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House elves seem to be inordinately powerful, if they are doing it for their masters.

For example, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, after Kreacher has recounted his experiences in the sea cave: all emphasis added

‘How did you get away?’ Harry asked, and he was not surprised to hear himself whispering.

Kreacher raised his ugly head and looked at Harry with his great, bloodshot eyes. ‘Master Regulus told Kreacher to come back,’ he said.

‘I know – but how did you escape the Inferi?’

Kreacher did not seem to understand. ‘Master Regulus told Kreacher to come back,’ he repeated.

‘I know, but –’

‘Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it, Harry?’ said Ron. ‘He Disapparated!’

‘But ... you couldn’t Apparate in and out of that cave,’ said Harry, ‘otherwise Dumbledore –’

‘Elf magic isn’t like wizard’s magic, is it?’ said Ron. ‘I mean, they can Apparate and Disapparate in and out of Hogwarts when we can’t.

To me this appears to indicate that the order of their master is greater to house elves than any wards set up to prevent disapparation, enabling them to 'do the impossible'. (I don't believe that the cave only stopped wizards disapparating and overlooked house elves, otherwise Kreacher would have simply disapparated without Regulus Black's order so that he could keep serving his master).

House elves can also perform wandless magic against wizards that are in a position of power, as in this quote (from Chapter 23 of Deathly Hallows) about Dobby disarming Narcissa Malfoy at Malfoy Mansion:

As Narcissa dragged Draco out of the way of further harm, Bellatrix sprang to her feet, her hair flying as she brandished the silver knife; but Narcissa had directed her wand at the doorway.

“Dobby!” she screamed and even Bellatrix froze. “You! You dropped the chandelier—?”

The tiny elf trotted into the room, his shaking finger pointing at his old mistress.

“You must not hurt Harry Potter,” he squeaked.

“Kill him, Cissy!” shrieked Bellatrix, but there was another loud crack, and Narcissa’s wand too flew into the air and landed on the other side of the room.

“You dirty little monkey!” bawled Bellatrix. “How dare you take a witch’s wand, how dare you defy your masters?”

“Dobby has no master!” squealed the elf. “Dobby is a free elf, and Dobby has come to save Harry Potter and his friends!”

It appears to me that these are awesomely powerful creatures that will defend their masters.

Why couldn't a house elf be given an order similar to the following:

Dobby, Voldemort is trying to kill Harry Potter and has already attempted to do so several times.

We must not let this happen.

Find Mundungus, disarm him, get the horcrux from him and destroy it (using the sword of Griffindor if necessary), then deliver Mundungus to Dumbledore for punishment.

Destroy Nagini without being caught, seen or hurt in any way.

Find the remaining horcruxes and destroy them using any manner required, while minimising damage to surroundings as much as possible.

If any horcruxes are in people, find a way to destroy the horcrux without causing the person any long-term damage.

Kill Voldemort and his willing Death Eaters, and disarm and capture the unwilling Death Eaters.

Do not get hurt in any way, do not get caught, do not get seen.

Where there limits to the power of house elves that prevented an order such as the above being used? For example, was there ever a situation where house elves were unable to fulfill an order?

Or was it just the natural habit of wizards to overlook non-human 'inferior' magical creatures such as goblins and house elves that prevented the order from being given?


Note: I do agree that to order anything/anyone into danger is wrong and unethical. But if an order could be phrased so that the house elf was in no danger, could the above order be carried out by the elf?

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    That's not "an order", that's a lot of orders, and while House Elves are definitely powerful, they're not God-like beings that are capable of absolutely anything with no risk to themselves. Most wizards overlook them, and the ones that don't wouldn't necessarily be willing to put the life of a House Elf on the line to save their own. Just look at Ron at the end of Deathly Hallows. Though Harry did use House Elves - Kreacher and Dobby, specifically - for less risky tasks, such as spying on Draco in HBP and finding Mundungus in DH (oh look, that's part of the "order" you listed). – Anthony Grist Nov 30 '15 at 23:45
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    @AnthonyGrist I have to say though, we really have no idea how powerful they are. We just know that their magic is different to wizard magic. – CandiedMango Nov 30 '15 at 23:47
  • @AnthonyGrist is there any canon either way for house elves being/not being capable of anything? house elves seem to be overlooked by JKR as well as the wizarding world... – user32390 Nov 30 '15 at 23:47
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    @AnthonyGrist It was unclear in my comment but I was more saying that they are most likely not that powerful. I am of the same opinion as you, anyone who respected them enough to recognise their magic could not "order" them to fight. – CandiedMango Nov 30 '15 at 23:56
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    @AnthonyGrist The vast majority of house elf owners don't care about them in any meaningful way. They're slaves that you literally can't clothe. – Slacklord the Terrible Dec 1 '15 at 0:11
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Don't forget that Kreacher failed to destroy the Slytherin's locket Horcrux the first time.

'And he told Kreacher - to go home - and never to tell my mistress - what he had done - but to destroy - the first locket.'

[...]

'Nothing Kreacher did made any mark upon it,' moaned the elf. 'Kreacher tried everything, everything he knew, but nothing, nothing would work ... so many powerful spells upon the casing, Kreacher was sure the way to destroy it was to get inside it, but it would not open ... Kreacher punished himself, he tried again, he punished himself, he tried again. Kreacher failed to obey orders, Kreacher could not destroy the locket!'

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - pp.162 and 163 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 10, Kreacher's Tale

He also failed to prevent it from being stolen by Mundungus Fletcher.

'Mundungus Flecher stole it all ... and the locket, Master Regulus's locket, Kreacher did wrong, Kreacher failed in his orders!'

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - p.158 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 10, Kreacher's Tale

He got away from that cave because Voldemort overlooked elf magic, not because they're mini-gods. I think Kreacher's Tale is a beautiful allegory, with the lowest dregs of the magical world bringing about the undoing of an immensely powerful, prejudiced, supremacist fool who ignored them. But you're getting carried away.

"'The house-elf's highest law is his master's bidding,'" but it doesn't give them any powers they don't already have. I think of it like Felix Felicis.

'I think I'm going to take another swig of Felix,' said Harry, 'and have a go at the Room of Requirement again.'

'That would be a complete waste of potion,' said Hermione flatly, putting down the copy of Spellman's Syllabary she had just taken out of her back. 'Luck can only get you so far, Harry. The situation with Slughorn was different; you always had the ability to persuade him, you just needed to tweak the circumstances a bit. Luck isn't enough to get you through a powerful enchantment, though.'

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - p.484 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 24, Sectumsempra

And, at the end of the day, House-Elfs are small, not physically formidable, not educated in magic, not permitted to use wands and not exactly inherently that powerful. Just because the rules governing House-Elf Apparition are a little different to those governing wizard Apparition, doesn't mean they can do anything.

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    In book 2, Dobby proved to be a formidable character. Lucuis was scared of Dobby. Dobby enchanted the king's cross portal to close. He also enchanted a bludger to harm Harry. – Bernard the Bear Apr 27 '18 at 10:41
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Small correction regarding the cave.

“Elf magic isn’t like wizard’s magic, is it?” said Ron, “I mean, they can Apparate and Disapparate in and out of Hogwarts when we can’t.”

There was a silence as Harry digested this. How could Voldemort have made such a mistake? But even as he thought this, Hermione spoke, and her voice was icy.

“Of course, Voldemort would have considered the ways of house-elves far beneath his notice. It would never have occurred to him that they might have magic that he didn’t.”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 10, Kreacher's Tale

Kreacher did not leave earlier because his master (Regulus) had not asked him to come back. He came back when his master called him back.

Find Mundungus, disarm him, get the horcrux from him and destroy it (using the sword of Griffindor if necessary), then deliver Mundungus to Dumbledore for punishment.

Harry had asked Kreacher to do something similar.

“Kreacher, I want you, please, to go and find Mundungus Fletcher. We need to find out where the locket—where Master Regulus’s locket it. It’s really important. We want to finish the work Master Regulus started, we want to ensure that he didn’t die in vain.”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 10, Kreacher's Tale

There were many reasons to why house-elves were not used in dangerous missions.

Sharing too much information with anybody is a problem.

It is not difficult for a powerful wizard to extract information from an house elf. Dumbledore was able to extract complete information from Kreacher.

“And Kreacher told you all this... and laughed?” he croaked.

“He did not wish to tell me,” said Dumbledore. “But I am a sufficiently accomplished Legilimens myself to know when I am being lied to and I - persuaded him - to tell me the full story, before I left for the Department of Mysteries.”

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 37, The Lost Prophecy

Many wizards considered house-elf to be inferior to them.

“But she was frightened!” Hermione burst out angrily, glaring at Mr. Crouch. “Your elf’s scared of heights, and those wizards in masks were levitating people! You can’t blame her for wanting to get out of their way!”

Mr. Crouch took a step backward, freeing himself from contact with the elf, whom he was surveying as though she were something filthy and rotten that was contaminating his over-shined shoes.

“I have no use for a house-elf who disobeys me,” he said coldly, looking over at Hermione. “I have no use for a servant who forgets what is due to her master, and to her master’s reputation.”

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 9, The Dark Mark

The statue in the ministry of magic conveyed the message of inferiority of house-elves.

Halfway down the hall was a fountain. A group of golden statues, larger than life-size, stood in the middle of a circular pool. Tallest of them all was a noble-looking wizard with his wand pointing straight up in the air. Grouped around him were a beautiful witch, a centaur, a goblin and a house-elf. The last three were all looking adoringly up at the witch and wizard.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 7, The Ministry of Magic

Not many wizards had an house-elf

“Well, whoever owns him will be an old wizarding family, and they’ll be rich,” said Fred.

“Yeah, Mum’s always wishing we had a house-elf to do the ironing,” said George.

“But all we’ve got is a lousy old ghoul in the attic and gnomes all over the garden. House-elves come with big old manors and castles and places like that; you wouldn’t catch one in our house...”

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 3, The Burrow

Ron couldn't even recognize one.

“So that’s a house-elf?” Ron muttered. “Weird things, aren’t they?”

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 8, The Quidditch World Cup

House-elves were basically seen as servants who performed chores at home.

“Yeah, Mum’s always wishing we had a house-elf to do the ironing,” said George.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 3, The Burrow

Some wizards took pity on house-elves

Wizards like Dumbledore, Mr. Weasley, Harry and Hermione treated house-elves kindly and would not have considered putting house-elves in harms way.

“Sirius did not hate Kreacher,” said Dumbledore. “He regarded him as a servant unworthy of much interest or notice. Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike... the fountain we destroyed tonight told a lie. We wizards have mistreated and abused our fellows for too long, and we are now reaping our reward.”

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 37, The Lost Prophecy

  • Maybe I misunderstand you: 'Kreacher did not leave earlier because his master (Regulus) had not asked him to come back. He came back when his master called him back.' sounds like you're saying Regulus called him back at the right moment? But I was certain Kreacher returned because Regulus said to him that when he's done with the task he is to return rather than Regulus called him back at that moment? – Pryftan Oct 16 '17 at 22:06
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The house elves were used in the battle of hogwarts. It says in the book that while Harry was 'supposedly' dead, Kreacher led the house elves into battle and they were holding knives and using magic against the death eaters. It also said that Kreacher was chanting 'fight for master, who is the defender of the house elves. Fight fight fight.'

  • That was on their own accord though. So although they participated I think it's a misnomer to say they were used in the battle (though that wording is rather telling of the matter when it comes to slaves which house elves because usually they are indeed ordered to do something). – Pryftan Oct 16 '17 at 22:10
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I stumbled upon this while satisfying some curiousities about house elves:

Kreacher lead the house elves in the final battle against Voldemort so I'm not sure why you would think otherwise.

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    What is your evidence for this? – Gallifreyan May 25 '17 at 5:26
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    @Gallifreyan: It's in the book (DH, chapter The flaw in the plan): 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 … – chirlu May 25 '17 at 5:58
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    But note that this is at most tangential to the question. The house-elves act of their own accord (or Kreacher’s), they are not ordered by wizards. However, the scene shows that they don’t have magic that would be particularly useful in battle; they use traditional non-magical weapons, and their advantage is mostly surprise. – chirlu May 25 '17 at 6:03
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    Have to agree with @chirlu that this is tangential to the question and does not really address any of the main points. No one is arguing that House Elves played no role in the battle against Voldemort - clearly some did. The question is really "Can house elves do anything they are ordered to do?" and "Why weren't they ordered by their masters to take more direct action in the war?" – BlackThorn May 25 '17 at 18:19

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