In a weekly series, staff writer Katie Majka takes a look at some of our favorite witches and wizards, and how they fit into literary and social archetypes.
“There are things worth dying for,” Sirius Black told the Weasley children in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and Sirius’ own actions prove that he wasn’t just spewing platitudes. No, Sirius Black was a fighter, and he was one who was willing to die for that fight, as long as his death was both action-packed and resonated within a greater cause.
J.K. Rowling said of Sirius, in a 2005 interview, “He’s a little bit of a loose cannon,” which verifies that Sirius was a sort of poster child for rebellion. But then, what else could we expect from a good-looking runaway on a flying motorbike? Rules are made to be broken, and Sirius smashes them to bits every chance he gets.
During his Hogwarts years, Sirius—along with James and Peter—broke the law and likely risked some anatomical damage by becoming unregistered Animagi, all so they could help to make Remus’ lycanthropy more bearable. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Hagrid claims that, in terms of troublemaking, Sirius and James would have given the Weasley twins a run for their money; knowing what we do about Fred and George, we can make a few educated guesses at what Sirius and his friends got up to during their school days. Sirius joined the Order of the Phoenix during both Wizarding wars in an effort to stop Voldemort’s reign of prejudice and tyranny, and he spent the remaining years of his life escaping prison and running from the government.
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Perhaps one of Sirius’ most obvious traits is his restlessness, which manifests in his contempt for his situation in OOTP. He is unable to assist the Order the same way he likely did during the first war, and must instead play the unwilling host to the coming and going train of Order members who are able to take more active missions. Sirius makes no secret of his discontent, either, when he tells Harry upon the latter’s arrival at headquarters, “Personally, I’d have welcomed a dementor attack. A deadly struggle for my soul would have broken the monotony nicely. You think you’ve had it bad, at least you’ve been able to get out and about, stretch your legs, get into a few fights…. I’ve been stuck inside for months.”
And indeed he was, and in the worst possible way. He is stuck in Grimmauld Place, the childhood home that was never truly a home to him at all, the place where he was forced to remember his family and how he failed them.
The rebel is also known as the outcast, and while Sirius fit in with his own hand-picked crowd, he was the black sheep of his family. He was unspoiled by their blood purist ideals, and was blasted from the family tree when he ran away from home to escape them. So while the Blacks’ disownment of him was a result of their clashing ideologies and Sirius’ refusal to succumb to a traditionally pureblood mentality, their rejection left Sirius displaced. It would have left him without a home as well, if it weren’t for the fact that James Potter and his parents opened their door to him.
With no love lost between Sirius and the Blacks, Sirius made his own family with James, Remus, Peter, and later Lily as well. So it’s no small wonder that, when asked whether Sirius really did laugh the night of the Potters’ death, Rowling said that, yes, he was “absolutely unhinged” by Lily and James’ death because—get ready for your heart to break now—“he knew what he’d lost.”
Rowling went on to say of Sirius’ grief and guilt over convincing his friends to trust Peter as Secret-Keeper, “He, with all his faults and flaws, he has this profound sense of honor, ultimately, and he would rather have died honorably, as he would see it, than live with the dishonor and shame of knowing that he sent those three people to their deaths, those three people that he loved beyond any others.”
Upon Sirius’ own death at the end of OOTP, Dumbledore said of him, “Sirius was a brave, clever, and energetic man, and such men are not usually content to sit at home in hiding while they believe others to be in danger.”
No matter what he lost or how low he found himself, Sirius never faltered in his efforts to do whatever he could for those he loved. He lost his family in one fell swoop that night in Godric’s Hollow, the same night that Harry lost his parents, because their families were one and the same. Sirius lost James, Lily, and what was left of them in Harry, and Harry lost parents he would never know, as well as a godfather with whom he was granted so little time. But no matter what, Sirius always came running for those he cared about—he was the first on the scene at the Potter’s cottage, the one to go after Peter when he learned the truth, and he refused to remain in the safety of Grimmauld Place when Harry was running for his life in the Department of Mysteries.
Sirius fought for the greater good of the Wizarding world in the first war, but after that war took so much from him—his friends, his family, his life—he found a greater purpose in the second. Harry was his purpose, the person for whom Sirius would risk whatever he had left. He wasn’t able to save Lily and James, and indeed he blamed himself for their deaths, and so in a dual effort to do right by their memory and his own love for Harry, Sirius would lay it all on the line to make sure that Harry had the life that they couldn’t have—the life that Sirius, James, Lily, and Remus all fought for but perhaps knew that they couldn’t live themselves.
They were all rebels, they all faced off against danger and almost certain death, seemingly without a second thought because they knew what they were fighting for—and Sirius never forgot that.
Be sure to check out our other Harry Potter and the Order of Archetypes installments.