Spoilers: Through OotP (and beyond?)
Have You Seen This Wizard?
In search of Sirius Black
If Harry Potter is to rectify the mistakes of the previous generation and defeat Voldemort once and for all, it will be in large measure the mistakes not of his own parents but of Sirius Black he will need to overcome. It is Sirius's errors – of misjudgment, of arrogance, of rashness – that resulted in the deaths of Lily and James, in Peter's escape and eventual role in Voldemort's return, and, of course, in his own 12-year imprisonment and, later, his death. If his role in the HP series can be boiled down to a single element, then Sirius is Harry's most profound object lesson.
In order for Sirius to fulfill this role effectively, he must be a character with whom Harry strongly identifies, and, indeed, Sirius frequently functions either as a reflection of Harry's own psyche or as his role model. Thus, the development of their relationship encompasses Harry's emotional development and maturation through a bond that is familial if not one of a genuine family.
Not surprisingly, as Harry undergoes dramatic changes himself, he sees Sirius very differently in each of the three novels in which he appears. As readers, we confront the problem of reconciling this shifting vision of Sirius into a satisfyingly consistent and complete character. J.K. Rowling has, conveniently (or infuriatingly if you prefer) scattered sufficient "objective" data regarding Sirius to provide plenty of fodder for such a quest. Even as we watch his evolving relationship with Harry, we also learn a good deal about Sirius as a person and about his history as well. In fact, arguably we know more about more periods of Sirius Black's life than we do about any other character. And as we also witness his death, it should be possible to evaluate his life as a whole. Partly because of his shifting function, and even more because we are shown such strong seemingly contradictory aspects of his character, this is not as easy as it sounds.
In Prisoner of Azkaban, the bond between Harry and Sirius is formed as Harry moves from seeing him as someone frightening and unknown to the closest thing to a real parent he has known. His identification with Sirius, significantly, comes very early on while Harry still sees Sirius as a dangerous and violent criminal but before he knows of Sirius's " betrayal" of his own family. He inadvertently identifies with him: "He, Harry, had broken wizard law just like Sirius Black. Was inflating Aunt Marge bad enough to land him in Azkaban?"(PoA 40).
Through most of the book, Harry will hate Sirius far more than he fears him. When he learns that Sirius betrayed his parents and that he was Harry's own godfather, he suffers his own sense of betrayal at the hands of someone he never even knew but who should have loved him. Yet, once Harry is convinced of Sirius's innocence, he immediately looks to Sirius to find a sense of real family, and their bonding, albeit brief, is tender and heartfelt. By the end of the novel, Sirius is firmly ensconced in Harry's heart as beloved godfather.
For readers, Sirius's character development is a bit more complex. We, too, see him go from a maniacal criminal to a wronged man desperate for both revenge (against Peter) and love (Harry's), but along the way, we also learn a bit about his youth – a somewhat disturbing combination of loyalty, cleverness, and reckless cruelty. We also see him hostile, spiteful, and demeaning – he's the first adult character who seems to share, even surpass Harry's own hatred of Snape. And much as Harry may see his own views justified by Sirius, as readers we also recognize this as equally a sign of Sirius's own immaturity.
Several of Sirius Black's most defining character traits are in evidence in PoA. His rashness is apparent in the way he breaks into Hogwarts, attacking a portrait and appearing to threaten a student with a knife. His behavior in the Shack scene shows him to be clearly unbalanced. He does nothing to allay Harry's fears that Sirius means harm to him and his friends, agreeing that he's responsible for the deaths of James and Lily and admitting that he intends to kill someone. But we also see an affectionate, even vulnerable side to him when he hesitantly asks Harry if he'd like to come live with him.
By the end of PoA, we have quite the dichotomous depiction of Sirius Black. There is a powerful satisfaction in the strong bond of loyalty and genuine affection between Sirius and Harry, reinforced by the clearly positive feelings of both Remus Lupin and Albus Dumbledore toward this man. But counterbalanced against that, we cannot but have doubts about a man who was believed to be a traitor and murderer, even by his closest friends, who has shown a proclivity for thoughtless cruelty, and whose rash actions have caused death and disaster more than once.
In Goblet of Fire, Sirius settles down considerably, playing a stabilizing and protective role toward Harry and demonstrating qualities of maturity and wisdom that allow readers to see him in a more consistently positive light and to believe that he may, himself, begin to overcome his own past weaknesses.
There is nothing here of the rashness or hostility we saw in PoA. Sirius stays near to keep an eye on Harry and offers him sound and very parental advice to be cautious, avoid risk, and obey rules. Given Sirius's new, more parental role, it's actually the cautious Hermione whom Harry identifies Sirius with more than himself: "Like Hermione, he seemed to want to concentrate on getting Harry through the last task before they concerned themselves with anything else" (609).
Harry bridles a bit at Sirius taking this role with him: "Who's he to lecture me about being out-of-bounds? ...After all the stuff he did at school" (573). For the most part, though, Harry welcomes having Sirius in his life and actively seeks him out as a confidant and advisor, not only regarding the TriWizard Challenges he faces, but in sorting out his own suspicions about whom at Hogwarts might be trying to hurt him. And surprisingly, Sirius manages to offer a pretty even-handed assessment of Snape, apparently allowing his personal animosity to be tempered with acceptance of Dumbledore's implicit trust in Snape. And it's this Sirius who gives Ron the wise advice, "If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals" (525).
The reader, too, is likely to be swayed toward a largely favorable view of Sirius as he's depicted in GoF, His attitude and behavior suggest that his sense of responsibility where Harry is concerned along with the newfound trust of Dumbledore has helped Sirius become more mature, and that despite living in caves and eating rats, Sirius may recover from the trauma of Azkaban to be a good guardian to Harry. When Sirius is revealed to Snape in Dumbledore's office, and following a handshake with his longtime nemesis, Sirius is sent off to begin the important reconstitution of the Order of the Phoenix, it appears that Sirius Black can now be seen as a trustworthy and mature fighter on the side of Light. And Harry, in spite of having suffered a serious trauma at the hands of Voldemort, has a guardian at his back who will surely guide and strengthen him in the battles to come. Or ... not.
Many fans have noted with some confusion the dramatic change in Sirius Black from GoF to Order of the Phoenix. A short few weeks have passed, Sirius is still a fugitive, but one who now enjoys the protection of the Order of the Phoenix and, by offering his family home as headquarters, provides a valuable service to the Order as well. But Sirius is definitely not a happy camper. He's sulky, argumentative, bitter, and even shows evidence of a drinking problem. Instead of cautioning Harry to be careful, he becomes resentful of Harry's unwillingness to take risks and act recklessly – accusing him of being nothing like his father and Sirius were at his age.
I believe a lot of this surprising new behavior can be explained, but first, it's worth examining the relationship between Sirius and Harry as it develops in this book. For once again, Sirius has the dual impact of a character in relation to Harry and a character in his own right.
At the beginning of OotP, Harry and Sirius's situations are very similar. While Sirius has been stuck at his hated family home, Harry has been stuck at the Dursleys. Sirius cannot participate actively in Order activities because of his fugitive status and Harry isn't allowed any information about the Order. Harry is in a sulk very similar to the one he finds Sirius in upon his arrival at Grimmauld Place, and, as in PoA, his identification is almost immediate. At dinner the first night, Harry notes that "there was something about the slightly flattened tone of voice in which Sirius uttered Dumbledore's name that told Harry that Sirius was not very happy with the headmaster either" (83).
However, although in a very real way, OotP is the story of Harry's sulk and alienation, the experience for him is a transformative one. For Sirius, on the other hand, the book signals a regression. While Harry begins strongly identifying with Sirius and remains strongly attached to him throughout, he also begins to detach himself from Sirius's displays of rashness and immaturity even if he's not quite ready to let them go himself.
Sirius goes from being a reflection of Harry to being a stage through which Harry passes. And in place of role model, we begin to see role reversal. Now it's Harry cautioning Sirius about staying safe and Sirius who responds with a nasty swipe, rather like a petulant child: You're less like your father than I thought ... the risk would've been what made it fun for James" (305).
At one point Hermione even asks, "You don't think he has become ... sort of ... reckless ... since he's ben cooped up in Grimmauld Place? You don't think he's ... kind of ... living through us?"(377-8).
Harry, meanwhile, shows an increasing sense of responsibility toward Sirius: "it would not be he, Harry, who lured Sirius from his place of safety..." and "he did not know when they would next see each other and felt that it was incumbent upon him to say something to Sirius to stop him doing anything stupid" (523).
Sirius's sulkiness and immaturity, even his aggression toward Snape are to some degree balanced by the occasional displays of level-headedness and genuine concern for both Harry and the work of the Order. Before the hearing, he offers Harry reasonable advice, "Don't lose your temper ... Be polite and stick to the facts." Later he reminds him that "the world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters" (302). He also manages to maintain a semblance of calm reasonableness on the chaotic night that Arthur Weasley is attacked, reining in Fred and George's irrational impulses and managing to get everyone safely to bed.
We might as readers overlook many or even all of the faults Sirius displays in his behavior at Grimmauld Place and in some of his less noble exchanges with Harry because we see the extreme misery it so clearly is for Sirius to be in effect a prisoner once more, and a prisoner in the very home he escaped as a youngster, a place which holds a nasty and abusive representation of his mother, a vindictive house elf, and surely numerous other unpleasant associations. When Sirius shows Harry the family tapestry from which his own image has been expunged and tells him a bit about his family history and relatives, our sympathy for him increases. As he's already been cruelly and wrongfully imprisoned for so many years, that he takes very badly to this second imprisonment is quite understandable. And that he also dies at the end of the book protecting Harry and his friends might well have sealed a place for Sirius Black as a sympathetic and even beloved character in the HP story were it not for one annoying bit of character exposition.
In the Pensieve scene, Harry (and we) see a portrait of the young Sirius Black that reveals a far more disquieting side to his personality than anything we see in current time. He's clearly personable and good-humored, but his selfishness, reflected in casual indifference to Remus's lycanthropy and his insistent encouragement of James's abuse of Snape – both serving nothing but his own desire to be amused – reflects, well ... badly upon his character.
In light of that scene, it becomes much harder to stomach Sirius's adult animosity toward Snape. Although Sirius expresses some remorse, telling Harry he's not proud of his behavior, he also repeatedly brushes off both James's and his own actions by saying "we were all idiots." With this new knowledge, we are also apt to recall more harshly Sirius's behavior toward Snape in the Shack back in PoA, continuing to refer to him as Snivellus and even claiming in reference to the trick that "it served him right."
On the night of the attack on Arthur, Sirius tells the twins with some passion that "...there are things worth dying for!" (477). If there is a defining moment for Sirius Black, it might well be his last before falling behind the Veil. It's a moment of heroism, but also one of arrogance and recklessness, as he taunts Bellatrix, incautious of the danger he's in even as he fiercely protects Harry. The look of surprise on his face as he falls is a telling, and sadly fitting one. On how many occasions in his life must Sirius have looked back and said to himself "if I had only realized...."?
I do not mean to suggest that all readers have the complex response to Sirius I have described. For some, he is a strongly sympathetic character – basically a good, if troubled man, whose suffering is beyond anything he deserves; for others, he's a selfish bullying bastard whose favor in the eyes of so many readers is both undeserved and extremely prejudicial. In an informal survey, words used to describe Sirius Black ranged from the sympathetic: loyal, loving, and tragic through the neutrally descriptive: reckless, immature, and unstable, and on to the unabashedly disdainful: arrogant, hypocritical, and (in an apparent inability to find appropriate adjectives) bully/bastard.
My hope is to have shown that both extremes as well as the gamut of gradations between have their basis in the depiction of Sirius in the books themselves. It's a many-faceted portrayal of a character who plays an evolving role in the life of the protagonist and whose own character evolves and deepens as the story develops.
Not surprisingly, as such a complex character, and one of the few adult characters to have a strong adult friendship, Sirius features as a major character in quite a lot of fanfiction. Additionally, the books touch on, but do not develop a great many interesting bits of stories concerning Sirius, which provide ample fodder for exhaustive exploration in fiction. Every aspect of Sirius's character revealed in the books – and some that are not – has a slew of stories to go along with it. There's plenty of angsty/damaged!Sirius for those masochists among us, there's also a fair smattering of cheeky/smart-ass!Sirius, most notably when he's paired with Snape, and there's enough dysfunctional and/or bastard!Sirius to please those who prefer a Sirius they can hate. For good measure, there's quite a bit of clever, clueless, romantic!Sirius to relieve the misery of all the canon-based stuff. Similarly, the MWPP years at Hogwarts, especially concerning events leading up to and following the "Trick," the period of his growing suspicion of Remus as a spy, his imprisonment in Azkaban and later at Grimmauld Place, "lying low at Remus's," and finally, his experience after the Veil all have been written about many, many times.
Whereas in the books, Sirius, like all the supporting characters, acts in relation to Harry (and secondarily, probably to Snape), in fiction, he's most often seen interacting with other adults , primarily Remus or with his childhood friends, again primarily Remus. That is not to say, he never interacts with other major characters. There are a good representation of Snape/Black stories and a fair number of Gen stories featuring Sirius as well. And there are certainly stories that depict the relationship between Sirius and Harry, both Gen and Slash (The latter are for obvious reasons often either Dark!Fic or PWP.). He is not, at least in my experience, often featured in Het stories, and I apologize if my ignorance in this area annoys anyone.
If you want to read Sirius, you can pretty much take your pick of which Sirius you'd care to read. He is a character who allows a good deal of breadth within canon-based representations and who also offers some considerable delight in his OOC depictions. Here follows a thoroughly arbitrary selection of stories that offer a variety of characterizations of Sirius, followed by a few author sites, some artwork, and other relevant communities and resources:
"Redeeming Time" by miraminx:
"Waltz for the Moon" by Naraku:
Remus doesn't forgive Sirius
"When it Alteration Finds" by Arialis:
Sirius sees anew by becoming "Peter"
"Werewolf on Trial" by JKLB:
Written before OotP, so Sirius has a very nice Mum and Dad
"So you Want to Transfigure yourself a Rockband?" by mousapelli:
"Evening the Score" by mousapelli:
"Coordinates" & "Anastasia and Spinning Jenny" by librae
(On her LJ)
"Falling is Like This" by Victoria P. musesfool:
"Disappointment is a Feather in your Cap" by Kel and Lise:
The day Sirius left home and other stories
"The Arrangement" by maybethemoon:
"Casualties of War" by Gail B.:
Peter focus. Not-so-nice Sirius
"What You Need" by Laura Smith romanticalgirl
Sirius is jealous and gradually comes to admit feelings for Remus
"Outlined Joy" by setissma:
Great oblivious!Sirius, shopping for Remus's birthday
"Vector" by rageprufrock:
Harrods and the history of Sirius and Remus at Hogwarts
"Unspoken" by casira:
Sirius suspects Remus
"Killing Time" (HP/Good Omens x-over) by penknife:
interesting explanation for the mistrust during the 1st War.
Azkaban to Post-PoA Stories
(See stories by fabularasa below under author listings for the gold standard in Snape/Black, pre-OotP stories)
"What Does a Dog Dream When he Dreams?" by Stellamaru contrariwise:
Porny but tender dream in Azkaban
"No Stray" by canis_m:
Sirius ponders returning to Remus
"A Spirit of Brotherhood" by Torch:
Remus, Severus, and Sirius form a magical bond
"Consequences" by Arabella:
part of Down from the Tree series. Alternating Sirius/Snape PoA and "Trick"
"Shade More than Man" by Acamar/Thetaeridani:
Suicidal Sirius tended by Snape
"Slowly, But Exceeding Fine" by ellen_fremedon:
Sirius and Sev hate each other. Nevertheless ...
"Oral Sex" by isiscolo:
Sev and Sirius play a drinking game.
"53 Stories about Snape and Black" by anamuensis1:
No truer portrait of character or relationship exists anywhere
Lying Low Stories
"Older and Between" by juleskicks:
Remus and Sirius sort out some bitterness
"Just Let it Be" by Nym:
One of my first and favorite Remus/Sirius angst stories
"Ephemeris" by penknife:
"House" by kestrelsan:
Sirius learns to feel at home
"Softly as I Leave You" by romanticalgirl:
Damaged Sirius comes to Remus, then leaves.
"Fall on Me" by Mariner:
Visiting Remus, Sirius faces Boggart!James among other things
Grimmauld Place Stories
"Gift of the Animagi" by DeeDee:
Grimmauld Place. Nice Remus reflections on Sirius; Mild Slash
"He Said it That Knew it Best" by lexin:
Grimmauld Place; Harry POV
"Inhabited by Winter" by yahtzee63:
Quintessential OotP Remus/Sirius
"In Crutiatu Veritas" kleio_the_muse:
A romantic comedy torture story
"Omnia Vincit" by kleio_the_muse:
A different kind of Post-OotP story
"Blood Will Tell" by prillalar:
Very Dark look into Sirius's past courtesy of Lucius
"Homebodies" by Te:
"A World Not so Black Nor White" by amanuensis1:
Abusive!Sirius (mostly Lucius/Harry)
"Tower of Air" by cluegirl:
Dumbledore brings Sirius to a tower room
"Alive" by Sam Vimes copperbadge:
MWPP to post-OotP
"Stealing Harry" by copperbadge:
Quintessential AU Sirius/Remus (Mildish slash)
"Beyond the Veil" by Helene:
Quintessential Sirius!Lives story
Doggie!Sirius Stories (Just for fun)
"Footpad Returns" by thistlerose:
Remus and Sirius at home together
"The Taming of Sirius Black" by McKay scribbulus_ink:
Dom/sub of the tamest sort
A Few Recommended Author Sites
Stories by casira:
Stories by fabularasa:
Stories by lise:
miraminx's "Lost Feeling" series
Stories by Victoria P. musesfool:
Some Sirius Art
"Moony, Padfoot, and Prongs Having a Slumber Party" by celestialsoda:
(if that link doesn't work, try this one: http://celestialsodapop.org/harrypotter/ -- the piece is second from the top).
"Post-Hogwarts, Pre-Azkaban" by celestialsoda:
"Remus and Sirius during OotP" by celestialsoda:
"Almost Duel" by idli_bp:
lillithium's lovely Remus/Sirius panel art at her site:
"Sirius Black in Azkaban by nassima:
"Remus/Sirius Cuddling" by nassima:
"Remus, Sirius and James circa 6th year" by queenmabsreveng:
"Godfather and Godson" (sketch) by waccawheels:
"Sirius Black" search page on Elfwood:
A Few Sirius-Related Communities
Gen Recs page for Sirius Black