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.”


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.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling

Mm, this is the one I’ve been waiting for. My original plan was just to read Prisoner of Azkaban, my most favorite of all the Harry Potter books, but then I decided to read them all, since I knew that would take longer and afford me more lasting satisfaction. In Azkaban, a supporter of Voldemort (and, it more or less goes without saying, murderer) breaks out of the wizard prison Azkaban and is out on the lam, desperate – say the prison guards – to get to Harry and kill him dead. Meanwhile the soul-sucking dementors that generally spend all their time guarding Azkaban are out in force at Hogwarts in case Sirius Black (the aforementioned stone-cold killer) shows up there, and the dementors are so awful that poor Harry has a ‘sode every time they come around. A really unpleasant one in which he hears his parents’ last moments on earth. In other news, Hagrid has become a teacher, the kids have a new and wonderful Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and we find out a number of things we didn’t know before about Harry’s father. Plus, Hermione gets a cat, and Harry learns a cool new spell, which is probably the most useful spell he ever learns.

There’s just nothing about this book that I dislike. I think the reason I like it so much is that all the elements are interesting and cool and handled well; and at the end, they all pull together beautifully: Hermione and her many classes, the hippogriff on trial, Harry’s spell to ward off dementors, his acquisition of the Marauder’s Map, the business with Sirius Black, the back-story on James Potter’s school life, the ongoing quarrel between Hermione’s cat and Ron’s rat. Everything. It’s synergistic. It’s satisfying. Not to mention that this is the book in which we first meet funny Professor Trelawney, whom I love, and Professor Lupin, whom I love even more (until the seventh book, at which point I kinda fell out of love with him because he was being a jerk, which is too bad since I spent books four, five, and six complaining loudly about how totally not enough Lupin there was). The end sequence in the Shrieking Shack is one of my top five favorite scenes in the entire series. (I’ve just pulled the number five out of nowhere. I don’t actually have a list of the five best Harry Potter scenes – though now I want to make one, to see how the Shrieking Shack scene measures up.)

I will say, because I don’t want this to be a total panegyric to the third book even though it’s the best, that-

Yeah, no. Nope. I can’t think of anything bad to say about Prisoner of Azkaban. Every time I read it, I have one of those reading experiences where everything else falls away. It’s always like reading it for the first time. Whenever I (spoilers ahead) get to the bit in the Hogsmeade pub where they’re talking about Sirius Black, and Madam Rosmerta says “Quite the double act, Sirius Black and James Potter!”, I always feel startled, it always makes me gasp (Social Sister will tell you that this was very irritating the first time I read it, lying on my bed in the room we shared and refusing to tell her why I was gasping), and I always worry about Harry, poor dear, with his many psychological issues. I continue to get riled up every time Snape acts like a jerk to Harry about his father, or to Lupin about his werewolfiness – Snape’s such a bully! I’m sorry, I don’t care how tortured and miserable he is, he’s got no call to be such a bullying meanie to a bunch of fourteen-year-old kids. Mean old Snape. The list of things for which I can never forgive him, oh, it is a long list.

As far as post-Deathly Hallows rereading goes – I think the only major change is that I find the scenes where Lupin remembers Harry’s father to be much more upsetting than I did when I was first reading these books. I mean, knowing Lupin’s whole story, how he was so lonely and sad and friendless as a kid, and then he finally made some amazing friends who did amazing things for him, and then they all died or turned out to be evil, and he went right back to being lonely and sad and friendless all through his adult life. Ouch. That hurts my heart. I also feel rather affectionate about Ron and Hermione’s quarrel over Crookshanks and Scabbers. It’s the first of many quarrels they will have on their bumpy road to happy togetherness. Oh, and how good was it when harry got to stay by himself in Diagon Alley before the year began? Staying at the pub and having nice meals and wandering all around by himself? That must have been fun. Since he will never have fun again, ever, I’m glad he got to have that experience.