Note: Do you remember that, a while ago, I asked you what you'd name your house elf? You probably don't remember, as it was quite a while ago, but here are your elves. And some more. :)
The Founding of Pigwarts III – Chaos Is Served
Chapter 54: The Humble R-word
It had been weeks now since Bingo's deportation, yet Bonny was still as far from coping with his absence as the very day he'd been taken away. She'd been with him throughout her life, and now that he was gone, he'd left behind an emptiness inside her which no amount of cooking and cleaning could wholly erase.
"Is Bonny going to clean Professors Lounge?" an elf called Bitsy addressed her. "Bonny must be careful, Miss Hermione is there. She told Miffy to take a break. Miffy is very distressed."
"Miss Hermione is the distress of every elf," Bonny said, the accusation barely hidden in her tone. She had been a good elf, she was a good elf, but there was only so much that any good elf could take. With Bingo to stand beside her, and tell her not to say a word, not to complain, not to do anything but work and work and work, she would have gritted her teeth and said no more, but Bingo was with them no longer, and Bonny couldn't stop from speaking out what she had kept bottled inside her for so many days.
"Miss Hermione should stop. Miss Hermione should leave the elves alone."
Several elves around her gasped – speaking ill of one's masters and mistresses was disobedience in its strongest form. Some shook their heads in disdain, some felt for Bonny, all wished for her to drop the subject and say nothing of the kind ever again. But Bonny had only just opened her mouth.
"This is not disobedience. This is the duty of every elf, work is. Elf must work, elf will work. Work is elf's duty, elf's honour, elf's right. No one should take work from elf. No one must come between elf and work. Letting any come between elf and work, that is disobedience. Work is for elf, and elf is for work."
Most elves present shook their heads again and quickly scurried away so that they wouldn't have to hear this kind of rebellious speech. But there were a few who remained, and gathered closer around Bonny.
"What does Bonny think we must do?" asked Cholo Argyle, the best kettle cleaner of Pigwarts.
"Bonny thinks," Bonny hesitated for a moment, not quite sure what Bonny did think. Most of her thoughts were about Bingo. Many were about her work. Some were about Miss Hermione. This wasn't right, what Miss Hermione was doing. Every now and then one elf or another would appear in the kitchens, bawling their eyes out, because Miss Hermione had suggested that they take a break or stop working for the whole day, or never to work on weekends again, or perhaps even leave the castle and go travel the world, unwanted, cast away. This was not right. They were good, hard-working elves, who should not be scared and distressed like that.
"Bonny thinks we should stop Miss Hermione."
An elf in bright yellow pillowcase let out a squeak of horror and fainted, others bore it better, but with similarly terrified expressions.
"Bonny do no harm to Miss Hermione," Fuzzy said, and all others nodded their agreement.
"No, no, no!" Bonny was quite startled at such an accusation. "Bonny do no harm to Miss Hermione."
Bingo had done it the wrong way. His reasons for doing it had been pure, but his chosen way of action had been wrong. Even if Miss Hermione hadn't been explicitly announced as his Mistress, he must have known her importance to his Master, and his wishes concerning her. Now that Bonny did think about it, she realized the fault in her own behaviour, in helping Bingo do harm to Miss Hermione. But it had been very difficult to resist or disobey Bingo's commands.
"No, elves do no harm to Miss Hermione, no harm to anyone, Bonny did not mean that!"
"Bonny said we should stop Miss Hermione?" Ribbit asked with some confusion, helping the fainted elf who was slowly regaining consciousness, and reacted to the words with a soft indistinct babble.
"Do not be scared, Ducky," Bonny knelt down by the elf in the yellow pillowcase. "Bonny will do no harm. We shall do no harm."
"But how does Bonny suggest we stop Miss Hermione?" Cholo Argyle inquired.
Bonny took a deep breath before speaking, and as if on cue all the elves drew even closer around her, Ribbit supporting Ducky, who looked still a bit shaky, but recovered enough to listen and pay attention.
"There is only one way to do it," Bonny spoke, "we must show Miss Hermione that she is not acting in our best interest. That she does not know what it is to be a house-elf. That only an elf knows what is best to an elf."
There was a moment of thoughtful silence as her audience took in her words. On one hand, it still sounded rebellious. It was not an elf's job to tell their Mistress how to act towards the elf. On the other hand, Miss Hermione was the constant distress of the more faint-hearted and emotional elves, and they did not like to see their fellow elves suffer so. And Miss Hermione was doing it all in good faith, always saying that she wanted to help them. She just did not understand what it was to be an elf. And how could she?
"Bonny speaks well," Ribbit said, "but how can we make Miss Hermione understand this? She is not an elf. She cannot understand it."
"Ribbit is right," Fuzzy agreed. "We try to tell Miss Hermione this. We try. But she thinks we have been scared into obedience. She thinks we do not know freedom."
"Freedom," Ducky said, and sighed happily, "Ducky knows freedom. Freedom is to wear a clean and bright yellow pillowcase."
"Cholo Argyle knows freedom," the old elf spoke. "Freedom is to clean all the kettles."
"Freedom is to pick carrots for Miss Lenore, my Mistress," Fuzzy smiled, getting a bit misty-eyed, "Miss Lenore loves carrots, but Fuzzy loves Miss Lenore more. That is freedom."
"Doing the laundry, and washing dishes, and cleaning the Great Hall with... with Bingo," Bonny said, her voice trembling. "That is freedom."
All elves present gave her a look of most amiable sympathy, but it was Ribbit who touched the topic first, "Bonny must miss Bingo a lot."
Bonny swallowed, making an effort not to burst out crying. "Bonny misses Bingo a lot."
Ducky looked at her with eyes large and filled with fear. While all the elves knew Bingo's crime, none but Bonny knew his punishment, and she now realized that they all thought he had been given clothes and sent away. She opened her mouth to correct the mistake, but hesitated. In truth, Bingo had not been given clothes and sent away, but merely sent to live with Master Grawp, in his little house at the forest's edge. But if they knew how lenient Miss Hermione had been with him, would they be as willing to help Bonny stop her? Bonny did not know. Bonny also did not know whether Bingo would approve of her telling everyone about his fate; he had told it to her, but she didn't know if it was a secret or not.
"Bonny is one nice elf," Cholo Argyle said. "Bonny will soon find another elf to love."
Bonny smiled, but didn't bother to correct him. Instead, she followed her earlier thought, "We must show Miss Hermione what freedom means to us. We must make her understand."
"Ribbit sees and agrees to all that. But Ribbit wonders, how shall we do all this?"
Bonny hesitated. She hadn't thought this far. She hadn't planned any of this. It had just burst out of her under the pressure of emotional distress, and then she had continued releasing her feelings and it had felt good, saying things a traditional house elf wouldn't even have nightmares about, and she had carried on, and now suddenly everyone was looking at her as if they expected her to lead them, or at least tell them what to do, and she didn't have a clue what to say.
She could only hope that someone else might get an idea, and this time she turned out to be lucky. Not Lucky. Lucky, as far as Bonny knew, was currently cleaning the owlery, and he was lucky, too, because he was quite fond of the owls. At least those who didn't attempt to eat him. Some did.
"Miss Hermione works a lot, too," Fuzzy suddenly spoke, as if the lasting silence had started to bother him. It may well have done that, elves did not like idleness. "I've heard Masters Harry and Ron say it repeatedly. They tell her to take it easy."
There was a moment of heavy, intense silence. And then Cholo Argyle spoke.
This was all he spoke, but it carried loads of meaning. The elves drew closer together and even Ducky looked more curious than scared.
"Ah?" Ribbit prompted. "Could Cholo Argyle perhaps say a little bit more?"
"Ah. Hmm. Ah."
"Cholo!" Ducky reprimanded.
He merely shrugged, but after a while did say some more, "Cholo Argyle simply thinks that Miss Hermione must already know some of these joys. Miss Hermione has her own duty, and doing it well makes her happy. She has her own friends at whose side to work. And she is happy when she makes others happy."
"Miss Hermione works a lot," Ribbit agreed, "I've heard Master Neville and Miss Susan say that she probably works more than any other of them, and definitely more than some of them combined."
"Then she should take a break!" Ducky cried with sudden enthusiasm, then blushed furiously.
"Ah," Cholo Argyle remarked with a small smile. "She could still learn the joys of kettle cleaning. And the joys of a well cleaned kettle."
"Then this is what we should do," Ribbit announced. "We should help Miss Hermione as much as we can. We should tell her to take a break, we should tell her to go on a vacation, we should tell her she works too much."
"We should tell her how to clean kettles," Cholo Argyle added.
Bonny felt a bit dizzy, which naturally made her think of Dizzy. The elf had scurried away from them with the rest. It couldn't really be a revolution. Elves did not revolt. And she could not be the initiator of a revolution, or a revolutionary leader. Elves did not revolt. Ducky would faint at the mere thought of the word 'revolution'. And it was better not to speak of revelations or resolutions in front of her either, especially when you didn't speak very clearly.
"You think this will work? You think Miss Hermione will understand?" Ducky was currently asking, her eyes big with wonder. Apparently she hadn't thought about the r-word yet, or realized that what they were planning to do here came quite close to that.
"If she does, it will make us happy," Fuzzy said, "if she doesn't, we will be helping her with her work."
There was a collective sigh of 'ah' followed by a lot brighter 'oh!'. The elves had not thought of it like this before. All they were planning to do here was help Miss Hermione, because she had too much work, and they were going to help her. Except for Cholo Argyle, who was certain that should Miss Hermione once try out kettle cleaning, she would never want to do anything else again. But he, too, wanted the best for her, wanted to teach her the endless joys of kettle cleaning that she might otherwise never discover by herself.
"This is settled? Have we come to a re- an agreement? Are we going to help Miss Hermione?" Bonny asked.
"Yes!" a choir of voiced replied.
"Well done, elves," Bonny said, revelling in motherly pride.
"But... how are we going to help Miss Hermione?" Ribbit asked after a moment of beaming at each other.
Bonny hesitated again. They were asking her all the difficult questions.
"Master Ron said Miss Hermione does everything!" Fuzzy volunteered.
"Miss Hermione is a Professor," Ribbit said, "she teaches the children the wisdoms of life."
"We could teach them some wisdoms of life," Fuzzy said, in a slightly doubtful voice. "We do know the wisdoms of life, don't we?"
"We know the wisdoms of cooking!"
"The wisdoms of washing!"
"And the eternal joys of kettle cleaning."
"But I don't think that's the kind of wisdoms she teaches," Ducky said, eyes still wide with wonder.
"Cholo Argyle!" Ducky became upset. "You do not say you know better than Miss Hermione what she should teach to the children. That is... that is... that is r-"
"It's not revolution! It's not revolution! Oh..."
Fuzzy and Ribbit ran to catch the fainting elf, while Bonny sent Cholo Argyle a serious look,
"This is not a revolution. Cholo Argyle should know better. Elves do not revolt."
"Cholo Argyle knows that," the elf replied with a similar and even sharper stare. "Cholo Argyle wonders if Bonny, too, knows it."
"Don't argue!" Fuzzy reprimanded. "You will only upset Ducky."
"Not only Ducky," Ribbit added.
"We, elves, are humble helpers around the house, we do not do that r-thing," Bonny announced, daring Cholo Argyle with her look to bring up Bingo. She would become very angry if he did.
"What if we do it humbly?"
This question shocked them all, but not because of what was said, but because of who said it. Ducky was pushing herself up, and pushing Fuzzy and Ribbit away, kindly, of course.
"What is Ducky saying?"
"What if we.. r-re.. r-r-re... revolt humbly?"
Fuzzy and Ribbit rushed towards her, but Ducky was still standing firmly on her own legs when they arrived, and she once again kindly pushed them away.
"Can we do that?" Ribbit wondered, his eyes now as large as Ducky's had been.
"Can we do it in any other way?" Ducky asked softly.
"Humble elf revolution," Fuzzy said after a while, trying out the taste of it. It was a bit too spicy and definitely too strong, but it was the taste you would never forget. It was the kind of taste that once you have had it, you think you will never try it again, but then you realize that you want to, even though you still keep saying you didn't like it at all. It's the kind of taste that makes you sneak into the kitchen in the middle of the night, wishing just to get a sniff of it, terrified that someone might come and discover you, terrified and excited. It was the taste once tried, there would be no going back.
The elves were revolting. Most humbly, of course.
"We do not work too much, do we?" Ribbit asked, fidgeting as if this question had bothered him all along and he only now had gathered enough courage to speak it. As it happened, this was indeed so. It had bothered Ribbit for a long time that Miss Hermione accused them of over-working, since Ribbit had heard stories, and calculated that he didn't drop down dead after his day of work.
"Too much!" Cholo Argyle exclaimed. "Ho-ho-ho. You should have seen the amount of work we did during the One Elf Rule. Each of us did ten elves' two weeks' work in twelve hours. Those were days, I tell you. And no one complained, because there was no one to complain to, and definitely no time for it. Those were the true Days of Work! What we have now, that's all fine and nice and lovely, but work today is not what it once was. You can hardly feel any strain in your body when you go to sleep. Hah, sleep! Sleep nowadays isn't what it used to be. Hah, sometimes there used to be none of it. Work, work, work, around the clock, over the clock, under the clock, beside the clock. The clock stopped working before the elf did."
"Bingo would have loved it," Bonny breathed.
"Don't listen to Cholo Argyle," Ducky said, "he sometimes gets carried away by the glory of the past. As he calls it."
"What is this One Elf Rule Cholo Argyle mentions?" Ribbit was interested.
"You don't know about the One Elf Rule?" Cholo Argyle gasped, as if he'd been just asked what a kettle was, "Where have you been living, Ribbit?"
"Not where, when," Ducky coughed. "We are not all as old... I mean, venerable, as you are, Cholo Argyle."
"Even so," the venerable kettle-cleaner argued. "All elves should be familiar with the One Elf Rule. It's the basics of elf history. Now I suppose you will tell me you don't even know where elves come from?"
"Ooh, I know that one!" Fuzzy raised his arm. "Miss Lenore told me. A boy elf and a girl elf get together, and they like each other a lot, and then he tells her that her nose is the perfect shade of green, that her pillowcase looks gorgeous on her, and then if his blanket is nice and thick and soft, they peek under it and find a baby elf!"
"From under the blanket?" Ribbit asked, frowning, while Bonny and Ducky were both trying to hide their grins, and Cholo Argyle looked as if he didn't know whether to laugh or cry, and compared to the youth of these days, kettles were infinitely better.
"But babies do come in blankets, don't they?" Fuzzy reasoned, "and the blankets must be soft and nice and warm, don't they? Fuzzy peeks under his blankets every day, but he hasn't found a baby there yet."
"Has Fuzzy done all that other stuff?" Ducky asked, smiling.
"Yes! Fuzzy has told Dizzy her ears are the prefect shade of green, he has told her that her pillowcase looks gorgeous on her, and he's even had her peek under the blanket, but Dizzy found no baby either!"
"Did you tell Dizzy she was looking for a baby?" Bonny asked, also smiling.
"No, but I'm sure Dizzy would have said so if she had found a baby. And Fuzzy looked, too, and he didn't see a baby there."
Bonny and Ducky exchanged an amused gaze.
"Next time, do tell Dizzy you are looking for a baby," Bonny advised. "I'm sure that if she knows what she should be looking for, it will be easier for her to find it."
"That's where elves come from? Under the blankets?" Ribbit asked, still doubtful, and turned to look at Cholo Argyle, "Is that was Cholo Argyle meant?"
"This was not what Cholo Argyle meant," the old elf said, pinching his nose. "Definitely not what Cholo Argyle meant."
"Then what did Cholo Argyle mean?"
Cholo Argyle stayed quiet for a while, contemplating whether this generation was even worth to be told the wisdoms of time.
"Oh, tell them, Cholo," Ducky prompted. "You know you want to."
"All right," Cholo Argyle quickly relented. "But it better not go in your one ear and out the other.
"Very well," he added, when all elves had assumed the pose of very attentive listening, "in the dawn of times, long before the great Merlin walked upon the Earth, the house elves came to be. In those days, house elves were a family of nature spirits that for some reason left the forests and moved to live in houses. In those days, they were not in the service of the owners of the house, but sometimes even played little tricks of mischief on them.
"Don't you dare faint now, Ducky," Cholo made a pause in the story to give the elf a look of warning, "this is the history of all of us that I'm telling."
The elf in the yellow pillowcase smiled, but didn't say a word. This wasn't her first time of hearing the story.
"As I said, these early house elves used to play tricks on their masters," Cholo continued his story, "who, at those time, were not their masters. But then some elves discovered that if they were nice to those humans who inhabited the houses, then the humans were also nicer to them. And if the elves helped them with one little thing and another, the humans gave them food and didn't try to turn them out of the house. And so, over time, over years and centuries, the house elves became to help humans even more, until it became natural for them to do it, and so they kept doing it, and so we keep doing it now.
"But it's the fact that house elves came from the woods, came from the independence and freedom of a spirit's life and entered the house of a human, and there they chose to help the witch or wizard living there. We were never enslaved. We made the choice. We chose dependence, and now, we shall fight for it. I for one do not want to go back into the woods."
The elves shook their heads in unison, enthralled by what they were hearing.
"Tell them about the towels," Ducky suggested.
"Oh yes, the towels and the pillowcases and all the traditional garments of an elf," Cholo Argyle, spoke, grinning a little. "In those early days when elves did not get along with their humans, they used to steal their towels. Nothing was more amusing, apparently, than to watch a witch or wizard get out of the bath and discover all their towels missing. Spirits are known for their bizarre taste of humour. One more reason not to go back into the forest."
After a while of being in awe and exchanging looks of wonder, Ribbit hesitatingly addressed Cholo Argyle, "This is all very exciting that Cholo Argyle tells us. Very exciting, indeed. But Cholo Argyle has not yet mentioned the One Elf Rule."
"I was just coming to that," the venerable elf snapped. "So now you know where elves came from. It's also important to know that the initial group of elves that came to live in houses was not very big. Therefore there wasn't usually more than one elf per house, since the early elves were rather territorial and protective of their families from other elves, even at the time of playing tricks on them. And over the time, this too grew to be natural, to have one elf by house. Of course, the elves in neighbouring houses kept in touch with each other, so that they could... ehh... look under the blankets for babies together. And true, sometimes two or more elves came to live together. But the tradition still continued as one elf in one house."
"And that was the One Elf Rule?" Fuzzy breathed.
"No," Cholo Argyle shook his head, "there was no rule, just tradition. And as I just told you, sometimes elves did live together. In desolate places it was quite frequent. But even there it was usually just two elves in one house. No, the rule came later, and it was made by wizards."
The elf stopped, and looked longingly towards the sink, where a few dirty kettles had appeared.
"I think that Ducky can tell you the next bit," he said, unable to resist the temptation. "I'll just go and clean these kettles in the meantime."
All eyes turned towards Ducky, except for those of Bonny. (And of Cholo Argyle and Ducky herself). But Bonny was staring at the kettle cleaner, wondering whether there was more to this than the call of dirty kettles; whether there was a reason why Cholo Argyle was reluctant to tell the next bit.
"In the old times, therefore," Ducky went on with the story, "although those times were not so old, they were rather new. At least when compared to some other times, which were much older. Erm... anyway, as Cholo Argyle said, there was usually no more than two elves in one house, and therefore, the number of elves a wizard or witch had signified the number of houses they had, because at the time of throwing parties and having many visitors, they gathered all their elves in the house they were currently living in. And when the guest came, they could see the wealth of the family by not only their beautiful rooms, elegant robes, and splendid dishes, but also by the number of elves that were serving them. And thus the number of elves became the main indicator of wealth and status.
"But there were wizards who were not as rich as others, but wanted to be, or at least appear to be. And then there were wizards who were not rich at all, but rather poor, and had trouble feeding themselves, not to mention their elves. And together these two types of wizards found a solution good for everyone. Those poor families who couldn't afford an elf sold theirs to those rich families, who wanted other even richer families to think they were more wealthy than they actually were. After this exchange of elves, there were more elves in richer houses and none in the very poor ones. Large communities of elves, ten, twenty, even fifty elves sometimes lived in one single house. And this was the reason for the One Elf Rule. Because fifty elves in one house always led to serious trouble."
"Yes, there was trouble," Cholo Argyle said, returning to them. Bonny peeked towards the sink— all kettles there were sparkling clean. "Many horror stories of those days were repeatedly told in my youth, when the One Elf Rule had been just established. Stories of wizard families having practically no room to live, because their house was filled with elves. Stories of wizard families turning their elves against each other in their arguments, stories of elves belonging to different members of the family fighting with each other, stories of elves fighting each other over the honour of filling their masters wish. There was one particularly gruesome story of a wizard who had twelve elves, and then one day he told them to fetch his wife. And they all heeded to his command, and they all brought him his wife, or at least the piece of her they had managed to grab. Many think this was the final straw that brought along One Elf Rule.
"But the truth is," Cholo continued, realizing his whole audience was too much enthralled with the story to ask him anything, "that those truly rich families, who really had twenty houses and twenty elves, they started to protest. And they made the One Elf Rule. One elf in one house – and no exceptions. Of course, they couldn't really boast their wealth with the number of elves then, as those elves always stayed in different houses, but at least the fake rich families could not appear to be richer than they were. This was the One Elf Rule."
"But obviously the elves from different houses still got together sometimes," Bonny said, "to look for babies under the blanket."
"Some masters and mistresses brought their elves together for that very reason," Cholo Argyle spoke. "Other elves had to do it between making purchase and delivering messages. The One Elf Rule didn't mean that the elf had to stay inside all the time. They were sent on errands outside their house."
"But surely they didn't delay their return from those errands to get together with other elves?" Ribbit asked, horrified.
Cholo Argyle chuckled, "Not when their masters told them to hurry."
"Cholo Argyle is joking," Fuzzy claimed. "Surely that counts as disobedience."
The old elf chuckled some more, then sent Ducky a loving glance.
"If Cholo Argyle was joking then Ducky wouldn't be here today. Cholo Argyle met Ducky's mother on one of his errands."
The other elves looked at him with confusion and disbelief.
"What Cholo Argyle means to say," Ducky explained, "is that –"
"What Cholo Argyle means to say," the old elf said, "is that house elves have a lot more freedom than even we ourselves realize. We are bound to our house and our masters because that is what we chose to do. But it does not mean we couldn't have a life of our own."
"That sounds awfully like the r-word," Fuzzy remarked, frowning.
"Well!" Cholo Argyle snorted. "If we didn't take the time and trouble to go looking for babies under blankets, the whole elvendom would very soon add up to zero. And what would our Masters and Mistresses do then, when there's no one to feed them, and wash them, and look after their kettles?"
"What Cholo Argyle means," said Ducky, giving her father a look of warning, "is that even if it's something of a r-word, it's the humble r-word. It's something our Masters and Mistresses would not deny us, they are just too busy to worry about it. Thus we take care of it ourselves, and do not burden anyone else."
Cholo Argyle snorted again, swept his special Woe to the youth of today, even the kettles are not what they once were glance over the scene, shook his head, and returned to his sink. One by one the remaining elves returned to their works and duties, while they were still allowed to do them.