Regardless of whether Hermione’s concerns were justified or not, they couldn’t afford to dwell on the issue any longer because they had classes to attend.
The three friends went their separate ways, with Hermione wearing a solemn and sad expression.
At noon, when Matthew returned to the auditorium, he was surprised to find a sumptuous feast laid out on the tables, just like it used to be.
It seemed that the House-elves’ strike had come to an end.
Hermione, however, seemed unwilling to accept this “fact” and appeared to have skipped lunch entirely.
After their meal, she convinced Matthew and Neville to accompany her back to the kitchen.
She wanted to check on the House-elves and offer assistance if needed.
Unfortunately, this time, they couldn’t open the door in the picture; it was locked from the inside, tightly sealed.
They had no choice but to return empty-handed.
In the following weeks, “strikes” appeared to occur from time to time, or so they assumed.
Every so often, a meal was far less lavish than usual, quite monotonous, and even a bit inadequate.
Matthew believed this was Hogwarts’ “emergency” response to House-elves going on
they never let students go hungry again.
Hermione Granger never mentioned anything related to the House-elves, whether in casual conversations or private moments with Matthew and Neville.
But Matthew was certain that she hadn’t forgotten what she witnessed in the kitchen.
Time continued to pass day by day.
The final month of the year arrived, and cold winter had fully embraced Hogwarts.
On the day before the Christmas holiday, the Hogwarts grounds woke up to find several feet of snow covering them, with the lake frozen solid.
Yet, the next morning, the gentle snowfall turned into a fierce blizzard.
The Herbology class was canceled due to the hazardous conditions, as Professor Sprout had intended to take students outside, a potentially dangerous task made even riskier by the terrible weather.
During what should have been the Herbology class, Matthew found himself sitting by the Slytherin common room’s fireplace, lost in thought.
This year’s Christmas holiday saw a significant increase in the number of students staying at school, nearly double that of the previous year.
The previous year’s low attendance was due to the terrifying attacks that had frightened many students, especially those of Muggle-born, into returning home.
This year, however, despite several Azkaban fugitives escaping, these notorious criminals were far removed from the students and hadn’t caused any panic.
Hence, more students decided to stay.
Draco, for instance, had chosen to stay at Hogwarts since his parents reported they would be abroad for the Christmas holidays.
Muggle-born students like Matthew and Hermione naturally stayed at school, and even Neville chose not to go home because his father would be at Hogwarts for the entire holiday.
“Darn it, Gringotts seems to be in trouble again!” A senior Slytherin student exclaimed by the fire, setting aside the Daily Prophet.
“Gringotts?” Matthew furrowed his brow, inquiring, “What’s happening there?”
“The Fairies are strongly protesting to the Ministry of Magic, demanding revisions to the ‘Wizard and Fairy Non-Aggression Act,’ which they deem unequal,” the senior student explained animatedly. “They want wizards to reduce their interference in Gringotts and reconsider whether fairies should legally possess wand rights.”
“Rumor has it that the relationship between wizards and goblins is at its lowest point since 1717. Some even say a 20th-century Goblin rebellion is brewing… It’s bound to be a disaster!”
“The new Goblin rebellion…” Matthew mused.
In a way, it wasn’t an exaggeration.
During the Slug Club’s gathering, while conversing with Dirk Creswell, an official from the Fairy Liaison Office at the Ministry of Magic, Matthew had caught wind of these events.
Hogwarts’ House-elves, usually so reliable, had been frequently going on strikes.
The fairies at Gringotts appeared to be on the brink of a new “fairy rebellion.”
Adding to the uncertainty, the unaccounted-for members of the Order of the Phoenix were known to have infiltrated Hogwarts.
All of this was disconcerting.
Truth be told, the first six months of the semester had been relatively uneventful compared to the previous year.
Nevertheless, Matthew couldn’t shake the feeling that beneath the apparent calm, a dark tide was silently rising.
It seemed clear that the orchestrators behind this dark tide were none other than the members of the Order of the Phoenix.
They appeared to be clandestinely guiding these events.
If he were to be completely honest, Matthew would lean toward supporting the magical world influenced by Albus Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix.
After all, as a Muggle-born wizard, Grindelwald’s politics, which leaned toward wizards and opposed Muggles, didn’t align with his values.
Furthermore, Aberforth Dumbledore of the Order of the Phoenix had likely saved his life during their encounter in Hogsmeade.
However, given the circumstances, Matthew would choose to align himself with the current Hogwarts Headmaster.
This was because the times had spoken…
Grindelwald’s influence had permeated every aspect of the wizarding world, and his forces were far superior to those of the Order of the Phoenix, whose leader had been imprisoned and could only operate in secret.
Hence, Matthew was baffled by this surging undercurrent!
The only action he could take at this point was to distance himself from it all, hoping that this dark tide wouldn’t touch him.
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