Hermione Granger dragged her finger down the spines of books as she read their titles. She loved the feeling of books, especially old books, under her fingers. Right now, though, she was finding that books were failing her miserably. She wanted to know more about house elves; Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, had said that he was a house elf. So she immediately went to the library to find out what a house elf was, but she was having no luck. Now she was just looking for another book about Harry Potter that might also explain about house elves.
"Harry Potter," she muttered, "Harry Potter..."
She barely avoided screaming when there was a popping sound behind her. She spun around to find... Harry Potter, standing right there. And there was another one of her questions: no one could apparate in Hogwarts. She had read that in Hogwarts, a History. So how did Harry Potter apparate into the Great Hall the first night, and how did he just apparate into the library?
"You were calling for--for me, Miss Hermione Granger, ma'am?" the small boy asked with wide eyes. She noticed that he kept his voice down and instinctively did the same.
"Oh, no, I was just... well, I was trying to find out what a House Elf is.."
"Oh, Harry can be--I can tell you what a House Elf is!" He grinned; apparently this was one of his favorite subjects. "Actually, H-I can show you!"
He seemed to be considering something. He started to reach out his hand, then withdrew it back to his side. "Follow me!"
Hermione wasn't so sure about this, but she figured it was safe enough. It was Saturday, and so beautiful outside that hardly anyone was inside. They didn't pass anyone, even the librarian, as they left the library. In fact, they only saw a few students and one or two teachers even as they walked through what felt like half the hallways in Hogwarts.
Finally, they came to a portrait of a bunch of fruit. Harry reached out and tickled the pear, then grinned at Hermione again. Hermione was finding him almost.. cute. He looked a lot younger than he was, and seemed so enthusiastic about everything that he seemed younger, too. Like someone's little brother, really.
But her musings were cut off as the portrait opened to reveal.. a bunch of small, wrinkled, grey skinned creatures with very large ears and only a single tattered cloth to cover each of them. And all of the creatures seemed hard at work cooking, or cleaning up after the others who were cooking.
Harry turned to look at her. "Are you hungry? The House Elves can be cooking something for you!"
Hermione was too distracted with questions. "So.. they do all the cooking?"
"Oh yes, all the cooking, and all the cleaning too! Keeping Hogwarts clean and making sure everyone has food is a big job, but we are loving to do it!"
Hermione looked around again, and noticed that some of the House Elves were smiling fondly in Harry's direction as they went about their business. A few of them, though, looked more irritated than fond.
"Is it always so busy down here?" She realized it was the middle of the afternoon. This seemed like it would be a good time to take a break between cooking lunch and cooking dinner, but they were still hard at work.
"Of course! Or if not right around here, then we is finding something else to do around the castle. House Elves are not sitting around doing nothing when there is something to be done!"
"But.. it's such a lovely day outside.. wouldn't some of them like to.."
"Oh, you is wanting a picnic, for outside?" He grinned, and almost instantaneously there was a House Elf headed their way with a picnic basket. "Let's see.. some bread.. and some cheese.. maybe a little meat.." He was snapping and things were appearing in his hands as he spoke, and he was then setting them carefully in the basket. "And what would you like, some pumpkin juice to drink?"
"I didn't mean to be any trouble," Hermione exclaimed. "I meant, don't any of you all want to go outside and enjoy the sunshine?" she addressed the room at large.
One of the nearby House Elves muttered, "Too much work to be doing." He didn't seem upset about it, though, just explaining.
When she looked back, Harry was biting his lip, seemingly nervous about something. "Come on, Miss Hermione Granger, Ma'am. Harry is getting your picnic basket all ready!"
She frowned but didn't want to let the food go to waste. As the portrait closed behind them, she asked, "Umm.. Harry.. why are they all dressed that way? Can't they buy any better clothes with their pay?"
Harry glanced back at the portrait, then back at her wide eyes. "They is not getting paid. They is good House Elves. And they definitely is not wanting clothes." He looked down at his own robes in disgust for a moment.
Hermione gasped and stopped walking. "They're not getting paid?! What are they, slaves?"
Harry tilted his head. "What's a slave?"
"Someone who is owned by someone else. Who doesn't get paid for their work, and can't stop working unless the person who owns them says so," Hermione responded flatly. Honestly, the wizarding world was so backwards. How could someone not know what a slave was?
Harry grinned. "Yes! House Elves is being slaves!" He didn't seem upset by the fact at all.
"That's.. that's abominable! They should be freed this instant! I'm going to go talk to the Headmaster--"
"No!" Harry gasped, his grin disappearing in an instant. "Being a slave is not a bad thing. House Elves is loving to be owned by Hogwarts. They doesn't want clothes because that would make them free! And House Elves is not wanting to be free!"
With that, he continued walking, at a swifter pace than before. Hermione just hurried to keep up with him, working up arguments in her head. But when they got outside, Harry shoved the basket into her hands and then disappeared before she could use a single one of them.
"I am kicking Potter out of my class," Snape announced as he swooped into the room. All the teachers turned to look at him, and Dumbledore looked up at him and steepled his hands.
"Oh, Severus? And why is that?" he asked calmly.
"He still thinks he's a House Elf," Snape sneered. "And I will not have House Elves in my Potions class."
Flitwick grinned. "This wouldn't have anything to do with Mr. Potter knowing the answers to all your questions, would it Severus?"
Sprout's eyes widened. "No! I didn't know about that! Good for him!" Then she looked at Snape. "And besides, he should be a little better now? I stopped him after class on Thursday. We had a little talk and I think he's going to try harder to fit in to our expectations."
Professor McGonagall made a little humming noise. "I was wondering what had changed. I've been trying not to single him out but on Wednesday he was very obstinate about not even picking up his wand. Then on Friday, he was doing the spells just fine." She looked at Sprout. "What did you say to him?"
"Well.. I do have to admit, I had to make an executive decision. In fact, I meant to tell you all about that. I gave him a fake wand, and told him to practice the wand movements and spells with that."
McGonagall frowned heavily and even the headmaster looked upset at that, so Sprout hurried to explain. "He told me a little bit about how House Elf magic works. Apparently, the hat saw more than just a hard-working child in him. He's extremely loyal, too: to magic. It's hard to understand, but.. magic is almost like a person to him. And apparently when he does House Elf magic, he's asking magic to do something for him. And when we use a wand, he sees that as forcing magic to do something. So he doesn't want to 'hurt' magic by forcing it to do something.
"So I thought that if I could just get him to learn how to do magic, even if he's still doing it his way, that would be better than nothing." She smiled somewhat grimly. "And I'm hoping that one of us will teach him a spell that he can't do with House Elf magic. Then he'll have to actually do it with his wand. But this gives him a little time to get used to the idea. You see?"
Professor Dumbledore steepled his fingers and then nodded slowly. "Good thinking, Professor Sprout. I think that should be a satisfactory solution for now. Clearly our trying to force him to learn wizarding magic wasn't helping. And I can't help but think that someday his knowing House Elf magic could come in handy..."
"Well, just because he's waving a stick of wood in your classes doesn't mean I'm letting him back in mine," Professor Snape inserted huffily.
"Honestly, Severus," responded Professor McGonagall, "other than acting like a House Elf outside your classes and answering your questions correctly, has he actually done anything to warrant his being kicked out of your class?"
"He used his House Elf magic in my class on the first day, I'll have you know. And I'm fairly certain he used it in his detention, also, proving he hasn't learned anything."
"I heard about that.." Professor Flitwick mused. "One of my Ravenclaws said something stopped one of the Hufflepuff's potions from exploding all over her. Is that what you are talking about?"
"I told him no magic when he cleaned the cauldrons for me, and I'm sure he used it then!" Snape retorted, carefully not answering the original question.
"So.. he saved a student a trip to the Hospital Wing, and he may have used magic to clean some cauldrons? Not very convincing, Severus," McGonagall replied.
"Indeed. I believe you shall have to put up with him for a bit longer, Severus. Come back to me if you have some valid reason to kick him out. Now, is there anything else?"