In Chamber of Secrets, Dobby went to see Harry a couple of times (first at Privet Drive and then at Hogwarts Castle's Hospital Wing).

Dobby was doing everything he was not told to do viz:

  • Going out of house without permission
  • Meeting Harry without permission
  • Telling him few of the family secrets and warning him about the incidents within castle - all without permission

As a result, he has to punish himself for all those actions. Now my question is, when he was able to tell Harry all those things why didn't he tell Harry who was doing it?

Why could he not simply tell Harry that Lucius has been planning these things for quite some time, and that it involves Voldemort's childhood black magic? Why can't he tell Harry this and then punish himself as he did for other non-permissible things?

Why all those riddles and long talks? I mean, he could come all the way from his owner's house to meet Harry without permission, could tell him that something fishy is about to happen again without permission, could perform magic to stop Harry going to Hogwarts without permission but not tell him who is behind this. Weird elf's logic, something is not right here.

  • Despite your claims, there is actually a question here; I've edited to make it more evident Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 14:18
  • 7
    Because there's a difference between disloyalty (doing things you know to be wrong, even if not explicitly told not to do them) and outright betrayal (doing things you know to be wrong and have been forbidden to do).
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 14:19
  • 1
    Probably same reason as someone who is willing to steal might still not be willing to murder. Morality isn't binary.
    – Misha R
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 15:45
  • 2
    Because plot... Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 22:36

4 Answers 4


What was the order?

Elf! You will not tell anybody what is talked about in this room, do you understand?

That would allow Dobby to:

  • Leave the house (he wasn't ordered not to)

  • Tell Harry that he's in danger (he wasn't ordered not to warn anybody about events set in motion)

  • Tell Harry secrets (the order wasn't "You will not divulge any family secrets!) and things going on the castle (see above).

It was just the exact, specific wording of the order that he could not disobey.

This is sometimes called Loophole Abuse, and it's a pretty common storytelling trope. Another excellent example is the behaviour of the Aes Sedai in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. They have taken a binding, unbreakable vow "to speak no word that is not true". As a result, they become experts at speaking around the facts, implying without outright saying, sending you to others who can lie, etc.

What about the punishments?

This is a bit more vague. We're never explicitly told exactly how whatever magic binds a house-elf to his family works, nor do we exactly know how their psychology works. It's possible that Dobby's punishments were left over from an older order - something like

From now on, any Elf who tries to warn my enemies what's coming will have their hands ironed!

could still have the strength of an order, and require Dobby to do those things to himself. It's also possible that Dobby's 'punishments' were largely self-inflicted, to 'absolve' himself of the sin of betraying his family by warning Harry - rather like self-flagellation.


He’d be magically forced to obey any direct orders he was given.

Dobby only had a limited amount of free will about what he could do. House-elves can’t always help whether they betray their owners or not. They don’t need their master’s permission to do everything, and they can go against their owner’s wishes - as long as they weren’t specifically told not to do something. If they’re given a direct order, they’re magically forced to obey it. Kreacher is forced quiet by Harry telling him to shut up.

“Give him an order,’ said Dumbledore. ‘If he has passed into your ownership, he will have to obey. If not, then we shall have to think of some other means of keeping him from his rightful mistress.’

‘Won’t, won’t, won’t, WON’T!’

Kreacher’s voice had risen to a scream. Harry could think of nothing to say, except, ‘Kreacher, shut up!’

It looked for a moment as though Kreacher was going to choke. He grabbed his throat, his mouth still working furiously, his eyes bulging. After a few seconds of frantic gulping, he threw himself face forwards on to the carpet (Aunt Petunia whimpered) and beat the floor with his hands and feet, giving himself over to a violent, but entirely silent, tantrum.”
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 3 (Will and Won’t)

There’s no question of their moral willingness to obey or not - even though Kreacher considered serving Harry (who befriended Mudbloods, werewolves, and other sorts the Black family would disapprove of) a betrayal of his “true” masters, he was still forced to shut up. However, they are able to sneak around direct instructions. Depending on what Lucius told Dobby to do, he’d still be able to do everything he’d done to warn Harry. If they can think of a way around the direct order, then they can take those actions.

‘That’s the one,’ said Harry, foreseeing a great danger and determining to prevent it immediately. ‘And you’re forbidden to tip him off, Kreacher, or to show him what you’re up to, or to talk to him at all, or to write him messages, or … or to contact him in any way. Got it?’

He thought he could see Kreacher struggling to see a loophole in the instructions he had just been given, and waited. After a moment or two, and to Harry’s great satisfaction, Kreacher bowed deeply again and said, with bitter resentment, ‘Master thinks of everything and Kreacher must obey him even though Kreacher would much rather be the servant of the Malfoy boy, oh yes …”
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 19 (Elf Tails)

Kreacher was unable to find any loophole, so he was completely unable to tell Draco he was being spied on. It seems Lucius was less specific and Dobby had better luck finding one.

He may also be magically forced to keep his master’s secrets.

When Harry went to visit Dobby in the Hogwarts kitchens, Dobby tells him that part of being a house-elf is keeping their masters’ secrets.

“Can’t house-elves speak their minds about their masters, then?’ Harry asked.

‘Oh, no, sir, no,’ said Dobby, looking suddenly serious.‘’Tis part of the house-elf’s enslavement, sir. We keeps their secrets and our silence, sir, we upholds the family’s honour, and we never speaks ill of them – though Professor Dumbledore told Dobby he does not insist upon this.”
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 21 (The House-Elf Liberation Front)

How Dobby acted is consistent with being magically forced to keep Lucius’s secrets - he warned Harry not to go back to Hogwarts and told him there was a plot against him, but he never said who was involved in the plot.

Because of these reasons, Dobby was likely unable to say more.

From what else we’ve seen about house-elves and the bindings that keep them obeying their masters (to a certain degree), Dobby was likely unable to do more. He could visit and warn Harry but couldn’t actually tell him “Lucius is plotting against you”, so he tried using hints. Even pointing to Lucius and the diary follows this pattern - he didn’t speak his master’s secrets.


It probably depends on what he was actually told to do.

If Dobby just overheard a conversation between Draco and Lucius, who would assume that Dobby would have no interest in betraying them. They might not have given him a direct order, but something might have carried over from a previous order that forbade him from telling directly.

What I think is more likely is the idea that Dobby found a loophole. per Harry Potter Wiki

However, a house-elf may find loopholes within their master's or mistress's orders.

If he had been given an specific order not to tell Harry he only kind off breaks it by warning him.


Quite probably because the degree of punishment for THAT level of disloyalty would have killed him.

  • 4
    Try use more detail in your answers. Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 15:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.