Soon, Professor Slughorn began to “attend” to other students, leaving Matthew and his friends to enjoy their somewhat rustic yet delicious breakfast.
“Are there many House-elves at Hogwarts?” Hermione inquired softly between bites.
Her impression of House-elves was quite peculiar, considering that she had only encountered the creature in Professor Bagshot’s History of Magic class.
Professor Bagshot, being quite elderly, required the assistance of several House-elves every time she attended class.
This was practically the only opportunity for students to interact with these creatures at Hogwarts.
“Yes, there are almost a hundred of them,” Matthew replied. “They’re responsible for all the daily chores around the castle… otherwise, Mr. Pringle couldn’t handle it all by himself!”
“Wow, so do they just stay in the kitchen all the time?” Hermione asked in surprise. “I rarely see these creatures anywhere else in the castle…”
“Oh, they rarely venture outside the kitchen during the day,” Neville added. “They come out at night for cleaning… or to tend to the fires and such. You’ve probably never seen them, right? The hallmark of a good House-elf is that you don’t even know they exist.”
“People not knowing they exist, what’s wrong with that?” Hermione furrowed her brow, clearly disagreeing with Neville’s perspective.
“Yes, that’s their duty,” Neville replied matter-of-factly. “For House-elves, their highest privilege is to obey their masters’ orders and serve them across generations, ensuring their masters never experience the slightest discomfort. So…”
“This sounds a bit like slavery,” Hermione suddenly interjected, her expression filled with disgust.
“That’s one way to put it…” Neville responded casually.
“But do they get paid?” Hermione continued. “Do they get holidays? Sick leave, allowances, any of that?”
Neville chuckled. “Holidays… why would House-elves need holidays? They don’t require sick leave or allowances… They don’t even need a salary…”
“What? They don’t even get paid?” Hermione exclaimed incredulously.
“That’s why they’re on strike!” She continued, now agitated. “They’re unhappy with their current treatment… so they’re on strike! It’s just like the textile workers in Silesia in 1842 or the silk weavers in Lyon in 1831…”
Neville shook his head quickly. “This is just an exception. In my memory, House-elves have always taken pride in their work and are ashamed to be free. Striking is unheard of for them.”
“Or, how about we quietly visit the kitchen?” Hermione suddenly suggested. “Right after breakfast?”
“This…” Neville hesitated for a moment. “I don’t know where the kitchen is…”
“We can ask someone, maybe Professor Slughorn… he should know!” Hermione suggested, her tone serious.
“No need,” Matthew interjected, shaking his head. “I know.”
“Fantastic, Matthew!” Hermione beamed at him.
“Let’s go!” Hermione urged eagerly after they had finished their breakfast.
Matthew wasted no time in nodding his agreement, while Neville looked longingly at the unfinished bacon roll.
In the end, he reluctantly left it behind.
“So, finished your breakfast already?” Professor Slughorn cheerfully saw them off from his office. “If the kitchen issue isn’t resolved by noon, feel free to return; I’ve got plenty to share!”
“Thank you, Professor!” They quickly expressed their gratitude. “We really appreciate it!”
Joining the Slug Club had indeed come with its perks.
For regular students, it seemed they would have to endure a hungry morning.
“Matthew, lead the way!” Hermione said, looking expectantly at him.
“Alright, follow me.” Matthew led his two friends as they descended the marble staircase into the lower levels of the castle.
At the base of the stairs, they turned left and quickly made their way towards a door.
It led to the basement but not in the direction of the Slytherin common room; instead, at the end of the corridor, was the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room.
They followed Hermione down a stone step, not into a dim and gloomy underground passageway that led to the Potions classroom, but into a wide stone corridor well-lit with torches.
It was adorned with delightful paintings, primarily depicting various types of food.
“It should be around here,” Matthew said, scanning the paintings on the wall.
Finally, he nudged Neville with his elbow and pointed to the picture behind Hermione.
On the portrait, there was a massive silver bowl filled with fruits.
“But this is just a portrait…” Hermione looked perplexed.
Matthew approached it slowly, extending his index finger to gently scratch a large green pear in the picture.
The image wriggled, chuckled, and suddenly transformed into a large, green doorknob.
“Amazing!” Neville couldn’t help but exclaim.
Matthew grasped the knob and opened the door, waving for his companions to follow.
Passing through the door, they found themselves in a room almost the size of a classroom.
On the stone walls, numerous gleaming copper pots and iron basins hung, and there was a large brick fireplace on the opposite side.
This was undoubtedly the Hogwarts kitchen.
Except, there was no one there. No ghosts, no wizards, and no House-elves.
“Where are the House-elves?” Hermione whispered.
“I’m not sure,” Matthew admitted honestly. “I only know that this is the kitchen…”
“Where did you hear about this?” Neville pointed towards the iron gate in front of them. “I hear something from inside. Let’s go and check—”
The three of them quickly approached the gate.
From behind the iron gate came a cacophony of noises.
There were other creatures moaning, seemingly in great pain.
The door wasn’t locked; it was merely concealed.
Peering through the crack of the door, they could clearly see the scene inside.
Mr. Pringle, the castle’s caretaker, held a long, thick leather whip menacingly. He showed no mercy as he lashed a group of small beings huddled on the floor with the whip…
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