In the Nature of House-Elves
Hermione, in her crusade for elvish rights, has failed to see the basic truth behind the wizarding world’s largely unseen servants: they are not human. They do not share wizardkind’s basic self-motivation for personal gain. Much like how greed is a driving force in the actions of humans, duty is a driving force in the actions of house-elves. They are content to work behind the scenes, leaving the squabbling and the politics of human life to their benefactors, their masters. They use their magical powers for seemingly mundane tasks, and as such, they manage, quite successfully, to extract themselves from the dangerous world around them.
As a species, house-elves seem to have an overwhelming feeling of duty and a need for loyalty. Dobby had been free from the Malfoys for two years when Harry next caught up to him, but he still felt shocked at calling them bad wizards, and in fact felt compelled to punish himself. Winky still felt concern for Mr. Crouch even after he so cruelly dismissed her. Even Kreacher considers Sirius a blood-traitor on behalf of his late master and mistress, although Kreacher is less of a pure-blood wizard than a Squib.
Why this willing subservience? True, they are magically bound to serve a particular house unless presented clothes, but perhaps the bond is voluntary. Surely the house-elves, with their powerful brand of magic, could not be restrained against their will in a position of low servitude. The bond itself must include both wizard magic and house-elf magic, otherwise there would be human servants in the same position as well. (I’m sure the Malfoys would delight in keeping a Muggleborn wizard in servitude, albeit secretly.)
Could it simply be a matter of brainwashing? I don’t think so. Dumbledore, who is clearly open-minded and forgiving of all types of wizards and all races, would not be the kind of person to brainwash his servants. Indeed, he quite nicely agreed to pay Dobby rather extravagantly. (I don’t think Arthur Weasley makes 10 galleons a week!) Dobby, however, beat him down, saying he enjoyed work too much. He likes work! He really likes it! Even so, the other house-elves regard Dobby as a disgrace to their species.
It is my opinion that the race of house-elves have a natural work drive, just as most organisms have a basic survival instinct. Dobby likes work, he told Harry very seriously in the kitchens. Even Hagrid, the last person who should be affected by prejudice, believes it would be “doing them an unkindness” to offer house-elves basic rights and freedom.
On the other hand, the house-elves are not completely selfless. They, too, rejoiced at the downfall of Voldemort. There are house-elves like Kreacher, who supports only certain factions within the Black family and will go so far to betray others. There are those like Winky, who is devoted to all family members, both a Death-Eater and a Ministry official. But all seem to adore serving human witches and wizards. Even Kreacher attempted to salvage articles of clothing belonging to his previous master. House-elves at Hogwarts quite cheerfully provide food to wandering students seeking snacks at midnight (James Potter, anyone?).
So what is in store for these loyal, sincere, and unwavering servants? They obviously are more powerful than given credit for by wizards like Amos Diggory. They can do things wizards can’t, such as Apparate in Hogwarts; Dobby is proof enough of that. Winky is able to bind Crouch Jr. to her, and although he has a wand, he cannot break free. They are virtually unseen, as they are blatantly ignored and disregarded by wizards of high status such as Cornelius Fudge. Perhaps they can even transport wizards to and from castle grounds? Perhaps they can be used as spies in large buildings such as Hogwarts, the Ministry, or St. Mungos. If so, house-elves could prove to be invaluable in coming battles.
Hermione’s heart is certainly in the right place. But where she goes with it is currently in question. How far is it possible for her to go with it? Trying to free elves is out of the question. It goes against their basic primary instincts. However, giving them more recognition is not such a bad idea. They may prove to be useful in more ways than one.