The House-Elf Liberation Front
Chapter 21 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The House-Elf Liberation Front
Harry, Ron, and Hermione head to the Owlery to send Sirius a letter reporting Harry's progress in the Tournament. On the way, Harry tells Ron what Sirius told him about Karkaroff. Ron, like Hermione, is surprised that Karkaroff was a Death Eater. They adjourn to the victory party in the Gryffindor Common room where Harry, prompted by the other Gryffindors, unlatches the Golden Egg. The inside is hollow, but it emits a loud screeching noise, which frightens Neville: he thinks it's the sound of someone being tortured. Hermione asks Fred if the party food came from the kitchens. He says it did, imitating a House-elf to demonstrate how easy it was to get it. Hermione asks for directions to the kitchen. Fred tells her, and George asks if she is going to lead a House-elves rebellion.
The weather is turning cold and miserable. The Beauxbatons horses, in their paddock near Hagrid's hut, are getting their preferred drink, single-malt whisky, but the fumes are making the Care of Magical Creatures class light-headed. They need their wits while tending to the Skrewts. Arriving at Hagrid's hut for class one day, the students find that Hagrid has prepared nesting boxes to see if the surviving Skrewts want to hibernate. They prefer to destroy the boxes and rampage around the pumpkin patch; most of the class retreats in disarray to Hagrid's hut. As Hagrid and the Trio round up the last one, Rita Skeeter appears and evinces great interest in the Skrewts; she arranges to interview Hagrid later.
Harry and Ron, now reconciled, quietly chortle their way through double Divination, annoying Professor Trelawney. As they return to the common room, Hermione runs up, excited about a discovery she has made. She drags Harry and Ron to a ground-floor corridor and into the kitchen where Dobby greets Harry. Dobby tells the Trio Dumbledore has hired him and Winky. Because House-elves have difficulty finding paid work, Dobby and Winky believed Hogwarts was likely their only option. Winky feels disgraced, however, and the other Hogwarts House-elves have distanced themselves from Dobby: they feel that it is demeaning for an Elf to accept payment.
And while Dobby is happy, Winky is miserable, sobbing that her master, Mr. Crouch, is a good wizard and worries over how he is getting along without her. She says Ludo Bagman is a bad wizard, but will not divulge why, claiming she always keeps her masters' secrets. Dobby reminding her she no longer has a master only sends her into fresh paroxysms of tears.
As they leave the kitchen, Hermione hopes that if the other Elves see how happy Dobby is as a free Elf, they may eventually adopt the idea. Harry thinks Winky might prove to be a counter-example, but Hermione is optimistic that she will cheer up as she adapts.
Harry's victory in the first task helps to lighten his mood considerably, despite his ongoing fears over his safety and Sirius' freedom. He thoroughly enjoys himself at the Gryffindor celebration, momentarily forgetting his worries while being swept up in his classmates' jubilation. But it is his and Ron's reconciliation that is most meaningful to him. Without Ron's friendship and support, facing the ongoing adversity and uncertainty in his life was nearly unbearable. Unfortunately, it took Harry nearly being killed in the first task for Ron to accept that Harry never had chosen to enter the Tournament; until then, Ron had apparently not understood the dangers involved. With his apparent emotional immaturity, we can guess Ron saw only the potential rewards, and failed to consider the risks, and had assumed Harry had the same level of understanding. As Ron wanted to enter the Tournament, he had supposed Harry would be equally eager, and did not understand Harry's reluctance when he found himself unexpectedly competing. This new acceptance of Harry's position may be a small turning point in Ron's maturation, indicating an ability to admit he was wrong, and accept that his abilities and strengths, if he strives to recognize and develop them, will always be different from Harry's.
Neville's terrified reaction to the screeching Egg (believing someone is being tortured) is similar to his response when Professor Moody demonstrated the Cruciatus curse in class; readers have learned that curse is an illegal spell used as a method of torture, and there may be a connection between these two incidents.
Rita Skeeter constantly appearing as if from nowhere is highly suspicious, not only considering Hogwarts' tight security during the Tournament, but also because it is impossible to Apparate in or out of the castle and its grounds. Upon seeing her, Ron wonders how she was able to enter despite having been banned from Hogwarts; readers should perhaps consider how several other characters have previously been able to access or exit secure areas undetected. However, preventing Skeeter from interviewing Hagrid quickly becomes a more pressing concern. This urgency prevents the reader from wondering about Rita's sudden appearance.
This is the first time Hogwarts' kitchen has been seen; like many places in the castle, it is hidden and is probably off limits to students, though the Trio are able to get in, and it is to the Twins' credit that they uncovered its location. Visiting the kitchen provides Hermione a reality check when she witnesses first-hand just how truly satisfied House-elves are with their indentured lives, at least those at Hogwarts. They are quite literally "happy slaves" who believe their only purpose in life is to willingly serve wizards, and they are resistant to change. The only exceptions are Dobby and Winky, who the other House-elves disdain for being paid workers. While Dobby is proud to be a free agent, Winky is ashamed and despondent that she no longer has a wizard family to call her own; as a result, she has become a sad, pathetic alcoholic, still pining for her former master, Mr. Crouch, who cruelly and unjustly dismissed her. Hermione should now be aware of how freedom created immense hardship for Dobby and Winky, and should know how few opportunities there are available for masterless House-elves. Dobby, by his own report, spent a year and a half seeking work; and while the clever Dobby is resourceful and adaptable, Winky likely would never have sought other employment on her own, and, without Dobby's help, probably would have suffered a miserable demise. Only Dumbledore's kindness has saved them both. Regardless, Hermione remains passionately, though rather naively, committed to liberating House-elves, though she gives little thought to just how they can successfully be integrated into the general Wizarding population.
- Why does Hermione want directions to the kitchen?
- Why did Dumbledore hire Dobby and Winky?
- Why do the other House-elves shun Dobby and Winky?
- Why would Rita Skeeter want to interview Hagrid about Skrewts?
- Why does Winky remain so loyal to the Crouch family, despite being wrongly fired by Mr. Crouch?
- Why would Neville think someone is being tortured when he hears the screeching Egg?
- How can an unintelligible screeching sound be a clue? What might it mean?
- Why would the kitchen's location be kept secret? How might the Twins have found it?
- Why might Winky believe that Ludo Bagman is a bad wizard?
Given Neville's extreme reaction during Moody's Cruciatus Curse demonstration in Defence Against the Dark Arts class, it is hardly surprising that he believes someone is being tortured when he hears the screeching Egg. In a later chapter of this book, Harry accidentally learns that when Neville was a small child, Death Eaters (including Barty Crouch, Jr.) tortured Neville's parents, Frank and Alice Longbottom, into insanity with the Cruciatus Curse. Their condition is irreversible, and they are permanently committed to St. Mungo's Hospital, where Neville regularly visits them. Neville has never revealed this to any other student, though Dumbledore is aware of it, and it is why he lives with his grandmother. Harry, when he learns about the Longbottoms, will keep Neville's secret to himself, and it will help create a stronger bond between the two boys. Neville's story is accidentally revealed to Ron, Hermione, and Ginny in the next book.
While Winky's role in the story is somewhat slim, when Barty Crouch Jr. reappears, she will be able to confirm his true identity. Though she does not actually corroborate his story regarding his actions, her presence and her reactions to his account lend truth to his revelations. However, Winky's main purpose here would seem to be to highlight Hermione's uphill battle in getting better treatment for House-elves.
Winky's belief that Bagman is a bad wizard will have come from her previous master, Mr. Crouch. Sirius will shortly tell us that Bagman was tried for passing information to Voldemort but was acquitted; Harry, later, will see Bagman's acquittal in Dumbledore's Pensieve. In Dumbledore's memory, Harry will note that Crouch seems disgruntled that Bagman goes unconvicted; he seems to think that Bagman's fame and charisma saves him from Azkaban. Likely he carried that opinion home with him, and Winky adopted it. It will have been reinforced at the Quidditch World Cup at the beginning of this book, where Crouch and Bagman will have been forced to work alongside each other. We can see, even in the limited exposure we have to both of them, that Crouch's and Bagman's work styles would inevitably clash, and Crouch no doubt will have brought his frustrations home and aired them to Winky, or in Winky's hearing, almost nightly.
Readers may have noticed that Rita Skeeter has somehow reappeared on the school grounds, despite being (as Ron reports) banned. Skeeter will be unmasked as an unregistered Animagus, and likely is entering Hogwarts in her beetle form. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius Black was also able to enter Hogwarts while transformed. This leaves open the question as to just how safe Hogwarts actually is, despite the many security charms surrounding the castle and its grounds. While there are only a few registered Animagi, it is unknown how many unregistered ones there may be; we know of three already, and will find Skeeter is a fourth. And though it may be a difficult spell to learn, it is certainly possible that at least some Death Eaters could become Animagi and use this as a means to get to Harry. Peter Pettigrew, for instance, is very likely able to enter Hogwarts in his rat form; however, we will learn later that Voldemort would never trust Pettigrew enough to detach him for such a mission. Curiously, while the Marauders' Map can always correctly identify a witch or wizard, whatever transformed state they are in, the magic spells surrounding the castle apparently cannot, thus allowing intruders in their Animagus form to bypass the protective barriers.
As an aside, we note that even if Voldemort had chosen to send Pettigrew on a mission to Hogwarts, Pettigrew would have likely managed to prevent it. Pettigrew at this point knows that Harry has the Marauder's Map and that it would reveal his presence, even in rat form. We will shortly learn that the Map's function is a surprise to Barty Crouch Jr. If Voldemort had known about it, he would have informed Crouch Jr., as it could be a way of breaking his disguise. If Voldemort had tried to send Pettigrew to Hogwarts, Pettigrew, a coward at heart, would have told Voldemort that the Map could detect him, in order to avoid the mission. Thus, Crouch's being unaware of the map argues strongly that Voldemort had not tried to send Pettigrew to infiltrate Hogwarts in his rat shape.
- The unexpected appearance of Rita Skeeter will turn out to be a clue to a subplot. This appearance, similar to the one seen in the previous chapter, coupled with publication of events at which Skeeter was not present but where a large beetle was in evidence, will fuel Hermione's discovery that Skeeter is an unregistered Animagus. Hermione will be able to use this knowledge to force Skeeter to write an honest interview of Harry in the next book.
- Neville's response to the screeching from the Egg in this chapter is consistent with his reaction to Moody's demonstration of the Cruciatus curse, his reactions to Draco's taunts about mentally ill people confined to St. Mungo's, and his response when Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny meet Neville's parents in the next book.
- Hermione's championing the cause of freedom for House-Elves, which started earlier in this book, will continue throughout this book, and will be continued in her interactions with Kreacher in the next book. Finally, Ron will express concern for the Hogwarts house-elves just before the battle at Hogwarts in the final book, which will result in an enthusiastic response from Hermione.