And a friendly warning: this article does contain some big spoilers. If you’re good to go, lend us your (extendable) ears…
We think it’s pretty obvious that Sirius Black was a role model. Fundamentally, he was a good person. He fought for what was right and was unafraid to stand against Voldemort. He joined the Order of the Phoenix not once, but twice. Despite being a pure-blood, he didn’t believe that he was superior to other witches, wizards and Muggles. He had a lot going for him and his well-placed morals were even more impressive if you think about the start that he had in life.
Sirius came from a family of pure-blood fanatics. Most of his family were Slytherins with ties to Dark magic. Bellatrix Lestrange and Narcissa Malfoy were his cousins and they both were intrinsically linked to Voldemort. His mother was clearly a bigot – her screaming portrait reminding us of that over and over again. Sirius had grown up in a house where vile views were the norm and those who didn’t buy into the family philosophy were cast out – as demonstrated by the burn marks on the Black family tapestry. However, Sirius refused to fall into line.
Even as a teenager, Sirius firmly rejected his family’s views, and was kicked out of his home as a result. We shouldn’t underestimate how difficult that would have been: no teenager should be forced out into the world on their own. As Dumbledore says, ‘It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends’. We reckon that sentiment extends to family too. These were the people that were supposed to take care of him, but even then he was willing to risk it all because he knew it was important to do what was right and not what was easy. His actions here are very much that of a role model.
Ok, so maybe there are a few not-so-great things that we need to address. It could be said that Sirius tended to be reckless – joining Harry at King’s Cross in his Animagus form could be seen as not an entirely wise choice. But he was human. He had been cooped up in Grimmauld Place going increasingly stir crazy. He slipped up – but that should not mean that it negates all his other positives qualities. And surely, having a role model demonstrate that everybody can make mistakes is ultimately a good thing? Nobody is perfect and trying to be perfect will only cause you stress and heartache in the end.
And yes, there isn’t much of an excuse for how he joined in with the treatment of Severus Snape as a teenager. Yet, he was also a teenager and prone to poor judgement. The important thing was that he owned these mistakes later on, when Harry witnessed his actions through a Pensieve.
But for all of Sirius’ faults, and Snape aside, there were plenty of examples of Padfoot embracing his friendly doggish ways and being caring and kind to others. The way he accepted Remus Lupin at school was a big testament to his character, for example. As a werewolf, a large chunk of the wizarding world would have rejected Remus – but Sirius embraced him for who he was, even becoming an Animagus along with James and Peter (a long, complicated and risky process!) to ensure that Remus would never have to endure the pain he experienced at the full moon alone again.
Then there was Sirius’ relationship with Harry. He was the father figure that Harry so desperately needed. For one of the first times in his life, Harry experienced what it was like to be unconditionally loved and that family doesn’t necessarily mean your blood relatives. Sirius also helped Harry navigate some complex emotions – remember how he spoke to Harry about how the world was not black and white? Or divided into good people and Death Eaters? That’s valuable advice from somebody who had experienced his fair share of horrors, but could clearly still find light in the world. Passing that advice down to Harry was so important.
Then there was his willingness to do anything for those that mattered to him. Some may argue that such a trait is reckless, but we think it’s pretty heroic. Those who call him irresponsible probably think he shouldn’t have raced to the Ministry of Magic when he learnt Harry had gone there on an ill-fated rescue mission. However, what did you expect him to do? His best friend’s son, his own godson, was in danger. Would Sirius have been able to forgive himself if Harry had come to any harm? These sorts of actions make it clear to see why Sirius was placed in Gryffindor. And that kind of love is something that we think should be admired.
Overall, there is no doubt that Sirius was a complex man. However, he was, at his core, a person worthy of being looked up to. He knew right from wrong, was willing to take risks, could see the nuances of the world and was unafraid to love fiercely. He might not have been perfect, but he was human and clearly showed that (in his own words) ‘We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on...that’s who we really are'.
Ok, hear us out – by taking on the other side of this argument, this by no means is us saying that Sirius Black wasn’t a wonderful and captivating character, or that our hearts were not broken into a thousand little pieces when we lost him so early in the stories. We assure you, we were clutching our books in sheer devastation just like you. However, there were times in the books and films where the more rebellious side of Sirius could’ve put the young, impressionable Harry in even more danger than he already (frequently) found himself in. To Harry, Sirius was a remnant of the relationship he could’ve had with his dad, so of course Harry was more than happy to make dangerous choices with his newly found godfather! Harry, too, was a natural adventurer – just like Sirius’s old best friend. A fact not lost on Sirius, and a fact that maybe caused Sirius to be so reckless with Harry in the first place, just like he was with James.
After the two become acquainted in Prisoner of Azkaban, there are numerous times where Sirius leads Harry (who lest we remind you is a young teenager at this point!) into troublesome scenarios. In Goblet of Fire, as a man on the run, Harry is often communicating with Sirius in risky ways – such as bringing him food on the outskirts of Hogsmeade or having frenzied secret meetings with him via Hogwarts fireplaces. Sure, Sirius was the one encouraging all of this, and the conversations were important ones, but by putting Harry in increasingly dicey situations, Sirius could’ve risked Harry getting in serious trouble at school – or indeed – got himself thrown back in Azkaban, as Hermione is sure to point out.
Things come to a head in Order of the Phoenix, after Lord Voldemort’s return, with Harry desperate for information during an infuriating, isolated summer at Privet Drive, designed for his own protection.
All of these frustrations eventually culminate in Harry wanting to join the resurrected resistance group to fight the Dark Lord, the Order of the Phoenix – a group comprised of confidants of Albus Dumbledore, Aurors, teachers, and most importantly: adults. This request created a fascinating clash between Sirius, Harry’s living father figure, and Molly Weasley, who had acted as a surrogate mother to Harry since their first meeting. This exchange helps sum up our argument quite nicely…
This blow from Molly was quietly devastating– although Harry was happy to argue alongside Sirius – happy to be compared to his late father and to challenge Molly: “what’s wrong with that?” Molly’s retaliation was simple: Harry was merely 15 years old, asking to be initiated in an army fighting the Darkest wizard of all time – one that was intent on murdering Harry himself as part of his terrifying ascent. Call us squares, but Molly has a convincing point here! From a story-telling point of view, it is important that Harry was eventually able to remain privy to the Order’s meetings, but from a responsibility-of-care-point-of-view, Sirius was only encouraging Harry’s more dangerous instincts. At the time, Harry saw Molly as getting in the way, but can’t you see it all from her perspective? Why put this young teenage wizard, her son’s best friend, a crucial cog in this Wizarding War, in even more danger? And was Sirius inviting Harry into the Order for the right reasons, or did he just want his childhood best friend back?
Although Sirius did offer sage, godfatherly advice to Harry, his rash decisions and, ahem, doggish personality caused more trouble than good – eventually leading to Sirius’s own tragic demise, and Harry blaming himself for it. If Sirius had only been less audacious, things might have turned out differently. But perhaps Harry Potter, James Potter’s son, was simply too much like his father for this pair to never not be enticed by mischief.
So, there you have it. Two compelling arguments! But what do you think? Was Sirius Black Harry’s short-lived mentor, or too immature to take on fatherly duties? Join us next time for another wizarding world debate.