Another day, another blog about Hogwarts Legacy!
What can I say? I’m pretty damn excited! Especially since it was announced that Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, & more) will be portraying Phineas Nigellus Black in Hogwarts Legacy!
The above video is a little featurette on how Pegg came to be Phineas and how he behaves as a character within the game. As Pegg says himself, it’s only right that the long line of British acting royalty that has starred in the Harry Potter films continues with him and his video game performance. I also enjoy that despite Pegg doing the voice for Phineas, the in-game model strikes a resemblance to Gary Oldman’s Sirius Black, which makes familial sense.
For fans of the Harry Potter books however, this will be the first time Phineas is fleshed out in visual media and that has me extremely excited.
Within Potter lore, Black was a Slytherin and became Headmaster of Hogwarts from the late 1800s until his death in 1925. He is the Great-Great-Grandfather of not only Sirius Black, Harry Potter’s godfather, but also Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange.
Sirius is quoted in the Order of the Phoenix book describing Phineas as the “least popular Headmaster Hogwarts ever had.” The Hogwarts Legacy video and the quotes from the book prove that as the last Slytherin Headmaster before Snape within the Potter books, Black isn’t fond of school children nor their aspirations as young witches and wizards. I imagine this will be cause for some funny interactions within the game.
I wanted to talk a bit more about why the inclusion of Phineas within Hogwarts Legacy is a big deal though. For me, it’s because he was almost completely omitted from the Harry Potter films despite having a very significant role in the novels.
Phineas Nigellus Black is first introduced to us in the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix novel. A painting of the former Hogwarts Headmaster graces the walls of the home of the Black family, muttering snarky comments toward Harry, his friends, and the Order while they live at 12 Grimmauld Place.
Later on in the novel, Harry learns that there’s a portrait of Phineas amongst the many portraits of old Headmasters of Hogwarts in Dumbledore’s office. Phineas is able to travel between his portrait at Grimmauld Place and Dumbledore’s office to commune messages and report findings between the Order and Dumbledore.
Phineas is the one who checks to see if Arthur Weasley had made it home from the Ministry the night he was attacked by Nagini. Phineas is able to not only confirm the legitimacy of the snake attack but also communicate to the Order that Arthur was in critical condition.
If it weren’t for Phineas, Harry’s frightening vision may not have been communicated quickly enough to save Mr. Weasley in time.
Phineas also warns the Order to head to the Ministry of Magic at the end of the book to help rescue Harry and his friends from the Death Eaters and Voldemort himself. He has a cantankerous interaction with Harry before this happens:
Phineas Nigellus: I have a message for you from Albus Dumbledore.Harry Potter and Phineas Nigellus Black argue in the novel version of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix“
Harry Potter: What is it?
Phineas: Stay where you are.
Harry: I haven’t moved! So what’s the message?
Phineas: I have just given it to you, dolt. Stay where you are.
Harry: Why? Why does he want me to stay? What else did he say?
Phineas: Nothing whatsoever.
Harry: So that’s it, is it? ‘Stay where you are?’ That’s all anyone could tell me after I got attacked by those dementors too. Just stay put while the grown-ups sort it out, Harry! We won’t bother telling you anything, though, because your tiny little brain won’t be able to cope with it!
Phineas: You know, this is precisely why I loathed being a teacher! Young people are so infernally convinced that they are absolutely right about everything. Has it not occurred to you, my poor puffed-up popinjay that there might be an excellent reason why the headmaster of Hogwarts is not confiding every tiny detail of his plans to you? Have you never paused, while feeling hard-done-by, to note that following Dumbledore’s orders has never yet lead you into harm? No. No, like all young people, you are quite sure that you alone feel and think, you alone recognise danger, you alone are the only one clever enough to realise what the Dark Lord may be planning –
Harry: He is planning something to do with me, then?
Phineas: Did I say that? Now if you’ll excuse me, I have better things to do than listening to adolescent agonising… good-day to you.
In the film version of OOTP, Phineas’ lone scene is the “Mr. Weasley” scene, however, it’s his only appearance in any of the film versions of Harry Potter. We don’t even see him speak to Dumbledore in the scene.
Even in one of the most iconic scenes from both the novel and the movie, Phineas’ line from the novel is given to Kingsley Shacklebolt (played by George Harris) in the film. While I fully support the Kingsley line change, it was actually Phineas who says it in the book.
Phineas also displays sadness for the death of Sirius at the end of Order of the Phoenix. While he constantly complained about his great-great-grandson, a portrait was actually disturbed and saddened by the loss of its subject’s descendent.
“‘Am I to understand […] that my great-great-grandson – the last of the Blacks – is dead?’…He would walk, perhaps, from portrait to portrait, calling for Sirius throughout the house.”Phineas Nigellus Black learning the news of the passing of Sirius Black in the “Order of the Phoenix” book.
Phineas returns most prominently in the final Potter novel: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
In the seventh book, Phineas’ portrait accompanies Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s quest to find and destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes in order to defeat the Dark Lord.
Hermione shoves the portrait into her small beaded bag, which is charmed with an undetectable extension spell.
As a mode of precaution, Hermione stows the portrait away so that the current Hogwarts Headmaster, Severus Snape, couldn’t be reported to on their whereabouts. Little did Hermione know that Snape was actually a very good man and assisted Harry, Ron, and Hermione while under the guise of a Death Eater.
Snape conjures his Doe Patronus to guide Harry toward Godric Gryffindor’s sword in the Forest of Dean about halfway through the book. While the events of the movie play out identically with the Silver Doe, what isn’t a part of the film version is that it is Phineas’ portrait that tells Snape exactly where Harry and Hermione are on Christmas Eve.
Snape, further proving he’s a good man, even corrects Phineas on his use of the word “Mudblood” when talking about Hermoine.
Phineas Nigellus: “Headmaster! They are camping in the Forest of Dean! The Mudblood —”Phineas Nigellus Black revealing the whereabouts of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Muggle-born Hermione Granger to Professor Snape in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Severus Snape: “Do not use that word!”
Without the Sword, Harry couldn’t have started destroying the Horcruxes that kept Voldemort alive. Without Phineas, Snape wouldn’t have been able to deliver the Sword. Thus, without Phineas, Voldemort wouldn’t have met his demise.
While there are many plot aspects in the Potter books that are much better than the films (the WORST change being: Harry snapping the Elder Wand in the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 film rather than fixing his own broken wand with the Elder Wand in the final book), one of the key omissions was Phineas Nigellus Black.
I can forgive the massive omissions of Ludo Bagman and Winky the House Elf from the Goblet of Fire film. (Funnily enough, Bagman only appeared in the Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup video game from 2003, but this blog isn’t about him.) Sure, I can get over the lack of Lupin in the Deathly Hallows film adaptations as well. But one of the key characters that assists in the demise of Voldemort was completely left out of the film versions of the Potter series.
Getting to see Phineas Nigellus Black fleshed out as a living character in Hogwarts Legacy is a welcome bonus to what seems to be an amazing game. We finally get to experience a visual and interactive version of one of the more noble members of the Ancient House of Black.
We finally have a Potter character that can live beyond the page, long after the written series has finished.