"Master was a nasty ungrateful swine who broke his mother's heart -"
-- Kreacher (OP6)
Sirius Black was the elder of two boys born to an aristocratic family that was fiercely proud of its pureblood status and vehemently anti-Muggle. Unlike his younger brother Regulus and just about all of his ancestors, Sirius was sorted into Gryffindor and rejected his family’s belief in pure-blood supremacy. By the time he was sixteen, he had completely severed ties with his family and was literally blasted off of the Black family tree. Ironically, two members of the family he so reviled proved to be far braver than he thought.
At Hogwarts, Sirius became close friends with fellow Gryffindors James Potter, Peter Pettigrew and Remus J Lupin, a werewolf. To keep Remus company in his werewolf state, the three other boys secretly became Animagi during their fifth year. Given his name, it was probably no surprise that Sirius’s Animagus form was a large black dog. At each full moon, the Marauders: Padfoot (Sirius), Prongs (James), Moony (Lupin) and Wormtail (Pettigrew) explored the school, its grounds and even the Forbidden Forest, and recorded what they learned in a magical map they called the Marauder’s Map (PA18).
After finishing Hogwarts, Sirius and the other three Marauders joined Albus Dumbledore’s Order of the Phoenix, a small group of wizards and witches fighting to stop Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters’ reign of terror. During these desperate times, James Potter and Lily Evans married and started their family, unaware that a prophecy would cut their lives short. Soon after the death of James and Lily Potter, Sirius was framed by his old friend Peter Pettigrew for their betrayal and the murder of twelve Muggles during Peter’s attempt to escape Ministry law enforcement.
Twelve years later, Sirius escaped from Azkaban and convinced Harry and the Order of the Phoenix of his innocence; however, he was forced to remain a fugitive because there was no viable proof. This second captivity seems to have been more corrosive than Azkaban. Sirius chafed at his forced inaction. Harry longed for Sirius to be the father figure he craved, but Sirius seemed often more interested in regaining the camaraderie and urgency of his glory days.
In his youth, Sirius was good-looking in an elegant, casual way with dark hair and gray eyes; after his imprisonment he is often described as looking gaunt and unkempt.
Birthdate: November 3, 1959
Deathdate: June 18, 1996; killed by his cousin Bellatrix Lestrange whose spell knocked him through an ancient, veiled archway in the Department of Mysteries (OP35). Sirius left all his possessions to Harry in his will (HBP3).
Build: tall (PA17, OP24), and since Azkaban very thin (GF27).
As a young man: “Sirius was lounging in his chair at his ease, tilting it back on two legs. He was very good-looking; his dark hair fell into his eyes with a sort of casual elegance.” (PA18)
After Azkaban: “A mass of filthy, matted hair hung to his elbows. If eyes hadn’t been shining out of the deep, dark sockets, he might have been a corpse. The waxy skin was stretched so tightly over the bones of his face, it looked like a skull. His yellow teeth were bared in a grin. His eyes were fixed on Harry.” (PA17)
Other devices: Flying motorcycle (PS1, PA10, Pre); Marauder’s Map, created in last 2 years at Hogwarts (PA18); two-way mirror (OP24), assorted Black family heirlooms.
Organizations & affiliations: Marauders; Order of the Phoenix.
Animagus: Bear-like black dog (unregistered Animagus) since his 5th year at Hogwarts (PA18).
Career: Sirius joined the Order of the Phoenix, along with James and Lily, right after he graduated from Hogwarts (OBT/CH).
Incarceration: After Pettigrew framed Sirius for the betrayal of the Potters, and Dumbledore confirmed that Sirius had been the Potters’ Secret Keeper (PA21), Barty Crouch Sr. committed Sirius to Azkaban without a trial (GF27). Incarcerated for 12 years, but survived by turning into a dog so the Dementors could not deeply affect him. Escaped when he recognized Wormtail in a newspaper photograph. Reward was set at 10,000 Galleons.
Gringotts Vault: 711 (PA22).
Sirius at Hogwarts
Family in general: "The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black" dating to at least the Middle Ages (OP6); descendent of Phineas Nigellus Black, a Hogwarts Headmaster. Parents convinced that to be a 'Black' made you "practically royal." Disowned by his mother (and blasted off the family tapestry) for his rejection of the family’s belief in pure-blood supremacy. Black family members tend to be named for stars and constellations.
Childhood: At 16 Sirius "had enough" of his parents' "pure-blood mania" and ran away to live with James Potter’s parents. At 17, bought a house of his own with money from Uncle Alphard (OP6; note that UK ed. says he "got" a house.)
Location of childhood home: number twelve Grimmauld Place, London.
Mother: Walburga Black (1925-1985); her portrait is permanently mounted in the hallway of the Black family home.
Father: Orion Black (1929-1979) who heavily fortified the family home at 12 Grimmauld Place, London.
Siblings: Regulus Arcturus Black (1961-1979)
Grandparents: Arcturus (1901-1991) and Melania (McMillan) Black, and Pollux (1912-1990) and Irma (Crabbe) Black. Both sets of Sirius's grandparents were direct descendents of Phineas Nigellus Black. One of his grandfathers (either Arcturus or Pollux) was awarded Order of Merlin 1st Class for "Services to the Ministry" (OP6).
Aunts, Uncles: Uncle Alphard, who left Sirius money and Aunt Elladora who started the tradition of beheading house-elves when they were too old to carry tea trays.
Cousins: Narcissa (Black) Malfoy, Andromeda (Black) Tonks, Bellatrix (Black) Lestrange. Andromeda’s daughter is Nymphadora Tonks, and Narcissa’s son is Draco Malfoy. Arthur Weasley is a second cousin once removed. Andromeda was his favorite cousin (OP6). Distantly related to Molly Weasley.
Family motto: Toujours pur (French for "always pure") (OP6).
Family crest: is mentioned in OP6 but not described; however, Rowling drew it on her Black Family Tree. It shows a shield with hounds rampant emblazoned with a chevron, 2 five-pointed stars and a short sword.
Additional info: Sirius was Best Man at the Potter’s wedding and Harry’s godfather.
First name meaning: Sirius=seirios (Greek) meaning "burning;" Sirius=the "Dog Star," the brightest one in the Canis Major ("Great Dog") constellation; alluding to the fact that he can change into a big black dog.
Other names: "Snuffles" and "Padfoot" (PA18). "Padfoot" refers to his Animagus form; it is also the name that residents of central/northern England (i.e. Staffordshire, Yorkshire) have for the magical black dogs of their legends/fears. Usually, Padfoots guard churchyards or certain roads; are said to roam the countryside at night; tend to be larger than ordinary dogs; can vanish instantly or fade slowly away while standing still, yet can run extremely quickly; typically described as having huge and "blazing" eyes; tend to be silent. Because of their association with graveyards, scholars once believed the black dog form was the preferred form of the Devil, and are usually considered an omen of death, and are, thus, also called the Grim.
SIRIUS IN THE MOVIES
Sirius Black is played by Gary Oldman.
Quote: "I've done so much R-rated work, it's nice to have a job you can show your kids." -- on making Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
The Black Nigredo
Sirius' last name leads many "Potter Pundits" (to borrow a phrase from John Granger) to speculate about the influence of literary alchemy in the Harry Potter Series (for more information see Episode 23 of the Mugglenet Academia podcast). Literacy alchemy borrows themes from the classical and medieval practices of alchemy which held the primary goal of transforming mundane or vulgar materials, such as lead, into pure and ideal materials, such as gold, or creating the philosopher's stone for everlasting life (obvious Harry Potter connections). Psychologist Carl Jung suggested that alchemy is a metaphor for the process of "individuation" or developing Self, or personhood. As a physical practice, metaphorical process, or literary device, alchemy involves three successive stages: the nigredo, the albedo, and the rubedo. The nigredo is a blackening or decomposition whereby all ingredients are combined to form a uniform black matter, or a shadow in the metaphorical sense. The albedo is a whitening, illumination, or purification turning the dark to light and dividing the subject of the alchemical process into receptive elements. The rubedo is a reddening that involves the unification of the purified elements into a new whole, of gold or of an elixir of life in the case of the philosopher's stone. In alchemical scholarship, the rubedo stage has absorbed an original third stage called the citrinitas (or yellowness) reflecting the dawning of the sun or an awakening.
In the alchemical scheme of the books, Sirius Black is associated with the nigredo, through his names (Sirius meaning "burning" and Black as an obvious connection). Metaphorically, Sirius is associated with the nigredo stages in Harry's journey. William Sprauge and John Granger suggest that Book 5 in the series reflects a quintessential nigredo (of a person's life) wherein the subject (Harry) 'decomposes,' in the sense that his emotional stability degrades over the course of the plot, due to his mental connection to Voldemort and the external pressures of the escalating war. At the end of Book 5, Harry is blackened and reduced by the grief of Sirius' death. Interestingly, the discussants on Episode 23 of the Mugglenet Academia podcast note that Book 3 can be considered a reverse nigredo, in that it involves the introduction of Sirius and, rather than a reduction, a burgeoning of Harry's prime element, love, as he meets his godfather and recognizes another component of his "family" which still survives. Along these lines, the first two books of the series can also be considered reverse rubedo (Book 1) and reverse albedo (Book 2).
From the Web
Writing by J K Rowling on WizardingWorld (Pottermore):
- Is Sirius Black a good role model to Harry?
- Sirius Black versus Kreacher: Who’s to blame? by Ebrosnan
- Sirius vs. Regulus: Who Was Really the Better Black?
WizardsAndWhatnot (Fansided): Harry Potter and the Order of Archetypes: Sirius Black, the Rebel by Katie Majka
HP Essays (LiveJournal): Snape and Sirius by coppertop1
- Defined by their Choices: Comparing Sirius Black and Severus Snape by HawthornandPhoenix
- Sirius and Buckbeak: A Hero's Journey by Gwynog'srabbit
DwellingOnDreams blog and podcast:
- Ep 11: Guardians, Christmases, and Tropical Getaways
- Ep 13: Legacies, Diseases, and Aging Death Eaters
Harry Potter Wiki: Sirius Black
WizardingWorld (Pottermore) features: