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‘Quite the double act’: the tragedy of Prongs and Padfoot

James Potter and Sirius Black were much beloved at Hogwarts, and left an enduring legacy behind them. But, alas, their lives were marred by tragedy…

Moony Padfoot Prongs and Wormtail at Hogwarts by the lake
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The Hogwarts days

When two boys met by chance on the Hogwarts Express, it was plain for all to see how much promise James Potter and Sirius Black had – as individuals and as a duo. Both were possessed of good looks, easygoing confidence and a lively wit. They were blessed not only with these natural gifts, but the good fortune to have met each other in the first place.

Their other friend, regular partner in crime (and no dullard himself) Remus Lupin, happily described the pair as ‘the cleverest students in the school’. No less a harsh taskmaster than Minerva McGonagall recalled they were ‘ringleaders’ of their little gang, and ‘both very bright, of course – exceptionally bright in fact’. This was in spite of McGonagall’s view: ‘I don’t think we’ve ever had such a pair of troublemakers.’

So why did it all ultimately turn sour for these smart, self-confident wizards in the prime of their youth (‘Inseparable!’ in the warm assessment of Professor Filius Flitwick) when long, happy lives should have been theirs for the taking?

Prongs, Padfoot, Moony and Wormtail in their transfigured animal forms.
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

The rise of Lord Voldemort

As prominent members of the original Order of the Phoenix, the boys used their considerable talents for good, but it wasn’t always so. Like when they were handed any one of umpteen detentions for hexing their fellow students (including one for swelling hapless Bertram Aubrey’s head to twice its usual size). And more especially when they picked on poor Severus Snape – though, in fairness, it should be recalled that James Potter acted swiftly in rescuing Snape from certain death following a dangerous prank set by Sirius.

Both understood the risks of being associated with the Order. Dark forces would seek to destroy them. But neither expected their undoing, when it finally came, would spring from one of their own close associates.

Illustration of James Potter from the first Order of the Phoenix infographic
James Potter. © JKR/Pottermore Ltd.™ Warner Bros.

The betrayal

Along with Sirius, James and Remus Lupin, a short, plump coward by the name of Peter Pettigrew formed the quartet known as ‘The Marauders’. By some way the least brainy, talented or comely of the four, Pettigrew should have counted himself lucky not to be an oddball outcast in the manner of Snape. Instead, his actions led to the imprisonment, exile and ultimate death of his former friends.

What made the betrayal all the worse was that Sirius trusted Pettigrew with the thing he cherished most of all – his friendship with James. When James and Lily Potter had their son, Harry, they fled into hiding. Sirius was appointed their Secret-Keeper but took the, with hindsight regrettable, decision instead to hand the responsibility over to Pettigrew. Thinking that he himself was too obvious a target for Voldemort, he trusted his fellow Marauder ‘Wormtail’, who promptly and viciously ratted out Lily and James to the Dark Lord.

Sirius naturally sought to exact revenge on his twisted former pal, but Pettigrew (for once) got the better of him and managed to not only kill several Muggles but disappear himself in his rat Animagus form, framing Sirius, who would be sent to Azkaban for 12 years before escaping.

Peter Pettigrew transforms back into a rat and escapes.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

All this would be tragic enough – James Potter killed alongside his wife in front of their infant son, with Sirius languishing in a Dementor-patrolled hellhole for over a decade. But when Sirius got wind of Pettigrew’s survival and current whereabouts, he used all his wit and cunning to escape, meet his now teenage godson, and seek revenge.

Why is that tragic, you may well wonder. Sirius was initially loathed by young Potter, who’d been led to believe (quite understandably) that Sirius was responsible for the death of his parents; he was a ‘filthy, stinkin’ turncoat’ in the words of usually mild-mannered Rubeus Hagrid, and ‘a murderin’ traitor’. When Harry first encountered Sirius in the flesh the young wizard was outraged – even though Sirius had spent so many years wondering how the boy was getting on, and had even bought him his first broomstick when just a baby.

Even when Sirius convinced Harry that he was on his side, that too was bittersweet – the older wizard was able to see so much of his former friend in the face of the boy. And for his part, when Harry was able to see via the Pensieve what a cruel bully his father had been it shook the heroic vision he had in his mind out the window. ‘I’m not proud,’ was all Sirius had to say.

Sirius holding Harry's shoulder in Grimmauld Place from the Order of the Phoneix
© Warner Bros. - All Rights Reserved

Before long, of course, Padfoot met his end at the hands of the Death Eaters, though good ultimately prevailed. Prongs and Padfoot’s legacy would live on in the naming of Harry’s oldest son James – James Sirius Potter, to be exact. Already making jokes, brimming with energy, and as mischievous as James and Sirius combined, Harry made sure that his father and his godfather would always be together.