Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban focuses a great deal of time misleading its readers to think that Sirius Black has broken out of Azkaban to kill Harry Potter. However, in a shocking twist, it is revealed that his target is none other than Peter Pettigrew – or Scabbers as we’ve come to know him.
After numerous attempts on Pettigrew’s life, Sirius has the man cornered and is about to kill him when Harry intervenes. However, the question remains: should Sirius Black have killed Peter Pettigrew? He was already accused of being a murderer. What did Sirius have to lose?
But before we can get to that, we have to ask: why did he want to kill Peter in the first place? It’s easy to say “he did it out of revenge”, but there’s a lot more to it than that. It wasn’t the death of the Potters that Sirius was angry with Peter for – it was the betrayal of their trust.
Pettigrew didn’t have an actual hand in killing James and Lily, but he was directly responsible for revealing their whereabouts to Voldemort. He had also been spying for the Dark Lord Voldemort for at least a year before the events at Godric’s Hollow, revealing the depth of his deception. It was this betrayal that Sirius held against Peter and felt he deserved to die for.
However, Sirius wasn’t all about revenge. He genuinely believed that Peter Pettigrew’s proximity to Harry would lead to the boy’s destruction. Peter, having disguised himself as a rat, belonged to Harry’s best friend Ron. Sirius said that he was worried that if Peter heard that the Dark Side was gathering strength, the man would bring harm to Harry.
No one knew why Harry had been attacked when he was a baby – in fact, this was a source of mystery until Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – but Sirius understood that Harry’s life could be in danger. Sirius believed that if he killed Peter then this man could harm the Potters no longer.
In addition to revenge and protecting Harry, Sirius also wanted to kill Peter to clear his name. Sirius says that the only reason he was able to survive Azkaban was the knowledge that he was “innocent”. However, Sirius was not innocent: he fully believed that he had killed Peter Pettigrew in the explosion that had also taken the lives of twelve Muggles. This was the cause for his maniacal laughter upon his arrest.
However, the crime for which he believed himself innocent was the betrayal of the Potters. Everyone believed that he had turned on his friends, and the antithesis of this belief was the only thing that kept him safe from the Dementors. If he killed Pettigrew, he believed that he would clear his name of this accusation and the world would know that he wasn’t a traitor.
Sirius Black’s actions, however, were not justified. Peter Pettigrew had committed a crime, two crimes in fact, that Sirius was currently serving time for in Azkaban. He had aided and abetted Voldemort in the murder of James and Lily Potter. Pettigrew had also killed twelve Muggles in his attempt to escape from Sirius.
By showing proof of Peter’s existence, the man would go to Azkaban and Sirius would go free. Sirius did not have any lack of faith in the justice system of the wizarding world – he would gladly serve time for killing Peter Pettigrew, as he did for thirteen years.
But should Sirius have killed Peter anyway? As I asked earlier, what did Sirius have to lose? He was already going to Azkaban for the rest of his life. But when you look at it closer, you see that Sirius actually had a whole lot to lose. If he had killed Peter, Sirius would have gone to jail again – this time for a murder he did commit.
And now he wouldn’t have the one thing that kept him going last time: the knowledge that he was innocent. It was this “me-against-the-world” attitude that had kept Sirius alive all those years. He alone knew that he hadn’t betrayed the Potters. When he killed Peter, this knowledge would become well known, and he wouldn’t have this to protect him from the Dementors.
In addition, if Sirius went to Azkaban, he would never be able to develop a relationship with Harry, his godson. Even though the two of them never get much of a chance to be a family, they would’ve had even less if Sirius returned to Azkaban. He would’ve been separated from Harry – and the rest of the Order of the Phoenix – for the rest of his life.
Lastly, if Sirius had killed Peter, it wouldn’t have solved the real problem that he was dealing with. Sirius was torn over guilt for what happened to the Potters.
He was the one who had suggested switching Peter to be their Secret Keeper. Sirius believed that he was ultimately the one to blame for what happened to his friends. He would never be able to forgive himself for the role he played in their demise, and killing Peter wouldn’t have made this any better.
Sirius Black went to great lengths in his plot to kill Peter Pettigrew, including but not limited to breaking out of Azkaban and breaking into Hogwarts. However, when he had Peter in his grasp, it was Harry’s intervention that stayed his hand.
Sirius Black is a law unto himself and decided that it was Harry’s decision what to do with Peter Pettigrew, even though there was really only one course of action. In the end, it was better for Sirius that he did not kill Peter, as he was able to live the rest of his short life with the only family he had left: his godson, Harry Potter.
What do you think? Should Sirius have killed Peter Pettigrew? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.