At Hogwarts, Mr. Pringle, the castle’s caretaker, had never been well-liked, and numerous unsettling rumors circulated about him within the castle.
However, it was important to note that Mr. Pringle had never physically punished students, especially not in such a cruel manner.
Even when dealing with students who had committed serious violations of school rules, like Neville, their punishments usually amounted to chores or confinement.
Yet, Mr. Pringle’s current brutal tactics left Neville and Hermione utterly shocked.
Each lash of his whip was followed by pained cries from the House-elves.
House-elves were peculiar creatures, resembling short humans with skinny frames, enormous bat-like ears, tennis ball-sized protruding eyes, and relatively long, flat noses.
They were unique among magical beings, as they could talk and interact with their surroundings.
“Pop!” Another lash echoed through the room, followed by the wails of the House-elves who had been struck.
“Tell me quickly…who’s behind this strike!” Mr. Pringle roared.
However, there was no response.
All the House-elves watched their suffering comrades with sympathy but remained silent.
“Frustrating!” Mr. Pringle seemed to grow increasingly irritated, intensifying his strikes with the whip.
Neville and Hermione couldn’t bear to witness the cruelty any longer.
Matthew had the presence of mind to guide his friends away from the door.
“Matthew, this is just too cruel…” Hermione’s eyes welled up with tears.
Thankfully, Matthew prevented her from rushing in to confront Mr. Pringle, as her emotions threatened to get the best of her.
Even Neville, hailing from a pure-blood family, was taken aback by the scene.
Matthew remained silent but pointed to a small iron door on the opposite side of the room.
He led his two friends away from Mr. Pringle’s room, fearing that if they lost control of their emotions and were discovered by Mr. Pringle, it would worsen the situation.
Approaching the small iron door, they found themselves assaulted by a putrid odor.
All three quickly covered their noses before beholding the disturbing scene within.
This small room served as a “rest area” for the over one hundred House-elves, if their assumptions were correct.
In a room roughly the same size as their common room, nearly a hundred tiny beds were crammed together, leaving each House-elf with minimal space to move around.
The bedding was in a deplorable state, appearing decades old with numerous tears and worn-out cotton stuffing.
It was impossible to fathom how these meager sheets and blankets would protect the House-elves during the winter months.
With no fireplace to provide warmth, their living conditions were harsh.
Given that it was only November, they could only imagine how unbearable it would become during a frigid winter.
Beside one of the beds, they discovered a small iron basin containing something akin to slop.
For wizards, it was an unthinkable concoction.
Hermione bent down to inspect it and quickly recoiled, appearing nauseated.
None of them could fathom consuming such unpalatable fare.
“Slave labor…” Hermione’s voice trembled as she spoke, her eyes filled with tears.
“House-elves cook and clean for Hogwarts, and at the very least, they could pilfer some better food while doing so,” Neville suggested, albeit dejectedly.
However, they all knew this was an impossibility. House-elves were incapable of stealing; it was against their nature.
Matthew lightly patted Hermione on the shoulder. “Let’s go.”
They had spent too long in the kitchen, and it wasn’t safe, especially with Mr. Pringle mercilessly whipping the House-elves nearby.
The three cautiously retreated from the kitchen.
Fortunately, they weren’t discovered by Mr. Pringle.
They weren’t aware that entering the kitchen wasn’t against school rules, yet the shock of what they had witnessed weighed heavily on their minds.
As they walked down the well-lit stone corridor, their expressions grew increasingly somber.
When they returned to the vicinity of the auditorium, Hermione finally broke her silence, tears still in her eyes. “I can’t believe they treat those poor House-elves that way… They cook for us, carry our bags, clean the castle… and yet they live in such hellish conditions…”
“Wake up, Hermione,” Neville chimed in, attempting to be rational. “They’re just House-elves… they aren’t wizards…”
Hermione’s anger flared up. “So, just because they aren’t wizards, it’s acceptable to treat them like this? Even when dealing with pets, we should be humane… Besides, we rely on House-elves for so much more than just pets…”
Neville attempted to explain, “They might not even like a comfortable life… you don’t understand House-elves; they take pride in their hard work and find satisfaction in it. Providing them with a comfortable environment might actually upset them…”
“Are you dense, Neville?” Hermione snapped, her anger unabated. “This is about basic decency! Even when dealing with pets, it’s unacceptable to treat them like this… and considering how much we depend on House-elves, it’s even worse…”
“They might not like a comfortable life,” Neville repeated.
Matthew stepped in, trying to ease the tension. “Let’s go.”
They had spent enough time in the kitchen, and it was no longer safe, especially with Mr. Pringle’s brutal treatment of the House-elves continuing nearby.
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