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Sirius attempts to kill a rat in a dark room with five sleeping children. Rats are small and quick, and knives can get snagged in objects such as bed curtains. Overall it seems a terrible idea to bring a knife to a rat fight. Since he already had his wand back at this point, why didn’t Sirius try to stealthily capture Scabbers, rather than flailing a blade around? Was it purely for dramatic effect?

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    "It wasn't a nightmare!" Ron yelled. "Professor, I woke up, and Sirius Black was standing over me, holding a knife!" -PoA. So if Ron definitely wasn't dreaming, I think it's safe to say Sirius was holding a knife. Although he was probably terrified and could have mistaken a wand for one. – creative-username Mar 15 at 0:41
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    Terrified and sleep-addled. So very easy for him to mistake a slashing wand for a slashing knife. – Valorum Mar 15 at 1:08
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    @Valorum In the wizarding world, wands are the main weapons. I find it unlikely that a wizard's brain would take knife as the default weapon. – Acccumulation Mar 16 at 1:49
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    If only he could somehow turn into a predatory animal that's good at catching rats :( – Misha R Mar 16 at 1:54
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    @MishaR Or, I don't know, swipe one of those sleeping children's wands off their nightstands? Actually, I'm not sure if it's ever explained what people do with their wands while they're asleep. Seems like you'd want to follow the same protocols as gun-owners with children. Do they lock them up in wand-safes to prevent the kids getting at them? Are they charmed in some way to prevent the wrong people from picking them up? – Darrel Hoffman Mar 16 at 15:32
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Since he already had his wand back at this point,

I don't think there is evidence supporting this premise. On the contrary, when Harry and friends meet Sirius in the Shrieking Shack, Sirius uses first Ron's wand and then Snape's wand – presumably because he did not have a wand of his own:

Chapter Seventeen

"Expelliarmus!" he croaked, pointing Ron's wand at them.

Chapter Nineteen

Black had already retrieved Snape's wand from the bed.

If Sirius did not have a wand then the reason he used a knife was simply because that was the weapon available to him.

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    Come to think of it, the wand bit was based off the assumption that a wand is necessary for an animagus to change. But according to the sometimes reliable wiki, it says one can transform "with or without the use of a wand." – creative-username Mar 15 at 2:14
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    @creative-username Sirius tells them that he had no wand at Azkaban, and he tells them that he escaped by transforming. – Alex Mar 15 at 2:18
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    I remember reading on the Harry Potter wikia that in general any spell can be carried out without a wand, however that requires training (or just a strong will: we see Harry freeing the python in the first movie, although he didn't know about magic yet). Wands are more of a way to channel "magic" in the intended direction. – Giacomo Tecya Pigani Mar 15 at 16:21
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    If a wand is snapped for being expelled from Hogwarts (as happened to Hagrid), it strains belief that someone sent to a life sentence in Azkaban wouldn't have their wand destroyed. Not that people couldn't get another wand through any number of means, but that's a separate issue. – Upper_Case Mar 15 at 20:35
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    @Upper_Case I think it's pretty clear in the books that their wands don't (necessarily) get destroyed. I addressed the issue in this answer. – Alex Mar 15 at 20:42
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Some of the arguments:

  1. Sirius escaped from prison without his wand by means of Transfiguration. He was an unregistered Animagus and he escaped through the bars when the dementors brought him food. Therefore, Sirius is wand-less and couldn't cast spells against Pettigrew.

  2. He escaped as he saw Scabbers aka Pettigrew in the newspaper. He knew that Pettigrew was with Ron and rushed off to their dorms. Imagine Sirius seeing the person he believed in his past, not able to say a word after he knew about the betrayal. He was so engrossed with rage that he acted out of impulse as soon as he saw the traitor. He won't be able to capture him and have a talk and kill him. He was extremely angry at Pettigrew that he wanted him dead at any cost.

These may have been the reasons for Sirius' actions.

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    For a very short instant, I thought this answer was off-topic. After reading the question again, I realised it didn't ask why he used a knife instead of a wand, but why he did what he did. – Clockwork Mar 16 at 15:35

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