Sirius Black is a fictional character in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series of novels. As an adult, he is played in the film adaptations by Gary Oldman, and as a teenager by James Walters.
Gary Oldman as Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Sirius Black (c.1958-June 1996) was first mentioned briefly in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone as a wizard who lent Hagrid a flying motorbike shortly after Lord Voldemort killed James and Lily Potter. His character becomes prominent in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, in which he is the eponymous prisoner.
Family and friends
At the time of the Harry Potter story, Sirius is the last scion of the House of Black. His parents, Orion Black and Walburga Black, were second cousins and both were Blacks by birth. The name "Sirius" appears to be a traditional name in the Black family, recurring in at least three of its several generations. This is related to the tradition of having family members named after stars or constellations. The names Cygnus, Arcturus and Regulus have also occurred at least twice each.
Sirius has two maternal uncles, Alphard Black and Cygnus Black, and one paternal aunt, Lucretia (Black) Prewett. Cygnus' wife Druella (Rosier) Black is his aunt by marriage, and Lucretia's husband Ignatius Prewett is his uncle by marriage. His younger brother is Regulus Black, and he also has three older cousins, Bellatrix (Black) Lestrange (who later murders Sirius), Andromeda (Black) Tonks (his favourite cousin and the mother of Nymphadora Tonks), and Narcissa (Black) Malfoy. Narcissa and Bellatrix were praised by the Blacks for marrying into "respectable" pureblood families, while Andromeda was disowned for marrying Ted Tonks, a Muggle-born wizard. Sirius's younger brother, Regulus, was also praised for joining Lord Voldemort's organisation, the Death Eaters. Sirius and Andromeda were anomalies in the Black clan, and - like their uncle Alphard - were removed from the official family tree for being "blood traitors". Sirius was considerably ashamed of his family, and knew nothing but unhappiness at home. It is unknown whether he was always rebellious against his family and their traditions or if he was changed by his experiences at Hogwarts.
Sirius was best friends with James Potter, Harry's father (who might have been related to Sirius through the marriage of Charlus Potter to Dorea Black, a great-aunt of Sirius'), and was also friends with Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew. When the group discovered that Lupin was a werewolf, they studied secretly to become Animagi in solidarity with Lupin, to keep him company during his transformations. (Lupin was not compelled to attack non-humans when transformed.) Sirius's Animagus form was a large black dog, earning him the nickname "Padfoot". Sirius is shown to have been very handsome in his Hogwarts days, when James & Sirius were said to be inseparable and were very popular and, additionally, they had a reputation for being practical jokers. Sirius also shared James' intense dislike of Severus Snape - as Professor Quirrel said of Snape and James, "they loathed each other" - and in one of Snape's memories Sirius and James were shown bullying Snape in their fifth year. In defence of their apparent bullying, Sirius insisted that even as a teenager Snape had a mean streak and was not the "innocent victim" his memories would make him out to be, although what caused the intense rivalry is unknown. It is generally believed that the antagonism stemmed from James hatred of the Dark Arts and his hatred of those who felt that being "pure bloods" made them better than those who were only "half blood" or of pure muggle background, and unto that hated those of "lesser blood", a feeling that Sirius shared. Despite their arrogance, Sirius and James did not believe in discriminating or persecuting people based on their "blood" origin.
Sirius's family sympathised with Lord Voldemort's desires to "cleanse" the Wizarding world of non-purebloods, and his younger brother Regulus joined the Death Eaters.
At the age of sixteen, Sirius ran away from home to live with the Potter family (who might have been relatives of the Blacks by marriage), disgracing his family and prompting the removal of his name from the Black family tree tapestry (a fate shared by any Black family member his parents didn't like). Alphard Black, Walburga's brother, sympathised with his young nephew and left him a great deal of money. Walburga then removed Alphard's name from the official family tree.
When James married Lily Evans, Sirius was his best man at the wedding and later became Harry's godfather.
imprisonment and escape
When the Potters went into hiding from Voldemort, they intended to make Sirius their Secret-Keeper. At the last minute Sirius convinced them to appoint Pettigrew to the task instead, under the assumption no one would predict such a move. Instead of keeping the secret, Pettigrew betrayed the Potters to Voldemort. When confronted by Sirius, Pettigrew produced an explosion to fake his own death, leaving behind only a finger, which he had severed himself, as "evidence" of his "death". The same explosion killed twelve nearby Muggle bystanders, and Sirius was left framed for the "murder" of Pettigrew and the bystanders, and betrayal of the Potters. In light of the overwhelming evidence against him, his guilt was so completely assumed by the ruthless Barty Crouch, that Sirius was sent straight to Azkaban without trial. He was imprisoned there in solitary confinement for twelve years, under relentless mental torture at the hands of the Azkaban guards, the dementors.
Wanted poster that appeared following the escape of Black.
During the course of events described in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius escaped from Azkaban after learning that Pettigrew was still alive and at large. His escape led to a massive manhunt, one of the largest ever in the wizarding world; and even the Muggle news carried news of the escape of Sirius, who was portrayed as a dangerous murderer and a madman. Sirius was the first person known to have escaped Azkaban up to that time. Sirius had simply changed into his Animagus dog form, and the dementors, only able to penetrate human minds, did not detect and kill him as he left the Wizarding Prison.
Sirius then proceeded to take refuge in and around Hogsmeade, intent on capturing and exacting revenge upon Pettigrew, and also on looking after Harry, as detailed in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. After some confusion, Harry came to realise that Sirius was innocent of betraying his parents, and began to see his godfather as the father he never had. After Sirius was captured at Hogwarts, Harry helped him escape with Buckbeak, a hippogriff which had also been unfairly condemned.
Fugitive and redemption
After the events of Prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius fled Europe for a time. As a fugitive, Sirius could communicate with Harry only occasionally, by owl post. To protect Sirius from discovery, Harry, Ron, and Hermione referred to Sirius as "Snuffles", pretended that he was a friendly stray dog while in his animagus form. Harry continued to rely on Sirius as a father figure, and often turned to him in times of great need.
Sirius returned to England on Dumbledore's request in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and took refuge in his ancient family home at Grimmauld Place. Sirius also allowed his home to be used as the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. He was effectively confined there due to the ongoing manhunt for him, even though Kingsley Shacklebolt, the Auror assigned to his case, was also a member of the Order, but especially because Pettigrew had now informed Voldemort of Sirius's disguise as a dog. During this period, he seems to have become depressed and was frequently withdrawn. Sirius did not relish being cooped up in his family home, which had largely fallen into disrepair from neglect. When he left for a short time to see Harry off to the train station on his journey to Hogwarts, his Animagus form may have been recognised by Draco or Lucius Malfoy. Harry and Sirius remained in contact though owls, and through the Floo Network, a system by which wizards and witches could communicate through fireplaces. Sirius was nearly captured by Dolores Umbridge, who was monitoring the Network and the owl mail in and out of Hogwarts.
But Sirius was determined to be a part of the action, in exposing Voldemort's plans, and in protecting Harry, and was more than willing to fight when the chance arose. Voldemort used his growing power to influence Harry's mind, making him believe through visions that Sirius was being held captive in the Department of Mysteries. Convinced that Sirius was being tortured by Voldemort at the Ministry, Harry and his friends flew to London on Thestrals, and were attacked by waiting Death Eaters. Harry then realised it was a trap. Just as things began to get desperate for the students, members of the Order entered the Department of Mysteries, and duelled with the Death Eaters. Sirius Black insisted on coming with them to protect Harry and the other students. In the ensuing battle, Sirius was hit by a curse from Bellatrix Lestrange, his own cousin. His body fell through the veil which hangs in the Department of Mysteries, behind which those who have seen death can hear voices whispering, and has not been recovered. His death at the end of The Order of the Phoenix, within the Ministry of Magic itself, led to Dumbledore finally vindicating Sirius, proving his innocense before the Minister of Magic. Tragically, Sirius was only recognised as innocent after his death.
As stated by JK Rowling during the BBC Paxman interview, 2003, Sirius Black is "definitely dead" , though some readers wonder about this because of a mirror Sirius left his godchild with a note saying that if Harry ever needed him he was to use the mirror. JK Rowling has further created intrigue by stating that "The mirror might not have helped as much as you think, but on the other hand, will help more than you think. You’ll have to read the final book to understand that!" .
Sirius left all his property, the hippogriff Buckbeak, his house elf Kreacher, and the remains of the Black Fortune, to Harry in his will. Independently wealthy and having no great love for the place that held so many painful memories, Harry gave 12 Grimmauld Place to the Order of the Phoenix, immediately after stating he did not want it in the sixth book, for their continued use as Headquarters. Kreacher the house-elf was now forced to serve him, which did nothing to help the elf's disposition, and the bad-tempered house servant was sent to help in the Hogwarts kitchens. Buckbeak passed back into Rubeus Hagrid's care under the assumed name Witherwings.
The whereabouts of the motorbike are unknown. In point of fact, it has only appeared in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone thus far, although it was briefly mentioned again by Hagrid in Prisoner of Azkaban and by Kingsley Shacklebolt in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Hagrid was lent the motorbike at Godric's Hollow after Sirius went to check on the hiding place of Peter Pettigrew, realised the danger the Potters were in and went to Godric's Hollow. After begging Hagrid to let him have baby Harry and Hagrid refusing, because of orders issued by Albus Dumbledore to take young Harry to the Dursleys, Sirius lent him the motorbike citing that he wouldn't need it anymore and then went off searching for Peter (Wormtail). J.K. Rowling has as of yet not revealed the motorbike's whereabouts, but has hinted that "the real sleuths" will be able to guess what happened to it. It is possible that Hagrid, like he did to some of his pets, left it to roam the Forbidden Forest; another possibility is that it fell into the possession of Arthur Weasley who has an obsession with enchanting Muggle artefacts and once owned a similarly capable car.
It should be noted that, had Sirius died without having made a will, his possessions would have passed to his murderer, Bellatrix Lestrange (née Black), as his cousin and next-of-kin (which suggests that the British laws preventing material gain through murder do not apply to the Wizarding world: because Bellatrix murdered Sirius, his heir should not under Common Law have been Bellatrix but one of her younger sisters). Sirius's property would have been passed to his brother Regulus, but the younger Black had died before him, and neither Sirius nor Regulus had children in possession of the Black family name (indeed, neither appear to have had any children at all). To ensure that despite Harry's legal ownership of the house, the Blacks had used some means of magic to prevent a non-Black from gaining custody, Dumbledore had Harry give Kreacher an order; Kreacher obeyed, showing that Sirius' will was able to break any Black family enchantments on the property.
Sirius is a rather tragic figure in the series. His life was not the happiest and never gave him time to properly mature emotionally, making him somewhat of a loose cannon.
At Hogwarts, he was an arrogant but apparently quite normal youth, extremely popular, clever and good looking, but also a bully, in the opinion of some students. Sirius also despised his family for their interest in the Dark Arts and pure-blood mania. At the age of 16 he ran away from home and was left craving the friendship and acceptance of his peers. This he found, which made him fiercely loyal to the Marauders, the closest people he had left. He even lived with one of them, James Potter, and his parents. At this point he was (later on self-admittedly) "an idiot". He, along with James, were immensely popular at Hogwarts as he was a brilliant student and extremely good looking. This popularity was by no means universal, as it was at Hogwarts that the life-long feud between Sirius and Severus Snape emerged. Sirius hated Snape for being an "oddball", and for being cruelly prejudiced against anyone not pureblood or Slytherin, though Snape wasn't even a pureblood like most have thought. Sirius also (with good cause) believed that Snape was obsessed with the Dark Arts. The dispute came to a head when Sirius told Snape how to enter the tunnel approaching the Shrieking Shack, a trick which could have resulted in Snape's death had he not been rescued by James Potter. Sirius, however, clearly stated that Snape wanted to know where the tunnel lead to, so he was simply giving him what he wanted (whilst neglecting to mention what lay at the end). It seems that while at school Sirius had something of a "bad boy" image as a result of his dark good looks coupled with a reputation for being (along with James) a forerunner of the Weasley twins - i.e. a troublemaker. Sirius also had a sarcastic and biting sense of humour which often amused his friends - he shares this trait with Harry's best friend Ron Weasley.
After leaving school, Sirius joined the Order of the Phoenix to take up the fight against Voldemort, putting himself into a high-stress environment where trust was scarce. This proved manageable until fellow Marauder Peter Pettigrew betrayed James and Lily Potter, causing their deaths, after Sirius had put him in the perfect position to do so, with the thought that Voldemort would come after him, so the secret was safer with Peter. When Pettigrew framed Black for his own murder, too, it was entirely too much to bear, and the wound would last for life. Sirius is reported to have laughed maniacally upon being accused, and according to J.K. Rowling this is true (not a fanciful story) as "he was absolutely unhinged by James's death."
While in Azkaban for twelve years, Sirius tried to hold on to vestiges of his sanity. His dog-form gave him respite from the Dementors' presence, but his guilt over James and Lily gnawed at him, and his desire for revenge became an obsession. Sirius resolved to find a way to escape from prison when he discovered by chance that Peter Pettigrew was using his animagus form to pose as a pet rat belonging to Harry's best friend, Ron Weasley. On escape, he had been greatly tainted by the prison. For the following year, he was directed by the fixation to commit the crime he had been convicted of, wild and desperate and alone.
It was only when he had his target at wandpoint that, for the first time in many years something good happened. He was reunited with his old friend Lupin, but more importantly also with his godson, Harry. It was Harry who stopped both Lupin and Sirius from committing murder. The two formed a strong bond quickly, but Harry, terrified for Sirius's safety, found a way for him to escape Britain on a hippogriff. Although he was still a fugitive, Sirius had at last met Harry, and could now begin to heal. Though clearly still scarred by his years in prison, he started to resemble his old self. Imprisoned at the age of 22, he never had time to properly mature into adulthood, however, and retained some of his youthful recklessness.
The relationship between Harry and Sirius was somewhere between father-son and brothers. Sirius was funloving, bold and reckless, and sometimes egged Harry on to do things in school (by letter or Floo powder-talk) that would be considered risky. He and Harry shared a similar sense of humour and their conversation sometimes sounded like two brothers or close friends talking rather than an older guardian to his ward. Molly Weasley accused Sirius of being unable to distinguish Harry from James because she was unhappy with Sirius's willingness to answer Harry's questions about the Order of the Phoenix and Voldemort. On Sirius's death, however, Harry painfully recalls how, whenever he was in trouble, Sirius would undertake dangerous journeys back to Britain to be with him, risking his life to help Harry. Foolhardy Sirius might have been, but Harry notes that he was a responsible and protective godfather.
When Voldemort rose again, Sirius was forced into his family's home, which he hated, to avoid capture. Although he finally gained a social life, it made him bitter and morose, and increasingly frustrated as he felt he was being kept from doing his part in the war. He was unable to overcome his feud with Snape or his loathing for Kreacher, the demented house-elf of 12 Grimmauld Place.
It is not surprising that when the Order sent an emergency team to rescue Harry and the gang from the Department of Mysteries, Sirius jumped at the opportunity. The Death Eaters were faced with a man who fought with exuberance and courage, so fearless that he was laughing, up to the point that he was indirectly murdered by Bellatrix Lestrange in the Department of Mysteries during their duel.
Sirius died when a curse fired by Bellatrix hit him, knocking him backwards through an ancient veil. It is not clear whether the curse itself or falling through the veil actually caused his death, and the precise nature of the veil has become a subject of intense interest for readers.
Sirius had no children to continue the family name; therefore, with his death, the Black family came to an end, as Phineas Nigellus, Sirius's dead relative in portrait form, stated.
As with many Rowling characters, Sirius's name reveals part of his nature. "Sirius Black" is a pun on his ability to turn into a giant black dog; Sirius is the name of a star (the brightest one in the sky) which can be found in the constellation Canis Major (the big dog). The star Sirius was called "dog's star" by some ancient cultures such as the Egyptians. Traditionally, Sirius is also the star that a Basilisk egg must be incubated under.
In Greek mythology, Sirius was also the pet dog of the mythological hunter Orion. When Orion was killed, he was placed in the stars as a constellation. Sirius would not stop hunting for his master and so was placed as a star near the Orion constellation by Artemis as if "Sirius is at his heel and follows (Orion)."
Most (but not all) of Black's family is likewise named after stars (Bellatrix is in the constellation of Orion; Regulus is in Leo. Andromeda is a constellation in the northern hemisphere, as is Draco). "Black" is an obvious reference to the colour of Sirius' canine alter ego, which is often confused with the grim, a big bear-like black dog that brings death with its presence, and is often thought to be the devil's disguise or the travel companions of an invisible she-demon of evil. Black hounds also appear on the Black family crest. "Black" may also refer to Sirius' tragic fate.
Sirius Black's family tree
Sirius is the son of Walburga Black and Orion Black. His younger brother is Regulus Black.
Book vs. film portrayal
Sirius seems to have many tattoos in the film, though there's no evidence of this in the books.
A photo of him was also taken of him screaming in the film; however in the books it stated that Sirius was pretty calm in Azkaban. This photo may be referencing his apparent insanity after Pettigrew faked his murder and killed twelve Muggles in the street, leaving Sirius alone in the wreckage.
According to Rowling, Snape is 35-36 years old in the fourth book. As a school contemporary, Sirius should be approximately the same age, but all the characters in that generation are depicted as being slightly older (in their 40/50s) in the films. Yet, Sirius had been in Azkaban which has drained him of his good looks making him seem older, and Lupin is said to continuously look older and shabbier with his old robes and gray hair.
The Sirius Black fandom
Sirius Black's death seems to have caused as much pain to the entire Harry Potter fandom as it did to Harry himself. There are a number of online Sirius Black fansites, most notably Immeritus. Immeritus has been so successful that J. K. Rowling chose it as the first ever site to win her Fan Site Award (posted on her website) . Sirius Black memorials have been set up, even an online "Shrine to Sirius Black", and prominent Harry Potter fansites have written editorials discussing Sirius Black's character.