In many ways, Harry's summer with his Aunt and Uncle had been full of firsts. Harry, at Hagrid's suggestion, hadn't told the Dursleys that he was forbidden to use magic outside of school. Thus, it was the first summer that Harry had slept in a bedroom, the first summer that Dudley hadn't actively bullied Harry, and the first summer that Harry hadn't been expected to do every chore in the house. In one way, however, Harry's summer was remarkably typical: Harry found himself locked in his room on his birthday.
Vernon Dursley was hosting an important dinner party on Harry's birthday. In the week before the party, Harry's uncle had spent most of his time either strutting or storming around the house. While strutting, Vernon boasted about his inevitable success. While storming, Vernon yelled at Harry for attempting to sabotage the dinner party. Harry had no such plans… although, in retrospect, sabotaging the party sounded like a rather fine idea. No, the party turned into a fiasco through no fault of Harry's.
Harry was sent to his room as soon as Vernon's guests arrived. Vernon warned Harry not to make a sound, and Harry had no problem complying. Harry had big plans this evening: he was going to sit and brood. It was his birthday, and he hadn't gotten a single gift or card from Draco or Pansy or Hagrid or… anybody. Not for his birthday. Not all summer. It was as if his friends had forgotten him. Or maybe they weren't really friends, after all.
Harry had sent of Hedwig out with letters to his friends several times each week, but she always came back with empty claws. In fact, if it weren't for Hedwig, Harry might have started to believe that Hogwarts didn't really exist and that the whole previous year had been a dream.
As Harry sat down at his desk, preparing for a long night of wallowing in self-pity, he heard a soft *pop* behind him. He turned and discovered a strange creature standing on his bed. It had bat-ears, bulbous eyes and a disproportionately large head. The thing appeared to be wearing an old potato sack… although it might have been a pillowcase… maybe.
"Hello, great Harry Potter! Dobby is so pleased to meet you!"
Whatever this thing was, it seemed friendly, but rather loud. Harry a finger to his lips. "Shh. Be quiet, or you'll get me in trouble." Harry spoke in a whisper, worried that his voice would carry downstairs and interrupt the party.
"Dobby is sorry, Harry Potter," Dobby whispered. Dobby curled his small hand into a fist and began punching himself in the face. "Dobby will be quiet, Dobby will be quiet," he whispered with each impact.
"I said be quiet!" hissed Harry. The sound of Dobby's fist hitting his face was almost as loud as Dobby's voice.
"But Dobby must punish himself if Dobby is bad," the creature whispered, continuing to punch itself in the face.
"Well, stop," Harry said. "You've done enough." Dobby immediately stopped punching himself. Harry realized that the creature, whatever it was, was responding to his direct commands. "Explain who you are and what you're doing in my room." Harry said.
The elf responded instantly. "Dobby is Dobby, Harry Potter. Dobby is a house elf."
"What's a house elf?"
Dobby gestured to himself. "House elves work for wizards. House elves clean and cook and do laundry and all sorts of chores. We does whatever our masters tell us."
"And did your master tell you to come here?"
Dobby shook his head. "Dobby will have to put his ears in the oven for even speaking to Harry Potter. But Dobby has come to warn Harry Potter, sir."
"Tell me what you've come to warn me about."
"There is a plot to harm Harry Potter. Harry Potter must not return to Hogwarts," Dobby said.
"Actually, yes, I must," Harry said. "Term starts at the beginning of September, plot or no plot."
"But there is a plot, Harry Potter! A plot!" The elf's voice was rising again. Harry held his hands out, palms down, and made shushing sounds. The elf nodded and brought his voice lower. "There is a plot to do evil at Hogwarts. If Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, Harry Potter will be in peril. Harry Potter must remain safe."
"I doubt I will be in peril," Harry said. "Dumbledore's the most powerful wizard alive, and he will be at Hogwarts. In fact, just go tell Dumbledore. He'll take care of it."
"Dobby cannot speak ill of certain wizards," the elf said. "Dobby cannot reveal secrets. Dobby cannot tell anyone about the plot."
Harry had been involved in many strange conversations since he discovered that he was a wizard, but this conversation was by far the strangest. "Dobby, you just told me."
Dobby's eyes went wide. "Then Dobby must punish himself." Dobby lowered his head and broke into a full sprint, charging at Harry's bedroom wall. Harry tried to grab the elf, but he was too late. Dobby crashed into the wall, letting out a yelp of pain.
Downstairs, conversation came to a sudden halt.
"I'll go see what's fallen," said the muffled voice of Harry's Aunt Petunia. Harry could hear her light footsteps coming up the stairs. Dobby stood and prepared to charge at the wall a second time, but before he could run forward, Harry grabbed him by the pillowcase and tossed him under the bed.
"Stay quiet," Harry whispered.
The door to Harry's room burst open. Petunia stuck her foxlike face through the door. "I don't know what you're doing, but stop it. If you ruin the punch line of Vernon's Japanese golfer joke, you won't eat for a week."
Harry nodded. Petunia glanced around the room one last time, then returned downstairs.
Dobby crawled out from under the bed. "Dobby is sorry, Harry Potter."
"You're forgiven," Harry said, distracted by thoughts of dinner, which suddenly seemed very far out of reach.
Great tears welled up in Dobby's eyes. "Harry Potter is a great wizard, forgiving Dobby so easily! Why would Harry Potter want to return to Hogwarts and be in danger? Harry Potter can stay home!"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Not on your life. It's miserable here."
"It will be miserable at Hogwarts for Harry Potter. All his friends have forgotten him. They do not even send him mail."
"Dobby, how do you know that I haven't been getting my post?"
Dobby hunched downward, seeming to shrink in on himself. "Dobby doesn't…"
"No. You know something." Harry took a deep breath, trying to master his temper. "Tell me how you know that I haven't been getting letters from my friends."
The elf began wringing his hands frantically. "Dobby thought that, if Harry Potter thought his friends had him, that Harry Potter would not return to Hogwarts…"
"You've been intercepting my post!?"
"Dobby has all the letters, Harry Potter, sir." With a small pop, a bundle of letters appeared next to the house elf.
Harry's eyes narrowed. "Give me my post."
"Dobby will give Harry Potter his letters if Harry Potter will agree to stay home from Hogwarts."
"No. You have no right keep those letters from me. Give them over."
Dobby shook his head. "Harry Potter leaves Dobby no choice."
Harry dove at the elf, snatching at both Dobby and his post. The elf (and letters) disappeared with a crack, and reappeared behind Harry. Dobby opened Harry's bedroom door and ran down the stairs. Harry, horrified, dashed after the elf.
When Harry reached the bottom of the stairs, there was no sign of Dobby. In the sitting room, Vernon was finishing his joke about the Japanese golfer. As he told the punch line, there was a burst of uproarious laughter… from Petunia. Harry used the noise to cover his footsteps and he snuck past the sitting room and into the kitchen.
Harry found Dobby standing on the counter, arms outstretched. Hovering in the middle of the room was the enormous pudding that Petunia had prepared for Vernon's guests.
"Dobby, put that down," Harry whispered.
"Promise," said Dobby.
"Fine," said Harry. "I promise I won't go back to Hogwarts." A promise that Harry had no intention of keeping.
"Thank you, Harry Potter. But Dobby cannot take any chances." Dobby thrust his hands forward in a pushing motion. The pudding rocketed out of the kitchen, across the hall and into the sitting room, where it struck the fireplace mantle and detonated in an explosion of frosting.
Harry glared at Dobby. The elf smiled sadly, and threw Harry the bundle of letters. Before Harry could say anything, the elf disappeared with a crack.
Then Vernon and Petunia Dursley walked in.
Yes, Harry's summer was surprisingly typical. Once again, he found himself on the receiving end of Vernon's firey anger and Petunia's cutting remarks. Once again, Harry was locked in his room. Once again, Harry was blamed for the misdeeds of another. Granted, this time it was the misdeeds of a bizarre house elf named Dobby, rather than the misdeeds of Harry's rhinoceros-like cousin Dudley, but the result was the same.
Harry remained locked in his room for two days. The door to Harry's room was opened exactly four times: twice for food and water, once to provide Harry with a chamber pot, and a once time to deliver a letter from the Ministry of Magic, which was hovering next to Vernon's head and rather insistently tapping against his temple. When Harry opened the letter, he discovered that he was receiving his first official warning for Underage Use of Magic.
While locked in his room, the Dursleys provided Harry with minimal food, which was frustrating. The Dursleys also provided Harry with minimal human contact, which was more of a blessing. Harry used the time to practice his wand motions and magical incantations, using an unsharpened pencil so as not violate (again) the Ministry's underage magic prohibition. He had already received one warning, and he wasn't planning on getting another. Stupid house elf.
Harry wasn't overly upset about his confinement. He knew that it wouldn't be long before Draco and Mr. Malfoy arrived to take him away from the Dursleys. At the end of term, Harry and Draco had arranged for Harry to spend almost half the summer with the Malfoys. Harry had neglected to inform the Dursleys of these plans, trusting Mr. Malfoy to set things right upon his arrival. Better to ask forgiveness than permission, Harry thought. Mr. Malfoy was scheduled to pick up Harry three days after Harry's birthday.
That day was today.
Harry was shoving the last of his belongings into his trunk when he heard a muffled "pop" from the front of the house.
"Petunia! What did you break now?" roared Vernon Dursley.
Before Harry's Aunt Petunia could answer, there was a knock on the front door. Harry could hear his Uncle Vernon grumbling as he lumbered from the sitting room to the foyer.
"We don't want any of your vacuums," Vernon bellowed immediately after opening the door.
Harry strained to hear the reply. He could recognize Mr. Malfoy's voice, but the words were too soft to understand.
"Come for Harry? That boy is upstairs, and that's where he will stay."
Mr. Malfoy spoke again, this time with a slight edge in his voice.
"Oh, you're one of those rotters. He's never going back to that school again. You and your lot have been nothing but a nuisance, and England would be better off without you. Good day."
Harry heard a whip-like crack and a large thump. Harry could see it in his mind: his Uncle Vernon, who had been a boxer fifteen years and fifty pounds ago, punching out Mr. Malfoy and tossing his limp body onto the lawn. Suddenly, Harry's failure to inform the Dursleys of his plans seemed like a terrible idea.
Harry heard footsteps on the stairs. Two sets of footsteps—one heavy, one light. His Aunt and Uncle, coming to exact some horrible punishment. Harry backed away from the door.
There was a click as his door unlocked. Harry climbed onto his bed, pushing himself as far away from the door as possible.
The door swung open, revealing Draco and Mr. Malfoy.
"Come along, boys. Let us remove ourselves from this filthy hovel." Mr. Malfoy turned and began walking down the stairs. Draco picked up Hedwig's cage and followed, leaving Harry to haul his trunk.
When Harry arrived at the bottom of the stairs, he was treated to an amazing sight: Vernon Dursley, frozen in place, hanging upside-down from the chandelier in the foyer.
"How'd you do that?" asked Harry.
"Petrificus Totalus," replied Mr. Malfoy, "followed by Levicorpus. Generally, I would simply hoist the oaf out of the way, but I could no longer stand the blubbering sound of his voice." Mr. Malfoy ushered the boys out of the house and turned to Vernon Dursley.
"These spells would wear off in about an hour," said Mr. Malfoy. "I could leave you until then. But I think terminating them now will be rather more… satisfying. Finite Incantatem."
Vernon's petrification ended at the same time as his levitation. The chandelier, suddenly discovering itself attached to 300 pounds of screaming Dursley, came crashing down from the ceiling. The chandelier (and Vernon) landed in a heap on the front rug. Vernon lay still, taking deep heaving breaths like an exhausted walrus. Plaster drifted down from the hole in the ceiling, covering him with a fine powder.
Draco and Harry looked on with astonishment. With a small smile, Mr. Malfoy turned away from the Dursley residence and began walking toward the street.
"Yes, that was rather more satisfying," he said softly to himself. Harry agreed.