AN: As a word of warning, this story is not going to be for everyone. It follows story lines, not plot points; it deals with the emotional reality of the characters, not so-called "excitement" or manufactured "drama." While Harry is a central figure, the narrative will split off to show the world from many different angles and give alternative interpretations based on various events while furthering the much greater story of overall societal change.
Though some would say this is an AU because it does not hold to many of the post-publication "revelations" of J. K. Rowling, I do not consider them Canon in the first place. I will use them if they can be made to serve the story, but do not feel bound by them; had she instead provided such information in the books, where it belonged, rather than short-changing the world-building, character development, and internal consistency, that would be a different matter entirely. So if you accept anything, including the words of Rowling, as the Indisputable Truth about all things Harry Potter then this story's not for you since I fully intend to slowly warp your head canon. Likewise, if you shun certain clichés commonly found in fanfiction then I ask you to still give things a shot because they're done with a subversive intent.
By now you should know that I'm not J. K. Rowling nor own any of her characters.
After a day spent in the blazing hot sun cleaning the windows, washing the car, mowing the lawn, trimming the flower beds, pruning and watering the roses, repainting the garden bench and having only two slices of bread and a hunk of cheese for dinner, Harry Potter was going to be spending the rest of his twelfth birthday in his room pretending he didn't exist. His relatives, the Dursleys of number 4 Privet Drive, were spending his birthday doing precisely the same thing... while hosting a dinner party they had specifically informed him he would not be attending.
Having a horrible birthday shouldn't have surprised him by this point. His aunt and uncle seemed to take pride in keeping him as miserable as possible. This was precisely why Harry's racing broom and all of his books on magic had promptly been locked away in the cupboard under the stairs the instant he'd returned from his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The only thing even slightly unusual about his birthday so far had been the bulbous pair of eyes which had been staring at him from a hedge earlier that day. That, Harry supposed, and the conspicuous absence of mail from any of his school friends. If he hadn't known it was impossible he'd swear the Dursleys were somehow behind his friends not writing to him. He had gotten nothing from Ron or Hermione, his two best friends, or even Hagrid, who had been the first magical person Harry had ever met. Ron said he'd write to invite him to stay with his family over the break but with the way things were it didn't look like that would ever happen.
After more than a month spent stuck with the Dursleys Harry would've given anything for a bit of mail. Even a taunting note from I'm-better-than-you Draco Malfoy or a grease-stained missive from the evil git of a potions master Severus Snape would've been welcome since it'd at least prove this whole last year had actually happened.
As he entered his bedroom, intending to flop down on his bed and get an early night, Harry learned that life had other plans for it was at that precise moment the magical world had decided to pay him a visit.
Harry managed not to shout when he saw the strange little creature on his bed, though it was a close-run thing. The last thing he wanted was his Uncle Vernon to come blundering up here accusing him of ruining his party. There'd be no telling what he'd do.
Instead, Harry stood stock-still and blinked at the little bat-eared creature. The creature's bulging green tennis ball-like eyes blinked back. Harry knew instantly that this had been the thing that had been staring at him from the hedge earlier today. But, what did it want?
As they stared at each other, Harry heard Dudley's voice from the hall below.
"May I take your coats, Mr. and Mrs. Mason?"
The dinner party had started. Harry closed the door as the creature, clad only in an old pillowcase with rips for its arms and head, slipped off the bed and bowed so low that the end of its long nose touched the carpet.
"Harry Potter!" the creature said.
"Er – Hello," he replied.
"So long has Dobby wanted to meet you, sir..." the creature said. "Such an honor it is..."
"Er – Thank you. Can I help you?" Harry asked.
"Help Dobby!" the spritely creature cried, in a tone Harry was sure would carry downstairs. "Never has someone asked to help Dobby! Dobby has heard of your greatness–," the creature bowed again, "But never has Dobby dreamed to be helped by Harry Potter." The creature looked up at him, eyes alight in adulation.
"Er – Don't mention it," Harry replied, at a loss for how else to respond as he edged his way over to sit on the desk chair next to his snowy owl, Hedwig, still asleep in her cage.
"If I can ask–," Harry said before he stopped himself. He had been intending to ask 'what are you' but now didn't think that would go over too well at all. Instead he finished with "–who are you?"
"Oh!" The creature said nervously. "Apologies, sir. I'm Dobby, sir. Just Dobby. Dobby the house-elf." It picked at its old dirty pillowcase, perhaps thinking it should have changed before coming. Not wanting to make the creature feel any worse, Harry decided to be as civil as possible.
"While I'm very pleased to meet you, Dobby, right now isn't a great time to have a house-elf in my bedroom. I could get into a lot of trouble if my relatives knew you were here."
"Oh!" Dobby squeaked loudly before immediately clasping his hands over his mouth, his eyes darting between Harry and the door before speaking more quietly.
"Apologies, sir. Dobby understands. If Dobby's family knew Dobby was here...," the creature shuddered.
"Your family?" asked Harry curiously.
"The wizarding family Dobby serves, sir. Dobby is a house-elf, bound to serve one house and one family forever."
"And your family doesn't know you're here?"
Dobby shook his head so quickly his ears were almost slapping against his face.
"Oh, no, sir, no... Dobby will have to punish himself most grievously for coming to see you, sir. Dobby will have to shut his ears in the oven door for this. If they ever knew, sir–! But Dobby had to come," Dobby finished earnestly.
"That's horrible," Harry exclaimed. "Won't they notice if you shut your ears in an oven door?"
"Dobby doubts it, sir. Dobby is always having to punish himself for something. Sometimes they reminds Dobby to do extra punishments..."
Harry couldn't think of anything more horrible. Dobby's family actually made the Dursleys sound warm and cuddly by comparison. While this would probably be a touchy subject, memories of his days spent working like a slave for the Dursleys in a prison he couldn't wait to flee from soon had Harry resolved to help someone else break free from theirs too if he could.
"So why don't you just leave? Escape?" he asked, having asked himself the same thing many times before.
"Because a house-elf must be set free, sir," Dobby said as if explaining something obvious. "And the family will never set Dobby free... Dobby will serve the family until Dobby dies, sir..." Dobby sniffed and blew his nose on his already soiled pillowcase.
"Isn't there someone else you can call, like the Ministry?" Harry asked appalled. "Surely they can stop it."
"Oh, no, sir, no," Dobby replied. "So long as the family owns Dobby, the family can do what they wants."
That gave Harry an idea.
"Do you think they'd sell you, Dobby? Do you think I could buy you?"
Almost at once, Harry wished he hadn't spoken as Dobby dissolved into wails.
"Please," Harry whispered frantically as Hedwig perked up and stared disapprovingly at the little noise-maker. "Please be quiet. If the Dursleys hear anything, if they know you're here–." Harry chanced a look towards the door. "I didn't mean to offend you or anything."
"Offend Dobby! Harry Potter asks if he can buy Dobby... Dobby has heard of your greatness, sir, but of your goodness, Dobby never knew...," Dobby cried, burying his face in Harry's jeans.
Hedwig turned to look at Harry, as if it were his fault the little guy was here, as Dobby occupied himself by wiping his nose on his already dirty pillowcase as the tears rolled down his cheeks. Harry stood, wanting to give sniffling creature time to pull himself together.
"Wait here, Dobby. I'll be right back," Harry said as he pat the little guy on his head and slipped out the door.
As quietly as he could, Harry made his way to the bathroom and filled a small paper cup with cool water from the tap. He got back into the hall just as his Uncle Vernon reached the end of the Japanese golfer joke he'd been practicing all week.
"–There they found the Japanese man, squatting with his pants down around his ankles!" Vernon said agog.
Harry rolled his eyes.
"'What on earth are you doing?!' cried the American," Vernon continued. "The Japanese fellow looked up and without pause, replied–"
"Here you go, Dobby," Harry said as he closed the door and handed the little elf the cup of water. "Why don't you sit down and drink this."
The little creature looked at the paper cup as if he had never seen anything so precious.
"Harry Potter served Dobby! And he's been asked to sit down – like an equal," Dobby said awestruck.
"Of course you have been; you're my friend."
"A–a friend?" Dobby asked.
"Absolutely. You came here to visit me and you've been nice, which is more than my other friends have done. That makes you my friend," Harry explained as if to a child.
Once again tears fell from Dobby's eyes.
"Dobby does not deserve to be served by Harry Potter!" Dobby said as he sat the still-full cup of water on the desk. In a flash Dobby had rammed his head against the desk drawers, making an ungodly racket.
"Bad Dobby! Bad Dobby!" he cried, slamming into the desk and spilling water all over himself.
Quickly Harry pulled Dobby away from the desk and placed him on the bed, surreptitiously wiping his now grimy hands on his trousers. The noise from downstairs stilled for a moment and they waited with bated breath before the talk from below started again.
"Harry Potter has been so nice to Dobby!" Dobby said more quietly. "Harry Potter asked to buy Dobby. If Harry Potter knew what Dobby has done he would not be wanting to help him!"
Harry sat down on the bed next to Dobby and put his hand on the creature's cleanest shoulder.
"Why don't you just tell me what all this is about and I'll make that decision for myself."
"Yes, sir. Apologies, sir. Dobby wonders where to begin."
"Does it have anything to do with why you came here?" Harry prompted.
"Oh, yes, sir. Dobby had to come. Dobby had to warn Harry Potter." Dobby seemed to curl himself even smaller and lowered his voice before continuing. "There's a plot," Dobby said conspiratorially. "A plot to make the most terrible things happen. Harry Potter must not go back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry this year! And Dobby thought – that if Harry Potter thought that his friends had forgotten him–"
"So you're the reason my friends haven't been writing me?" Harry asked, trying not to let any of the sudden aggravation he felt bleed into his words.
"Yes, sir. And then Harry Potter calls Dobby friend!" Dobby wailed.
"Shush, Dobby. I understand," Harry said, trying to calm the elf by telling it what it obviously wanted to hear. "You were only trying to protect me, which is more than any of my relatives have ever done," he finished sourly.
"Ah, sir!" Dobby cried through his tears. "Harry Potter is not speaking of his mother, sir, who died to protect him!"
That struck Harry to the core. He hadn't thought the elf would speak of that. He didn't even know what to say to that. How could he have forgotten his parents on his birthday? It was all most people talked about around him. His looks, her eyes, they're dead – aren't you happy being famous!
"Harry Potter has braved so many dangers already!" Dobby sniffled, dabbing his face with a corner of the grubby pillowcase he was wearing. "Dobby heard tell that Harry Potter met the Dark Lord for a second time, just weeks ago... and Harry Potter escaped yet again."
"Ah, sir," Dobby gasped. "Harry Potter is valiant and bold! Harry Potter must not go back to school this year. Terrible things will happen. Harry Potter must stay where he is safe! He is too great, too good, to lose. If Harry Potter goes back to Hogwarts, he will be in mortal danger."
"If I don't go back to Hogwarts, Dobby, then my friends will be in mortal danger. If terrible things are going to happen then I've got to be there to help them. I promise to be on alert, Dobby, but you've got to tell me more. What terrible things? And who's plotting them?"
Dobby made a funny choking noise and then raced to bang his head frantically against the wall.
"All right!" cried Harry, grabbing the elf's arm to stop him. "You can't tell me. I understand. But why are you warning me?" A sudden, unpleasant thought struck him. "Hang on – this hasn't got anything to do with your family, does it? Are they the ones doing the plotting?"
Dobby was as still as a statue, except his eyes which darted between the desk and the nearest wall. He looked torn between punishing himself and terrified anything he did would be taken as confirmation.
"Sorry, Dobby," Harry said. "Forget I asked. I should have known you wouldn't be able to answer that one either."
Dobby stiffly sat back down on the edge of the bed, looking very much like he had unknowingly strolled into a minefield, and still shooting glances at the desk from time to time.
Harry decided it was time to end it. "I want you to know, Dobby, that you're a very good elf. Thank you for warning me. Now that I know trouble is coming I can warn others and try to avoid it myself. You've done a very good job."
With the questioning seemingly at an end, Dobby finally seemed to relax.
"You've tried to help me, Dobby, and you're my friend. Now I'd like to help you, if I can."
Dobby turned and looked up at him, his eyes sparkling with unshed tears. "Harry Potter is too good for words, sir."
"I understand you probably can't tell me who your family is, but is there someone I could talk to about buying you? Is it even possible?" Harry asked.
"It is – possible, sir," Dobby seemed to hunt for words. "Sometimes Dobby must buy things for the family, sir. Small things. They would never trust Dobby with much, sir, but little things like food, quills and ink... There's a place Dobby can go for money. They know Dobby there, sir."
"You mean Gringotts? The bank in Diagon Alley?"
"Oh, yes, sir. They handle the family's money all the time. All the old families have someone there that handles it for them, sir. Dobby's sure–," Dobby said, twisting his ears as if he were trying to twist around his family's rules, "–that if Harry Potter asks around, that is that Harry Potter could find someone... who knows someone... who knows Dobby's family, sir."
Dobby heaved a sigh of relief. "Dobby's sure they could ask Dobby's family if they would sell Dobby to Harry Potter," he smiled.
"That's great Dobby."
Suddenly Dobby's face was stricken. "But sir! Harry Potter must not ask Dobby's family to sell Dobby to him!"
"What? Why not? Don't you want to leave your family?" Harry asked confused.
"Oh, yes, sir. More than anything Dobby would want to work for Harry Potter."
"Then what's the problem?"
"Dobby's family would never sell to Harry Potter, sir. They do not like Harry Potter. If Harry Potter asks the family to sell Dobby, Dobby would likely be killed!" Dobby's hands sprung back over his mouth, as if speaking the dreaded thought would somehow make it come true that instant.
"That's alright, Dobby. I don't want you to get in trouble because of me." Harry tried to comfort the elf. Suddenly, another part of what Dobby said struck him. "Dobby, you said that all the old families have someone there to handle their money?"
"Oh, yes, Harry Potter. That's how they breed their money, sir."
"Well, I have money there, Dobby. Money I got from my parents. That should mean I've got someone there too, shouldn't it? I don't know who it is, but I could write them and find out. Then they could find someone to find someone to find your family and ask them to sell you without them ever knowing who's buying you. Wouldn't that be alright?"
"Harry Potter would do that for Dobby?" Dobby asked standing.
"Absolutely," Harry smiled.
"But you've got to do something for me though, Dobby," Harry said.
"Anything, sir," Dobby said earnestly.
"I'd like to have my letters back."
Dobby's face fell.
"Do you still have them?" Harry asked.
"Dobby has them here, sir," the elf quietly responded as his ears seemed to wilt.
Slowly Dobby's hand went into his pillowcase and withdrew a thick wad of envelopes. Harry could make out Hermione's neat writing, Ron's untidy scrawl, and even a scribble that had to come from the Hogwarts gamekeeper, Hagrid. Dobby held them tightly to his chest.
"Please, Dobby?" Harry asked. "I understand you only want to keep me safe, but I have to keep my friends safe, including you. If I can get those letters then I promise I'll do everything I can to get your family to sell you to me. After that, you can come with me to Hogwarts and help me keep my friends safe. I'll even introduce you and we can all be friends. What do you say?"
Harry could see that he had reached Dobby and put him between two things he really wanted. He had seen it before on Uncle Vernon, usually when it meant him having to choose between giving Harry something he wanted, meaning he wouldn't be around for a while, or refusing Harry's chance to be momentarily happy, even if it meant he'd still be under foot.
With Uncle Vernon it had always been funny; with Dobby it was just heartbreaking. On one hand Dobby could give up the letters and possibly be free from a family who hated him, only to have to follow Harry into danger, while on the other hand he could keep the letters and try to keep Harry from going to Hogwarts, even if it meant never being with people who liked him.
Slowly the tear-streaked Dobby extended the bundle of letters toward him and put them in Harry's hand.
"My apologies, sir. Dobby never should have done that," Dobby sniffed.
"Don't be sorry, Dobby. If you hadn't, you never would've come here and we never would've been friends."
Dobby gave him a watery smile.
"One last thing, Dobby," Harry said, thinking of a rather large flaw in his plan. "I don't have any quill or parchment. All my stuff is locked up in the cupboard under the stairs. Do you think you could get it for me? That way I could write to Gringotts straight away."
Hedwig rattled against the lock on her cage.
"Shh! Sorry, Hedwig, I forgot. She's locked up too. I'd do it myself but I'm not allowed to use magic outside of school," Harry explained.
"Not to worry, sir," Dobby said energetically. "Dobby can do it. House-elves is best at working unnoticed."
Dobby snapped and as quickly and as quietly as that he wafted away like smoke on a breeze, only to return a moment later with Harry's trunk and broom beside him.
"That's brilliant, Dobby. You're amazing! And now Hedwig?"
Dobby nodded, reached through the narrow bars of the owl's cage and wafted them both about a foot away from where they started, leaving only the cage behind.
"Thank you! She's been in there for ages," Harry said as Hedwig gave Dobby an affectionate nip.
"You're most welcome, sir," Dobby said as the snowy owl flew out of the window to finally do some hunting.
"Well, it was very nice to meet you, Dobby, and I hope to see you again very soon," Harry smiled.
"Oh, Dobby is looking forward to it, sir," Dobby replied before disappearing once again.
Harry wished he had been able to learn more about these terrible events that Dobby's family was plotting but since the whole family issue was a big red button that only caused the creature to hurt himself, he figured he had probably gotten everything he could from the tiny elf. He could only hope once he had convinced this mysterious family to sell Dobby to him he'd be able to find out more of what the elf knew.
The jovial sounds from below told Harry that the dinner party had begun to break up. Uncle Vernon must have weaseled his way into the sizable order of drills he'd been looking for and was now shuffling the Masons out the door before the builder could change his mind.
Not wanting his first glimmer of freedom in weeks to be quashed the first time someone opened the door, Harry placed his broom and Hedwig's empty cage inside his wardrobe and hauled his school trunk to the far side of it to hide it from view.
Soon enough, Harry heard the heavy thump of Uncle Vernon's footsteps on the stairs. Not wanting him to burn the recently-received letters like he had done to the first hundred or so letters from Hogwarts, Harry stashed them underneath his pillow before doing what he had intended to do all along, flopping back on his bed to relax.
He landed just in time for the door to crash open admitting the obese whale in question.
"What the devil are you doing up here!" his uncle bellowed, his mustache bristling.
"Nothing," Harry lied, still slightly bouncing.
"Have you any idea how many times I had to cough to cover your nothing? I wouldn't have been surprised if the Masons had fled thinking we had the plague!"
"It sounded like it went well," Harry said diplomatically, finally coming to a rest.
"No thanks to you!" Vernon roared.
Quickly his uncle's eyes darted around the room.
"Where's that bloody pigeon of yours anyway? You let her out?" he said, noting the open window.
"I didn't," Harry said quickly. "I put her cage in the wardrobe. I think this way she'll be quiet."
"Good! Leave it there. Maybe this way I'll get a decent night's sleep!" Vernon slammed the door as he left making more noise than Harry had the entire rest of the day combined.
Getting ready for bed, Harry stuffed his discarded clothes into the crack below the door. He hoped that blotting out the light coming from his side would make the Dursleys think he'd gone to sleep and leave him alone. At the very least he hoped it would slow any invasion down long enough for him to hide anything he didn't want them to see.
Hedwig landed on the window sill, the mouse she caught dangling from her beak, just as Harry sat down and took out his letters. When he went to open them she dropped her catch, flapped her wings and clicked her beak, looking at him reproachfully.
As he wondered what he had done he remembered. It wasn't what he had done that she disapproved of; it was what he hadn't done. He had told Dobby that he'd write to Gringotts straight away and as soon as the little guy had disappeared Harry had forgotten all about it.
Mentally thumping himself, Harry retrieved quill, ink, and parchment from his trunk and got to work as Hedwig returned to her nightly pursuits. Half an hour later he sat back to review what he'd done.
'To Whomever is in Charge of Old Family Accounts at Gringotts:' it started, with as much as he could remember of what his old teacher, Mrs. Trunchbull, had said about writing a proper business letter.
'It has recently come to my attention that virtually every old wizarding family engages your services in managing their money. I don't know if this is the case for me, but if it is, I would like to know who to refer my business dealings to. I have something that needs to be handled discreetly and could certainly make use of their services, should that person exist at all. If such a person does not already exist then I would like to see about setting something like that up.'
Looking at it again, Harry thought he had covered the basics. There wasn't too much he could say though until he knew who he was dealing with, or if he was dealing with anyone at all. He couldn't really spell everything out before he knew if there was anyone on the other end who was actually listening.
One thing still bothered him though. He had been thinking back to whenever Uncle Vernon had to deal with banks and they had always made him come to them in order to discuss anything. Harry hoped it was to insure confidentiality and not so they could sit there silently judging you before turning you away. He supposed he might be able to get to London if Ron made good on his plan to invite him to stay, but even at the earliest it'd still be days away.
Harry took up his quill again to add one last line.
'While I understand that visiting a bank in person for such things is common, I live with muggles and am not able to visit Diagon Alley very often and would prefer them not to know that I have any money. I truly appreciate your help with these concerns.
Having finished her meal, Hedwig hopped down onto the desk, obviously ready for her first delivery in months. Harry folded up the letter and fastened it to her leg before a brainwave struck.
"Oh, hang on a minute. I've got something else for you too," Harry said.
Taking out a small bit of parchment, he quickly scratched out a blanket notice to his friends.
'Thanks so much for writing me and sorry for not responding sooner. Something odd happened which prevented me from getting your letters until just now. I'll tell you all about it when I respond to your actual letters here soon. I just wanted to let you know that I'm still alive and better now than I've been in weeks, so you can expect to see much more of Hedwig in the days to come.
Hope to see you again soon,
He paused for a moment to consider. Just making the round trip to Ron and Hermione, with a quick stop at Gringotts, would probably take Hedwig until tomorrow afternoon to get back, which would mean he would be able to send her back out again tomorrow night or the next morning with replies to their actual letters. Adding a stop to Hogwarts just to let Hagrid know he was going to respond to his letter later would probably push that up to over two full days of flying.
As much as he liked Hagrid, Harry decided that he would have to wait. Once the lines of communication were open hopefully Ron would pull through with his plan and he'd be free from the Dursleys before he knew it. Staying with Ron would free Hedwig up for the longer trip to Hagrid.
With that in mind Harry addressed the note to Ron and Hermione and let Hedwig clasp it with her beak.
"The large one's for Gringotts," Harry yawned. "I'm not sure who's supposed to get it, or even if anyone's there at the moment, but I suppose there must be someone you can leave it with. The smaller one's for both Ron and Hermione. You might want to take it to Hermione first since Ron would probably bin it after reading it."
The owl simply stared at him a moment, as if he would be telling her the correct way to flap her wings next, before swooping silently into the night. Thinking that he might be more tired than he thought to do something so stupid, he decided to save his friends' letters until he was actually awake enough to recognize English as his native tongue.
Harry went to bed with five letters under his pillow and smiled as he drifted off to sleep. It hadn't turned out to be that bad a birthday after all.
AN: I really wanted to avoid the "Harry goes to Gringotts" trope and for those who avoid it, don't worry, this is a very different Gringotts than you're used to seeing.
There's also so much complaining in the HP fandom that it was obvious that Harry was abused and how no teacher would've missed the signs that I made Harry's former teacher Mrs. Trunchbull, a character from "Matilda" by Roald Dahl, who would have seen any signs of abuse as the hallmarks of a proper upbringing. It makes me wonder what a crossover like that would be like, but that's neither here nor there.
Update: I had no idea but my favorite comedian and performer, Tim Minchin, was lyricist and composer for Matilda the Musical. Go check it out it has some great songs.
Anyway, thanks for reading.