“We don’t have to do this, you know,” Ron says, one hand gripping Hermione’s sleeve as they stare down at the giant hole where the sinks used to be. Harry looks quickly at his beat-up watch. Myrtle only agreed to keep everyone away until six, and it's nearly four.
“I know,” Hermione says, and her voice only shakes a little bit. “But I want to. I-I have to see it.”
Harry steps up beside them, until the toes of his trainers poke out over the empty space. “I can go down first,” he offers.
Hermione clutches his arm, like she's afraid he'll fall. “You’re sure it’s safe?”
“Definitely,” Ron says with a nod. Harry's willing to bet that most of that certainty is for Hermione's sake; once Ginny was safe, Ron confessed he never wanted to step foot near the Chamber again. “The only one that really got hurt was Lockheart, and the idiot did that to himself once we were already down there.”
Actually... "I did almost die,” Harry feels compelled to point out.
“Right. But that was from the snake, not the trip down.”
Hermione presses her face into her hands. “This is a horrible idea.”
“Are we going back to Great Hall, then?” Ron asks.
She lets out a moan of despair—most likely at the latest stupid decision they’re about to make—then says, “No.” She stands taller, straightens her shoulders and plants her hands on her hips. Harry recognizes her expression from when she stared down Snape's riddle last year. “I’m doing this. We’re doing this.”
They stand there a moment longer, then another.
From one of the stalls behind them, Myrtle coughs.
Right, then. Deciding they’ve waited long enough, Harry makes sure his wand is tucked safely away and says, “See you at the bottom!” Then he hops over the edge and into the pipe, and the sound of Hermione’s startled shriek follows him down.
“Harry James Potter!” If the sound of little bones crunching beneath their shoes hadn’t alerted him to Ron and Hermione’s arrival, the scolding would have. “What on earth were you thinking, jumping like that!”
“You’re down here too,” he points out, offended. “You did the same thing!”
“I most certainly did not.” Apparently too upset to worry about—or maybe even notice—the giant snake skin stretched out beside them, Hermione marches right up to him and pokes him in the chest. “You jumped. I eased my way off of the ledge like a normal person.”
Harry looks to Ron for help, but all he does is shrug. “You’re on your own, mate.”
Hermione stomps her foot. “It’s not funny!”
“I know.” Before he can second guess himself, he leans in to wrap his arms around her in a hug—the first hug he’s ever given anyone. It feels… weird. He likes it. “But it’s fine, see,” he says, stepping back and stretching out his arms for her to see for herself that he’s not hurt. “We’re all fine.”
She only looks at him, eyes wide.
It occurs to him then that maybe he wasn’t supposed to hug her, that maybe he did it wrong.
Ron swoops in before he can worry too long, throwing one arm around Harry’s neck and the other around Hermione’s, tugging them both off balance. “We are fine,” he says, ignoring Harry’s laughter when they all nearly tumble to the floor together. “But that tunnel isn’t. We’re gonna need to fix if if we want to go any farther.”
“Oh, is that all?”
Hermione wriggles out of Ron’s hold, turning to face the rubble that blocks the way. He thinks he sees her rub at her eyes with the back of her hand, but then she’s brandishing her wand, and he’s too busy being impressed with her to wonder if she’d been crying.
“Brilliant,” Ron says as they watch the stone lift away, and he and Harry share a grin before they take off after her down the newly revealed path.
Harry stops them before opening the final door to the chamber. “Are you sure about this?” he asks one more time.
Ron has gone pale, but he nods, his jaw clenched.
Hermione wrings her hands. “You killed it,” she says, eyeing the door like it might bite her. “The…the basilisk. It’s dead.”
“You said it almost killed you.”
She swallows. Nods. “I want to see it.”
He opens the door. The smell hits them first, and then they see it. Ron and Hermione go utterly still beside him. “Oh,” Hermione says eventually, her voice wet. She reaches out one hand, wraps it around his wrist. “Oh, Harry.”
Ron takes a small step forward then stops, his gaze trained on the basilisk’s giant corpse. He isn’t breathing. “I thought it’d be less…”
“Big?” Harry offers.
But Ron shakes his head. “Frightening,” he says instead, voice quiet. Then, “I’m going to hug you now.” At Harry’s startled look, he attempts a grin. “If that’s alright.”
Huh. It is alright. “Okay,” Harry says, and then Ron slams into him, burying his face in his neck as his hands clench at his jumper, twisting it in his fists. He does the same, leaning in and resting his forehead on his friend’s shoulder. It’s nice.
Two hugs in one day, he thinks with a grin.
It’s a new record.
“Thank Merlin you’re okay,” Ron says, though Harry can barely hear it.
“Don’t thank Merlin,” he says before he can think. “Thank Fawkes.”
Ron chokes on a laugh, slowly letting go of him and taking an awkward step back, like he doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. Like he’s embarrassed. “Does Fawkes like owl treats?”
“I don’t know,” Harry says. Hermione lets go of his arm to grab his hand instead; he squeezes it. “Next time I see him, I’ll ask.”
Eventually, the discomforted fear wears off, and they step all the way into the chamber together, quickly splitting up to explore. Harry is just about to pick up the fang he used to stab the diary when he hears—“Hey!” It’s Ron’s voice, but it’s echoing oddly. “I found something!”
He turns to see Hermione standing near the mouth of one of the tunnels. She has her arms crossed over her chest, and she’s frowning. “I told him,” she mutters as soon as Harry is close enough to hear. “I told him not to go off on his own, but did he listen?”
“You could’ve gone with him.”
She huffs, setting off down the tunnel with her nose in the air. Somehow, she manages to avoid stepping in any of the puddles, even without looking. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she says once he catches up. “I wasn’t going to leave you by yourself.”
Harry takes a deep breath, feeling like his chest is too full, suddenly. It’s…good. “I would’ve been fine.”
“Well, sure.” Hermione gives him an odd look over her shoulder; he can’t read it. “But you would’ve been worried, right? If you noticed we were gone?”
“I… Yeah. Thanks.” To distract himself from the uncomfortable (or too comfortable, maybe) warmth in his chest, he looks down to watch where he’s stepping. He hops over a puddle, then another, only realizing he’s misjudged the jump when he lands in the water. Hermione is too slow to avoid her shoes and socks getting splattered, and she yelps. He winces. “Sorry.”
Harry nods, stepping carefully around the next puddle instead of jumping. He can feel her gaze on him, but he doesn’t think she’ll say anything. And he’s right; she doesn’t say anything. Instead, the next time they reach one of the larger puddles, her footsteps quicken, and he looks up just in time to see her land. A sheet of cold water hits his trousers below the knees.
He stops and stares, mouth hanging open.
“There,” Hermione says, stepping primly out of the puddle. Her shoes are soaked. “Now we’re even.”
And Harry feels…odd. He’s cold. His trousers are sticking to his legs. The last time he came here, he was terrified out of his mind, and now… He opens his mouth—to ask if her shoes are okay, to ask why—and then he snorts.
Eyes wide, he claps his hands over his mouth.
Hermione looks just as surprised as he feels, and there’s something bright and bubbling crawling up his throat at the sight of her in the pale light of her wand—wide eyes, mouth hanging open, standing there in her wet shoes. The sunshine yellow jumper her mum bought her is streaked with grime from sliding down the pipe. She’s so out of place here, they all are. And the sound that comes out of him next isn’t quite a laugh, but it isn’t not—and then he’s laughing for real, breathless and entirely unable to stop.
Eventually, Ron manages to drag them away from the puddles and show them what he’s found. It’s… “A wall?” Harry asks, taking off his glasses to rub the lenses clean. He puts them back on, squinting at the raised lines—small carvings of snakes, he sees now—that cover this stretch of the wall. He traces one finger along the carvings, and they heat up beneath his tough.
“It’s the only part with these snakes, see?” Ron points to the surrounding stone. It’s completely blank. “I thought, well… I thought maybe this bit was special.”
“It could just be decoration,” Hermione says, but she doesn’t sound convinced.
Harry taps at the wall. “Let’s find out.”
One hissed word later, and they hear the scrape of stone against stone as the panel of wall slides open. For a long moment, they stand there in the now empty doorway, peering into the darkness. When nothing happens, Harry lifts his wand and casts a ball of light that drifts slowly into the dark. Eventually, the light hits the far wall and vanishes, but not before it reveals a room that looks just as out of place as they are down here.
In the new light that Hermione casts, they see that it’s about the size of the Gryffindor boys’ dorm, though it feels much bigger without five beds taking up space. Each wall is covered in shelves. A faded rug covers most of the stone floor, and there’s a large wooden desk sitting in the middle of it, covered in scattered papers and open books, like someone got up in the middle of researching and forgot to come back.
Next to him, Hermione looks like she might faint from excitement.
Harry nudges her with his elbow. “Go on, then.”
She jumps, glaring at Ron when he snorts before heading straight for the desk. Harry has just reached one of the shelves when she gasps. “I can’t read these!” she exclaims, bending to look closer at the yellowing pages without actually touching them. “They're so old; I bet the library doesn’t even have copies!”
“Y’reckon they were left by Slytherin?” Ron asks, drifting toward a shelf full of books that look like a single touch might make them fall apart.
“Maybe,” Hermione says, tucking her hair behind her ears. “It would explain the language.” She hovers one finger over the words, trying to sound them out.
Harry taps the binding of one of the books on his shelf. “This one’s from 1923,” he says, “so they can’t all be from him.”
“D'you think they might be from…” Ron trails off, looking uncomfortable.
Harry grimaces, pulling his hand back. He knows that before Voldemort existed, Tom Riddle was a student here, but it still feels odd to touch something he must have put here himself. “Probably.”
“Maybe we should leave,” Hermione says, though she sounds reluctant to abandon all of this potential knowledge.
Harry shakes his head, not considering it for a second. “No way,” he says. “We have to look. If Voldemort put these books here, that means they were important to him. Maybe there’s something here we can use to fight him.”
Ron picks up one of the books, scowling as he flips through the pages. “If they really did belong to You-Know-Who, can we trust any of it?”
Harry frowns. It’d be smart to be suspicious, but… “He thought he was the only person who could get down here, remember?” He’s only met Voldemort twice, but both times, Harry won because Voldemort underestimated him. He thinks that’s probably enough to assume the pattern will hold. “Why would he bother leaving traps?”
Hermione looks longingly at the books on the desk. “It would be a shame to just…leave them all here.”
As one, they turn their pleading gazes on Ron. He holds out for an admirable three seconds before he scowls and drops the book back onto the shelf, sending up a cloud of dust. “Fine," he says, "But if we all end up cursed because of this, I’m blaming you two.”
Nearly an hour later, they’re trudging up Hogwarts’s front steps, mud caked up their calves. “I cannot believe we forgot to make sure we had a way out,” Hermione says as she tries and fails to blow her hair out of her face. She’d use her hands, but they’re occupied with the books they’ve taken from the chamber. “What is wrong with us?”
Harry, with freshly scraped palms courtesy of a fall down the tunnel that eventually became their way out, grimaces. “At least we didn’t have to call for help.”
“Ugh. Can you imagine?” Ron asks as he and Harry strain to open the doors to the castle, peering in to make sure there’s no one waiting to catch them before they all slip inside. The doors shut behind them with a quiet thud, barely audible over the sound of dinner happening in the Great Hall. “I reckon we’d be in detention until we died.”
“Shh,” Hermione hisses, peering anxiously up the stairs. “They might still catch us.”
All but holding his breath, Harry leads them carefully up the stairs and to Gryffindor Tower. Once they reach the portrait, he stacks his own small collection of books into Ron’s arms and sets off to make sure the chamber entrance is closed, already dreaming of the shower he’s going to take when he returns.
Only a few days before the train will take them back to London, Hermione ushers them into an abandoned classroom, locking the door behind them. One pile of conjured cushions later, she sits and grabs one of the books they took from the Chamber out of her bag, flipping it open to a page near the middle. “I was able to translate some of it last night,” she says, pulling free a folded piece of parchment and passing it over. “Most of this book is just household spells, but this one…” She points to the middle of the page.
“A guardian spell?” Harry asks as he reads over Ron’s shoulder. “What sort of guardian?”
“I’m not sure,” she admits reluctantly. “The spell itself was… well, actually, it was pretty simple to figure out. But I don’t know what, exactly, it’s supposed to do.”
“It’s a binding spell,” Ron says. When they both turn to him, wanting to know more, he flushes, looking pleased with himself for having something to share. “It’s ‘cause of the ivy, see?” He shifts so both of them can get a better look at the list of components. “One time, Fred and George bound a gnome to Percy for an entire month just by burning a few shoots. ‘Course, it backfired on ‘em; the gnome started biting whenever Percy was bothered—not to mention what Mum did to them when she found out…”
“I din’t know ivy had magical properties,” Hermione says, leaning in like she might absorb the information from Ron’s brain if she just gets close enough. “None of our herbology texts have mentioned it.”
“That’s because it doesn’t, not really,” Ron explains. Hermione’s hand is twitching, like she’s longing for a quill and some parchment. “It’s more about the meaning than the plant itself.”
Harry, who isn’t particularly interested in how it works, plucks the parchment from Ron’s hand, looking it over. He likes the sound of this spell; he could use a biting gnome when he goes back to the Dursleys. “You know,” he says, eyes narrowed as he looks over the list, “we could probably find all of these things just…around.”
Hermione looks startled. “You want to cast it?”
“Well, yeah.” Harry doesn’t falter under their skeptical stares. “Isn’t that why we brought those books with us when we left? To use them?”
“Think about it,” he interrupts. “If this spell is meant to conjure a guardian—“
“Bind a guardian,” Ron corrects.
“—then this summer is the perfect time to test it. If it can’t handle the Dursleys, it definitely won’t help us against Voldemort.”
Hermione still doesn’t look entirely convinced, but Ron is nodding. “He’s got a point.”
She takes the parchment back. “Well, if we’re going to try out a new spell, a protective one is probably the best kind.” She bites her lip, brow furrowed in thought. “And nothing on here is particularly dangerous…” In the ensuing silence, the three of them just look at each other, each waiting for someone else to be the voice of reason and put a stop to this.
But no one speaks up.
The next day, they perform the spell.
When Harry’s supposed guardian fails to show up by the time they’ve been ushered off the platform at King’s Cross, Ron pats him on the shoulder, grimacing. “Tough luck, mate,” he says, eyeing Uncle Vernon’s waiting form dubiously. ”Keep us updated, yeah?”
Harry nods, feeling disappointed though he refuses to admit it aloud.
He should’ve known the spell wouldn’t work.
With one last sigh and a brief hug from Hermione—something that’s been happening more and more often since he first hugged her outside the Chamber—he drags his trunk toward Uncle Vernon, whose scowl only grows the closer he gets.
He has a terrible feeling that this might just be his worst summer yet.
And it is, at least until the snake shows up.
Uncle Vernon locks up his things the moment they're back to the house, and he's quickly warned that the second he uses Hedwig to send mail to his friends, she'll be locked in her cage until autumn.
The only positive is that they refuse to spend any time in his presence outside of meals, which means they're never around him long enough to be awful. Two weeks in, and he's barely seen them; he’s taken to escaping to the park whenever he can. Really, it’s a win-win. He gets to be out of the house, and the Dursleys don’t have to put up with his awful, magical self invading their normal life. He’s just about ready to write the entire summer off as a loss when he hears a long, low hiss from behind him and nearly falls off the swing he's claimed.
He twists in the seat and freezes.
The snake responsible for the noise—a cobra bigger than any other snake he’s seen outside the zoo and the Chamber—nudges at his foot, tongue flicking out to smell him.
“Erm.” He looks around. The park is empty. “Hello?”
“Hello, hatchling,” the snake says. He holds himself still as she winds up his leg and coils half in his lap—she’s far too big to fit entirely. “Are you well?”
Harry looks around again, like something about the vacant park might tell him how he’s supposed to react. “Well enough,” he says eventually. Then, because he might as well be polite, “Are you?”
“Yes,” the snake—she, he thinks, though he has no idea why he’s so sure—tells him, “we are well.”
Harry tentatively strokes one hand over her glittering scales, then does it again when she doesn’t seem to mind. “I’ve never seen a snake as big as you before,” he says, though he’s certain the snake he set on his cousin might disagree. The basilisk certainly would, if it were still alive to do so. Nevertheless, the snake preens beneath his touch like he intended. “Why are you here?”
“For you, hatchling,” she says.
Harry’s breath catches, and he almost knocks her off his lap in his excitement. “Are you my guardian?”
“What is a guardian?”
“Someone who protects something.”
“Then yes.” The snake noses at his belly, then climbs higher to rest her head along his shoulders. Her tongue flicks at his neck. “We will protect you.”
“You must've come from far away, if it took you this long to find me.”
“Yes. Very far."
Harry grins, scratching lightly at her scales. He should’ve known a spell found in the Chamber of Secrets would give him a snake for a guardian. Ron and Hermione might not be too pleased to learn about it, but the thrill of the spell working at all will surely help them get over it.
Days pass, and he keeps sneaking out of the house.
The snake keeps meeting him.
The first time she sees the remnants of a run-in with Dudley’s gang, he thinks she might kill someone. “Who did this?” she demands, her hood flaring.
“It’s nothing,” he says instead of answering. He twists his arm to get a look at the bruise that’s caused so much rage. The skin near the edge is broken—there’s a trickle of blood down his elbow—but it’s small. “I’m fine.”
Thinking it might help, he says, “Only a little.”
“You said you were safe here,” she hisses, accusing.
Right. He did say that, didn’t he—she'd asked one day why he stayed, and he'd told her about his mum's sacrifice, about Voldemort being after him, though he didn't call him by name. “I am safe,” he says, then adds, “relatively speaking. My cousin’s never tried to kill me, at least.”
She rears back, furious. “Your cousin—your family did this?”
“Yes,” Harry admits with a sigh, “but I’m fine, like I said already. And anyway, they’re much better than they used to be.”
That doesn’t appear to have the effect the intended. Instead of appeased, she’s only more upset. “We can’t protect you here.”
“That’s not your fault—“ Harry tries to tell her, but she isn’t listening.
“Your teacher lied to you; this place isn’t safe at all. It’s no place to raise a hatchling.”
She nudges against his cheek and says, insistent, “We will fix this.”
By the time he thinks to ask how, she’s already left.
Three days later, he’s stuck inside on account of the rain coming down in sheets, and the house is empty. Thankfully for his sanity, he picked the lock on the cupboard door the first chance he got and his his school things under the loose floorboard. Which means instead of lying on his bed and staring at the ceiling, he can spend his time lying on his bed and staring at a textbook.
The Dursleys left soon after lunch, and while they didn’t tell him when they plan to return, he’s decided to risk working on one of his essays for next term anyway—as opposed to waiting until tonight when they’re all asleep. As long as he listens for the car returning, he should have plenty of time to hide everything before he’s caught.
It’s only because he’s listening so closely that he hears the muffled crack from outside. At the sound of it, he flinches, nearly knocking over his ink bottle.
If that wasn’t enough, his scar starts prickling shortly after.
Deciding that’s as good a sign as any, he sets down his quill, more than ready for a break. He gets out of bed, peering out the window as he passes by on the way to hide his things in the dresser, only to freeze because—
There’s a man standing in the yard, staring up at the house.
Harry ducks aside, hand rising to his forehead. The pain he usually associates with Voldemort isn’t there. The tingling hasn’t stopped, but it’s been happening all summer, so it could be nothing… When he dares to look again, the man is gone.
And then the knocking starts.
Harry stands there for a long moment, just listening, waiting to see if the man will go away.
When that fails, he creeps carefully down the steps, trying to get a look at the man without been seen. It doesn’t work, but at least the man stops knocking. Feeling nervous, though he’s not entirely sure why, he opens the door just a crack. A pale haired, plain looking man he’s never seen before is standing on the other side, wearing unassuming robes. He wouldn’t look out of place in Diagon Alley, but he’s definitely out of place here. The vacant look on his face isn’t helping.
He opens the door just a little bit wider.
“Hello?” he says. When he gets no response, he pokes his head outside and looks both ways. The street is empty. He turns back to the man, brow furrowed. “Can I help you?”
The man staggers forward, and Harry jerks back.
He’s too late to lunge for the door; by the time he thinks to slam it in the stranger’s face, the man is already inside. Though…he still isn’t doing anything. Harry presses back against the wall, edging toward the table with the vase that Aunt Marge brought with her last time she visited. It’s heavy enough that he can use as a weapon if needs to, since his wand is still tucked away in his trunk. “What do you want?” he demands in a voice that’s much more confident than he feels.
“H-harry Pott-ter,” the man says in a rasping voice, looking pained. He jerks one hand up, like he’s going to grab him.
Harry ducks away with a shout. He grabs the vase in one hand and swings, catching the man over the head with a solid thunk. He drops like a stone, falling to his hands and knees. The vase isn’t even cracked. Still clutching it in one hand, Harry kicks out, catching the man beneath the jaw, and he crumples. Harry stays standing, vase poised to throw, half-wondering if he’s just killed a man for the second (third? he isn’t sure if the diary counts) time in his life.
He hopes he hasn’t.
Uncle Vernon would probably skin him alive if he killed someone in his home.
Eventually, the man groans, and Harry relaxes just a little. Eyes fluttering open, he looks around, looking very confused. If this is an act, it’s a very good one. Then his gaze lands on Harry, and the vase still clutched in his hand, and he pales. “Erm, hello,” he says in a lower and much smoother voice than before. He holds up his empty hands, palms out. “Would you mind putting that down?”
“Yeah, actually,” Harry tells him, “I would.”
“Ah.” The man moves to stand, then stills, lowering himself back down when Harry’s grip on the vase tightens. “I’ll just, er, stay here on the floor?” When Harry nods, so does he. “Right. Have you kidnapped me, then? I must say, you look a little young for it.”
“You forced yourself into my house and tried to grab me,” Harry tells him, watching his reaction carefully. “If anyone’s the kidnapper here, it’s probably you.”
The man looks like he might be sick. “O-oh.” He takes a shuddering breath, then lifts a hand to his head. “Would you believe me if I said I don’t remember doing that?”
“You know what?” Harry thinks of the odd, shuffling way Quirrel moved when Voldemort took control, the rasping sound of Voldemort’s speech through him. “I think I would.”
Eventually, after many flustered yet heartfelt apologies, the man leaves with a promise to never return again, and Harry watches through the window as, with a much louder crack than before, he disappears like he was never there at all.
Next time he sees the snake, she’s sulking.
He crouches low so no one passing by the park—which is busier than usual today—will see him talking to her. “What’s wrong?”
“We wish to protect you, hatchling,” she says, and if she could he suspects she’d be pouting, “but you make it very hard.”
“Hang on,” Harry protests. “Is this about that man yesterday? That wasn’t my fault. I’ve never seen him before in my life!”
She lets out a thoughtful hiss. “This is why you fought?”
“Well, he also tried to grab me.” Harry wonders what it says about him that he’s barely fazed by yesterday’s almost kidnapping. Nothing good, probably. “He didn’t even say why.”
“I see.” She uncoils just enough to nudge her head into his lap, and he rests his hand on her head. “I tried to tell my Master this. A familiar face is less of a threat.”
Harry furrows his brow. That sounds almost like…
“Well,” he says, not wanting her to catch on to his suspicions, “it depends on the face.” But he needn’t have bothered. She’s already turning to go, disappearing into the tall grass that edges this side of the park. “Wait, where’re you going?”
“Time, hatchling,” is all she says, “this will take much.”
And then she’s gone.
His birthday arrives, and still his snake hasn’t returned. “Do you think she’s okay?” he asks Hedwig. The owl doesn’t appear to listen, too busy picking through her feathers. Harry sighs, stroking her neck. “I bet she is; there probably isn’t much that could hurt her here. Well, maybe a car, but she’s pretty smart. I don’t think she’d get run over.”
Hedwig nips affectionately at his fingers, then abandons him for her perch near the window, where Errol is still recovering from his flight.
Harry flops back onto his bed. “She’ll come back.”
She has to.
He falls asleep staring at the cards his friends sent him, and while the sight of them settles a fear he hadn’t recognized until it was gone, he can’t help but wish for more. Maybe, he thinks as his eyes drift shut, his snake will come back in the morning, and it’ll be the best birthday he’s ever had.
Later, he thinks he really should've known better.
When he finally trudges down the stairs the next morning, he learns that not only has his snake not returned to gobble up the Dursleys in their sleep, but the Dursleys will be hosting a much less pleasant visitor instead—his awful Aunt Marge, who isn’t even his aunt—and she’ll be staying for an entire week. As soon as his uncle leaves to pick her up from the station, he retreats back to his room to make sure everything even remotely magical is hidden away. At the very least, he thinks as he shoves the loose floorboard back into place, in exchange for behaving like the proper, Muggle delinquent they’ve told everyone that he is, Uncle Vernon has promised to sign his Hogsmeade form.
He still doesn’t like being insulted—or being treated like he’s just another piece of furniture, something to be ignored entirely as his relatives go about their business—but at least this time he’s getting something out of it.