This has been brewing since OotP cut my heart out.
Is Sirius dead? Why on earth should we think he's not? Isn't it unfair to not go all Elizabeth Kubler-Ross-y on him and just be stuck on denial? But why should we be certain of anything until the last word of Book 7 is written?
(And how can I write post-OotP fic that deals with his death when I don't want to deal with it?)
The argument is not so simple as "is he really dead" or "will he come back"--it also centers on whether anything of him will ever be seen again. It's a magical universe, after all. Some readers are certain he is not dead; some think he is dead but that he will be seen again in an afterlife setting or in a mirror or somesuch. And there are those who think that any such glimpse of him would be cheating the emotional impact that Rowling wanted to create with his death.
So. Essay. Point and counterpoint.
(I would like it if my position on what follows--where I believe the argument and where I believe the counter-argument--was not obvious, and that the reader couldn't tell which was my position, but I don't think that's likely. I'm not that good at disguising bias.)
Will Sirius Black Reappear? Fourteen Arguments For and Against.
1. She just couldn't do that to Sirius! How could Rowling do that to Sirius, of all characters? Sirius went to Azkaban for a crime he didn't commit for twelve solid years. Sirius rotted there, suffered there, nearly went mad there--and worst of all, the world believed him a follower of Voldemort, a mass murderer, a Judas. Sirius has been on the run or in impotent hiding, since his escape; hasn't even had his name cleared. He's just starting to rediscover some happiness in developing the guardian/older brother relationship he has with Harry. He's had the most awful life of any heroic character in these books--and it's Sirius she kills?
Counter: It's a perfect example of how unfair life is. A lot of unhappy lessons are in that death, for Harry--how death doesn't care if you were just getting your life back, how loved ones die, how the people you counted on to be there for you can't be counted on when it comes to the unfairness of death. And Sirius is, sadly, an excellent candidate for that dreadful lesson.
2. What the hell is left for Harry? What lies at the end of the books for Harry? Evil vanquished, we can assume that. We can't say for sure that Harry will live, but it seems reasonable to go with the assumption that he will. But what does Harry get after evil is vanquished? True love? Oh, please--he'll be seventeen. A career? Well, yes, but again, at seventeen, that's a vocation, that's not who you are. What Harry has lacked, what Harry deserves, is a family. Not a wife and children; again, he's just a teen. Harry's happy ending has been set up, since book three and even before, to be him earning a home, and that means Sirius.
Counter: No one ever said that heroes get happy endings. Many stories take pains to show the opposite, in fact--that heroes sacrifice, and die, and if they don't die, they don't get to go back to the way things were, or should be. They can't, by reason of the sacrifices and sufferings that made them heroes.
3. Don't believe it 'til you see the body.When so many authors--of books, films, television, graphic novels, whatever--show deftness in being able to resurrect characters even if they have been killed, embalmed, buried, mourned, etc., the rule of "don't believe it if you haven't seen the body" is doubly telling. What's with this veil stuff? Rowling is not afraid to show killing in all its full frontal, so to speak--we saw that with Cedric in GoF. And there's an element that should not be missed, in examining how GoF dealt with Cedric's death: Harry risks his life to fulfill Cedric's beyond-death request: take his body back to his parents. Cedric's body is recovered, returned, buried and mourned, effectively putting to rest any idea that a resurrection is going to occur. Not so with Sirius.
Counter: "Not until you see the body" is not to be mocked; this is why body recovery is so important in disasters. Those who have lost a loved one so unexpectedly are adrift, in disbelief, convinced there must be some mistake, inventing all sorts of scenarios where the person might not be dead but incapacitated, unable to be found, and they will have difficulty letting these ideas go, even when all the evidence points to the simplest explanation: that the loved one is dead.
While the Veil may be a clever way of not letting us see the body so that "resurrection" can occur later, the explanation may be that the Veil is there as an extreme metaphor, to emphasize that the place beyond death is a place, and that death would be made so much more bearable if there could be proof of an afterlife. The veil does not prove it, but it is there as something on which to base faith; Harry can hear the voices, and Luna, the representative of spiritual belief, not only hears them but has perfect faith that they are indeed the voices of the dead in the Beyond, and that she needn't be sad, because she will see her mother again someday. And Harry wants to believe this is so, even if he cannot come to it as easily as Luna. In a world where magic breaks many rules, but not all, Rowling is emphasizing the idea that faith is still needed to cover the contingencies.
4. Two words: No funeral. Rowling made much of the idea that Cedric was laid to rest in GoF, and he was not nearly so significant to her protagonist as Sirius. To kill a character so beloved to Harry--and read your OotP; the affection Harry has for Sirius is just built upon and built upon in this book in particular--you'd think there'd be some proper good-byes. While we see Harry mourning, it's a lonely mourning--Hermione and Ron don't talk about it because they think Harry doesn't want to; even the members of the Order, in their show of solidarity (and love) to Harry at the train station don't even speak of it. With Sirius dead, you think you'd have Dumbledore pushing to get his name exonerated posthumously, now that Sirius's whereabouts no longer need to be secret. You think we'd get that. You'd think that above all, we could have had the funeral.
Counter: Funeral? Ye gods and little fishes, wasn't OotP long ENOUGH?
5. No ghost? No mirror? We're more stubborn than that. Following Sirius's death, Rowling does a step-by-step "debunking" of the idea that Sirius might appear again, even beyond death. Harry wonders if he might become a ghost, but Nearly Headless Nick quashes that idea. Harry finds the mirror, but either Sirius doesn't have his, or the mirror was never meant to reach beyond death. But the list is by no means exhaustive. There are portraits, and there are trading cards, and the Mirror of Erised and wands that spit out the shades of their victims. It's nicely misleading to have dealt with the most obvious concepts and have Harry give up in despair, leading the reader to conclude the same thing--when Rowling may instead have something else up her sleeve.
Counter: Yes, the list isn't exhaustive, but it's not deliberately unexhaustive. Yes, in a magical world, there are many ways of getting some "face time" with the dead. We've seen some of them, and it's unreasonable to think Rowling would have to include them all in going through the "debunking." The examples of the ghosts and the mirror are meant to serve as the introduction to the "some things are final, even in a magical world" concept, and we're meant to follow that to its logical conclusion.
6. Mirror, mirror. Why include the mirror? The mirror is the briefest of throw-aways. Why introduce it at all, if it is not to play a role later?
Counter: The mirror is a cruel irony. It's another example of how young Harry is, how inexperienced he is in trying to fight a war no child should have to fight, in the absence of the adults who should be protecting him. Harry, looking at that mirror, has even more reasons to curse his recklessness in rushing off to save Sirius. His grief and self-blame are magnified even further. If Rowling needs Harry to grow up in a hurry, it's one of the most effective ways to do it, with that cruelty.
7. It shoulda been Dumbledore. The argument that a death was necessary to teach Harry that loved ones die, especially in war, is cited as a reason for Sirius's death. But it's unlikely that Rowling could have chosen anyone more beloved to Harry than Sirius. Even the death of Ron or Hermione, which certainly would have been so dreadful for Harry, could arguably be said to have less immediate impact on Harry and Harry's future--they are his best friends, but Sirius is his family, the one to whom he turned with the most difficult questions. It's so cruel to have done this to Sirius--to Harry--that that alone argues for his reappearance. More, if the death was needed for the "people you love die in wars, and don't come back" argument, there is a better candidate for it than Sirius. Had Dumbledore died, it seems unlikely that there would be "it's too cruel" and "he's not really dead" debates to the extent that there have been over Sirius. Dumbledore was all but set up for it, rescuing Harry from Voldemort directly, saying "...there are things much worse than death...", acting as the focal point of the side of good, ready to die for what he believes. And he's lived a full life. The classic hero story requires that the mentor die, for the hero to come into his own, and Harry's mentor is Dumbledore, not Sirius. Dumbledore made more sense to the narrative, if a candidate for permanent, irreversible death was needed.
Counter: It may simply be that Harry needed to be shaped with the most devastating death possible, and Dumbledore doesn't fit that category. Dumbledore may also be too crucial to the story to come.
8. Listen to the author. Rowling has said that what happened to Sirius has a part to play in what is to come--that it served some purpose. This certainly leaves the field open to speculation that he’ll be seen again.
Counter: There are many ways Sirius's death could play a part without having him reappear. Not merely to teach Harry about the unfairness of death, but plotwise. Sirius was called "the last of the Black line"; Sirius's death involved the mysterious Veil; Harry may come near to the line between death and life himself in the future. This does not guarantee that Sirius will prove to be alive, or come back to life.
9. Two more words: Stubby Boardman. What in the world was the Stubby Boardman business all about, if not to play some role? More significantly, Luna believes. Luna is the voice of faith in Rowling's world of reason, as witnessed by her unshaking belief that the voices behind the Veil prove an afterlife.
Counter: Not all of what Luna believes is true. Rowling has shown her contempt for false prophecy with Trelawney, and in the outlandishness of sensational publications like the Quibbler--but she also demonstrates respect for the occasional truth that can be found in such sensationalism (witness Trelawney's rare Seer prophecy, plus Firenze's detailed teachings of Divination, which say that it's not a skill humans readily have and doesn't apply to small, petty things). Luna's belief is more that of "look for the occasional truth amongst the random madness."
10. "Harry, Hermione, take this time-turner--eh, why bother."Why the hell was the saving of Sirius the entire purpose of PoA, if he was only going to be killed off two books later? How completely, utterly wrong is that?
Counter: Cedric's death was a cruel and pointless murder by the forces of evil ("Kill the spare"), and introduced Harry directly to the concept of the deaths of the innocent in a war. Sirius's death was a cruel but purposeful attack by those forces, and showed Harry that the ones you are especially likely to lose in a war are the warriors. The price of opposing murderous evil is risking death; if Harry is to fight evil, he will not be exempt, and must see that directly.
11. What IS the Veil? How do we know that falling through the Veil equals death? No one has actually stated this! No character will say that the Veil is an execution device, or that the curse Sirius took to the chest killed him before he fell.
Counter: There is one character who is willing to commit to the statement that Sirius is dead: for all of the ambiguity of Remus's "He's gone," and the lack of anyone else saying anything at all about it, it is Dumbledore who speaks the words: "It is my fault that Sirius died." He uses the word death. (Hagrid does too, though he wasn't there to witness it.) And if anyone should know about these things, it's Dumbledore. The man has made mistakes before but most of that has been as a result of withholding information when he shouldn't've, and, particularly in this revelatory moment to Harry--not merely all the things Dumbledore should have told him but that Dumbledore should have told him--it's unlikely that Dumbledore is concealing any doubt about Sirius being dead.
12. What color is YOUR killing curse?The circumstances regarding the curse that Bellatrix fired at Sirius, which he took in the chest, suggest that it was not the killing curse. The color of the bolts fired, plus Sirius's delayed reaction and full awareness as he falls, run counter to what we know of Avada Kedavra. Thus, Sirius may have been alive as he fell beyond the Veil.
Counter: Avada Kedavra can hardly be the only spell with deadly potential. One does not need an electric chair to kill--a knife will do the same, wielded on a human body effectively, even if the electric chair was designed specifically to kill and the knife only as a cutting tool.
13. It's a magical world after all.We've had ghosts and mirrors and portraits and wands that regurgitate the shades of their dead--it's just reasonable to believe that something similar will happen with Sirius. And Harry Potter is a hero story--it's possible that the contact will take the classic, mythic form of the hero traveling to the underworld.
Counter: For this death to have impact, such contact cannot happen. Harry must see that sometimes dead is dead, just like every Muggle must accept it.
14. Listen to what the author doesn't say. Rowling has been free, in the past, with quashing speculations that she thinks aren't worth her readers' speculation. ("Lily a Death Eater? How dare you! Voldemort Harry's father? No, no, you're fixated on Star Wars.") Whether you believe all she has to say, her lack of information on Sirius's fate has to be telling. Certainly we'd all have to pay attention if she said, "No, Sirius is dead. Death--final death--happens in the wizarding world, and I needed to show Harry a death that would hit him harder than the murder of Cedric or even those of his parents. It's necessary that Harry lost the person he cared for most so that he could become the person I need him to be for the last two books." And Rowling hasn't.