For Your Own Good
On the Spot
Harry stopped long enough before entering number four to scout under the hedges until he found a stick about the same size and shape as his wand. His Aunt Petunia, he was quite sure, would recognize a genuine Ollivanders wand on sight, and the cross-country car chase he'd written for himself and the Dursleys in fun would become a highly unpleasant reality.
I'm not going to let that happen. Not when I'm this close.
Lifting his chin, he opened the door and stepped inside, walking down the hallway into the kitchen, and into chaos.
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO HIM?" Uncle Vernon bellowed as soon as he caught sight of Harry, pointing to Dudley, who was wrapped in Aunt Petunia's arms in the corner, having what sounded, for once, like genuine hysterics. "WHAT KIND OF UNNATURAL, FREAKISH—"
Henry's responses surged forward in Harry's mind. About to repress them as usual, he realized at the last second that his alter ego's take-no-prisoners attitude was precisely what was needed here. "I told him a stupid story, and he believed it," he said, allowing his scorn at Dudley's boundless idiocy to show on his face as he never had before. "I saw a dog in the park, so I told him this was a magic stick and if I waved it and whistled, I could make a dog appear." He pulled his substitute wand from his pocket. "The thing is, most dogs will come to you if you wave a stick and whistle, because they think you want to play with them."
"Play with them?" Uncle Vernon snatched the stick from Harry's hand and snapped it, ignoring Aunt Petunia's half-voiced protest. "Play with them? You called that vicious beast over to have it attack him! I don't know where you found that animal, or how you got it to do what you wanted, but you're finished, boy, do you hear me? You are finished! We're ringing up that Miss McGrath right this very minute—" He nodded to Aunt Petunia, who patted Dudley (now down to the hiccupping stage) once more on the head and hurried out of the room, clearly headed for the telephone. "—and you don't leave this house again till she sends somebody to collect you!"
"Fine by me," said Harry as insolently as he could manage when most of his mind was filled with celebratory whooping. "Anywhere's better than here."
"You think so?" Uncle Vernon snorted. "You really think so, boy? After as lenient as we've been with you, as we've had to be—if it were up to me, I would've seen what a few good beatings would do towards breaking that stubborn spirit of yours, but no, we had to watch our step every second, especially after that meddling teacher filed an official inquiry about you!" He threw the bits of stick onto the floor and started to pace. "Oh, it never came to anything, I made sure of that, but we couldn't lay a hand on you from that day forward and now we see what comes of it. Blasted woman kept her job, even. I tried to get her sacked, but the headmistress wouldn't listen, talked a lot of twaddle about good results and happy students and the like."
Harry wiped the astonishment off his face as Uncle Vernon turned back to him, shaking off the past. "But now," the older man said softly, the blotchiness of his face subsiding into a uniform shade of contented magenta. "Now, you're finally going to get what you deserve, and my only regret is that I won't be there to see it."
Aunt Petunia came back before Harry could think of a suitable answer to this. "They'll have someone here within ten minutes," she said, casting a fearful glance towards Harry. "They said not to let him leave the house again…"
"Sit," Uncle Vernon ordered Harry, pointing at one of the kitchen chairs. "Stay."
Stifling his urge to plop down on the floor and pant with his tongue hanging out, Harry took the indicated seat and pulled his book out of his pocket again. Shasta and Bree had just encountered Aravis for the first time, and Harry hadn't been able to stop himself envisioning her as a slimmer, better-educated, female version of Dudley.
But if I remember the story right, after she has a few adventures and realizes she's not the most important person in the world, she turns out okay. Maybe there's hope for dear little Dudders after all.
He sneaked a glance over the top of the book at his cousin, who was currently stuffing a huge slice of chocolate cake into his face.
Or maybe not.
Leaning back in his chair, Harry read on.
Three chapters later, the doorbell rang, and Uncle Vernon went to answer it, coming back with a woman whose face reminded Harry strongly of Ripper the obese bulldog (cosseted property of his uncle's sister Marge, who came to visit her brother's family every few years and sneaked Dudley banknotes while egging Ripper on to chase Harry up trees). "Petunia, this is Miss Nigellus," he introduced the two.
"Miz Nigellus," the woman corrected in a voice like a handful of rocks going through a meat grinder. "If you don't mind. So this is him, is it?" Her eyes, beady brown and set very close together, surveyed Harry from top to toe in one dismissive swoop. "Thought as much. Got troublemaker written all over him. Never you mind, we'll soon straighten him out." From her pocket, she produced a notepad and pen. "What's his name again? Harvey Plotter?"
"Harry Potter." Harry got to his feet, staring boldly at Ms. Nigellus. "And I'm not a troublemaker."
"That's what they all say." Ms. Nigellus snorted. "But you don't get sent where you're being sent for nothing!"
"And where's that?" Harry challenged. "What's it called?"
"What's it called!" Ms. Nigellus started to laugh, reminding Harry of the meat grinder turned on high. "What's it called, he asks! What's the matter, never heard of St. Brutus's Institute for Incurably Criminal Boys?"
"No." Harry felt a sudden fluttering of nerves. If he'd actually done magic without realizing it to summon up that dog, if this was the way he was going to be informed that he'd been expelled from Hogwarts without ever getting to set foot in the castle, if St. Brutus's was the wizarding world's solution to children who couldn't bring their magic under control—
Ms. Nigellus looked up from her pad to rake him with another beady glare.
For the briefest of seconds, both her eyebrows flashed a brilliant shade of pink.
Harry choked, and tried valiantly to look as though he were fighting to keep back an angry outburst. Ms. Nigellus finished whatever she was writing down, snapped her notepad shut, and nodded once. "I'll take a moment with him now, and then he goes straight to his room," she told the Dursleys. "We can keep an eye on him there, make sure he's not up to anything he shouldn't be. You'll want to have him stay in there most of the time for the next few weeks, and we'll contact you closer to 1 September with the arrangements for getting him safely to St. Brutus's. No, don't thank me!" she barked, as both Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia began to do exactly this. "It's my job, and I love it. Now, Harvey, Harry, whatever your name is…"
Attempting to look cowed and uncertain, Harry followed Ms. Nigellus into the hallway, to the bottom of the stairs, out of direct line of sight from the kitchen. The woman pressed a finger against her lips, then twisted her wrist, summoning what Dudley would have recognized as another "magic dog-calling stick", and swooped it twice around them. "All right," she said resignedly, sliding her wand away again. "Let's have it."
Harry succumbed to his fit of helpless laughter. "St. Brutus's Institute for Incurably Criminal Boys?" he managed to gasp out on his third try.
"You try coming up with something on the spot that way!" Tonks, her features restored to their normal conformation, gave him a big-sisterly punch in the shoulder. "Prat. But I do have to ask, how'd you make your cousin think you were setting a big vicious dog on him without getting tagged for underage magic? I ducked into the Trace Room to record my visit here before I left the Ministry, after your aunt rang up that number McGonagall gave her all hysterical and yapping on about a dog, and nothing was so much as stirring on the sensors…"
"Because I didn't do any magic." Harry caught his breath and got himself calmed down. "There really was a dog. And it was pretty big, but it wasn't vicious. Not to me, anyway." He grinned. "It tried to take a piece out of Dudley's trousers. Probably because he had me cornered, with his gang, and it could smell I was scared."
"Huh." Tonks rubbed a bit of her Muggle-style blouse between her fingers, thinking. "Local dog? One you know?"
"I've never seen it before. It's all skinny and dirty, probably a stray. But Dudley and his friends were about to take turns pounding on me, and I would've had to use magic to stop them if the dog hadn't been there…" Harry let the sentence trail off, appealingly.
Tonks sighed. "You and Mal," she said. "Two of a kind. Right, then, hold still." She produced her wand again and rapped him hard on the top of the head with it. Harry bit back a yip, then blinked in astonishment as streamers of cold flowed down over his body, rendering him all but see-through.
"There, you're Disillusioned," said Tonks, her features blurring together until she was a dead ringer for Harry himself. Quickly charming her clothes to match what he was wearing, she nodded towards the front door before snapping her wand towards the hallway, dismissing whatever magic she'd used to render their conversation private. "Now get upstairs and don't you make another bit of trouble for these good people tonight!" she boomed in Ms. Nigellus's voice. "Don't bother to see me out, Mr. Dursley, Mrs. Dursley—we'll be in touch, never you worry…"
Swallowing another laugh, Harry let himself out the front door as his image scurried up the stairs. He was halfway down the walk when Tonks reappeared beside him with a bang like a balloon blowing up, once again looking like herself. "I charmed your bed to look like you're in it," she said. "In case they peek in the door." Glancing over her shoulder, she shook her head. "Merlin's pocket watch, they're really something, aren't they? Like the stories pureblood parents tell their kids about Muggles, only worse, and I didn't think that was possible."
Harry shrugged before realizing this gesture would be wasted, since Tonks couldn't see his shoulders. "You just have to know how to keep out of their way," he said. "I'm used to it by now."
Tonks muttered something under her breath which Harry suspected was uncomplimentary to the Dursleys, then took his arm as they turned onto the pavement. "Lead the way," she said. "Let's have a look at this big, un-vicious dog of yours."
The short distance to the park was swiftly covered, and Tonks reversed the Disillusionment on Harry, leaving him feeling as though he'd had a hot shower, before they began looking for the dog. "What did he look like?" Tonks called as she peered under the bench in the gathering twilight. "Big, you said?"
"Really big, bigger than me." Harry approached a clump of bushes. "And really dirty, too, like he'd rolled in the mud for a while." A rustle from the bushes brought him to a halt. "Over here! I think I found him!"
Tonks was by his side so quickly Harry would have suspected she'd done the popping-out-of-the-air thing again, except that he hadn't heard any noise. "Stay back," she cautioned, drawing her wand. "I know he was friendly to you once, but strays learn to do whatever they have to do to survive. If you make the wrong move and he starts seeing you as a threat…"
The bushes rustled again, and a broad, black nose poked out. "Hey, boy," Harry said quietly, going to one knee so he could see the dog's wary brown eyes. "I told you I'd come back. This is Tonks." He indicated the witch standing beside him, wand in hand but carefully not pointed in the dog's direction. "She's a friend too. You can come out. It's okay. We want to help you."
"You sure about this?" Tonks muttered out of the side of her mouth as the rest of the dog emerged from the bushes. "That thing could pass for a young bear, no problem."
Harry ignored this, instead scooting forward and holding out his hand, fingers curled under so as to be out of biting range. "My name's Harry," he said as the dog sniffed his knuckles. "I don't think we covered that part yet."
"You do realize it's a dog." Tonks was trying to look severe, but the twitch at one corner of her lips spoiled the effect. "It doesn't speak English."
"How do you know?" Harry extended his fingers and stroked along the line of the dog's jaw, then scratched behind one of its ears. "Maybe he's a magical dog. A human being who got transfigured into a dog somehow, or even another one like Professor McGonagall, an Animagus—"
The dog flinched, and Harry withdrew his hand immediately. "I think I hurt him," he said guiltily. "But he's all skin and bones. It's hard to know where's safe to touch him and where isn't."
Tonks sighed. "I knew I should have ignored that letter back in third year," she said, more to herself than to Harry, then went to one knee beside him and the dog. "Arm, please," she said, holding out her hand, and Harry frowned but laid his arm in her grasp. "Good. Hang on tight, now. And you," she said to the dog, who obediently placed a forepaw in her other hand. "Everybody take a deep breath, and hold it."
She started to stand up and turn around, pulling Harry and the dog with her—
And the world squeezed in close and went black all around, giving Harry the sensation that he was being dragged headfirst through a rubber tube much too small for him. He thought he might have yelled in shock, but the sound was lost in the airless compression of whatever this was—
With a pop more felt than heard, light, sound, sense returned to the world. Harry gasped in a breath and looked around in astonishment. The tiny square of trees and grass and playground equipment had been replaced by the living room of a small, cluttered flat, with Quidditch posters and Hufflepuff pennants decorating every inch of wall space.
"My place," said Tonks, releasing both him and the dog, who shook all over as if he'd just climbed out of the water. "Pardon the mess, but I barely have time to eat and sleep some days, much less clean up around here. Kitchen's through there." She nodded towards a door in the opposite wall. "Think I have some decent-sized bowls in one of the cabinets. Why don't you get our friend here a drink, and I'll go make a firecall." She chuckled once. "Since I know what Mal would do to me if I left him out of something as interesting as this. You," she said sternly to the dog, who tried to look like he hadn't been about to start sniffing at the laundry littering the rug. "Sit. Stay."
Harry stifled a laugh and went to get the water, returning with it to find the dog obediently sitting and staying. His eyes brightened at the sight of the bowl, but he held still until Harry had cleared a spot and placed it on the floor. Then he got to his feet and began to lap with surprising daintiness for his size.
After watching the dog for a few moments, for lack of anything better to do, Harry started gathering up clothes, being careful not to look too closely at any of the things he was holding. Tonks was, after all, a witch, and laundry day at Tudor Lane had taught him that witches wore certain items of clothing that wizards did not, about which they had no sense of humor whatsoever.
No matter how funny it looks to try and turn them into earmuffs for the cats…
He had a tidy little pile of clothing near one wall and was starting on the scattered pieces of parchment when a loud whoosh caught his ear, and a moment later a slightly sooty Draco appeared in the doorway. "All right, Harry?" his friend asked, raking ashes out of his hair. "Where's the—" His eyes widened as he caught sight of the dog. "Merlin's curtain rods, he's huge!"
"Told you so." Tonks nudged her cousin out of the way and came into the living room behind him. "Ah, Harry, you didn't have to do that. You're a guest here."
"I just didn't want him to slobber on anything you needed." Harry gestured to the dog, who had finished the bowl of water and was regarding each of the three humans closely in turn. "So what's next?"
"Next, we should probably feed him. But not too much," Tonks added quickly as the dog's head turned towards her. "If he's that skinny, he's been on short rations quite a while, and we'll regret it if we try and stuff him like a Christmas goose. He gets small meals, but regular ones—and I know that look," she said to Draco, who was giving her much the same wide-eyed hopeful gaze as was the dog. "You haven't had any dinner yet, have you? Or Harry?"
"I was going to finish reading the chapter I was on and then head back to help with it, but Dudley and his gang came looking for me first." Harry held up a finger to signal 'in a minute' as Draco cast him a curious look. "So I never got the chance."
"Food all around it is." Tonks waved for the boys to precede her to the kitchen. "You stay put," she said to the dog. "I know you want to be into everything, but you're a mess."
"Couldn't you just—" Harry mimed waving a wand.
"I could, but I don't know how he'll take to magic." Tonks frowned. "Though come to think, he took Apparating here pretty well, didn't he? Let me give it a whirl. You two start foraging for sandwich makings."
Tossing her a two-fingered salute, Harry turned and went into the tiny kitchen, where he pulled down plates from the cabinet beside the one where he'd found the bowl earlier. Draco stepped away from the refrigerator with his arms full of bags and bottles, which he started lining up on the counter beside the plates. "Spill it," he said shortly. "All Tonks told me was you found a great big dog. I didn't hear anything about your cousin, or how she got involved in the first place …"
"Professor McGonagall must have asked her if she'd respond to that phone number she gave my aunt and uncle, as 'Miss McGrath'. You remember." Harry went to the sink to wash his hands before assembling his sandwich, as Draco, clearly at home in the flat, climbed onto a clear space of countertop to get at a high shelf which held bags of crisps. "So Dudley and his friends decided they'd catch me in the park and beat me up, say I'd attacked Dudley and they were stopping me…"
By the time Harry had finished his story (Draco dissolving into appreciative laughter at the near-biting of Dudley's behind, and at Tonks's spur-of-the-moment name for the fictional school Harry would be attending), Tonks and the dog had joined them in the kitchen, the dog a great deal cleaner than before but still coated thinly with grime, and with a vague shine on top of his grungy coat. "Sealing Spell," said Tonks when she saw Harry looking at it. "It'll keep the rest of that dirt from going everywhere until we can give him an actual bath. Which, if he's anything like any other dog I've known, he's not going to like, and I'm not sure I want to use magic to hold him for that. He could struggle and hurt himself."
Vague memories from when Pearl had been tiny floated into Harry's mind, and he took a bite of sandwich and chewed to give himself time to think. Mom had this plastic baby holder for the bath, bespelled for comfort and everything, but Pearl didn't like it, she'd scream and fight and kick, until one day Jeanie asked if she could help…
"What if a person held onto him instead?" he asked when his mouth was free again. "He seems to like being patted, so maybe he'd sit still for his bath if there was somebody in there with him."
Tonks's lips twitched again. "Are you volunteering?" she asked, her hair turning briefly blue before reverting to her preferred pink.
"Sure." Harry glanced at the floor, where the dog was munching steadily through a bowlful of chicken and rice scrounged from several different takeaway containers. "I found him, didn't I?"
"Why should you get to have all the fun?" Draco objected. "I want in too."
"Now hang on a second here." Tonks set her sandwich down. "You both want to climb in my shower with an enormous, questionably friendly animal? When I'm not supposed to have any one of you here, let alone all three, and if anybody gets hurt there'll be hell to pay from five different directions?"
"He's not going to hurt us." Harry held out a crisp, and the dog sniffed at it, then nipped it deftly out of his fingers. "See? He knows who his friends are."
"Besides, you can put Safety Charms on the shower." Draco caught a piece of tomato which was falling out the back of his sandwich. "That should keep anything from going too far wrong."
Tonks sighed. "Why do I get the feeling I should never have children of my own?" she asked the light fixture. "All right, fine. As soon as we're done eating, everybody gets a general scrubdown."
Sandwiches eaten and dishes piled in the sink, the little party reassembled outside the shower stall, which Tonks started charming to have softer walls while Harry and Draco stripped down and pulled on the swim trunks Tonks had conjured for them, red for Harry, gold for Draco. Harry folded his glasses and set them beside the sink, where the dog sniffed at them. "Don't you dare," Harry warned him. "I need those."
"You really think he'd hurt them?" Draco asked, too quietly for Tonks to hear over the sound of the water she was now adjusting for temperature. "I mean, look at him. Don't you think he might be…" The seemingly shapeless gesture, upwards and outwards, nonetheless conveyed its meaning precisely.
"I don't know." Harry looked at the dog. The dog looked back, his chocolate-colored eyes innocently curious. "He's the right size, but the wrong shape. Too skinny."
"That may not mean anything." Draco slid his fingers along the dog's side, scowling at the protruding ribs. "Not when he's half-starved. Can't tell anything by his fur, he could be any color under the sun and we wouldn't know it with all this dirt…"
"But his eyes are wrong." Harry grimaced as this detail finally settled into place. "Dad's are bright gray, almost silver, and that's not part of the disguise, it's natural. Pearl's got them too. So he can't be."
"Unless he changed them somehow." Draco's objection had the sound of someone trying to convince himself. "That's not hard, it's just a basic bit of transfiguration, and we know he's good at that."
"But you have to have a wand for it, and where would he get one?" Harry sighed, the half-formed hopes he'd been harboring in the back of his mind dissolving into dust and drifting away on his mental wind. "Suppose he's just a dog after all, then."
"Pretty good dog, though." Draco scratched gently behind one of the dog's ears. "Already knows the difference between people who need biting and people who don't."
"It's ready when you are," said Tonks, turning around. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing." Harry blotted at his eyes with the back of his hand. "Just talking. Should the spell come off him before we go in?"
"Definitely." Tonks directed her wand across the dog, and the shine of the Sealing Spell disappeared. "Right. Troops may advance at will."
"Who's Will?" asked Harry, and dodged Tonks's smack before climbing into the shower. Letting the warm water soak his shoulders, he made encouraging noises towards the dog. The dog regarded the shower dubiously, but after sniffing at the water pooling around Harry's feet and glancing back at Tonks and Draco as though for reassurance, he clambered over the lip which kept the water contained and nosed his way under the spray. Draco squeezed in along the wall, and Tonks pulled the curtain across and secured it with a spell down both sides.
"Be ready," she called over the noise of the shower. "As soon as the water gets through his fur to his skin, he's probably going to—"
The dog set his feet, raised his shoulders, and shook vigorously. Draco had time to throw an arm up to cover his face, and Harry managed to turn away, but both of them still got soaked from top to toe with muddy water. "Thanks for the warning," Harry called back, grinning across at Draco, who was stripping dirt off his arms with a disgusted look. "Can we get some soap in here, maybe?"
A bottle floated up and over the rod from which the shower curtain hung. Draco snagged it out of the air and opened it. "Don't you have anything that doesn't smell?" he complained.
"What's wrong, you don't like watermelon?" Tonks laughed. "Chuck it back, I'll pull out the manly stuff Charlie left behind last time he was over."
Draco lobbed the bottle back over the rod, and Harry caught the replacement, popping the top off. A faint scent of herbs wafted from it, reminding him of the Apothecary or his mom's potions nook in the basement at Tudor Lane. "Better?" he asked, holding out the bottle for both Draco and the dog to approve.
"Better," Draco agreed after taking a sniff, as the dog nudged his snout against the bottle. "I think he likes it too."
"Right." Harry poured a generous dollop of the viscous light blue liquid into his hand, passed the bottle over to Draco, and began lathering the dog. "Who's Charlie?" he asked as he scrubbed.
"Charlie Weasley." Draco nodded towards the curtain, both his hands being buried in grimy fur. "Her boyfriend."
"Ex-boyfriend," corrected Tonks. "Nothing terrible," she added at the boys' noises of sympathy, "it's just that he's headed for Romania to do dragon-ish things, and I'm staying here for my Auror apprenticeship, and that's a bit longer distance than either of us wanted to try on for size right now. We could always pick it back up if he's ever assigned to one of the preserves in Wales or Scotland."
"Speaking of Charlie." Draco scrubbed a bit harder at one of the spots on his side of the dog, then used his hand to funnel the water from the shower onto it. "Guess what color he actually is under all that dirt."
Harry craned his neck to look, and snickered. The clean bit of fur between Draco's hands gleamed distinctly reddish-orange.
"No kidding?" The tip of Tonks's wand traced a circle on the shower curtain, which promptly turned transparent within those boundaries, revealing her face. "Wouldn't have guessed it myself. But we're not naming him Weasel or anything like that," she warned, pointing a finger at Draco. "I know how your so-called sense of humor works."
"He does need a name, though." Harry worked his own lather carefully through the dog's fur, then rinsed away a long strip of brown-gray suds, revealing another swath of coppery coat. "Assuming somebody's keeping him. I can't, at least not for the next few weeks, and the Hogwarts letter said a cat, an owl, or a toad, nothing about dogs…"
"I'd love to have him, but I don't have the space here, and I'm not exactly overflowing with free time, y'know?" Tonks, along with Harry and the dog, turned to look at Draco. "Which just leaves you, little cousin."
"Bet I end up taller than you," Draco muttered.
"Yeah, but you aren't yet." Tonks grinned. "So, you think you can talk Aunt Cissy into this one?"
"Why not? She gives me anything else I want." Draco shrugged. "Other than a normal life and a few actual friends, but I'm working on that for myself. Besides." He squeezed the bottle again, getting another palmful of liquid. "Everybody's going to expect me to be the perfect stuck-up pureblood brat, pulling the 'my daddy's a school governor so I can do whatever I want' card out of my sleeve all the time. Why not use it to get something I'll actually enjoy?" He carefully lathered the top of the dog's head, shielding the brown eyes from soap with his other hand. "How about it, boy, you want to go to Hogwarts?"
The dog's enthusiastic bass bark echoed off the shower walls, making everyone laugh.
Remember, just because the characters are convinced of something, doesn't make it true. But it also doesn't make it untrue…
Yes, I'm an evil author. You knew this.
Thanks to everyone who has pledged at my Patreon page, purchased any of my originals, or left reviews at any of my fanfic sites! Your support is greatly appreciated!
Fiction Friday post on Anne's Randomness tomorrow, another chapter of this story probably on Saturday, and maybe some writing in a different area as well—who knows? Only my Muse, and she's not sharing yet. Until then, cheers!