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Could Hermione really free the Hogwarts house-elves with the little knitted hats she hides around Gryffindor Tower?

‘Why d’you wear that thing, Dobby?’ [Harry] asked curiously.

‘This, sir?’ said Dobby, plucking at the pillowcase. ‘’Tis a mark of the house-elf’s enslavement, sir. Dobby can only be freed if his masters present him with clothes, sir. The family is careful not to pass Dobby even a sock, sir, for then he would be free to leave their house for ever.’

Chamber of Secrets - page 133 - Bloomsbury - chapter 10, The Rogue Bludger


‘You’re leaving out hats for the house-elves?’ said Ron slowly.‘And you’re covering them up with rubbish first?’

‘Yes,’ said Hermione defiantly, swinging her bag on to her back.

‘That’s not on,’ said Ron angrily. ‘You’re trying to trick them into picking up the hats. You’re setting them free when they might not want to be free.’

Order of the Phoenix - page 230 - Bloomsbury - chapter 13, Detention with Dolores

If a house-elf can only be freed by his or her master or mistress, as Dobby says, how could Hermione free a Hogwarts house-elf if an elf happened to pick up one of her knitted hats, as Ron insists?

This, I believe, brings us back to the question: Who owns the Hogwarts house-elves?

Who knew that house-elves could be so complicated?

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It is sort of a curious dichotomy: On one hand, the house elves are slaves, but on the other hand, at least at Hogwarts, they have a certain level of freedom. I mean, they clearly chose to not clean Gryffindor Tower because of Hermione's hat stunt (though I'm sure most house elves would not be granted this level of freedom in most houses). Perhaps "freedom" only occurs if a house elf believes him/herself to be free? – Meg Coates Nov 12 '12 at 16:00
up vote 19 down vote accepted

The House Elves didn't clean Gryffindor tower any more because they considered the hidden clothes as an insult.

Dobby Says in OotP:

None of them will clean Gryffindor Tower any more, not with the hats and socks hidden everywhere, they finds them insulting, sir. Dobby does it all himself, sir

And Hermione cannot free house elves because she is not their master.

House elves don't consider Hogwarts students as Masters; Dobby was able to talk about Draco Malfoy in HP6 when harry orders Dobby and Kreacher to tail Malfoy. If Draco were Dobby's master, He would have been forced to keep Draco's secret and not to tell Harry about it.

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You can't use Dobby as an example, Dobby is a free elf. The rules are different for him. – Yamikuronue Nov 14 '12 at 14:40

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