Harry hated the park.
Well, that's not fair. It wasn't the park's fault that when they were there Dudley was merciless on the swings, the teeter totter, and the jungle gym. And it was better than going to old Mrs Figg's. But nevertheless, his visits to the playground during the summer holidays mostly consisted of his cousin pushing him off things, or throwing sand in his eyes.
Needless to say, he tended to stay far away from Dudley when at the park, even if that meant just sitting under a tree and reading.
Today, however, when they arrived at the park, he could not sit under the tree and read, as there was already someone reading there, sitting on an ebony blanket.
Well, two someones.
One was a very pretty girl about twice Harry's age, with dark brown hair and olive-coloured skin, who lay with her arms crossed behind her head at the other's feet. The other was a thin man with shoulder-length black hair and almost translucent skin. As he read aloud to the girl, he seemed to be caressing rather than turning the pages of the rather worn-looking book.
Harry wondered vaguely who they could be: he knew most of the neighbours, as most of them had sneered at him at least once in his life with the Dursleys. But these two, somehow, didn't fit at all with their surroundings. It was as if they belonged to another world.
Shaking the strange, unearthly feeling, Harry moved to sit on one of the swings farthest from where his cousin was playing. Evidentially, Aunt Petunia was attempting to get him to try the monkey bars, but wasn't having much success. He became lost in his own thoughts for some time, until he heard a man call out, 'Elizabeth!'
She could not just sit by and let him play all alone on a park swing. He wasn't even swinging! He was just sitting there, alone, seemingly lost in his own thoughts. She wished she had perfected Legilimency, but Severus and Albus had only just gotten her to perfect her Occlumency skills that June, and they'd barely started.
After setting up silencing spells, Severus had begun reading from one of the more advanced Defence books that he had lent her, but she just could not seem to concentrate. Harry, her Harry – the Harry that looked almost exactly like James, but with Lily's eyes – was sitting mere metres from her, but she could do nothing about it.
That is, until she discovered her rebellious side and decided to sit on one of the swings close to him.
She jumped up and, before Severus could notice, stepped outside the barrier of the spell. He could not call out to her without calling attention to himself, and he had already told her long ago that he had met Petunia Dursley when she was no more than an Evans. As well, he would be teaching Harry in a few years, and the less questions asked, the better.
She didn't care, though, and when she sat upon the swing, she looked back briefly to see Severus staring right at her. That's when he called her name.
'Just swinging, Uncle, I'll be back in a moment!' she called back, turning her head away. She realized then that Harry had been pulled out of his reverie by her brief yet loud conversation. He was looking directly at her. 'Hi,' she said shyly, her hair falling in front of her face. 'My name's Elizabeth… though you prob'ly heard my uncle call me just now. What's yours?'
He didn't answer for a moment, clearly taken aback by someone being interested in him. 'H-harry.'
'Well, nice to meet you, H-harry.' She smiled and moved to the swing next to him. 'We've just come for a bit of bonding time. See, my uncle's always away on business, and we never get to see each other except once or twice during the summer… it's nice, but he's always reading to me! As if I don't read enough on my own.'
He observed her for a moment before speaking. 'I'm here with my aunt and cousin… that's them over there.' He pointed towards a startling thin woman and an even more startling fat boy. 'I live with them.'
'But why aren't you playing with your cousin? He looks about your age.'
A strange look came across his features as he replied, 'We… we don't get along too well.'
'Well, that's no fun,' she pouted. 'Uncle hasn't any children, so I've no one to play with. It's terribly annoying. I never have anyone my own age 'roud.'
'How… how old are you?'
'Fourteen. Why? How old are you?'
'I'm only seven.'
'I rem'ber being seven,' she said. 'Didn't like it much, to tell you the truth… not nearly as fun as ten.'
'Elizabeth!' Severus called again. Clearly, he was listening in on what she was saying, and didn't like it one bit. He had already folded up the blanket and packet it away with the book he had been reading. Marching up to her, though careful to keep his face hidden from both Harry and the Petunia, he said, 'I have to take you home now, Elizabeth, so say good-bye to your friend.'
Elizabeth saw Harry's eyes widen at the word, and she felt her heart break. 'I'm sorry,' she murmured to Severus, and to Harry, she said, 'Well, I suppose that's good-bye, then. It was nice…' – she chuckled – '…swinging with you.'
'Yeah… yeah, you too. Maybe… maybe we'll do it again some other time?' It was a sad sort of question, almost pleading.
'Yeah… I hope so.' She couldn't help but keep the sorrow out of her voice. ''Bye, Harry.'
Severus led her away, his hand at the small of her back, but he allowed her to look back once to see Harry watching them go, an indescribable sadness in his eyes.
Severus was waiting until they were back in Hogsmeade to discuss Elizabeth's blatant disregard for the rules, but then she spoke so bitterly he couldn't help but forget any thought of discipline.'I hate them,' she hissed darkly as they neared the Apparition point. 'They don't treat him well. They don't treat him well at all. He's small, he's skinny as a twig, his clothes are much too big, and warn – probably hand-me-downs from that cousin of his – and he was so… so sad.' She shook her head violently, and swore, 'When I'm old enough, I'll take care of him properly, Severus. I'll make sure he's never, ever lonely again.'