tonks' an' we'll get along famously."
"Um...okay..." Harry replied. He noticed idly that Tonks seemed to be missing one of her front teeth. She seemed to notice him looking and grinned.
"Lost it inna fight at primary school last year... mum says the new tooth should be comin' in anytime..."
"Ahh, here we are, you two! Come on, inside and wash up. I'll have breakfast ready by the time you get back down!" Andromeda said as she wheeled the children towards a rather generic, smallish two-story. It rather resembled Number Four in many ways, though it looked slightly bigger, Harry thought.
As they entered, Andromeda headed off through a doorway and Tonks led Harry down the hall and into the washroom. Turning on the faucet, she grabbed a bar of soap and began washing her hands. "So...you dress like that all the time, or what?" She asked. Harry blushed and looked off.
"It's what my relatives give me." He said, simply. "I get all of my cousin's hand-me-downs. He... well... he's quite a bit bigger than me." Harry paused, then offered Tonks a faint smile as he added, "Just picture a pig in a blonde wig and you'd have my cousin."
After Harry had washed up, Tonks led him through the house and into the kitchen, which doubled as a dining room. Sure enough, a full breakfast spread was laid out on the round table at the south end of the room. Harry was, in a word, baffled. Openly confused at how fast Tonks' mother had prepared it so quickly, Harry sat down. His stomach gave another growl, causing Tonks to giggle.
"Alright, dear, let's get you fed, shall we?" Andromeda said kindly. "You look half-starved. Eat all you'd like, there's plenty to go around."
"How... How did you make this so FAST?" Harry asked, still rather stunned. "I do the cooking at the Dursley's' and... and... well, it usually takes me a BIT of time, at least..."
Tonks and her mother exchanged a quick glance that Harry didn't see. "Family secret." Andromeda finally said, providing Harry with a wink. "I've got a call to make, so you two tuck in."
It took another growl from Harry's stomach to get him to finally start eating. He tried to keep his manners about him, since he WAS a guest in the Tonks' house. And, while he didn't sling crumbs about or eat in a way similar to Dudley, he did devour his food at an alarmingly-fast rate. In addition, he ate quite a bit of the food provided. He was just finishing off one last bite of sausage when Andromeda came walking in, looking a bit more cheerful than she had when she had left.
"Well, now that that's taken care off -- good heavens, dear!" The woman observed how much food had been consumed in her relatively short absence. Grinning, she looked down at Harry and asked, "Feeling better?"
Harry hiccupped and leaned back in his chair, rubbing at his chest. "I will be once everything moves down past my chest..." He muttered quietly. "I'm...I'm not exactly used to eating so much..."
"Obviously." Andromeda said as she sat at the only remaining chair. "Well, I'm glad I could at least offer you a decent meal. Harry, if you don't mind another question... when's your birthday?"
Harry opened his mouth once, paused, then said, "July 31st..."
"And you'll be turning 11, correct?"
Tonks let out a happy sort of 'whoop!' at this, though Harry wasn't quite sure why. After all, his birthdays were always ignored back at Number Four.
"Right, then! Well, what kind of cake would you like?" Andromeda asked, still smiling.
Harry stared at her. "Oh...Oh, no, I couldn't..." He began, not knowing quite what to say. He had never actually EATEN cake before. This was mainly due to the fact that Dudley had a tendency to almost inhale his own birthday cakes whenever he sat down to eat them.
"Not sure? Well, that's alright. Let's try a little bit of everything, then. Make a day of it." Andromeda said, clapping her hands together.
"W...Why are..." Harry let out a somewhat frustrated sigh at his speech, then tried again after a deep breath. "Why...are you being so nice to me? It's not that...that I don't appreciate it, but..." He trailed off, looking down at his empty plate.
When he felt a hand on his shoulder, he looked up once again. "Harry, you seem to've gone through quite an ordeal with your relatives. And while I can't pretend to know what you've been through - nor will I make you tell me - I would like to try and help you out a bit."
Andromeda sat back in her chair and blew out a breath, then began again, "You're always welcome here, alright? If things ever get too bad at your relatives' house, feel free to come by here."
Harry sat in silence for awhile before nodding slightly. "It... well, I won't say it's not bad," he said eventually. "But it's tolerable. I just... just have to be careful is all. And I'm not there all the time. The Dursley's go out all the time... they leave me with Mrs. Figg... she's alright, if you overlook her...her thing for cats..."
"Mrs. Figg? Arabella Figg?" Andromeda asked, brow creased.
"Yes, that's her... do you know her?" Harry said, looking up.
"Well...nor personally, no. Though we've crossed paths a few times. I wasn't aware that she babysat for anyone these days..." Andromeda replied, tilting her head slightly.
"Mum, time." Tonks said, grinning.
"What? Oh, dear...I'm late!" Andromeda said, pulling a clock from her robes and staring at it. "Nymmy, look after Harry while I'm gone, alright? I'll be back at the usual time!"
And with that, Andromeda stood and swept out of the room. Harry heard the door open and close a moment later. Utterly confused, he looked back at Tonks and was about to ask what just happened when she spoke again.
"Mum's always late for work," she explained, rolling her eyes. "I have to remind her most mornings. She'll be back in time for supper, though."
Harry frowned. "And...and she lets you stay here, all by yourself?"
"Sure." Tonks shrugged, smiling crookedly. "She knows I only wander off while she's around. S'no fun, otherwise. Come on, lemme show ya up to the guest bedroom. The bed in there's really nice..."
And so, Harry was led back upstairs and down the hall. Tonks hadn't been lying - the bed was wonderful. Especially in comparison to the ancient relic of a mattress that his uncle had shoved into the cupboard. After kicking off his slightly dusty shoes, he flopped back onto it and let out a groan. His lower back was yelling at him for having slept in such an awkward state the night before.
Tonks rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet, grinning at him. "Don't fall asleep, Harry..." She said.
"I won't," Harry mumbled, eyes trying to keep themselves opened. "S'just... nice, that's all..."
Tonks sat on the edge of the bed and looked down at him. A peaceful silence filled the room for a few minutes before Tonks asked, "Hey, Harry?"
"How come ya don't just jinx your relatives or somethin'?"
"Yeah... well, I'm assuming one of your relatives is like us, anyway."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "What'ya mean, 'like us'?"
Tonks opened her mouth, then shut it again, turning slightly pink.
"...And since I know I don't talk in my sleep...I'm still kinda curious as to how you knew my name..."
Tonks nibbled at her lower lip nervously. "W...well, you were talking in your sleep when I found you... and anyway, how would you know whether you did or not, eh? You record yourself sleeping and listen to it in the mornings?"
A shadow passed over Harry's face for a moment before his gaze shifted from Tonks to the ceiling. The room was painted in a lovely light blue color, and the clouds on the ceiling almost seemed to be moving. In fact, Harry thought, as he observed for awhile longer, the clouds WERE moving. Blinking a few times, Harry decided to look elsewhere. His lack of sleep was obviously making him see things.
"No," he finally said, his voice quiet. "It's just... I've learned not to."
"Why'd'ya wanna learn someth-- ...Hey, Harry?"
"Whassat on your shoulder?"
Harry turned to frown at Tonks. She was looking towards his right shoulder, where his oversized, ratty shirt had slipped over, revealing a large, ugly bruise. Harry quickly grabbed his shirt and tugged it back up, feeling suddenly panicked. "It...it was nothing, I... I just fell, that's all..."
But Tonks seemed to think otherwise. After a few moments of looking as if she were working something through, she frowned and asked, "They don't HURT you, do they?" She asked.
Harry was beginning to get annoyed at just how many times he was flinching that day.
"They ARE? Oh, Harry... why didn't you say something? Mum could have done something about it!" Tonks said, squirming around. "Hex all o'them into next week, she could!"
"It's fine." Harry said dully, not looking in Tonks' direction. "It'll be gone in a day or two. They don't last long, anymore. M'body's gotten used to 'em..."
"Shouldn't have to get USED to somethin' like that!" Tonks exclaimed, flailing her arms about wildly. "Should turn those no good relatives of yours into the law or somethin'!"
"Look," Harry sighed, turning his gaze back to Tonks. He looked far too old for his age. "It's just how things are...if they ever found out I'd gone to the police, I'd be done for...They'd just spirit me off to Mrs. Figg's house... s'not like there's any evidence that I live there..."
Harry sighed, shutting his eyes and trying to concentrate on just how very comfortable the large bed was. "Well, there are no pictures of me anywhere... I'm an embarrassment to them, see... dunno what I did to make 'em feel that way... I...It's just how I've always remembered them thinking. And my 'bedroom' is the cupboard under the stairs. Just got an old mattress with the springs poking through the top as a bed."
Tonks gaped openly at him, looking thunderstruck. "What?! You can't be serious!" When Harry didn't reply, she murmured, "You -are- serious..."
She sighed and shook her head. "You should really tell mum... she's got 'connections,' as she puts it... knows people, I guess. She'd be able to getcha outta there. You do want outta there, don'tcha, Harry? ...Harry?"
But Harry could not hear her. His body, feeling the effects of his first real breakfast settling in, combined with the soft bed and his general fatigue, had finally given out on him. Tonks sighed again and poked him in the side; just to be sure he was really asleep. When he didn't budge, she leaned back on her arms. "Maybe I should tell mum for ya, then..." She whispered.
Towards the end of the afternoon, a voice from downstairs called out, "Nymmy! Harry! I'm home!"
When no response came, Andromeda began wandering the house, hoping that her daughter hadn't decided to take Harry out and about. Once chase-down was more than enough for a single day.
She headed upstairs and began searching through the bedrooms, starting with her own, then heading to her daughter's, and finally going to the guest bedroom. When she got there, she stopped and blinked at the sight before her.
Harry was still lying, sprawled out on his back in the middle of the bed, very much asleep. Tonks was curled up in a ball towards the foot of the bed, her face just a foot or so away from one of Harry's outstretched arms.
"Aww...and me without a camera," Andromeda said in a hushed voice. "Right... you two rest a little while longer. I'll go get supper ready." With that, she stepped out of the room, carefully shutting the door behind her, and headed downstairs. But, as she passed by the living room, she remembered something she had said earlier.
Walking in and heading to the fireplace, she grabbed a handful of Floo Powder from the mantle and tossed it in, saying, "Albus Dumbledore's Office, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!"
Moments later, the face of an old, wizened man appeared within the green flames that the Powder produced. He smiled when he saw her. "Ahh, Andromeda. How has your day been?"
"Well, MY day has been just fine, thank you. Harry's, on the other hand..."
Dumbledore frowned slightly, nodding. "Ah yes... so he is still at your house, then?"
"Yes... he and Nymmy are upstairs, out like lights, if you'll pardon the expression. Was on my way to make supper when I remembered that I told you I'd call once I got home..."
Dumbledore nodded again. "Andromeda, his letter will be coming by tonight... and one for young Nymphadora, as well."
"Oh, will they? Good... I'm still a bit worried, Albus. I told Nymmy she shouldn't mention our world to him if she ever saw him on the streets, but... well, after never seeing him outside in all the time we've been here..." Andromeda said, trailing off. "I'll be glad once he knows, though. It'll be much easier around here when I don't have to be so secretive."
"Has he taken to the two of you very well?"
"Oh, yeah... he seems a bit shy and introverted right now... dunno what on earth those Muggles have done to him. I was rather hoping you could come by with his letter in person, Albus. I said I wouldn't pry into his personal life, but... well, I'm worried about him. He looks horrible. He ate like he had never been allowed to before! Thin as a rail, he is. Probably'd blow away in a strong breeze."
Dumbledore thought over the proposition for a moment before shaking his head. "No... no, I think it best that I not get involved just yet, Andromeda. I would appreciate it if you and your daughter kept a close eye on him, however. Once he gets his letter, though... I was rather hoping you could help get him adjusted, as it were..."
Andromeda hesitated briefly before nodding. "If that's what you think is best, Albus. Now, if you'll excuse me... I really should be getting that supper ready. Was out on wild goose chases all ruddy afternoon."
Dumbledore chuckled softly and gave the woman a nod. "Good day to you, then. Feel free to call again if anything comes up."
And with that, the green flames died. Andromeda watched the fireplace for a moment longer before murmuring, "I hope to the gods I won't have to, Albus. I really do."
And with that, Andromeda Tonks turned and headed out of the living room.