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In Goblet of Fire, Dobby tells Harry how he is grateful to Dumbledore for giving him a job at Hogwarts and even agreeing to pay him. He says how it is hard for house elves to get a job once their family expels them. I don't really understand why that is. In Chamber of Secrets, there is a scene where Ron says his mother always wished they had a house elf. I am pretty sure there probably are a lot of other "normal" wizard families that would be happy to have a house elf as well. House elves don't seem to be the type of thing you could just go and purchase at Diagon Alley somewhere. All house elves seem to want to work for free anyway. Dobby didn't, but Dobby's also a weirdo.

Given that there probably are a lot households that wouldn't mind getting a free house elf, and the new house elf supply seems to be limited, why would it be so difficult for expelled house elves to get a job? Are house elves themselves picky about who they work for? Do they not want to work for anything less than an old manor?

Edit: I'd like to add in some context for this question which I feel I should have added before. Dobby gets paid 1 galleon for his work, which if I remember, Dobby was uncomfortable to take as he felt it was a lot of money. I am sure even Mrs. Weasly would be willing to give out 1 galleon a month if it meant she'd get a house elf. Even if freed elves wont work for absolutely free, if Dobby is taken as an example they seem to be happy with any meager payment, which wouldn't be that big of a deal for a normal wizard household. So why should it be that difficult for Dobby or other free elves to find another house to work in, unless the elves themselves were picky about who they work for?

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    Free elves don't want to work for free. They want to decide who they get to work for and get paid for doing it. That means that they're basically employees whereas Molly is bemoaning the fact that she doesn't own a slave
    – Valorum
    Dec 25, 2022 at 16:54
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    @Valorum I could be wrong but I don’t think that applies to all house elves who get clothes.
    – Joe W
    Dec 25, 2022 at 18:24
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    @JoeW The only other free elf we see is Winky, and she definitely didn't seem to want to decide who she worked for, get paid, or have clothes, regardless of how well Dumbledore treated her and Dobby or the Hogwarts house-elves at large. Dec 25, 2022 at 23:18

4 Answers 4

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It is very serious business for a house elf to be freed. It implies that their old master did not want them. They did not give satisfaction.

Therefore, to hire a free house elf, you are paying money to take on a servant who wasn't adequate in his last job, and therefore probably will be inferior.

Winky is driven to despair by the thought that she wasn't good enough. This desire to be regarded as a good house elf seems to be obsessive among the race.

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Because you can pay anyone to clean up and do chores. House elves are supposed to work for free as slaves - at least that's how the wizarding world sees it.

Paying one could give the rest ideas according to rich wizards like the Malfoys, whose large, fancy home has plenty of them. Paying one is a great way to get uninvited from parties and other gathering places of up-and-coming witches and wizards.

Free ones would pretty much be hired by places like Hogwarts - large institutions with some clout. Not even Malfoys would uninvite the headmaster of the school their kids attend.

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  • I don't think Dumbledore paid any other house elf at Hogwarts, Dobby was the only one. And in the only known situation where one was paid and the others weren't, it doesn't look like the unpaid ones rose up against Dumbledore
    – user13267
    Mar 20, 2023 at 10:41
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There are several reasons why free House Elves have a hard time getting a new job:

  1. Freed House Elves compete for positions often already held by currently enslaved House Elves. Hogwarts, which has a large number of House Elves keeping the place running, would not normally hire Dobby because they already have enslaved Elves working for free. Dobby is right that Dumbledore is being doing something that doesn't make economic sense.

  2. Some Freed House Elves suffer from severe PTSD after being freed - they have been treated badly for decades or longer, and have no experience in living as free beings. Some enslaved House Elves may also have gotten their only psychological reward from the esteem of their previous enslavers, and so may be reluctant to work for lesser employers, at least at first.

  3. A servant who is paid will naturally be somewhat expensive. Households like the Weasleys' which can barely afford to clothe their children can't afford a fair salary for a House Elf. Note that it's not clear how particular families initially obtained House Elves - there's no reference to Elves being bought or sold, just inherited. Molly wishing she had a house Elf is like wishing she had inherited unique object, not like wishing she could afford to buy something available to the rich.

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    Regarding your third point, slaves are also not free, they cost money to purchase and maintain. The Weasleys weren't rich enough to afford one, as mentioned a couple of times (by both Ron and Mrs Weasley at least).
    – Corey
    Dec 26, 2022 at 12:08
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House elves are meant to follow orders without question and obey completely.

Once an elf has been freed, for example Winky, any wizarding family who wants to hire the elf is going to ask why. In the case of Winky, she didn’t follow orders (allegedly) and so it throws into doubt how good of a servant she would be. So, even if she didn’t get paid, they wouldn’t trust her or want to hire her.

In the case of elves who want to be paid, like Dobby, it’s highly stigmatised to pay an elf. “That’s not the point of an ‘ouse elf”. In fact, money probably isn’t the issue a lot of times. Owning a house elf is a lot about status too. Paying an elf would really knock you down a peg socially. Still, there are people willing to pay, like Dumbledore.

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