As Matilda and Miss Honey walk through the village towards Miss Honey's cottage, Matilda becomes more and more animated, happily hopping along and chattering to Miss Honey about how powerful and happy she feels. Miss Honey warns her that they must tread carefully, since they do not know the implications of the mysterious forces they are dealing with. She says they should explore Matilda's newfound powers on their own, for a while, before they decide what they mean.
They travel down an isolated country road and finally arrive at Miss Honey's home. It's a tiny red brick cottage, meant for a farm laborer, the walls crumbling and old. Miss Honey recites a poem that she often thinks of as she walks up the path to her house, by a poet called Dylan Thomas. Matilda is fascinated at hearing romantic poetry spoken aloud, and calls it music. She feels as if she is approaching something fantastical, like this cottage is straight out of a fairy tale.
Miss Honey's cottage is small and plain, hardly furnished. The kitchen only has a few shelves, a sink, and a stove. The sink does not work, so Matilda is sent to go fetch water outside from the well. When Matilda asks, Miss Honey tells her that she is very poor. They make tea and bread, and Matilda is careful not to say anything that would embarrass Miss Honey.
They take their sitting room, which is so bare that it surprises Matilda: the only pieces of furniture are three overturned boxes, two serving as chairs and as a table. Matilda cannot believe that this is where her schoolteacher lives, and thinks there must be some reason for it, something going on here that she does not know. Matilda resolves herself to figuring out the mystery of this little house.
Matilda carefully probes Miss Honey, asking if they pay her very little at school. Miss Honey says she makes the same as everyone else, but she is the only one who lives so poor and simply. Matilda guesses that she must like living this way, which makes Miss Honey uncomfortable. When Matilda apologizes, Miss Honey dismisses it, and says though she has never talked about her problems to anyone before, she now feels the desperate need to tell someone else her story.
She begins, talking about how she was born to a doctor father in a big house nearby in the village. Her mother died when she was two, so her father invited her mother's sister—her aunt—to come in and live with them to take care of her. Miss Honey hated her right from the start; she was very unkind, though she always hid her cruelty in front of Miss Honey's father. Then when Miss Honey was five, her father died very suddenly, having allegedly killed himself, and she was left to live alone with her cruel aunt. Matilda wonders aloud if the aunt was actually the one who killed him.
Living with her aunt, Miss Honey's life was a nightmare. She does not want to talk about the specifics, but her abuse made her timid and afraid. Anything her aunt demanded, she obeyed, and grew up doing all of her housework and cleaning. Though she was a bright student, she was forbidden from going to university. She was allowed to go to a teacher's college forty minutes a day, as long as she came right home afterwards each day and did her housework. When Miss Honey got her teacher's job, her aunt told her she would have to give her every bit of her salary for the next ten years to pay her back for feeding and housing her all these years.
Miss Honey is proud of how she managed to escape her aunt's house and live in this tiny cottage. She stumbled upon the place two years ago, and was able to rent it off a farmer for ten pence per week. She has managed to live here since on the one pound per week she gets as allowance from her aunt. Matilda thinks Miss Honey is a heroine, but realizes she cannot live like this for an indefinite amount of time and needs help. Matilda insists that she hire a lawyer and fight for her father's house, since surely he left it to his daughter, but Miss Honey says that no one has ever been able to find her father's will. Besides, she says, her aunt is a much-respected figure in the community and has a lot of influence. Finally, she reveals exactly who her aunt is: Miss Trunchbull.
Matilda is shocked, and realizes it's no wonder Miss Honey is so terrified. Miss Honey diverts the conversation to Matilda, but Matilda says she is not in the mood to do experiments with her mind power today; she would rather go home and think about what she has heard this afternoon. Miss Honey agrees and walks her home, and as she does, Matilda gets an idea. She does not reveal it to Miss Honey, but she asks a few questions. She learns that Miss Honey's father's name was Magnus, he called Miss Trunchbull Agatha, and they both called Miss Honey Jenny.
Setting plays a very important role in this novel. Matilda's story takes place in just a few different locations, but all are distinct in character and appearance. The spaces in which each scene takes place reveal important things about the people within. Crunchem Prep, for example, is a large, imposing, and stark building, reflective of Miss Trunchbull, who runs it. The same is true for Miss Honey's cottage; it is small, modest, and cozy, a physical manifestation of her reserved and thoughtful personality.
These chapters set an important contrast between fairy tales and reality. Because of her less-than-perfect home life Matilda has always been a very realistic person, aware of the trouble the real world can dish out. However, she is still a child, and particularly when she is around Miss Honey the world may sometimes seem more idealistic than it is. As she walks up to the cottage and enters it, she remarks in her mind that it is like something out of a fairytale. After hearing Miss Honey's story, though, she realizes that even these fairy-tale settings have a dark side, and that reality can often be cruel and difficult for even the kindest people.
Part of growing close to a person is revealing your own vulnerability. Miss Honey was the first person Matilda opened up to, and she got a glimpse of Matilda's own vulnerability by going to her parents' house and learning what her home life is like. Now it is Miss Honey's turn to open up and be vulnerable, revealing the haunting secret of life with her aunt. Though it is difficult for her to speak candidly, telling Matilda her story allows the little girl to feel closer to her, and the two are able to experience companionship that had not fully been realized before.
For Miss Honey, the most frustrating thing about her Aunt Trunchbull's treatment of her is that even though she is an adult, she has no control over her own life. Miss Honey is fighting to live on her own, make her own decisions, and no longer be controlled by the aunt who has always had so much power over her. Moving into the cottage was a small victory in this pursuit, allowing her to physically distance herself from the woman who tries to control everything she does. This is why, despite its modest conditions, she is so proud of her little home.
Miss Honey's backstory reveals much about why she loves teaching so much. As a teacher, she can nurture and care for students the way she was not cared for herself. She can teach them and reward them with praise and affection, rather than shape them up with punishment the way her aunt did to her. Miss Honey strives to be the opposite of Aunt Trunchbull, because she knows better than anyone how terrible this woman is.
Matilda is young, so she easily could have been upset by Miss Honey's story, too overwhelmed to react with composure. Instead, though, Matilda once again displays her maturity and cleverness by immediately thinking about the ways she can help her beloved teacher get out of this terrible situation. Matilda's mind is unique not just because of its power to move objects, but also because of the way she is able to empathize so thoroughly with people despite her young age and limited life experience.