Andrew ought to have composed a will before walking around the playpark alone in the evening. But there was no time to contemplate his lack of foresight now.
The infamous Dudley Dursley, flanked by four of his brutish mates, was advancing on Andrew. He might have run, if he hadn't known from experience that the fifteen-year-olds were much larger and faster than he. Piers Polkiss and Malcolm Smith were at Dudley's side, but the other two boys Andrew only knew by sight.
The sky above Little Whinging was just beginning to darken, but the park was completely empty. Dudley's gang was grinning stupidly, apparently gratified to come across the only primary school kid who wasn't clever enough to stay out of their way.
Dudley's meat-ish hands pushed against Andrew's chest, and the latter fell painfully on his backside. Dudley and his friends snickered, their faces looming above him. One of the unnamed boys said, "Go ahead, Big D. He's all yours."
Dudley's grin made his round face look wider then it was long, despite the presence of multiple chins. The look was by no means attractive. Apparently oblivious to his own facial disfigurement, Dudley managed lean over and positioned himself about six inches from Andrew's face. This was quite a feat, as Andrew was still sitting up on the concrete, and Dudley was more than a foot taller before he'd pushed Andrew to the ground. Also, Dudley weighed about the same as Andrew, Andrew's father, Andrew's stepmum, and Andrew's half-sister all in one.
Malcolm jabbed his expensive-sneakered foot into Andrew's side, which made the other lackeys snicker. Piers Polkiss kicked Andrew hard in the stomach, and he fell painfully onto his back again. He was staring up at the sky and wondering how long they would take before they let him go home. They were sure to get bored soon, and then Andrew could walk home, nursing the injuries they were sure to give him.
But another voice rang out, a voice that bounced off of the old metal swing set and the perfectly maintained street.
"Dudders!" The voice sounded almost gleeful.
Andrew knew that voice. He and all the other children had been warned about the owner of that voice even before they had heard about Dudley Dursley. If rumours were to be believed, that voice had murdered and stolen and done all sorts of other things. The owner of that voice, who was getting closer and closer all the time, was not to be trifled with.
"What are you four up to?" said Harry Potter in a singsong voice. Andrew thought this was far too casual than the occasion warranted.
Andrew thought numbly of all of the awful things he'd heard about the Potter boy. Dudley was a bully and a boxing champion, it was true, but Harry was a fully-fledged criminal.
"Piss off, Potter," said one of the boys.
Potter kept his eyes on Dudley, though he spared a rude hand gesture for the offending minion. The other boy moved forward to attack, but Dudley shoved him backwards with one beefy arm.
"Leave him," spat Dudley. "I'll take care of it."
Potter rolled his eyes exaggeratedly.
"You lot go to Malcolm's," muttered Dudley without looking away from his cousin.
"You sure you're alright?" said Piers Polkiss, looking as though Dudley had just taken away his favorite toy.
"Yeah, I'll catch you up." Dudley Dursley's tone left no room for argument, and the rest of the gang retreated down a side street.
Then, to Andrew's shock and Dudley's apparent annoyance, Potter extended his hand toward Andrew, who was still sitting on the cement. Andrew stared at the hand in disbelief.
"Come on," said Potter, rather impatiently. "Get up." With some trepidation, Andrew took Harry's hand. Harry yanked hard, pulling Andrew to his feet with little difficulty.
"He's scared of you," Dudley sneered, nodding at Andrew.
Potter took a step closer to Dudley, and put his hand inside his jacket. There was definitely something in the waistband of Potter's jeans, though Andrew couldn't tell what. A knife? A gun?
Dudley's round face whitened. "Don't you pull that fucking thing on me. Put it away!"
Potter leaned into Dudley until their faces were inches apart, hand still in his jacket pocket. Dudley wobbled slightly, as if fighting the instinct to take a massive step backwards. "Go home, Dudley."
Dudley's chest swelled, and he adopted an indignant expression. "You aren't going to tell me what to do, Potter, I'm not like your freaky friends."
Potter's expression remained as cool as ever, but a frisson seemed to run through the air when Dudley insulted his cousin's friends.
"Get out of here, Dudley. Go meet up with your little friends. I'll even go the other way so that you can lie and tell your friends you roughed us up."
"I won't be lying when I tell them I beat you up!"
"Alright, Big D. Have a go, then." He started to remove his mysterious weapon from his waistband.
Dudley grunted, and Potter stopped and raised his eyebrows.
There was a moment in which Dudley seemed to waver. "Fine," Dudley said. It was a valiant attempt at machismo, but Andrew could hear a quiver in Dudley's voice. "The little shit isn't even worth it."
"Brilliant. Off you go then. Mummy's waiting."
After a last venomous look at Andrew, who could think of nothing else to do but stand awkwardly beside Potter, Dudley turned and started down the same street his gang had disappeared down. He was not running, but he wasn't taking his time either.
Potter stuck out his middle finger at Dudley's back before turning to Andrew. His eyes moved from Andrew's hair to his trainers, pausing briefly on the two smudges of dirt on his t-shirt, which marked the places where the other boys had kicked him.
"You alright?" His voice was brisk, but not unkind.
"I haven't any money," Andrew told the older boy bluntly. He knew what was coming. Harry may have rescued him from Dudley, but Potter would probably do something worse than Dudley would have done, anyhow. He dug into his trouser pockets. "I had 5 pounds, but one of the boys must have taken it."
Potter scowled worse than ever. "I don't want your money. Come on, I'll walk you home. Hurry up."
Andrew gulped and shook his head fervently. "No, I reckon I can find my way home from here." He might have just saved him from Dudley, but Andrew had a horrible suspicion that Harry Potter's reasons were anything but noble.
"Don't be stupid. Those fu— idiots are probably waiting round some corner to ambush you again."
Andrew knew Potter was perfectly right. "I live on Sycamore Street," he said grudgingly. "We could walk there, I suppose."
Potter started for Magnolia Road, and Andrew had no choice but to walk alongside him.
"You're welcome," said the older boy.
Andrew sputtered out a thank you. The last think he needed was Potter against him too. "Sorry," he said, "I didn't mean to—" he said in a small voice.
"'S'alright." There was a slight pause. "I suppose your parents tell you not to come near me." He did not say the last part accusatorily; it seemed to Andrew that the other boy was merely stating a fact.
Andrew looked at Harry Potter, trying to be objective. He supposed that if he hadn't heard about St. Brutus's beforehand, he would not have found him very intimidating. Harry was taller than Andrew, but much skinnier, and his mess of black hair gave the pale skin an almost sickly pallor.
"Sorry," said Andrew again. "I mean—yeah, I guess they did. And the other kids say that you're—"
"Yeah, something like that."
Harry said nothing. He rubbed the angry red scar on his forehead, and squinted as though he had a bad head cold.
Andrew did not what came over him, but he found himself speaking. "Are you? A criminal, I mean."
Harry shrugged, his hands deep in his jacket pockets as he walked down the quiet street. "I don't know. I'm not what everyone makes me out to be, I suppose. But maybe I am. What's your definition of a criminal?"
Andrew, who was surprised that Harry had answered his question so candidly, hesitated, then pressed recklessly on. "Have you ever stolen anything? Or lied or murdered?"
"I've never murdered or stolen anything. I've lied, but that's nothing special."
Andrew laughed despite himself. "But you go to a school for criminals, don't you? I mean, you have to have done something, right? Or you wouldn't be there."
Harry hesitated. "I don't go to St. Brutus's actually, only don't tell anyone."
Andrew was so taken aback he stopped walking. "You don't? But Ralphie Fisher said you've gone to reform school ever since you stabbed some bloke to death in a bar four years ago."
Harry made a noise of amusement. "Do I look like the type to win a knife fight at age eleven?"
Andrew didn't answer this, as he thought it might be rude to agree that Harry did not look like the sort to win a great many bar brawls. Harry had not stopped walking when Andrew had, and Andrew had to hurry to catch up with him.
"I go to a boarding school up north," said Harry. "It's the school my parents went to. It's hard to get into. I think the Dursleys didn't want people to know their nephew was going to an exclusive boarding school while Diddy-kins failed classes at Smeltings."
Andrew imagined Harry with his posh boarding school friends. Try as he might, he couldn't picture Harry, with his baggy jeans and worn-out trainers, going on expensive hols to the Bahamas or Spain or wherever rich people went on holiday.
"Do the Dursleys pay your school fees, or—?"
"No." said Harry shortly. "I have my own money, I pay for it myself."
"Really?" Andrew asked incredulously. Harry looked as though he didn't have two pounds to rub together.
Harry shrugged. "My parents left enough money."
Andrew couldn't help himself. "What happened to your parents?" he asked in a rush. "They died, didn't they?"
"Yeah. When I was a baby." There was a pause. "They were murdered." He had stiffened, and his right hand darted into his jacket pocket again. His left hand swung freely by his side, but it was clenched so tightly that his knuckles went white.
Andrew sucked in his breath. "I'm sorry," said Andrew. He wasn't sure if he was expressing condolences or apologizing for asking, but Harry nodded.
Andrew thought of his own parents and his stomach tightened. Imagine knowing your parents had been murdered. Harry might even know who did it, though even Andrew wasn't insensitive enough to ask that question. Still, murdered.
"That's why I'm here," said Harry, motioning toward the rows of perfectly square houses on either side of them. Andrew did not know what he had done to earn a frank conversation with Harry Potter, but he no longer cared.
"You must not like the Dursleys much." Andrew was not particularly fond of Little Whinging himself, but he thought Harry would have much stronger feelings on the subject.
"No," said Harry flatly. "They're barking mad. But I don't care anymore. They mostly leave me alone."
"Do you come back to Surrey for hols?"
"Not if I can avoid it."
"I'm sorry," said Andrew again.
Harry shrugged. "Which house are you?" Andrew looked around in surprise. He had been paying so much attention to his conversation, that he had not noticed that they had rounded the corner of Sycamore Street.
"Number 23. It's on the left." Andrew fervently hoped his stepmother was not watching for him, or else he would be severely reprimanded for hanging around Harry Potter.
"Dudley should leave you alone, but, erm, if he doesn't, you can mention me. Should put him off."
"He's scared of you."
Harry smiled slightly. "Yeah, he is." His hand was still clenched around something in his jacket pocket, and Andrew remembered that Harry had threatened Dudley with whatever was inside.
"What's in your—"
"Number 23," interrupted Harry.
"Oh," said Andrew, looking up at his house with vague disappointment. His stepmother's face peered around the sitting room curtains, and her eyes narrowed. She beckoned him inside before letting the curtain fall back into place.
"Don't walk around after dark, yeah?" said Harry. "And I'm sorry if I got you in trouble with your mum."
"Stepmum. And it's all right. She already thinks I'm mad, so this won't make much of a difference."
"Mad?" Harry asked curiously.
"Yeah, she thinks the weird stuff that happens round here is my fault, even though it never is."
Harry stared at him, obviously perturbed. "How old are you, Andrew?"
"I'll be ten in November," he said bemusedly. "Why?"
Harry gave him a strange, almost speculative look, and walked away, hands in his pockets. Andrew stood on the front path and watched the hunched figure until it had turned the corner onto Willow Road. Right before Harry disappeared, he held his hand up in farewell, as if he knew Andrew was watching him, and still waiting for a goodbye.
A/N: Thank you for reading! You guys are my best source of feedback and constructive criticism, so please please please review!