There’s absolutely no question about it; Sirius Black was a highly attractive character to the readers. Especially on first aquaintance. And he remains one of the most compelling in the entire series. At least over the first two thirds of the story arc.
I have not the slightest hesitation about making that statement. Sirius Black fully captured the readers’ imagination. Charming, yes, charismatic, yes. Brave, oh undoubtedly. I don’t wonder in the least that a teenaged Harry Potter so deeply admired him.
But could you really trust him? As in rely on him? Was there any actual substance there?
More to the point, could you have trusted him not to get some bright idea after the big planning session is over, and all the communal decisions agreed upon, and then to foul up everything for everybody else by going off half-cocked on some “cunning plan” of his own? Had he even finally learned that lesson?
To all appearances, the answer to that is; no, probably not.
If anything became screamingly obvious to the reader over the course of OotP it was how woefully inadequate Sirius Black was turning out to be, compared to all of Harry’s hopes and expectations of him.
But then we were supposed to notice that, weren’t we? The whole point of that big reveal was that there really wasn’t anyone that Harry could truly count on other than himself.
At second glance, it turns out that Sirius Black was also a harbinger of things to come. Of very unfortunate things to come, in fact. By which I mean Rowling’s tendency to arbitrarily apply personality transplants at whim to her characters each time she reintroduced them. On reflection, Sirius Black seems never to have been the same man twice.
We could accept this easily enough between PoA and GoF. It seemed reasonable to suppose that someone who had been so close to the edge as the fugitive we watched Harry help to escape from Britain at the end of PoA might have managed to make at least some degree of recovery in the months before we saw him again mid-way through GoF.
But it was screamingly obvious that something had gone very wrong for Sirius Black between the point that we saw him in Hogwarts’s hospital wing at the end of GoF and the opening of OotP about six weeks later.
Because it was only six weeks that had passed between those two points for him. Not three years as it was for us.
In fact, by the time I had finished working my way through Order of the Phoenix, I was seriously wondering whether there might have been a genuine thread of inherited mental instability running though that whole family for the Dementors to have worked upon. By the time we meet her, Bellatrix Lestrange was certainly exhibiting every single trait that had ever caused the fans concern about her cousin Sirius over the “three year summer” just past, and when you factor in the behavior of the portrait of Madam Black, I mean really, what else can you think?
And let us not forget Madam Black’s (we do not know how many times removed) cousin Araminta, (not shown on the Black family tapestry sketch — or at least not by name) who was actually out lobbying to legalize Muggle-hunting, at some point in the last 150 years! While we’re at it, neither is Narcissa Malfoy averse to enacting the drama queen’s guide to living, and she doesn’t have a recent stint in Azkaban to excuse her, either.
• • • •
Plus; so long as we are on the subject of cousins, given that Madam Black’s image was perpetually shrieking about the mudbloods, halfbloods and blood-traitors polluting the house of “her fathers”, one was forced to conclude that the lady was probably an acknowledged member of the Black family long before she ever married into it. And just how long has that kind of thing been going on, too?
Well, the Black family tapestry sketch, released in February 2006, confirmed that Sirius Black’s parents were indeed 2nd cousins. But it revealed no other obvious cousin marriages that we could recognize. Still, the Black family’s degree of interrelatedness with just about every 3rd wizarding family that we’ve ever heard of raises the possibility that some of the Black family spouses listed may well be cousins of some degree whose connection is to earlier generations of Black daughters, whose descendants the tapestry seldom names.
And then, in ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, Rowling went over the top and handed us the Gaunts. Who seem to demonstrate every one of the disturbing traits exhibited by the Blacks — all taken to about the Nth degree — in a classic illustration of the concept of “degenerate”.
And who, like the Blacks, followed the practice marrying cousins and of naming half of their children after the stars in the sky. (Merope is one of the Pleiades.)
Which raises the question of just who the Gaunts — or maybe the Peverills who the Gaunts claim to have been connected to — considered worthy enough to marry when there weren’t enough cousins to go around, back in the days before they lost their fortune and were still able to support their taste for grandeur.
Back in the days when other wizarding families still considered them “eligible connections”.
Or... maybe celestial names — which are typically mythological names, so we can never be sure of the context — like plant names, are just a wizarding thing.
You do have to wonder.
• • • •
However, as long as we are on the subject, Sirius Black, man for all purposes:
There was one of those pop-psych books published in the early to mid-’80s called ‘The Drama of the Gifted Child’. I never actually read the book itself, but the basic premise was paraphrased to me by a friend who had. Acto the summary I got, there is a type of gifted child who is so quick, and so good at reading other people’s expectations that they become virtual mirrors, always reflecting back whatever the other, or series of others, want to see. This kind of individual spends so much time segueing from rôle, to rôle, to rôle, that they have no deep awareness of who they actually are. Only of whom they can convincingly “be”.
I cannot speak with any authority regarding the more detailed picture explored in the book itself, but that capsule review is certainly sound enough to be able to recognize it when one sees it in action. Or at least to recognize it eventually.
Because I did once know someone very much like that. Despite the lady’s obvious intelligence, there was no “there” there. It was rather disturbing actually, once you finally realized it. And that particular individual strung people along so deftly that a lot of them never did realize it. Very bright, very talented, enormous personal charm, but there was no “center”. This lady could change rôles like most people change shoes. But none of the rôles were precisely “her”. It was only on those occasions that she chose not to exercise that enormous fund of personal charm that the essential lack of a “center” became noticeable.
In such a case one cannot really make any clear statements about the individual’s “underlying character”. For you have never actually met it. What you see is only an impressive display of their network of coping mechanisms.
But the definition as stated above works very well when you use it as a yardstick to measure up any number of fictional people. For example, it works extraordinarily well, as applied to the adolescent Tom Riddle once he had entered the wizarding world. (It does not apply at all to the current Lord Voldemort, nor, apparently, to the young Tom Riddle of the orphanage, who had clearly never exerted himself to ingratiate himself to anybody.)
It works almost as well for what we were shown of Sirius Black.
Not that it is a good idea to run away with that comparison. For two very bright children to have hit upon a similar method of coping with the world around them in widely different, but basically uncongenial, circumstances some 40 years apart in time, and worlds apart in situation, is hardly all that remarkable. And there is not the slightest evidence to support the assumption that two or more individuals with the ability to construct similar systems of coping mechanisms are remotely similar as individuals. For one thing, maladjusted and contrarian though he may have been, Sirius Black was not a sociopath.
What is more, while the basic coping style used may have been very similar, the results of their efforts were pretty widely divergent. As were their methods. To say nothing of their motives.
• • • •
In addition to not being a sociopath, Sirius Black was also not a Legilimens. I suspect that he was possibly a potential Legilimens, given how well he was able to react to what other people wanted from him. But he appears to have never been introduced to that particular branch of magic as a boy nor trained to refine the skills that it requires, even though I believe he may have possessed them. By all indications, he did not know that legilimency even existed until some time after he had escaped from Azkaban and taken up residence in his family’s home. I’m inclined to think that it was Remus Lupin who filled him in when Albus brought up the subject of teaching Harry Occlumency.
I suspect that Sirius “read” people more or less by instinct, not through any conscious or magical analysis. And he only bothered to read selected individuals, not everyone he met. And once he had read them, and classified them, he didn’t bother to do so again. This was a mistake. People change.
From what we observed of Black’s conduct — which we have to remember that we only saw after 12 years of up close and personal exposure to Dementors — he seemed far more wrapped up in broadcasting his own impressions and opinions than he was in reading and re-evaluating those of others. And, in such cases as that of Pettigrew, or Barty Crouch Sr, when he tried to go back and consciously interpret what he had previously observed — after the fact — his interpretations were usually likely to be incomplete, when they were not simply wrong.
But he did start out life with an instinctive ability to read others’ expectations and desires, and like most children who have such an instinct, he used it to try to get, and to keep, the upper hand in his dealings with the world around him.
Which, of course, started with the dynamics inside his own family.
• • • •
I’d also suspect that Sirius Black was the kind of child who accepted any good times as his due, but that, once thwarted, was an instinctive contrarian. Deliberate orneriness was his first response to being told “No,” — or to getting a baby brother who diverted attention away from himself.
He was only about three years old at the time (adjusting the dates on the Black family tapestry sketch to comply with the information as given us in canon), so we should cut him some slack for that. But his family doesn’t seem to have handled the situation with any kind of finesse. He rapidly figured out that he could get all the attention he wanted by doing and saying what he wasn’t supposed to. And did so.
His habitual response to his surroundings became a consistent and extreme reversal of whatever was telegraphed as desirable behavior. And his parents, who seem to have been a very rigid, narrow-minded couple already set in their ways when he was born, never figured out how to do an end run around this behavior.
The bottom line was that he learned that being a “problem child” got attention. Once established, this behavior pattern would have only solidified over time. He used that extraordinary instinctive ability to read what his parents wanted in order to give them back exactly the opposite.
This is just so obvious from everything that we were shown. And it all too soon was extended beyond merely dealing with his immediate family. It was eventually applied to all authority figures. If he was told “don’t do this” He would immediately do exactly that. If his parents told him that a particular sort of person is beneath contempt, he would move heaven and earth to find exactly such a person to hang out with. And always as conspicuously as possible. His whole statement to the world was “You’re not the boss of me!”
• • • •
It’s little surprise that, despite his family history and expectations, he deliberately got himself sorted into Gryffindor. I very much doubt that Harry was the first child to put the Hat on mentally shouting “Not Slytherin! Not Slytherin!” It’s also small wonder that he immediately struck up an intimate friendship with a boy from a family who openly abjured the Dark Arts. Yet who nevertheless turned out to be a 1st cousin, once removed, through their mothers. Yes, that’s right. If the Dorea Potter on the tapestry sketch is James Potter’s mother, she was also Sirius Black’s great-aunt. Although well downstream of canon closing Rowling seems to be trying to pretend she never actually told us that. (Well, in all fairness, she never actually did, in canon.)
I originally thought that in his first trip on the Hogwarts Express, Sirius had been stuck in a compartment with his cousins (If we are prepared to accept his statement that “the Lestranges” actually were still at Hogwarts at the same time that Snape — and he himself were — then Bellatrix was starting her 7th year, Andromeda her 6th, Narcissia, probably, her 4th) and all of their friends who chattered on about Slytherin House and how it was superior to all the other houses, with the clear assumption that of course Sirius would also be sorted into Slytherin.
Upon which he became determined not to be anything of the sort.
Well, no. It turns out that Rowling went for the cheap and obvious there. He met James Potter on the train and they hit it off at once. It isn’t even clear whether they were already aware that they were related, however distantly.
Black comes up at the beginning of the alphabet. Unlike Harry, Sirius wasn’t being influenced by the fact that this, or that, or the other kid was sorted into any particular House ahead of him. But he knew of James’s intentions to be Sorted into Gryffindor. He also knew his family’s expectations that he join them in Slytherin, and demanded to be sent elsewhere. Most probably into whichever house that Bellatrix had been most contemptuous of. Until we got confirmation that he and James had already made contact, it was amusing to think that he may have demanded to be put into Hufflepuff, and the Hat told him that Gryffindor would be a better fit.
And, as I have stated elsewhere, I am also fairly confident that it may have been Sirius who was determined to draw attention to Severus Snape, and effectively tagged him as the “appointed enemy”.
And if he didn’t do it immediately, he would have done it as soon as it was clear that Bellatrix’s crowd had taken Snape up to pick his brain and learn his hexes. If James had already “ta’en a scunner” at Snape — which we now know is likely — Sirius was quick to egg him on.
Sirius, at his best, was very good at sizing other people up, even if he wasn’t, in the main, the best overall judge of character. Because the fact of the matter is that he got things wrong. Repeatedly.
• • • •
He got obvious things wrong. Severus Snape is not the only character we have watched blind himself with his own biases. Sirius Black was also an expert at it.
Point: He tells us that his parents were not Death Eaters, despite the fact that their politics were supposedly identical to those that Lord Voldemort claimed to stand for.
Point: he tells us that his parents threw every available knut into layering protections on their home over the whole time that Voldemort’s star was rising.
And he never put 2+2 together?
He never asked himself why his parents — who supposedly agreed chapter and verse with Lord Voldemort, were doing everything in their power to protect themselves from him? Well? Who else where they hiding from? The Ministry? Hardly. They had connections to the Ministry.
And this would have been something that Sirius had to have seen them doing before he left home around 1976. Because he certainly had no real contact with his family after that.
He also never questioned that his parents would be pleased when his younger brother got roped into the DE organization. (Which he is almost certain to not have actually known about until after his brother’s disappearance/death in 1980. His brother, after all, was still in school at that date.)
Does his parents’ actual behavior viv-a-vis the DEs suggest that they would have been pleased?
It sure doesn’t suggest it to me.
What it suggests to me is that Sirius’s particular branch of the Blacks had some reason to feel a desperate need to avoid Lord Voldemort and his followers. With absolutely no way of determining who those followers were.
And this much Sirius did realize, unconsciously. He describes their situation perfectly to Harry in OotP. He also had every reason to know that the world “isn’t divided into good people and Death Eaters”. And he also had no excuse not to know that a person can be the very worst sort of a narrow-minded pureblooded prat without being a Death Eater. But he doesn’t seem to have ever actually applied this awareness to his interpretation of the actions of his own parents.
His interpretation of his own family seems to have been limited to setting them all up as straw men and pushing them into a position representing whatever stance was directly opposed to his own.
Consequently we do not get any kind of an objective reading of any of the older Blacks. And we could certainly use one.
And, while Sirius may be our best available viewpoint, his is not a particularly good viewpoint.
For one thing, he doesn’t seem to have understood his own younger brother’s character at all.
And he completely dismisses that of his grandfather — who was the Head of the Family. And who outlived just about everyone else in the family other than himself!
Yes, that’s right, Sirius Black’s own parents, Orion and Walburga, were never the heads of the family at all. Orion Black’s father outlived them both.
And all Sirius had to say of his grandfather is that he bought himself an Order of Merlin first class by giving a lot of gold to the Ministry.
I rather tend to suspect that there may be more to be said of the man than that.
• • • •
And while we are at it; where on earth did he come up with that fairy tale about stupid young Reggie who got roped into the DEs, got cold feet and was killed for it?
Because if Kreachur is telling the truth — and he was ordered to tell the truth, by his rightful Master (Harry by that time) — that is absolutely not what actually happened.
Even better; where did Remus Lupin come up with the additional information to support it?
Well, okay: theories ’R’ us.
• • • •
We have no reason to believe that the tapestry is not magical in nature.
Even if it was originally maintained by charms manually applied at the birth, marriage and death of each family member it is likely that some form of automation was eventually retrofitted in. Quite possibly this was an application of the same form of monitoring spell which was developed for the Hogwarts Quill in order to record the births of all magical children within its sensory range. (Suggesting that someone in the Black family may have been involved in the Quill project. Yet more ties to the Ministry, there)
I think it automatically records the deaths in the family as well.
Well, something probably does.
When you stop and think about it for a few moments you realize that this pretty much has to be the case. Walburga Black died in 1986, no one in the family lived in the house afterward apart from Kreachur, and yet the tapestry continued to record all the subsequent deaths in the family.
Even if old Arcuturus had paid a visit to the house, which he still owned, to record his cousin Pollux’s death in 1990, his own death in ’91 as well as those of his daughter Lucretia and his cousin Cassiopeia in 1992 have also been recorded. Either these deaths were recorded manually by their cousin Callidora Longbottom (whose death is not recorded on it) or the tapestry senses and lists death dates automatically.
It’s possible that it tracks marriages and descendants automatically as well, which is one of the reasons why those family members who are disowned get their names blasted off of it. The Head of the family doesn’t want the tapestry recording those particular marriages and descendants. (Short-sighted of them.)
Bringing us to Reggie.
I rather suspect that one evening his death was quietly recorded on the tapestry for his mother to see the next time she looked at it. Or possibly his father, we never found out for certain whether Reggie outlived his father or not. But the fact that Reggie signed up with the DEs at all tempts us to assume that he did.
Once that bombshell was deployed there would have been much (ultimately unfruitful) speculation of just what had happened to him. Kreachur was not asked, and he was not volunteering information.
I had originally believed that Reggie’s announcement of having signed up with Lord Voldemort may have sent off a domestic explosion, leading to Reggie’s discovery that his new Master was a halfblood, and any number of other possibilities which were well within the scope of the directions that canon might have taken us. And for that matter, such a reading is still not contradicted. But it is also possible that he kept the whole thing under his hat, and it was only after his death that his mother went through his room and found his Voldemort scrapbooks.
Walburga must have made a leap of intuition that her baby boy had gotten roped into the movement, leading to his untimely death.
And she would have told her father-in-law because, if Orion was already dead, Regulus had been his heir. And even if Orion was still alive at that point Reggie was still the presumptive heir. The only presumptive heir by her accounting.
But none of them knew the details, or the truth of the matter.
However, that would have left Arcturus in a quandary, since the only other living Black male other than his cousin Pollux, was Sirius, who had been disowned when he ran away from home some 4 years earlier.
I think Arcturus contacted Sirius and informed him that he was reinstating him as his heir — whether he wanted to be or not — he was the last of his name and it was his duty. And then filed the requite paperwork with the Ministry to that effect.
Possibly at that point he had passed along the fact that Regulus was dead and that he had evidently gotten swept up in this Lord Voldemort person’s nonsense. Which no doubt was what killed him.
Sirius spun a story together to make the facts fit.
• • • •
Remus was convinced, anyway.
One problem with Remus is that he is just so very suggestible.
Put him in the parlor and let a *bang* go off in the street, and then tell him that there was a man with a gun out there, and the next thing you know he will be telling people that he saw the man with the gun and reporting where the bullet went.
Tell him it was a truck backfiring and he’ll be telling people what company’s truck it was, and what it was carrying.
His friends must have found this ability just so terribly useful back in their school days. All they had to do was spin him a plausible terrididdle and he would lie his head off to cover for them, with total sincerity, perfectly convinced that what he was telling people was the absolute truth.
For that matter, the fact that Regulus was still in school at the time he died opens up the possibility that the report of his death to the school may have set off any number of student rumors, and Sirius may have got hold of one of those. But we’ll never actually know.
• • • •
Sirius could certainly be charming as bedamned. We saw how he charmed his way right past Harry’s defenses, and Harry opens himself up to very few people.
I think that Sirius probably charmed James as well. And made a preemptive strike against any Dark family associations that might work against himself in the future by providing James with an outside enemy who was “obviously” a fledgling Dark wizard that they could both oppose with impunity. To wit, one Severus Snape.
It didn’t hurt that (in both their families’ regard) Snape was a dirty little social climber of the very worst sort.
There may or may not have been any such potential family associations to have worked against Sirius. James turns out to have probably been connected to the Black family himself through his mother. Indeed, he was more closely connected to Walburga’s side of the family than to Orion’s, if the tapestry’s Dorea Potter was his mother. Bella’s grandfather Pollux, would have been James’s own uncle. And her father Cygnus, his 1st cousin.
Pettigrew, who is probably rather better at sizing people up than Black — when he puts himself to the trouble to do it — fell into line immediately, despite possibly having had his nose put out of joint by any sudden transfer of James’s attention from Peter to Sirius, And Lupin, who I suspect had already learned to project friendly reserve to all new contacts was probably every bit as charmed as James. For years.
There may have been a minor bit of jockeying for position between James and Sirius over their first year at Hogwarts, and a lot of jockeying between Sirius and Peter throughout most of their time there, but Sirius had far more invested in conspicuously making the son of a Dark Arts-opposed family his bosom friend than he had in being the pack leader, and he never considered unprepossessing little Peter any kind of real competition. Soon enough the mystery of why Lupin was called away every few weeks caught their attention, and everything settled into the basic pattern that continued for the rest of their Hogwarts years.
• • • •
But there was something “missing” there.
I suspect there probably had always been something missing there. We are still trying to get a grasp on a character which had probably always defined himself largely by what he was against, rather than who he was. Added to which, the Sirius Black we met was severely addled by his stay in Azkaban. And never got any sort of counseling to offset it.
And at least part of the deterioration between what we saw of him in GoF (when he was temporarily channeling his “wise counselor” mode) and when we next see him in OotP is perfectly understandable.
He’s back in Azkaban. Albeit without the Dememtors.
In Azkaban you endlessly relive your very worst memories.
Okay, what were likely to be a 22-year old Sirius Black’s worst memories? I doubt that he spent the entire 12 years only reliving the night he discovered the Potters dead and the morning that Peter Pettigrew (of all people!) tricked him, with humiliating ease, and left him holding the bag.
IF that’s what he realized had taken place. I’m no longer altogether convinced it was.
Because, for all my determination NOT to underestimate Peter Pettigrew, I think I may have managed to do it after all.
• • • •
It wasn’t until February of 2007 that I realized what it was that we had all been overlooking since 1999.
And why Albus could point out that Sirius Black had not really acted like an innocent man.
He wasn’t one. Not altogether. Or, not in his own reckoning, anyway.
Sirius Black believed that Peter Pettigrew was dead.
He believed that he HAD killed him!
He may or may not have believed that it was whatever he had done that killed a dozen random Muggles as well, but he certainly believed that he had executed Pettigrew.
Executed. Not murdered.
That’s why he stood there laughing and didn’t resist arrest. That’s why he sat there in Azkaban for a dozen years.
Can you honestly believe that he would have stayed there for five minutes after he discovered that the Dementors couldn’t recognize him when he was a dog if he had known that Pettigrew was alive, and running around loose?
He honestly believed that he had killed Pettigrew!
• • • •
Let’s go back and take another look at the night the balloon went up: This segment is also in the “Abandoning Ship” piece which is concerned with Pettigrew.
DHs doesn’t go into it. In DHs we only get a glimpse of what was alledgely in Tom’s head that evening. And that was only of his own recollections and interpretations from 16 years earlier. None of which lines up to what we already were given in canon, anyway (indeed, it so completely contradicts everything that Rowling had ever told us about that night that one concludes that Tom has convinced himself of an entirly different scenario. In short, the whole interlude in DHs is an hallucination.). We get no indication of what his followers were up to. But none of the following is contradicted.
Let’s try this on for size:
Godric’s Hollow: Voldemort has killed James and followed Lily upstairs to kill Harry. Peter has followed his Master at a slight delay and is lying in wait for Sirius to show up. We do not see this in Tom’s memory. But it was clearly always a part of Peter’s plan that Sirius should die that night and be blamed for betraying the Potters. Voldemort probably approved. That would have left his agent Wormtail in place to do further damage.
The trap had already been set. Sirius had arranged to check on Pettigrew that evening. When he found Pettigrew gone, he was expected to hurry off to Godric’s Hollow to check on James and Lily. He was supposed to run into an ambush at Godric’s Hollow. Peter probably had expected him to Apparate, not spend a lot of additional time flying there on the motorcycle.
When it all went boom, Peter was stuck. I don’t know whether the explosion that allegedly damaged the house was really that much of an explosion. The damage to the house could have been Peter’s contribution to the overall confusion. It seems to have taken a while for the emergency crews to show up. But there was enough disturbance to tip Peter off that something unexpected had happened. Even if only an unaccountably large green flash and a sudden silence.
Peter ran upstairs, found a dead Lily, a live Harry, and no Dark Lord in sight. Just Voldemort’s wand lying there. He panicked.
Peter had nothing against Harry. And even if Peter did know why Tom wanted the child dead — which isn’t at all likely — Tom is gone, so that doesn’t matter any more.
Realizing that if Tom is not there to protect him, he is now going to be hunted by both sides, he grabs Voldemort’s wand and makes a run for it.
Well, now that we know the house is still standing he could have gone back for the wand at any time. But I still think he took it then, or it would have been confiscated by the Ministry. He probably later hid it in the Weasley’s attic. Indeed, he may have blown out the wall himself, so that someone would come, discover what had happened, and draw their own conclusions.
Once he gets to safety and calms down a bit, he realizes he’s botched things in his panic. He should have stayed put, killed Sirius when he showed up, “discovered” the bodies in the morning, (or let the emergency crews discover them) and continued to let Sirius be blamed for it all, as originally planned.
Although that would still leave at least one DE, his contact at the Ministry, who knows about him still at large. But in any case, he didn’t do what he needed to do when he needed to do it. This won’t work. He has to disappear.
So he thinks it over and moves the ambush script to Sirius’s own doorstep. He gets his props together (no one seems to be questioning where that heap of bloody robes came from. Animagi transform with their clothing — and their wands — and Peter was fully dressed when Sirius and Lupin forced him to change back in the Shack. Yet there was a heap of bloodstained robes at the site of his supposed murder.) He cuts off a finger, heals it, stakes out the area and takes his Animagus form, either complete with his props, or near to where he has concealed them. When Sirius finally gets home the next day, exhausted from his all-night search for Peter, Peter takes his own shape drops his props, yells: “How could you!” and detonates whatever it was he detonated, changes back and scampers into safety. He may have hoped for Sirius to be killed in the explosion, but he erred on the side of timidity and wasn’t quite close enough.
Sirius tells us that his handle on sanity was knowing that he had NOT betrayed James and Lily. He doesn’t actually say anything about not killing Peter. I think he believed he had. He believed that it was serving justice to do it — vigilante justice, but justice all the same — and he may have also believed that he also deserved to rot in jail for having done it.
Which means that he didn’t just stand there like a lump while Peter blew up the street. He had thrown something at Peter, at the same time Peter set off his own explosion.
Between the two of them, it’s no wonder the street blew up! Peter may even have even had a good idea about what Sirius was likely to throw too. They’d been allies for years, and he knew Sirius’s taste in aggressive magic. He may have taken some kind of specific protective precautions, and at least would have tried to be sure that his own curse was going to be something Sirius would have thought that he was responsible for. What else is the point of faking your own death?
By the time we caught up to him in the Shrieking Shack, Sirius had had a year to figure this out, and the certain knowledge that Peter had survived. But I think he really hadn’t realized that Peter was alive until he saw his picture, with the Weasleys, in the Prophet, the summer before. And then he knew that he had been tricked and was convinced that Peter was responsible for everything.
• • • •
And in any case; I suspect that quite a bit of the 12 years spent in Azkaban was mentally spent back in his parents’ house. He has few happy memories of that house. And by the opening of OotP, he is trapped in it.
And by the time Harry joins him at #12, he is fully aware of that. Because no one lets him forget it.
He knows that he is in disgrace with the entire Order, and is effectively under house arrest. With Lupin parked there to keep an eye on him. And what is more, everyone in the Order that we see treats him as if he is in disgrace and under house arrest. (The Weasley twins and Snape even taunt him with it.)
Albus enabled him to flee the country some 14 months earlier, and I think that Albus had advised him to stay away, to sit this end of the war out, and not meddle. Albus would see to it that he was exonerated once it was over. Albus wanted him OUT of the country and out of his hair. The last thing Albus Dumbledore wanted was Sirius Black in a position to mess with his arrangements. He’d already learned that lesson.
Instead, Sirius sneaks back into the country, against Albus’s orders, and is faffing about Hogsmeade as a dog. I don’t know whether we got any clear information in GoF as to when during the year Albus discovered that he had Sirius Black underfoot again. Black may have contacted him. Or Aberforth may have alerted Albus that; “that dog is back. Stealing newspapers”. But Albus certainly knew about it by the night of the 3rd task.
So what was Albus to do with him, now that Black had demonstrated that he couldn’t be trusted to follow orders, other than to park him at #12 where the rest of the Order would keep an eye on him, and hope for the best.
I mean, really, The Order of the Phoenix was not a new creation. It probably already had a headquarters. Albus just used his breech with the Ministry as an excuse to move it into London and park it at #12 Grimmauld Place.
Unless, of course, their headquarters had been the house in Godric’s Hollow. Which was possibly even Albus’s own house in Godric’s Hollow, loaned to the Potters as a sanctuary. The same house where his own mother and sister died. We were never told one way or another. But whoever owns it clearly doesn’t want to use it. Or to let it be used. And, as a perpetual “war memorial”, it won’t be.
• • • •
The whole screwup over the way the Sirius Black affair was handled in canon is one of those things which becomes far more comprehensible under one of the Evil!Albus scenarios. Even the Chessmaster!Albus reading can’t quite make it play.
Yes, Albus already had good reason to hold a grudge against Sirius Black. He’d fouled up Albus’s plans more than once.
And, yeah, I strongly suspect that at the time Sirius probably did make the grandstanding; “it’s all my fault” speech, and may even have taken it to extremes with the; “I killed them (with my bad advice)” statement which would have been taken as a confession. The Sirius Black we met does have a tendency to take the stance that everything that happens is all about him.
But hustling him off to Azkaban without even a pretense of a trial smacks of ulterior motives. There is no way that that was not deliberate.
The reader, of course, is expected to believe that everyone accepted that it had to be Sirius, because Sirius was “one of the Blacks”, and that no one could imagine that it had been Pettigrew. Which would suggest that Remus was off somewhere, with credible witnesses, and not in a position to have attracted suspicion.
Of course the fact that Albus — or someone in the Order — had already largely narrowed down the possibilities to the point that they were convinced that their spy was one of the Potters’ associates, rather than the Longbottoms’ or someone from any of the other groups, also contributed to that interpretation. The Potters’ “group” simply wasn’t that big.
Indeed, when you stop and think about it, it’s far from unlikely that outside the of Marauders own little circle, James or Lily may also have been under strong suspicion by various of the other Order members, and were only removed from such suspicion by; a. having been the ones to be murdered, and; b. Lord Voldemort was defeated in the course of doing it.
• • • •
One of my correspondents posed the possibility that if it was James, or more probably Lily, who was the one most under suspicion at the time, whether that might have contributed to the uncharacteristically harsh reception that Snape got when he turned up and told Albus that the Dark Lord intended to kill them. That perhaps Albus might have believed that this was an attempt to deflect suspicion from Tom’s spies.
That reading… actually doesn’t play half badly. Admittedly, the initial harshness might just possibly date back to the fact that Albus probably blames Snape every bit as much for the werewolf debacle as he does Sirius. He’d had plans for that educated werewolf.
But the harshness we were shown continues longer than what in itself would explain if Albus actually credits the information being given. Besides, one of the few qualities that Tom has in abundance which Albus lacks, is paranoia. For all that Albus knows that he has any number of enemies, it never seems to occur to him that any of them might be capable of doing him any real damage.
After all. He holds the Elder Wand.
It’s glaringly obvious that neither of that particular pair of Leaders seem to actually trust their followers. But where Tom flatly doesn’t trust their loyalty, and demands frequent demonstrations of it, Albus appears to be incapable of trusting his followers’ competence. Given the caliber of some of those followers, I can’t really be all that surprised.
However, it is not impossible that by the time Snape showed up with his warning, Albus may have been having second thoughts regarding his “clever plan” of cultivating James Potter, on the basis of his possession of the Cloak. He’d managed to hand off most of the responsibility of overseeing the Order to Alastor Moody, for keeping the members all occupied and under the impression that they were accomplishing something. And the Order had probably turned up at least a few bits of useful information over the time that it existed. But in the end, the Order was proving to be a drain on his resources, and was losing him allies. Neither of which he could hardly be pleased with.
And for that matter, the Order hadn’t really succeeded in its secondary objective. Yes, Potter respected him as Leader, much as he had as Headmaster, but he didn’t seem to regard him as a friend, or a confident. And if not he, then one of his associates is playing for the other team.
In short, by the time the Potters were dead, Albus Dumbledore may have resented Sirius Black’s position in James Potter’s confidence every bit as much as Peter Pettigrew did.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Albus ever consciously wondered whether he might do better at cultivating an unquestioning minion by starting over with the child, but it really does seem like he did the absolute minimum to protect the Potter family. He did advise the Fidelius, and he did offer to be the Secret Keeper, but once that offer was refused, he talked James into loaning him the Cloak, and left them all to their fate.
• • • •
Sirius may not have been the first member of his family to have been claustrophobically parked at #12, either. We had already been told that at some point during VoldWar I Sirius’s parents had thrown every knut into laying security spells upon their house. Sirius remembers this himself, so he would probably have seen it as a child, around the time of Tom Riddle’s return to the ww after his first, voluntary exile, and his public adoption of the persona of “Lord Voldemort”. Indeed, well before “Lord Voldemort” had managed to render himself unmentionable, sometime around 1970.
Upon Tom’s return, some time around 1960, give or take about 3 years, no one in wizarding Britain had ever heard of “Lord Voldemort” — apart from a small, select number of schoolboys some dozen years earlier.
More than a dozen years before “Lord Voldemort” ever made his first public appearance, Orion Black was still at Hogwarts. He’d have been sitting the OWLSs around 1945. Possibly was a Prefect, and was certainly a member in good standing of the Slug Club.
Along with the current Head Boy, one Tom Marvolo Riddle. Slughorn’s favor may have cooled considerably after Tom’s 5th year, but I rather doubt that he’d have gone so far as to eject the boy from his club. That cooling off might have been noticed by other members, however.
Orion Black may have known exactly who “Lord Voldemort” was. Or, rather, he knew who he had once been.
And yet, acto Sirius, he didn’t get swept back up to join the rest of Riddle’s followers upon Riddle’s return.
Why not? What changed? Was Orion simply not considered a good candidate for murder and mayhem? Or did Orion simply decline the offer — back at a point that it was still possible to refuse? What had Orion, or his branch of the family learned about Tom Marvolo Riddle in the interim?
Well, we don’t have any direct information on that subject do we?
Just a couple of hints. But we do have those hints.
Hint: Arcturus Black, Orion’s father, had Ministry connections that were good enough for him to have learned exactly when a generous contribution to the Ministry exchequer would garner him an Order of Merlin, first class.
Hint: Before Morfin Gaunt’s death, Albus Dumbledore was actively campaigning for his release from Azkaban on the grounds that he had not committed the murders for which he had been imprisoned.
Dumbledore has to have provided some sort of evidence to support that claim. And given Albus Dumbledore’s fetish for provable evidence, whatever he provided had to be pretty convincing. Or at least highly suggestive.
Maybe something like a recovered memory, with a translation from the Parseltongue?
It’s worth considering, anyway.
And if it is anywhere close to being on-target, then Arcturus and Orion Black knew that former Head Boy and Hogwarts’ social leader Tom Riddle was a halfblood, a thief, and almost certainly a parricide. Any of which would be ample reason not to get involved in anything he might get up to.
We don’t know about the rest of the Black family. Particularly after the film designers changed Cygnus’s dates on the family genealogical tapestry from 1938-1992 as in the original version of the sketch as it was released to the web in 2006, to 1929-1979 mirroring his cousin Orion’s. We don’t know where those numbers came from, but the HP Lexicon seemed to have been willing to adopt them without reservation. In any case it puts Cygnus Black into the same Hogwarts year as Orion. And Alphard possibly in the same year as Riddle.
That Alphard left a legacy to Sirius after he ran away from home and went to live with Alphard’s aunt and her family, despite her husband’s well-known opposition stance to the Dark Arts would tend to suggest that Alphard may not have had any use for Riddle either. Or it may just indicate that he wanted to take a posthumous slap at his sister, Walburga.
But we don’t know about his brother, Cygnus. We do know that Cygnus married one of the Rosiers, and we also know that at least one of the Rosiers was among the first-generation DEs.
I doubt that Orion and his father would have been overjoyed when Sirius was out defying Death Eaters shoulder-to-shoulder with James Potter, but they would not have regarded him as being in any danger of being swept up in Riddle’s train, and it seems not to have occurred to them that Regulus might be in such danger, until he after had actually joined up. And I was sure that that can’t have come as a pleasant discovery, either. Whether he did so before or after Orion’s death, we cannot be certain due to the confusion over the relevant dates on the tapestry sketch. Whether the discovery that he had been swept up in the DE movement was made before or after Regulus’s death I do not know, either. But since it seems likely that he did not sign up until the year he lost his father, and his grandfather did not still live with the family. This suggests to me that it could have been a nasty surprise that only came to light after his disappearance, and his death was recorded on the tapestry.
I think that Sirius was way off-base in his expectations there. Kreachur knew about Reggie signing up with the DEs, but Reggie’s parents may not have.
And, by the end of 1980, both Regulus and his father Orion were dead. (And if the film designers are to be taken at their word, Cygnus was as well.)
And Sirius seems never to have considered his father’s death (the same year that Reggie joined the DEs) suspicious? Or even possibly related? Odd that. Clearly we’re missing something.
As, probably, did he.
(Unless — as is always possible — it was just a bright idea that hadn’t yet occurred to Rowling, so she didn’t link it into the story.)
However, for the circumstance of being stuck in that house to have had that much of an effect upon Sirius after only six weeks? That’s strange. Kreachur may be a soul-destroying little tick, but he is hardly a Dementor. Something else has to be going on here. And, while we watched, Sirius’s disposition, judgement and behavior only get exponentially worse as the year progresses.*
*Long after the fact one must consider the apparent mental health of both Kreachur and the portrait of Madam Black, and reconsider possible long-term affects of proximity to some of the artifacts on display in the parlor. Or one of them in particular, anyway. But that wouldn’t apply to Sirius. He threw all of those artifacts out, and his mental health continued to deteriorate.
• • • •
And, hot off the Internet, is a reading, turned loose several years ago in a posting on the LiveJournal of a fan going by the name of LydiaLovestruck which holds the distinction of being one of those cases where somebody manages to put into words a convincing summation of all the details that everyone has already observed for themselves, and acknowledged, without ever quite connecting the dots. The original post was deleted, but a rewritten and reposted version was later available. I don’t know whether it is still possible to find it. My search of the remaining postings from this Lj appear to be only related to the owner’s own fics.
Her theory floats the elegantly simple suggestion that Sirius Black may very well have been an alcoholic.
It’s an absolutely brilliant rendering of the possibilities. It gives us one solidly workable explanation for any number of otherwise inexplicable details that we tripped over in OotP.
And there is certainly enough canon evidence to support the theory on display throughout the course of OotP to consider it a definite possibility. It was made abundantly clear to the reader that Sirius was drinking.
Stuck in Grimmauld place, which hadn’t many more happy memories than Azkaban, with no occupation, unable to leave the house even in his Animagus form, in disgrace with Dumbledore, and the Order keeping him under guard, he seems to have spent an inordinate time in his mother’s room with Buckbeak.
We saw the erratic behavior, we saw the mood swings, we heard the deliberately hurtful comments, we watched the irresponsibility, listened to the gratuitous quarrels. Yes, going stir-crazy from cabin fever might about explain it. But out-of-control drinking explains it so much more easily. And we saw him drinking. We noticed it even through the Harry filter. We just never quite registered how much.
But we sure registered the deterioration of his personality. All of which was absolutely to the classic AA template defining an alcoholic. Even if the overriding cause for his taking that particular route was clinical depression as an obvious response to the direction his life had taken. That reading works, too.
Very soon after Phoenix was released, quite a number of fans had noted a scene in chapter 18 (fairly early in the book) where, soon after arriving at Hogwarts, Harry is mulling over a part of that year’s overriding problem while he was supposed to be reading his Herbology textbook, staring uncomprehendingly at a passage listing several mood-altering herbs which were said to produce hot-headedness and recklessness.
There was, initially, a considerable amount of discussion on the fan boards as to whether Kreachur might in fact have been poisoning, or drugging Sirius with these plants to explain his behavior, which, even that early in the book, was already highly disturbing to both Harry and the reader. The discussion eventually petered out from lack of any kind of clear evidence or confirmation, but the fact that Sirius was drinking explains the situation much more convincingly than the possibility of his being drugged by his House Elf.
This reading may even go a long way towards an explanation for the otherwise inexplicable dirty looks Molly Weasley was shooting in his direction from the very outset of the book, and her repeated determination to cut him off at the pass and reduce any influence that he might try to have upon Harry. Being Molly, the effort simply comes across as yet another attempt to lay down the law to somebody, stake a personal claim on Harry, and a determination to pick a fight with her host. Which, by this time, is no more than what we expect from Molly. But it is also perfectly in character as a well-intended but socially inept woman’s attempt to protect an impressionable teenager from falling under the influence of a drunkard.
Sirius’s behavior in PoA was mostly consistent with a man living rough, half-starved and on the run from the law, slowly, but by no means completely, recovering from 12 years’ exposure to Dementors. In fact, being forced to focus on the bare necessities of survival itself may have been more beneficial to him at that point than otherwise.
In GoF for all that he made only a couple of appearances it is clear that he is in far better emotional and mental shape than he had been the year earlier. He may come across as perhaps little too smug about the rightness of his own values, and he cannot resist a certain level of gloating over the downfall of Bartemius Crouch Sr, whom he has every reason to hate, but he comes across as rational, and is even making a concerted effort to be broad-mindedly fair, even to Snape.
In OotP we see him drinking. And we see him acting like a drunk.
Either this was a fairly recent development, or it is an old problem that has resurfaced and he has fallen heavily off the wagon.
Regardless of the cause, he definitely seems to be engaged in drinking his grandfather’s cellar dry.
(Which also says something rather unflattering about Severus Snape’s degree of emotional maturity, as well as his monumental pettiness, in doing anything so futile as to allow himself to be drawn into a pissing contest with a drunk.)
And, while it may be a little premature to come right out and state for an absolute fact that the canon version of Sirius Black was an alcoholic, we’ve certainly been shown ample indication to fear that he was a good way down the road to becoming one.
• • • •
In OotP we were also given at least a few other hints that the wizarding world may be a good deal laxer about alcohol usage than the Muggle one. And it has also been generally noted that the view on alcoholism in Europe is not so... focused as it is in the United States.
To be sure, we have had comic drunkards in the storyline before. Both Hagrid and Trelawney are solidly in that tradition. But in OotP the tradition is no longer being played for laughs. Mundungus Fletcher might have been pure comic relief a book earlier. Here, he is simply dodgy. And Sirius Black is becoming a source of considerable concern.
And — as Ms Lovestruck pointed out — a tendency to alcoholism does often seem to run in families. Sirius Black may well have learned to drink at his mother’s knee. Literally at his mother’s knee. He certainly fell into a pattern of doing it in his mother’s room.
And when you stop to consider it, those hysterical outbursts and tantrums to which the portrait of Madam Black treats everybody in earshot, really are every bit as plausible to be coming from a drunkard as from a madwoman.
Indeed, it isn’t all that much of a stretch to postulate that those ravings of being under siege by mudbloods, halfbloods and blood-traitors may well be less symptomatic of the DEs than the DTs.