OF ELVES AND ELDERS
Harry took Ginny's hand and led slowly down through the castle toward the kitchens. He noticed how small and soft Ginny's hand felt in his work-hardened grip. "I understand now why you were immediately sure that I was an imposter. You recognized physical changes in me. I have changed physically, and in several other ways, but I want you to know that my feelings for you have only deepened!"
Ginny blushed, Ron and Hermione turned away, not wanting to intrude on the moment.
"While we were repairing the castle's protective magic," said Ginny in a dejected tone, "all I could think about was how the training would help you fight against Voldemort." (Ron cringed noticeably). "I was trying to remember everything so I could teach it to you when we met again. Now I find that you already know all the magic."
"I never said I knew all the magic. I am excited to learn what you have to teach, just as excited as I am to teach you what I have learned. Together we'll be stronger," said Harry.
"What exactly happened last night?" queried Ron. "I saw you go to bed. I saw you in your bed when Moody roused us this morning. But I've heard of aid sent to an injured centaur in the forbidden forest, and I hear wild whispers about dark intruders last night. You are included in the rumors. What's up?"
Harry winced a bit as Ron began to speak. Capricio had needled him with sharp claws. Harry recovered quickly and turned to Ron, "It's going to take a bit of time to explain. Let's save that for after we deal with the house elves. Actually as I talk to them you may get a gist of some of the things that have happened. Right now they are in a state and I might be able to assuage some of their disquietude."
Hermione cleared her throat.
"Sorry," said Harry. "Anyway, Dobby knows that I'm going to be arriving, but he doesn't know that you lot will be with me. We'll be on their pitch so just listen and play it by ear."
They made their way down through the castle to the corridor lined with paintings of food. As they rounded the last corner, they could see Dobby waiting in the hallway under a bas-relief sculpture of a watermelon.
Looking from Harry to the others and back, Dobby began, "Thank you Harry Potter. Dobby has been looking forward to this evening, but Dobby has not told the other house elves of our arrangement. Dobby is concerned about Kreacher. Kreacher does his work because Harry Potter commanded him to, but the other elves avoids him. Kreacher is unpleasant to be near because of his mutterings. Dobby worries about Kreacher's loyalty. Harry Potter may want to consider sending Kreacher to another part of the castle during our meeting." Dobby looked frightened, as if he had overstepped his bounds.
"Right you are Dobby," said Harry. "I hadn't considered Kreacher when I made my offer. Do you have a suggestion where I could send Kreacher while we talk?"
"Dobby has a suggestion, but it is not very productive." The elf blanched at his own daring.
"How about the entry hall? There's the broken Gryffindor hour glass," suggested Ron.
Harry considered Ron's idea while once again trying to still Capricio's squirming. "It sounds like a good idea to me. Dobby you can go back to the kitchen. That way it won't appear as if you are involved in the assignment."
"As Harry Potter wishes," said Dobby, and he was gone with a pop.
"Proves my point," said Harry, looking at the location from which the elf disappeared.
"What's that?" asked Hermione.
"Nothing." said Harry. "I'll explain later." Let's go back to the entrance hall for a minute before we go into the kitchen."
The others agreed and they made their way back up through the castle. When they reached the entrance, Harry considered the damage that had been done to the Gryffindor hourglass. "I didn't notice this just a few days from now. I know it will be cleaned up and repaired by then. What says that it isn't Kreacher who facilitates the repair?" His thought reaffirmed his decision. Turning to the centre of the hall he said, "Kreacher."
Immediately Kreacher appeared, still holding a rag he had been using to clean something in the kitchen. He bowed, his nose almost touching the floor, and with deepest loathing he said, "Master called?" And then under his breath, "Master is a nasty half-blood unworthy of The House of Black."
"Yes I did Kreacher. I need your help," said Harry ignoring the muttering. "You were good at repairing things around Grimmauld Place. Do you think you could fix this hourglass and replace the rubies, please?"
Kreacher looked suspiciously at Harry. "Master is asking, not telling?" Then hurriedly, "No wizard has ever asked Keacher please. Not even Kreacher's mistress."
"That's right," said Harry, going on as if no addition had been made. "If it's beyond your abilities just say so and I'll not bother you."
"Kreacher did repair many things at his mistress' house," said Kreacher, skepticism still evident in his tone. Then, "What is the half-blood Master up to? He is pretending he is Kreacher's friend."
"I just knew this castle has very old magic. I didn't want you to attempt anything that might be dangerous to you," replied Harry honestly.
Kreacher looked at Harry as if seeing him for the first time. Muttering, "No wizard has ever worried about Kreacher's safety. Not my mistress, and especially not her son." He then turned to the hourglass as if considering the magic necessary to begin the repair. After a few moments he turned back to Harry. "Kreacher sees no magic that could harm him."
"That's good," said Harry. "I don't want you in any danger. In fact, if I ever ask you to do something that would put you at risk, you may state the reason and refuse the task."
Kreacher eyed Harry as if appraising his veracity. With the least amount of veiled animosity Harry had ever heard the elf use, Kreacher responded, "Kreacher will do as Master requests."
"Thank you. I'll be back in a bit to make sure you are all right," said Harry.
The elf bowed but did not mutter as Harry and his friends left the entry hall.
"I'm proud of you," said Hermione when they were well out of earshot of Kreacher. "If you treat Kreacher with respect, he will see you are not a vile master."
"Don't be daft," said Ron. "Harry was just saying that to keep Kreacher busy while we're off to the kitchen."
"Not really," said Harry once again trying to put down Capricio's wriggling. "I have learned much since..." and he shuddered mentally, "...since this morning. I have learned about other creatures and a good bit about Kreacher in specific. I actually meant what I said."
Ginny squeezed his hand more tightly, silently actualizing her affirmation of his words.
"We're here," said Hermione bringing them up short in front of a painting of a bowl of fruit. She reached out and tickled a pear. It giggled and became a door handle. She opened the door and led them in.
Upon the quartet's entry, the bustle of activity in the kitchen stopped as if by magic. "Dobby must have primed the elves since Kreacher's departure," thought Harry.
Almost as if reading Harry's mind, Dobby stood upon a chair, and in a squeaky voice he addressed the room.
"All of us house elves knows Harry Potter. We knows the tale of Harry Potter and He- Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. We house elves knows that dark magic has been done in the castle. The great Harry Potter has come to tell us what he can about the dark magic and the great Professor Dumbledore."
Dobby jumped from the chair and motioned Harry forward. Harry took position, the kitchen fireplace to his back and began to address the sea of assembled elves. "I don't know about the "great Harry Potter" because I know that nothing I can say will ease your feeling of loss for Albus Dumbledore. I feel that loss as keenly as do you. I can, however, honestly tell you that even though there was an attempt to harm Dumbledore's portrait, it was foiled. I will not attempt to deceive you, the attack was instigated by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. He used a surrogate in an attempt to secure several items from Hogwarts, including Dumbledore's portrait. We believe that the surrogate was utterly stonkered in the attempt of acquiring the things He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named desired. The culprit is no longer a threat to anyone or anything here at Hogwarts. Dumbledore's portrait is now secure. I have spoken with Dumbledore, he is still very concerned for the elves and their families. Right now I feel that there will not be another attempt, but if I am wrong, house elves may be the first to recognize something amiss. I would ask you to alert the staff to anything you sense that is out of the ordinary. Other than that, I will tell you that my friends and I have set an organization in place to fight against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Our goal is to make him pay for all the evil he has perpetrated."
At Harry's declaration, there was a stir in the fireplace behind him. Harry's first thought was an attack by floo. He whirled, wand in hand, and faced the commotion. An indescribably dirty Winky looked up at him from the hearth ashes.
"Is Harry Potter serious about making He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named account for his acts?" Winky's steady words belied her swaying stance.
"We are very serious. We see the damage he has caused throughout the world and intend to learn and do what is necessary to defeat him," said Harry firmly.
"Winky wants to help. Winky knows who is being responsible for both Master's deaths. Winky will do whatever Winky can to kill them, and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."
Harry was taken aback by the heretofore milquetoast elf's stern proclamation. He turned to Dobby for confirmation.
Dobby nodded and began, "It is true Harry Potter. Many Hogwarts house elves is eager to help." A murmur of assent rolled like a wave through the kitchen. "In fact two house elves went to Headmistress McGonagall and were released from service to Hogwarts. Buggle and Twitch have gone out in search of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Dobby and others wanted to go, but we saw we was needed here at Hogwarts. We will join you if you needs us."
"The D.A.; that's the organization that we have formed to confront He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his minions; the D.A. may be able to use your special abilities. However we do not want to put you or your families in any jeopardy. We only have a week of term left to practice, so we may well call on the house elves for help." Harry watched the assembled elves for their reaction to his words.
"Dobby can not speak for all the elves, but Dobby will do anything Harry Potter asks." Dobby's words were met with a tumult of consent.
Harry turned to the fireplace, "Winky you could be of tremendous help, but you will need to get hold of your personal life. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named will take advantage of any weakness he finds among us. I think the other house elves will help get you back to full blush. As for the rest of you...until I determine the best course of action, see everything, hear everything and speak your concerns. Together we can keep Hogwarts safe."
Harry's stomach growled as he spoke. Several of the nearest house elves scampered for food and drink. Harry realized that even though he was back to his own time, he hadn't eaten for hours. "A bit to eat for me and my friends would be most welcome," said Harry. Immediately a tray of sandwiches and a flagon of juice appeared and were handed from elf to elf, stopping directly in front of Harry.
The four friends loaded up and were preparing to leave the kitchen when Harry turned to Dobby, "I promised Headmistress McGonagall that I would have you accompany us back to Professor Dumbledore's office and then to Gryffindor dormitories. Dobby would you come with us?"
"Dobby would be happy to go with Harry Potter and his friends," said the elf with an odd tone to his voice. He led them from the kitchen, and once they were in the hall the elf whispered conspiratorially to Harry. "Dobby is pleased with your request, but Dobby knows Harry Potter has enough protection without Dobby."
Harry was pondering Dobby's statement when Capricio stirred in his pocket. Harry looked at Dobby and understanding passed between them. Dobby knew of the dragon's presence and deemed it a formidable protector. Noting the thought for later, Harry reaffirmed the request for chaperone. "We are truly glad to have your protection. May we stop by the entrance hall to check on Kreacher on our way to Gryffindor tower?"
"As Harry Potter wishes," said Dobby, leading them up through the castle.
They arrived in the entrance hall just as Kreacher was putting the last of the rubies in Gryffindor's hourglass and sealing the glass. "Well done Kreacher," said Harry enthusiastically. "Would you like a bite to eat?" he asked as he offered one of the sandwiches.
Kreacher eyed Harry suspiciously and said under his breath, "Master is trying to be pleasant again, but Kreacher knows wizards better than that," but he took the offered sandwich.
Once again going on as if he had not heard the dark comment, Harry said sincerely, "A new school rule requires that students be accompanied by those holding more magical power than they. Kreacher, would you be willing to escort us to the seventh floor?"
Kreacher stared at Harry for a long moment. Without muttering he said, "Kreacher will come with master."
Harry took the lack of addendum as a positive sign. The group traveled to the seventh floor in silence.
Allowing themselves to be led, soon they were standing before the gargoyle guarding the stair leading to McGonagall's office. He gave the password and the gargoyle bowed itself aside. As they rode the upward spiraling stair, Harry had a moment of indecision. He had made up his mind by the time they stepped off the stair at the landing.
Turning to his friends, Harry began almost apologetically, "Dumbledore asked me to come here before I went to bed for the night. Give me just a moment, and with Dumbledore's consent, I'll bring you into the office."
If any of the group was upset at the turn of events, they kept council to themselves.
Harry faced the mirr panel, verified his wand choice, and initiated the pass sequence. The door opened and he slipped inside. Dumbledore was waiting attentively for him.
"Thank you for returning," said the Porcrux. "I wanted to take a moment of your time. I have recollections of returning from forays into time. I changed from the experience, often it was difficult to adjust to new knowledge in ordinary circumstances."
"I think I saw a bit of that today," said Harry wryly.
"I would advise you to take things slowly as you readjust to a normal lifestyle. It will get easier as you share with your friends. Be judicious in what you share. You have had the luxury of time. Very few will be able to grasp what you have been through. Some may even be jealous of new abilities. Caution is my best advice. Come see me tomorrow after you have had some rest. We will discuss your dilemma over Slytherin's magic."
"Thank you," said Harry. "I have a question. Outside the door are Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Dobby, and Kreacher. Can they come in and say goodnight?"
"Am I to assume that you have begun to dispel our rumor of damage and danger?" asked Dumbledore.
"Yes," said Harry thinking back on Nigellus' plan and its counter. "I have spoken with the house elves and told them you were not damaged. It will appear that we are trying to contain the rumor."
"In that case," said Dumbledore's Porcrux, "I believe saying good night to your friends would be acceptable."
Grateful for the chance to share a bit of his recent experience with his friends, Harry let them into the office.
Dumbledore smiled crookedly from his portrait. "Welcome friends," he said a bit mechanically. "Thank you for your concern and your support, but now I think it is time for you to retire to your beds."
The Porcrux nodded them from the room. No words were exchanged during the remainder of the trip around the seventh floor corridor to Gryffindor tower. Each of the fellowship seemed lost in private contemplation of what they had just witnessed. The elves left them off after they had given the password to the portrait of the Fat Lady. Harry thanked them, and the two elves promptly disappeared. He momentarily studied the apparition trails with interest as Ginny held the portrait open.
Once inside the empty common room, the trio assailed Harry with a barrage of questions. Capricio strained to get loose. Harry decided to introduce his friends. "I know you have loads of questions, and I am more than willing to answer, but first I need to acquaint you with a new friend. We have been through quite a lot together. I realize this will be a shock, so prepare yourselves.
Harry reached inside his robes and carefully removed Capricio. The reactions were about as Harry had expected. Hermione stifled a scream. Ginny gasped but stood her ground. Ron backed away so quickly that he toppled over a sofa, disappearing behind it.
The wyvern clawed its way up Harry's sleeve and perched on his shoulder. Harry offered a bit of ham sandwich to the dragon, which was gladly accepted.
Seemingly ignoring what had just happened to Ron, Hermione spoke first, "Harry it's illegal to harbor a dragon."
"I know that," said Harry almost defiantly. "Capricio has saved my skin more than once in the last year. As I recount my story, you will see just how important this little dragon has been. And as aggravating as it will be, I suggest that we eat and get a night's sleep before I start the tale. It will take a considerable amount of time to recount the story."
Harry's pronouncement was met with stony silence. Ron gathered himself from the floor and, as he came around to sit down, the wyvern spread his wings and sent puffs of flame in Ron's direction.
Annoyed with Capricio's attitude, Harry silently negated the flames and began to explain, "Capricio was tasked with Slytherin's edict to drive muggle-born from the castle. He is Slytherin's monster. The basilisk was Riddle's addition to the Chamber of Secrets." Harry hesitated as Capricio continued to advance on Ron. "Stop! Capricio no!"
Harry's words seemed to have little effect on the recalcitrant dragon. Ron backed away in wordless horror. Seeing no alternative, Harry conjured a protective sphere around Ron just as the wyvern breathed a second spout of flame. Harry eradicated the flames as they split at the boundary of Ron's protective orb and careered off into the common room.
What's gotten into you?" exclaimed Harry as he struggled to regain control over the errant dragon. "You do realize that Ron is a pure blood wizard don't you?"
Capricio seemed unabashed by his pursuit of Ron. Instead he fought Harry's attempt to subdue him.
Ron drew his wand and pointed it threateningly at the small dragon.
Fearing Capricio's ability to become enormous, Harry reluctantly placed a protective orb around the dragon to stem further escalation of hostilities. The dragon looked at him as if to say he couldn't believe that Harry would stoop so low.
"Harry that's wonderful magic!" said Hermione with admiration in her voice. "You must show us how you did that!"
Harry removed Ron's protection and started an explanation, "Capricio and I had a deal. He promised to hold his judgment on muggle-born until he had an opportunity to get to know them."
"That dragon's balmy," said Ron as he continued to back away. "If you hadn't been here, I think he might have done me in."
Harry was about to argue when he saw the look in the dragon's eye and realized that his protestations would be a lie. "Let's call it a night. We're all tired. We can take this up tomorrow after we've all had a chance to rest." He took Ginny by the hand and led her to the foot of the girl's dormitory stairs. Kissing her lightly, he bid her a good night. He gathered Capricio and headed for the boy's dormitories not wanting to disturb Ron and Hermione's good nights.
"Oi, Harry!" shouted Ron. "You aren't taking that monster into our dormitory are you? He could barbecue us all as we sleep."
"He is more than secure inside this magic. I think I just need a bit of time to settle him down. If I don't think he's ready, I'll leave the magic in place tonight. You won't be in any danger. I guarantee it."
Ron did not seem convinced but nonetheless turned to escort Hermione across the common room.
Harry turned and made his way up to his familiar bed. Entering the dormitory, he was comforted to hear the rhythmic breathing of his dorm-mates. Apologizing to Capricio as he prepared for bed, Harry looked deeply into the dragon's black eyes and saw that it would be prudent to leave him inside of the protective magic. "I know that you want to protect me, but let's just sleep on it tonight and we'll come to an arrangement tomorrow."
Capricio did not look happy, and Harry was troubled by the thought of restraining the beast after it had meant so much to him over the past months.
"I know it's trite, but this is for everyone's best. Get some rest. Tomorrow you can fly free on the grounds." As Harry's head touched his pillow he considered for the briefest instant how luxurious it was to sink into the soft bed after nearly a year's absence. The thought was extinguished immediately by overwhelming waves of dreamless sleep. Harry never heard Ron come to bed.