9: The Mystery of the Mail
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
Harry and the Mysterious Curse of the Girl-Who-Lived
All thanks goes to the beta, who only missed one horrible mistake last time - a new record!
CHAPTER NINE: THE MYSTERY OF THE MAIL
Harry Potter was bored. Exceptionally bored. Although perhaps that was a bit of an understatement - it would be far more accurate to say that Harry severely missed Magic.
And the Magical school, Hogwarts.
And perhaps his friends as well, as a bit of an afterthought. But there was a reason he didn't miss them quite as much as he might have initially. They seemed to have completely forgotten him.
Harry's summer had started promisingly enough, and he had begun to settle into a bit of a routine: meals cooked for the Dursleys, and sitting quietly at the table eating his portions by himself after they had finished - which was such an improvement it was a real pleasure; perhaps send Hedwig out for some exercise; and, a nice, long, very pleasant walk outside, not going anywhere, just aimlessly wandering around, picking up sun and listening to the quiet sounds of the neighborhood.
Harry didn't quite want to admit it, but he had been feeling a bit smothered at Hogwarts, surrounded by noise and work and people at all times. He missed his friends, certainly, but it was quite nice to just hang around and do nothing at all. And the Dursleys were more than happy to let him wander away from the house, because it meant they didn't see each other as often. Harry had even felt quite tempted to tease Dudley with magic, as his cousin had clearly been told something by Aunt Petunia that terrified him. But it wouldn't be worth the troubles he'd certainly get from his Aunt and Uncle.
And at the end of each week, Harry would send a short letter to Dumbledore. The first two he signed with a bit of dramatic flourish, amused by the moment and feeling relaxed, and more than that, happy just being a kid with nothing to do.
But as a month went by, Harry began to grow increasingly restless and bored. He even cracked open a few schoolbooks to reread old sections, but this didn't satiate his boredom for long either. The main problem was that no one seemed to be sending him any mail at all - Harry had whipped off a few notes to each of his friends, but still nothing, even after several weeks. It was odd and very annoying - did they have so much better things to do then?
At the end of the week, Harry penned his status letter, although it was mostly filled out by instinct at that point. Hedwig was flying somewhere outside, but as it was night, it was unlikely any Muggles would notice anything. Harry decided to wait outside for Hedwig to return, as at least he'd get some fresh air at the same time.
It seemed that his owl was perhaps a bit psychic, as it didn't take long for the snowy bird to descend from the skies and perch on a nearby ledge, claw outstretched for the note.
Harry couldn't help but grin at his faithful companion, his constant reminder of the wonders of the Magical world. He scratched Hedwig in the manner he knew she liked, then tied his note to her leg. Hedwig nipped at him in her typical affectionate manner, then took off into the night sky.
Harry started suddenly. There seemed to be a kind of rustling sound, almost like someone was hiding in the hedges. Harry peered over at the greenery but he didn't see anything out of the ordinary. Although it was dark out, the street was lit fairly well, so Harry could see well enough. But nothing was there.
Perhaps it had been wishful thinking. Another fun Mystery to liven up his summer - although the last one had led to meeting Volotredi face to hideous face. It had been fun though. Flying keys, giant chess pieces...
Harry really missed Hogwarts.
With a sigh, Harry walked inside and back up to his room. After only a few minutes, Hedwig returned, looking oddly ruffled and in a rotten mood.
"That was fast," Harry remarked. Hedwig just glared and hopped back into her cage.
Well, who could figure owls anyway?
The next week was actually even odder with Hedwig. She snatched the Dumbledore note almost angrily - well, no, it was almost certainly anger. This time she returned again after only a few minutes, looking quite battered.
"Hedwig, what happened?" Harry asked in concern. "Did you still deliver the letter?" In response, Hedwig grabbed a blank piece of paper off Harry's desk with her beak and flew outside.
"That was odd," Harry said to himself. "Well, as long as the letter got delivered, what's the difference?"
The next day, Harry sat down to breakfast with his relatives in complete silence. His uncle was reading the paper, and Dudley had already finished his own meal and was off somewhere. Harry was actually reading one of his schoolbooks - he and the Dursleys had managed to get to a point where as long as Harry didn't actually speak at all, they got on all right.
It was practically civil.
Petunia kept looking at the title of the book then pretending not to be looking at all. Harry found it a bit amusing, but knew better than to tease his aunt about it. Their relationship was nothing close to cordial, of course, but it was kind of a pleasant bland relationship where nobody really annoyed the other one.
Harry breathed in deeply and sighed very softly. It looked to be another quite boring day.
It was at that point that the front door exploded.
Harry was so shocked, he was speechless, and his Aunt and Uncle didn't seem too talkative either at the moment. But the mystery of the explosion was solved when two of Harry's Hogwarts Professors stalked into view, McGonagall and Snape, each with wand raised. But why did they come? Was there an emergency? Perhaps they hadn't received the weekly note?
"He sent the letters!" Vernon and Petunia screamed at the same time.
"What the?" Harry looked up in surprise. "Didn't you get my letters?"
McGonagall, who a moment before had a frighteningly furious expression on her face, now looked surprised and suspicious. "What are you saying, Miss Potter? You sent the note? Are you quite certain? Your owl arrived without anything at all."
"She has been acting a bit odd recently," Harry admitted. "She came back kind of quickly the last two times, only a few minutes. And the last time she seemed a bit battered. Maybe she never got there?"
"That may very well be possible," McGonagall said thoughtfully. "I wonder what could possibly have prevented her arrival."
Now that she wasn't being faced by two angry magical adults, Petunia had calmed down a bit and was looking oddly at Snape. She suddenly gasped. "You!"
Snape's lip curled contemptuously. "I see you finally recognize me, Petunia."
"Oh yeah," Harry said. "You two knew each other as kids, right?"
"That would be putting it a bit too kindly in my book," Petunia spat. "This horrid man is the one who ruined everything. He destroyed Lily and corrupted her."
"Don't you dare mouth off to me!" Snape hissed. "Just because I recognized her magical talent and you had to watch jealously instead of being happy for your only sister."
"Get out of my bloody house!" Petunia shrieked. "You're worse than that horrid old man!"
McGonagall started. "Excuse me?"
Petunia scowled. "That blasted Headmaster of yours - the doddering incompetent fool."
As utter silence filled the room, Harry felt a bit certain that this was not quite the best thing for his Aunt to say.
"You dare?" McGonagall growled in a matter akin to a giant feline.
"You were always the worthless one," Snape spat. "I see time has only served to cause additional decline into vapid slime."
"Wait, wait!" Harry protested. "Everyone hold up a moment, please before you blow up something else. Shouldn't we be figuring out why you didn't get my letters? How many didn't you get?"
"The previous week's did not arrive at all," McGonagall explained. "And as I said, this week your owl came without anything at all, very suspiciously indeed. I am afraid we assumed the worse."
"Miss Potter," said Snape slowly. "Are you sure that your relatives have not impeded these letters at all?"
Harry shook his head. "They really haven't, sir. I wouldn't say we're friends or anything, but it hasn't been so bad."
"Very well," said Professor McGonagall. "You two, leave us be. This is a magical matter, and none of your concern."
Vernon was quick to his feet and pulled the still glaring Petunia with him out of the room.
After the two Muggles had left, McGonagall sighed heavily and sunk into one of the kitchen chairs. "Harriet, would you be a dear and get me a cuppa?"
Harry blinked in surprise but nodded, already automatically going through the motions - he had done this before with his relatives countless times already. After a moment's thought, he brought another cup for Professor Snape as well, thinking it only polite.
"Thank you, Miss Potter," Snape said brusquely, as he continued to look around the room with an expression of extreme suspicion.
"Severus, would you mind terribly taking a look around to see if you notice anything amiss?" McGonagall asked, sipping her tea. "You are better versed in such things, after all."
Snape nodded almost eagerly and slunk off down the hallway.
"Professor," said Harry slowly. "Don't you think we should do something about the door?"
"Oh!" McGonagall suddenly looked a bit more alert. "Yes, very well spotted, Miss Potter. I suppose it is a bit unusual to have a ruined door for the world to see. We were a bit concerned, you understand."
Harry nodded. "Yes, I do understand. But to be honest, even I've been surprised by how well it's gone."
They walked over to the shattered entryway and McGonagall turned back to Harry.
"This is a useful spell to know, although it takes a bit of practice to get it right," she said in her pedagogical tone, causing Harry to instinctively pay attention. And besides, it was great to hear something interesting for once. "The incantation is this: Reparo." With a wave of her wand, the door rebuilt itself until it was as good as before - better even, as some of the minor damages from years past were gone as well.
"How long does it last?" Harry asked.
"A very good question," McGonagall said with a smile. "The answer is permanently, if the spell is done properly. It concerns a principle in Charms you haven't got to yet, Once Whole Is Always Whole. The short explanation is that the Mending Charm returns objects to their whole form by using an idealized meta-form - in this case, I imagine the perfect door when casting the spell, and the pieces do their best to follow the example."
"Reparo," Harry repeated. "Okay, I think I understand."
Just then, an owl swooped in through one of the open windows and dropped a large parchment envelope at Harry's feet. Harry looked down curiously, seeing that the envelope was addressed to him from the Ministry of Magic. He ripped it open and was utterly shocked by its contents:
Dear Miss Potter,
We have received intelligence that a Blasting Curse was used at your place of residence this morning at twelve minutes past nine.
As you know, underage witches are not permitted to perform spells outside school, and further spellwork on your part may lead to expulsion from said school (Degree from the Reasonable Restriction of Underage sorcery, 1875, Paragraph C).
We would also ask you to remember that any magical activity which risks notice by members of the non-magical community (Muggles) is a serious offence, under section 13 of the International Confederation of Warlocks' Statute of Secrecy.
Enjoy your Holidays!
Improper Use of Magic Office
Ministry of Magic
Harry just boggled, dumbfounded, as McGonagall looked over his shoulder and then dropped her forehead into the palm of her hand with an audible slap. "My apologies, Harriet. The Trace completely slipped my mind - Severus and I were more concerned with saving you than notifying the Ministry that we would be here, doing magic.
She conjured a quill and ink and a sheet of parchment to send a reply to the Improper Use of Magic Office. "Harriet, give me a moment to explain things to them so that you may retain an unblemished record." Harry nodded numbly as McGonagall began to write.
The door then opened and Professor Snape stepped inside, looking as displeased as he usually did.
"Did you find anything out of the ordinary," asked McGonagall. "Anything Dark or similarly concerning?"
"No," Snape said curtly. "I am afraid that nothing seems mysterious or bizarre. As far as I can tell, the wards are still functioning properly, and there is not a trace of any Dark magic anywhere around. We may have to contact the Headmaster."
Another owl flew in and dropped yet another letter on the floor. It was quite similar to the last one.
Dear Miss Potter,
We have received intelligence that a Error: Unknown Function Charm was used at your place of residence this morning at twenty-three minutes past nine . . .
Harry handed the letter over to Snape and quickly explained that he had received a letter already.
Snape's lip curled condescendingly. "Typical Ministry nonsense."
McGonagall rolled her eyes. Harry boggled again at this uncharacteristic behavior.
McGonagall then bit her lip in annoyance. "Getting back to our problem, I was hoping it wouldn't come to that, he is quite busy." She sighed and straightened her shoulders a bit. "Very well, I shall send a note using the typical method."
Snape's eyebrows raised. "Not using an owl?"
Three more owls flew in. These letters, however, did not wait for Harry to pick them up, but actually opened and read themselves aloud at the same time, so there was a reverberating effect as they read at the same time:
Dear Miss Potter,
We have received intelligence that a Quill/Sheet of Paper/Jar of Ink Conjuration was used at your place of residence this morning at twenty-five minutes past nine . . .
Harry was beginning to realize that this was clearly a magically generated form-letter.
McGonagall bristled visibly. "I am going to slap Mafalda Hopkirk!" She attached her original reply to one of the owls and sent it back to the Ministry of Magic.
"No, I'm not sending an owl, Severus," McGonagall said in a huff. "I'd rather not waste any additional time if we can help it. Expecto Patronum." To Harry's complete shock, a shimmery, silver shape shot from her wand, and it solidified into the form of a medium-sized cat with glasses. Instantly the room felt a bit cheerier and lighter.
"We need your assistance for what is probably not an emergency, but expediency may be needed," the Professor instructed the cat, which then nodded its head and disappeared.
"What was that?" Harry asked in excitement. "What does, um, Expulso Patronum do?"
Snape snorted. "The proper incantation is Expecto Patronum, Miss Potter," he said, carefully stressing the syllables. "It is a very powerful spell called the Patronus Charm, but do not attempt to cast it - it takes a mature witch or wizard with careful willpower to even manage a non-corporeal summoning."
"Um," Harry replied, a bit confused.
"Corporeal means having substance, like a person or beast," McGonagall lectured. "Thus non-corporeal refers to having no substance, like a ghost or a puff or air. Only a corporeal Patronus, which is what that cat was, can be used to send messages. But Professor Snape is quite right, you should not attempt the spell yourself until you are older - even many adults are incapable of it." She pursed her lips. "I know better than to forbid it altogether, of course, but it is dangerous to cast spells above your level. I suppose when you are in your fourth or fifth year we can revisit it if you wish."
"I would, Professor," Harry said politely.
Another owl flew in and another letter opened and read itself to them:
Dear Miss Potter,
We have received intelligence that a Patronus Charm was used at your place of residence this morning at twenty-eight minutes past nine . . .
"BY MORGANA'S FAIGHEAN!" McGonagall, screamed. Her eyes went wide and she slowly turned around to face Harry. "Harriet . . . please forget you heard that . . ."
"I'm not even sure I could pronounce that last bit," Harry reassured her.
He then heard a knock on the door.
McGonagall rolled her eyes and waved her wand, causing to the door to open. The Headmaster stood there, with a fairly pleasant expression on his face.
"Enough of your theatrics, Albus," McGonagall said in an annoyed tone. "We have an odd issue that must be resolved at once."
"I see," Dumbledore replied in a very serious tone, stroking his beard in a manner that caused Harry to almost burst out laughing. Dumbledore's eyes did not seem to be take his own words that seriously, after all. "What seems to the trouble?"
"There is a problem with the mail," Snape said curtly. "Apparently Miss Potter has not received any letters, and we have not received the prior two weeks' worth."
"Very mysterious," Dumbledore nodded. "And you checked for any odd magic around?"
"Yes," Snape answered. "Nothing I could notice, and the wards seemed functional as well."
"And I do not believe the Dursleys were involved," McGonagall put in. "As much as it pains me to admit it."
"My dear," Dumbledore asked Harry. "Have you experienced anything unusual with your mail?"
"Actually, I have," Harry agreed. "Like Professor Snape said, I haven't gotten any mail at all - and I thought everyone was just too busy."
Dumbledore shook his head. "Not at all - in fact, I myself sent you more than one missive, and I know others have sent you letters as well. And yet, your owl delivered the first few letters to us, did it not?"
McGonagall nodded. "Yes, I received the first several, so I didn't think there was anything wrong at first."
"Well," Harry said in thought. "Hedwig seemed to be annoyed last week - and she did come back pretty early, only after a few minutes. I thought it was odd, but she didn't seem up to flying again. This last week, she came back after a minute or so, looking not so good, then she grabbed a piece of paper from my desk."
"Ah," McGonagall realized. "That explains the blank paper we received. But what could be causing this mail issue? Something that only just recently began taking mail from Hedwig as well?"
"A very good question, indeed," Dumbledore mused. "Perhaps I should investigate." He pulled out his wand and began to wave it around, walking slowly around the house.
"Severus, would you mind returning to Hogwarts?" McGonagall asked. "Now that it is not an absolute emergency, it would be good to have a presence there for the time being."
Snape didn't look happy but nodded. "Very well, but inform me the moment there is a problem, if you will." He turned to Harry. "Keep up your studies, Miss Potter. I would not be pleased if you had forgotten all the work you had completed from last year."
"Don't worry, sir," Harry assured his Professor. "I know better than that."
Snape smirked a bit, then nodded and left the house.
McGonagall sighed. "This may take a while, Miss Potter. Perhaps I can answer some of your questions about the Patronus Charm, since I know you are very curious."
Harry nodded eagerly, and they returned to the kitchen so McGonagall could finish her tea.
By the time Dumbledore had returned from completing whatever it was he was doing, it was already lunchtime, and Harry had highly impressed McGonagall with his efficient food preparation skills.
"It's no big deal," he waved off the compliment. "I've been doing it for years, after all."
McGonagall did not quite seem to like that answer.
"Ah, lunch!" Dumbledore said with a smile. "Would you mind terribly if I had a sandwich? I am a mite peckish, after all."
Harry laughed. "Go ahead sir. I figure I owe you after all that Hogwarts fed me."
"Headmaster," McGonagall growled. "Please do tell us what you may have discovered."
Dumbledore wiped his mouth a bit dramatically. "Ah, yes, the results of my investigative queries. It would appear that the wards are indeed functioning correctly - there is no magic here that would prevent mail from being sent or received."
McGonagall frowned. "Then what in the world is the matter?"
"I have a possible theory," Dumbledore said a bit softly, then waved his wand. "A minor privacy charm, just in case. As I said, I found no magical interference. There was an odd magical residue I didn't recognize, however. And the interesting part was that it was clearly indicative of a house-elf's magic."
McGonagall sat up in surprise. "A house-elf? Surely the wards could prevent their entry as well?"
"Only if they intended harm," corrected Dumbledore. "And unfortunately, I don't believe minor annoyance due to lack of mail quite counts as harm as the wards are concerned. A house-elf could indeed be capable of such acts of theft, although only if they intended no harm. That is the odd part about it, in my way of seeing it."
McGonagall nodded. "I see your point."
"Um," Harry carefully interrupted. "Excuse me."
"Miss Potter?" McGonagall asked, as though she had forgotten Harry was still there. "Is there a problem?"
"Well, this may sound odd, but I don't know what house-elves are."
Dumbledore chuckled. "Ah, my mistake. Forgive an old man's oversight, if you can, my dear. I suppose it would seem more than a tad mysterious if you were not familiar with the term. House-elves are a sort of magical creature, sentient like humans or goblins, and very short, much like the goblins. They are a what you might call a brownie or hob - they are special, helpful beings that live in human houses and assist with various chores."
"Oh," Harry said. "And I think I remember saying that Hogwarts had some, right?"
"Correct, Harriet," McGonagall replied. "You see, a house-elf needs a magical place to live or it cannot survive. Originally they lived in naturally magical areas, but as their populations grew, they needed other places, so they and humans formed partnerships, in a matter of speaking. The house-elves would be bound to the family, and thus would have the magical environment they required."
"As for the work they performed," Dumbledore put in. "The key to understand them is that house-elves are particular about their ways - they do not wish payment, as they feel it cheapens their bond with their family. They enjoy helping out around the house, but prefer not to be seen, only quietly appreciated - which is why you have never seen any in Hogwarts."
"But you're saying that house-elf stopped my mail, right?" Harry pointed out. "How could that be considered a chore?"
Dumbledore sighed. "Unfortunately, this has come from an old tradition that has evolved over time. Centuries ago, there was a movement to create a far stronger bond between house-elves and their families, but this had the side effect of forcing the house-elf to be forced to obey any commands. The only way for a house-elf to be released was for an owner to give them one piece of their own clothes, as a way of saying they no longer needed them."
"And they have often been highly mistreated," McGonagall mentioned. "Many families have developed environments where the house-elves are treated terribly and forced to perform onerous tasks. And these elves teach their children that such is the proper way, and over the centuries, many house-elves have become effectively no more than slaves."
"That's horrible!" Harry exclaimed. "But wait... so what you're saying is that this house-elf might've been ordered to take my mail? Why?"
"That is the question, isn't it?" Dumbledore replied. "As I see it, there are only two possibilities: one, that someone ordered their house-elf to take your mail for what they considered a good cause, which does not entirely make sense to me. The other option is that the house-elf somehow did this on its own volition, which does not exactly make sense either."
"No, it does not," McGonagall said angrily. "But how could we possibly find out? House-elves are very difficult to find when they try to hide, unless they belong to you."
"Indeed," said Dumbledore. "That is why we will need to have Potter confront the house-elf and find out the underlying motive."
"Me?" Harry asked in surprise. "But how do we do that?"
Dumbledore smiled and chuckled softly. "We set a trap."
Harry paced nervously in his room, hoping that the Headmaster's plan would work without any problems. Merely trying to remember all the advice he had been given of how to handle house elves was already taking up most of his active thoughts and energy.
"Remember, although house elves are not permitted to reveal their owner's secrets, they can still succumb to loopholes in language," Dumbledore had explained. "Meaning that you may be able to trick them into revealing information if you word your questions cleverly enough. And don't forget that, no matter what, the protections on the house will prevent any physical harm, so you should be in no direct danger."
"We cannot be too close by," McGonagall had then put in. "The house elf must believe you are alone or it might be too scared to reveal itself. Otherwise, just be on your guard and do not reveal anything that you do not need to reveal - their owner should not be aware of your secrets, after all."
"But how can we be sure the house elf will even show?" Harry had asked.
"It is a simple matter, really," Dumbledore explained. "The house elf will notice the workaround to the mail and be compelled to reveal itself - its psychological makeup essentially requires it to happen."
But Harry wasn't sure about that, and thought he would feel quite foolish pacing around his room for a day without anyone showing up. As the evening came quickly, Harry realized that the call of nature was beckoning - and this was another thing a bit more pleasant at the Dursley's than at Hogwarts, although that was a very short list.
As Harry walked into his room, his heart nearly leaped from his chest. A small creature was sitting on his bed, with large, bat-like ears and bulging green eyes the size of tennis balls - clearly this was the mysterious house elf that had been causing the mail troubles, wasn't it?
"Um, hello," said Harry, getting back his bearings. "Nice to meet you. Who are you?"
"Dobby, ma'am. Just Dobby."
Harry wasn't sure what he had been expecting, but the diminutive creature spoke with a high-pitched voice that was a tad irritating.
"Oh, okay," replied Harry. "As I said, good to meet you, Dobby. I'm Harry Potter."
The house elf blinked and its eyes began to fill with tears.
"Dobby has never..." Dobby shook his head to clear it. "Dobby knows who Harriet Potter is, of course, as all house elves must."
Harry brightened. "Ah, excellent, so you are a house elf then. I've always wanted to meet one. What's it like being a house elf?"
Dobby's expression fell a bit. "To be a house elf is a wondrous thing, Harriet Potter. To be able to help out wizards and families is what all house elves love. But some families are not always kind to house elves." The house elf abruptly stopped speaking and to Harry's horror, jumped off the bed and began to bash his head on the window. "Bad Dobby!"
"Here now, stop that! Stop it!"
Dobby blinked and looked back at Harry curiously.
"What on earth are you doing?" Harry was wondering why the Professors hadn't mentioned anything about this self-flagellating behavior.
"Dobby must punish himself," the elf explained. "Dobby almost spoke ill of his family, ma'am."
Harry shook his head in disbelief. A family that mistreated its house elf but didn't want to harm Harry? Either they were decent but didn't care well for their servants, which was bad, or they were a nefarious sort and the house elf was doing what they didn't want - which was also bad.
"Well, none of that here, understand?" Harry said in a very clear tone. "There are no house elf punishments allowed in this house, all right?"
"Here, why don't you sit down and tell me why you've come to visit?"
Instantly Dobby burst in tears. "S-sit down! Never ever has Dobby been invited to sit down by a witch or wizard - like an equal!"
Harry frowned, finding himself disliking this mystery family more and more. "Don't worry about it, Dobby, I happen to think that house elves are just as important as humans."
Dobby's mouth dropped open and he seemed completely speechless. Finally, Dobby managed to squeak out, "Dobby had no idea... he should've known, of course, that Harriet Potter is as good as she is great. The kindest of hearts and the noblest of spirits! Of course the defeater of the Dark Lady is valiant and true."
Harry felt a bit embarrassed by the effusive praise, which seemed a bit unwarranted. "I mean, it's true that I did defeat the Dark Lady, as you call her, although I was just a baby."
Dobby leaned toward Harry, his eyes wide as headlights, a grin on his face.
"Dobby heard tell," he said hoarsely, "that Harriet Potter met and defeated the Dark Lady for a second time just weeks ago… is it true?'"
"Well," Harry answered reluctantly. "I suppose technically it's true, although it's not like I didn't have help."
Dobby beamed and bounced up and down in glee. "Dobby knew it! Dobby is so honored to finally be able to thank Harriet Potter in person."
Harry sighed. "Yes, well, you're welcome, I guess, though I don't know what help I specifically did for you."
"The Dark Lady hated non-humans," Dobby explained. "She wanted to get rid of us all."
Harry's jaw dropped. "Okay, that's a pretty good reason not to like her."
"But Dobby is here for a reason," the house elf said sternly. "Since Harriet Potter did not take the mail warning seriously."
"So you did block my mail, then?" Harry bit his lip. "I don't suppose you still have it?"
"Dobby might," the house elf admitted. "But he will only return it if Harriet Potter makes a promise."
Harry felt a bit uneasy. "What kind of promise?"
"Harriet Potter must not return to Hogwarts!"
"Here now," Harry scoffed. "That's ridiculous. Of course I'm returning to Hogwarts - I need to keep learning about magic, don't I?"
"But Harriet Potter cannot!" Dobby wailed. "She is in grave danger this year! Mortal danger! There is a terrible, evil plot at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry this year!"
"I don't suppose you can tell me what this plot is?" Harry asked, not expecting a good answer.
Dobby made a funny choking sound and shook his head frantically.
"All right, all right, I get it. But here's the thing, Dobby - there might be a way for me to go to Hogwarts and still be safe."
Dobby titled his head in curiosity. "How can Harriet Potter do that?"
A bit of progress. Harry tried to avoid putting an obvious smile on his face.
"Simple, Dobby. You already know that the Professors and Headmaster Dumbledore are there, right?"
"Yes," Dobby nodded.
"Dobby knows it, ma'am. Dobby has heard Dumbledore's powers rival those of She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named at the height of her strength. But, ma'am" — Dobby's voice dropped to an urgent whisper — "there are powers Dumbledore doesn't… powers no decent wizard…"
And before Harry could stop him, Dobby bounded off the bed, seized Harry's desk lamp, and started beating himself around the head with earsplitting yelps.
Harry yanked the lamp away and scowled. "What did I say about house elf punishments?"
The house elf withered a bit. "Dobby is sorry, ma'am."
"Never mind that," Harry said, shaking his head. "The point is, sure, maybe the Professors can't protect me - but there's someone who can."
Now the house elf looked utterly curious. "Who is that, Harriet Potter?"
Harry laughed. "Why it's you, of course!"
Dobby blinked in complete surprise. "But... Dobby does not. he cannot..."
"I know what you're going to say," Harry said quickly. "You can't reveal your family's secrets, which include this plot. I got that. And I assume you can't directly go against their plans, either, right?"
"But think about it, Dobby," Harry said, just realizing it as he began talking. "You already have gone against them - indirectly, by warning me here. And you can do the same thing if you stop by and visit at Hogwarts - you can warn me without actually doing anything directly against the plan."
Dobby's face began to look a bit devious. "Dobby thinks he understands, ma'am. Harriet Potter is very clever, very clever indeed. She is surely the greatest witch ever!"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Well, I'm glad we've got it figured out, then. Can I have my mail back?"
Dobby snapped his fingers and a small pile of letters appeared on Harry's bed.
"That's brilliant," Harry said with a grin. "You house elves have some impressive magic."
Dobby's eyes watered dramatically and he bowed deeply.
"Hold on," Harry held up a hand. "Dobby, before you go, can I ask you a question?"
"Harriet Potter can ask whatever she wants - but Dobby cannot reveal any secrets, as Harriet Potter already knows."
Harry nodded. "Right. So I want to send a gift to your master's house, can I get an address?"
"Yes!" Dobby shouted happily. "Dobby can do that! Send your gift to 38 The Dormers, Highworth, Wiltshire!"
"I hope they like it," Harry said, quickly writing down the address. "I have a feeling they just might."
Dobby laughed. "Dobby thinks so, too, Harriet Potter! Dobby will see you at Hogwarts, then!"
Harry grinned. "Sounds good. Try to avoid too many punishments back home, eh?"
Dobby nodded once and vanished.
Harry sighed and leaned back on his bed, looking at the address he had written down. That had gone a lot better than he had expected.
It took Harry the better part of a week to read through and respond to his missed correspondence. He felt a great deal better now that he knew that they weren't actually ignoring him, but merely impeded by a well-intentioned house elf.
Amusingly enough, several of the letters expressed concern that Harry wasn't writing back.
Harriet, I hope your summer's been going good. Things are boring over here, though I do have the greenhouse to work in. When will you be able to visit? My grandmother probably wouldn't want visitors, but we could meet with everyone in Hogsmeade or something. Let me know.
Harriet, I am so bored, there is literally NOTHING to do this summer. How are the Muggles? Were they scared by Professor Dumbledore? I want to know every detail!
Hey, Harriet, it's Ron. I'm just back at home, but it's all the same over here. Train ride was dull. Are you gonna come by at some point? Maybe the whole Trapdoor gang could hang out? My Mum would love to meet you - well, the whole family would, really.
Hello! I hope your summer is thus far educational and not too stifling with your relatives. Have they been acceptable, considering what you mentioned about talking to them with the Headmaster? We're about to go on holiday to France for a few weeks, and I've been reading all about the French Magical community - it's so fascinating! I hope I learn all sorts of interesting things about the way it differs from the British one. Gotten a head start on your assignments? I've finished them already, of course, you know how I am about that sort of thing. But if you haven't, you shouldn't put them off - like we both know some of our other friends will. Oh, and if you happen to see Padma, don't let her talk your ear off - we had some interesting but slightly acrimonious discussions after you left with the Headmaster, and it didn't end that well. She's already sent me ten letters in three days, if you can believe it. I'll tell you more when I see you - hopefully as soon as I return!
Love from Hermione
Dear Harriet, I just found out I'll be out of town for a while, probably until after your birthday, but let me know when you can go to Diagon Alley for supplies, and we'll certainly meet up then! See you!
You haven't written me back, are you all right? Are the Muggles letting you send out mail? I suppose that's a foolish thing to ask if they are impeding your messages, but just in case, please write back if you can.
Harriet, you okay? It's been weeks and nobody's heard anything from you!
Harriet, if you got a letter from Padma, please DO NOT open it - I saw her writing it and it's just nonsense you wouldn't care about, plus it's like a million pages long! We're leaving on holiday now, we'll be back soon!
And then there was the letter from Dumbledore, which attempted to explain why Harry had been left on the Dursley's doorstep with just a note.
Dear Not-Harriet Potter,
I know that I mentioned an explanation regarding your arrival at the Dursley's house when you were an infant. The specifics are complicated, but essentially the core of it is that you are highly protected from harm if you live with your aunt. The degree of protection was exponentially higher because she took you in without any coercion or convincing on my part. If she had been threatened or guilted into accepting you, the protection would not have been nearly as effective. Obviously I feel deeply ashamed for the hurts you have experienced with the Dursleys, and I hope I can make it up to you in the future. Please don't hesitate to write if you have further questions. I will be a bit busy this summer, partially concerning alternate living arrangements for you, but I will be sure to make the time to write back.
Sincerely, Albus Dumbledore
It all seemed reasonably logical to Harry, although he still wished there had been a different place he could have lived. Eventually he did write back to the Headmaster, although he mainly asked about when he could leave and where he stay until the start of the term.
Several days later, he finally received a response.
Dear Not-Harriet Potter,
After making several inquires, I believe we have come to a reasonable solution for the remainder of the summer. The Patils have informed me that they would permit you to stay with them, but they will not be back until the beginning of August, a day or so after your birthday. If it is acceptable to you, you can stay with the Weasleys until then - they have a daughter, so there should be no awkwardness from that perspective, except of course, from your own. But as you have been living with girls for a year, I feel you can handle it commendably.
As you may or may not know, the Browns and Grangers are on holiday, and I wouldn't feel it prudent for you to stay with Muggles other than your direct relatives in any event. And as for the Longbottoms, Madame Longbottom is a good woman, but she would not be comfortable with a girl staying in the same house with only her and her grandson. If the Weasleys are acceptable, let me know and I will tell them to prepare for your arrival on your birthday. Otherwise, we will figure something else out.
Sincerely, Albus Dumbledore
Harry eagerly wrote back that this was an acceptable idea and packed all his things in preparation, although his birthday was still several days away. He mentioned to his relatives that he would be leaving soon, which pleased them immensely.
"Good!" Uncle Vernon had exclaimed. "After all you've put us through, it's about time we had some peace and quiet around here." Harry's uncle had also spent a great deal of time suspiciously examining the magically repaired door, but unable to find anything specifically wrong. And as for Aunt Petunia, she didn't even speak to Harry any longer.
Finally the day arrived, and Harry sat that evening on the doorstep with his things, waiting very impatiently. It was almost midnight, but Harry was all too ready to leave not a moment later than necessary, and had told the Headmaster as much in a letter.
Harry kept his eyes on his watch, counting down the last few seconds. 10… 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... ! And there it was, Harry was officially one year older.
"Well, a very happy birthday to you, Not-Harriet!"
Harry leaped up in shock, then frowned. "Professor, you didn't need to startle me like that."
Dumbledore chuckled. "Well, I can see you are ready to go at a moment's notice. Have you said your farewells?"
"Yeah, to the extent we speak, they know I'm leaving."
Dumbledore sighed. "I see. And you are certain you have everything?"
"Triple-checked them, sir," Harry grinned. "And the Weasleys know I'm coming?"
"Indeed," the Professor answered. "Now, walk with me a bit and keep a tight grip on your belongings. We must be a bit away from the house so as not to trigger any more troublesome warnings from the Ministry."
"Oh, you heard about that?" Harry asked. "Um, there's no trouble with them, is there?"
"No," answered Dumbledore. "Minerva explained that she had performed the spells during a routine visit, and they expunged the marks from your record. But before we leave, you should let Hedwig get there on her own - owls do not care for Disapparition, and they fly fast enough on their own."
"Okay," said Harry, unlocking the cage. "Hedwig, you can find me if I'm somewhere else, right?" The owl nipped him affectionately in response and took to the air. "Wait a moment, sir, what was that word you just mentioned? Disapportion?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "No, I said Dis-ap-par-i-tion," he pronounced the word carefully, "which is the act of Disapparating, or magically moving from one place to another. It is called Apparition when you arrive, and Disapparition when you leave. You will not learn how until you are sixteen, as it can be quite dangerous without proper training. Many wizards never properly learn it, as point of fact. Now, please take my arm and I will take us to the Weasleys."
It was an uncomfortable feeling akin to getting squeezed through a tube, and Harry felt quite relieved when it was all over. He stood there in front of a quite curious house, several stories high, crooked and misshapen in a cheerful manner. It seemed about the most opposite from Privet Drive as Harry could imagine.
Dumbledore walked with Harry to the front door and knocked once loudly.
Instantly the door flew open, and a short, plump, red-haired woman opened it - Harry somewhat recalled her from his first trip to the train almost a year earlier.
"Oh, it's you! Headmaster, it's so good to see you, won't you come in?"
"I am afraid that other matters vie for my attention, but I shall gladly accept on another occasion," Dumbledore replied with a bow. "But our young friend here is probably quite tired, and I am sure sleep is needed, especially at that age.."
Harry chuckled. "Yes, I suppose so. I'll see you at Hogwarts, then?"
Dumbledore nodded and winked. He then walked away into the darkness and vanished with a popping sound.
"Well, come in, then, my dear!" Mrs. Weasley hurried Harry inside. "I'll go tell Percy to bring your things upstairs. I believe Ginny's asleep - ah, that's my youngest, you'll be staying with her, of course. If that's not a problem, sharing a room?"
"I've done it all year at Hogwarts," Harry pointed out. "So it's no worry. Is Ron asleep too?"
Mrs. Weasley frowned and did not look very happy. "You don't know where he is, then? Him or the twins?"
Harry blinked in surprise. "No, you mean they're not here?"
"No!" Mrs. Weasley said in a very worried tone. "They're missing!"
Next time, a birthday reunion.
"Oh, that nearly reminds me," said Parvati. "You missed the big argument about house elves."
"What's to argue about?" Harry asked. "Unless... uh oh. What did you tell Hermione?"