So this is a thing. It was a 5000 word longer thing, but my laptop crashed, and I'll be damned if I can rewrite before drinking this entire bottle of whisky

Disclaimer: I am not homeless or dangerous. Anymore.

I sat on the garden bench, aimlessly kicking my heels against the neatly mown grass. The summer had flickered by all too fast; the agonizing mystery of the ring I had been sent burning a hole in my thoughts from where it lay hidden in my desk drawer. For the past week, I had taken up the habit of wearing it. Although it was far too large for my eleven year old finger, it quickly resized itself to fit.
Magically, you could say.

When he saw me wear it for the first time, Uncle Vernon had hauled it off my finger, demanding to know where I had stolen it from – and accusing me of taking it from Aunt Petunia's jewellery box.

It had promptly expanded to its original size in his hand, beneath his podgy fingers and horrified gaze. He had flung it away as if it had bitten him. There was no question of ownership from then on.
I rubbed my eyes with the back of my hand. The cool black stone set into the ring brought some relief from the summer heat.

As I looked up again, returning to my aimless staring into the hedge, I jerked in surprise. The hedge was staring back. Staring with two large, bulbous eyes. Green eyes. Not the same green as mine, but eyes that were green all over, like horrifying tennis balls.

I jumped to my feet, reaching into my back pocket for my wand.

Uncle Vernon had tried to lock it away with all of my school things at the start of the summer, but the threat of having a pig's tail to match Dudley's had made him think twice. I was allowed my wand on the condition that I never use it.

They were the same terms that the Ministry of Magic gave all school-age wizards, actually. Not that he knew.

A jeering voice sang out behind me.

"I know what day it is!"

I turned to see Dudley waddling across the lawn. By the time I looked back, the eyes had gone. I swore under my breath – a curse I'd learnt from Dudley. He could be a surprisingly well-rounded education, so long as his parents weren't around.

"What?" I replied, hardly paying attention to him as I scoured the hedge for any sight of the creature that had been there.

I was desperate for contact with the Wizarding World. I had needed time to hide away from the shame of my weakness at the end of last year, but that time had passed, and now I was eager to return to the place I belonged. To magic.

"I know what day it is," he repeated. "It's your birthday. And you haven't got any cards. Nobody cares."

"Well done," I muttered, continuing to search for the green eyes.

He squinted, piggy little eyes narrowing in confusion. He wasn't used to being ignored.

"Why are you staring at the hedge?"

"I'm casting a spell on it," I snapped distractedly.

Dudley whitened instantly and stumbled backwards.

"What? Y-you can't! You're not allowed to do that stuff. Dad said so. He said he'll chuck you out of the house! And it's not like you – not like you have anywhere else to go. You haven't got any freak friends who'd take you in!"

I grimaced. He'd hit upon something that had been worrying me for a while. I'd been grateful for the lack of contact for a while, but now, it was beginning to worry me that none of my friends had written.

A bubble of frustration welled up from inside me. I frowned.

"Stop it!" shouted Dudley. I guessed by his panicked squeal that he'd mistaken my frown for a look of concentration.

Pain blossomed in the back of my head. I fell forwards into the hedge.

I lay there in a tangle of twigs and leaves, utterly confused. Dudley stood over me breathing heavily. He had hit me. Anger began to replace my frustration. I clenched my fists. The thick metal of the ring cut into my hand. I felt it warm under my tightened grip.

Dudley looked as if he was about to hit me again, lumbering forwards like a troll, but suddenly he stopped.

"Mum!" he shouted. "He's doing you-know-what!"

He fled.

I lay there a moment longer, and then stood, still dizzy from the blow to my head.

As I stood, something crunched underfoot. I looked down to see grey leaves on the dry soil. Beneath my foot was a grey, crumbling twig. I lifted my foot, and it fell away into dust.

All around me, the formerly pristine green hedge was fading away. I stood in a small ring of dead foliage. Only a few inches away from me, life began to reappear. The hedge had a peculiar mottled effect as uneven specks of death mingled with rich greenery.

I looked about myself in confusion.

And then I decided that it must have been accidental magic. The ring was warm on my finger.

A little shaken, I began to move back inside. Just inside the kitchen, Aunt Petunia stood by the sink, washing the frying pan from breakfast. Dudley sat at the table.

"Mum!" he whined when he saw me. "He was doing it!"

I heard Aunt Petunia sigh, and in a startled moment of realization, I saw that she didn't believe Dudley, but still forced me to duck as she swung a heavy blow at my head from the soapy frying pan.

I blamed Dudley's fist on the back of my head for my slowed reflexes. I didn't manage to duck in time.

Agony exploded from the already raised lump on the back of my head.

I fell to the floor, landing face-down on the tiles. I only just managed to catch myself on my hands and knees.

The room spun.

I clasped a hand to the back of my head and tried to stand. My vision swam worryingly, and I stumbled, grasping the edge of the table for support.

My hand was warm and sticky. I pulled it away.

It was covered in blood.

As I saw my own blood coating my skin, a wave of nausea washed over me. I managed to pull a chair out from underneath the table in time to collapse into it - and then fall straight back out. My head collided with the tiled floor. Everything disappeared in a flash of white-hot pain.

I have no memory of the next few minutes. It was as if a slice of time had been stolen from me, until I suddenly came back into the world of conscious thought, dazed, confused, and propped up on the tiled floor by the arm of a man I didn't know. Fuzzy, muffled sounds filled my ears. I recognized them as words, but couldn't understand them. I looked at the man holding me upright, eventually steadying my own weight, and leaning forwards, off his arm. He wore a strange bright yellow jacket decorated by stripes of a silvery material. Blearily, I stared at and past him, unable to focus. I thought I saw another man dressed in the same manner standing nearby. My vision swam as if I was rocking my head, so I leant against the leg of the table. The cold pressure of wood against my cheek helped bring the world back somewhat, although my vision continued to swim unevenly. Somehow, the notion that my head was still despite my wandering sight managed to worry me more than the situation I was in.

Somewhere at the back of my mind, I registered the uniform and guessed that Aunt Petunia had called an ambulance.

Throughout the ordeal, I didn't feel anything in the way of worry. Only disorientation and a painful throbbing ache pierced through the stupor I was in, until at last the paramedic's voice became clear enough to comprehend.

"Harry, do you know where you are?"

I said yes. Or, if I'm honest, I mumbled something vaguely positive and attempted to nod.

"Do you know where you are?" he repeated. I pushed my cheek away from the welcome coolness of the table leg, and looked him in the eye. And then wavered, and looked him resolutely in the knee.

"The Dursleys'," I said.

"Where? Harry, you're at home."

"Privet Drive."

"Our name is Dursley," said Aunt Petunia. Her voice sounded odd; panicky and flustered. I couldn't see her.

"How did you say this happened?" asked the other man in the background.

"He-he fell," she stammered.

"How did that happen?" he asked. A stupid, petty voice inside me clamoured to speak up and point the blame, but I knew that nothing good would come of such an accusation. Dudley saved me the trouble with his own idiocy.

"'cause he forgot how to take a hit after a year at that freak school! Dad said-"

Aunt Petunia cut him off with a sharp rebuke. I jerked my head to stare at her, startled. I'd never heard her scold him before.

The rest of the day passed in a daze. Upon the paramedic's advice of plenty of rest and the suggestion to lie down, Aunt Petunia had insisted that I spend the day lying on the couch, watching television. Dudley spent most of the afternoon playing on his computer in the corner of the room, until Aunt Petunia asked him to turn the volume down a bit – something else I'd never heard her do before. He complained that she was spoiling the game and stomped upstairs.

"Harry, could you go to your room?" asked Aunt Petunia all of a sudden. I didn't respond at first, confused as I was by the way she had asked, rather than ordered me to disappear. For weeks, the Dursleys had been drilling into me the instructions for tonight: go to my room, make no noise, and pretend that I don't exist. "I'll bring you your dinner in a bit. After your –" she paused for a moment. "Fall, I don't think sitting at the table will make you feel very well."

I did as she asked silently, and began to wait the night out. The sound of Uncle Vernon's car pulling up outside sounded a few minutes later.

There was a creature in my room when I arrived. I recognized it, or at least part of it. It was the creature from the garden hedge. The same oversized eyes stared at me, protruded in a most unsettling manner from its head, and all around made me feel uncomfortable. The creature blinked owlishly at me. Its eyelids rose over the top of eyeballs spilling too far forward, curved over their tops, and closed on the lower lids with an uneven seam. The lids of the left eye met far higher than the right ones did, and the right eye didn't quite close all the way, leaving a hole through which I could see a sliver of green.

I had green eyes. My mother's. They were one of the only things about my appearance I liked - they had a brightness and life to them that spoke of more than my shabby clothes and messy hair. Some of the other students at Hogwarts had eyes like mine, in different colours. Dumbledore's eyes shone brighter than any of theirs. It made me wonder if, perhaps, this vibrancy spoke of the magic nestled inside a person.

The sight of bright green eyes belonging to an obviously magical creature would ordinarily have made my day. Desperate as I was for any contact with a world free of linoleum and bleach, I would have overlooked the grubby tea-towel that served as the creature's clothes. I would have overlooked its outgrown fingernails, hooked and ragged like the talons of a diseased bird. I would have even looked beyond the fact that this thing was in my bedroom.

But my head was aching, I was still dizzy and confused and, because of Aunt Petunia's peculiar behaviour after the paramedics left, I'd spent the day in a half-aware daze instead of my usual cathartic seething in a post-Dursley event. That is to say, I'd been sitting on my arse instead of sulking, so I was still fairly annoyed.

All this meant that I didn't stare at the intruder with wide-eyed wonder. I didn't see kinship in its magic green eyes. I saw how repulsively mawkish the thing looked. I saw that it was deformed, and unseemly, and not so much the colour of magic as it was the colour of pestilence.

There was only one thing I could do.

"Get out," I snapped. The creature's eyes widened further. I could see the engorged blood vessels poking through at the edge of its eyes, pulsing under the surface like great grey slugs mired in putrescent filth.

"Dobby is sorry for the intrusion, Harry Potter sir, but..."

I grimaced to hear it speak. The voice was that of a child, but strangely warped. I wondered if this was the tragic victim of Voldemort's dark magic in the war – perhaps a muggleborn he'd decided to deal with before they got to Hogwarts. Then my head throbbed, and I discarded the thought as ludicrous. The throbbing continued as I looked at Dobby's ugly face, and I decided that I didn't care.

"Dobby? Is that your name?" I asked. Dobby nodded vigorously, and yelped loudly in agreement. I winced at the high volume, and outright flinched at the high pitch.

"Oh yes sir, Dobby is Dobby's name, and Dobby came here to warn Master Harry Potter that he is in grave danger."

Dobby was right, I mused, as I stared at him. If Uncle Vernon came upstairs and saw his freak chatting with another, freakier freak, he'd be liable to turn puce and repeat Aunt Petunia's earlier blow of the frying pan. He probably wouldn't bother with the frying pan, but I didn't think he'd bother with the ambulance either. My head ached, and I wanted desperately to lie back down. This all seemed like some stupid joke. I wouldn't put it past Malfoy to pay off this weird gremlin-thing to come bother me.

Voices were just barely audible through the floorboards. I counted myself lucky that the Dursleys' guests hadn't arrived yet, but even so, there was no way I could drag Dobby downstairs and shove him out the door without them noticing.

"My wand," I muttered to myself. "Where did I put my wand?" I looked around my room, patted every pocket I could find, and began opening drawers.

"Master Harry's wand is over here, sir. Dobby has it!"

My heart leapt for a moment. I looked up furiously, expecting to see the creature holding my wand on me – and saw very nearly what I expected. Dobby was holding my wand out fearfully, grasping it by the wrong end, and between two fingers, as if he was afraid it might bite him. I wished that it would for a moment, but unfortunately I couldn't transfigure so much as a guard-Chihuahua to chase him away.

"Give it to me," I demanded. The wretched creature complied, pushing the handle neatly into my palm. My fingers closed around it. Dobby was still holding onto the tip when the spell struck. "Petrificus totalus."

He went rigid in an instant. I was struck by the similarities between him and Neville for a moment as he fell backwards – gullible, more than a little pathetic, and fairly weird looking. As soon as I had that thought, I scolded myself for it. For all his faults, Neville was a friend. No need to think ill of him because I was in a rotten mood. The hex had reminded me of him, that was all, I told myself guiltily.

I didn't feel guilty for hexing Dobby, though.

His skin was sticky under my fingers as I pulled him up again. I hoped that it was just dirt, and not some kind of goblin-sweat-poison. Dobby looked a bit like a goblin. I wondered if he was a lesser breed of some kind, or a similar species. He couldn't be a troll. Too small. Too ugly. Maybe he was half goblin, half troll. Now that was a truly horrifying thought.

"What are you?" I asked him idly, opening the door to the cupboard. His eyes flicked about wildly, unblinking. "Oh, right." I laughed.

"Alright, Dobby, here's what's going to happen," I said. "I can't afford to get any more on Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia's bad side, so I can't have you scampering and shrieking around, especially not tonight. There's no way I could sneak you outside without them noticing, so I've got to hide you in here until they're asleep, then I'll take you downstairs and remove the hex, okay? Then you can run back home to whoever put you up to this, Malfoy, or-" I broke off, seeing a frantic twitch in Dobby's eyes. "Huh. Malfoy, then? Thought so. Look, it'll only be a few hours. Sorry. Be happy I'm not just throwing you out the window and locking it after."

Dobby's eyes twitched frantically. I shoved him into the cupboard, where he fell stiffly onto a heap of my socks. One of my shirts, a particularly vile plaid one that had once been Dudley's, spun gently to cover his face and torso. It was a nice improvement. I paused for a moment, looking at the awful patterned fabric covering Dobby. An idea struck, and I pulled another shirt from the pile of dirty ones in y laundry basket to drape over Dobby's legs. The oddly shaped lump was pretty visible, but it might pass for a pile of laundry at a cursory glance. Or so I hoped. It was pretty unlikely that anyone would have a chance to see inside my cupboard tonight, anyway. This was just a precaution.

Dobby lay there, petrified and covered in my dirty clothes.

I shut the door in his face.

The next few hours were quite pleasant. I lay on my bed, thinking of nothing very much and polished my wand. I hadn't taken very good care of it in my first year; it had been covered in grubby fingerprints and bits of nondescript grime. I resolved to take better care of it in future. This summer had reminded me of how much I needed magic in my life, and Dobby had reminded me that some kinds of magic were more valuable than others.

I glanced over at the blocky grey alarm clock which sat on my bedside table. The hands pointed a little past ten. This was around the time I'd expect the Dursleys to go to bed, but the Masons were still downstairs. By the booming laughs echoing up every now and then, Uncle Vernon was being generous with his drink. I guessed that he was generous in sharing it with the Masons, too, because they were still enduring his company.

Dobby remained thankfully uneventful. I had been checking on him every half hour or so since petrifying him. Even with Uncle Vernon's laughter echoing inside my skull whenever he decided that he'd said something particularly witty, my headache had subsided somewhat, and my mood had improved. Mostly I was just glad that nothing had gone wrong. I was also pleased that the spell had lasted so long as this.

"Potter!"

I jumped halfway out of my skin at the sound of my name. Uncle Vernon's voice was still loud and obnoxious, both with drink and his own charming personality. He wasn't shouting at me, though. Just talking, incredibly loudly, to the Masons.

"Yes, Harry Potter, our nephew. Had an accident today and knocked himself silly. Gave our Pet a fair turn, didn't he?" I couldn't hear what Petunia's reply was, only the softer murmur of her voice. I snorted derisively and wondered whether he was lying to the guests, she had lied to him, or they were all lying to each other. She's probably told him what had happened, I imagined. If she'd tried to cover it up, Dudley would have eventually come out with it, as soon as he saw a way to get something out of it. There was only one person in this house stupid enough to trust him, and it wasn't Aunt Petunia. Not that it made much difference, with the way she pandered to him and pretended not to see through his poorly orchestrated lies. "Well of course," continued Vernon, "he's upstairs resting. Wouldn't do for him to get overexcited after that. You know how he gets when he's overexcited, don't you Pet? 'course, he'd probably have had to stay upstairs anyway. Very excitable boy, that one. Why, we couldn't even take him to the zoo without things getting out of sorts. Just doesn't seem to do well with people – you know the type, Mr Mason? Yes, of course. We've all met a few in our time. Damn shame, but some people just can't seem to behave in a civil fashion no matter how hard you try to get them sorted."

I lay back and closed my eyes, trying to block out what I was hearing. A load of nonsense for the most part, I knew, but some unease rose within me. It was true that I didn't seem to get along very well with most people. Even at Hogwarts, most of the people who liked me seemed to have been friends with my parents first. Uncle Vernon broke through my thoughts before they could turn too melancholy.

"Dudders even tried to get him playing with all his friends – popular boy, Dudley, takes after his father that way, very personable – but the boy wouldn't have any of it. No, never wanted to join in. Seemed to spend half his time running away from the other boys when they tried to get him to play along. Damnedest thing, isn't it?"

I rolled my eyes and slammed the pillow over my head. What he was saying wasn't entirely untrue. I did spend half my time running away from Dudley's gang. He didn't mention that the game they were playing was called Harry Hunting, though. If he even knew. Doting from a distance, so they didn't have to see too closely what Dudley was up to. That was the Dursleys in a nutshell.

With a groan, I heaved myself off the mattress and stomped across to my rickety desk. I pulled out my Charms textbook and began flicking through pages, hunting for a silencing charm. By the time I found it, my teeth were gritted and I desperately wanted to throw something at the wall. But I restrained myself. That wouldn't exactly make Vernon be any quieter. I mouthed the incantation silently and practiced the wand movements a few times.

The diagrammed figure spun through the motion with much more elegance than I could achieve, even though it was just ink enchanted into the shape of a disembodied arm. Still, I wasn't so out of practice that I couldn't get the movements right.

I flicked my wand just so, pointed it at the floor in the general direction of where Uncle Vernon was, as best as my ears could tell, and muttered "silencio".

Nothing happened.

Frustrated, I kicked the floorboard that I'd aimed the spell at. My foot bounced off it soundlessly, not making me feel better in the slightest, and only giving me another ache. Then I paused. I kicked it again. No sound. Mr Mason said something, indistinct, but audible, and Vernon howled in laughter. I stamped on the board, hard. Silent.

I rushed back over to the textbook and re-read the description of the charm. Oh.

The cupboard where I'd stashed Dobby was right next to the desk. I tapped it with my foot, making a tiny thud, then cast the silencing spell on the door. I kicked it again, gently. No sound.

Well. This would be useful.

A fresh layer in my plan to smuggle Dobby out firmly cemented in my mind, I flopped back onto my bed. This time I brought the charms book with me. The time passed quickly enough as I rifled through the pages, reading the descriptions of a few spells with attention-grabbing names. I even tried a few out; the colour-change charm, the summoning charm, and a few others. I couldn't get any of them to work, though I would swear I managed to get the carpet a few shades lighter.

My clock read quarter to two before I felt safe enough to risk opening my bedroom door. The Masons had left about an hour ago, and I'd heard the Dursleys fuss about tidying for a while, then stomp off to bed. It wasn't exactly hard to keep track of when Dudley or Vernon were moving up or down the stairs.

I opened the door. Dobby fell forwards, landing on my knees. His pointed nose rested on my calf. I pulled my leg back, shaking it slightly to dislodge him, and he fell onto the carpet. The silencing charm had long since worn off, so it made a soft thump.

With the tip of one foot, I rolled him over onto his back. I knelt, pressed my hand over his mouth to stop him from shouting out, and whispered "finite". He leapt up immediately. Even kneeling, I was still taller than him, so I tackled him back down to the ground, wrested one arm out from under him, pointed my wand at the back of his head, and silenced him.

Then I let go, because I'm a nice guy.

And there was nowhere he could go but out the window, seeing as how I blocked his route to the door. I wouldn't have minded him jumping out himself, but he was oddly restrained compared to his hyperactivity earlier in the evening. A few hours shut in the dark unable to move had done him the world of good.

Gesturing with my wand, I stepped to one side.

"Go on," I whispered. "Downstairs." Dobby gestured frantically to his mouth, opening and closing it frantically and waving his hands about his head. I sighed, frustrated. "Yes, fine, I'll take it off as soon as you're outside."

He didn't give any sign of having heard. I sighed again.

"If you don't do as I tell you, I'll hex you again and carry you out. Now move!" These last words were hissed as loudly as I dared. Dobby finally got the hint and fled.

The silencing charm didn't extend to his footsteps. I flinched as the top stair creaked under his meagre weight, then stabbed my wand twice at his ankles, muttering silencio each time.

There was still a light in the living room when we passed it. I reached my hand through the doorframe and flicked the switch off, then pulled on the front door handle. Thankfully it wasn't locked. The handle turned with a soft click. I pushed the door open.

Behind me, in the living room, there was another click.

Light flooded out over the porch. I pushed Dobby quickly to one side, out of sight, and stuffed my wand into my pocket. In the middle of the puddle of light, my shadow stretched out before me.

Uncle Vernon's bulk filled the doorway. He stared at me, unusually silent, with fists clenched. Unwillingly, my eyes were drawn to his fists. I pulled my gaze away, but it slipped back down. He had a thick gold ring on his thick red thumb. His hands were huge. I swallowed nervously.

"You should be in bed, boy," he said. I flinched when he opened his mouth, expecting to be roared at, but his voice was quiet. There was no emotion in his words. It made me more uncomfortable than his shouting did. This wasn't him. He'd have rare bursts of good moods, from time to time, when I'd hear him laugh, and see him smile. In rare, rare occasions he would even smile at me, albeit in the way someone might smile at a rat they had temporarily forgotten was vermin. The ring I had received from Voldemort was on my finger. I had taken to wearing it. I'm not sure why. Somehow, it felt right to have it there. I had begun to feel uneasy whenever I wasn't wearing it. Uncle Vernon glanced at it, but made no comment. His expression didn't change, either. He didn't really have one.

He grabbed me by the shoulder and wrenched me roughly into the house. Despite the hushed tones he was speaking with, the roughness of the shove was perfectly normal. The familiarity almost put me at ease, but I was immediately unbalanced again by stumbling over the doorstep, nearly falling.

"Boy," he said, facing away from me, and out into the night. My heart was in my throat. Could he see Dobby? He didn't say anything else.

"Yes, Uncle?" I asked, eager to be away.

"Be a good lad and pass me Dudley's Smeltings stick." The stick, which Dudley was very fond of, stood in a meticulously arranged umbrella stand by the door. I did as he asked without thinking. "There we go," he said softly. "Off to bed now."

I scurried away, grateful to have escaped punishment, but as I reached the top of the stairs, a sudden fear gripped me. I looked back. I wished that I hadn't.

Uncle Vernon was holding a squirming Dobby in the air by the back of his filthy pillowcase. Almost immediately after I'd looked back, he dropped Dobby to the floor, rubbing his hand on his trousers with a look of distaste. Whether it was touching Dobby or the grime on the pillowcase which caused such disgust, I have no idea. Dobby scrambled to his feet and made to bolt away, but Uncle Vernon was too quick, and planted a heavy boot on his back. Dobby was pinned to the ground. Still silenced, he wriggled and squirmed fruitlessly. Uncle Vernon raised the stick above his head.

Each movement was punctuated by a dull thud. I couldn't watch. I couldn't turn away.

A cat yowled in the distance.

I ran down the stairs, back out to the porch. I don't know how I could have stopped him, or even if I was going to try. He dropped Dobby's unmoving corpse on the ground and prodded it with his foot. This time, I really did fall over the doorstep. I fell on my side, scraping my hand, arm, and knee on the paving slabs outside the front door. Blood welled up everywhere. Tiny cuts, but even so, I was bleeding more than Dobby. I hauled myself to my feet, and walked to where Dobby had fallen. The ominous figure of Vernon Dursley was a threatening presence next to me. I couldn't bear to look at him, but his shape on the edge of my vision made me feel like somebody was holding a knife to my throat. It was difficult to breath. My chest was tight.

He wasn't bleeding at all, in fact. But his entire head was misshapen, in a way other than his odd elf features. Part of his skull had caved in, and as I saw Uncle Vernon jostle the body, things moved inside his head in a way I knew they were not supposed to. I wanted to be sick.

"I hope that wasn't your homework," said Uncle Vernon. "Clean it up, and don't make more of them." There was a strange note in his voice. From anyone else, I'd think it was regret.

I glared at him, incredulous. He thought that I'd made Dobby? That he was some kind of spell? This was not the first time he'd leapt to ridiculous conclusions through ignorance, but it was certainly the strangest. The astonishment at his assumption helped to hold the horror at bay. I didn't really feel it, not then, when things felt so unreal.

The night air was cool, but my cheeks felt as if they were hot, burningly so. Bile rose in my stomach. I saw Uncle Vernon shift, and reach a hand out towards me. I flinched away, and hurriedly crouched down next to Dobby.

I grabbed his spindly arms in an attempt to pull him out of sight of the street, but touching his clammy skin made a shudder of revulsion run through me. I froze, staring at the backs of my hands, which clung onto a dead elf.

The blood from one of my cuts had slowly dripped down to the ring.

I was too numb from the events of the night to feel any shock when the ring drank my blood. It sank into the surface of the stone set in it, and yet more blood poured out of my arm. It was drawn in a tiny, constant rivulet as I watched. I could feel it, or perhaps the magic which caused it, tugging, pulling, as it was sucked out of my veins. A sense of power built, as if the air pressure had suddenly increased. The smell of ozone filled the air, and I was overwhelmed by the sensation that there was a thunderstorm in the garden, and the ring was its epicentre. But the air was still.

And then Dobby was not.

His eyes opened. They were grey.

My hands were still gripping his arm when he sank his teeth into me.