Harry was still conflicted about Padfoot's wizard status a week later. It weighed heavily on his mind as he checked the Map one final time to assure himself that Gryffindor Tower was empty enough for his plan to be successful.
"He's a wizard," Harry told the snake, frowning. "Incitatus." The portrait hole opened, and Harry climbed inside with the snake on his shoulder.
"He's also a dog," the snake pointed out, playing Devil's Advocate. "And a convict."
"That is true," Harry said. "The wizards have abandoned him. I can't imagine that he's very happy with them."
Harry let the snake slither down his arm and to the floor, rearing up and sticking his tongue out to scent the room. Harry did something similar near the staircases, breathing deeply and sorting out the magic he could sense for an animal that was more powerful than it should be.
"Now would be the time to influence him, if you want to keep him around," the snake said. He hissed and disappeared under one of the couches, chasing out a couple mice and a frog. Harry paused, but none of these were Wormtail.
"He's a decent sort," Harry allowed. "I suppose Draco's a wizard, and I'm still friends with him."
The two of them went up the first staircase, poking their heads into each of the dormitories until one of them yielded a scent that made the snake pause and Harry close his eyes to better catch it.
"Draco has never even travelled with you," the snake said. They shut the door behind themselves, hopefully pinning the rat inside with them. The snake slithered rapidly around the floor of the room, searching. Harry moved between the beds, desks, and wardrobes. They reached the same bed at the same time. A squeak and a flash of grey fur was the only warning Harry was given before the snake lunged forward and caught the rat by the meaty portion of his tail.
"There you are," Harry said in English, crouching down and snatching the rat up by the scruff of his neck as he struggled. He held him up to examine him, frowning. The rat squeaked and writhed furiously, but Harry's grip was firm and the snake hovered just out of range, hissing low and intimidating in his pointed, panicked face. "Wormtail, is it?"
The rat's struggles, which had begun to cease, started up anew. Harry watched with his head tilted as the rat scrabbled at the air and twisted, trying to bite Harry with no success.
"I think you're making a good point," Harry said to the snake, continuing their conversation as though they hadn't been interrupted. He pulled out a small cage and tucked the rat inside, sealing it and stowing it near the bottom of his bag, next to his books. "Padfoot's proven himself to be a good companion. At the very least I'll finish this for him and get my three wishes. Then we can both decide for ourselves if we want to continue the association."
"That seems best," the snake agreed, curling around the strap of the bag and poking his head inside curiously. Harry scolded him and let himself out the window.
"Isn't that... Ron Weasley's rat?" Draco asked, peering at the cage Harry was holding. "No, it is. I remember, it bit Goyle once."
"Your list of crimes is building by the hour," Harry said darkly, holding the cage up at eye level. The rat squeaked and curled in on itself.
Harry was sitting on an outcropping of rock at the edge of the lake. Draco had joined him a couple minutes ago, having spotted him from the Quidditch pitch.
Baffled, Draco watched as Harry set the cage down and fed small bits of grain and meat chunks in between the metal bars. He had to keep Wormtail alive until he'd decided how best to give Padfoot his freedom.
"I don't think he's going to eat if you keep skulking around like that," Harry told the snake, who hissed dismissively and continued prowling the outside perimeter of the cage.
"Harry, really, not that I disapprove," Draco continued, pulling his knees up and setting his chin on them as he watched the display with an expression that suggested he found it bizarre. "I'm just curious why you nicked his rat, of all things."
"He knows what he did," Harry said, in English. He would be less cryptic, but he'd really rather let as few people as possible know about what he was doing. He hadn't even told Padfoot he'd captured the rat yet. "Don't you?"
If the rat had a response, it was lost to terror.
The snow was low on the ground on the day Harry decided to walk to Hogsmeade. He had some business there with a witch who lived on the edge of town and was interested in some of the more stale goods he was able to get his hands on. She wanted to try their sweets and have bicycles explained to her. Harry had fiddled with one or two bikes in the past, taking spare parts or fixing them for children in exchange for lunch. He thought he could do them justice.
He strolled down the long, winding path that led him past the boars that flanked the gates of Hogwarts and out toward the village, minding his own business and only about 'mid day and sleepy' alert.
He and the snake were discussing the color of the sky and what it meant for the weather over the next couple days when he felt the cold wash over him like an exploded bobotuber pustule, unexpected and almost painful with it. The weather was warming up these days. Harry had welcomed the milder temperatures, so to say it was a bit of a shock to his system would be an understatement.
He froze, trying to identify the source of the feeling, but all he could think about was, inexplicably, a night several years ago not long after the dog had gone when his thoughts were still numb and mechanical, and his body cold. He hadn't ventured close to the Manor yet, and on that particular night, hadn't been able to work up the will to keep the fire going.
The pervasive silence of the snow and leaves was suffocating, and the drive that had kept him clawing and clinging to life had faltered. For the first time since he'd begun, it mattered that no one would think twice if he slowed and stiffened and stilled in an empty cave or under a distant canopy of sapless branches. It hurt, in his numb fingertips and his pointy ears and the emptiness of his gut.
He met Dobby and Draco the very next day, but for those few hours when he and the dying embers of his underfed fire were slowly covered with a soft blanket of fluffy snow, his sudden apathy had been more frigid and bleak than the icicles forming at his chin.
It was worse now, to remember it with this new undercurrent of a pleading, feminine voice. He couldn't place her or what was happening to her, but she was intensely familiar and that scared him more than the rest. He didn't forget easily, and if she was being hurt right now, the disorientation he couldn't shake and had barely noticed until he tried to pull away from it was only keeping him from protecting himself or her.
It got his hackles up. She was more distressed than Harry'd been when he realized the Dursleys were never coming back, and- why was he thinking about—any of this? The cold cut into him as though he was standing unsheltered on a mountaintop during a January frost, and he looked down at his hands, half expecting the tips of his fingers to be blue and frostbitten.
The snake was wound too tightly around his wrist, rearing up and hissing viciously at everything and anything that caught his attention. Harry jerked in surprise at the sight of him and at the realization that his wrist hurt. The snake panicked at the movement, sinking his fangs into the fleshy meat of Harry's thumb.
Harry came back to himself abruptly to find that no less than five dementors had gathered in a wide circle around them and were closing in with every moment he didn't react. He experienced a brief surge of terror. They surrounded him on all sides, and it took crucial seconds to remember that he could just leave, that he wasn't trapped and helpless here even if the pressure on his chest reminded him of how easy it could be to just give up, to treat his physical surroundings and disorientation as limitations they had never been in a more sane state of mind.
He scowled at the dementors and set them all on fire, retreating into the safety of fury. Harry didn't give up. The very concept was insidious and hateful and he refused to suffer it any longer.
The fire didn't do a whole lot to the dementors outside of angering them, and Harry removed himself from their trap quickly, reappearing on the road as far from Hogwarts as he could manage while still in Hogsmeade.
Swallowing hard and still trying to catch his breath, he stood dumbly and waited as the awful feelings receded, leaving him jittery and shaken. Harry looked down at his hand to see his thumb bleeding, thick and slow.
He reached into his bag and found a bit of cloth, which he wrapped around the area as his cabinet slid up into view. Harry fumbled for the small drawer that contained the antivenom potion, taking a few tries to find the right one. The pain was already setting in, and his fingers felt thick and useless.
The snake made regretful, apologetic sounds and wound his tail soothingly around Harry's wrists, uncapping the bottle with his fangs at a hissed request. Harry tipped the potion down his throat and grimaced. He'd never had to take this one before. The snake hadn't ever bitten him. Most snakes didn't even try; they saw him as a large, strange member of their species with a mutation in the form of his extra limbs. He wasn't edible to any but the largest of them, so it would have been almost uncivilized and certainly stupid to bite him when he was never anything but pleasant.
The pain was still spreading up his arm, and Harry eyed the drawer, debating the wisdom of another dose. Maybe that would make it work faster.
"I'm sssorry, ssorry, sssso ssssssorry," the snake hissed, his sibilants stretching with anxiety. "Will you sssswell and die?"
"Feels like it," Harry grimaced. The snake slithered rapidly up Harry's arm to his shoulder where he could better reach and examine Harry's face and hand. His tongue flickered out and brushed the cloth over the wound.
"I took the antidote, I'll be fine," Harry assured him.
"You don't tassste fine. You have not been cured," the snake insisted, tongue still flickering away rapidly. Harry wrinkled his nose, assessing his body and pulling the tie back to examine the wound again.
"No, it's working," he decided. It didn't hurt quite as badly as it had even moments ago, and already what swelling had occurred was fading.
"You were not you," the snake said, his regret clear in the hesitancy with which he explained. "I saw you as the Basilisk, come to destroy and devour me, and I acted without thought." He travelled down to Harry's wrist and curled around his thumb, where already there was nothing left of the poison but the stain of too-thick blood on his skin and a bit of soreness. "I don't know why I thought you were the giant snake. I am sssso sssorry."
Harry nodded and hissed reassurance even as the pain receded entirely. He realised he was kneeling in the dirt in an alleyway in the village. His eyes darted around, taking his surroundings more thoroughly as he worried that he might have been spotted in such a vulnerable state.
No one was around to catch him unawares. Not one person passed by the mouth of the alley or stared from the windows of the nearest building. The tension in his shoulders remained, and after a brief moment to be completely certain, he frowned at his thumb and the two puncture wounds that had stopped leaking blood after the potion kicked in. The snake hovered around them, though he avoided contact.
Harry healed the bite and stood, curling his fingers around the coils of the snake in his hand as he disappeared to the roof to check for dementors nearby. Only a couple of shopkeepers and an elderly man carrying a bag of groceries were visible from his vantage point. He sank into a crouch on the pitched roof of a dormer window and watched the town for a long time, unable to relax enough to go find the witch he'd been on his way to meet, or to go back to the castle and grounds. Even the forest was unappealing when he compared it to his current panoramic view.
"I want to get moving with giving you your freedom," Harry told Padfoot the next afternoon. Padfoot looked up at him from where he was leaning against the cave wall, his face lighting up.
"Is that so?" he asked, lifting his eyebrows. "What's your plan, then?"
Harry frowned at his bag for a long space of time. Padfoot managed to not fidget too loudly as he waited for an answer, picking at an old chicken bone even as his eyes remained fixed on Harry.
"I have a potential opening with your wizard Minister," he said finally, hesitant. "I don't trust him, though. He's obviously in on it all."
Padfoot restrained himself for all of five seconds before asking, "In on…?"
"Your imprisonment," Harry reminded him. "The plan to put you back and keep you framed."
"Right," Padfoot agreed, nodding along. "He is the final word on that sort of thing, usually. Imprisoning people."
"Yes," Harry nodded. "I don't like him." Padfoot barked a laugh.
"Couldn't agree with you more," he said when Harry looked at him. His amusement died down as he watched Harry. "But if you have an 'opening' with him, could you talk to him? Make one of your deals or something?"
"Maybe," Harry said. "Probably. I would just need… we have to prove your innocence without a doubt, so we'll need a backup plan if that fails."
Padfoot lapsed into the silence of deep thought, eventually surfacing to say, "Like… what?"
Harry shrugged, using a short stick to trace branching lines in the dirt of the cave floor as he thought. "We could force the situation somehow."
"What, find Peter, throw him up in front of a crowd, and make him confess?" Padfoot suggested. Though his voice lacked a certain sincerity that Harry felt was probably important to making plans of this sort, his idea was sound.
"What kind of crowd?" Harry asked, squinting at his bag. "I think your Minister should be there to answer for his part in framing you, especially if speaking with him has already backfired. It'll be much harder to talk his way out of if he's there when it happens. He doesn't seem to do well when put on the spot."
"You think Fudge helped frame me?" Padfoot repeated, blinking and scratching his head with the chicken bone.
"It fits," Harry shrugged. "But who else would be there? People who don't like him. And one or two wizards, I suppose."
"Remus. And Dumbledore," Padfoot added immediately. Harry wrinkled his nose and nodded. "Throw in a few schoolchildren and professors, maybe a couple townspeople for good measure," he continued, starting to grin.
"Snape and Flitwick, then," Harry said, beginning a mental list and ignoring the face Padfoot made at the mention of Snape. "And I'd throw together a mix of students from all the Houses. Whoever shows up, I suppose. And Dobby and a few centaurs, obviously."
Padfoot eyed him. "Were you planning on sending out engraved invitations to Wormtail's unmasking? And we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. We still need to find him."
"Oh, no, that's been taken care of," Harry said with a dismissive wave of his hand. Padfoot's eyes widened and he sat forward abruptly.
"—and I don't think invitations would be exactly subtle," Harry continued. He glanced at Padfoot and leaned over to poke through his bag. The snake emerged guiltily, and Harry nudged him aside with a roll of his eyes, pulling the cage out and setting it down on the cave floor. "I think it'd be best to… sort of lure everyone there under false pretenses. I thought perhaps-"
"You've had him—how long have you had him?" Padfoot demanded, towering over Harry and the cage in a move that Harry would ordinarily be impressed with from his usually slow wizard companion. Instead, he stood as well and looked Padfoot in the eye.
"A few weeks," he said, and continued speaking over Padfoot's outraged sounds and the high pitched, frantic squeaking emanating from the cage at their feet. "I've been working out how to free you," he said pointedly. "Your revenge isn't in our agreement."
"Is that extra, then?" Padfoot asked, a note of bitterness coloring his words as he bowed his head to eye Wormtail with ice in his gaze.
Harry looked down as well, considering it. "You'll have to wait until after our first agreement's been completed," he decided. "Revenge now might mean you don't get freedom later."
The line of Padfoot's shoulders was taut, and Harry watched him through the long, tense silence that followed his words.
"What if I'd rather the revenge?"
"Then you're an idiot," Harry snapped, and snatched up Padfoot's wrist to show him the rings still circling it. "And we made a deal. You're of no use to me without your freedom. You're of no use to anyone."
Harry had already thought through the implications of failure. If Padfoot never got his freedom, there was no reason for him to disappear back into the wizarding world. It'd be nearly impossible, in fact, and he'd stick close to Harry out of necessity. But he'd be a constant liability, and he'd be miserable. No one liked their movements restricted as his were. Harry couldn't fathom it. Padfoot might not be in the wizard prison, but he was still behind bars in many senses.
Padfoot pulled his arm away from Harry's grip, his eyes narrow as he stared first at his own wrist, then at the uncompromising stare Harry had already fixed him with.
"And I wondered why James Potter's son was Sorted into Slytherin," was all he said. Harry furrowed his forehead at the non sequitor, but Padfoot turned away and transformed back into a dog as he stormed out of the cave, leaving Harry to pick up the cage and stow it back in his bag. He was vaguely aware that he was meant to take offense, but not completely sure why.
"Why shouldn't James Potter's son be in Slytherin?"
To his credit, Snape showed no surprise at Harry's abrupt arrival in his office, nor at the fact that he was back on Hogwarts grounds at all, except to say, "You will learn that owls are for more than dinner if I have to hex the concept into your skull myself, Mr Potter."
Harry folded his legs underneath him, knees up near his shoulders, and settled more comfortably atop the enormous, overturned cauldron in the corner of Snape's office. "I didn't mean to," he said, which was as much of an apology as he was hoping he'd need to give.
Snape only scowled at him. Harry waited patiently for an answer to his original question until Snape seemed to feel he'd glared for long enough and went back to marking a sheaf of parchments up with red ink.
"You are James Potter's son," he said after several minutes of quiet quill-scratching.
"I know," Harry said. "Lily Potter's, too. But I didn't know them and you said you did."
"James Potter was-" Snape stopped and focused on finishing a sentence on his parchment before setting down his quill and continuing. "He was a Gryffindor. The most stereotypical of Gryffindors, as a matter of fact."
"And the Gryffindors are the red ones," Harry prompted, pleased to have that much information. "Draco says they're prats. Are you calling my father a prat?"
Another pause. "I am." Harry put his chin on one of his knees and thought about this.
"What are Slytherins, then?"
"Aside from 'the green ones'?" The sardonic edge to Snape's voice had Harry looking up and spotting the curl at the corner of his mouth that meant Snape hadn't decided to take offense. He went back to studying the middle distance.
"We are resourceful, ambitious, and clever," Snape said, and Harry could only roll his eyes.
"No, what do the Gryffindors call them?"
"Us," Snape corrected. Harry acquiesced with a nod and waited again for an answer. "They call us sneaky, cold, and cruel."
"Oh," Harry said, slotting this newly gathered information into Padfoot's words and understanding them better.
"Who told you that you shouldn't be in Slytherin?" Snape asked, shifting his parchments away as he turned in his chair to better look at Harry. Harry grimaced.
"He only said he'd wondered why," he explained. "It makes more sense now. Thanks."
Snape's dark eyes were fixed on Harry, who shifted uncomfortably and refused eye contact as usual. "He'd wondered, and now he doesn't," he suggested, and Harry shrugged.
"That's what he said," he confirmed. "It's fine, though." Snape's eyes remained on Harry.
"Resourceful, ambitious, and clever," he said eventually, "Fits far better in this instance."
Harry blinked and looked up at him with surprise, the uncertain shape of his mouth curving up a little.
"Yes," he said, setting his chin back on his knee and watching as Snape resettled himself at his desk and went back to his parchments.
"You're not a ghost," the Granger girl said in a loud, suspicious tone. "Ghosts don't knock things over."
Harry cursed his bag. It had fallen away from his shoulder and he'd caught it a second too late. The lousy statue was in pieces on the floor now, and Harry was too irritated to even attempt to fix it. Bathsheba the Bountiful or Lancelot the Lazy or whatever the statue was supposed to be of could rot in pieces for all he cared.
"Peeves?" she asked, and Harry perked up. He could be Peeves. Peeves was easy, and it wouldn't get him caught out. She did hate it when he went to her meetings.
Harry considered the hall and looked up at the tall windows. He made a raspberry sound that sounded like it was coming from the ceiling, and the Granger girl huffed and put her hands on her hips. "Peeves! Leave me alone, I'll talk to Dumbledore, see if I don't!"
Harry made several tapestries bump and knock against the walls as though Peeves were bouncing off them as he fled down the hall, and it seemed to satisfy the Granger girl enough that she turned and kept walking. Harry followed.
"Is everyone settled in?" the Granger girl asked, once they'd reached the classroom where she was holding the meeting. "Good. If you'll all take care to sign the attendance list, we can start," she continued. "Er, Luna, could you pass it along? Thank you…"
Harry took the list from Luna and painstakingly began signing his name.
"Luna, did you—where did you put the list?"
"I passed it along, like you asked," Luna said. Harry, who was sitting on the floor with his back up against her desk, handed the parchment back to her, and she blinked at it in her hands. "Whoops, here it is," she said, handing it off to a mousy haired boy in the row ahead. Harry grinned up at her.
"Right," the Granger girl said, her tone becoming brisk and businesslike. "Welcome to the annual spring meeting of S.P.E.W. I'm glad to see so many of you."
Harry hadn't seen more than four people in the room, including Luna, but perhaps there were others attending covertly like him.
"The first order of business is our pamphlets," the Granger girl told the room, and there was a rustling sound. "We've raised enough sickles to make, ah… fifty copies. Here they are. I'll need those back once you've looked at them."
"I do like the little house elf on the front," Luna commented. "He looks very—oh dear."
Harry snitched Luna's copy and looked at the picture she'd been commenting on. The elf looked vaguely familiar, the wizard looming over him menacingly even more so. One of the other students spoke up.
"Is that Lucius Malfoy?"
"No, that is a nameless, faceless representative of oppression," the Granger girl said.
"No, look, he's wearing the Malfoy crest," the student pointed out. "That's definitely Lucius Malfoy, even if you did blur his face."
A female student piped up. "Where'd you get this picture?"
"Diagon Alley," the Granger girl said, her tone starting to sound a bit worried. "Maybe I should have blurred the crest, too?"
"Yeah, maybe," the female voice said sardonically. Harry opened the pamphlet and started reading it through.
"I could still do it?"
"Good thing you've only got the fifty copies, eh?"
"Well, I did want to-" The rustling of paper stopped suddenly, and Luna smiled a little too brightly at something Harry couldn't see. "Luna!"
"Did you… smuggle Harry Potter into an S.P.E.W. meeting?"
"No, Hermione," Luna said honestly.
The Granger girl's voice became shrill. "His name's on here right after yours!"
"He turned up on his own," Luna explained. "I just spotted him."
There was a commotion, after which the Granger girl appeared on Harry's side of the desk and stared him down, arms akimbo.
"It wasn't Peeves at all!" she declared, and Harry pulled himself to his feet.
"Nope," he agreed, sliding up to sit on the desk instead. She wrinkled her nose at him.
"I thought you'd left Hogwarts!" she demanded, rather than the question Harry thought it was meant to be. He answered anyway.
"I came back, though," he told her, shrugging. "To visit, and all. I just wanted to check in on our progress."
"Our— you're not in this club!" she said, brandishing the attendance list, though it seemed to prove otherwise as far as Harry could tell.
"But without me, you wouldn't have any elf representation at all," he pointed out, frowning now. "That seems a bit rude, to have an elf liberation club and not invite any elves."
The Granger girl's face went red. "I did—ooh, but you're not an elf!"
A sharp crack interrupted the beginning of what had promised to be a quite satisfying argument, and Harry's head turned sharply toward the noise.
"Dobby!" he exclaimed in surprise.
"Dobby has succeeded!" Dobby exclaimed, his face split with a wide grin. Harry beamed back at him.
"Really? That's fantastic! How many?"
"Dobby has freed six elves since he left the forest elf with the centaurs," he explained, and on cue several elves popped up behind Dobby, peering timidly over his shoulder.
"Hello!" Harry looked them over with a welcoming smile, but…
"That's only four, Dobby," he pointed out, waving at the four elves. They all blinked up at him, eyes wide and a little awed. Dobby beamed.
"Gabby and Libby is speaking with other elves they is knowing," he explained. "We is spreading the word among those elves that is not wanting to be house elves any longer." He looked away for a moment, twisting his fingers. "There is not many of us," he admitted. "But we is finding each other and we is freeing each other."
Harry's smile was so wide it almost hurt. "That's bloody fantastic," he declared, dropping to his knees and giving Dobby a proper hug to congratulate him and welcome him back. Dobby hugged back tightly and got a little teary, wiping his eyes on one of his many, many ties. Harry turned back to the Granger girl. "See, look!" he said, gesturing. "I've brought you new members!"
The Granger girl (and the other four who were openly members of S.P.E.W.) had gathered in between the desks to gape at Harry and Dobby and the other elves. Even Luna looked faintly surprised, though she frequently looked like that.
"Dobby wanted to show the other free elves that wizards is wanting to help," Dobby explained to the Granger girl, bowing his head slightly out of what looked like nerves. "We is sorry for interrupting, ma'am."
The Granger girl flapped her hands about, visibly flustered. "No, no, you aren't interrupting, of course not," she hurried to assure him, tilting her head down a little to speak. "We're doing this for you, after all—I mean, for, for the house elves."
Dobby nodded slowly and smiled. "Yes, miss. But Dobby is no longer a house elf," he pointed out, and looked to Harry. "Dobby is a forest elf now, and the others is going to be, too."
Harry was nodding along even as the Granger girl's expression became a little pinched and confused. "Once they've been trained up a bit," he agreed. "Dobby and I are going to show them how to live away from houses and wizards." He looked to his friend. "That's the plan, right?"
"Yes," Dobby agreed, and turned back to the wizards and witches. "Dobby is going to be teaching the new forest elves the ways of freedom, and we is going to help any elf that doesn't want to be a house elf anymore."
The Granger girl gaped at them wordlessly, though her companions all burst into excited chatter.
"Brilliant! I didn't honestly expect we'd get anywhere with this 'free the elves' lark," one of the witches said to the elves over the din. "I just needed to join a club so my mum would stop bothering me about spending all my time playing Quidditch."
"Yeah," said one of the wizards. "That, and Hermione's bloody terrifying."
The Granger girl frowned at him and finally found words for Harry and the elves. "So you're… you're… what?" she asked. "You've just decided not to be elves anymore?"
"House elves," Dobby corrected. Harry raised his eyebrows at her.
"We're still elves," he agreed. "Just not 'house' elves. Forest elves, now. They're two different things."
"Is that… you-! But… but what about the law?" The Granger girl took the pamphlet Harry was still holding loosely in his hand. She fumbled with it and shoved it back at him so he could see the page she'd picked out. "Are they just going to say they're not house elves anymore if and when," she emphasized with raised eyebrows, "The Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures brings them in for doing things their species is restricted from doing, or if one of their old owners decides to make a fuss?"
"It's worked for me," Harry said, looking down at the page. It was a list of rules for house elves, some of which were absurd and some downright infuriating. He narrowed his eyes even as the Granger girl sighed gustily and spoke in a slow voice.
"That's because you never truly were a house elf-"
"You're awfully bossy for someone who's trying to give other people freedom," Harry said snippily. Dobby stood next to Harry, frowning as well, and the other elves shifted and murmured to themselves.
The Granger girl huffed and subsided into a more reasonable tone, her cheeks a little red. "Look, I just meant… it's lovely, how far you've come, but… but… there's the law, too. It has to be changed."
Harry waved his hand at her and her group. "It's a wizard law, you're wizards, go fix it," he shrugged. "We're elves, we're taking care of things the elf way."
It obviously pained her, but the Granger girl managed to bite her tongue rather than say what Harry knew she wanted to. He gave her a faint smile for the effort and turned to Dobby.
"I'm glad you're back; now that it's warming up again we can crack a bit of ice and have some proper fish."
Dobby nodded, his ears flapping. "We will be teaching the others!"
Harry grinned and gestured to the rest of the elves to join them. The group left the classroom, reappearing deep in the forest near one of Harry's favorite fishing spots.
"Right," Harry said, rubbing his hands together in the sudden cold as the six of them gathered in the small open space next to the iced over pond. "First, brilliant to meet you all. Er, the forest welcomes you! I've discussed it with the centaurs, and they've agreed that if you stay out of their territory, they'll be friendly with any elves who wish to live in the forest. Be careful of the acromantula, they aren't very particular about what they eat." He paused thoughtfully. "And that basilisk might still be wandering around, I'm not positive. I'm almost certain he's gone. And of course, you're going to want to stay well away from the castle. There're dementors wandering the grounds, and you won't want to run afoul of them."
The elves eyes became, if possible, wider, and Harry beamed at them. "So! Fishing! Dobby?"
A/N: I have a solid place to live and a computer again! Which is how I'm posting this at all. Hooray! Expect more in the near future; I've missed writing and I'm looking to do a whole bunch in the next few weeks. Thanks for being so patient!