Harry was laying on his half-broken bed in the smallest bed at number four Privet Drive on a hot June afternoon. He was tossing a piece of parchment crumpled into a ball in the air, over and over, and thinking about Cedric's death.
It had been unfair that he'd had to go back to Privet Drive, just like every summer before it, to the grumpy and abusive actions of the Dursleys with such a heavy burden. The air was hot, and as the Dursleys had gone out for an early evening meal (with Dudley still dieting, dinner was forced to come early, lest the wrath of the portly boy become too much for Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia to bear), Harry was locked in his room with no food, no water and no entertainment beyond his parchment.
He began thinking of all his friends, and muttering to himself. "No Sirius to get me out of this, thanks to Peter. No Ron and no chess. No Hermione informing me of something I've never known could exist." He went down the list of every person he knew, thinking of them and what they could possibly do to help him out of this Dursley nightmare. "… No Dobby to—"
But he was interrupted by the small squeaky elf, who appeared at the foot of his bed with a loud pop. "Harry Potter, sir, you called?"
Harry furrowed his brow. "How could you— I wasn't calling, but how could you hear me, Dobby?"
"I help serve the great Harry Potter, even as a free elf! I can hear you always, if you need me," Dobby squeaked cheerfully as he bounced ever so slightly, up and down on the bed.
Harry wondered if this could be a good thing. He might not have to starve anymore, even if he couldn't leave this properly maintained prison on Privet. "Does this mean you can help me during the summer, with food?"
"Does Harry Potter need food? Oh yes!" cried Dobby, preparing to jump off the bed.
Harry spoke quickly. "No, well, not yet. What else can you help me with? I'm forced to stay here, Dobby, and they don't treat me very kindly. Not like a friend. I can pay you, of course."
Dobby shook his head. "No, Harry Potter! You gave Dobby freedom. Dobby will do what Dobby can to repay that. You— you are too kind to Dobby!" With that, the elf began sniffling, crying tears of joy.
"Don't cry, Dobby. You are a great elf, but an even better friend." Dobby burst into a fresh bout of tears as Harry said this, and pulled out a bright pink handkerchief to blow his large nose.
"Th-Thank you, Harry Potter."
"Call me Harry, Dobby." Harry reminded him gently. "And as a friend, I could really use your help. I haven't eaten since some burnt toast at breakfast, and I can't leave this room."
"Say no more, Harry P—Harry. Dobby will be right back!" Dobby squeaked as he disappeared, and arrived a few moments later with a steaming tray, covered fully by a sparkling metal lid. Dobby balanced the tray on one hand and snapped his fingers with the other, and a small table and chair appeared. He put the tray down and uncovered it.
"Your dinner, Harry Pott—Harry," he said as Harry took in the sight of a delicious Hogwarts dinner. Roast with carrots, boiled potatoes, yorkshire pudding, green beans and to the side, a cold glass of iced pumpkin juice and a slice of treacle tart. Harry's eyes grew big and he felt his stomach rumbling — this must be how Ron felt every dinner, he thought to himself, amused.
He looked up at Dobby, who was waiting expectantly. "Thank you, Dobby, this looks wonderful. But you have no chair - won't you have dinner with a friend?"
Dobby looked near tears again, but he snapped his fingers and a smaller chair appeared. He sat down and it magically grew to the height of the table. "Thank you for asking Dobby to join you, sir! Dobby regrets already eating dinner."
"That's okay, Dobby. I'll enjoy your company anyway. And none of this sir business. We are friends," Harry said as he smiled at the small elf. "I am very glad I spoke your name aloud earlier. I thought I would be very lonely until I could meet up with Ron and Hermione again."
"But Harry P—," Dobby began, catching himself, "Why could your friends not come here and see you?"
Harry pushed his carrots around his plate. "I don't think Dumbledore would let them, and besides, Mrs. Weasley would have a fit if Ron left her sight, after what happened with the Tournament…" He trailed off, and Dobby nodded.
"Dobby understands that. But Dobby has an idea; if Ron Wheezy cannot leave, maybe Harry Potter's Miss Grangy can come?"
Harry looked interested, but then muttered "Dumbledore" as he stabbed a piece of roast.
"No, Harry Potter, Dobby will not let you down!" Dobby jumped up and disappeared. Harry continued eating, appreciating the excitement. He imagined the little elf treading up to Dumbledore's office and arguing passionately for Harry to be able to see his friends. Dobby's solution, however, was far more shocking, as in the middle of Harry's daydream, he was interrupted by—
"HARRY?" Hermione, holding Dobby's hand, dropped it at once and ran across the room, throwing her arms around Harry and nearly knocking the food out of him as she squeezed. "Oh, Harry! Dobby showed up after dinner, as I was about to start a book I picked up in Diagon Alley this week, Dueling Dangers, and—"
Harry stopped her when she took a breath, and she finally let go, letting him breathe again. "Hermione, it's good to see you. I thought Dobby was going to argue my case with Dumbledore, not bring you directly here." He looked over at the little elf, who was grinning. "Thank you so much, Dobby. You are truly a great friend."
"Dobby needs no thanks, Harry Potter. But Dobby is needed to clean the castle, so Dobby will be back as soon as you call, to take Miss Grangy home." With that, Dobby popped away.
"I can't believe I'm here, Merlin!" said Hermione, plopping down on Harry's bed. "And I'm glad to see that Dobby is feeding you. I hope you're paying him?"
Harry grinned; he had expected the lecture once he saw her. "I offered, and I will once he returns. Would you like some treacle tart?"
She shook her head, and looked around the little bedroom. "I had plenty of dinner before I came. I must say, I'm surprised at how small this bedroom is." The bed was touching the table, and his chair was touching the desk; it was cramped, and Harry was simply amazed that there was room for a table and the two of them.
"Well, it's an upgrade from the cupboard." He finished his dinner, and went to sit across from her on the bed. "My aunt and uncle locked me in here, and I was just muttering to myself about everyone I'd like to see. When I got to Dobby, as soon as I said his name, he appeared and asked me if I needed help. Pretty amazing, as I was famished." He looked over and grinned. "I know now how Ron must feel all the time."
Hermione snorted. "Ron's behavior is disgusting, especially at mealtimes." She reached down off of the bed and picked up "Curse Control in Crowds: Protecting Yourself in Public" by Elsinor Egleston and began to leaf through it. "You know, I thought I fancied him once, but the Yule Ball really changed that."
Harry wore a puzzled expression as he looked at Hermione. "What changed?" He asked, wondering if he really wanted the answer to the question, as he hated when his friends fought.
She sighed. "Well, really, it's nothing more complicated than that he sees me as the easiest choice. I don't think he really likes me. He's spent far too much time antagonizing me as it is." She propped her feet up on the bed, continuing, "Ron's not a bad choice, but I don't think he's the right guy for me."
At this, Harry felt uncomfortable, and he figured it was because he hated discussing love lives, after what had happened between he and Cho this year. Yet for some unknown reason, he pressed on. "Hermione, how— how does someone know whether a person is right for them, or know if they're in love, or…" he trailed off at the end, not knowing where that question was going, and his cheeks flushed red.
Before he could take it back, Hermione gave a thoughtful look and began to answer. "I guess— well, I think you know the person is right for you when you don't have to try so hard to make things work." It was her turn to blush as she began speaking again, after a pause. "Not that I have experience in these things, but it's merely what I expect out of a relationship. I don't think I agree with that whole idea of chasing boys."
Harry nodded. He had begun to think that he didn't really like Cho the way he thought he did, or even Ginny; he wasn't sure anyone would fit the qualifications Hermione had set forth. Pushing it out of his mind, he saw her glancing up at him every few moments.
"Is something wrong?" He asked.
"No, unless there's something you want to talk about?" she responded, and it sounded like she had tried hard to force herself to make it sound light.
He sighed. "I don't know. Not really. Yes and no."
"You aren't at fault, it was never because of you." She had a serious look on her face as she rested a hand on his shoulder.
"I know. It doesn't make it easier, but I do know." He patted her hand, and changed the subject. The two friends spent the rest of the evening laughing and talking with one another until Hermione finally figured she'd better go home. A call to Dobby and some payment ("Dobby accepts payment in socks!") and she disappeared. It was dark and the Dursleys would be home any moment, so he curled up in bed, drifting off happily. Maybe this summer wouldn't be so bad.