Revisiting Harry Potter: Sirius Black and other concerns

Oh, third book. I wish I had made time to write about you last week, for truly you are the sparkliest of all the Harry Potter books. Your beauty makes me want to sing songs of praise. But I do not do that, because I have roommates and they already think I’m weird. I will get to Sirius Black in a minute, but first I would like to speak in praise of some other aspects of the third book. (Obviously, this will be all spoilers all the time.)

One, I don’t know why everyone makes such a big deal about Harry being the youngest Quidditch player in a century. We all know Harry is a rock star of Quidditch, and I’m not trying to take away from that but you know — first years aren’t allowed to try out.

Two, you know how I was whining about the Hagrid plotlines? This is the gold standard of all Hagrid plotlines. It integrates beautifully with everything else in the book — both Hermione’s stuff with the Time-Turner and the major plotline of the book, which is the escape of Sirius Black and the fallout therefrom. It’s also a plotline with a Hagrid monster where you are legitimately on Hagrid’s side. Hagrid’s not making Harry’s life harder by doing what he’s doing here. He designed a good Care of Magical Creaetures lesson and taught it responsibly. The only reason shit all went to hell is that the Malfoys are jerks. If Neville’s grandmother was as much of a jerk as the Malfoys, Madam Hooch would have been fired in the first book.

Three, Snape is a dick. He’s a dick. How are you going to insult a thirteen-year-old kid’s dead father? If you can’t think of anything nice to say about a thirteen-year-old’s dead father, that is an awesome time to JUST SHUT UP.

(You know what I love in the movie of this book? I love it so much when Snape and Sirius are in the Shrieking Shack and Sirius says, “Oh why don’t you go play with your chemistry set?” I loooooved that. Gary Oldman made it speak volumes about the two characters’ relationship to each other. Aw Gary Oldman.)

And four, I think it super sucks that Mrs. Weasley is pulling to keep Harry from finding out that Sirius Black is after him. That is dumb because Harry pokes his nose into everything and will inevitably end up somewhere he’s not supposed to be, but it’s also just bad parenting form. She should tell him the truth and be real about it. If you don’t tell the kids these things, they’re just going to learn everything on the street. Which is exactly what does happen! Boo.

And now, on to Sirius Black. Some people in this blogosphere have made the claim that Sirius Black sucks. Some people say that Sirius Black is irresponsible and a drag on Harry’s life. To those people THAT ARE ALICE HI ALICE I LIKE YOU BUT YOU ARE CRAZY TO HAVE THIS OPINION, I say this: You do not have Harry’s best interests at heart.

I get sort of dorky when I start talking about Harry, because I grew up with him and now I am much older than him so I feel protective in the same way I feel protective of the kids I used to baby-sit for who can now drive and are applying to colleges. But I want to prove my point because it is correct and opposition to it is incorrect so I’m going to go ahead and be dorky. Harry’s a kid, and kids need to know that they are somebody’s most important thing in the world. Until Sirius shows up, and then again after Sirius is gone, there is no character who consistently lets Harry know, hey, you are my most important thing. The speed with which Harry comes to expect this from Sirius and depend on receiving it should tell you that this is something this kid needs.

Which is why I love and defend Sirius Black in spite of his flaws, which I know that he has and I have never tried to deny. Let’s contemplate timelines for just a minute, shall we? Sirius is in Azkaban for twelve years prior to learning that Pettigrew is out and about and a threat to Harry. Approximately 4380 days. You want to know how many days Sirius is in Azkaban after he learns that Harry’s in danger?

The answer is zero. Zero days. He escapes from Azkaban that night. Here is proof:

There was a thud on the wood, and Harry was sure Mr. Weasley had banged his fist on the table. “Molly, how many times do I have to tell you? They didn’t report it in the press because Fudge wanted it kept quiet, but Fudge went out to Azkaban the night Black escaped.”

and

Madam Rosmerta let out a long sigh. “Is it true he’s mad, Minister?”

“I wish I could say that he was,” said Fudge slowly. “I certainly believes his master’s defeat unhinged him for a while. The murder of Pettigrew and all those Muggles was the action of a cornered and desperate man — cruel…pointless. Yet I met Black on my last inspection of Azkaban. You know, most of the prisoners in there sit muttering to themselves in the dark; there’s no sense in them…but I was shocked at how normal Black seemed. He spoke quite rationally to me. It was unnerving. You’d have thought he was merely bored — asked if I’d finished with my newspaper, cool as you please, said he missed doing the crossword.”

Which is to say, the day on which Sirius saw the picture of Pettigrew on Ron’s shoulder in the newspaper, that exact day, is the day he escaped from prison. Basically Sirius can deal with the hellish suicidal-depression torment of Azkaban indefinitely, but when he gets one hint that Harry might be in danger, he goes, “Fuck. This. Noise,” and is out of that jail in a hot second. He is brave and resourceful and devoted to Harry, and I love Harry so so much, and when people are brave and resourceful and devoted on his behalf, it buys a hefty amount of affection from me.

So, okay, Sirius comes to save Harry from Peter Pettigrew. That’s brave and great, but you could make the argument that it’s his moral duty. He’s the only one who knows what Pettigrew is, plus he has that subsidiary revenge motive that’s been cooking for over a decade. After that’s done, though, he could legitimately decline to take responsibility for Harry. His connection to Harry was James, right, and James is dead. He has not been part of Harry’s life for the past twelve years. Harry has a home already, and as far as Sirius knows, it’s the happiest home ever. Sirius does not need to make Harry his problem. But this never seems to cross his mind. What he says to Harry is, like, the perfect thing:

“I’m also — I don’t know if anyone ever told you — I’m your godfather.”

“Yeah, I knew that,” said Harry.

“Well…your parents appointed me your guardian,” said Black stiffly. “If anything happened to them…”

Harry waited. Did Black mean what he thought he meant?

“I’ll understand, of course, if you want to stay with your aunt and uncle,” said Black. “But…well…think about it. Once my name’s cleared…if you wanted a…a different home…”

Excuse me. I have something in my eye.

Again, let’s remember, this man is nobody to Harry, and the first thing he does when they have a quiet moment is to offer to be his parent, if there is room in Harry’s life for that. He’s basically telling Harry that he will love him and take care of him forever.

And hey, here’s an update from the future: That is exactly what Sirius does do! He promises to take care of Harry and then he takes care of Harry. Circumstances are against him in this, I’ll grant you — not his fault! Voldemort’s fault! — but Harry can expect, and Sirius never lets him down, that always no matter what forever he will be the top number one highest priority in Sirius’s life. Harry has people who love him but he belongs to nobody until Sirius comes along. Sirius is the only person of whom Harry ever expects parenting, and that is why I like him and you should too.

60 thoughts on “Revisiting Harry Potter: Sirius Black and other concerns

  1. Sirius was one of my favourite characters from the whole series. I actually find it really sad when people don’t see how AMAZING he is. Oh, and I love this blog by the way 🙂

  2. Love love love your defense of Sirius! Sirius has a couple faults (impatience, mainly), but he is SUCH an awesome character. I teared up when I got to the part about him offering Harry a place to live, and this is at least my 4th of 5th reread.

    • Impatience mainly, yes! But I will also have some things to say about his impatience in the fifth book. In defense of him. I always, always tear up when I read the third book and he’s so sad about Lily and James, and he’s so kind to Harry. Aw.

    • Yes, he does! And Lupin also does the thing about staying calm no matter what’s happening, which Harry also really needs. In my opinion. A lot of people in Harry’s life are crazy-crazy. He needs some quiet maturity.

  3. I honestly had no idea that there were people out there who didn’t like Sirius. I always liked him. Loved him. Wrote copious amounts of fan fiction that featured him as a main character. I love this post.

    • Hahahahaha, that is amazing. I appreciate your obliviousness to the loony-tunes people who do not love Sirius. I knew about them because my mother has long been one of them, and I have spent many hours of my life trying to convince her otherwise.

  4. I’ve always been a huge Sirius fan. I was SO MUCH more devastated by his death than by Dumbledore’s (and I’m talking “both of these characters were just murdered by Death Eaters” level of devastation, not “after we get all the facts” level of devastation).

    Also — and looking back, I feel a little ridiculous for believing that Harry might ACTUALLY get to be happy, but — for those few minutes, I believed right along with Harry that he was going to live with Sirius and actually have a happy home life. And then when it doesn’t happen, I felt the “LIFE IS SO UNFAIR” right along with him that he’d have to go back to the Dursleys.

    Sirius is awesome. ‘Nuff said.

  5. I love this post. This explains it perfectly! Harry needed just one person to make him their number 1 priority. That’s why Sirius is so important! The Weasleys love him, Dumbledore and Hermione love him, but they all have their own families and priorities too. Love this.

    • Right, exactly! Dumbledore’s busy being a puppet-master, and the Weasleys already have six children to worry about. Seven? Seven children. Whereas Sirius only has Harry.

  6. I am one of the crowd that thinks Sirius is kind of an overrgrown adolescent. But your spirited defense has altered my stance slightly. You’ve made me realize that while I look at this from a parent-viewing-parent perspective (Irresponsible, Mr. Black!), you see it from the child’s perspective and you make some excellent points. I will take your thoughts into consideration when I reread Book III, but I am still cranky about his behavior in Book V. Also, I never considered the Fuck. This. Noise. issue. Good point.

  7. I always liked Sirius. It surprises me that some readers don’t! I’m really really loving your posts about Harry Potter, it’s making me revisit it all in my mind even though I haven’t read the books in ten years (or at least, that’s what it feels like).

    • Yay, thanks! You should revisit them! They are wonderful to reread. Do you have an age in mind for your girls to be before you will start reading them to them? I admit that I have thought A LOT about how awesome it will be to read these books to my future putative children.

  8. “plus he has that subsidiary revenge motive” You mean that MAIN REVENGE MOTIVE?

    Sirius is hung up on James. Peter betrayed James. So Sirius wants to kill him. But because of this being stuck in the past (Molly says it the best with “He’s not James, Sirius!”), he causes Harry to do some INSANELY STUPID THINGS. He’s a terrible guardian. That’s great that he probably loves him, but he still sucks.

    • ALICE. If revenge were his main motive, he’d have gotten out of Azkaban IN THE FIRST PLACE. Pettigrew has been on the loose THIS WHOLE TIME. I will have a passage from the book to prove this later today.

      And WHAT insanely stupid things does he cause Harry to do? Harry sometimes does stupid things out of worry and love for Sirius, but everyone does insane stupid dangerous things when they are fearful for the people they love. Cf. Harry and Ron going down to the Chamber of Secrets to rescue Ginny, as just one example.

      • That THING where he’s all “I mean, James would have done it, but whatevs” and then Harry did whatever INSANELY DANGEROUS THING was involved there.

        ALSO, he didn’t know where Peter was before that. He thought he’d been killed in the blast. Or even if I’m wrong about the latter, he didn’t know where he was. And then he found out. SO.

      • God you are so WRONG. He says “James would have done it but whatevs” and Harry DOES NOT DO IT. The thing is that Sirius wants to come visit Hogsmeade, and Harry says, no, no, I don’t want you to get caught, and Sirius is like, “Fine, James would have done it but fine,” and Harry’s feelings are hurt but Sirius doesn’t come to Hogsmeade.

        ALSO he definitely didn’t think Peter was dead. He says he’s the only one who knew all along that Pettigrew was alive. He escapes because the caption in the newspaper said AND I QUOTE, “that he would be going back to Hogwarts…to where Harry was.” To. Where. Harry. Was. And then he says the same thing AGAIN when he’s talking to Hermione about how he escaped:

        “But then I saw Peter in that picture. I realized he was at Hogwarts, with Harry, perfectly positioned to act if one hint reached his ears that the Dark Side was gathering strength again….Ready to strike the moment he could be sure of allies, to deliver the last Potter to them. If he gave them Harry, who would dare say he’d betrayed Lord Voldemort?….So you see I had to do something. I was the only one who knew Peter was still alive.”

        Hush up your face. He escapes for Harry.

  9. I always liked Sirius, and felt that he was the one person that Harry felt he could really love, and that would love him. Your post brought all the important aspects of the Harry/Sirius relationship into clear perspective for me. He took responsibility for the boy, and he jumped the prison walls right when he heard that Harry might be in danger. What else would a loving parent do if their child were in harm’s way? Excellent and intensely interesting post today, Jenny!

  10. “We all know Harry is a rock star of Quidditch, and I’m not trying to take away from that but you know — first years aren’t allowed to try out.” – GOOD POINT. Just JKR making up excuses to say how awesome Harry is. Also, EXCELLENT POINT about Sirius and I would be convinced even if I wasn’t already pro-Sirius-despite-him-sometimes-acting-like-a-dick. I think you just put into words everything that I’ve always thought but never been able to verbalize. Sirius, not just his person but his behaviors, are just what Harry needs. Friends and headmasters can not give him this.

    • I mean, Harry IS awesome. He is very awesome indeed. He’s a champion of flying and deserves all the credit for it. But yeah. He didn’t try out. It was just dropped into his lap.

      Headmasters ESPECIALLY cannot give him this because in addition to being headmasters they are sometimes also puppetmasters. I love Dumbledore but it makes me sad that Harry’s not his first thing. Even though it is reasonable to have that be the case. Because it’s also quite important to defeat Voldemort. And I know he loves Harry. I just wish he had loved him while giving him a bulk of useful information.

  11. Sirius is a good guy and I do like him. While I know his offer to take care of Harry is coming from a good place, I always sort of cringe at how fast Harry says yes. Then again, the Dursleys are horrid and I guess I would probably do the same thing in that situation. You’re point about Harry never having a person who made him feel safe, and the fact that it’s needed, especially in Harry’s case, goes a long way in making me feel a bit better about that.

    This is probably my favorite book in the series and now I want to re-read it. Thanks, Jenny.

  12. Love your defence of Sirius! It had never crossed my mind that he wasn’t just fantastic, and when he was killed in book 5 I was genuinely distraught (more so than at Dumbledore’s death, actually). He actually understands what Harry is going through and tries to make up for all the shitty things which happen and have happened to his godson. I also loved the backstory Rowling gave us in book 5, about his horrible pureblood family and I really admire the way he managed to get out of that.

    • Oh, me too. Definitely me too. The Dumbledore death was — and I suspected this all along — planned in advance, so it didn’t hurt my heart the way the Sirius thing did. And with Sirius, Harry felt like it was all his fault, and that was so heartbreaking, and the pointless pointless way it happened, just that he got Stunned while standing in front of the wrong section of the Department of Mysteries. Ugh. Awful awful awful.

  13. Just, woah. I think this is my favourite post so far in this readalong. I feel like Jennifer, above, in that you verbalize SO WONDERFULLY what I’ve felt but haven’t been able to express in a way that would convince anyone. This post almost made me cry. I am at work, madame. Totally inappropriate. Totally fantastic.

    • Another Kayleigh weighing in on the whole “holy shit this is perfection and I’m basically an inch from tears because SIRIUS”.

      I’ve always been a Sirius supporter, but I never looked at it from quite the same Must. Protect. Harry pov and I LOVE that you made me think about it, and now I love Sirius even more!

      One of my defences against Sirius’s arrested development is that he’s been stuck in the prison to end all prisons since he was 21. Why wouldn’t he still be a little immature? He never had a chance to grow up.

      • And second Kayleigh – thank you also! I am so pleased my post was a success. I was worried everyone was going to think I was crazy cheesy and dorky. YES to your point about Sirius never having a chance to grow up. He has basically not interacted with human people in twelve years. Until now. And the last time he interacted with people he was, yes! He was twenty-one years old!

  14. I haven’t written my post yet (in fact, I haven’t QUITE finished this book yet), but I hustled over here because Twitter told me to and then I read your defense and then I whimpered a little to myself and then I went out into the city and looked for Gary Oldman so I could HUG him because he’s the closest thing to Sirius Black that exists in the world. (Could not find Gary. No hugs given.) This is my first time reading the series, in case no one has mocked me publicly for that recently and you didn’t yet know, so I’m still forming opinions of all the characters. But I think you win. Yes, gold star for you.

    • Oh, I hope I didn’t spoil anything for you! I do not mock you publicly for not having read the books before. I’m just excited you’re reading them now! They are so brilliant! And Sirius tries so hard to be a good parent to Harry and he deserves to be loved.

  15. I’m totally down with your defence of Sirius in terms of his love for Harry, which I don’t doubt (although I think that a lot of what Alice says about him just thinking that he is James is totally true) but… I mean, you can’t just be really really nice to one person and not care about any other people in the world and then definitely not care when you nearly proxy-murder another person. I really don’t think that’s ok!

    • Aw, he doesn’t not care about anyone else! He just doesn’t care about everyone else. Plus, he would have been horrified if Snape had actually died. Remember how upset Harry was when he did the Sectumsempra thing to Malfoy? Very very very upset indeed. That would have been Sirius too. Sixteen-year-olds are assholes sometimes, and sixteen-year-old wizards just have more weapons in their sixteen-year-old-assholery arsenal. Also Sirius’s ENTIRE FAMILY WAS EVIL so I think that buys him some moral wiggle room in his teenage years.

      • I don’t think his entire family was evil. Because Regulus was pretty okay. And nice to Kreacher, and brave. So I think there may have been other things right that we don’t know about because we mostly only have the mansion of ages with lots of bad things, (which most very old family would have bad things!) a certainty that his parents were prejudiced, and not much else. Prejudice is awful but it doesn’t make a person evil, just limited, and we only really see his family through Sirius.

      • Okay, yes, his whole family may not have been evil. Regulus was okay. But the bulk of family was at least fascists and emotionally abusive, right? His mother was all with the hating of the purebloods and the supporting of the Voldemort, and the other relatives he was permitted to hang out with that we know about were the Malfoys. So I feel like that still counts as a morals-damaging way to grow up, and I still think it’s pretty good that Sirius manages to grow up into a non-asshole person. By twenty-one. Getting a high percentage of his shit together by the time he’s twenty-one. And he would have gotten even more of his shit together in twelve years of adulthood NOT spent in Azkaban. And just was not given that responsibility.

  16. AGGGGHHHH so well done. YES to this. Sirius is super-flawed and much of it isn’t his fault and he’s genuinely a bit crazy from Azkaban and dwelling on his innocence and never gets over the death of his best friend (where are the italics when I need them) and also isn’t a grown up in many, many ways. But he IS the only person who puts Harry first and that’s definitely not nothing.

    I’m not in either Sirius camp, but I do think that Sirius is a truly tragic character.

    • I always forget that you can make italics happen with tags in comments. It is real. I love it that that can happen.

      It’s so not nothing! It’s wonderful. Sirius is really good to Harry. He’s just not that good at being a parent. Given that he is functionally twenty-one.

  17. I do like Sirius here, but I think, later, it becomes very apparent that Sirius is not fit to be a father figure for Harry. All of Harry’s father surrogates ultimately fail him, which I find extremely interesting. And not by dying, but by showing that they simply can’t be the father Harry needs them to be—think of Harry rounding on a Lupin who seems to be trying to abandon his family, or Dumbledore. Oh, man, my heart. When we see Sirius acting like a teenager in book five, it takes time for Harry to see it as something bad, as something that is not in his best interests.

    I should really just sit down and write about how Harry Potter is actually about Harry reclaiming a family to the point of reconstructing his dead parents by naming his children after them so very pointedly.

    • It’s not Sirius’s job to be the person Harry needs him to be! Sirius has his own shit that he should be dealing with, i.e., the serious (no pun intended) trauma of spending twelve important formative years in a soul-sucking torment place. Sirius takes on parenting Harry because he’s a good guy, and he does his best for him even though he himself is in a really, really shitty situation. And he does everything he can to be the person Harry needs. He’s imperfect as people are. He does NOT fail Harry. Doesn’t. Doesn’t.

      • Perhaps the phrase “fail Harry” is too broad—rather, failing Harry’s expectations of what a father figure should be, especially given the fact that Harry has nothing to compare it to except the utter failure of Uncle Vernon in raising him and raising Dudley. Initially, Harry loves having a dashing fugitive father figure slash older brother figure to talk to; finally, an adult who isn’t a teacher or abusive family who cares about him. But in book five, Hermione brings up the concern that Sirius is trying to live vicariously through them, and in book five and its fallout, Harry has to deal with learning that adults are human beings, too, with problems of their own; they can’t fulfill the ideals he has. And failing these expectations by no means implies that Sirius is a bad character—it only means he’s a human one. So, yes, exactly—Sirius should have been dealing with his own fallout. The choice to focus on Harry instead is his to make, and we see him, in our brief glimpses, trying to deal with that.

  18. Your point about quidditch – EXACTLY. I hate how Harry gets rockstar treatment when they bent the rules for him, so it shouldn’t even count that he’s the youngest player in the century. Didn’t even try out fair and square!

    Though Snape is somewhat redeemed later in the series, man he is such a jerk to Harry! Pick on someone your own size… heck, age!!

    Conversely, Sirius is awesome. Yes, he gets reckless, but it’s his passion for *everything* that drives him to break out of Azkaban that very night (I’m with you right there, that’s so badass).

    • Whoa whoa, look, the point of the thing wasn’t that Harry wouldn’t have gotten onto the team if he’d tried out. He did glorious Seeker things the FIRST TIME he was EVER ON A BROOM because he is a QUIDDITCH ROCK STAR. I just mean that he would have gotten on the team in his second year under usual rules. That’s all.

      Seriously! And he picks on Harry-adjacent people too. Because he is a jerk.

  19. I have always adored Snape – he’s definitely my favorite thing about the series by far. And a lot of that is because of the character development that he gets later on. But I liked him even in the early books, and I think it’s because the Harry Potter universe is so morally black-and-white a lot of the time. It was refreshing to see this character who could save Harry’s life and go right on being a jerk to him. And Snape is really a jerk to everyone. He especially dislikes Harry (and honestly, Harry would not be my favorite student either), but nobody sees Snape approaching without quailing a little bit. And really, what boarding school is complete without a nasty sardonic scary teacher? It’s not the man’s fault he has no social skills and Hogwarts told him at an early age that he was only supposed to hang out with sneaky evil people.

  20. This is by far and away the book I like best in the whole series. It is so NEAT and clever. As for Sirius Black, I cannot help but feel that he was killed off too early out of JKR’s desire for a shock event (I have my disapproving face on).

  21. I love this post so darn much. I am so excited to be getting to the part where I can shock Z with the fact that Sirius is good (just a couple of nights’ reading away!) and I’m already dreading the time, possibly a year or more away, when I have to tell him that Sirius dies. Sirius isn’t perfect but who is. And if we’re talking about immature adults … hello Snape, right? Did I mention I love this post? Le sigh.

  22. Pingback: Harry Potter & Merlin’s School of Magic: From the Beginning | The Fantasy Central Channel

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