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Life debt

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Peter Pettigrew indebted to Harry Potter for having saved his life.

Remus Lupin: "You should have realised, if Voldemort didn't kill you, we would. Goodbye, Peter."
Harry Potter: "NO! You can't kill him. You can't."
Sirius Black: "Harry, this piece of vermin is the reason you have no parents. This cringing bit of filth would have seen you die too, without turning a hair. You heard him. His own stinking skin meant more to him than your whole family."
Harry Potter: "I know. We'll take him up to the castle. We'll hand him over to the Dementors… He can go to Azkaban… but don't kill him."
Peter Pettigrew: "Harry! You — thank you — it's more than I deserve — thank you —"
Harry Potter prevents Sirius Black and Remus Lupin from killing Peter Pettigrew, during the Encounter at the Shrieking Shack.[src]

A life debt is a magical bond formed between a wizard or witch and the person whose life they saved. The one who owes the debt to the saviour would one day be obliged to repay the deed by doing something beneficial to the said saviour. Such a bond can be formed between even the worst of enemies and regardless of whether either of the involved parties want it or not. As this bond is magically binding, the indebted could commit the repayment without acknowledging it, or even against their will.

Known life debts

  • James Potter, in his fifth year, saved Severus Snape from a near-fatal prank that Sirius Black played on him, which involved luring Snape to the Shrieking Shack where Remus Lupin was in his werewolf form. As such, Snape owed James a life debt, although they hated each other. This was repaid when Snape repeatedly protected James' son, Harry, throughout Harry's years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. However, it is possible that Snape chose to protect Harry solely because of his love of Harry's mother, Lily Potter. Snape also could've repaid James when he asked Dumbledore to hide the Potters in 1981.
  • Harry Potter, in his third year, prevented Peter Pettigrew from being murdered by his former best friends, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, for treason. Instead, Harry asked for him to be transferred to Azkaban. Though Pettigrew escaped, he still owed Harry a life debt. This was repaid when Pettigrew showed a rare and brief moment of mercy at the Skirmish at Malfoy Manor and released Harry from a choking hold with his silver hand, which Voldemort had given to him for sacrificing his own hand to bring Voldemort back into human form. Unfortunately, it was fulfilling this debt that caused the silver hand to then turn on Peter, killing him for showing what Voldemort would have considered weakness.

Behind the scenes

  • Both known life debts are related to Harry's benefit, and both the indebted parties died protecting him.
  • J. K. Rowling has stated Ginny did not owe Harry a life debt for his rescue of her in the Chamber of Secrets.[1]
  • It is unknown whether Arthur or Ron ever had life debts to Harry, for being rescued after being attacked by Nagini in 1995, and given a bezoar after being poisoned in 1997, respectively. If it is true that Ron once owed Harry a life debt, he presumably repaid it by saving Harry from drowning in 1998. Seeing that Ginny did not owe Harry a debt, it may be possible that neither Arthur nor Ron owed him either.
  • It is unknown if life debts can be made between animals and people, but if so Harry may be in debt to Fawkes the Phoenix for saving him from the Basilisk venom, and Dumbledore might have been in debt to Fawkes for swallowing the Killing Curse during his duel with Voldemort, although it should be noted that an instance where a Phoenix would require the repaying of a life debt would be rare, if even possible, given that they are, in all known cases, reborn after death.

Appearances

Notes and references

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