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.”
“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: 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.