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Why house-elves are totally better than wizards

They didn’t need wands, they were always loyal, and had a brutal time of it in the wizarding world. House-elves, we love you, and salute you.

Dobby and Kreacher deilver Mundungus to Ron, Hermione and Harry in Grimmauld Place.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1

Wizards and witches are all well and good, and we obviously wish we could have a few of their powers from time to time. But house-elves held extraordinary magic of their own. After centuries of being victims of abuse, prejudice and servitude, let’s never forget how incredible they are.

House-elves could perform magic beyond that of a wizard

While Western wizards relied heavily on wands to exhibit their magic, wandless magic is still present in other cultures, including house-elves. Dobby frequently demonstrated himself to be immensely powerful, causing Lucius Malfoy himself to back down with just a point of his finger. Kreacher was so powerful that he was able to Disapparate where wizards could not, escaping the Inferi that surrounded the locket Horcrux. This wasn’t something they had to learn, or something they had to harness: it’s just something that they were.

Dobby’s lip trembled and Harry was seized by a sudden suspicion. ‘It was you!’ he said slowly. ‘You stopped the barrier letting us through!’
‘Indeed yes, sir,’ said Dobby, nodding his head vigorously, ears flapping. ‘Dobby hid and watched for Harry Potter and sealed the gateway and Dobby had to iron his hands afterwards–’ he showed Harry ten, long, bandaged fingers, ‘– but Dobby didn’t care, sir, for he thought Harry Potter was safe, and never did Dobby dream that Harry Potter would get to school another way!’
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Jim Kay's illustration of Dobby the house-elf from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Illustrated Edition
Illustration by Jim Kay © Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 2015, taken from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Illustrated Edition

They always went above and beyond

The house-elves’ failing came from the fact that they were expected to serve. Happily spending their days cooking up feasts, they never turned their minds to the potential for rebellion, because it was simply not how they operated. They worked in teams and they lived to serve. And without someone to teach them that there might be a better way, that was how it would remain. Why would wizards ever seek to re-educate, when their instincts towards servitude were so beneficial towards them?

‘Dobby will have to punish himself most grievously for coming to see you, sir. Dobby will have to shut his ears in the oven door for this. If they ever knew, sir –'
‘But won’t they notice if you shut your ears in the oven door?’
‘Dobby doubts it, sir. Dobby is always having to punish himself for something, sir. They lets Dobby get on with it, sir. Sometimes they reminds me to do extra punishments ...’
‘But why don’t you leave? Escape?’
‘A house-elf must be set free, sir. And the family will never set Dobby free ... Dobby will serve the family until he dies, sir ...’
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Loyalty and bravery were considered immensely positive character traits through the stories. Harry’s loyalty to his friends, and bravery in the face of danger, was something that defined him both as a Gryffindor and also as the hero of the books.

Dobby clicking his fingers to cast a spell
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

And one house-elf in particular stole our hearts

Yet never was bravery demonstrated so strongly than in Dobby, who risked everything to save the life of the young wizard, with whom he had no real personal connection. Later, his loyalty to Harry was demonstrated in numerous small ways, from choosing to work at Hogwarts so that he could be near him, to making him Quidditch-themed socks, to waking Harry when he threatened to sleep through the second Triwizard task, to providing him with the Gillyweed he needed to win it, to decorating the Room of Requirement for Christmas with a hundred baubles featuring his face... This was not the behaviour of a being who felt indebted, but simply one who felt love, and the need to demonstrate it.

His bravery was expressed in larger ways, too. It was he who defied Umbridge in order to warn Harry that his activities within the DA had been discovered. He used his powers to find Harry, Ron, Hermione and Griphook when they were trapped in Malfoy Manor. And he met his end in a last act to save Harry Potter, dying with his name on his lips.

‘Dobby, no, don’t die, don’t die –’
The elf’s eyes found him, and his lips trembled with the effort to form words.
‘Harry... Potter...’
And then with a little shudder the elf became quite still, and his eyes were nothing more than great, glassy orbs sprinkled with light from the stars they could not see.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Dobby's funeral at Shell Cottage.
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Dobby was, of course, a slightly strange house-elf, perhaps not the best to be used as an example of his kind.

But just like humans, they had their own personalities and insecurities

Winky, on the other hand, always behaved exactly as one would expect from a house-elf. She was diffident and apologetic, willing to sit in the Top Box at the Quidditch World Cup even with her fear of heights. She was distraught when she was let go from her position with the Crouch family, and failed to adapt to her new position at Hogwarts, descending into despair and drink. Even when treated so badly, she refused, ever, to speak ill of her family.

‘House-elves is not supposed to have fun, Harry Potter,’ said Winky firmly, from behind her hands. ‘House-elves does what they is told.’
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Illustration of Winky the house-elf drinking bottled Butterbeer from the Pottermore food-o-graphic
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd.™ Warner Bros.

It would be unfair to make a judgement based on only the best personalities of the species – so what can be said in defence of Kreacher, who was, for the most part, sneering, rude, and bent on hating all who crossed his path?

Only that his ferocious loyalty to a ferociously awful family drove him nearly to the brink of insanity; that he still obeyed his new master despite it physically and mentally paining him to do so, and that even his most detestable behaviours were motivated by love.

Several times Kreacher sidled into the room and attempted to smuggle things away under his loincloth, muttering horrible curses every time they caught him at it. When Sirius wrested a large golden ring bearing the Black crest from his grip, Kreacher actually burst into furious tears and left the room sobbing under his breath and calling Sirius names Harry had never heard before.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Even Kreacher redeemed himself

The worst humans in the wizarding world never revealed a redeemable side. Voldemort died a homicidal, malevolent being. The Carrows were cruel to the last. Yet Kreacher, presented throughout as a caricature of loathsomeness, turned a corner, and was revealed to be kind at heart, his warped aspect nothing but a symptom of his treatment by wizards.

‘Kreacher is what he has been made by wizards, Harry,’ said Dumbledore. ‘Yes, he is to be pitied. His existence has been as miserable as your friend Dobby’s. He was forced to do Sirius’s bidding, because Sirius was the last of the family to which he was enslaved, but he felt no true loyalty to him. And whatever Kreacher’s faults, it must be admitted that Sirius did nothing to make Kreacher’s lot easier –’
‘DON’T TALK ABOUT SIRIUS LIKE THAT!’ Harry yelled.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

A Kreacher illustration
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

And at the Battle of Hogwarts, they were vital

Better at heart, and more strongly magical, the one thing that held the house-elves back from domination was their inclination to serve. But, as the Battle of Hogwarts demonstrated, even that could be overcome.

The house-elves of Hogwarts swarmed into the Entrance Hall, screaming and waving carving knives and cleavers, and at their head, the locket of Regulus Black bouncing on his chest, was Kreacher, his bullfrog’s voice audible even above this din: ‘Fight! Fight! Fight for my master, defender of house-elves! Fight the Dark Lord, in the name of brave Regulus! Fight!’
They were hacking and stabbing at the ankles and shins of Death Eaters, their tiny faces alive with malice, and everywhere Harry looked Death Eaters were folding under sheer weight of numbers, overcome by spells, dragging arrows from wounds, stabbed in the leg by elves, or else simply attempting to escape, but swallowed by the oncoming horde.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

So for all the might and power of the witches and wizards, it seemed that the only thing keeping them at the apex of power of the magical world was their certainty that they belonged there – and the equally strong conviction of the house-elves that they themselves did not. If Dobby represented one thing, it was that even the most ingrained behaviours can be changed with a little education.

Let’s hope Hermione knew what she was doing with S.P.E.W.

Dobby and Winky in the Hogwarts kitchens with the other elves.
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.