Books and movies alike, Sirius is one of my favorite characters in the Harry Potter series (and I’m a huge analysis dork, as you’ve likely gathered). So why not combine the two in an analysis of Sirius? My thoughts exactly.
Many Harry Potter characters have hidden depths, of course, but Sirius is among those I find most compelling for the way he handles the defining moments in his life.
Moving right along, I hope you enjoy the read!
On to the fun part!
Also: spoilers ahead.
To know a character, you typically have to start with their backstory. For Sirius especially, this is true. Sirius was born into a long line of a pure blooded elitist family, and he fought that image with all that he could muster.
To upset his parents, he put permanent sticking charms on Gryffindor banners in his room as well as pictures of motorcycles and Muggle girls in bikinis and other such things they would object to.
He was the first Black family member to be in the Gryffindor House as well. But if you look at all these actions, you see a case of two extremes: Light and Dark.
His family glorified the Dark Arts and purity of blood, going so far as to disown any Squib family members (such as Sirius’ uncle). When Sirius rejected this family tradition, he instead embraced the ideals of heroism and bravery as told in legends. Also recognized as the attributes of goodness or Light.
Embracing these traits would lay the foundation for how Sirius approached most things in his life, so it is crucial to understand how much they really meant to him. Think of his advice: “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
And frame that in his childhood and time spent at Hogwarts. He aggressively chose light, every hour of every day – as if to compensate for the darkness in his family lineage. He was creating his own image in defiance of what his family and name had tried to force on him.
And this mentality of light and heroism was the cornerstone of his independence. To be free of the Black lineage, he had to be everything they weren’t. And he did truly enjoy his Gryffindor friends and the life he’d earned for himself (even at the expense of his familial connections).
Again, compare this to the typical hero’s story: a struggle for what’s right, loyal friends, and a just cause.
He struggled to be good and light, and he was rewarded with loyal friends (or so he thought). He had James Potter, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew – The Marauders.
In light of that need for loyalty, it’s no surprise that he illegally became an Animagus with James and Peter for Remus’ sake. Just as he defied Black tradition to be good, he defied laws to be a true friend when Remus needed him.
This act reflects his belief that a good cause is worth any risk. He risked his family’s constant disdain to be who he wanted to be and he risked legal punishment (and perhaps worse should anything go wrong with their secret transformation to Animagi) for Remus.
Now what he needed was an antagonist. Then came Snape, the personification of everything the Black family worshipped. Sirius described him as “this little oddball who was up to his eyes in the Dark Arts” and instantly disliked him, especially because of the existing hatred between Snape and James.
Snape was destined to be hated by Sirius on at least two counts: Sirius’ need to reject of the elitism and darkness Snape represented made it possible and loyalty to James made it inevitable.
To Sirius, bullying Snape was not something to be ashamed of as a 15-year-old. In later reflection as an adult, he tells Harry he’s not proud of what he did, but he still resents Snape fully. Treating Snape poorly wasn’t wrong because to Sirius, he was the antagonist of a heroic tale– the Darkness to his Light.
James and Sirius eventually stopped tormenting him, but never apologized for what they did simply because they weren’t sorry.
Worse yet, Sirius did put Snape’s life in danger when he told him about the Shrieking Shack and left out that Remus was in there for his transformations.
And had he died, Sirius would also have put the blood on Remus’ hands. But to someone thinking in pure light and dark terms as in heroic legends, that’s a morality too grey for even adult Sirius to understand. His exact response was that it “served Snape right”.
That moral ambiguity was lost on Sirius and he continued life undaunted by its implications for himself, Snape, and Remus.
I do believe that Remus was more willing to believe that Sirius was a traitor because of this incident– he’d shown he was capable of moral wrong-doing with no remorse. All it takes is one seed of doubt, but we will return to that.
At 16, Sirius was adopted by the Potters. The good, light family he wanted to be part of and another piece in his heroic story – right down to his family’s accepted uncle sympathizing with him and leaving a large inheritance for Sirius.
Of course it would work out for the protagonist, it always does in heroic tales! That mentality had worked for Sirius until that point and he was well bound up in it by then.
He had a new family, a proud image of being good, an antagonist, and then the First Wizarding War happened.
Sirius joined the Order of the Phoenix with his friends and there he had his noble cause at last. Everything led up to this, a glorious battle. They were to fight against Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters at his side to protect both Muggles and the Wizarding World.
Sirius could scarcely have orchestrated a task better suited to his need for heroism. To add to it all, he was selected as the godfather to his best friend’s first child! The fact that he believed Remus to be a potential traitor was horrible, but… Every story must have its antagonist, as we recall.
Only this was not a legend of heroism, and there was a far less “obvious” traitor among them. Pettigrew did more than I believe Sirius could’ve imagined when he killed James and Lily.
But to successfully frame Sirius for mass murder, forever putting his godson out of his reach (not to mention landing him in Azkaban), was even further from his ability to fathom. This didn’t follow the hero’s path like Sirius had expected…
And even if it had, situations like this passed. The hero’s allies rush in and turn the tables when things are at their gravest. Only Remus did not come. Dumbledore did not come. Rescue never came.
To get revenge seemed the only natural course of action, the last scrap of his hero’s tale that Sirius had. James and Lily were dead. The only Potter alive either didn’t know him or knew him as the person who murdered Pettigrew and twelve Muggles.
Sirius was ultimately known for the one thing he’d always struggled against being: an elitist, murderous wizard of the Dark Arts who was willing to put his cause before any human life.
And Remus? He wasn’t coming to Sirius’ defense anytime soon, a betrayal in itself. One he couldn’t bear, especially not in Azkaban, where he would face dementors on a daily basis. Sirius needed every happy memory he had and denial was the only he’d keep them (and his life by extension).
Revenge gave him purpose, but denial gave him hope. And when he did escape at last, Sirius was bound to recreate the life he clung to in his memory through Harry.
Despite saying he felt badly for how he treated Snape, he fell right into the rhythm of treating him with disdain when they met again after his escape. And he held onto his friendship with Remus over any need to ask him why he didn’t defend him, why he let him sit in Azkaban for 12 years for something he did not do…
He didn’t want Remus to be the antagonist, he was the last original Marauder that Sirius could still call a friend. Pettigrew was his target and beyond that, Sirius only longed for the life he used to lead at the start of the war.
When pressed, you could see some of that animosity bleed through, but it was always collected– if only because Remus (in the case below) saw the damage done to his friend and didn’t want to push him too far.
He had enduring friendship and glory back then, and he needed that still… For more than just warding off dementors by that point. His mental state was weakened by his time in Azkaban. Sirius needed something to believe in beyond revenge now that he was free, and that belief was the idea that his life would return to normal after James and Lily were avenged.
Although unspoken, I do think Remus saw the extensive damage done to Sirius’ psyche during his time in Azkaban. There could be no true healing for Sirius because it required acceptance, and denial kept what was left of him going.
But Harry didn’t know this, and it wasn’t clear to him until Sirius’ final moments. He was a man tortured both literally in Azkaban, by constant threat and neglect, and mentally through the numerous and severe traumas he’d faced.
When he said, “Nice one, James!” to Harry, it was an instinctive reaction based on his coping mechanisms. Sirius lost James and Pettigrew for good, Remus and Harry temporarily, and lastly, he’d lost the reputation of goodness he’d spent a lifetime building.
All in the course of that single night when Pettigrew murdered Sirius’ best friend.
He could not cope with the loss, but instead had to rebuild it in his mind with the next best thing. Sirius is undoubtedly a powerful person as a wizard and in sheer willpower, but Harry also wanted to see him that way. As a replacement for the family he didn’t have.
But it was in that last moment that Harry had the key he needed to see the full extent of Sirius’ mental state. Harry saw at last that he wasn’t the only one making a substitute for James.
While the quote from Sirius, “the ones that love us never truly leave us” is accurate and heartwarming, Sirius took it very much to another level. He needed that life to still exist in however many fragments he could scrounge together.
Because what was revenge worth if it was for a life gone past? What would Sirius live for after? For Harry, for Remus, for the life he had to believe was still there if he was to keep going. But denial does not hold, it does not last.
Eventually, Sirius would have to face everything he’d been through, and with how he was in the books and films… He likely couldn’t endure it. Sad as his death was, it was almost merciful in comparison to the life of denial and trauma he’d be facing otherwise.