When Dobby met Harry Potter the forest elf, he was instantly enamoured. Harry Potter was everything Dobby had never realised an elf could be. The stories he'd heard about Harry Potter never suggested his true species. When his Masters and the other house elves spoke of the Boy-Who-Lived, he was always referred to as just that: a boy. A human. A wizard, specifically.
But he was an elf, just like Dobby. Well, not quite like Dobby; Dobby had been a house elf when he had first met the forest elf. Dobby had never dreamed that one of his species could achieve so much.
But Harry Potter had, and Harry Potter was adamant that he was an elf. Who was Dobby to refute him? Master Draco certainly hadn't, and despite that, despite knowing that Harry Potter was an elf, Master Draco had still obeyed him on several occasions, which was literally unheard of, and quite enough to boggle Dobby's head all on its own.
Then one day, Master Draco claimed Harry Potter as one of his belongings, just like Dobby or his practice Snitch (which was given into the possession of the forest elf almost immediately upon their first acquaintance, though Dobby deliberately wasn't counting the other items that left Malfoy Manor for the forest elf's internally expanded bag). The forest elf's reaction was immediate and brusque, and Dobby's world changed. If the forest elf was able to so thoroughly (and angrily) refuse what Dobby had previously considered the natural way of things, then perhaps Dobby could, too? Admittedly, Dobby was not so great or wonderful as the forest elf, but Harry Potter was humble and encouraged Dobby to think of them as equals. Such thoughts were dangerous, but wildly appealing, and the next few years saw Dobby dreaming, wishing, waiting, and most importantly, thinking.
Now, Dobby was a free elf. He travelled with Harry Potter and his snake companion from Bristol to Edinburgh to Sussex and back at their leisure, and Harry Potter was generous with his advice and training. Today, for instance, Dobby was taking yet another step on his path to becoming a true forest elf himself.
"We've done this together plenty of times," Harry Potter said, scratching the back of his calf with one foot and eyeing the man standing in his own front garden narrowly. It was true; Dobby had assisted Harry Potter often. Harry Potter continued. "You'll want to act a bit mysterious, it draws them in. What are you going to ask for?"
"Dobby is going to ask for a tie," Dobby said, beaming. Harry Potter's eyebrows drew together in an almost helpless gesture, tinged with amusement.
"Dobby -" he began. Dobby thought he knew what Harry Potter was going to say, and dared to interrupt him.
"Dobby will be asking for many ties," Dobby amended, his ears flapping with his nodding. Harry Potter only shook his head.
"At least make certain that they're silk," he said, turning to go so that the man wouldn't become suspicious of someone lurking nearby. "I can teach you to put together a couple different kinds of glamour amulets if you get us some coloured silk."
"Dobby will, Harry Potter!" Dobby said, cheerful.
"I'll see you at the stream in a bit," Harry Potter said, spinning on his heel to jog backward, lightfooted and waving as he went. "Good luck, Dobby!"
"Thank you, Harry Potter!" Dobby responded, waving. He turned around and squared his shoulders, trying to imitate the walk Harry Potter used when making boons, which made him look as though he was floating across the grass toward his target and piqued their curiosity and interest no matter their birth.
The man standing in his garden spotted Dobby as he approached. His face did not contain the mild awe and uncertainty that Harry Potter usually garnered, so Dobby knew he wasn't doing the walk quite right. He'd have to continue practicing.
"Do you want something, elf?" the man asked. For his first boon, Dobby and Harry Potter had agreed that Dobby should speak with a magical being, specifically a wizard, so that the issue of his unusual appearance to stale people wouldn't disrupt his practise.
"That is being up to you, sir," Dobby said. "Dobby is being a forest elf."
"A what?" the man asked, tipping his head back. He was obviously incredulous, and Dobby hurried to explain.
"A forest elf, sir. We is living in the forest and giving humans boons in exchange for favours."
The man crossed his arms. "Right then. And what do you want from me?"
Dobby was confident of his answer here, and tipped his chin up proudly. "Dobby would like ties."
"Yes. Many ties." He gestured at his neck, where four of them rested against his collarbone in various complicated knots. The forest elf had helped to free Dobby with ties, and the item of clothing held a special place in his heart.
Instead of nodding along and responding, the man blinked down at Dobby for a long moment, squinting. "And... what'll you do for me?"
Dobby cast around for ideas. Harry Potter usually managed this part smoothly, but Dobby was under pressure and couldn't remember the words he usually used.
"Dobby can acquire most anything, or perform a helpful deed," Dobby explained. "Then the boon is being useful for both of us."
"Can you clean?" the man asked, still looking kind of confused. Dobby brightened.
"Oh yes, Dobby is very skilled at keeping house!" he said. "Dobby will exchange ties for cleaning!"
"That's... odd," the man said. "I rather thought this worked the other way around." He looked down at Dobby for a while longer, and shrugged. "Well. You'd best come inside. I've got quite a bit of cleaning for you to do."
Dobby followed him happily. He would complete his boon and have his ties, and Harry Potter would teach him more about being a forest elf. He was flush with his success.
Three days later, Dobby was crouched over a stack of boxes in the man's attic. His name was Roche and he hadn't been lying when he'd said he had a lot for Dobby to do. Dobby had finally finished removing all the dust and cobwebs from the old furniture up here, and now he was hunting for wood polish. After Dobby had finished polishing the attic floors and the furniture, he was going to repaint the front porch and fix the sagging steps.
Dobby heard a faint hissing sound from near the window. He frowned and approached it, but couldn't see anything that could have made the sound. He found the wood polish and got to work on the floors, snapping his fingers and lifting everything up off the ground so that he could reach it all.
After another twenty minutes of quiet work, Dobby heard the sound again. This time, it was followed by another kind of hissing.
Dobby jumped to his feet and looked around. "Harry Potter, sir?"
The forest elf's head appeared in the window, his expression scandalized. The snake sat on his shoulder, and if Dobby had learned anything about the snake's body language in the past year, he would bet he had the same look. Harry Potter grimaced. "Did you just call me 'sir'?"
Dobby looked around the attic room, then down at the rag in his hand. "Dobby is being sorry, Harry Potter, Dobby is-"
"Right. We're getting you out of here," said the forest elf. He apparated through the window and frowned at Dobby severely.
"But Dobby is not finished!" he said, clutching his rag. He still had so much to do! There was the oven still to be cleaned, and the windows needed washing, and Roche had company coming over tomorrow so Dobby needed to prepare -
"Dobby, snap out of it!" Harry Potter exclaimed, hands on his hips. "We're leaving! Right now!"
"Oh, but Dobby can't, Harry Potter!" Dobby cried, feeling the weight of his to do list suddenly pressing down on him like an iron clamp compressing his chest. "Dobby must be staying with Master Roche and finishing all of his orders, and then Dobby must be -"
Harry Potter took several steps forward and dropped down into a crouch to look Dobby in the eye, his expression eerily calm.. "Roche is not your master. You aren't a house elf anymore, Dobby. You're a free elf. A forest elf."
"A forest elf," Dobby repeated, wringing the rag between his hands and staring back at Harry Potter. "But Dobby made a boon to be cleaning Roche's house for him in exchange for ties!"
Harry Potter scowled. "Have you seen any ties yet?"
Dobby hesitated and shook his head. "No, Harry Potter. Though Ma- Roche has many ties in his wardrobe. Dobby is seeing them when he cleans and presses Roche's robes.
"Well then," Harry Potter said, standing up and dusting off his tunic. "Dobby, what's the first rule of making a boon?"
Dobby blinked, thinking. "Er, Dobby should be knowing what he is wanting beforehand."
"No - well, yes. But what's the second?" Harry Potter looked impatient, so Dobby tried to think of what he might mean. "Always..." Dobby remembered, and was ashamed. "Always be taking before giving."
"Exactly," Harry Potter said, satisfied. "Otherwise you end up with nothing. Or worse, you end up as a house elf again and all the ties are in the wardrobe."
Dobby nodded, setting his rag carefully down on the floor. "But now Dobby is being a house elf again!" he moaned, shaking his head and feeling his ears flap against his skull. He was trapped. "Now Dobby will have to escape once more."
"You're not really a house elf again," Harry Potter said, squinting skeptically at Dobby. "You're just pretending."
"Pretending?" Dobby didn't think he was pretending. It didn't feel like he was pretending. It felt very real.
"Well, did you do anything to make it official?" Harry Potter asked. He waved his hands around, pointing a finger and doing an exaggerated imitation of the wizards with their wands. "You know, alakazoo, luminaaarre trappicus?"
Dobby had heard many incantations in his lifetime, but this one was wholly new to him. "Dobby is not understanding you, Harry Potter."
Harry Potter shrugged. "You know, a ritual or something. Did you and the warty man -"
"- Roche," Dobby supplied.
"Yes, him. Did you agree to anything magically outside of your boon?"
Dobby looked around the still-dusty attic. "No. Dobby didn't make any magically binding agreements." Suddenly, his chest expanded, and he could see leaving the house easily. He could go back to the forests with Harry Potter. He was still free. He had just been confused before. "Harry Potter is a very intelligent forest elf!" he exclaimed, kicking the rag away defiantly. "Dobby is leaving Roche's house!"
Harry Potter beamed at him, his eyes crinkling at the corners. "That's bloody right, Dobby! We'll be leaving in just a moment." He paused, and Dobby shifted as he was subjected to a piercing stare. "Also, rule number three is now 'don't offer housework'."
Dobby repeated it, nodding, and watched as Harry Potter crossed the room to the attic stairs and peered down them. He looked around at the angled, wood panelled walls and old furniture.
"We will never be house elves again, Dobby. I'll show you what a forest elf does when he's crossed." Harry Potter's voice was low and his eyes narrow. Dobby stood up straighter, a thrill spiking through his chest. He remembered when Master Draco had crossed Harry Potter by trying to own him. Dobby had managed to head off most of the consequences for his master by apologising on Master Draco's behalf and offering the forest elf his favorite food, and Master Draco had never tried to own Harry Potter again. Today they would do the same for Dobby. After day, no one would ever own Dobby.
Harry Potter rooted through his bag, his expression shielded by his choppy, slightly too long fringe. The muttering described his thoughts to Dobby adequately enough as he waited, and Dobby smiled. Harry Potter eventually found a vial and tossed it to Dobby. "Throw it on the floor," he instructed. "I've removed the unbreakable magic."
"What is it?" Dobby asked, lifting it to the light from the window. Small insects crawled around inside.
"Termites," Harry Potter said, back to searching through his bag. Dobby hesitated, but when Harry Potter looked up at him with an expectant glance, he took a deep breath and flung the vial to the ground, aiming it to land near the closest wall. The tinkling of the glass as it shattered was immensely satisfying.
Harry Potter's mouth quirked up into a grin as he lifted the end of his boon cupboard up out of his bag.
"We'll put bad luck amulets in the wardrobe and the basement," Harry Potter explained, selecting a few and tossing them to Dobby. "Or where ever you think is best. This is your vengeance, after all."
Dobby took the amulets and examined them. These were made by Harry Potter himself, and Dobby could tell they were potent. Harry Potter was skilled. "Dobby will place them in the basement and under the kitchen sink, as well as in the garden shed."
"Good," Harry Potter said. "I'll meet you out in the garden very soon. Where is he, Dobby?"
"Roche is in town with friends," Dobby said.
"Oh lovely," Harry Potter said, jumping down the attic steps. "We have time, then."
Dobby smiled. Harry Potter was a good and caring friend. He moved around to each spot he'd mentioned to Harry Potter, hiding the amulet where he didn't think Roche would find it for a while. Dobby would feel more guilty about causing harm to his non-master in this way, but Harry Potter was right. He wasn't a house elf anymore. And Roche had not been very nice to him since Dobby had started cleaning his house. He hadn't even provided a place for Dobby to sleep.
He arrived in Roche's bedroom in time to find Harry Potter walking backward through the door, squinting at the walls and ceiling of the hall. "I don't like houses much," he said to Dobby without bothering to turn around and confirm his presence. "This one is especially cramped, I think. Isn't it?"
Dobby was used to buildings the likes of Malfoy Manor and Hogwarts, so he had to agree. "It is very tiny. We could have met in the garden as you said."
"No, I had stuff to do," Harry Potter disagreed, jumping up onto the bed and bouncing a little. "So, are you going to do it?"
Though they hadn't spoken of it, Dobby knew exactly what he meant. He turned to the wardrobe. "Yes," Dobby echoed, taking a deep breath. He pulled open the doors and stared in at the neatly organised clothing that he'd hung there himself on Roche's orders. He heard a ripping sound and spun around, alarmed, to find Harry Potter crouched in a corner of the bed and tearing the sheets into long, thin strips.
Harry Potter looked up, surprised, and waved Dobby onward. "Get to it," he said. "Don't mind me."
Dobby nodded and turned around again. The ties were hung in rows along the doors, and Dobby took several, draping them around his shoulders.
Harry Potter tore several more strips of sheet as Dobby stared at the other ties. He took one more, a bright green one, and stuffed it in his belt.
The sheets were braided halfway into a serviceable rope by the time Dobby turned back around. "Dobby is going to be taking enough ties to cover three days of cleaning," he told Harry Potter, his movements uncertain. Harry Potter nodded.
"You're nowhere near done, then," he pointed out, and Dobby's face split into a smile. He turned back to the wardrobe and began pulling all the ties off of their neat rows, weaving them all the way around his belt and letting the long ends hang down to his knees. They formed a sort of skirt, and Dobby found that he liked it.
"Roche is having thirty eight ties," Dobby said out loud, wondering at the sheer number.
"He had thirty eight ties," Harry Potter corrected. He'd stripped the sheets entirely and finished his rope, and now he was standing in the middle of the bare mattress, coiling it around his arm. It was at least thirty feet in length, and Harry Potter's expression was immensely satisfied. "Now you have six thousand, at least."
Dobby beamed again. He'd already acquired several other ties (not quite six thousand, though) since Harry Potter had freed him, usually with Harry Potter's assistance. These he had gotten all on his own.
"Is there anything else you'd like to do?" Harry Potter asked, leaping lightly down to the floor and shouldering the rope next to his bow and quiver. "Anything you want to take, or break?"
Dobby considered the question as he followed Harry Potter out into the hall, which had been covered in a fine layer of grime since he'd walked through it last.
"Harry Potter!" he exclaimed, coming to a stop. The urge to clean up the mess in his house itched at his fingers, and Harry Potter turned around, taking Dobby's arm and tugging him onward. "You fulfilled your side of the bargain," Harry Potter said firmly. "It's no longer your responsibility."
He pulled Dobby through the house, and Dobby's eyes grew to the size of dinner plates as he observed the destruction Harry Potter had wrought. Picture frames were cracked, the walls were moldy, Roche's floors were soggy with some unidentifiable mixture that Harry Potter automatically avoided stepping in. Dobby did the same, staring at the house in horrified awe. "But Roche is having guests tomorrow and -"
"- and that's none of our business, as you are not his house elf," Harry Potter finished. He let Dobby go and walked toward the front door, which had a long, bewilderingly orange stain down the middle which Dobby wanted desperately to wipe off. The door would look so much nicer without the mess. "I'm going to make a couple fairy circles in the garden, and then I'm leaving. Are you coming with me?"
Dobby looked from Harry Potter to the fungus growing out of the fireplace. He sighed deeply and averted his eyes. "Yes, Dobby is coming with Harry Potter. Dobby is not being a house elf any longer."
"Great! I'll show you how to do the one that attracts mice," Harry Potter said, leading the way through the door. Dobby followed, and nearly bumped into Harry Potter when he spun around and dropped down again, looking at Dobby as intently as he had upstairs. "Just one more thing, Dobby. You're a forest elf. A free elf. Not a house elf."
"Dobby is a free forest elf," Dobby repeated dutifully. Harry Potter frowned at him.
"Right," Harry Potter continued. "You demand what you deserve, and nothing less. From the people you trade with, from the people you meet, from me. From everyone. Alright?"
Dobby felt his eyes fill with tears at Harry Potter's insistence, and sniffed. "Harry Potter is-"
"Dobby." Harry Potter cut him off and raised an eyebrow. "Alright?"
"Alright," Dobby agreed. "Dobby will demand what he deserves, and nothing less."
"And what do you deserve?" They'd gone over this in the past. Dobby squared his shoulders.
"Dobby deserves to make his own choices," Dobby said. "Dobby deserves to be free."
Harry Potter nodded curtly. "Don't let anyone make you forget, Dobby," he said. He stepped down into the garden and gestured for Dobby to join him. "Let's hurry up and finish this before the warty man returns."