Phineas Nigellus: "I thought that to belong in Gryffindor House you were supposed to be brave? It looks to me as though you would have been better off in my own house. We Slytherins are brave, yes, but not stupid. For instance, given the choice, we will always choose to save our own necks."
Harry Potter: "It's not my own neck I'm saving."
Phineas Nigellus: "Oh I see. This is no cowardly flight — you are being noble."
— Phineas Nigellus talking to Harry Potter[src]

Professor Phineas Nigellus Black (1847[1]1925[1]) was a pure-blood wizard, possibly the son of Cygnus and Ella Black, and brother of Sirius, Elladora and Iola Black. He attended Hogwarts as a member of Slytherin House, later becoming the school's least popular Headmaster, loathing his profession. Following his death in 1925, his portrait was hung in the Headmaster's office to offer advice to the current headmaster.


Early life

Phineas Nigellus

Phineas Nigellus, as depicted in the Black family tree tapestry

Phineas Nigellus was born to the House of Black in 1847, possibly to Cygnus Black I and Ella Max. He had three siblings; Sirius, Elladora, and Iola Black.

The siblings were raised in a household that strongly believed in the importance of blood purity, and as such Phineas carried a grudge against Muggle-borns, whom he called Mudbloods, that lasted throughout his life. His brother Sirius died in 1853, at the age of eight, which likely had an effect on young Phineas Nigellus.

At the age of eleven, circa 1858, Phineas Nigellus began his schooling at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he was sorted into Slytherin House.

Sometime after completing his schooling in c. 1865, Phineas Nigellus married Ursula Flint, and, at the age of 30, the two had a son, Sirius Black, named after his deceased brother. Four more children followed the first; Phineas, who did not take his father and namesake's view on the topic of pure-blood supremacy and was disowned by the family for supporting Muggle rights; Cygnus, Belvina, and Arcturus.[1]

As Headmaster of Hogwarts

"There's Phineas Nigellus. . . my great-great-grandfather, see? . . . least popular Headmaster Hogwarts ever had."
Sirius Black on Phineas's legacy as Hogwarts Headmaster.[src]

At some point, and in spite of his dislike of young people, whom he found self-obsessed and tedious, Black returned to Hogwarts as a teacher. He sometime was made Headmaster of Hogwarts. His great-great-grandson Sirius Black III would later describe him as the least popular head the school had ever known. It is unknown what approach Black took towards Muggle-borns in his capacity as Headmaster; whatever it might have been, the Black family did not disown him for it; this may, however, have been because he was the head of the family.

Death and post-mortem

"We are honour-bound to give service to the present Headmaster of Hogwarts! Shame on you, Phineas!"
Armando Dippet's portrait to a sleepy Phineas[src]

Professor Black died in 1925 at age 78. At the time of his death, Phineas Nigellus had five children, at least thirteen grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren,[1] although more would be born after he died.

Phineas Nigellus's portrait in the headmaster's office did not seem to enjoy assisting Albus Dumbledore, believing that he was eccentric and disagreeing with his pro-Muggle-born beliefs. The second portrait of Black was hung at 12 Grimmauld Place, and like other portrait subjects in the wizarding world, Black could travel between his portraits, which he did often.

In 1995, Harry Potter stayed in the bedroom where Black's portrait hangs, and Black took him messages from Albus Dumbledore. His voice could sometimes be heard coming from the frame when he was not in it, making sarcastic comments. He also seems to be against people with Muggle parentage. One of the main messages Phineas passed was when Arthur Weasley was attacked by Nagini whilst on duty for the order, letting Sirius know he was going to have company.

Phineas Nigellus Black

Dumbledore talking with Phineas' portrait

Phineas Nigellus: "I can't see why the boy should be able to do it better than you, Dumbledore."
Albus Dumbledore: "I wouldn't expect you to, Phineas."
— Phineas Nigellus about Dumbledore's mission to Harry Potter to retrieve the Horcrux memory from Slughorn

During Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger's quest to destroy Lord Voldemort's Horcruxes, Phineas Nigellus's Grimmauld Place portrait was hidden in Hermione's magically enlarged beaded bag, to stop him from being able to report their location to Severus Snape, then headmaster of Hogwarts. His portrait was then taken with the trio when they left the house.

During this time, Phineas reluctantly dropped certain snippets of information on what was going on in Hogwarts to them, and aided them in their quest; he managed to find out where they were camping and informed Snape, who was able to give them Godric Gryffindor's Sword. He appeared less reluctant to help Snape than he was when helping Dumbledore, probably proud to help another Slytherin headteacher.

Phineas Nigellus possibly watched the Battle of Hogwarts in 1998. After Lord Voldemort's defeat, he saw Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger at the Headmaster's office; like all the headmaster portraits, he looked very happy and proudly brought up the fact that Slytherin house had contributed to the victory, referring to his own contribution, as well as those of Snape, Slughorn, and the Malfoys. He probably would have continued to help future headteachers when the Second Wizarding War was over.

In 2019, the portrait Phineas Nigellus stand was captured by the Calamity and began to appear around the world as a Foundable.[3]

Physical description


Phineas Nigellus Black in silhouette

"When the clever-looking wizard continued to feign sleep, some of them shouted his name too."
—Brief description[src]

Professor Black was a clever looking wizard, with black hair, dark eyes, a pointed beard and thin eyebrows. He was depicted posthumously in his portrait as wearing the green and silver colours associated with Slytherin House[2].

Personality and traits

"Never try to understand the students. They hate it. They would much rather be tragically misunderstood, wallow in self-pity, stew in their own —"
—Phineas Nigellus' portrait[src]

Phineas was a snide, sarcastic fellow. He has little patience for the feelings and the problems of others, particularly young people, whom he found tedious and self-absorbed, and had no qualms whatsoever in using demeaning phrases when referring to others. He also seemed to support blood purity since he looked down on Muggle-borns and even used the offensive term Mudblood, though his views didn't seem as aggressive as some of his descendants. He seemed sentimental of the Black family possessions, as he was quite dismayed upon learning that Mundungus Fletcher was stealing and selling them.

Magical abilities and skills

  • Magical Knowledge: Black took great pride in his knowledge, looking down upon those who did not appear to appreciate the value of learning, having taught his portrait to mock whoever appeared to be less knowledgeable than it and, by extension, himself, by having it refer to them as "ignorant". Having taught his portrait to talk and act like himself, he also educated it on things he believed later generations of Headmasters and Headmistresses would find useful, among them specifics of the metalwork of goblins.[4]



"Probably another message for my worthless great-great-grandson."
—Phineas Nigellus Black commenting on the only member of his family he was known to dislike.[src]

Phineas Nigellus Black's older brother, Sirius, died in childhood. He had two sisters, Elladora who began the family tradition of beheading aged house-elves and Iola who was disowned for marrying Muggle Bob Hitchens.


Phineas Nigellus' great-great-grandson Sirius, last of the Blacks, standing in front of the Black family tree

Phineas Nigellus Black was married to Ursula Flint and they are among the oldest known ancestors of the "Noble and Most Ancient House of Black." They had five children: Sirius, Phineas, Cygnus, Belvina, and Arcturus. Phineas was disowned for supporting Muggle rights.

As the House of Black was numerous and very powerful, many other wizards have ancestral ties to Phineas Nigellus Black, including the Malfoy, Lestrange, Tonks and Weasley families. Additionally, Phineas may have descendants or distant relatives in the Potter and Longbottom clans, as well as in the Crouch, Prewett and Burke families. Furthermore, many other familiar surnames appear among those who married into the Black family tree, which may tie Phineas with other wizarding families. For example, Ursula Flint, Violetta Bulstrode, Melania Macmillan, and Irma Crabbe may be related to individuals in Harry Potter's generation.

Though Black did not get along well with most people, his portrait was upset to learn his great-great-grandson Sirius Black, the last of the surname Black, was dead in 1996, and was visibly upset when he learned that Mundungus Fletcher was stealing Black family heirlooms the following year. This could have been from dynastic or emotional reasons.

Albus Dumbledore

"You know, Minister, I disagree with Dumbledore on many counts ... but you cannot deny he's got style ..."
—Phineas Nigellus's portrait to Cornelius Fudge[src]
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

Albus Dumbledore

Black did not seem to hold much with one of his more distant successors as Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. While others, including Harry Potter and Rubeus Hagrid, considered Dumbledore the greatest sorcerer in the world, Phineas considered him to be too eccentric and to be wasting his time by trying to understand the students.

Phineas Nigellus was, along with the other portraits of the dead headmasters of Hogwarts, bound to serve the head of the day, although, with Dumbledore at the very least, he despised doing this.

Black's opinion of the man went on even after Dumbledore's self-planned death at the hands of Severus Snape in 1997, and he proceeded to admire Snape, who later became Headmaster himself, considerably more.

However, after Dumbledore escaped from being arrested by the Ministry of Magic in 1996, Phineas Nigellus commented to Cornelius Fudge that although he disagreed with Dumbledore on many accounts, one couldn't deny that he had style. This may indicate that Phineas Nigellus had a little bit of admiration for Dumbledore.

Given the timeline it's possible that Phineas Nigellus was the headmaster when Dumbledore was a student in the 1890s. This has never been confirmed however.

Severus Snape

Severus Snape

Severus Snape

Phineas Nigellus: "Headmaster! They are camping in the Forest of Dean! The Mudblood"
Severus Snape: "Do not use that word!"
— Black revealing the whereabouts of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Muggle-born Hermione Granger to Professor Snape[src]

Any relationship with Phineas before Severus Snape became Headmaster of Hogwarts School is unknown, but by the time that the Snape was appointed to the post in 1997, Black came to greatly admire Snape, who was the first Head of the school to have once been in Slytherin since he himself had presided over the castle. Whenever others would insult Snape, Phineas Nigellus would immediately end the conversation, although this disliking of anyone who insulted the subject of his respect did not carry so far as to stop other factors, such as curiosity, from refusing to speak to them indefinitely. Snape himself, however, resented Phineas' tendency towards slurs directed at Muggle-borns, immediately demanding that Phineas never used the term "Mudblood" after Black let the phrase slip in Snape's presence.

Hogwarts students

Harry Potter's Lightning scar 02

Harry Potter, a Gryffindor student

"You know, this is precisely why I loathed being a teacher! Young people are so infernally convinced that they are right about everything."
—Phineas Nigellus[src]

Phineas Nigellus was known to dislike most of the students of Hogwarts, since he was a Headmaster. This was possibly a reason why Sirius Black believed he was the least popular headmaster Hogwarts ever had. He believed that the young people didn't respect the professors enough, something that he told Albus Dumbledore when Harry Potter wanted to learn why it was so important to take Horace Slughorn's memory. Furthermore, when Harry tried to convince Dumbledore that both Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape were loyal Death Eaters, Phineas said that young people believe that they are right about everything. However, Phineas might have had a good relationship with the Slytherin students, whom he described as brave, but not stupid.

Behind the scenes

  • Phineas was the Biblical grandson of Aaron and was a controversial high priest who murdered two lovers after they had intercourse on the steps of the Tabernacle. Another reason for the murder was that one was Hebrew and the other was not. His example has been used to justify attacks on interracial couples over the centuries. Some believe the Hebrew name Pinhas means "snake's mouth," or else it could be derived from the Egyptian name Pa-Nehasy, which means "Nubian" or "black man." It may also reference the Greek legend of the Phineus,who angered Zeus by telling mortals the secrets of the deities. He was made blind and sentenced to an island where there would be a lot of food, but when he tried to eat some, the harpies would come and snatch it out of his hands.
  • In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Phineas is played by John Atterbury. In the film, Dumbledore is seen asking the portrait of Phineas to check its opposite number at the Order headquarters during efforts to locate Arthur Weasley. This is the only "active" appearance of Black in the film series, seeing as he does not appear in the film adaptations of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. However, this makes it unclear how Snape located Harry and Hermione in the Forest of Dean.
  • Phineas Nigellus's portrait, as featured in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, seems to be a reference to a 1515 portrait of Balthazar Castiglione by Raphael.[citation needed]
  • It can be briefly seen that the name Phineas is misspelled Phineus on the tapestry in the film.
  • Phineas Nigellus was possibly the son of Cygnus Black I and nephew of Arcturus Black I, two wizards who appeared only in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
  • It is quite possible that Phineas Nigellus's portrait was moved from another location to its current one when the Order moved into Grimmauld Place so that he could keep an eye on Harry for Dumbledore.
  • Phineas' appearance in the movies was quite different, with grey hair and a large beard, wearing, instead of his Slytherin-coloured robes, eccentric headdresses quite common to the wizarding world, such as a pointed red cap with a fur brim and a turban.[5]


Notes and references

Hogwarts Faculty
Founders Godric Gryffindor | Helga Hufflepuff | Rowena Ravenclaw | Salazar Slytherin
Headteachers Eupraxia Mole | Vulpus | Phyllida Spore | Dexter Fortescue | Eoessa Sakndenberg | Ambrose Swott | Everard | Vindictus Veridian | Dilys Derwent | Quintin Trimble | Limebert | Phineas Nigellus Black | Walter Aragon | Basil Fronsac | Armando Dippet | Albus Dumbledore | Dolores Umbridge | Severus Snape | Minerva McGonagall | Brian Gagwilde | Elizabeth Burke
Deputy Heads Minerva McGonagall | Amycus Carrow | Alecto Carrow
Heads of House Filius Flitwick | Minerva McGonagall | Horace Slughorn | Severus Snape | Pomona Sprout
Teaching Staff Bartholomew | Bathsheda Babbling | Herbert Beery | Cuthbert Binns | Charity Burbage | Alecto Carrow | Amycus Carrow | Albus Dumbledore | Dolores Umbridge | Firenze | Filius Flitwick | Fortinbras | Rubeus Hagrid | Rolanda Hooch | Arsenius Jigger | Silvanus Kettleburn | Gilderoy Lockhart | Neville Longbottom | Remus Lupin | Minerva McGonagall | Galatea Merrythought | Quirinus Quirrell | Patricia Rakepick | Aurora Sinistra | Horace Slughorn | Severus Snape | Pomona Sprout | Swoopstikes | Sybill Trelawney | Septima Vector | Unidentified witch | Unidentified 19th-century Herbology professor | Unidentified 19th-century Potions professor |Unnamed Potions Professor (16th century) | Unnamed Potions Professor (2021)
Support Staff Boil-ridden house-elf | Rancorous Carpe | Dobby | Argus Filch | Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank | Rubeus Hagrid | Rolanda Hooch | Hankerton Humble | Kreacher | Ogg | Irma Pince | Pitts | Poppy Pomfrey | Apollyon Pringle | Lucinda Thomsonicle-Pocus | Winky

Hogwarts Castle
Astronomy Tower · Bell towers · Boathouse Bell Tower · Central Tower · Clock Tower · Dark Tower · Founders' Tower · Gryffindor Tower · Headmaster's Tower · Herbology Tower · Hospital tower · Hufflepuff Duelling Turrets · Marble Staircase Tower · North Tower · Octagon Tower · Pepperpot · Quidditch tower · Ravenclaw Tower · Right Long Gallery tower · Second-floor girls' lavatory tower · Small Locked Tower · South Tower · Stone Bridge Tower · Suspension Bridge towers ·The Quad battlements · Training Grounds Tower · Turris Magnus · Turris Medius · Upper Hall tower · Viaduct Courtyard checkpoint towers · West Tower · West Tower battlements
Portraits, statues and other artwork located in the towers
Albus Dumbledore · Armando Dippet · Valeria Myriadd · Dexter Fortescue · Dilys Derwent · Oraclitus Spheer · Fat Lady · Sir Cadogan · Slytherin knight · Hufflepuff lady · Heliotrope Wilkins · Severus Snape · Phineas Nigellus Black · Vulpus · Quentin Trimble · Limebert · Ravenclaw lady · Rowena Ravenclaw · Walter Aragon · Quidditch player · Professor · Female etiquette teacher · Gryffindor lady · Gryffindor man · Gryffindor man · Gryffindor man · Gryffindor seeker · Red-haired witch · Young maiden · Vase with flowers · Group of women in crinolines · Sinister-looking monks
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