Time: just before Chapter 43, Part 2. It's also the answer to the question: Where's Dobby?

His foe lurked everywhere, drifting through the forest canopy, hidden on the ground. It crept through the forest itself on gossamer threads, entangling the very trees in its dread miasma. Even the terrifying centaurs feared straying under its shadow, keeping to the brighter sunlight realms of the Forbidden Forest.

None of that scared him though. He and his people were the Defenders-of-Light-Where-Needed, the Scourge-of-Darkness-If-Appropriate, the Demons-of-Dusting, the Masters of Maintenance –

“Dobby be stopping his talking in his head, or Flatbush will be asking Whiskers stop Dobby!” A shrill voice cut through the monologue, jarring his attention.

Dobby gave Flatbush a defiant glare. “Flatbush should shut his face in a door. Maybe Dipsy will try being friendsies-benefitses then.”

The shorter elf scowled. Elven courtship rituals were obscure at best, hard to understand by outsiders, and downright painful in many cases. But being turned down stung, especially for one as attractive as Flatbush obviously considered himself.

“Dobby needs to be cleaning the Sneakies Space. Old One said so.”

For a moment, he considered informing the patently hideous elf to insert his head where the sun never shone. But that might be considered a compliment, given the lack of cerebral matter present. Plus, the Old One had never steered Dobby wrong. He was ancient, older than Whiskers, older than Snorty out in the centaur herd and possibly as old as Scowlzy, who guarded Whisker’s stairs. Elves could live a long time, if they wanted.

Concentrating, Dobby popped to the students lounge beneath the lake. While such constant cleaning was a choice assignment, the location lacked the same careless thrill found in the Gryffy Tower. The Weezies always left plenty of cacophonic mess wherever they went; among elves, they were practically royalty. Dobby knew of several that planned to pay court, hoping to go with them when they left Hoggywartsies.

But the Sneakies Space had less to clean overall, and its students were mean. And sneaky. They watched for things like elves; warnings written in Elvish were still firmly embedded on the low points. Dobby crept along the floor, dispelling odd wards that hadn’t been properly cleaned up. The magic flowed across the floor, thaumic signatures eradicated under the force of his power. Cobwebs underneath the couches called to him, siren cries tempting him into leaving the safe cover of the bookshelves, and diving headfirst into the glorious wallow of Filth.

Stepping over Ward lines was simple, but time consuming. Popping would have been faster, but cheating. What was the point of learning how to be silent if you didn’t be silent?

A faint thrumming built up in Dobby’s ears, starting at the sensitive tips. He raised them, twitching first towards the floor, then the ceiling. Then a fierce burst of happiness resonated throughout the very fiber of his being. He was being summoned! Something needed Cleaning!

Faster than he could blink, Dobby followed the summons, ears tingling. Time slowed in transit, allowing him to evaluate the feeling properly. The sensation felt like another elf, but one that was near the center of Hoggywartsies. The more established elves stood guard there, protecting the core processes from Dust and Grime. If the Thingies-That-Protect gathered too much Filth, they would deactivate. Or activate. Or blow something up. Dobby didn’t know. All he knew was that no one else was allowed to Clean there. Being summoned to the Thingies meant another elf was needed, or further orders needed to be given, which meant Cleaning! The transit finished as it always did, a half second before he started. It gave him the ability to see whom was calling, before arriving. How else would service be done right? In this case, it looked as if the Old One Himself had called Dobby, and several other elves besides.

“How can Dobby help Old One?” he spoke as soon as polite to do so. Speaking out of time did nasty things to his tummy. Old One blinked, giving the impression of amused indifference, along with a meaningful stare. Dobby smiled. “Cleaning! Where should Dobby be cleaning?”

This time the Old One glanced at another elf, a mud-covered individual that worked the greenhouses. It was a highly coveted position, filled with earth and mud and hundreds of students stomping everywhere every day. There had been three scuffles already over an open spot in the Greenhouse Four, caused by an errant Venus Man-Trap. Dozey would live, but couldn’t run with only one leg. Until it grew back, that was.

The greenhouse elf stepped forward. “There be’s too many sticky-webs near Hoggywartsies. Pilf needs help Cleaning.”

Dobby’s eyes grew huge. His arm shot into the air. “I’s can do it! Let Dobby!”

It was hard to know whom had actually spoken first. All of the other elves had begun leaping at the opportunity, some waving both arms, others popping into the air to be more visible, all shouting a raucous din. Dobby’s ears drooped; most of the other elves held seniority, and age held privilege.

A faint snapping sound drove them to silence, resounding softer than falling snow yet loud enough to cut through the din. Old One frowned, disappointment written over his wrinkled features – the elves responded in shame, shoulders lowered under the force of that disapproving look. Dobby was impressed, as well as suitably chastened. Old One’s gift for the silent magics was truly remarkable!

Pilf unstopped his ears with care, moving faster as the lack of chaos entered their sensitive openings. He shook his head, flipping the ears with the movement. “Pilf needs many helps. Any whos wants, cans.”

Sheer joy almost made Dobby scream in happiness. He kept it down to a squeal, and popped to the greenhouse exterior, just behind a large stand of bushes. Thoughtfully, he moved aside, out of the way of the favored Presence Point. But it was hard: the sight of all the beautiful, fulsome, sticky, overwhelming mass of cobwebs was enough to give any house elf a Funny Turn!

Pilf appeared last. He checked their presence, doing a headcount. Then he nodded once. “Let’s be doing this.” A dozen Pop’s made the bushes shudder, as the elves sprang to battle.

Dobby pushed the resistant material with all his might, but preserved enough for later. The power under Hoggywarties gave all of its residents enough stamina to clean for years nonstop, if they could somehow defeat that last enemy: Sleep. The very thought of wasting time, closing one's eyes and stopping all activity in one point, instead of doing something productive, brought an uncharacteristic growl to the little elf’s chest, and evaporated the next bit of webbing like sunlight on fog.

A large spider sprang from the treetops, fifteen stone of arthropodic fury. Dobby frowned up at it. While the mess it created required Cleaning, it didn’t want to allow Cleaning. This was ... Not Good.

“Begone.” Dobby slapped his hand at the oversized arachnid. It ricocheted off the invisible force, as if hit by a metric ton of bullet-proof glass. “Dobby’s Cleaning.”

Around, he could hear the popping sounds of the other elves, removing Filth. From time to time the little sounds of happy humming, too high for the Tall People to hear, emanated through the air. Dobby kept track of the high-pitch sounds, helping remove an unsightly lob of fallen branches, and requesting help in turn as he encountered more of the massive spiders. A dedicated attack force rumbled out of the trees, pincers the size of Dobby lunging for them.

Working in concert, the elves wove a net of pure magic, stopping the assault before it began.

Dobby frowned at the Acromantulas. He shook his finger at them. “Spideys being naughty. We be Cleaning! Dobby put you back, so you don’t stop the Cleaning!”

The other elves exchanged glances, arranging strategies. As one, they raised a hand, and the entire jumbled mass of angry arthropods accelerated into the sky. Clickings, curses and a shrill wail of terror, and the mass descended over the horizon, roughly where Dobby judged their home lay. The net would stay in place, until they were done.

He ignored three or four of the smaller spiders, only as big as he was. They didn’t bother the Cleaning, and they seemed content to watch. Tradition held that a proper Home needed a few spiders in the corners, just to watch and add ambience. It was almost as necessary as the side door with the ominous creak, or the bats in the belfry, for the more traditional-minded witches.

Dobby pushed himself to go faster. A centaur, mouth hanging open, caught his attention. Why was he here? Did he need help? No, he wanted Cleaning!

Thinking quickly, Dobby popped back to the old stables of Hogwarts. Tack, magically preserved since it arrived, was already waiting for him. He selected some of the elements, and popped back. The centaur had moved only a few paces, and it was the work of only a moment before the blue ribbons, conditioner and brushes did their work.

Dobby paused to admire his work. The centaur’s face looked red, which meant good things, right? No wait, this was a female centaur! Blue wouldn’t do, Dobby knew that!

In a flash, Dobby changed the ribbons to pink, and nodded. As an added touch, several flowers from the eviscerated remains of an overgrown bush braided themselves into her mane and tail. Once more Dobby paused to scrutinize his work, and nodded happily. The centaur was so happy, she ran into the Forest, faster than Dobby could say something really short and fast.

The sun was getting higher; they didn’t have much time left. Dobby rejoined the others, admiring the tasteful topiary treatment on the larger shrubs. No one would see it, other than the Acromantulas, but it was the Proper way to Do Things.

In a great blaze of magic, the rest of the webs vanished. A few of the more zealous elves even polished the leaves, getting the last of the Filth off their beautiful green finish. A sprinkling of fertilizer, and a quick set of charms to obliterate footprints, and the elves popped back home. As one, they turned to face the Forbidden Forest, appreciative of its clean, neat look.

Dobby slapped his hands against each other, scrupulously wiping away the last of Filth from his body. The others did the same, smiling. A Cleaning had been needed, and a Cleaning had been done. Best of all, the Spideys wouldn’t stay in the forest, they’d come back, making as big a mess as possible. Then, they’d get to do it again!

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