When Dobby first meets Harry, he mentions how much better life had vecome for house elves after the vanishing of Lord Voldemort.

“Ah, if Harry Potter only knew!” Dobby groaned, more tears dripping onto his ragged pillowcase. “If he knew what he means to us, to the lowly, the enslaved, we dregs of the magical world! Dobby remembers how it was when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was at the height of his powers, sir! We house-elves were treated like vermin, sir! Of course, Dobby is still treated like that, sir,” he admitted, drying his face on the pillowcase.

“But mostly, sir, life has improved for my kind since you triumphed over He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Harry Potter survived, and the Dark Lord’s power was broken, and it was a new dawn, sir, and Harry Potter shone like a beacon of hope for those of us who thought the Dark days would never end, sir. . . .

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 10

However, in further books, it is seen that house elves are still treated very poorly. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, no one takes Hermione's initiative, S.P.E.W., seriously. High ranking ministry officials like Amos Diggory apparently consider it beneath them to address an elf by its name, as was the case when he addressed Winky. The general consensus, probably even among elves, seems to be that everyone prefers things to stay as they are.

Even Hagrid, who usually tries to ensure the well being of all magical creatures, dismisses Hermione's attempts to make him join S.P.E.W. Probably the only wizards who are show to be pro elf rights are Hermione, Dumbledore, and Arthur Weasley.

Dobby thought differently from others of his kind, so his perception of "better" would be different. It must be noted that Dobby was referring about the condition of other elves improving, not his own. Based on what we see, Dobby's expectations regarding treatment of house elves are far higher than most other elves, which means a significant improvement must have occurred.

In fact, when Voldemort returns to power, it seems as if his beliefs reduce the status of muggles, muggle borns and half bloods to the status of house elves and the like, without affecting house elves directly.

So, did the condition of elves really improve, to the extent that Dobby called it an improvement? In what way? And why, if wizards and elves alike didn't want things to change?

  • 2
    I really don't think there is much available on this. I think the dialogue from Dobby is just another way of showing how the little folk of the world suffer when dictators take over. That political power plays and wars do affect us all. – ThruGog Apr 17 '17 at 13:22
  • @ThruGog Except that here, evidence seems to point that it did not really affect them at all. Whether it did, why, and how, is what my question is. – GoodDeeds Apr 17 '17 at 16:17
  • I think it's a very good question. You have my +1. I'm just saying I don't think there is much out there to answer it. – ThruGog Apr 17 '17 at 16:35
  • @GoodDeeds In the series the wider wizarding world is negligent to house elves, not actively cruel. Look at the Malfoys for an example of the type of treatment that would thrive during Voldemort's rule - actual physical torture, for a start. – DavidS Apr 18 '17 at 10:42

I do not know of any cannon statements that would answer this, so my answer is supposition. Take from it what you may.

Voldemort used his power to make the entire wizarding world "darker" during the First Wizarding War. According to Hagrid:

" [...] this wizard, about twenty years ago, started lookin' fer followers. Got 'em, too — some were afraid, some just wanted a bit o' his power, 'cause he was gettin' himself power, all right. Dark days, Harry. Didn't know who ter trust, didn't dare get friendly with strange wizards or witches... terrible things happened. He was takin' over. 'Course, some stood up to him — an' he killed 'em."

Voldemort used his powers to recruit followers from all walks of life, and nobody could trust anyone; your next door neighbor could be a death eater and you wouldn't know until it was too late. This environment of fear built up until there were no safe avenues for your regular wizard or witch to vent...

...except upon their house elves.

Look at the types of things Voldemort did to house elves. Two examples: first, he implanted a false memory Hokey, the house elf for Hepzibah Smith, to cover up his murder, having Hokey claim that she'd put poison in Smith's tea. Secondly, he forced Kreacher to drink the Drink of Despair, just to test it, then left Kreacher behind. Voldemort obviously didn't think highly of house elves, and his influence would encourage Death Eaters to act toward theirs the same.

So you have the evil witches and wizards on one end treating their house elves as expendable resources for evil deeds, and you had otherwise good witches and wizards on the other side with no outlet for their fear and anger except on house elves, who just had to suffer through it all.

Once the threat of Voldemort disappeared, however, things would have gotten better for house elves. Those of evil bent would remain evil, of course, but without the climate of fear generated by Voldemort, the majority of the wizarding world would no longer need to "take out" their frustrations and fears on the only safe target available to do so. This would make the average plight of house elves better.

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