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Character Study: Sirius Black

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This is how I imagined Sirius looking around the events of Goblet of Fire.

When I first read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I fell in love with Sirius Black. Literally. Let’s just say that books 5-7 were an emotionally turbulent time for me.

Since my husband and I are working our way through CinemaWins’ Harry Potter videos, I decided to go back and take a look at some parts of the series, beginning with my favorite character.

The first thing, I think, to say about Sirius, is that, like many figures in the Potterverse, he’s very gray. He was never a Death Eater, and he never bought into the ideology of pureblood-supremacy. He doesn’t even show that many signs of human-supremacy. (I know, I know… Kreacher…. but I don’t think that was necessarily speciesism. I think he just disliked that particular elf.)

The biggest blot on his character, and yes, it’s a doozy, is his prank on Snape. It was a horrible thing to do.

But I don’t think he was trying to kill Snape. If he’d really wanted to, he would have come up with a way that wouldn’t have involved making Lupin culpable. I think, like Lupin said, Sirius was just trying to scare Snape. As Padfoot, Sirius was strong and tough enough to keep Lupin in check and protect Wormtail. Maybe those adventures made him think Lupin’s wolf-state wasn’t as dangerous as it really was. We won’t ever know for sure, but that’s my theory. And from what we later see of Sirius, thinking things through and impulse control aren’t necessarily his strongest suits (like attacking the Fat Lady, which is much less excusable than his confronting of Pettigrew in the middle of a crowded Muggle street).

Also, since I’m on the subject, and not to victim blame, but… Snape. Snape. Severus. If one of the boys who is usually mean to you tells you to do something dangerous… maybe don’t do that thing! It’s kind of like reading the incantation off the scroll in the creepy tomb, or something. Coincidentally… Sirius’ darkest moment might mark the beginning of James Potter cleaning up his act. Think about it. Snape’s Worst Memory takes place in their fifth year; James saves Snape from Lupin in their sixth year. James deflates his head enough to start dating Lily in their seventh year. Hell.

Anyway… let’s talk about Sirius’ pedigree. Given the sheer number of genocidal maniacs in the Black family tree, I think it’s safe to say that there was some kind of mental illness running, no, galloping, through the lineage, made worse by in-breeding, and sadly, there is no wizarding psychiatry. His parents wanted him to be Death Eater, after all, and were thrilled when his brother joined up. (And even though Regulus turned out to be a surprise white-sheep, what Regulus did to Kreacher is still incredibly unethical. Even though he had the noblest of intentions.)

Back to Sirius… given the family history, and the fact that he was locked up in Azkaban for thirteen years, it’s probably nothing short of a miracle that he’s only slightly unhinged in Book 3. Who could keep all of their sanity in that situation? Even though he does fly off the handle and stab the Fat Lady, break Ron’s leg, and stalk Harry, the amount of control he shows in later books is nothing short of heroic.

Even in the midst of developing an implied drinking problem, he doesn’t slug Fred Weasley when Fred lashes out while they’re waiting for news of Arthur Weasley after Nagini’s attack in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. He also doesn’t just not hit Fred, he doesn’t do anything violent. He doesn’t break a glass to calm himself down first, he just takes a few seconds to collect himself and declares that everyone in the room needs a drink. That shows real growth. Book 3 Sirius probably couldn’t have done that.

On a similar note, I hear that the fact that movie Sirius punches Lucius Malfoy instead of hexing him is criticized, but that’s totally in character. Also, just from a layperson’s perspective, if you’re mad enough, it might be more satisfying to use physical force instead of magic sometimes. And I don’t really like movie Sirius all that much. Gary Oldman is a fine actor, but I think Michael Wincott would have been a better choice. I always pictured Sirius as sounding like him. But they nailed that part of his character.

I don’t blame Gary Oldman for being upset that his character was getting killed off, especially after barely knowing freedom. But he died finally out of the dungeon that was Grimmauld Place, and in the thrill of battle. It’s oddly fitting, even though I really wish he’d been able to stick around, and not just because of my pubescent infatuation.

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