Putting Quill to Parchment: Letters in the Potterverse

This last week, I’ve been feeling a strange need to write letters. And not in a romantic, oh what a throwback to simpler times sort of way, but because, genuinely, I think that sometimes, writing to somebody is a much more therapeutic process than messaging them, or even talking over the  phone. This is because, unlike other, more instant forms of communication, you’re not giving your interlocutor a platform through which to respond immediately. It’s impossible for them to interrupt you, or gainsay you, or cut you off midway—all things that happen far too often when we speak to one another. A letter lets you get it all out there in one go, giving you space and, importantly, the  other person, time to absorb your words, and think about what you’re feeling.

It’s for this reason that I really think the  written is the  most powerful, and therefore, to me, meaningful form of communication. Don’t get me wrong, I love heart to hearts with my besties as much, if not more, than the  average person, but in the  absence of that space and time where once those heart to hearts were taken for granted, a letter can step in, and make you feel less alone in a world where we are constantly reminded, every time we log onto social media, that someone out there is probably doing life better than you.

This got me thinking, as many things inevitably do, about Harry Potter, and how the  characters of that world use, so often, letters to share things that bother them. It’s amazing isn’t it, that in a universe where people can literally just pop over to each others’ houses in a blink, where they can roam through fireplaces to more magical locations, they still rely on the  staple of quill and parchment to say so many important things.

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And letters are hella important in Potter. Letters are what get him out of his Muggle life, for one thing, and the mystery around the ‘letters from no one’ in Philosopher’s Stone is what indicates that Harry is more than meets the eye. Later, letters from his friends are what literally keep Harry motivated, push him through the  horrible summer days at the  Dursleys, even, in a twisted turn of events before second year, tell him that not everything he experienced in Philosopher’s Stone, was a crazy dream. Harry’s friends reach out to him constantly all summer long, for three solid summers, giving him the  support he needs to get through the  days. They even send him literal nourishment and sustenance, birthday cakes and assorted other, healthier food items, coming to him in the  summer before his fourth year in Goblet of Fire.

Letters are also therapeutic in the  series. When Harry is very troubled, woken with an aching scar in Goblet, he writes about his worries to Sirius. Indeed, his correspondence with his godfather is one of the  cementing blocks of their relationship—starting from the  moment when Pigwidgeon arrives, bearing the  note that allows Harry to go to Hogsmeade, to the  last note he reads from Sirius, which, heartbreakingly, talks about the  two way mirror. Sirius and Harry’s relationship, one of, if not the  most, supportive relationships in the  entire series, is constantly imperilled by the  disruption of this form of communication—when it flourishes, before the  start of Book 4, Sirius’s wellbeing is highlighted through the  beautiful, tropical birds he uses to deliver his letters. By the  end, all forms of communication out of Hogwarts have been imperilled, thanks to Umbridge’s snooping, and because of this, this fundamental breach of a channel Harry has long taken for granted, tragedy unwinds.

Riddle_DiaryAnother great example of literal soul baring: Ginny writes to Tom Riddle. She uses Voldemort’s first Horcrux as it was seemingly supposed to be used: as a diary, a record of her innermost feelings. She makes herself so vulnerable by spilling out her soul thus that soon, her body is no longer her own. The implication seems to be that as much as writing can help you affect someone, it can also undo you, pulls a secret, hidden and hence vulnerable part of you outside into a harsh world, where people may not be so kind to it as you hope they will be.

If you think about it, it’s really weird that anyone in the  wizarding world still writes letters, even people who technically no longer have to. You’d think that only the  kids (who can’t do magic outside of school) and those who are under house arrest (Lily, for instance, who writes that letter to Sirius) or in other dire, magic-less situations (Sirius on the  run) would take recourse to such a, well, ‘ordinary’ form of communication. But that’s not the  case. For instance, Bathilda Bagshot, in her scattered interview with Rita Skeeter, mentions that Albus and Grindelwald constantly sent letters back and forth, despite living in the  same village and both (presumably) being old enough to do magic legally. Given what we find out about their relationship later, these letters have a particularly poignant quality, not just the  musings of two, young ambitious wizards but, in the  case of one, at least, also a means to reach out, and unburden oneself, to a fascinating crush.

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In the  Potterverse, people do extremely mundane things—fight over petty jealousies, go on disastrous dates, call each other horrible names in the  schoolyard, write letters. These are all ways Rowling uses to humanise her characters, underline the  fact that though they have magic, they are no different from us who don’t. Letters, physically sitting down and creating a message for another, are still the  most magical, meaningful ways to reach out to someone, to prove that the  writer, and the  person being written to, are bound in a matrix of emotion that is real, made tangible by the  creation of this physical message.

 Nothing compares to Harry’s feelings as he looks as Lily’s old letter, drinking in the  sight of her handwriting:

The  letter was an incredible treasure, proof that Lily Potter had lived, really lived, that her warm hand had once moved across this parchment, tracing ink into these letters, these words, words about him, Harry, her son.

Impatiently brushing away the  wetness in his eyes, he reread the  letter, this time concentrating on the  meaning. It was like listening to a half-remembered voice.

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I think the  greatest example of this, of the  power of such personal writing to wrench feelings about and reduce someone to a puddle of emotion is that last image Rowling leaves us of Snape. A man we’ve always seen as cutting, mean, petty even, is memorialized for readers thus:

…Snape was kneeling in Sirius’s old bedroom. Tears were dripping from the  end of his hooked nose as he read the  old letter from Lily. The  second page carried only a few words:

‘could ever have been friends with Gellert Grindelwald. I think her mind’s going, personally!

‘Lots of love,

‘Lily.’

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The Potter book(s) I really want

The Cursed Child is here and despite some less than thrilled reviews, it is selling like hot cakes, as anything with the magic words ‘Harry Potter’ tends to do. Honestly, Rowling, or whoever he next co-writers are, don’t even have to try very hard any more. No matter how fanficcy the storyline, we’re all going to buy it anyway, the same way we buy tickets to DC movies with less than stellar reviews.

Just me? Oh, okay.

While more Potter is (usually) a good thing, I’ve been thinking: if Rowling had to dive back into this world, and release more books set in the Potterverse, why not travel back in time a bit? Yes, she’s doing this with Fantastic Beasts, but let’s be honest: I don’t really care about Newt Scamander. His story has never been central to the lives of the characters I already know, and since his adventures take place in the 1920s in New York City, the chances of his bumping into people I might know are extremely slim. Unless they shoehorn a Dumbledore figure into the narrative (which they could, since Dumbledore was definitely around and making dubious world domination plans), I don’t see how it’s going to tie into Harry’s Hogwarts years.

Nah, the prequel I’m really interested in, that so much of fan fiction has been obsessed with and built saga-length novels around, is Voldemort’s first rise to power.

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Who wouldn’t want to read a series about these guys?


Think about it—a book-length peek into those eleven years, featuring characters whose sheer awesomeness is hinted at in the course of Harry’s Hogwarts tenure, but whom we rarely see actually doing much. Mad Eye, McGonagall, Snape, the Marauders, Lily, Bellatrix, Lucius—all of them are people who feature heavily in the existing books, and I think it would be amazing to really see them deal with the darkness of Voldemort’s first reign.

There is much that Rowling hints at in the Potter books. Voldemort’s first rise to power was a time of mistrust, where betrayal was so rife that Sirius and Remus, best friends from school, actually suspected each other of turning against the Order. Things were so bad that people feared coming home to a Dark Mark floating over their houses, that entire families were slaughtered. It seems that battles were so intense that the Aurors were literally given the go-ahead to be nasty, to use the Unforgivables if they felt they had to.

None of this is unfamiliar to us in the real world. Mistrust, fear of the state, inexplicable disappearances, sudden death—all of it only seems to have been amplified over the course of the years since Harry died and came back to life. Obviously, since a prequel would dwell mostly on older, adult characters, Rowling would have the scope to work with much darker events than she portrays in her children’s books, to give rein to the headier side of desire, for power, people, life that no doubt propelled many of the protagonists of that first war. We’ve seen the effects of those days, the lingering distrust and bigotry, the betrayal of friends that resonates even in Harry’s lifetime, but we never see the cause, at least not directly.

tom riddleThe main reason I would want a prequel Potter book is because I want to see Rowling really write Voldemort. The Dark Lord in the Potter books is, at first, a mysterious, shadowy figure, who only really steps onto the scene in Goblet of Fire. Somewhere along the way, he loses the mystique and the cunning that made him so terrifying—by Deathly Hallows, he’s ranting and raving and opening fire on his few loyal servants. The result of this is that we cease to really fear Voldemort, and while that works on a symbolic level (showing that evil is, ultimately, small and can be overcome) it’s what keeps the books grounded, ultimately, in their genre as ‘children’s literature’. Evil is never that easily overcome, and while other novelists like Tolkien and Martin work this into their narrative, making it affect everyone involved in the grand fantasy undertaking, or just be part of their personalities, Rowling’s building of Voldemort as a Big Bad and final takedown of him gives readers the quick-fix but ultimately untrue words ‘All was well’.

Good for kids. Not so good for adults.

So I guess I’m asking for an ‘adult’ Potter book. Ridiculous? Maybe. I’ve been spoiled by fantasy I’ve read after Rowling, the Martins and Gaimans and Rothfusses, all of whom do such a good job of portraying the seductive, truly sinister side of evil. Maybe I’ve gotten used to seeing the adult characters in Harry’s world, and finding them more fascinating than the kids, which has led me to wish for stories about them. While fan fiction can handle this craving, the continued forays Rowling makes into her own world leave me wondering why she won’t answer it herself. Wouldn’t it be amazing if that did happen?

Rowling has said that she’s done with Harry, but I’m not asking for Harry. No, I’m dreaming of a time when he was merely a sparkle in his mother’s eye (more likely, his father’s eye). When four boys roamed the school grounds in the guise of animals, when a lonely half blood scrawled notes in his Potions book and dreamt of vengeance, while outside, a terrifyingly smart and determined man, fresh from his ‘foreign studies’, began to build his dark castle. I want feel relief when he’s brought down after long drawn out battles, the catharsis brought about by the sheer insanity of how he was defeated: by a tiny baby, staring out between the bars of his crib.

Who knows, maybe this dream will be a reality some day. Stranger things have happened.

The Potter Christmas

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Merry Christmas, world! Today, I thought I’d take a tour through the Potter Christmases, and focus on my favourite one. Thanks to the school-year structure of the books, Rowling as ample time to explore the various wizarding holiday traditions, and Christmas often receives special treatment in her books. It forms a kind of turning point, functioning as a halfway-mark for the adventures of Harry and company. You’ll notice that no matter how crazy the rest of the world, or their own lives, Christmas provides at least a few moments of calm and reflection for our favourite wizards, and Rowling often uses it to underscore the series’ themes of family, love and dealing with loss.

I love her Christmas chapters, some more than others. For instance, Order of the Phoenix’s is, in my opinion, undeniably the happiest, with Harry seated amongst the loving Weasley family, Hermione, Ron and Sirius at his side. It seems to be,really, the series’ peak moment, a bittersweet one, in retrospect, that shows us what could have been Harry’s life, had the school year not ended the way it did.

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But my favourite Potter Christmas by far is Harry’s first one in Hogwarts, when he sees his parents for the first time.

When Harry wakes on Christmas morning, he is surprised by the pile of presents at the foot of his bed. The Dursleys, after all, had never made his Christmases particularly wonderful. Not only do all his new friends give him gifts, but he also receives a key plot device that makes his adventuring a little bit easier: the Invisibility Cloak. Being a good little hero, Harry puts it into service right away, and lands up in front of the Mirror of Erised, where he sees his family waving back at him.

This moment is exceptionally beautiful, delivered as it is in Rowling’s trademark simple prose.

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The Potters smiles and waved at Harry and he stared hungrily back at them, his hands pressed flat against the glass as though he was hoping to fall right through it and reach them. He had a powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half terrible sadness.

Rowling ties back to this first Christmas in the seventh, and final ‘canon’ Christmas, when Harry and Hermione visit Godric’s Hollow in Deathly Hallows. Apart from actually seeing the home he inhabited so briefly with his parents, Harry’s connection to Voldemort enables him to relive his final evening in the cottage, watching as his father plays with him, and his mother scoops him up to carry him to bed. Again, the parallels between Voldemort and Harry are underlined by this full circling: where Harry stands before the mirror, aching to join his parents but unable to, Voldemort too stands outside, watching as the family carries on with their everyday lives, so close to destruction, and yet so far from him, experiencing things he will never himself understand.

Similarly, Rowling closes the circle begun in Philosopher’s Stone by having Harry’s parents appear before him and speak to him, no longer just images waving from a mirror. Lily’s words to him, ‘We never left,’ are a beautiful allusion to the distance that Harry felt, in Book 1, and how that distance never really existed at all. It’s evident that, at the close, Harry has realized the truth of Sirius’s words to him in Prisoner of Azkaban: ‘The ones we love never truly leave us.’

Harry’s first wizarding Christmas is, I would argue, the most pivotal one in the series. Not only is his traipse through the castle his first solo adventure (it’s the first time he ventures out without Ron at his side), but the Mirror also provides his first real test. Harry has a choice, as Dumbledore reminds him. He can spend days before the Mirror, wasting away, or he can take the glimpse of his parents it has offered him, and use it as an anchor in the testing times to come. ‘It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,’ Dumbledore tells him. The eleven-year-old Harry takes this to heart, I assume, because the next time he stands before the Mirror, it isn’t impossible dreams that haunt him, but a single-minded desire to do the right thing, a trait that he carries forward hereon out.

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Sirius, adulthood and moving on

(The fan art used in this post is by Viria–an artist whose work you can check out here)

In a previous post, I wrote about Sirius Black and how his crazily devout loyalty to his friends signals some very positive, as well as negative things. I wrote about how he might see ‘changes’ in people as a terrible thing, a form of betrayal nearly, a wavering from what he has chosen to devote himself to. It struck me then as it strikes me now that Sirius may not have been a very good adult role model, and it was for this reason among others that Rowling chose to kill him off in Book 5, before Harry had entirely emotionally outpaced him.

siriusI suppose it’s disturbing then that I’ve increasingly grown to identify with Sirius on certain matters. This doesn’t bode well for the emotional health of a seeking-to-be-well-adjusted 26 year old, does it? One of these struck me particularly hard recently, before and shortly after a trip to what was once a stomping ground, Delhi.

I’ve entered that age bracket where my friends are starting to get married. This is at once exciting and alarming.Exciting because who doesn’t love celebrations and excuses to get dressed up (okay, don’t answer that question, I actually know people who would disagree with me quite vociferously) and alarming because it seems to indicate that we’ve gotten…older. We’re no longer gushing about crushes and being excited that a friend is maybe kind of dating someone. Now we’re celebrating the legalization of that relationship, and how life is going to change after that.

Anyway, one of my closest friends is getting married very soon. It is an occasion for celebration, as she and her fiance seem very happy about it. I went to Delhi to spend some time with her, but things had changed already—she was no longer in the old house we once shared, for one thing. For some reason, this upset me greatly, and it was up to another friend to tell me ‘We’re all moving on.’

This reminded me of Snape’s infamous memory, our one glimpse into the dynamics of the Marauders as they were in Hogwarts. When the boys are relaxing near the lake after the exam, James is described as preening and running his hands through his hair, trying to catch the attention of a group of girls seated across from them. It’s understood that he’s trying to snag Lily’s eyes. Remus is buried in a book, attempting to study for the next paper and Peter watches James’s play with a Snitch, wide eyed.

Sirius is bored, and it’s this that sets the bullying of Snivellus in motion.

I should amend that, actually. Sirius is primarily bored. But he betrays another sentiment during this scene that sort of stands out, both in comparison to how he’s usually portrayed, as well as the sort of foresight it seems to indicate—something that most Potterverse characters don’t display. Sirius looks annoyed by James’s attention to Lily.

When I read the scene a couple of years ago I rather romantically saw it as Sirius being jealous because he was, well, attracted to James. Now I see how, while that might be true, there are other, more platonic reasons for his attitude. This may be because I’ve begun to personally understand and experience them.

Sirius, at this moment, sees Lily as what she is, though for no fault of her own: a disruption. Lily signals change for the group. James’s feelings for her, immature though they are, are a break away from his until-now unquestioned devotion to his friends. This is something he cannot share with Sirius, and opens up a whole new world that he is not a part of. Along with ‘growing up’, it’s a ‘growing away’, as Sirius reads it, and if he has to play up James’s immature side to keep him away from Lily a little longer, he will do so.

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Of course, I’m not saying I’m going to break up my friend’s impending marriage, or those of the others who are in line to tie the knot. It’s not part of the plan at all. I do, however, understand why Sirius felt the way he did. Things change, people move on, and you may not be (any longer) one of their first priorities. Evidently Sirius grew up enough to make his peace with James’s infatuation (and extend his devotion to two more people—Lily and Harry), but I’m sort of glad he wasn’t tested by Remus and Tonks’s marriage—that might have been too much for the post-Azkaban Sirius to handle.

As the wise Mindy Kaling says, in her guise as scatterbrained Mindy Lahiri, ‘Being an adult is hard. It’s not all smiley faced emojis wearing sunglasses.’

It’s kind of cool that Rowling, through that brief foray into the past, gives us this little picture of a strangely prescient Sirius. She has all of maybe seven pages to do it, but it’s important enough to his characterization that she slides it in there. It never ceases to amaze me how, with just the lightest of strokes, she adds to a character and gives her readers yet another facet to identify with. Now that’s truly incredible writing.

Why Does Harry Wear Glasses?

When people send me manuscripts, or ask me for advice on their fantasy books, I find myself, often, saying one thing: ‘It’s great, but why does your hero/heroine have everything going for him?’

Since I’ve said this so many times by now, I thought I would stop and really think about where it’s coming from. Why do I automatically want to change a character who is successful, smart, popular, (more often than not) good looking and well adjusted, and give him/her a little more misery? Is it something as immature as jealousy, or could it possibly have deeper, more literary fuel behind it?

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I think it’s a combination of the two. ‘No one,’ I might tell such a writer, ‘wants to really read a fantasy book about a spectacularly awesome person. Harry Potter works because he is weedy and unpopular and doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing more than half the time. Artemis Fowl is downright wannabe bad. Hermione has bushy hair and anxiety issues. And Jon Snow is quite likely an orphan with an angst overload.’

It may be a bad idea to put anyone from Westeros on that list, actually, since their very lives are cursed by being born into that brutal world.

But why do we want our fantasy heroes and heroines to not really ‘have it all’, at least at the start of their grand adventures? I touched upon this point briefly when I wrote about ‘The Poor Little Rich Boy’, a character type that’s easy to find in this genre. An attractive, wealthy, very skilled man who should, traditionally, be at the top of his social food chain is for whatever self-created reason low down, mired in troubles and more often than not, deeply unhappy. I used Jaime Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire and Sirius Black from Harry Potter as poster boys for this trope. Both have all the factors I’ve listed above, plus a certain swaggering, devil-may-care air, that falls apart quite spectacularly as their story progresses.

Honestly, I think writers do this to give readers a reason to root for these characters. Most people reading the book are not going to be as well-rounded as Jaime or Sirius, nor are they likely to see themselves that way. Give the characters some darkness, a reason for

GAME OF THRONES, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, The Laws of Gods and Men, (Season 4, ep. 406, aired May 11, 2014). photo: Helen Sloan / © HBO / Courtesy: Everett Collection

angst, and the readers are sympathetic, rather than envious. I’m not saying it’s every author’s ambition to make a reader feel ‘better about themselves’, but not feeling alone is one of the many reasons why people read books, and if they see that even those who seemingly ‘have it all’ are not entirely happy (often for terrible, tragic reasons), maybe they’ll feel less overwhelmed by their own anxieties.

Second, a reader needs an anchor in this entirely new, magical world. That’s the reason, I’m sure, most writers pick complete newbies to play the defining, ‘protagonist’ role in their fantasy series—they provide convenient tools through which to info-dump on readers. Harry has no idea the wizarding world exists, so everything he comes across must be explained to him and hence, to us. Rand al’Thor is a village bumpkin who thinks a two-day trip outside his village is a big deal; all the new places he goes and people he meets are, therefore, revelations and worthy of being shared with a reader.

But apart from the newbie status,we need a reason to hold onto these characters, to feel some sort of emotional connection with them. They are,after all, our alter-egos in this fantastic new place. And the easiest way to build this sort of connection is to make us feel just the slightest bit sorry for them. This is why, so often, the heroes and heroines are poor, or orphans, or not especially powerful in their social circles. Then we have a reason to root for them and watch them grow, proud of our own emotional investment that has begun to pay off. Everyone loves an underdog after all.

I think this is also why, so often, fantasy novels stutter to a close once the protagonist has done their job, and bowed out of the arena. What comes after being a hero? Domesticity, for Harry. A peaceful passage to the West, for Frodo. Slow coming to terms with loss, for Katniss. Wander the world, for Shadow. The struggle is over, so why should any of us readers care about these imaginary people in these fantastic worlds any longer?

So this is the question Rothfuss is trying to answer, and I’m waiting to see how he does it.

Harry Potter, the Everyman Hero

Recently, in a letter, I tried to describe what various books mean to me, the relationships I share with them. Of course, most of those described were fantasy books, ranging from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to the stupendously weighty (literally) Wheel of Time books. I called The Lord of the Rings my ‘Bible’, the book that I harry sorcererslove and, as much as I might find elements of it jarring or disturbing, would not presume to pull down from its hallowed space. And I called Harry Potter a best friend, a companion found early on whom I tussle with, ignore sometimes, but ultimately, and overwhelmingly, adore.

Enough and more has been written about the books, and what they’ve done for readers across the world. Fans have started charities in the name of Harry Potter spells, Emma Watson has channeled Hermione-like spirit and called for change in the name of feminism, and there are probably fans everywhere who try to live by the tenets embodied in the characters: justice, patience, and acceptance. But what does Harry himself, the character, mean to someone who is, now, approaching the not-so-YA age of 26, who has declared on many occasions that Harry is far from her favourite character, and would rather be sorted into his rival house than the one he himself is in?

(I think that last might be wishful thinking though. Honestly I’m more likely to be a moody and tempestuous Gryffindor than a calculating Slytherin. But hey, the Sorting Hat judges us on the basis of what we choose, right?)

Who is Harry Potter? You can get the biographical details easily enough. He’s a fanciable Dark Wizard destroyer, who carried the burden of his destiny from a young age. He is a
harry_potter_-_quidditch_hbp_promo_2social media celebrity in the age before social media celebrities, the sort of boy who might have become the star of a Vine or Youtube video made by other people, against his will. Through this relatively innocent character, Rowling explored a magical world that has delighted a host of us, imparted some lessons about good and evil and inspired a wave of fanfiction, some of which (gods forgive me) builds upon her creation so amazingly well that it’s been hailed as better than the original.

But after the initial rush of reading the series, it’s easy to let Harry himself slide. He is, after all, a stand in for the reader more often than not, a relatively empty canvas upon which you can paint yourself and stand in to better observe the people around him. It’s the other characters—Hermione, Snape, Dumbledore, SIRIUS— who command my attention as a reader, who make me want to go back to the books again and again and have consumed a majority of my posts. Harry? He sort of slides into the background.

This is obviously a deliberate move on Rowling’s part, to make it easier for people to step into Harry’s shoes and sympathize with his dilemmas. She allows her readers to make Harry a character of their own, to become a part of themselves in an unconscious manner. You might not love Harry as an individual—and god knows I have enough problems with him—but you can’t utterly detest him either. If you did, you wouldn’t be able to read the books.

And Rowling does a brilliant job of making him so utterly believable. I can’t think of another YA/fantasy (not the GRRM variety!) whose hero is as flawed, and yet heroic as Harry. He’s an average sort of boy—he’s okay with his lessons, but Hermione’s always going to be better. He’s great at Quidditch, but even here, he’s aware that there are some people,
harry-potter_original-new-harry-potter-movie-trilogy-announced-jpeg-42959Viktor Krum and Diggory being examples, who are better and always will be better than him. He’s pleasant looking, but he’s no Bill Weasley, able to pull off long ponytails and dragon fang earrings. He’s funny, but he’ll probably never be known for it. He’s not wise in the same manner as Luna, or as successful on his own as Neville. And he’s certainly not half as conventionally popular as his girlfriends—Cho or Ginny.

Even his bravery, the sort of quiet, steady strength that propels him through his quest, is not flashy, not the hijinks of Sirius or Fred and George. What really sets him apart from his fellows is his faith in himself, and his ability to simply push on and, in spite of everything, to trust people. These are not qualities that are sexy, easy to impart. They’re the reason someone like Frodo isn’t the most attractive character in LOTR. Both of them would be dead meat in the world of Westeros, you know, the character most similar being Sansa Stark, and even she’s changing to cope with the big, bad world.

But it’s Harry’s very averageness that makes him a hero, and makes him so much more of a friend than his compatriots in the Potterverse. He is easy to slip into, to see oneself in, and he provides consolation more often than any other character in the series does. It doens’t matter if you’re not the best, not the smartest or most popular. It doesn’t matter if it looks like you’re wandering mindlessly through a forest, circling around a goal you’ve told yourself you need to complete, that seems, at the moment, impossible. Harry loses his way spectacularly, and then things fall into place by sheer luck, or coincedence, but they fall into place. Being lost is okay, he seems to show us, you’ll pull through it in the end.

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DANIEL RADCLIFFE as Harry Potter in Warner Bros. Pictures’ fantasy adventure “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 1,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.    Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

In my 20s, this last has become increasingly important. It’s been a time of some confusion but, as a very very wise person told me, ‘everything passes’. And as long as I, like Harry, have my Rons, Hermiones, my Siriuses and Dumbledores and Lupins, my Molly Weasleys and Nevilles around, things will be okay. The Dark Lords will be defeated, the woods will end, and all will, eventually, be ‘well’.

Sirius Black and the Dangers of Loyalty

Great plans in fantasy literature have a tendency to go wrong. This is not really through any fault of the heroes’—to give them their due credit, they slog on even when things go really, steeply downhill. Great plans go wrong in fantasy because, well, that’s how things often turn out (or don’t) in real life, and say what you will, a lot of fantasy’s power as a genre comes from its ability to spin out amazingly ‘real’ and true-sounding stories in universes and settings nothing like our own.

But in fantasy, people, or events tend to show up and, sometimes, make the bad things go away, or salvage the situation before it is completely beyond repair. If done convincingly, this looks nothing like a deus-ex-machina, and instead segues smoothly into the narrative. Rowling is a master of this, and the character who perhaps best depicts this ability to just show up when needed is Sirius Black.

azkabanThe plotting of any novel requires precision, and I don’t think anything exemplifies this better than Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In my review of the book for Fantasy Book Critic, I stated that what really impressed me about this novel was the sheer intricacy of its plotting—how each character, each event and seeming coincidence had a function to play in the larger scheme. To me this is still the most tightly plotted of the Potter books, and a real treasure of the mystery genre. Given that Sirius found his way onto the stage proper in this book, it seems fitting that it be the most well constructed and (pun not intended) well-‘timed’ of its fellows.

In an earlier post, I had celebrated Sirius’s unparalleled ability to love, and how I believe his unwavering, unconditional loyalty really defines his character. In that same post, I alluded to how his ability to just show up when needed, with no questions asked, is one of the greatest markers of said love for Harry. Sirius’s drive to drop all and be there for his godson is, to a large extent, simply a function of who he is—he is a dog, loyal, unquestioning, bound by feelings deeper than most around him would understand to someone he barely really knows. I think, however, that this tendency in him was probably exacerbated by ‘mistakes’ made early on in life, including that most crucial one of all: the decision to trust Peter over Remus in the first war against Voldemort.

Enough and more fan fiction has been written speculating on why Sirius chose to trust Sirius-sirius-black-7016619-937-1024Peter. The most compelling reading, for me at least, is that Sirius, always so hopped up on his own beliefs and loyalties, would never have considered for a second that the same didn’t apply to one of those he had chosen to protect, unless he had, at some point in his life, betrayed that other person. Sirius’s childhood, whatever little we know of it, seems far from a warm and nourishing experience. When Sirius turned his back on his family, he appears to have done it without any intention of ever going back, asking forgiveness, or even giving them a chance to change and come around to understanding his point of view. In the case of the Blacks this was probably a judicious decision, given how most of them turned out, but it also cut out any prospect of reconciling with those who did—such as Regulus.

Given this, I think there are two character traits that, if taken together, could explain Sirius’s lack of trust in Remus and resulting decision to turn to Peter:

(i) Sirius values loyalty above all else, and seems to believe, to a great extent, that others should do the same. ‘Then you should have died,’ he tells Peter in the Shack, ‘died rather than betrayed your friends, as we would have done for you.’ There is no other option for a ‘true friend’, in his mind. The only reason anyone might not remain incredibly, steadfastly loyal to someone they ‘should’ stick with is if they have been badly treated by those same people, as he was by his family. The infamous ‘prank’ involving Snape and the exposure of Remus’s secret could, in all fairness, constitute such a betrayal of trust and friendship, and thereby expose Sirius and his pack to the same sort of betrayal from Remus’s side.

(ii) Sirius does not have great faith in people’s ability to change. This could be put down to the fact that he is the only adult character to have been actively disallowed from ‘growing up’, instead being frozen into an emotional mess at the age of 21-22. Sirius does not have the same sort of maturity and mellowness that most of the other adult characters (with the exception of Snape) seem to possess. It’s ironic that the two characters who seem to snape siriusdetest each other the most are actually in many ways the most similar—fiercely loyal to those they have sworn to protect and/or love and unable, very often, to contain their interactions and emotions in a mature fashion. They just have different ways of expressing that chosen loyalty. I also think this lack of ability to believe in change is a result of Sirius’s own unwavering nature. He perceives any sort of shift in his preconceived notions of how a person should be as some sort of betrayal—such as when Harry decides that the ‘fun’ of Sirius coming up to Hogwarts in Order of Phoenix is not worth the risk. At this point, Sirius coolly tells him that he is ‘less like James than [he] thought’, and its evident to Harry that he is, for the first time ever, upset with him. Peter, who had never been betrayed (as far as Sirius could tell), and had always remained faithful, could not possibly change—at least until he went and proved Sirius dramatically wrong.

Rowling gives her characters amazing strengths—but she also does a very clever thing wherein she makes these strengths function as their weaknesses as well. Dumbledore’s cleverness and skill and consequent pride proved his youthful undoing; Harry’s selfless ability to throw all aside and play the hero leads to the death of his godfather, Sirius’s stubborn and unwavering nature played a decisive role in the tragedy that marked his, and his godson’s, life. Loyalty has a price, and one slip exacts demands from Sirius, drives him to push himself ever more to be there for his godson.

But hey, if it weren’t for that slip, we might not have had a series at all.

Dipping into the Pensieve: Year Two

siriusIt’s been a strange year, one with lots of ups and downs and much moving around. There have been a number of preoccuptions and considerations and general ‘where is my life going?’ angst. I suppose that’s the lot of most twenty somethings with a liberal education and a certain amount of socioeconomic privilege. I’ve moved cities three times and met an assortment of people. Through it all I’ve had great friends to fall back on, extensive family support and, of course, my books, music and movies.

Where the Dog Star Rages began with no set agenda. I’ve always loved writing, and harboured (still harbour) fond dreams of becoming a published author, one of those hallowed figures like J K Rowling or Tolkien who inspire millions around the world. The problem was, I never really sat and pushed myself to write. I’d begin ambitiously, sure that I had the next best thing pouring out of my fingertips, but then I’d abandon it when I lost enthusiasm, which usually happened quickly. I needed discipline, and someone suggested that a blog would provide that, since I’d have more of a sense of writing for an audience, no matter how small.

So one November day, when I really should have been editing someone else’s work, I opened a WordPress account and made my first post on the James Potter complex. I thought, at first, that I would stick to writing book and movie reviews, maybe pieces on characters from my favourite series now and again, but over the last year, that list has expanded considerably and I no longer think the descriptor ‘A place where I deposit my ramblings on fantasy, literature and the world of the written world’ is all that accurate.

Let’s see: in the past year I’ve written a lot about characters from Harry Potter, but seem to have focussed largely on a) the women b) mentor figures and c) Sirius Black. There have been a couple of book reviews, but those are, again, few and far between. I think I’ve become a lot more ‘personal’ on the blog, slipping tidbits about my own feelings and what I’m doing at any given moment into my posts (those have also largely influence what I write about, such as the Ginny post, or the one on Sirius’s unparalleled ability to love), and yes, pop culture in the form of celebrity write ups and TV has made an entry.

The year has seen other kinds of growth as well. It was a huge deal to me when Mihir Wanchoo, one of the editors of the fantasy review site, Fantasy Book Critic, reached out to me on Twitter and asked me to write reviews of the Harry Potter series. I was so used to writing about these books assuming that everyone had read them, would know what I was talking about, that writing short pieces as teasers more than anything else was quite challenging. Nonetheless, that was a great experience, and it gave me yet another opportunity to explore my thoughts (is it too sentimental to feelings?) on a series that obviously forms such a huge part of my reading life.

And now there’s a new challenge in form of Momentum Books Blog, for which I’ve recently been hired to write a weekly column. It’s my first regular writing job, and it mostly involves me talking about fantasy (thus far). I couldn’t have asked for a better taste of the arts journalist/reviewer life.

I didn’t intend to make this an Oscar acceptance speech, but I do have to thank a very supportive fantasy/blogging community, all those readers who have written comments and encouraged me to keep writing with their thoughtful feedback. Among them, I’d especially like to thank Jeff Coleman, Jeyna Grace, Bellatrix Minor and Brigid Quinn. Here’s to many more years of blog-friendship!

Like I said, this year has been a strange one. It’s had its crazily wonderful moments, but it’s also had periods of intense confusion, self doubt and not a little (wait for it) heartache. I began it with a post on Sirius Black and what he means to me, and I like to think that he still informs a lot of what I write about and also, maybe a little bit of how I’ve tried to tackle things this year. Taking some risks, making some leaps and, who knows, maybe even finding a Remus Lupin at the end of it. 

Who Killed Sirius Black?

Fair warning: This post presents some hard, cold truths about my absolute favourite character in the Harry Potter series and is the result of a lot of thinking and slow coming to terms with artistic decisions. As a result it might get rather, er, emotional.

Herein I will discuss why Sirius Black had to die.

When Sirius arched through the mysterious veil in the Department of Mysteries, it was no accident. Bellatrix’s jet of red light had been coming on for all of the fifth book, beginning its slow journey with the headquartering of the Order in Grimmauld Place. Sirius had all but been pronounced dead by the middle of Order of the Phoenix when he grimly tells Harry that he is ‘less like James’ than he thought. It’s the first sign of disagreement between the two, and it’s one that is never addressed in the course of the book.

Sirius’s death  was plotted, planned and very carefully orchestrated. In short, it was cold-blooded murder. Who was responsible for his demise? I have narrowed the list down to a few suspects, and we’ll examine their motives and methods in this post. Of course, I have my own very strong opinion on who dun it. Let’s see if you’re convinced at the close.

1)      Bellatrix Lestrange or, Keeping it in the familyImage

I’ll deal with the most obvious suspect first.

Who: Bellatrix Lestrange, wanted criminal high in the Dark Lord’s favour. Blood relative to the deceased (first cousin). Mentally unstable with a long history of violence.

Why: As a trusted lieutenant of the Dark Lord, Bellatrix is known to have had little qualm in dispatching with enemy soldiers (witness the Longbottoms). Added to the fact that they were on opposing sides of the burgeoning war, Bellatrix quite possibly might have hated Sirius more because of their blood connection. We see in Deathly Hallows that she takes the marriage of Tonks and Lupin rather hard, swearing to kill them herself in order to avenge this stain upon the family. Certainly Sirius’s lifestyle choices wouldn’t have sat well with her.

How: In the Department of Mysteries, Bellatrix duels Sirius before the Veil and fires the spell that sends him arching through it.

Conclusion: Bellatrix has some strong evidence pointing against her. However, I would argue that she is merely the instrument of murder, not the one who made his fate inevitable. In the context of the book, it could very easily have been any other Death Eater (I think) who killed Sirius. Rowling, I believe, used Bellatrix because she needed to illustrate what a ruthless and skilled witch she was and taking down Harry’s beloved and dangerous godfather certainly cements her in the top rank of villains.

 2)      Kreacher the House Elf or, The Butler Did It Image

Who: Slave to the Black family, Kreacher is the house elf who malingers in 12, Grimmauld Place, sullenly muttering under his breath about the worthlessness of his master. Kreacher has picked up certain conservative, pureblood attitudes from his mad mistress (Mrs. Black), and hence disapproves heartily of both Sirius’s presence in the house as well as the use to which he has put his beloved home.

 Why: As stated, Kreacher loathed Sirius. Sirius in turn loathed Kreacher. Neither of them seemed to make any efforts to make life easier for the other, with Kreacher only stepping up his insults and insinuations in Sirius’s presence and the wizard making no effort to conceal his distaste for the elf. Each is the living embodiment of the other’s worst memories. I would argue that Sirius is a constant reminder of Regulus to Kreacher, a reminder of the elf’s ‘worst’ failure. It’s no secret that they would both have gladly seen the other dead.

 How: Kreacher fed information to the Malfoys. Though unable to give away key facts such as the location of the Order’s headquarters or their plans, he did provide the Dark Lord a delectable tidbit: that Sirius was the person closest to Harry. This enabled Voldemort to lay the trap that led to his demise.

Conclusion:  By having Sirius meet his end at the hands of Kreacher, Rowling illustrates a telling point in the series: never underestimate anyone, even the lowest of the low. This is an old theme in fantasy fiction, well borne out by Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings. Kreacher, in this case, functions as an indicator of the strength of malice, a Gollum-like trait that leads, eventually, to destruction and furtherance of the plot.

Kreacher certainly did play a large role in the eventual death of Sirius Black. Without him, the plan to lure Harry into the Ministry might never have succeeded. I somehow cannot imagine Harry taking the same reckless steps to save, say, Tonks or Kingsley, who are arguably more immediately ‘useful’ Order members that Voldemort would certainly have wanted out of the way. Kreacher, however, is merely an enabler (an important one, of course), an accessory without whose help Sirius might not have died at the precise moment at which he eventually did. He was not, however, the murderer.

3) Albus Dumbledore, or, the Foolishness of the Wise

ImageWho: Headmaster of Hogwarts, dethroned (at the time of the events) Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, dethroned (at the time of the events) Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, proud denizen of a Chocolate Frog card.

Why: Dumbledore is a master manipulator, as well evidenced by the revelations in Deathly Hallows. He claims, during his talk with a distraught Harry, that he had ‘forgotten’ the effect of confinement on active, brave young men like Sirius. He pleads guilty to the folly of ‘age’, but I’m really not buying it. Dumbledore is too smart to have not known what kind of effect confinement would have on Sirius, nor was he blind to the hatred that festered between him and Snape. Furthermore, Dumbledore would have had another reason for wanting Sirius out of the way; he was the final obstacle between himself and Harry. As long as Sirius was around, Harry would never turn to Dumbledore with the sort of all-encompassing trust that he displays in Half Blood Prince. With the ‘closest thing to a parent’ gone, Dumbledore becomes Harry’s first choice of mentor.

 How: As stated, all Dumbledore had to do (and did) was to keep Sirius under house arrest in Grimmauld Place. This was ostensibly for his own good, but it did drive Sirius more than a little mad. The resentment built up during these months manifests itself in Sirius’s alcoholism and his disagreements with Harry. Stifling an energetic, brilliant wizard surely did its bit in propelling Sirius out of that door and towards recklessness.

 Conclusion: Dumbledore created an atmosphere of resentment and pushed Sirius’s reckless nature to its limits with his confining strictures. There is no doubt that he did have a bit of a vested interest in getting rid of Sirius, and especially after Deathly Hallows I can’t quite trust his apologies and protests of ‘forgetfulness’. Dumbledore had a plan all along, and I think Sirius would have been a serious encumbrance to its fulfilment. Do you honestly think Harry would have been allowed to go off and be suicidal if Sirius had been around? He would have done whatever it took to keep him from throwing his life away, and might even have been successful. Without Sirius around, Harry had no really pushy, energetic soul to wean him from Dumbledore’s chosen track.

While Dumbledore would certainly have welcomed Sirius’s demise and didn’t help with his house arrest regulations, I think we can’t peg him as anything more than a mastermind, not the actual murderer. He is, if anything, an accomplice, a master-abetter. He did nothing to prevent it from happening, but no, he is not the murderer. He closed his eyes to it (thus allowing it to happen), much as he closed his eyes to Grindelwald’s delinquency. It is, really, in keeping with Dumbledore’s weakness to do nothing and hence wreak even greater harm.

4) Harry Potter, or, the Boy Who Lived because others died Image

 

Who: Harry James Potter, son of James and Lily Potter, Chosen One, Gryffindor Quidditch Team Seeker, Boy Who Lived (Come to Die) and godson of Sirius Black. Has a history of causing death to innocent bystanders (Cedric Diggory, Lily Potter).

 Why: As Joseph Campbell established decades ago, every Hero undertakes a Journey that includes, usually, the loss of a mentor figure. The mentor must make way for the Hero; growth can only be achieved when the Hero undergoes this loss and learns to strike out on his own. Luke Skywalker lost Obi Wan, Rand loses Moiraine, Frodo loses Gandalf…the list goes on and on. Sirius is, at this point, the closest mentor figure Harry has (as established, he is not yet fully reliant on Dumbledore) and needs to be sacrificed in order for him to grow and stumble onward without protection.

 How: Harry is pretty much the reason Sirius was where he was when he died. Using his love for his godfather, Voldemort lured our Hero and his friends to the Department of Mysteries and then sprung the trap that resulted in Bellatrix killing her cousin. If Harry had not fallen for this illusion, if he had practiced Occlumency like he should have,  Sirius might never have landed up at the Department at all.

 Conclusion: I do think Harry is a very strong candidate for the top position, if only because of the role Sirius plays in his life. The mentor figure must go, usually, and the moment Harry wrote to him in Goblet of Fire talking about his scar, the godfather’s chances of survival dipped drastically.

But I really don’t want to blame Harry. The poor boy gives himself enough heartache anyway when it comes to friends dying (and Voldemort doesn’t help). And really, any mentor figure Harry chose would have perished; even Dumbledore and Remus don’t survive the onslaught of Literary Convention.

There was something particular to Sirius himself that made his death inevitable, and that’s why I think this wasn’t really a murder case. It was art-driven suicide.

5) Sirius Black, or, the Man Who Had to Die Image

 Who: Sirius Black, last surviving male member of the House of Black (Toujours Pur, please). Member of the infamous ‘Marauder’ gang that terrorized Hogwarts in its time, member of the Order of Phoenix, soldier in both the First and Second Wars against Voldemort, fugitive from Wizarding law.

Why: It took me a while to come to terms with this, but if you have a character like Sirius, you really can’t help but kill him off. Look at him: he’s a firebrand. He’s a rebel. He’s amazingly defiant. He cannot be contained by rules. You need people like this in war situations, to inspire others, to function as suicidally-protective forces for more passive characters. But what would you do with them in peace situations? Can you honestly imagine him marrying and living happily ever after? Sirius was wrecked already by twelve years in Azkaban, to get him to embrace conventional domesticity, as every other character in the Potter books does at the close, would have been impossible. Rowling had to tie her series up neatly, and I somehow don’t see a half-mad Sirius fitting in well here.

Not only was Sirius as a character untenable in a peaceful wizarding world, but I sincerely doubt the hunt for the Horcruxes and Harry’s final suicidal stand would have been at all possible if his godfather were around. It’s one thing to dissuade Lupin from joining them on the mad hunt; Sirius was a much more aggressive character and would probably not have been thrown off so easily. Would the hunt have panned out the way it did if Sirius has come along? The power of friendship would not have been so wonderfully demonstrated if it were not just the Trio (the reason Ginny couldn’t have joined either) and Harry and company had to literally be on their own and rudderless; the addition of a parent figure would have undercut the weakness of their position and the pure faith and friendship their rather hopeless-seeming quest exemplified. As a more experienced wizard, Sirius’s presence would have strengthened their group and thus, paradoxically, weakened them as a narrative unit.

And finally, Harry’s suicide. There is no way in hell Sirius would have stood aside for this. It’s one thing to walk away from Ron and Hermione, but Sirius, who had literally no one else to live for (unless you ship Remus-Sirius, which I do), would never have let his one anchor to sanity and love walk away to die, even if it were for the good of the wizarding world. Similarly, I don’t think Harry would have been able to walk away from Sirius, who would, by this point, have probably become even more of a parent figure for him.

Harry was able to make the sacrifice he did because he did not, at this point in the series, have anyone to really live for. He can even imagine Ginny marrying someone else, much as it pains him. Everyone else in the books has a future without him, no matter how hard. Sirius? No. Way.

To make Harry a hero, to save the wizarding world, Sirius Black had to die. It’s the sad truth.

And it’s why, to me, he’s the biggest hero of them all.

Case Closed.

 

The Selfless Love of Sirius Black

People have stressed this often: the Harry Potter series is all about the power of love and choice. Often, it is about how love dictates choice. The greatest example of that is probably Severus Snape who, we’re led to believe, changed sides from ‘evil’ to ‘good’ because of his love for Lily Evans Potter. You choose who you become, you choose your fight (the difference between being ‘dragged into the arena and walking in with his head held high’ that Harry reflects on), unless, of course, you are Lord Voldemort.

There’s all sorts of examples of all sorts of love in the Potter books, and all of them are of varying degrees of intensity. Familial love, as most well-evidenced by the Weasleys and (I insist) the Malfoys; romantic love in the form of Ginny and Harry and Remus and Tonks and umpteen other couples; platonic, ‘friendly’ love exemplified by the Golden Trio and a more abstract, universal agape that is the province of Harry in his final stand against Voldemort. I would love to dissect all these examples, but in this post, I’m going to focus on what, to me, seems the most intense, powerful and selfless form of love in the books: the love of Sirius for Harry.

ImageI know this is a bit of an unconventional choice, given that Lily’s ‘sacrifice’ is usually touted as the be-all and end-all of selfless love. While I certainly admire Lily for her willingness to die for her son (with no idea that he would live because of it), I think that she really, honestly, didn’t have a choice. I don’t think Lily ever believed that Voldemort would let her live, despite his commands for her to ‘stand aside’. She had no reason to think that he would show her mercy, given that she has ‘thrice defied’ him and is one of the core members of the Order of the Phoenix. She would have been silly to trust to his words. And even if she had listened and stood aside, she would probably have been unable to live with herself.

Besides, Lily’s is not the only example of a mother’s sacrificial love for her children. In Deathly Hallows, Voldemort kills a family when he is hunting Gregorovitch. We are told the woman ‘spreads her arms’ as though to ‘protect’ the children behind her. Technically, she also dies in the hopes that they may live; perhaps she was expecting them to escape in the fleeting moment of her death. In a manner, she also dies for them, protecting them. Yet, this ‘sacrifice’ accomplishes nothing.

Anyway, we’re quibbling here.

Why do I call Sirius’s love for Harry the most intense and powerful in the series? Let’s consider what we know:

1)      Sirius was in Azkaban for 12 years. Not only was he thrown in here unjustly, refused a trial, but he was also a ‘high security’ prisoner which, I’m assuming, meant that he had more dementors around his cell than most other people in that hellhole.

2)      From what we’ve read of the dementors’ effects on a person, being near one is an awful lot like suffering clinical depression. You are constantly forced to live out the worst experiences of your life, again and again and again, it seems impossible to find the will to live or change what you are hearing, and the only way to combat it is to force yourself to be cheerful. And eat chocolate, which is a known anti-depressant. Sirius, like his fellow prisoners, could be said to have suffered major depressive disorder for nearly twelve years. That is a long, long time.

3)      Sirius kept himself from ‘going mad’–I would assume that means losing touch with reality and ‘retreating into [himself]’  the way many other prisoners do—by holding on to a thought that was ‘not happy’, the knowledge that he was innocent. While this no doubt held as an anchor against the dementors (‘they couldn’t take it away’), it would still not have ensured a healthy mind. Rather than becoming depressive, Sirius became dangerously obsessive, using his hatred of Peter as an anchor on which to rest his sanity. The fact that he muttered ‘He’s at Hogwarts. He’s at Hogwarts’ even in his sleep shows the extent to which he had shored his mental balance upon the idea of revenge.

4)      Sirius conceivably escaped from Azkaban because of this obsession; it gave him the strength to transform and the will to live in a place where nothing else could. His mission is not so much to rejoin the world and become a citizen of it as it is to find and kill Peter for what he did to the Potters. That is why he heads to Hogwarts and breaks into the castle.

5)      In spite of this overriding obsession, in spite of the fact that he stayed mentally grounded in hellish circumstances by basing his entire existence on this one desire, Sirius gives it all up when Harry asks him to.

I want you to consider the magnitude of that sacrifice. For Sirius (and Lupin, to a lesser extent), Peter is the reason their lives fell apart so spectacularly. Twelve whole years of Sirius’s life were defined by what Peter had done, and those twelve years were also, perhaps, made a trifle more bearable by the knowledge of it. And yet, when his godson asks him to give it up, to let him go because his ‘dad wouldn’t have wanted his best friends to become killers’, Sirius lowers his wand.

Honestly, I don’t think I would have had the presence of mind to do that.

Now, let’s consider other instances of Sirius’s regard for his godson. On the first indication that he might be in trouble, Sirius risks life, limb and soul to come back to England (from wherever in the tropical world he is) to watch out for him. He subsists on rats in Hogsmeade in order to be close to him, unarmed with anything except his Animagus ability. His devotion prompts a response from the usually emotionally-obtuse Ron: ‘He must really love you, Harry. Imagine having to live off rats.’

Image

I don’t picture Oldman when I picture Black, but the sentiment is expressed clearly here.

Sirius pretty much replaces his obsession with revenge with a deep and unconditional love for Harry. His regard for Harry is not really surprising, given his reported love for James and Sirius’s own supremely loyal nature. I think the only point at which Sirius really comes close to breaking is when he is cooped up in Number 12, Grimmauld Place. The house does to him what twelve years in Azkaban did not manage to: drive him slowly but surely around the bend. He resorts to alcoholism, littering his table with Firewhiskey bottles and carrying around a ‘distinctly Mundungus-like whiff’ of spirits.

Even then, his first thought is for Harry. When Harry needs him, Sirius rushes out of the house and barrels into the Ministry, regardless of his personal safety. You could say that this is because of his ‘reckless’ nature, his need to be doing something for the Order. But even if it is, to a certain extent, informed by this need to be in action, Sirius’s rushing out of the house and to Harry’s side is consistent with previous actions. When Harry is in trouble, he will do anything to make sure he gets out of it. Therefore, it’s unfair to pin the onus of that particular action totally on his need to expend energy.

In fact, I believe that Harry’s later insistence on it being Snape’s fault that Sirius risked himself is  a form of self-defense, a walling off of the fact that it was really, ultimately, for Harry’s sake. This defense mechanism is, again, consistent with Harry’s refusal to let other people die ‘for’ him in Deathly Hallows. He knows it’s what happened with Sirius, and the pain of that knowledge ensures that he will do his best not to let it happen again, going (literally) to suicidal lengths to make certain of this.

We know that Sirius’s love for Harry is reciprocated. Even Voldemort knows that ‘the one person’ Harry would literally do anything to save is his godfather. This is what he picks up from Kreacher, from the Malfoys. Sirius is the ‘closest thing’ to a parent that Harry has: he’s the first person Harry thinks to write to when in trouble, he turns to him for reassurance and support in times of moral dilemma (such as when he witnessed Snape’s worst memory), he trusts him within a few hours of meeting him. After his death, Harry is unable to really talk about his passing with anyone, the closest he comes to it being a brief conversation with Luna Lovegood. We know however, from vague references in Half Blood Prince, that Harry is nowhere near close to healed; every time Sirius is brought up in conversation, Harry closes the subject off and casts about for something else. If not, his friends do it for him.

Why I call Sirius’s love selfless is for the reason I’ve underlined again and again in this post: many of the actions he performs for Harry give him absolutely no advantage, nothing in return. He gives up a quest for revenge  (which, as I have pointed out, is no ordinary quest, as far as such things can be ordinary), centres his life around a boy he’s met only a couple of times and then dies for said boy, all to ensure that he remain protected, safe and, most importantly, happy. That last is, really, the only reason I can see Sirius letting Peter live in that one pivotal moment in Azkaban. It would make Harry happy.

There’s a point in the movie-sequence of Lily’s death where she’s standing before the cradle that holds Harry and whispering to him:

 You are so loved, Harry. So loved.

I think Sirius, more than anyone, highlights the truth of those words.