Revisiting Harry Potter: Defending Sirius, Part 2

I will acknowledge the following up front: Sirius is a little pissy in this book. At one point, he is pissy to Harry, and it hurts Harry’s feelings. My thesis is that you would be too so dial down the judgment.

I’m going to take this to a slightly personal place right now. Bear with me. 2012 was an awful awful year, and the quality of its awfulness to my family was lots and lots and lots of unrelenting Life Stress. The quality of its awfulness to me, since I live far away, was lots and lots and lots of seeing people I cared about feel crappy, knowing that I possess qualities and resources that could help them feel a little less crappy, and not being able to employ those qualities and resources in pursuit of that end. Because I live thousands of miles away. Of course it was worse for them. They were the ones with all the shit going on. But it was not fun for me either. It made me cranky and sad and guilty.

Are you judging me for those feelings? Probably not, right? You are probably thinking of a time that you were not in a position to help your loved ones when they needed help, and how crappy it made you feel.

So now let’s imagine that instead of being a lazy layabout who is perfectly happy to lie on the couch and read for days at a time, I am Miniature Roommate, who after about three hours of a hurricane goes mad with cabin fever and starts flinging herself wrathfully about the apartment issuing jeremiads against the storm. And imagine that instead of being trapped in a pleasant-if-small New York apartment for a few days, it is a house where I was loathed my entire childhood by my screaming hateful parents, a house that still features some of the same people who made my life miserable as a kid, and those people are every day providing a large helping of the exact same verbal abuse I managed to escape from twenty years ago; and also there is no prospect of my being permitted to leave it, ever. And instead of all my favorite people facing regular life stress (albeit a disproportionate amount of it at one time), they are all out fighting evil. And not just fighting evil but also trying to conceal from the government that they are fighting evil because if the government finds out about the evil-fighting it will most likely chuck them into Depression Prison on trumped-up charges.

Do you suppose that under these circumstances I would show to best advantage? Do you think that you would? Or do you think that you’d probably be crazy stressed and likely to snap at people and get into arguments about stupid things and make a stand on even stupider things because you just really, really needed to feel like you were doing something for once?

And I agree. Sirius is not perfect in this book. He is not his best self. He’s sort of grumpy with Harry at times, and he shouldn’t have gone to the rotten train station (although, dog hug!, awwww), and there are moments at which he talks to Harry a little bit too much like an adult. I agree with you about that. However, I do not agree with anyone who would argue that Mrs. Weasley and Dumbledore are right to keep Harry in the dark (nobody in this readalong is arguing that, so hooray), and I strenuously disagree with anyone who is cross about Sirius urging Harry to form the D.A. Forming the D.A. is a genius idea that saves lives and turns Neville into the insane badass we all love so much. Way to go Hermione! Way to employ some judicious rule-breaking in pursuit of an important goal.

Here’s why you’re mad, friends. Sirius asks Harry if he can come to Hogsmeade to visit him next time they have a Hogsmeade weekend, and Harry says no, and Sirius’s feelings are hurt.

“You’re less like your father than I thought,” he said finally, a definite coolness in his voice. “The risk would’ve been what made it turn for James.”

“Look–”

“Well, I’d better get going, I can hear Kreacher coming down the stairs,” said Sirius, but Harry was sure he was lying. “I’ll write to tell you a time I can make it back into the fire, then, shall I? If you can stand to risk it?”

And yes, this is mean. That was a mean thing to say. Not the kind of thing a parent should say to a kid. But let’s maintain a normal amount of perspective. He snaps at Harry ONE. TIME. Do you know how many times I snapped at Mumsy and Social Sister last year? Like infinity! And parents snap at their kids all the time! Even the best parents in the world (mine) said unfairly critical things to us sometimes that totally hurt our feelings, and they were not under quite the same pressures that Sirius is under. And there is also this:

“I want you to take this,” he said quietly, thrusting a badly wrapped package roughly the size of a paperback book into Harry’s hands.

“What is it?” Harry asked.

“A way of letting me know if Snape’s giving you a hard time. No, don’t open it in here!” said Sirius, with a wary look at Mrs. Weasley, who was trying to persuade the twins to wear hand-knitted mittens. “I doubt Molly would approve — but I want you to use it if you need me, okay?”

I can’t even with this. It is totally merciless to write off Sirius completely for flaws he has in this book, and I say that as someone who used to love Lupin the best of all the characters and stopped completely because of that thing in the seventh book OH YOU KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. Sirius hurts my heart with how much he wants to do for Harry and how little he actually can do. If they launched an It Gets Better campaign for good children of dark wizards, the videos would be like, “Nothing gets better. It gets so much much worse. You will be in a torturous hell for the bulk of your adult life; your efforts in the fight against evil will regularly go for naught; and (spoilers) your eventual death will be a trauma and a ruin to the kid you love more than anything.”

Appendix A: A conversation I had with Social Sister when I was writing this post.

Jenny: I am writing up my Second Defense of Sirius Black right now
Social Sister: Haha, for Mom?
Jenny: NO.
Jenny: …yes.
Jenny: but for the blog, I mean.
Social Sister: It’s okay. We all know.

Touche, Social Sister.

Appendix B: Sirius and Lupin give Harry a fancy set of books about defensive magic. Real talk: Lupin cannot afford presents. Sirius bought those books himself and put both their names on, right? This is not part of my defense of Sirius. It’s just what I think probably happened. It must suck to be Lupin and always accepting money from Sirius and James because he can’t get a job. Also, is Snape still making Lupin the potion to make him safe when he transforms? I hope so! That would be a nice thing for Snape to do.

31 thoughts on “Revisiting Harry Potter: Defending Sirius, Part 2

  1. This is amazing and a good thing to remember. I remember reading the books as a kid and being so hurt that Sirius said those things. As a kid, you have a really hard time imagining adults not doing the exact right thing. Re-reading the books as an adult (or as someone who has more experience), you really start to understand Sirius and his behavior.

    • I read the fifth one as a teenager, and I don’t remember being particularly upset that Sirius said what he said. I wished he hadn’t said it, but I didn’t experience it as the gut-punch a lot of people did. Interesting how much reader reactions vary!

  2. I feel put in my place and I’m not even all that mad at Sirius! Lol. No more mad than if I was still in high school and one of my friend’s parents said something douchey to them but I’d still be polite if I went over for dinner, you know? Low blow and not cool but we’ll get over it. Also, I never thought about Lupin’s post-Hogwarts transformations before… I hope Snape is making the potions! Awwwww.

  3. As a person who keeps in touch with and even vacations regularly with a group of college friends, I have to say I never got the part about how Harry and his generation were supposed to be like their parents. I’m occasionally amused when I see my daughter taking the same role I did between the children of two families (the way I did between their fathers), but I don’t expect that our children are all going to be just like us, and that’s what Sirius and Lupin occasionally seem to expect of Harry. It’s not “your eyes look like your mother’s” but “you have your mother’s eyes.”

  4. Okay. Okay, fine. FINE. You are…*sigh*…CORRECT AS USUAL, King Friday. But I’m just going to say, that crack about James was not just cranky, it was completely below the belt. But okay! I’m going to call it a one-off and not judge Sirius by his worst day.

    To Jeanne’s point: I think the issue here is the fact that Harry looks (from what everyone says) EXACTLY like his dad, and Sirius saw him first as a teenager, looking pretty close to the James he last saw – not the middle-aged James he would have been by that time. And about Lily’s eyes: personal story here. I had a friend who gave a baby up for adoption, and when the baby was six, I came across her unexpectedly in a bookstore. (I didn’t know the family or anything – it was totally random). The child came up to me and tugged on my daughter’s leg and I looked down into my dear friend’s eyes in a strange child’s face. I can’t begin to describe to you what a shock it was. My friend’s eyes were strikingly beautiful, and to see them in someone else’s face…well. It’s just lucky for Legal Sister’s future cerebration that I didn’t drop her baby self on her head at that moment. So I totally understand the Lily’s eyes phenom.

  5. … I see your point. I STILL say that we don’t really know enough about Sirius’s character to be like ‘yeah, this is really out of character for him’, and I think it’s clear that he’s not always a nice person, but it’s really difficult to argue that he doesn’t really love Harry. Because he does.

    But it’s still not enough for me to like him! I’m sorry!

  6. EAUUUUUUGH YOU GOT ME. I didn’t catch The Sirius Connection right away so I was all, Yeah, that WOULD be terrible. And then WHAM. So…fine. Sirius, I forgive you.

    (But you’re no Snape.)

  7. I did not know there were people who disliked Sirius. This is actually the first time I thought about it. And I see now.. yes.. that quote about Hogsmeade is kind of mean, and a little childish. Actually, it is very mean as I feel Harry is often in awe of his father and Sirius hurts him with that. But at the same time, it shows an interesting blurring of the lines between young-adulthood and adults, where no one is perfect and those imperfections show in hurtful scenes. Perhaps this is me justifying, but I think it is also very realistic.

    Anyway, I like Sirius. I actually like all the Marauders and Snape. And I’ve always wanted MORE about them. (Although I agree about Luipin in book 7 and *ugh*).

    Useless comment from me but great post!

    • Your comments are never useless, lovely Iris! I like Sirius and I like Lupin sooooort of, but I don’t know enough about James to like him, and I HATE SNAPE. I would wish some ill fate on Snape but there’s really no worse fate than the one he actually receives.

  8. I love Sirius. I think he might almost be my favourite character in the whole series. And I hate what happens to him, so that I can hardly forgive Rowling for that. So I love your defence of him.

    Incidentally, I can totally see why James, Sirius and Remus would be friends, but I never really got why they were friends with Peter. Admittedly that scene which Harry sees from Snape’s pov is an isolated one, so maybe Pettigrew wasn’t so much of a bootlicker at other times.

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