48

During the trio's meeting with Sirius in his Hogsmeade hideout, Sirius seems to be much kinder towards House Elves.

"Hermione's obsessed with house-elfs," Ron muttered to Sirius, casting Hermione a dark look. Sirius, however, looked interested.

"Crouch sacked his house-elf?"

....

"Hermione, will you give it a rest with the elf!" said Ron.

Sirius shook his head and said, "She's got the measure of Crouch better than you have, Ron. If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter-27, Padfoot Returns

How did the same man go on to treat Kreacher horribly in Book-5, that it ultimately resulted in his (Sirius's) death?

In GoF, he seems sensible enough to know that House Elves are at the mercy of the families that own them, and hence need to be treated well. Despite his family baggage, he must have known that Kreacher wasn't responsible for showing his displeasure at the Order. And that his behaviour would improve if Sirius tried to be nicer to him.

'Sirius!' she said reproachfully. 'Honestly, if you made a bit of an effort with Kreacher, I'm sure he'd respond. After all, you are the only member of his family he's got left, and Professor Dumbledore said--'

'So, what are Umbridge's lessons like?' Sirius interrupted.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter-14, Percy and Padfoot

'I warned Sirius when we adopted twelve Grimmauld Place as our Headquarters that Kreacher must be treated with kindness and respect. I also told him that Kreacher could be dangerous to us. I do not think Sirius took me very seriously, or that he ever saw Kreacher as a being with feelings as acute as a human's--'

Quoting Dumbledore from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter-37, The Lost Prophecy

Why did the sudden change in Sirius's personality take place? Did Rowling start shaping his character differently in OotP, or was Sirius just being hypocritical in GoF?

Do we see any other instance where Sirius interacted with, or spoke about another House Elf, and what was his outlook on that occasion? Any quotes from canon explaining this shift in attitude would be appreciated.

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    It was too close to home. People can recognise problem drinking in others. But try getting them to acknowledge it in themselves? Whole different story. Sirius was wise enough to recognise that treating house-elves well was important. But being back in a home he thought he'd left behind forever changed him. – The Dark Lord Sep 5 '17 at 11:19
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    Sirius doesn't harbour a general prejudice against house-elves, just a personal hatred of Kreacher. – MissMonicaE Sep 5 '17 at 16:39
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    That traitor to the Black family hated Kreacher, just as he hated everything to do with his bloodline! – Bellatrix Sep 5 '17 at 20:50
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    That's the answer I think. ;) Sirius hated everything about the Black family, including Kreacher. Kreacher was too closely connected with being a Black that he probably couldn't stand to look at him. – Bellatrix Sep 5 '17 at 20:57
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    In that same chapter Dumbledore says "Sirius was kind to house-elves in general". Don't have books for the direct quote. – Jay Sep 6 '17 at 1:25
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I would say it is consistent with someone who hates so much his family and everything to do with them. There are many indications of this throughout the books, I gathered some of them here.

Sirius hated his mother:

[Sirius' mother portrait] "Filth! Scum! By-products of dirt and vileness! Half-breeds, mutants, freaks, begone from this place! How dare you befoul the house of my fathers"_ ...
"Yoooou!” she howled, her eyes popping at the sight of the man [Sirius].
"Blood traitor, abomination, shame of my flesh!”
“I said — shut — UP!” roared the man, and with a stupendous effort he and Lupin managed to force the curtains closed again ...
“Hello, Harry,” he said grimly, “I see you’ve met my mother.”
"Your — ?”
“My dear old mum, yeah,” said Sirius. “We’ve been trying to get her down for a month ... "
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place

and from later in the book:

My mother didn’t have a heart, Kreacher,” Sirius snapped. “She kept herself alive out of pure spite.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - The Noble and most Ancient House of Black

When Harry and Sirius examine the family tree tapestry, the disliking was apparently mutual:

"You’re not on here!” said Harry, after scanning the bottom of the tree.
“I used to be there,” said Sirius, pointing at a small, round, charred hole in the tapestry, rather like a cigarette burn. "My sweet old mother blasted me off after I ran away from home — Kreacher’s quite fond of muttering the story under his breath."
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - The Noble and most Ancient House of Black

He did everything to say he was different from his family

When Harry enters Sirius' room in Grimmauld Place:

Sirius seemed to have gone out of his way to annoy his parents. There were several large Gryffindor banners, faded scarlet and gold, just to underline his difference from all the rest of the Slytherin family.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Kreacher's Tale

Sirius almost obsessively hates his family, from a very young age, so I don't see how he can see Kreacher (who was serving the family back then) as something other than a constant reminder of them.

Not really fond of his other family members either

The fact that his brother was a Death Eater and obsessed with Voldemort, wouldn't have made him very happy (He didn't know Regulus changed his mind and tried to destroy the Horcrux obviously):

"Sirius’s brother?” she whispered. “He was a Death Eater,” said Harry, “Sirius told me about him, he joined up when he was really young and then got cold feet and tried to leave — so they killed him...

Whereas Sirius had sought to advertise his difference from the rest of the family, Regulus had striven to emphasize the opposite. The Slytherin colors of emerald and silver were everywhere, draping the bed, the walls, and the windows. The Black family crest was painstakingly painted over the bed, along with its motto, Toujours Pur. Beneath this was a collection of yellow newspaper cuttings, all stuck together to make a ragged collage... “They’re all about Voldemort,” she said. “Regulus seems to have been a fan for a few years before he joined the Death Eaters..."
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Kreacher's Tale

Actually he said directly he hated all of them:

[Harry] "But . . . why did you . . . ?”
“Leave?” Sirius smiled bitterly and ran a hand through his long, unkempt hair. “Because I hated the whole lot of them: my parents, with their pure-blood mania, convinced that to be a Black made you practically royal, my idiot brother, soft enough to believe them..."
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - The Noble and most Ancient House of Black

Kreacher constantly mumbling about all this

As for Kreacher, the constant mumbling about Sirius' mother, purebloods and traitors wouldn't have helped in seeing him as just a house-elf.

The elf took absolutely no notice of Harry and the rest. Acting as though it could not see them, it shuffled hunchbacked, slowly and doggedly, toward the far end of the room, muttering under its breath all the while in a hoarse, deep voice like a bullfrog’s, “...Smells like a drain and a criminal to boot, but she’s no better, nasty old blood traitor with her brats messing up my Mistress’s house, oh my poor Mistress, if she knew, if she knew the scum they’ve let in her house, what would she say to old Kreacher, oh the shame of it, Mudbloods and werewolves and traitors and thieves, poor old Kreacher, what can he do...
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - The Noble and most Ancient House of Black

As for speculation, probably the fact that he was forced to stay in the house he so much hated, with constant reminders of his family wasn't really helping him see things from a more calm and logical perspective.

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    But as Dumbledore points out, it was more than general family hatred directed towards Kreacher. He didn't hate Kreacher as he would hate a fellow human being. Sirius didn't see him as "a being with feelings as acute as a human's". Hence the question. – Anya Mae Sep 5 '17 at 9:06
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    @AnyaMae "My mother didn’t have a heart ... She kept herself alive out of pure spite." also sounds like he didn't think of his mother on the same level as normal humans either, though. – MissMonicaE Sep 5 '17 at 16:40
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    It sounds like that indeed wasn't directed at Kreacher for being a house-elf, but just for being Kreacher. Sounds like it was just personal. – Erik Sep 5 '17 at 21:02
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    @AnyaMae I agree with the others. He saw Kreacher with the same hatred that he saw all his family. To him, none of them had "feelings as acute as a human's", they were all unfeeling monsters. In his mind they were not simply inferior, they were pure evil and deserved to be despised. – Pharap Sep 6 '17 at 3:26
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    @AnyaMae Dumbledore does not know everything, nor is everything that comes out of his mouth true. Our perspective on Dumbledore is warped by the fact that the books are narrated by a teenage boy who adores him. – user1807 Sep 7 '17 at 3:35
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I don't have any additional quotes to support this, other than those provided in elrond's answer, which I think go some way to explaining why he dislikes Kreacher specifically (because he is linked to everything he hates about his family).

My speculation is that his outlook didn't change, but rather that he never really viewed Kreacher as having feelings to begin with, and never unlearnt that behaviour, even as he learned about other house-elves and formed his own views on house-elf rights.

I would assume it is some form of unconscious bias - Sirius worked hard to distance himself from his upbringing, and formed views that were much more liberal than his family. However, whenever he was around Kreacher, he was always around a family that taught that Kreacher was less than human, and would have been taught that from birth. And because he detested Kreacher personally, he never made an effort to challenge himself on that.

So, he knows theoretically how he wants house-elves to be treated - but has a blind spot about Kreacher that he never bothers to question.

  • That's a great answer, thanks! Makes a lot of sense. I am sure that has happened to most people. – Anya Mae Sep 5 '17 at 10:39
19

There wasn't a shift in Sirius' attitude toward house-elves between the books. The only house-elf we see Sirius interact with on-screen (err...on-page) is Kreacher, which colors our perception of him. Dumbledore outright says that Sirius was kind to house-elves in general and his treatment of Kreacher was an exception.

"SO SIRIUS DESERVED WHAT HE GOT, DID HE?" Harry yelled.

"I did not say that, nor will you ever hear me say it," Dumbledore replied quietly. "Sirius was not a cruel man, he was kind to house-elves in general. He had no love for Kreacher, because Kreacher was a living reminder of the home Sirius had hated."

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    Ach! Could you be so kind as to not write “on-screen” when not referring strictly to a film version of something which has been presented in both literal and visual forms? – can-ned_food Sep 6 '17 at 7:23
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    @Jayraj, Great find! Thank you! That's proof to the theory that Kreacher was a special case. – Anya Mae Sep 6 '17 at 7:51
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    I would point out that there is no contradiction between this and the quote in the question. Sirius may well have been kind to house-elves in general, while nonetheless not viewing them as having the same feelings as humans - as one might be kind to a cat, for example, while not viewing or treating it as an equal. He was still prejudiced. He just wasn't generally a horrible person about it. – Adamant Sep 6 '17 at 8:19
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    @Adamant the question was about whether Sirius followed what he preached about "how a man treats his inferiors". According to Dumbledore he treated house-elves with kindness. No one said anything about equality: that contradicts the term "inferiors" – Jay Sep 6 '17 at 17:37
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    @can-ned_food that's standard terminology here, like it or not :) – hobbs Sep 7 '17 at 1:44
18

Just wanted to add to the excellent answers already here...

If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.

This doesn't mean that he necessarily has enlightened attitudes on house-elves. He's merely making a point about Crouch. I read the passages where the gang discuss this, and IMO, I don't believe we can draw too many inferences on how Sirius feels about house-eves. He seems more interested in Crouch's behavior. In fact, you could even make the argument that this is benevolent racism.

IMO, We don't have enough information from this exchange alone to confirm that Sirius has liberal attitudes on house-elves. I couldn't find any other passages where Sirius comments on house-elves in this book, but I could be missing something.

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    This was exactly my reading, too. I think Sirius is a good example of someone who consciously tried to change from his family, but still had unconscious beliefs learned from them. Especially in the flashbacks to young Sirius (and James), he still has a lot of the casual behaviors of a well-off, well-born wizard. – user3067860 Sep 5 '17 at 20:54
  • It's implicit. Wizards (well most) on a whole view elves as nothing but slaves (because they are). I.e. they're inferior. And in that quote he's talking about both house-elves but in general. He's stating that given that they're supposedly inferior the way to judge Crouch's character is how he treats the supposed inferiors rather than equals. Of course Sirius doesn't always succeed in this but that doesn't dismiss the fact he does indeed see it that way. The context given in the question actually shows that it is about house elves contradicting your answer. – Pryftan Jan 7 '18 at 0:33

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