Some Thoughts on House-Elves
by Douglas Moran
“One day,” said Hermione, sounding thoroughly exasperated, “you'll read Hogwarts, A History, and perhaps that will remind you that you can't Apparate or Disapparate inside Hogwarts.”
“Well, he [Dumbledore] can't have Disapparated!” cried Umbridge. “You can't inside this school — ”
Quietly, tentatively, Harry spoke into the darkness.
There was a very loud crack, and the sounds of scuffling and squeaks filled the silent room. Ron awoke with a yelp.
“What's going — ?”
. . . Two house-elves were rolling around on the floor in the middle of the dormitory . . . .
As the war against Voldemort heats up, with Dementors on the loose (and breeding (HBP1)), giants stirring up trouble (HBP1), escaped Death Eaters using the Unforgivable Curses and, most of all, Voldemort himself having regained his full power, it's going to be tough sledding for Wizardkind in general, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione
in particular, to triumph. But while Voldemort maintains his hold on
people and creatures through fear and intimidation, having no close
friends of his own (HBP17), Harry has, over the years, gained a fairly
impressive array of allies on his side through the power of friendship,
loyalty, and love.
There are of course Ron, Hermione, and Ginny (not to mention the rest of the Weasleys), as well as Harry's other friends at Hogwarts (for example, Neville and Luna). But even more, Harry has gained the affection and trust of Centaurs (Firenze), giants (Grawp) and half-giants (Hagrid and, probably, Madame Maxime), a phoenix, Thestrals, and a werewolf.
But there is also a race of creatures, creatures who have no love for
Voldemort (CS2), and one of whom has a huge amount of respect and
admiration for Harry, who are powerfully magical in their own right,
and could play a major role in the final book: the house-elves.
Consider the quotes at the beginning of this essay. As Hermione and Umbridge note, wizards and witches — even ones as powerful as Dumbledore — cannot Apparate and Disapparate inside Hogwarts (at least, not without Fawkes's help). And yet Kreacher and Dobby
both can not only do so, they can hear Harry whisper their names from
several floors away and appear almost instantly. Indeed, it is worth
noting that Dobby, for whom Harry did not call, heard him and came as
well. (Although it is possible that Dobby appeared because he was
fighting with Kreacher at the time (HBP19).) Dobby in his admiration
for Harry seems to have set up some sort of magical alert that lets him
know when Harry calls him — not a simple card or coin trick, for sure!
There are a number of other examples that show how powerful house-elves can be. Dobby levitates a cake without speaking a spell or using a wand (CS2). While an advanced wizard (post-O.W.L.
level, HBP9) learns unvoiced spells, so far as we have seen, they
always need a wand, yet Dobby levitates the cake without either. Dobby
is also seen blasting Lucius Malfoy off his feet (with something that appears to be the Expelliarmus hex), again without a wand or audible incantation (CS18). The meals and feasts
at Hogwarts are presumably prepared and served using house-elf magic.
And finally, it is clear that Wizardkind is very nervous about the
power of house-elves, otherwise why would they pass such a stringent
law and make the punishment so severe for an elf to possess and use a
There are of course powerful charms
working against the house-elves. An elf in service finds it extremely
difficult to so much as speak out against their master, and outright
disobedience is apparently completely impossible (HBP3). Elves also
appear (in general) to prefer a life of service to being free (GF21) —
Dobby being a notable exception. Even so, with elves displaying the
level of magic of an advanced witch or wizard without a wand, the Ministry and the Wizengamot must have felt it critical to keep anything that would magnify their powers out of their hands.
So if and when Voldemort arrays his giants, trolls, dragons, and who knows what else — perhaps Blast-Ended Skrewts?
— against Harry and the other folks resisting him, it's good to know
that Harry and the rest will hopefully not be facing them alone, but
perhaps have the powerful magic of house-elves (enhanced by special
wands created by a liberated Ollivander?) on their side, fighting not out of fear, but rather love and respect for Harry and the others. A powerful force indeed.
© 2006 Douglas Moran
Edited by Paula Hall